no next

  ― 238 ―

Book Four—The Third Black Hand

Chapter I The Scrubbers

IN the midst of the mountain range that formed the watershed between the Hunter and the Hawkesbury, a party of four men were encamped just at the opening of one of the densely-timbered gullies, but sufficiently within shelter of the heavy growth to secure them from observation.

The most prominent amongst these men was a burly dark-complexioned ruffian of middle age, fully six feet in height, and of correspondingly strong build, with brawny limbs, heavy shoulders, and deep, powerful chest. His head, however, was extravagantly large, even in proportion to the massive body which it surmounted; and his features, naturally large, coarse, and hideous, were rendered still more repulsive by crime and by the brutalising effects of the then system of convict coercion. A deep scar which traversed his cheek and forehead, extending over the orbit of the left eye, and depriving that organ of sight, gave anything but a charm to his original unsightliness of visage, and rendered still more ruffianly features already villainous enough in themselves.

  ― 239 ―

Lanty Maher had been a petty leader in some one of the many secret societies that were the bane of Ireland at the commencement of the last century. After a career of villainy that was but little respected by the legal authorities of his native land, but of which he boasted when in company with his fellows in crime, Lanty had been cut down in an attack made by the Yeomanry cavalry upon a band of insurgents with whom he was acting, had been made prisoner, and had been tried and sentenced to death. By some lucky accident he had been one amongst a number who had been reprieved, and to his great astonishment he had subsequently found his sentence commuted to transportation for life.

He was standing up in the full light of the fire, endeavouring to repair some damage to the lock of his gun, an old Tower musket much the worse for wear. This he manipulated in such a way as to show that he was by no means unaccustomed to handle such weapons. This was the accepted leader of the present gang of outlaws, and the character of the rest of the men might very readily be surmised from that of the ruffian whom they had selected as their chief.

Next after the chief, the one most worthy of notice, taking villainy of aspect as the criterion of merit, was a short, thick-set, and square-built individual. He also was dark-complexioned, with black, close-growing whiskers and beard, that nearly covered his face, and left very little of his countenance visible. His forehead was low, with heavy, overhanging eyebrows, from which the hair hung down in heavy tufts, and almost joined that which clad his high cheek-bones, thus barely leaving room for the brown, bright, and restless eyes, diminutive as they were, to make themselves seen.

Roger the Rough had led a life of villainy from his

  ― 240 ―
boyhood, and had received his name in consequence of having, years prior to his getting into the difficulty that had ended in his transportation for life, made his living by following that peculiar branch of roguery known amongst the cross men of the day as “roughing,” or robbing by means of violence in some way. In the friendly intercourse of the scrubbers' camp, or in the enforced seclusion of the stockade, Roger had no hesitation in letting his mates into the secret of many an act of bloodshed and murder that still remained a mystery to the law and its myrmidons, but the details of which were narrated with great zest to such of his mates as he knew to be as criminal and as bloodstained as himself.

Ted Sullivan, the third man, was a long, thin, fair-complexioned man, of not more than perhaps thirty years of age. There was a light twinkle in his blue eye, and a lurking humour about his laughing countenance, that would have led the casual observer to fancy that Ted was nothing more than the light-hearted Irishman, without care as without guile. He had received his sentence of punishment for complicity in a bank robbery at Cork. The robbery had been very cleverly planned, and would probably have been successfully executed, had it not miscarried through the treachery of one of the accomplices. Ted had long had the reputation of a most determined housebreaker, and his last exploit sent him out of Ireland for life. He never ceased to bewail the failure of his well-devised scheme or the loss of the magnificent plunder that had been for a few minutes in his grasp; but he never gave utterance to his regret without growling out a vow of vengeance against the informer, if ever chance should throw them together.

The last of the four outlaws here assembled was altogether a different kind of personage to the rest. He

  ― 241 ―
was quite a young man, not being more than four or five and twenty. He was of medium height, and of slight and what would be called genteel make; at the same time, he was not so slim as to prevent him from being well built, active, and sinewy. His hands, which were remarkably small and white, were washed clean, and his face gave similar evidence of cleanliness. His hair, though short, was carefully combed and brushed, and a black silk neckerchief was tied daintily round his throat. Owing to these peculiarities, he had received from his fellow-convicts the name of Jack the Gentleman. He was a young man of good family, and had received sentence of death for a murder committed under strange, and, as it appeared, most horrifying, circumstances. One or two links in the chain of evidence against him had been weak, and on this ground numerous and influential friends had based their intercession for his life, and had succeeded in procuring a commutation of sentence to transportation for life. He was armed with a light double-barrelled fowling-piece that lay against a log by his side. It was apparently all but new, and of a very superior description. The possession of such a weapon by an escaped convict—for it was one of far better workmanship than was usually seen in those days—would have at once given rise to astonishment on the part of persons unacquainted with the working of the convict system in the olden time, and unaware of the easy way in which criminals from a certain class of society were enabled, even under the severe penal code then in force, to indulge themselves in many things that were not only prohibited, but were absolutely impossible to prisoners from the lower ranks of society.

  ― 242 ―

Chapter II The Last Of His Tribe

THE homestead of Mount Pleasant was far more complete in every respect than the generality of the country residences of the time of which we write. It was situated at the base of the ranges mentioned in the previous chapter, and on the edge of the beautifully-undulating country then known by the general term of Wallis' Plains. The owner, Mr. Marcomb, had not been more than a few months in the colony. He was a man of what is termed middle age, having passed his fortieth year, the sole representative of a well-to-do English family that had always held a high position in the country in which it had been settled for centuries. He had, after remaining single for so many years, suddenly taken unto himself a wife some eighteen months prior to his introduction into this narrative. The world—that is to say, the country world, being all those to whom the name of Marcomb had been familiar from infancy—were astonished, not only that Squire Marcomb should marry, but that his choice should have fallen upon a widow, and that widow with two grown-up daughters of her own. The cup of astonishment, however, was fairly filled to the brim when it was known that Mr. Marcomb had broken up his pleasant English home, had sold the manor that had been owned by a Marcomb for the last five centuries, and for the purpose of emigrating, and emigrating, too, to Botany

  ― 243 ―
Bay. Why he should do this, and especially why he should do it so soon after his marriage, was a nine days' wonder in the country; and somehow or other the gossips, in talking over the marriage and the departure, shook their heads knowingly, as if there were some connection between the two, though what that connection was they were unable to fathom.

On reaching the new southern land, Mr. Marcomb, no longer the Squire, had preferred to purchase a property ready to his hand rather than go through the delay, inconvenience, and annoyance of clearing and preparing an estate for himself. For some cause that may perhaps be explained as the story progresses, he had fixed upon the Hunter River as the district in which to settle; and, finding the owner of Mount Pleasant willing to come to terms for its sale, he had purchased it as it stood, had put it into a fit state to receive his family, and had then brought them up to reside upon it.

Margaret and Beatrice Marcomb were of the respective ages of twenty and eighteen. A dark, almost Spanish complexion, black sparkling eyes, and glossy raven hair were common to both sisters. They were nearly of the one height, and had the same tall, graceful figure. Both were of a quiet, reserved, but eminently affectionate disposition. They showed no noisy or even demonstrative gaiety, not even indulging in the ordinary playfulness of temper natural to the young; at the same time, they were soberly cheerful, though at intervals a pensive sadness would seem to steal over their features.

Their mother had certainly not given her features to her daughters, for she was fair—as fair as they were dark. She had the light blue eyes, bright flaxen hair, and soft transparent complexion that has been everywhere accepted as the type of feminine purity and gentleness,

  ― 244 ―
and as the mark of a soft, yielding disposition. In the case of Mrs. Marcomb, this generally received idea was utterly at fault, for there was an amount of unbending determination in this lady's character, for which very few would have given her credit. Gentle and pleasing in manner, she was lively in society, but subduedly so, as became a lady of her years. Like her daughters, she would at times show upon her face that look of pained remembrance, but only for an instant, for, if she combated with the regret that perhaps in her inmost heart she felt, she would shake it off with an effort, and throw into her features a proud, angry, and defiant air.

Mr. Marcomb himself was a quiet, easy-going countryman, with a fresh, happy, and contented-looking countenance. His only care in life was to watch over the happiness and comfort of his wife and his adopted daughters. For his wife he entertained the most chivalrous devotion, whilst his manner towards the young girls was of that respectful and considerate character so peculiar to the gentlemen of the past generation. Thus this little family lived together in the greatest unity, and, but for the occasional clouds of pensiveness, in the greatest happiness. The girls vied with each other in their attention, not only to their mother, but to their mother's husband. They were most warmly attached to him, and never addressed him except by the endearing name of father.

It was the month of April, and the day which was then drawing to a close had been unusually hot. Mrs. Marcomb and her daughters were sitting in the front room of the house, the French lights which led into the verandah being thrown wide open to court the admission of the cool breeze that had just commenced to set in fresh

  ― 245 ―
and invigorating from the sea shore. They were engaged in various feminine occupations, and, though alone, but little conversation was passing between them, for that unhappy remembrance that has been alluded to had evidently fallen upon them, and was exercising its sombre influence over them. Such, indeed, was invariably the case whenever the mother and daughters chanced to be left together without other companionship.

There had been a long pause even in the trifling conversation that had been held, when Beatrice, in a pleading voice, as though she deprecated in advance the stern answer that her mother might probably make, asked in a low tone, “And has nothing since been heard of him?”

A look of pain passed over Mrs. Marcomb's face, but, instantly shaking it off, she answered in a voice from which all trace of emotion had been banished, “Nothing!” The eyes of the mother were fixed, hard, and stern, whilst those of the girls were suffused with tears.

“Unhappy boy!” said Margaret, as the tears found their way down her cheeks. “When a few months more might have——”

“Silence!” cried Mrs. Marcomb harshly. “Let us say no more upon a subject that cannot but be painful to the whole of us.”

The girl brushed the tears hastily from her eyes, and, putting down her work, she rose and went over to the piano that stood at one end of the room. Seating herself before the instrument, she had struck only a few mournful chords upon the keys, when a native black, who, with a noiseless step had stolen round the corner of the house, suddenly presented himself before the window, where he stood silent and motionless, waiting until one or the other of those within should accost him. His dark form obscuring the light at once drew all eyes upon

  ― 246 ―
him, and no sooner was he seen than Beatrice sprang towards him and asked eagerly, “Well, Macomo, have you been successful?”

Had he not been called by name, few would have recognised in the miserable aboriginal who now stood before the window the proud war chief of the Maroo, who three years ago had led that fierce tribe on to battle. The three plume feathers of the eagle no longer decorated his head, but instead of them his hair stood up, coarse and untended, in wild confusion. His eyes, so lately bright and sparkling, flashing out fierce defiance, were bleared and dull, with that heavy vacant look that showed that Macomo had become still more degraded by having fallen into the vices of the whites, and that he was now an habitual drunkard. Even as he stood there he was partially intoxicated, and this more than anything else gave him that appearance of abject misery that was now his most distinguishing characteristic. His weapons formed the only exception to the utter neglect that marked all else about him. They were still of the best materials, were carefully selected and well tended, whilst a small steel tomahawk decorated his girdle.

When addressed by the girl, he stood for a few seconds, as if considering his answer, or gathering the full meaning of her question; then he answered her in the English jargon of the aborigines, which we shall not follow, “The horse of the young Bright Eyes is in the paddock. Macomo is no longer the chief of a great tribe, but he has no yet lost his power of tracking. He followed the horse of the Bright Eyes through many tracks, and brought it home at last, as he said he would.”

“You don't know how much I am obliged to you, for the horse was a gift from dear papa, and I would not have lost it for anything. Go into the kitchen now and

  ― 247 ―
get something to eat; and when papa comes home he shall give you what I promised.”

Though he was thus virtually dismissed, Macomo made no movement towards retiring. Mrs. Marcomb, after waiting for a time and finding that he did not leave, spoke to him: “You must be hungry, Macomo; go and get some tea and meat in the kitchen.”

Macomo still stood looking at the three ladies, but without speaking or without giving any sign that he was about to follow the directions given to him.

“Have you anything more to say to us?” asked Mrs. Marcomb.

Macomo regarded her vacantly, and after a pause answered, “Macomo passed many tracks in looking for the horse.”

“Yes,” responded the lady; “more are going backwards and forwards through the country than there were ever since we first came here.”

“Does the Fair Hair never fear a visit from the croppies?” asked Macomo.

Mrs. Marcomb, who knew that this was the name usually applied by the blacks to the escaped convicts who prowled about the bush, and lived by plunder, asked with some anxiety, “Has Macomo seen any tracks that he thinks are those of bad men?”

“Macomo has seen the tracks and has seen the men,” he answered. “So many,” he said, holding up four fingers. “Three with big guns, one with young fellow guns.”

“And you went near enough to them to see them?” exclaimed Mrs. Marcomb with much astonishment, for she had never given Macomo credit for so much spirit.

Macomo drew himself up proudly, and something of his old fierce defiant air came over him as he answered,

  ― 248 ―
“Macomo saw them and listened to their talk. The Fair Hair does not think that Macomo was a great chief, and that not many moons ago he led his tribe in many and fierce battles. He was always first in the fight when the foe was there to meet him, or if he wished it he could steal upon his enemy by day or night, no matter how keen the sight or how sharp the hearing of the man he followed. Macomo could do this with the fierce warriors of Port Stephens, and it was but a small thing to steal down upon four dull-eared whites.”

“But why do you tell us this? What is it to us that you have met four bad men in the forest?”

“Macomo tells the Fair Hair, that she and the young Bright Eyes may speak to the master, and tell him that when the warrigals are abroad the kangaroo shelters her young, and that when the eagle is soaring in the sky he has always his eye upon his prey. The master will listen to the Fair Hair, though he will not mind the voice of Macomo.”

“Do you mean to say, then, that these bad men are likely to come here?” asked Mrs. Marcomb, with considerable anxiety.

“One has been here already, close up. The master has bad men in the huts, and one of them has had a talk with the croppy. Let the master keep his doors fast and his eyes open, or he may be in danger.”

“I can hardly believe it,” asserted Mrs. Marcomb. “These miserable wretches would never dare to attack such a dwelling as this, where there are so many servants to protect us.”

Macomo smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “Those servants no good,” he answered. “Let the master not mind the servants, but look out himself.” Then, as if he had said all he intended, and did not desire to be

  ― 249 ―
questioned further, he withdrew from the window at which he had been standing, and was retiring, when Margaret ran out to him.

“Oh, Macomo,” she said, laying her hand upon his arm in order to detain him, “you know something more than this! Let me beg of you to tell us what you know and what you think.”

Macomo only repeated the caution he had given previously. “You tell the master to keep a good lock-out.”

Margaret was not satisfied with this. “You think, then,” she said, “that these bad men intend to visit the farm?”

Macomo nodded his head in acquiescence, and the young girl wrung her hands in her momentary dread. Macomo looked upon her uneasiness, and a look almost of pity stole over his features. “Let not the Bright Eyes fear,” he said. “She and her family were good to Macomo when he had no friends. Macomo will keep watch over the Bright Eyes, and over those whom she loves, and no injury shall come to her before Macomo has warned her.”

  ― 250 ―

Chapter III The Tracker Tracked

WHEN Mr. Marcomb was informed of Macomo's story of the “croppies,” he was more perturbed than he cared to confess, and immediately set about making such preparations as would tend to frustrate the intended attack upon his homestead, Macomo, meanwhile, had gone out to watch the camp of Lanty and his gang, and had succeeded in reaching unobserved a spot from which he was able, not only to see them, but to overhear much of their conversation; for, believing themselves to be entirely screened from observation, they were careless as to their manner of speech. The black had not lain long in concealment before the leader of the gang returned from reconnoitring the position of affairs at the farm, and it was at once apparent that he was not in the best of temper. Turning to his companions, he said:

“What will yeez be saying, then, when I tell yeez that we've been spied upon and sould?”

“Sold!” they exclaimed almost as one man.

“Shure, thin, it's sould I said,” replied Lanty. “There's a black shnake, that does be tracking us and spying on us an' listening to every word we do be spaking to ache other.”

“Who is it?” asked Roger, with a grim voice and a significant fingering of an old long-bladed knife that was stuck in his girdle.

  ― 251 ―

“Faix, thin, it's nather more nor less than one ov them black nagurs ov natives. It's meself would like to mate him jist to say ‘good-morning,’ and to give him the contents of this purty plaything here, even if it wor the last charge I had.”

“Then I suppose it's to be all off now with the farm,” said Jack.

“Off, is it?” replied Lanty. “Divil a off. It's too good a thing, alannah, to let slip off so aisy as that.”

“And how do you suppose we are to manage it in the face of all this preparation?”

“Preparations is nothing, me boy,” said Lanty. “What's the use of preparations when they do be taken by surprise? Guns and powder do be no good when they do be in one room and the min in another.”

“Are they to be surprised, do you think, with a sentry always on the look-out?”

“Shure, thin, an' haven't I made that right wid Mick? As soon as it's dark to-night we are to be at the farram. He will make the sintry safe, an' thin up we go to the house onknownst to anyone.”

“It looks feasible enough,” said Jack, after pondering for a while.

“Faseble, is it? Shure, we have it all our own way. The guns do be kept in a back room, so as not to frighten the wimin; an' if——” Lanty was going on.

“Women!” exclaimed Gentleman Jack. “Are there women?”

“Wimin? Arrah, thin, an' shure there are. Two as purty little girleens as iver yeez sot eyes on. As ye're the jintleman, Jack, ye shall have first choice ov thim, an' I'll coort the other.”

“And do you think,” struck in Roger, “that you'll be able to do the business quietly with two gals in the

  ― 252 ―
house? I know that kind o' cattle better. There's no stopping 'em when they begins a-screeching.”

“It is to be stopped, Raffy avich,” quietly suggested Lanty.

“I don't know,” replied Roger. “I've always found them do more squalling and noise than a whole houseful of men.”

“It is to be stopped, Raffy avich,” quietly suggested Lanty. “Ye have a very nate and pleasant way wid ye of making paple quiet, whin ye like.”

“Look'ee here!” Jack burst in. “Let us have a fair understanding over this. Deal with the men as you like, but only with them in case of their resisting; but lay a hand upon a woman, and I'll send a ball through the man who does it.”

“Whisht to him now!” said Lanty, with an ominous curl of the lip. “Isn't he more like the captain than that poor divil Lanty Maher, an' he won't have the girleens hurt at all, at all. Faix, he's the gentleman every inch ov him.”

“What I say I mean, and so I gave you warning.”

“Thin, they sha'n't be hurted at all, alannah; we'll smodder 'em with kisses an' nothing else,” cried Lanty with a grin, made more hideous by the rage it was meant to cover.

“Laugh if you will,” replied Jack, “but understand me fairly. If there's the least violence to the women, I drop out of the gang, and, what is more, I'll make a corpse of the man who does the injury.”

“Faith, thin, it wouldn't be the nate thing for an Irishman to stand by and see ill-usage to the ladies, so I'll stand by you, Jack, darlin', to the last dhrop,” put in Ted.

“An' it's the purty pair ov ladies' boys ye are,”

  ― 253 ―
growled out Lanty, barely able to restrain his wrath. “Maybe ye'll be telling me how long it is since ye did be making it all up this a-way.”

“That is not to the purpose,” responded Jack. “It must be understood that there's to be no roughing except to the men if they use violence. If it is not, I may as well drop out at once.”

“Dhrop to ——!” burst out Lanty in his rage. “It's frightened ye are, and ye're afraid to face the men.”

“No. If the men resist, I'll stand by you with my life; and you know I will, for you have seen me do it before. But if a hand is laid upon a woman, that moment I take her part.”

“An' here's another will help ye, jewel!” said Ted.

Lanty's passion once more got the better of him; but, having given vent to two or three fearful oaths, he managed to recover some of his equanimity, and was ultimately led to promise, though with a very bad grace, that no harm should happen to the ladies. This difficulty settled, they proceeded in a more amicable manner to discuss the business of the night, and the different parts that each was to take in its performance.

Macomo, who had now heard enough for his purpose, stole away from his dangerous propinquity to the ruffians who had threatened his life, in as noiseless a manner as that in which he had reached it. Once clearly out of hearing of the outlaws, he began to make his way straight towards the farm. As he was thus proceeding at a rapid pace, some sudden thought seemed to strike him, for he diverged from the direct homeward path, and sought for the track by which he had gained the hill-side. His perfect knowledge of the ground and his quickness of sight soon enabled him to do this; but, no sooner had he

  ― 254 ―
reached it than, casting his eye upon the ground, he stood transfixed and immovable, for there, following along upon his own tracks, and made since he had gone that way, were the footmarks which he knew so well—the footmarks of his inevitable and unwearying foe!

That same morning two men, one to all appearance an exceedingly old man and the other a very young one, were standing on the crown of one of the long sloping ridges that ran down into and joined the broad expanse of level land out of which the Mount Pleasant property had been taken. The elder had long spare locks of grey hair that hung down almost to his shoulders, whilst his white and untrimmed beard rested upon his breast. His face was pinched and meagre, his brow furrowed with deep wrinkles, and his countenance wore a look of pained and settled melancholy—a look in which regret seemed sometimes to be driven to the verge of despair, and in which was hidden the nameless horror of some secret thought. His dress was old and patched, having seen many months of service; at the same time, it was scrupulously clean. It was George Maxwell, much altered from what he had been nine months before. That ominous flash, the light of incipient insanity, had passed away from his eye, and had left behind it but the subdued expression of some deep mental regret. His manner also was altered, for he had no longer the smart active movements that bespoke the soldier, but seemed to go his way wearily, as if a burden too heavy for his strength was weighing him down—a burden that no human effort could shake off. Thus he moved about hopelessly, almost aimlessly, as though he were a penitent doomed to undergo a life of terrible punishment for some crime of so fearful a nature that no amount of penance would ever atone for.

  ― 255 ―

Jamie, on the other hand, had changed for the better as much as his father had changed for the worse. He had rapidly sprung up into a man, and though there was at times a strange and startling wildness in his eyes, those times were much less frequent than they had formerly been, whilst upon ordinary occasions none would have questioned his sanity from his looks. He had become not only stronger, but bolder and more resolute as he grew older. He was exceedingly stoutly and squarely built, and a few years had changed him from a boy to a man. His features ordinarily wore a look of open fearlessness, and though under strong excitement they would assume one of wild ferocity, or in moments of difficulty one of shrewd and elfish cunning, those times but seldom intervened. He was not only bold, but decisive, and he was now the leader rather than his father, whom he regarded as a poor, decrepit, broken-down man, entirely unfit for the great task that was still to be performed.

“There's where I saw the camp fire last night,” said Jamie, pointing downwards to a spot far below where they stood; “just there behind that rise that has the clump of wattles growing at the end of it.”

“And you have seen nothing of him this morning?” asked George.

“No,” replied Jamie. “He's shifted, and mayhap gone clean off. I expect there's been a split up between him and that new cove at the farm, or he wouldn't have cut away like that after dark.”

“God send he would go clear away from this part of the country,” George fervently ejaculated.

“There you are again, now!” cried Jamie. “And suppose he does, a nice tramp we would have to take after him. But of course that's nothing. I don't know what's coming over you, General. You forget what the

  ― 256 ―
both of us swore to do; and done it shall be—it it ain't by you, it shall be by me.”

“More blood! More blood!” groaned George, raising his hands piteously. “When we have already been the means of shedding enough to drown us down to hell!”

“It seems to me, General, that you ought to have thought of that a long time ago,” argued Jamie; “but we're in for it now, that's certain, and as there's only one of the devils left, go he shall after the others—that's fixed and certain.”

When he had concluded speaking, he gave a low, short whistle, and Blucher, who had been reposing out of sight on the sunny side of a bush, rose from his lair, shook himself, and came forward wagging his tail.

“Now, Marshal,” said Jamie, “we are going to look out for an old friend of yours.”

Blucher gazed steadily at his master with his intelligent eyes, remaining perfectly quiescent, as if unwilling to commit himself in any way until he had received some further information.

“You recollect that black thief, Macomo?” asked Jamie, still addressing the dog.

Blucher would have growled, had such a thing been permitted to him; but as it was not, he contented himself by showing his teeth in anything but an amicable manner.

“Well, you see, Marshal, we're going to look out for his tracks, and if you can help us in it, just try and do it.”

The dog jumped up joyfully, sprang ahead of his master, and began sniffing the ground vigorously all round.

“That's it!” exclaimed Jamie. “That's what I like to see in you, Blucher. Now, if the General was only

  ― 257 ―
what he used to be, we'd have some of the old sport again in a very little time.”

Following along the top of the ridge, they came in sight of the outlaws, during the time they were quarrelling on the hill-side. They remained looking on in amazement at the extraordinary scene, sufficiently explained by the expressive actions of the men. When at last the quarrel had been patched up, and the men moved away towards the less open ground, George and his son were rewarded for the patience with which they had maintained their watch, by seeing the black whom they sought steal out from his place of concealment and follow upon the tracks of these ruffians. Silent and watchful they remained, never losing sight either of the black or of the scrubbers, until at last Macomo, having obtained all the information he required, stole away from the spot and made off in the direction of Mount Pleasant.

“It strikes me, General,” whispered Jamie in his father's ear, “that them fellows is up to mischief, and that the black has found it out and gone off to tell all he knows to them at the farm below.”

“Can there indeed be that much good in one whom we have deemed to be all evil!” answered George in the same low tone.

“Well, I suppose he hopes to make something out of it,” suggested Jamie, “and will give just as much information as he considers to be worth what's given him. That's about the way with the serpents.”

“And they seem to be well armed, too,” said George.

“Yes, those fellows will give them below all their work to do,” added Jamie.

“They certainly have the appearance of resolved and desperate men. As we are now satisfied in regard to

  ― 258 ―
the black, we will remain and keep an eye on these ruffians.”

“I'm agreeable, General,” answered Jamie. “Anything for a little amusement, and it's a change to be at this work again.”

“Go, then,” George directed. “Sneak as near to them as you can without risking discovery, and learn what they are about to do.”

“All right, General,” responded Jamie joyfully. “Them's the orders. Why, it's getting quite like old times, and I shall see you as fresh and lively as ever before long.” So saying, and in high good humour, Jamie commenced the arduous task of stealing down unperceived within hearing distance of the scrubbers.

By the time, however, that he had effected this object, almost everything of importance had been settled upon between them, and all that he was able to gather from the conversation he heard was that some expedition was on foot, and that some robbery was that night to be committed. Finding that with all his waiting nothing more was to be learnt, he came back to his father in the same stealing, noiseless manner as he had quitted, and made him acquainted with the substance of what he had heard. Nothing definite had been gathered from their talk, and they therefore resolved to lie by in their present place of concealment, to keep a close watch upon the scrubbers, to follow them whenever they made a move, and to do their best to thwart whatever scheme of villainy was contemplated.

  ― 259 ―

Chapter IV The Bailing Up

WHEN Macomo presented himself at the glass door of the sitting-room, as described at the conclusion of a former chapter, Mr. Marcomb was at first so overcome with surprise and anger that he sat for some seconds unable to find words in which to address the errant black; but, recovering himself, he started up from the chair on which he was sitting, and commenced in a tone far louder than what he usually employed, “Why, you da——” Then, stopping, as if horror-struck at what he had been about to do, he turned to his wife and daughters: “I beg your pardon, my dear, and yours also, young ladies,” he apologised, with a bow that Sir Charles Grandison might have acknowledged with pride. “My ill-temper nearly made me forget that I was in the presence of ladies.” Then, turning to the black, he continued, “Now, you black rascal, where have you been to at such a time, when you knew you were wanted here?”

“The master has too much talk,” quietly answered Macomo. “There is no time for talking now; it is time to do when the croppies are at the back door.”

“Croppies at the back door!” ejaculated Mr. Marcomb, whilst the ladies gave a simultaneous cry of alarm. “What do you mean, you vagabond, by going away in this manner, and coming back with your cock-and-bull stories to frighten the ladies?”

  ― 260 ―

“Macomo does not indulge in talk like a young gin,” responded the native; “and he now tells the master that if he does not get his arms at once, the croppies will be on him before he can reach the weapons!”

“Stop, stop!” he said, as the ladies pressed round him, and urged him at once to do what the black suggested. “How do you know this, Macomo?”

“Macomo saw them crossing the back fence as he came round to the front of the house.”

“Heaven help us!” cried Mrs. Marcomb in accents of agony. “Are they so near?”

“And what made you stay so long away, that you only come now at the very last minute to warn us?” asked Mr. Marcomb, still doubtful of the correctness of the black's news.

“The master has no time to listen to Macomo's talk. Macomo has brought the news in time if the master would act instead of standing talking like a woman. Let him get his guns before it is too late!”

“Too late! Gracious Providence! I hear footsteps even now at the back door!” cried Margaret.

Almost before she had done speaking, the back door of the house was heard to open, and heavy footsteps sounded in the passage. Mr. Marcomb at once rushed to the door of the sitting-room, but before he could reach it, it was pushed violently open, and Lanty Maher entered, followed by Roger. At the first sound of the footsteps, Macomo had glided noiselessly away from the open door at which he had been standing; and Margaret, with a kind of crude idea that perhaps she might be able to render more service outside than if she allowed herself to be penned up in the room with the rest, resolved to follow the example of the black, and, passing through the open door, she closed it after her to remove any suspicion

  ― 261 ―
of her retreat. There remained then in the room, when the robbers entered, Mr. Marcomb, who met them at the door, and his lady, who had risen to her feet and was standing in another corner of the room supporting her daughter Beatrice, who, in an agony of fear was clinging to her mother.

“Good-avening to yeez all!” exclaimed Lanty, as he entered the room. “Shure, it's happy I am to make the acquaintance of such company!”

“Villains!” cried Mr. Marcomb, boldly facing them.

“There, there,” said Lanty, coolly thrusting him on one side with his powerful arm; “sit down, ould jintleman, and don't be making yeerself onaisy. It's the money ye have that we bees come afther, an' mayhap a few bits of aitables. An' shure a jintleman like you wouldn't be grudging that much to poor divils such as we do be.”

“What do you mean by coming here, you rascals! Go outside at once! Don't you see there are ladies in the room?”

“Faix, thin, I do see it,” replied Lanty; “an' a purty pair they be. I'll be talking to thim by-and-by.”

“This is outrageous!” Mr. Marcomb exclaimed. “Do you know what the consequences are of the act you are now committing? Are you aware that death is the punishment of the crime of which you are now guilty?”

“Faix an' aisy, ould jintleman,” the ruffian answered, “we know all that long ago. Our nicks have been in the noose these last three months, an', ye see, one offince more nor less don't make much differ.”

“I shall take care to inform——” Mr. Marcomb was commencing.

“Inform, is it!” cried Lanty, seizing him by the throat. “Take care, ould fellow, or we'll not be laving

  ― 262 ―
ye breath enough in yeer ould carcase to inform wid.” Then, turning to Roger, who had been standing with his finger on the trigger of his piece, ready to obey any order that might be given, “Tie him to the chair beyant,” he directed.

“There ye are, now, plasant an' comfirtable,” added Lanty; “an' now thin, mistress, ye'll be afther taking us to where's the goold.”

“No, no, Rachael! I forbid you to do anything of the kind!” cried Mr. Marcomb.

Lanty turned his eyes from one to the other, and, seeing that Mrs. Marcomb hesitated on being thus exhorted by her husband, he raised his piece, coolly opened the pan and examined the priming, then, shutting the pan and cocking the musket, he said, “Ye'll show us, or by the mortial, I'll shoot the ould omadhaun where he sits!” And he deliberately raised the gun to his shoulder and presented it at Mr. Marcomb, as he asked, “How is it to be?”

“Forbear! Forbear!” shrieked Mrs. Marcomb. “Put down that fearful weapon, and I will give you all you want.”

“Shure, thin, it's the darlint ye are intirely, an' it's good friends we'll be in time.”

“No, no, Rachel! They only do this to terrify you. They dare not carry out their diabolical threat.”

“Dare it!” interposed Lanty, with a fiendish laugh. “Shure, thin, it's little ye know us, that's certain, or ye'd know that it's small care we take whether it's one more or less that we lave without brains.”

“Anything, anything!” cried the lady, “rather than that danger should come to you!”

“Throth, ye're the jewel intirely; ye're the sensible woman. So I'll jist take a kiss from the girleen here,

  ― 263 ―
an' shure it's the colleen dhas she is; an' thin I'll attend to ye, alannah.” As he concluded, Lanty made a step towards Beatrice, who, already alarmed beyond measure, now ran screaming with horror from the approaching ruffian, and threw herself into her mother's arms. “An' is it frighted ye are?” he exclaimed, as he seized her round the waist and endeavoured to drag her from her mother's embrace. “Shure it's nothing at all whin ye're used to it.”

Roger now came to the assistance of his mate, and, seizing Mrs. Marcomb, the two ruffians, by their cowardly strength, succeeded in separating the mother and daughter. These raised a piteous cry of despair when they found their resistance vain, and Beatrice, immediately on giving utterance to it, fell back fainting and senseless into Lanty's arms. But hardly had the cry been raised than the French light of the front was dashed violently open, and Roger received a blow that stretched him insensible upon the floor.

Jack the Gentleman, in obedience to his orders, had taken up his position in front of the house; but, owing to his being unacquainted with the locality, he had reached his post too late to stop the egress, either of the black or of Margaret. In fact, so rapidly had the different events, which it has taken so long to describe, occurred in reality, that Jack arrived only at the moment when Mr. Marcomb was about to be bound. Margaret, after giving her warning, was returning towards the house, when she heard the sound of the struggle that ensued on Mr. Marcomb being seized. She could no longer restrain herself when the piteous cries of her sister and the intercessions of her mother met her ear. She rushed eagerly forward, and had almost reached the glass door, through which she would have entered, when

  ― 264 ―
she was seized and held back by a powerful grasp, and then for the first time became aware of the fact that she had fallen into the hands of the robbers.

“Oh, let me go, let me go!” she cried in deep distress. “Do not detain me, do not keep me at such a moment!”

“I am very sorry to disoblige a lady,” said Jack; “but no one can go in there just now. But a few minutes will do our business, and then you will have the whole house to yourself again.”

On hearing Jack's voice, Margaret started back in fear, and whilst he continued speaking she stood as if stupefied with alarm. “Merciful powers!” she exclaimed when he had ceased, “Is this real, or am I dreaming? Oh, no, no! Such a reality would be too horrible!” Then, turning her head from him and endeavouring to extricate herself from his grasp, she again appealed to him, “Oh, let me go, let me go!”

“No! Impossible!” replied Jack in a deep, determined tone.

“Great Heaven!” she almost shrieked. “It is he!”

“He! What, do you know me?” cried Jack, in no small surprise. “And who may you be?” And he dragged her forward to where the light from the candles within fell through the glass of the closed door. He took but one look at her face, and then started back in amazement, as he uttered the girl's name, “Margaret!”

“Frederick, Frederick!” she moaned out. “This is too, too terrible!”

“How came you here?” asked Jack, stamping with rage, either at his position or at his having given way to such weakness.

“It is too long a tale to tell you now,” she answered. “But oh, Frederick, fly, fly at once! If ever you loved

  ― 265 ―

  ― 267 ―
us, if you would not break all our hearts, do not you be found in league with these ruffians!”

“All your hearts!” he repeated after her in a bewildered manner. “What do you—can you mean?”

Before she could give him any answer, the piercing screams of Beatrice came forth from the room, and stopped all further colloquy.

“Oh, Frederick! It is Beatrice! Save her from these monsters!”

The appeal of Margaret was not lost upon Jack; for, grinding out the words, “The hound shall pay for this!” he dashed open the door and stood within the room. The first object that met his eye was Roger forcibly dragging Mrs. Marcomb from her daughter. Without stopping to look further, he raised his fowling-piece by the barrel and brought the stock down with all his force upon Roger's head and shoulders. The ruffian fell as if shot, and the lady, thus released, turned her eyes upon her preserver. Gratitude and thanks spoke in her eyes as they were raised, but the moment they reached Jack's face the expression instantly changed to one of despairing horror. Raising her hands to Heaven, as if appealing there for support against this last bitter drop in her cup of misery, she uttered one wild, heartrending wail, rather than scream, and fell senseless to the ground. Jack in his turn had recognised the lady, and, meeting her eye, stood as if turned to stone, his gun, with which he had been about to attack Lanty, still raised in the air, his face pale as death, and every nerve and muscle refusing to do its office. It was only when that terrible wailing cry of Mrs. Marcomb met his ear, that the spell which held him was broken. Letting his gun fall to the ground, he dashed his hand upon his forehead, as he groaned in agony, and then rushed frantically from the

  ― 268 ―
house, through the window by which he had so recently entered.

Lanty, who had stood as much amazed as all the rest at the strange proceedings they had witnessed, burst out into a hoarse laugh when he saw the denouement of what he rightly guessed to be some secret domestic tragedy, but of the plot of which he knew nothing. Taking a firmer grasp of Beatrice, for he had partially released her in order to defend himself from the anticipated attack of Jack, he laughed out in a jeering tone: “Nivir mind, darlint; ye are only in the fashion wid yeer scraming and dropping off. Faix, it seems, jewel, we'll be soon left to ourselves intirely.”

Margaret, who had hitherto remained unperceived by the ruffian, and had been utterly unprepared for the scene that had occurred, now ran forward to assist her sister. In so doing, her foot struck by accident against the gun that Jack had thrown down. “Thank Heaven!” she fervently ejaculated, as she stooped and picked up the fowling-piece, “that has not deserted me in the time of need!” Then she cried, “Cowardly ruffian! Loose your hold of my sister, or I will send this charge into your black heart!”

“Aisy, aisy,” said Lanty quietly; “do ye put down that thing, or maybe ye'll be hurting the colleen dhas. Och! Sure thim wimen is divils intirely. She's kilt now, an' ye'll be shooting her as dead as Brian Boru.”

“Better to be dead than suffer the contamination she now endures,” answered Margaret, advancing closer to Lanty, who took care to keep the senseless form of Beatrice between him and her irate sister.

Mr. Marcomb, seeing that Margaret in her inexperience could make no hand of the weapon, which she continued to hold levelled at Lanty, made the most

  ― 269 ―
violent attempts to free himself from the bonds which held him. “Give me the gun, Margaret!” he cried. “Even bound as I am I can make sure of hitting the villain!”

“Can ye, though!” and Lanty laughed out sardonically. “But not widout hitting the girleen, and ye wouldn't be doing that.” Then, giving a savage kick to the prostrate form of Roger, “What's up wid ye I dunno. Is it dead ye are, or are ye only kilt? Is it lying there all night ye'll be?”

Roger, thus admonished, seemed to have some portion of vitality restored to him by this novel though violent remedy, and, opening his eyes, he raised himself on his elbow and looked stupidly around.

“Anna man diaoul!” shouted Lanty. “Take yeer gun, man; an' if that colleen there don't put the gun down, dhrive a bullet through the old man's skull!” Then, as Roger looked vacantly about him, he added, “Wake up, man alive! Shoot the ould sinner, or we'll be taken like rats in a trap!”

Roger only partly understood what was said to him, but he comprehended enough to know that he was to shoot Mr. Marcomb. Rising to his knee, he fixed his eyes upon that gentleman, and was proceeding to bring his weapon up to his shoulder, when Margaret, in alarm, let fall the gun she held, and with a scream of terror dashed forward and threw herself upon Mr. Marcomb's neck. At the same moment the door opened, and the overseer, followed by George and Jamie, rushed into the room.

With a savage oath Lanty let fall the senseless form of Beatrice, struck down the arm of Mr. Robinson, which, with a clubbed gun, was raised to fell him, plunged past Roger, and made his escape. In passing his fellow-scoundrel, he knocked up the carbine presented at Mr.

  ― 270 ―
Marcomb, just as Roger had pulled the trigger, and the shot, instead of piercing as it would have done the body of the self-sacrificing Margaret, shattered a picture that was hanging against the wall, and buried itself in one of the studs of the building. Before Roger had time to recover himself, he was seized and secured by Jamie and the overseer, whilst George, perceiving the position of Mr. Marcomb, released him as quickly as possible. Margaret was now able to give the attention that was so much required to her mother and sister. The female servants were called in, and, with the assistance of Mr. Marcomb and Margaret, the mother and daughter were borne, still insensible, to their apartment.

Roger the Rough was taken away bound as he was to an out-house, which, being built of heavy slabs, was considered to be sufficiently secure to keep him till the morning; and, two Government men being placed on guard over him, he was left there for the night. It was only when he had been thus provided for that the party, in returning to the house, came across the prostrate body of Mike the ostler. Much to the horror and regret of Mr. Marcomb, life was found to be utterly extinct, and the mangled remains of the unfortunate groom were carried into the stable in which he had only so recently performed the duties of his avocation, and there left until a communication could be conveyed to the authorities.

George and his son, refusing the earnest solicitations of Mr. Marcomb that they would pass the night under his roof, left for their lonely camp in the bush, soon after the removal of Mike's body. The residents of the farm were thus once more left to themselves; but, oh, how different were they now from the happy family they had formed only two days previously.

It was near upon midnight before Mrs. Marcomb

  ― 271 ―
regained perfect consciousness. Looking round the room with an air of doubt as to where she really was, her eye fell upon Margaret, who was keeping a lonely watch over her mother and sister. Then the whole recollection of what had occurred swept over her, and in agony of spirit she moaned aloud. Margaret instantly hastened up to her mother's side to render whatever assistance might be necessary.

“Oh, Margaret! Margaret!” she exclaimed. “It was not, then, a dreadful dream, as I hoped it might be.”

“Alas!” sighed the daughter, “I would I could tell you that it was! But calm yourself, dearest mother; think no more of it at present, but try and rest.”

“No, no!” answered the lady. “I cannot rest whilst any doubt remains upon my mind. Tell me—has—was—has he escaped?”

“He has, dearest mother,” responded Margaret. “Do not alarm yourself on his account. Conscience-stricken, when he met your sight, he rushed from the place before assistance reached us.”

“Thank Heaven for that at least!” ejaculated the lady. “And he was not recognised?”

“Only by you and me, dear mother. My father, you know, has never seen him; and poor Beatrice was insensible when he entered.”

“And the robbers?”

“They have escaped, all but one man, the man whom Frederick—whom he knocked down in order to rescue you, dearest mother, from violence.”

“All but one! And what of him?”

“He remained half-senseless from the blow he had received, and when Mr. Robinson came in with assistance, he was secured, and has been placed in confinement until

  ― 272 ―
to-morrow, when he will be handed over to the constables.”

“In confinement!” cried Mrs. Marcomb with the greatest agitation. “That must not be!”

“Calm yourself, mother dear,” said Margaret. “I heard my father and Mr. Robinson talking together, and they said that, as murder had been committed, this man must be handed over to the authorities.”

“Murder! Too true, too true! And he was one of the parties, Margaret. He who has already stained his hand with blood, and brought misery, degradation, and almost ruin upon us. He was one of the murderers!”

“No, mother, no! He had no hand in the deed. He was away from the place when the deed was done!”

“Simple girl! Do you not know that, being one of the party, he is considered in law to be equally guilty with the rest?”

“Merciful Heaven! I never thought of that!”

“Listen, Margaret, for we must act, and act at once. You know how I induced your good father to leave his happy home and to come to this half-savage land. You know that it was only on condition that he would do so that I consented to accept his hand; and you know, too, that, laying aside all our wrongs, I took this step solely in the hope of benefiting that ruined man and of saving him from absolute destruction. Remember, that if this man is given up, nothing can save him.”

“What is to be done, dearest mother? Oh, suggest something! I will do anything to save him if it be possible!”

“It is for you to act. You must contrive some means of setting the prisoner at liberty before morning.”

In her extremity, Margaret bethought herself of Macomo, and, going to him, she said that, for reasons that

  ― 273 ―
need not be explained to him, her mother wished the imprisoned croppy to be set free. Macomo held Margaret—or Bright Eyes, as he called her—in such esteem, that he obeyed her with dog-like fidelity. That she should ask him for a favour was sufficient for him, so, without another word, he set out to perform her bidding. He had nothing more to do than to insert his tomahawk between two of the slabs, and by prising on it to wrench out the nails by which they were held at top and bottom. This was a comparatively easy task, and, being performed cautiously, was executed without giving the alarm. Entering the building, he found Roger sleeping in one corner of it. Cutting the cords that bound the ruffian, he next endeavoured to wake him as quietly as possible, so as not to elicit any cry of astonishment from the prisoner. Roger, however, nearly spoilt all by the noise he made upon being awakened. Luckily the guards slept too soundly to be disturbed, and the black, hastily whispering a caution in his ear, he was quieted, and then made to understand that he was no longer bound, and that the road for his escape was open to him.

He was not long in availing himself of the opportunity that had been given him, and, in passing through the slabs out into the open air, guided by the black until past the buildings and out into the open bush, he halted for an instant whilst he examined Macomo scrutinisingly. “You've done me a good turn to-night, and have saved my neck from making friends with a rope. I sha'n't forget it, nor you neither! What name are you known by?” he said.

“Macomo,” the black answered.

‘Good, Macomo! I shall remember it, and if I can do you a turn, I'll do it with my life!’ So saying, he

  ― 274 ―
made his way into the bush, and was soon beyond pursuit, even if his escape had been discovered.

Macomo returned to Margaret, and reported to her the success that had attended his enterprise, and, having received her warmest thanks, laid himself down to rest at his former post under the verandah. Margaret at once re-entered the house, anxious to relieve the mind of her mother with the intelligence that the danger apprehended from the capture of Roger was no longer to be feared, since the prisoner had been set at large.

In the morning, great was the surprise and consternation, and many the expressions of anger, when it was discovered that the prisoner had escaped, and that a slab had been removed from the out-house. The two unfortunate Government men who had been on guard were, of course, accused of complicity with the criminal, and were placed in irons, preparatory to some other and more serious punishment. Terrible were the vows of vengeance uttered by Mr. Marcomb against them; but, after all, they were released before night, through the intercession of Mrs. Marcomb, and by that lady's influence it also happened that no further notice was taken of their breach of duty.

Gentleman Jack, when he escaped from the house, fled towards the bush, where, shortly after, he was joined by Lanty and Ted, and later in the evening by the newly-released Roger. Recriminations were the order of the day, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the Rough was restrained from plunging his knife into Jack for having floored him as he was about to molest the women. Lanty, on the other hand, while he wished to get even with Jack, decided to postpone his revenge till he made sure of a suspicion that had taken hold of him; for, having

  ― 275 ―
noticed the look of recognition that came into the faces of both Mrs. Marcomb and Jack when they met in the house, it had flashed across his mind that the circumstance might be turned to account, and a heavy price paid for his silence. Accordingly he turned to Jack, and said:

“But, shure, Jack, jewel, ye nivir told us ye were married.”

“Married!” exclaimed the other in the greatest astonishment.

“Shure, thin, it's married I said. What for did ye be kaping it sacret? Faix, an' we found it out in spite of ye.”

Jack still continued gazing on him in stupefied amazement.

“There, there, man alive!” resumed the other. “There's shmall need for ye to be making that face at all, at all. Don't we all know that it's yeer wife an' mother that's down at the farram beyont?”

“My wife!” cried Jack, with a bitter laugh. “In Heaven's name, or rather in the name of all the fiends, how have you got this idea into your head?”

“Is it how? Faix, thin, it's by using my eyes and keeping my ears open!” Jack smiled sarcastically and shook his head. “What for was it that the ould lady did be fainting off that way whin ye did be coming up; an' what for was it that the young one did be coming into the room wid ye so cozy like?”

Jack looked bewildered and alarmed as he answered, “Oh, no, no! I know nothing of them—nothing!”

“There, there!” said Lanty in his most insinuating tone. “Don't be afther making yeerself onaisy. We'll be having it all by-and-by; an', faix, Jack, we're the boys to see ye righted!”

  ― 276 ―

“See me righted!” cried Jack, more bewildered than ever.

“Shure, an' we will do that same. Put ye alongside yeer rightful wife, an' in possession av yeer lawful property, that the usarpers, bad cess to them, do be kaping ye out av.”

“I tell you again,” ejaculated Jack, who appeared to be fast losing his temper, “that I know nothing of them nor they of me. I have not the most amiable temper at the best of times, and just now if you are wise you will drop the subject.”

By this time Jack the Gentleman and Ted had taken up the few articles they had to carry, and had gone some distance, where they stopped and made signals to the other two to join them. Hastily snatching up their loads, Lanty and Roger followed, the former telling Roger that he would at some other time make him more fully acquainted with all that he purposed doing.

  ― 277 ―

Chapter V Captured

THE same morning also, an interview took place between Margaret and Macomo. She had been walking in the garden with a nervous, anxious air, as if looking for someone, and as soon as she saw Macomo she hurriedly beckoned him to come to her. When he had reached her side, she thus, with some hesitation in her manner, addressed him: “Macomo, you said last night that you noticed that I took an interest in the young man who was with those who attacked the house.”

Macomo bowed his head in acquiescence.

“My mother takes an interest in him as well as myself, and we are desirous, if possible, of communicating with him.”

Macomo again nodded, but still maintained silence.

“You have often told us, Macomo, that you were a great chief in your tribe, though that tribe has now perished from off the face of the country.”

The eyes of Macomo flashed for an instant, but as yet he spoke no word in reply.

“We know your skill in tracking, for you have given us many proofs of it, and your courage none can doubt. Will you—” and she hesitated more than ever, now that she came to the absolute request she had to make—“will

  ― 278 ―
you undertake to find out the young man who—who—who was here last night, and deliver him a letter that I will give you!”

The native now found speech. “The life of Macomo,” he said, “is in the hands of the Bright Eyes.”

“You will do it, then?” she asked.

“If Macomo lives to meet the young croppy,” the black answered, “he will deliver the writing of the Bright Eyes.”

“If you live!” she exclaimed in surprise. “You surely do not think that this service would be one of danger?”

Macomo shook his head in negation of the spirit rather than of the words of the answer. “Macomo was looking at their tracks this morning,” he said. “They all lead away towards the pointed mountain. The croppies are afraid, and are off to shelter themselves in the swamps and scrubs of the country of big waters. But where they go to seek shelter is a land filled with warlike blacks. The men of Colo are warriors fit to meet even the fighting men of the Maroo in battle. They never make peace, but are the enemies of all of their own colour that come in their way, and spare none out of their own tribe. Macomo has met them in fight, and from them received the wounds that the Bright Eyes cured. Macomo is not afraid, but he is alone, and the men of Colo are many. He may never go far enough to meet the young croppy.”

“Heavens!” cried the young girl. “I had no idea that it would be a service of so much danger. I would never have asked you had I thought it. I would not wish you to undertake anything that would imperil your life.”

“Macomo fears not for his life. He fears only that

  ― 279 ―
he may not be able to do the will of the Bright Eyes. Let her give Macomo the paper, and if he lives it shall be delivered.”

After what she had heard, Margaret was somewhat loth to place the life of the black in jeopardy; but, as he persisted in assuring her that he had no fear and that there was no danger to himself, whatever doubt there might be as to the letter, she entrusted him with the few lines which, not foreseeing any obstacle to their delivery, she had written beforehand, and had them with her.

Well provided in all respects, Macomo departed on the errand upon which Margaret had despatched him, though, instead of taking up the hills to follow upon the track of the scrubbers, he struck off upon a line of his own, making direct for the point to which, no doubt judging from the conversation he had heard when watching them, he had imagined the fugitives were directing their steps.

The part that Macomo had played in warning the Marcombs had made Lanty and his two henchmen determined to shoot him on sight, but, knowing their inability to follow his tracks, it struck Lanty that he might make a bargain with the men of the Colo tribe, who had a natural grudge against Macomo, either to deliver him into his hands or compass his death in their own way. The bribes he held out were tobacco, flour, and fire-water, and the bargain was speedily concluded.

Intent on delivering Margaret's message, Macomo hovered round the camp of the croppies long after sleep had closed their eyelids; but while Gentleman Jack slept, Roger kept watch, determined to allow him no opportunity for escape. So Macomo had perforce to retire, and seek some other means of delivering the letter; and,

  ― 280 ―
being in the territory of the Colo tribe, he had to move warily.

Next morning, as he crept along the bank of one of the salt-water inlets known as the Deep Creek, he espied two girls of the Colo tribe fishing from a bark canoe, and thinking that he might induce one of them to deliver the letter, he approached them, so stealthily that he was quite near them before he was observed.

Quick as thought the young girl who used the paddle reversed its action and sent the canoe backwards, and Macomo, seeing this, raised his gun to his shoulder, presented it at the girls, and desired them in a keen voice to draw closer to the shore.

“Who is the stranger,” asked the girl, as she held the canoe stationary by a gentle motion of the paddle, “that calls upon Coolamie to stop? She knows him not. He is not a man of the tribe; nor is he a friend of the men of Colo.”

“He is the chief of a far-away people. Let not the girl of Colo be afraid. Macomo has slain many warriors in fight, but he has never shed the blood of women, even when they were his foes.”

The girl pointed with a half-laugh of contempt at the gun which Macomo now dropped from his shoulder. “The chief who does not injure women pointed his gun at the breast of Coolamie!”

Macomo shook his head. “Macomo desired to frighten Coolamie and make her stay. He wishes to speak to the young girl of Colo, and held out his gun to prevent her flight, not to injure her.”

“Is Macomo the name of the stranger?” asked Coolamie.

The native nodded in sign of affirmation.

  ― 281 ―

“Let Macomo say what he wishes. Coolamie will listen.”

“Does Coolamie know the croppies who are camped in the bush near her friends? There are four of them.”

Coolamie gave a petulant toss of her head, as if that had not been the kind of communication she had expected. She answered with some spice of ill-humour in her speech. “They are bad men. The young girls of Colo never go near them.”

“But Coolamie knows them,” he persisted in asking.

“Coolamie has seen them,” said the young girl coldly.

“There is one who is young and better-featured; has Coolamie remarked him?”

The young girl raised her head angrily, as if to ask what this question meant; but, seeing the calm and somewhat sad aspect of Macomo, she restrained herself and answered, “His face is not so bad as the faces of the rest, but his heart is more wicked than all the others.”

“Now, listen, Coolamie,” he continued seriously. “This young croppy has friends—white women—one, pale-faced and grey-haired, like the mother of many children; two beautiful as the young girls of Colo, and with eyes as bright as those of Coolamie. They love this croppy and wish to have him with them, to save him from the death that the white man's law condemns him to for his crimes. They have sent him a paper writing, and Macomo is the bearer of it. But the young croppy is closely watched, and the men who are with him have sworn to take the life of Macomo. Will the young girl of Colo give the paper to the croppy?” Macomo paused to receive the girl's answer; then, seeing that she hesitated, he continued, “Coolamie will one day be the wife of a chief. She may have many children. If she wished

  ― 282 ―
to send a death message to one of them, what would she say to the young gin who refused to carry it, in order to save the life of the messenger by whom it was sent and to ensure its being received?”

The girl was evidently moved by this appeal, but, masking her feelings, she replied, “Macomo is a great chief. Has he not many maidens in his tribe to whom this task might have been entrusted?”

Macomo bowed his head in sorrow, as he replied sadly, “The maidens of Macomo's tribe have long since passed away into the silent land, or live as prisoners to the foes of the Maroo. All his warriors have perished before the spears of his enemies, or before the deadly bullets of the white. All the women have fallen before sickness, famine, and slaughter. Macomo is left alone, the last of the Maroo, with none to aid, none to solace, none to guard him. He knows the full wretchedness of loneliness, and how the heart grieves for the presence of those who are loved but absent; and he can feel for the misery of the poor white women whose hearts are breaking for the young croppy who rushes blindly on to death. He felt for them, and undertook to deliver the writing; but if he shows himself to the others they will sacrifice him, and the writing will perish with Macomo. He has none of his own tribe to help him, and in his folly he thought the maidens of Colo might have tender hearts and do something for women like themselves.”

Coolamie was moved, and it was with a quiver of emotion in her voice that she inquired, “Does Macomo speak the words of truth, or does he only whisper idle tales to the ears of Coolamie?”

“Macomo is a chief. He can have no object in deceiving Coolamie.”

“True, there can be no object.” Then, as some

  ― 283 ―
thought came into her head, she exclaimed in a disturbed tone, “Oh, why did Coolamie not know this before! Quick, give Coolamie the writing, and she will deliver it. And, oh, chief, whatever may happen to yourself, think well of the maidens of Colo!”

“If Macomo escapes, and gets back safe to the white women who sent him, he will tell them that he owes any success he may have to the young girl, Coolamie.” So saying, he sprang up the log, and was for a few seconds lost to sight.

During his absence the companion of Coolamie commenced singing a native song, in no very measured tones, evidently to the great dissatisfaction and uneasiness of Coolamie. She made her companion signs to desist, and went so far as to threaten her with the paddle, but the other continued to sing on in the same tone, until Macomo once more appeared and descended the log, this time without his gun and bearing a letter in his hand. Hastily Coolamie pushed the canoe in shore and took the letter. As she received it, Macomo took her hand, as he said, “May Macomo see Coolamie again?”

“Oh, no, no!” she cried, half in terror. “Let Macomo think of himself. When the kangaroo is surrounded by warrigals, his only safety is in flight.” Macomo let go her hand, and looked round with an uneasy and suspicious glance, and she went on, “Let Macomo think that he is the kangaroo,” she whispered, “and that the warrigals of Colo have surrounded him.” With a look in which pity and regret were mingled, she pushed off from the tree.

Macomo now knew all. He made but one spring from the tree to the bank, but he was too late. The companion of Coolamie had given a signal previously agreed upon, and this had brought a crowd of enemies

  ― 284 ―
to the spot. No sooner had he reached the spot than a powerful black sprang upon him from either side. By a violent exertion of strength he threw them off for an instant, and prevented their closing with him. Others, however, were there, ready to throw themselves upon him. Turning round suddenly, he ran out upon the tree he had recently left, and sprang into the water, swimming lustily for the other side. A spear was raised to strike him as he rose, but the chief Naarandeet caught the arm of the native who would have thrown it. “No,” he said; “he must be taken alive.”

Macomo's body had hardly parted the waters before some half-dozen of the Colo men leaped in after him. To these, water was almost as their native element; whilst Macomo, being a hill man, was no match for them in swimming. He was caught before he could reach the other side, was seized and dragged, half-drowned and partially insensible, to the shore. There he was secured, and was led up bound to the camp of the Colo men, was thrown down upon the ground, secured by pegs driven into the earth, and covered over by ferns and bushes, in order to keep him out of sight, for some particular purpose the blacks had in view.

  ― 285 ―

Chapter VI The Ordeal

BOUND and helpless, Macomo was left to ponder over the ill-fortune that had thrown him into the hands of his enemies. He had now no difficulty in discovering that he had fallen victim to a plot, in which the young girl Coolamie played a not unimportant part. When, however, he came to think over all that had taken place—the manifest uneasiness she had displayed, her openness of manner, and, last though not least, the tardy warning she had given him, he felt that he might trust her to do what she had promised, and his friends at the farm would have their wishes carried out.

The men of the tribe took their morning meal, and, a guard having been appointed to keep watch over the prisoner, the greater part of the others followed the chief Naarandeet, who had arranged to meet the scrubbers.

The scrubbers were lying listlessly about their gunya, endeavouring in vain to kill the time that hung heavy on their hands, when the noisy talking of the blacks as they approached warned Lanty that his expected visitors were near. Lanty, who did not wish Jack to be present at the colloquy between himself and the chief, went out to meet them, and, at his suggestion, two of the tribe were appointed to fix themselves on Jack, and to keep him in conversation until the matter in hand was decided upon

  ― 286 ―
between the two leaders. This was no difficult task, for Jack took but little interest in Lanty's manœuvring, and preferred to talk with the blacks upon shooting or fishing.

After the usual parleying, it was arranged that Lanty and Roger should hand over the flour and tobacco to Naarandeet, the Colo chief, and then accompany them to the camp where Macomo lay bound.

Lanty and Roger had been gone rather more than an hour, when Ted, who was looking out and about him, expecting the return of his comrades, whilst the Gentleman lay stretched out upon the ground as listless as ever, called out, “Faix, thin, Jack, jewel, if there isn't one of the purtiest bits av dark skin as iver I sot eyes an! By this and by that, but she's coming clane into our camp!”

“What do I care?” grumbled Jack.

“Is it care?” Ted answered. “Shure, isn't it a young black female, an', if it's a jintleman ye are, ye ought to be up, an' paying yeer respects to her.”

Jack gave a discontented grunt for reply.

“Faix, thin, if the Jintleman won't be after intertaining her, I wouldn't be a true Irishman if I couldn't be saying a soft word or two to her.” And, so saying, Ted rose to meet the girl, who by this time was close upon the camp.

“Where is the young croppy?” she asked as she came up.

“Is it the Jintleman ye want? Faix, he's there in the gunya, and won't move an inch, not even to look on yeer own two bright eyes, though meself tould him ye were coming.”

“Coolamie wishes to speak to him,” she said.

“Divil a spake he'll spake aven to me, alannah!” replied Ted. “Shure, yee'd better see if meself won't sarve yee're turn.”

  ― 287 ―

She took no notice of Ted's words, but, going up to the gunya under which Gentleman Jack was lying, she called out, “Coolamie has a letter for the young white—sent to him by his friend.”

Jack started up with an exclamation of surprise.

“It is well that the young white can waken. Let him rouse himself quickly, or he who brought that letter will be slain,” she added in a quick, excited voice.

The Gentleman was on his feet in an instant, and, taking the letter from the girl, held it before him with a half-incredulous stare.

“Quick, quick!” cried Coolamie, in a tone of wild desperation; “if the young white wishes to save the life of him who has gone through much to bring that letter.”

At last comprehending the necessity for haste, Jack recovered from his surprise, and tore the letter open. One glance was sufficient to satisfy him as to the quarter whence it had come. “Who brought this?” he asked.

“Macomo, the messenger of the young white's friends.”

“And he is in danger?”

“He is a prisoner in the hands of the men of Colo, who are going to put him to death.”

“How came you by the letter?”

“Macomo gave it to Coolamie to deliver, for the croppies would have killed him if they had found him. The big croppy has paid the men of Colo to slay Macomo; and, if the young white is not quick, we will be too late to save him.”

“If too late to save, not too late to avenge him!” cried Jack, as he seized Ted's gun and hastily put a handful of cartridges in his pocket. “Lanty, Lanty, you have a heavy score to settle with me, and we may as well make up the account at once!” Directing the girl to

  ― 288 ―
lead him by the shortest road to the spot, he called out to Ted that he would be back in half an hour, and then with all speed he hastened after the girl, who was already far on her way to the relief of him in whom she had taken so sudden and so great an interest.

Lanty accompanied the blacks to their camp. This reached, the flour was deposited with much ceremony, and amidst wondering ejaculations from the women of the tribe in the gunya of the chief Naarandeet.

“The flour and the tobacco have been already earned by the men of Colo,” said the chief, addressing Lanty. “The black whom the big white feared is already safe in their hands. They took him whilst the whites were sleeping.”

“Dhoul!” exclaimed Lanty. “Your news almost desarves that I should pay ye double, an' only that ye overrached me, it's double I would be paying ye. An' now, where is he?”

“Here,” answered Naarandeet, as he led Lanty to the spot where the prostrate form of Macomo had been bound and pegged down securely to the earth.

“An' this,” cried Lanty in savage joy, as he gloated over the helpless form of his enemy, “this is the dog that did be follying and spying on me, an' sphoilt the best night's work as iver was planned! Spake, ye hound!” and, with a savage oath, he kicked the defenceless black. “Spake, an' tell us what for ye did be follying us!”

“The big croppy is a coward,” was Macomo's answer. “If Macomo were free, the big croppy dare not meet him face to face!”

Lanty gave a fierce laugh of scorn. “Why did ye be follying us? Tell me, or, by the mortial, I'll kick yeer black heart out!”

  ― 289 ―

“The big croppy will soon know. Macomo has done all he wished.”

Uttering a terrible Irish oath, and altogether beside himself with passion, Lanty was about to raise his piece to brain his prostrate foe, when his arm was seized with no weak grasp by Naarandeet. “No,” said the chief. “The stranger must die by the hands of the men of Colo. Brave men do not strike the foe that is bound and lying at their feet.”

For a moment the scrubber's rage was so excessive that he would have brained Naarandeet, preparatory to taking vengeance on Macomo; but the other blacks of the party had gathered round, and their wild and angry looks showed him that it would be dangerous to go farther. Subduing his passion by an effort, he replied, “Good! But let him die. Die he shall, for, divil resave me if I lave this spot till I can spurn his lifeless carcase!”

“The big white will not have long to wait,” said the chief, whose quick eye had never left Lanty's countenance, nor failed to read there every black thought that had passed through his mind. “Look! My young men are even now all but ready for the work,” and he pointed to where some of the party were busily engaged in preparing for the trial. They had selected a spot that was rather clearer of timber than the rest. In a few minutes the cry was raised that all was ready, and then Macomo was unbound and raised to his feet.

“Ye don't mane to lave him loose,” growled out Lanty. “Shlippery divil as he is, he'll go through yeer fingers.”

Naarandeet smiled grimly. “He will be at liberty to defend himself. The men of Colo do not kill their enemies like the white man does his sheep—bind them and cut their throat.”

  ― 290 ―

Macomo was led to the spot where all the preparations had been made for the ceremony in which he was about to take a leading part.

Naarandeet now stood before him. “The name of the stranger is Macomo?” he asked, not without a touch of courtesy in his tone.

“Macomo has never been afraid to answer to his name,” said Macomo proudly.

“Listen,” Naarandeet went on. “Six moons ago Macomo came upon the hunting-grounds of the Colo, and slew three men of their tribe.”

“Macomo slew them in fair fight, but they were boys in the hands of Macomo.”

“Macomo is a good warrior,” answered the Colo chief. “Naarandeet has met him in fight. Naarandeet has nothing to say against Macomo. But the relatives of the three men whom Macomo sent upon the long, dark journey, demand the blood of Macomo in payment for that of their friends shed by him.”

Macomo bowed his head sternly, as if acquiescing in the perfect right of these men to call him to account.

“Take this heileman,” continued Naarandeet, handing Macomo the small solid shield used by the blacks. “Macomo knows the law of the tribes. With this he will have to defend himself against three spears thrown by the nearest kin to each of those he has slain. Go! My young men will place Macomo on the proper spot.”

The Maroo chief took the weapon with a smile of contemptuous defiance. “Macomo will defend himself,” he replied; “not because he loves life or fears death, but to show the men of Colo that they are but boys in fight when they are put face to face with a warrior of the Maroo. The boys of the Maroo would have laughed at those who call themselves the warriors of Colo.”

  ― 291 ―

There was a murmur of anger at this speech, but Macomo took no notice of it, and continued: “Why do the men of Colo think to deceive Macomo? He knows that they are thirsting for his blood. He knows that they have received the price of his blood from the pale-faced coward, the big croppy that stands near. He knows that nothing but his life will satisfy his enemies. Let the men of Colo take it. Here is his breast. Let them thrust their spears through it, and they will see how the men of Maroo can die. Let them kill him as they intend to do, but let them not try to deceive him as if he were a woman!” As he concluded, he drew himself up to his full height, extending his arms so as to bare his breast, as if courting the spears that his taunting words might provoke. At the same time he looked disdainfully round upon his foes, every trace of sadness vanished from his countenance, no other signs being there but those of stern resolution, and bold, daring an indomitable courage.

“We doubt not Macomo's bravery,” said Naarandeet coolly. “He is brave, and he knows what is done in the tribes. If he is prepared to abide by the trial, let him stand out and defend himself.”

“And look ye, Macomo,” was uttered in the deep, hoarse voice of Lanty, “make but the laste offer to run, an' I'll send a bullet through yeer black carcase.”

“The croppy speaks big words,” replied Macomo; “but let him look to himself. His days are numbered; and if Macomo falls, the big croppy will not be long after him on the dark journey.”

Macomo was placed out in the midst of the clear ground. The men, women, and children of the tribe, who were looking on, stood in a half-circle round him. Directly in front of him, and at about forty yards distant, were three men—Wahngagan, Barcoo, and Marramutia.

  ― 292 ―
Each of them held in his left hand three of the large war spears of the tribe, and in his right the woomera by which the spear was propelled. Behind him there was a wide space of clear ground, with no shelter near enough to avail himself of it in time to escape the weapons of his enemies. These, as they stood round, were all armed, and were fully prepared in the event of any attempt at flight. His character for bravery, however, was well known, and any attempt of the kind was not anticipated—at all events, not until after the trial of the spears had been gone through. Thus it was that they were grouped almost negligently, as they waited anxiously for the exhibition of their enemy's skill at defence.

Wahngagan stood out first, and, regarding Macomo with a savage mien, as though to cow him by a look, he poised his spear and measured his distance. Macomo held himself erect, hardly returning the fierce gaze of the other, and apparently so utterly regardless of him that he seemed to be the least interested person in the ceremony of the whole assembly. His heileman was hardly raised into position until the body of the other was thrown back; then, as the shoulder was drawn back to give force to the cast, the shield of Macomo flew up into guard. The spear was launched with all the force that the practised arm of the warrior could give it, but it was launched in vain. Macomo, with a quick, gentle turn of his wrist, caught the weapon on the side of the shield, and sent it glancing off at an angle far away to his left.

Barcoo next stepped forward, and with compressed lips searched Macomo's face with a sharp, steady gaze. Fitting a spear into his woomera even as he gazed, he raised his arm suddenly, and, without waiting to poise the weapon, cast it full against his enemy. Macomo,

  ― 293 ―
however, caught it easily, as he had the former one, and caused it to glance on one side.

Marramutia now claimed his turn. He carefully poised and aimed his spear, but with no better result than had followed the casts of his comrades.

Again Wahngagan and Barcoo threw in turn, but Macomo turned the weapons on one side with an air of almost scornful pity, as if he regretted the little skill of the throwers, and desired to be matched with worthier foes.

For some time Marramutia had been working himself into a passion, and, as he now took his place, he fairly ground his teeth with rage. Placing himself in the position of throwing, he made a feint of launching the spear, but, instead of doing so, he again drew back his arm, and, thinking he had put Macomo off his guard, threw the weapon. There was a general cry of disapprobation at this unworthy manœuvre; but, in no way disconcerted either by the cry or by the feint of his adversary, Macomo was prepared to receive the spear. Instead of coming straight towards him, however, the weapon, owing to the aim being unsteadied by the check, flew to the left, and would have passed without touching him. Instead of allowing it to pass thus, Macomo rapidly dashed out his left hand and caught the weapon, and, still with his left hand, threw it back to Marramutia. It was sent with so true an aim, and with such well-regulated distance, that it stuck quivering in the ground at the very feet of him who had first thrown it. A cry of admiration at this feat rose from all around, Marramutia being the only one who did not join in it. On the contrary, this last action added tenfold to the rage that already filled his bosom. Thinking only of the gratification of his vengeance, he seized the spear which Macomo

  ― 294 ―
had returned to him, fitted it unseen into his woomera, and stood with it in his hand ready to throw, whilst Wahngagan came forward in his turn. Just at the moment the latter was about to throw, Marramutia raised his hand also, intending to launch his spear immediately after that of the other. The treacherous cast would certainly have been fatal had it been made; but, just as the hand had been drawn back, a sharp crack was heard, a small puff of white smoke rose from behind a tree trunk to the right of where the party was grouped, and the arm of Marramutia dropped to his side broken and useless.

At the first sound of the report, the women and children of the tribe, uttering wild shrieks of terror, took themselves off in an opposite direction; whilst the men dashed off to seek the nearest cover, not knowing what the foe was that they had to contend with.

Macomo was not slow to profit by all this confusion, and, without a moment's hesitation, he turned his back upon his enemies and ran off at full speed towards the dense cover of the creek bank. The young black, Barcoo, who alone saw this movement, in the eagerness of hate pursued the flying chief, undeterred by the terrible sound of the hostile gun. Another also had been a witness to Macomo's flight. Lanty, more used to the sound of fire-arms, had all his wits about him, and, the moment he saw Macomo start off, he cried: “You black hound, I'll bring ye down!” At the same time he cocked his gun, and was bringing it to his shoulder, when a sharp voice called out: “No, you won't! Raise your gun an inch higher to your shoulder, an' I'll swear I'll wing you as well as the General did the black 'un!”

These words came from behind a tree at no great

  ― 295 ―
distance, and were spoken in a tone that left no doubt but that what was threatened would be done.

“An' who the blazes do ye be?” asked Lanty.

“Me?” exclaimed Jamie, poking his head out from behind the trunk and nodding at Lanty; “why, I'm Jamie; and him as winged the black snake so prettily—and a good shot it was, wasn't it?—he's the General.”

“Jamie and the General! Divil a one av me knows yeez!”

“Don't you? Well, that's your misfortune. But you'll know us better by-and-by.” Then, turning in the other direction, the youth called out: “He's clear off now, General, and them black varmints is getting courage again. How's it to be—give 'em a volley?”

“No, no,” answered George. “Enough has been done. We will retire as we came. Our end has been gained.”

“Has it?” roared out Lanty. “But mine has not! By all the fiends, I'll see who an' what yeez be!”

So saying, he rushed wildly forward to the tree from behind which he had heard George's voice; but, before he could reach the spot, Gentleman Jack came running madly up and seized him by the throat.

The rush made by Gentleman Jack came so unexpectedly upon Lanty Maher that for the moment he was staggered, and, notwithstanding his great strength, he was held in check. Very soon, however, he recovered himself, and then, perceiving who his assailant was, he cried in a voice hoarse with passion, “Let go yeer hoult! Is it mad ye are?”

“Mad?—No!” replied Jack. “I have been mad, but I am sensible now. I know all your villainy now, and it is you and me for it!”

  ― 296 ―

“Let go yeer hoult, if ye're wise!” Lanty ground out in a low, suppressed voice. “Let go, or, by the mortial, it's not playing wid ye I'll be!”

“I'll let you go when I've torn that traitor's heart out of your breast and shown your mates how black it it!”

Lanty, who had been collecting his strength for one great effort, growled out a fearful oath; then, exercising all his force, shook Jack off as if he had been an infant, and sent him staggering back half-a-dozen paces. At the same moment the hands of both men were on their triggers, but, before either could raise his weapon to his shoulder, the Gentleman received a blow on the head from behind, and fell back deprived of sense. The chief Naarandeet, who had seen the struggle, came to the assistance of his ally, and, stealing up behind Jack, had summarily settled this dispute before his presence had been known or his footsteps heard by either party.

“Faix, ye've kilt him intirely!” said Lanty, as he looked down with a malicious grin upon the prostrate form of Jack. “Ye've saved me the throuble of wasting a shot on him; and, shure, powder doesn't be plenty wid us!”

Naarandeet shook his head as he replied, “Not dead.”

“Dead? I should hope not! He's only kilt, an' all the better. I wouldn't be after shooting him dead, for it's not done wid him I am. Ye've done it very nately,” he continued, as he examined Jack; “a rale Donnybrook touch that does be a credit to ye. It'll be aisy to kape him now, for it's not much run there'll be in him for a day or two, an' that'll give us time. But may the divil fly away wid him for stopping me from having a bit of talk wid that ould sinner! Did ye see which way he wint?” he asked of Roger, who had come up.

  ― 297 ―

“Not a bit,” answered that worthy. “I was watching him to get a shot at him, and he seemed to me to go right down into the ground. I saw him sink down, and then he was gone.”

On the morning of Macomo's capture by the Colo men George and his son had run down the track of the black, until they came to the spot at which he had been made prisoner. The signs of what had occurred were too evident to allow of a moment's doubt as to what had taken place, and George, without knowing whether he was moved by a feeling of compassion for the black, or by one of anxiety lest his sworn revenge should slip through his fingers, followed down the broad trail that had been made, and found himself before long within sight of the blacks' camp. Jamie had no other idea beyond that which had hitherto actuated him, which was to allow no hand but that of his father or himself to touch the life of Macomo.

  ― 298 ―

Chapter VII The Hut On The Big Swamp

AS soon as Macomo had time to collect his senses, he bethought himself of his gun and ammunition, and immediately made his way down the creek to where he had concealed them. Arriving at the spot, he was astonished to find Coolamie there before him. In a few words she informed him of the contract that had been undertaken by the young men of her tribe to hand Macomo over to the scrubbers, and, in sorrow for having betrayed him, and out of a new-born sympathy for the hunted chief, she told him of a place of concealment on the Big Swamp, and urged him to lie there until the pursuit should be abandoned.

At the same moment her father, Naarandeet, was giving similar instructions to Lanty and Roger, who, since their discovery by George and Jamie, were in constant fear of being pursued and handed over to the police for their share in the Marcomb affair. Guided by one of the Colo men, the scrubbers reached the hut on the swamp just as Macomo, utterly worn out, had sunk into a deep slumber.

Surprised in his sleep, the black started to his feet and gazed stupidly around, his senses not yet fully awakened to what was going on. Before he had fully ascertained who they were that had disturbed him, Lanty had recognised him. Macomo's first impulse had been to rush for escape to the door, but Lanty had recognised

  ― 299 ―
the black before the latter was fully aware of his danger. Calling loudly to Roger to aid him, he threw himself upon Macomo, but by a quick turn the black managed to avoid him. The next instant, however, he was seized in the powerful arms of Roger, who, warned by Lanty's cry, had closed with the native. In another instant, Lanty came to his comrade's aid, and in a very short time the struggle was over, and Macomo, for the second time that day, was bound securely and thrown upon the floor, panting and almost exhausted from the efforts he had made to escape.

“It's only short reckoning ye'll be afther having this time!” cried Lanty, almost breathless from his recent struggle, and from the rage which burnt in his heart. “There will be no more get away now, alanna!”

As he said this, he raised his gun and took one step towards Macomo; but, before he could take another, the light that came in at the door was obscured, the gun was dashed out of his hand, and he himself was hurled to the earth, and kept there by a powerful hand. Roger, alarmed, and fancying that they in turn had been surprised, and by their worst and most dreaded enemies, the police, would have fled, but one glance at the door was sufficient, for another figure stood there with a gun at his shoulder completely covering him.

“Don't try it on,” said Jamie—for he it was who was in possession of the doorway; “don't try it, for if you do, I shall be obliged to pull trigger, and I don't miss, I don't!”

At the same time, George—for he it was who had borne Lanty down, held his opponent firmly to the earth. His hand grasped the throat of the scrubber with a firm grip, so powerful that Lanty felt it was useless to struggle against it. “Lie still!” cried George, “and no harm

  ― 300 ―
will be done to you! Make only an attempt to move, and I'll put you past praying for in three minutes!” This admonition, backed up by an extra squeeze upon the windpipe, was sufficient to render Lanty more quiescent than ever. “Secure his gun, Jamie!”

“All right, General,” answered his son. “Get you up in the other corner, you, sir!” he said to Roger. “I ain't going to have none of your dodging out, you know; we want you a bit, you see. I've got it, General!” he cried, as he pounced down rapidly upon it, when Roger, with a growl, had retired as directed.

George now rose to his feet, leaving Lanty to recover as best he could from the rough handling he had just received. Picking up Roger's carbine and giving it to Jamie, he said: “Take the guns of these vagabonds and give them a dip in the lagoon; that will keep them harmless for the present, at all events.”

Jamie obeyed, and during his absence, which was only very brief, George kept guard over the scrubbers. When Jamie had returned, George unbound Macomo. “Arise and depart,” he said to him; “and, if you would preserve your life, leave this part of the country, for here your enemies are too numerous for you, great warrior as you may be. As for you, ruffians as you are”—and he turned and addressed himself to Lanty—“let me warn you that any attempt upon the life of this black will be met and frustrated, but not always with the same consideration you have received to-day. Let me come across you again in the same manner, and I'll shoot you down as I would a warrigal. Beyond this I have nothing to do with you. I am no thief-taker, but I will tell you, for your information, that a description of your whereabouts has been sent to the authorities of the penal settlement. By this time the constables are on your track, and you

  ― 301 ―
would do better to look after your own safety than to pursue this black, who has never injured you.”

“That's a lie for ye!” exclaimed Lanty, who had but just recovered his voice. “Didn't he sphy on us, an' inform on us; an' shure, didn't he shpoil our plant on the farram?”

“He did no more than his duty, in the same way that it was my duty to give the authorities information of your presence here.”

“It's aisy to be an informer when it's in the blood, it is!” said Lanty.

George smiled grimly. “As I told you before, I am no thief-taker, or I might have had you any day since you have been here. More than once have I been in your camp when you were all sleeping; but it is the duty of every honest man to rid the country of such ruffians as you and your companions. So now beware; make any further attempt upon this black, and I will hand you over bound and defenceless to the constables, who are now close upon your track.”

Lanty stamped his foot with passion. “Shure, it's aisy talking, an' you wid the best of it; but aisy, jewel, aisy! It's aven I'll be wid ye before there's a rope ready for me. It's wid yeer own blood ye'll pay for this day's work.”

“Threatened men live long,” George answered, and then, turning on his heel, he made a sign to Jamie and pointed to the door through which Macomo, having collected his weapons, had already passed. Jamie went out, and George followed, leaving the scrubbers behind to digest at their leisure the mortification of the defeat they had sustained.

Macomo regarded George with a countenance in which a number of varied emotions strove for mastery.

  ― 302 ―
He tried in vain to give expression to the many feelings that thronged upon him, for words failed him. He let his weapons fall to the earth, and, throwing his arms wide open, whilst his countenance assumed a look of mournful resignation, he at last found words to say, “Let the Greybeard shoot. There is the breast of Macomo. He has injured the Greybeard more than fifty lives can repay. Let him die!” Then, when George shook his head, he continued: “Twice to-day the Greybeard has saved the life of Macomo. Many times since Macomo shed the blood of those whom the Greybeard loved has Macomo been preserved from death by the hand of the Greybeard. Macomo is alone—the last of the Maroo. He is weary of life. Let the Greybeard shed his blood, and blot out the Maroo from the face of the country!”

George had been much moved by this address of Macomo, and struggled in vain to maintain the semblance of sternness he had put on when first addressing the black. Giving way to his feelings, he at last spoke: “Macomo is brave. He has suffered much. The Greybeard would willingly give his life if he could blot out the past. But there is no recalling that which has been done. Let Macomo listen. He is a brave chief, and the Greybeard will trust him. Let Macomo come when the next moon is at the full, and meet the Greybeard at the lonely grave where lie the victims of his crime. Let him promise to do this, and the Greybeard will promise to leave Macomo unwatched, unguarded, until then, so that the chief of the Maroo may have one month of peace to prepare himself for joining his warriors on the dark way. Will Macomo promise?”

The black shuddered visibly when allusion was made to that spot which had been the scene of the crime that

  ― 303 ―
had been attended with such terrible consequences to himself and to his tribe. Then, after a brief pause, he rose to his feet, and drew himself up proudly. Folding his arms across his bosom, he answered resolutely, and as if his mind had been completely made up, “Macomo will come!”

“I trust you fully and unhesitatingly,” said George. “From this time I leave you free and unwatched, to follow your own course as you will.”

The black merely repeated the words, “Macomo will come,” and George, bowing his head by way of expressing that he was satisfied, beckoned to Jamie to follow, and strode off rapidly through the bush.

Jamie had looked on and listened to all that had taken place, with no small amount of astonishment. When they had got to some distance, he could no longer restrain himself, but called out, “Look here, General, you ain't flat enough to fancy that this fellow will come as he promised?”

“He will come,” replied George. “Take my word for it that he will, and I am not often deceived.”

“You're all abroad here, General. D'ye think it likely now he'll come, when he knows it's only to have his throat cut. It ain't in reason, it ain't!”

“You know very little, my boy, of the feelings by which men are actuated. Macomo is weary of life, and would almost hail with satisfaction the bullet that took it away. Thus, I say, he will come.”

“And I say he won't. Who ever heard of one of these black hounds ever keeping a promise? They can't do it—it's against their nature; so, if you don't look after him, I will!”

“We are in the hands of Providence!” exclaimed George. “Oh, would that we had left our vengeance in

  ― 304 ―
the hands of Him who has said, ‘I will repay,’ instead of sinfully taking it into our own.”

“There's no use grumbling, General!” cried Jamie in a hurt tone. “We've done it well enough, that's certain; and if them we knocked over don't complain, I'm sure we hadn't ought to!”

An expression of deep pain passed over the countenance of George, but he made no reply, and passed on in silence. Jamie, before he followed him, put his fingers to his mouth and whistled. A few seconds after the sound had been sent out, Blucher came running up to him, and then he pushed on to rejoin his father.

Macomo had not gone far when he heard the sound of footsteps as they crashed through the scrub, and were evidently coming towards him. His first thought was to conceal himself, but one glance at those who approached satisfied him that concealment was unnecessary. They were not enemies, but friends, and friends, too, whom above all others he desired to see—Coolamie, and the young white to whom he had brought the letter. Springing forward in all haste to them, he was brought to a sudden halt by the movements of Gentleman Jack. Jack was unacquainted with Macomo, and evidently took him for one of some tribe hostile to the whites. His gun was at once raised to his shoulder, and he would no doubt have fired upon his best friend, had not Coolamie, observing the motion, hastily laid her hand upon his weapon.

“No, no!” she cried; “do not fire. It is a friend. It is Macomo!”

“Macomo?” asked Jack. “And who is he?”

“The young white—the friend of the white women at the farm, who have been so good to Macomo,” the black answered for himself—“knows him not. But Macomo

  ― 305 ―
knows the young white; for Macomo has watched him long, and followed on his track for many days to give him the paper writing from the white women.”

“Ah! You were the bearer of that letter?”

Macomo made a sign of assent.

“And you were to take an answer back?”

“It was for that Macomo waited here. He would not have now been here alone in the midst of enemies eager for his life, had he not promised the white women to bring back the young man's reply.”

“And you have been risking your life to take back an answer, whilst I have not so much as read the letter. But wait. I will repair my negligence, and give you an answer now.”

“No, not now; the croppies are too near. They are angry with Macomo because he wishes to take the young white from them. They will be sure to follow on Macomo's track, now that they have no longer the fear of the Greybeard's gun.”

“The Greybeard! What do you mean?” asked Jack.

Macomo in a few words described how he had been made prisoner by the scrubbers and rescued by George, and warned his companions that the robbers, burning with rage, were still within a short distance.

“And Macomo did not say hard words of Coolamie for sending him to a place which she said was safe, when it was the most dangerous one he could have gone to, though Coolamie did not know it,” the young girl murmured in a soft, pleading voice.

“Macomo had no thought of Coolamie but as a friend who had given him good counsel. His heart has no place for evil thoughts of Coolamie.”

“Macomo is a brave chief,” she answered in a low

  ― 306 ―
tone. “He believes others to be as noble and as true as himself.”

Jack had drawn the letter from his pocket, and was about to open it, when Macomo placed his hand before it. “No, not here!” he said. “Let us seek some safer spot in which we can hold council, and where the young white may be able to consider calmly and well the answer he will send back by Macomo.”

“Well, perhaps it would be as well,” responded the Gentleman. “I don't know that I could calmly consider the matter with that wretch Lanty so near. Should he come in sight, I should forget everything to secure my vengeance. Either he or I should never leave this spot alive!” Then, putting up the letter, and again shouldering his fowling-piece, he added, “Lead the way, Macomo; let us quit this neighbourhood, for whilst so near that villain, I have no thoughts but those of vengeance.”

Macomo moved away, and Jack followed him, whilst Coolamie stood still, dejectedly looking after them, but making no motion towards keeping company.

Macomo had only gone about a dozen paces, when he stopped and looked back, saw that Coolamie was still on the same spot, and asked, “And Coolamie?”

“Coolamie will return to her people,” she answered with a sad smile and a dejected air.

“No, no!” interposed Jack. “You must not go until I have given you some present by which to remember the wild and vagabond scrubber whom you in your woman's kindness tended, succoured, and set free!”

Macomo opened his eyes in wonder. “Was the young white in danger, and did Coolamie set him free?”

“Yes; at the suggestion of Lanty, they intended to keep me prisoner, to prevent my communicating with you; but, when Coolamie heard that the two villains were

  ― 307 ―
going off to the Swamp Hut, she brought me to my senses, for I had been stunned by a blow, and then not only set me at liberty, but, in order to provide for your rescue, guided me herself on the path, to prevent me from losing my road.”

“And Coolamie did this for Macomo; and yet Macomo is the enemy of her tribe?” he asked, as he went up to the young girl and took her by the hand.

Coolamie hung her head in womanly bashfulness, and made no answer.

“Does Coolamie not fear,” Macomo continued, “to go back to her tribe? Coolamie's father and the young men of her tribe will be very angry when they find she has helped their prisoner to escape.”

“Coolamie has no fear. Macomo and the young white will be safe; they will be far away where no danger can reach them, and Coolamie will be content. She is ready to meet the anger of her tribe.”

Macomo turned to Gentleman Jack, and asked, “Does the young white know that if Coolamie returns to the camp, Naarandeet and the men of her tribe will put her to death for her part in this day's work?”

“Put her to death!” exclaimed Jack. “I never dreamt that they would think of such a thing. No; now that you are safe, I would return and put myself in the hands of the tribe, rather than any harm should come to the poor girl.”

“My young friend speaks well,” rejoined Macomo. “Coolamie has done well. She has saved the life of the young white and the life of Macomo. She must not perish. Let Coolamie follow on the path with Macomo. His heart is lonely, but the Young Flower of the Lakes will give it joy. His camp is very dull, but she will make it more pleasant for him than it has ever yet been.”

  ― 308 ―

Coolamie made no reply, but she continued to gaze wistfully upon the Maroo chief.

Macomo took her by the hand, and, raising the woomera which he still carried with him, he struck her a no very gentle blow with it over the head. “Macomo takes possession of Coolamie,” he said. “She is his wife!”

Jack looked on with astonishment at this singular ceremony, but he was still more surprised when, after this brief and novel kind of wooing, and this rough performance of the marriage service, Macomo started on at a brisk pace, and Coolamie followed at his heels as passively and contentedly as if she had been accustomed to do nothing else all her life.

  ― 309 ―

Chapter VIII The Prodigal's Return

WAKING with the first light next morning, Jack drew forth the letter brought by Macomo, and with some difficulty read its contents:—

“Dear, dear Frederick,

“This last terrible affair has been more than we can bear. It has filled our cup of misery to overflowing. There is one here to whom last night's work will give a death blow, unless some means can be devised for saving you from the consequences of your dreadful crime. Think, oh think, what her feelings must be. You will save her—I know you will. You will not have her death on your soul to answer for at the last dreaded day. Say you will at once quit the band of ruffians with whom you are now connected, who are leading you on the way to an ignominious death. But I know that you will do this. I have sent this by a trusty messenger, in whom you may place the most implicit confidence. He will lead you to us, and, once with us, we will manage to keep you concealed until arrangements can be made for getting you safely out of this country, where your life is no longer safe. Then, with means at your disposal, with the frightful experience you must have already gained, you will be able to seek in some other land that peace which you will never be able to attain here. May Heaven bless you, Frederick, and beget in your heart a desire for a better

  ― 310 ―
life, and a disposition to do what we earnestly require, for your sake more than for our own! This is the earnest prayer of us all, but of none more earnestly than your ever-fond, but heart-broken MARGARET.”

Long did Jack sit pondering over this epistle. At last he muttered to himself, “Yes, I will see her and follow her advice. Dear, dear Margaret, your strong-hearted affection has never for a moment swerved from me, and now I will repay it. And she, too, who will not permit herself to be named to me”—and he pressed his hands in agony upon his forehead as he thought of her—“I have already cost her enough of misery! She shall be saved, no matter what the risk to myself.”

He had decided now, and, springing to his feet, he called upon Macomo to rise, for the sun was just on the point of showing himself above the horizon. Almost instantly upon receiving the summons, Macomo joined him, and Jack informed him that he had read the letter, that he was about to return with Macomo to the farm, and that he would himself take the answer to the letter that the black had brought.

Not at all surprised at this, for he had expected something of the kind, Macomo made instant preparations for departure. Once more they took to the canoe, and paddled round to the farthest point that their frail barque would take them on their journey. Then landing, they took to the bush, and, by devious and little-frequented paths, they struck out a track upon which there was no chance of their being interrupted, and but small probability of their being overtaken if followed. In this way they arrived, at the end of the second day after leaving the lake, within sight of the homestead of Mount Pleasant.

  ― 311 ―

The nearer they approached the farm, the more gloomy and desponding had Jack's manner become, until now that he was within reach of those who so much loved and cared for him, he appeared almost to dread to come within view of the establishment, lest he should be seen and shunned by those whom his heart told him now that he truly loved. So he told Macomo to go forward to the farm and inform Bright Eyes of his arrival, and endeavour thereafter to bring her out to meet him.

In the shortest possible space of time, both Margaret and Beatrice met their misguided brother, and then ensued a scene of such a painful nature that we mercifully forbear to describe it. Suffice it to say that, after Margaret had explained to Jack how they happened to be in Australia, when all the time he had been thinking of them as in England, it was arranged that negotiations should be opened up with a friend of the family, who was a shipowner, to smuggle Jack out of the country, and place him on board the first homeward-bound ship they encountered.

The chief difficulty in the carrying out of this scheme lay in the lack of a trusty messenger to carry a letter to Newcastle; but, after consulting George, it was agreed that no one more faithful could be found than Jamie, who accordingly set about making such scant preparation as occurred to one who was always more or less ready for action.

  ― 312 ―

Chapter IX White Savages

WHEN Coolamie returned from Mount Pleasant, she found Macomo downcast and depressed at the thought of having to leave her at the advent of the next new moon. But the girl could not understand his despair, until he told her the story of the Greybeard's vengeance, and of the promise he had made to appear before the white man at the appointed time. Turning the whole thing over in her mind, Coolamie determined to make a personal appeal to the Greybeard, and plead for her husband's life—although she knew that such a course of action would be abhorrent to the mind of a great chief like Macomo.

Accordingly she set out to track the General, and, finding him alone, pleaded with all the rude eloquence peculiar to the native tribes for her husband's life. As she went on, George would fain have granted her wish; but, in his moments of weakness, the memory of his oath and all it stood for rose up before him, and he steeled himself to deny her. Again and again she returned to the attack, her love for Macomo causing her to use every means towards success, while her proud spirit revolted at the ignominy of the procedure. But the heart of the settler was adamant, and at last, baffled and beaten, she turned her steps sadly towards the home she had helped to brighten during her brief sojourn with Macomo.

After she had left him, George remained for some

  ― 313 ―
moments buried in thought; then, clasping his hands wildly and wringing them in agony, he exclaimed, “Heaven help me and teach me what to do! It was a sinful oath—sinful in the making—still more sinful in the keeping. But it was made to the dead, and only they can release me from it. Why, oh why, is it that it is only now that my soul begins to revolt at these scenes of blood? Why is it that, instead of longing as I once did for the hour of vengeance, I now dread its approach?” He paused to consider. “Is it that I was mad? Yes, I must have been mad—mad—or I should never have sworn to do that which was so very foreign to my nature. And Jamie—poor Jamie! Nothing can ever turn him! Alas! come what will, the fate of Macomo is sealed!”

“And by the mortial! so is yours—signed, saled, an' delivered!” And, with the first words uttered, George found himself seized and held in the powerful arms of Lanty Maher and Roger. “It's a long score we hev agin you, alannah, but we'll be afther heving a settlement now!” continued Lanty, as George was hurled to the earth, and, by the aid of Ted Sullivan, in a few seconds securely bound.

Roger the Rough raised his carbine by the muzzle, as he stood over George, as if about to dash out the brains of the prostrate man.

Lanty seized his arm. “Would ye be afther putting a spy to death in the same aisy way as ye would an honest man? No, no!” and he ground out the words with savage bitterness between his teeth. “Let him die bit by bit, that we may see it, an' enjoy it!”

And the three ruffians sat themselves round their victim, to decide upon the manner of his death.

George, in the meantime, lay perfectly conscious of

  ― 314 ―
what was going on, but utterly indifferent as to what was to follow. He made no remark, but, from the resigned expression of his countenance, one would have believed that he almost hailed as a relief the death that now threatened, and from which he saw no probability of escape.

After various suggestions had been made by the three desperadoes for the despatch of George, it was ultimately agreed that he should be tied to a sapling, and a slow fire lighted under him.

George, as he lay, heard all that was said, but with an apathy that nothing could move, he listened to the horrible decision they had come to.

“Ye hard what it is that we'll be afther doing to ye?” asked Lanty of him.

George made no reply, and hardly so much as cast a look upon the ruffian who addressed him.

“It's pace-male,” continued Lanty, “we will be afther roasting ye, an' faix, we'll see if a spy has any feeling at all, at all. Shure, it's meself does be doubting whether thim crathurs do be heving any at all, becase, if they hed, they'd nivir be taking up wid such a dirty thrade.”

So saying, he took George by the collar, and, aided by Roger, roughly dragged him to a sapling that suited their purpose. Binding him by the middle to the tree, they unfastened his hands, only to tie them behind him round the tree, Roger tearing half a cotton kerchief that he wore round his neck to form the ligature. His feet were left unbound, as he was considered to be sufficiently well secured as he was, especially as he stood passive, immovable, and unresisting, apparently prepared to die, without a struggle, in any way his tormentors might think fit. He seemed to be almost like one in a

  ― 315 ―
dream, and paid as little attention to his captors or to their proceedings as if he took no interest in one or the other, and as if nothing in any way concerned him.

“Now, boys,” cried Lanty, “there he is fixed nate and illigant, an' it's a stick or two of wood we will be wanting, just to warrum him, but divil a more. Shure it's roashted he is to be, and not burrunt, or we'll be shpoiling his beauty.” And, as Roger drew up some boughs to the tree, he exclaimed: “Shmall sticks, shmall sticks, ma bouchal! Faix, ye'll be making a fire that will be shpoiling our roast entirely!”

While these events were proceeding, Macomo, wondering why Coolamie tarried so long, set out to meet her, and in so doing came across the tracks of the croppies, and was not long in perceiving George's plight. At first he felt glad that his enemy was thus laid by the heels, but, remembering how the white had on two occasions lately saved his life, he relented, and determined that he in turn would show the Greybeard that there was still left in him some of the nobility of the Maroo chief.

Whilst they were thus engaged, Macomo stole down still nearer, and then he was not slow in perceiving that the runaways had left their firearms lying on the ground near the spot where they had sat down to decide upon the manner of George's death. A plan of rescue instantly suggested itself to the mind of the black, and whilst they were busily employed in placing the sticks they had collected in front of George, preparatory to lighting them, Macomo came stealthily forward with his own gun in his hand. He first took up Ted's pistol and stuck it in his belt of opossum hair. He next took up the carbine of Roger, and stood it against a log to be ready to his hand, and then, coming out more boldly, he reached out to the gun of Lanty, which was still farther from his

  ― 316 ―
hiding-place, and, throwing open the pan, blew away the powder that was in it. The lock of the piece, however, was stiff, and the spring gave a loud click as the pan cover was raised. The noise, trifling as it was, was sufficient to attract the attention of the scrubbers, who had everything ready for making the fire. As they turned round, Macomo threw down Lanty's gun, and, raising his own piece to his shoulder, presented it at the convicts. Lanty uttered a wild yell of rage when he saw how they had been foiled. “On him, boys!” he cried. “Hannim in dhoul! It's only one man, an' he a nagur, an' by the hokey he shall pay for this!”

“The first man that advances shall fall!” said Macomo. “Let loose your prisoner and go. Macomo does not wish to shed the blood of the whites. He has shed too much already!”

“Are yeez going to be bate this way by a black?” yelled Lanty, as the others held back.

“Macomo has the guns of the croppies. He can shoot them one at a time if they attempt to advance, and he will do so. Let them release their prisoner, and Macomo will not interfere with them.”

“He won't, won't he? Shure, thin, an' it's kind ye are! Boys, are yeez going to be frightened by a blackfellow? Rush him, boys, altogether!” With the words, he and Roger sprang upon Macomo with a savage yell. Ted, not fancying to be the one to be shot, hung back. Roger was the foremost, and he had not taken two paces forward before the black fired on him. The ruffian staggered and fell, and Macomo, throwing down the fowling-piece he had first used, seized the carbine of Roger, that he had placed ready for the purpose. Quick as he was, however, Lanty was upon him before he had raised it to his shoulder. The two closed with each other, whilst

  ― 317 ―
Ted also ran up to the assistance of his comrade. A terrible struggle ensued, in which it was evident that the black would be worsted if he received no aid. George, who had hitherto remained perfectly passive, seemed to wake up to energy only when he saw Macomo in danger of being overcome. That the black should perish in endeavouring to save his life was more than he could bear, and he made violent exertions to get free. In his powerful efforts, the old handkerchief that had confined his hands was snapped in two, and the instant he was free he rushed forward to where the struggle was going on, picked up the gun that had been thrown down by Macomo, and, clubbing it, knocked Lanty down with it. He had only just come up in time, for Macomo, though more active, was less powerful than either of the desperadoes who had assailed him, and a few seconds more would have seen him overcome and powerless in their hands. One look at the uplifted arm of George satisfied Ted that he was no match for the two who were now opposed to him. He retreated behind a stump, from which position he commenced a parley. “Aizy, aizy,” he said. “It's bet we are, and shure the divil a more nor that ye want, or is it prisoners ye do be wanting to make av us?”

“No,” replied George. “Thief-taking is no part of my business. You are safe from me.”

“And me mates, too?” asked Ted.

“Yes; they are at liberty to go where they like; and if you care for them, you had better give them some attention.”

Ted ran over to Lanty, for Roger was already sitting up and looking after his wound, which was in the shoulder. Raising Lanty's head, Ted cried, “Shure, thin, it's kilt he is intirely. Oh, wurra, what will I do?”

George made him no answer, but, taking up his gun

  ― 318 ―
and collecting such articles as were lying about the camp, he made them into a swag, and, leaving Ted to look after his comrades, he joined Macomo, who had remained, gun in hand, a short distance off, calmly awaiting the conclusion of the colloquy.

Beckoning to the black to follow, George moved away up the range until he was out of sight and hearing of those he had left behind. Then, suddenly stopping short, he turned round, and, in a voice that betrayed no small amount of emotion, said, “Macomo, you have saved my life!”

“The Greybeard has saved the life of Macomo many times. Macomo has saved the life of the Greybeard only once. He still owes the Greybeard much!”

“Macomo, you have lately done much that is good. You are no longer the murderer and plunderer you once were. You have shown yourself a friend to the whites. I would willingly forget the past, but I cannot—dare not. A terrible oath was taken, and that oath must be fulfilled.”

“The Greybeard is right. Macomo has injured him. Only the life of Macomo can satisfy the blood he has shed. Macomo is ready to give up his life to the Greybeard. He has no tribe, no warriors—nothing to live for now!”

“Has Macomo nothing that makes life pleasant to him—nothing?” asked George pointedly.

“Yes, there is one whom Macomo will leave behind him—Coolamie!” And his voice sank to a melancholy tone as he mentioned the name. “More graceful than the waratah, more beautiful than the flowering wattle, she loves Macomo, and has made his camp very pleasant. She left her tribe, her friends, and the hunting-grounds of her people, to follow the path of Macomo. Macomo loves her, but he has gathered the flower of the lake country,

  ― 319 ―
and bound it in pride in his knotted hair, only at the time when his head is to be laid low.”

“Listen, Macomo. Your life I cannot save. It is forfeited. It is the penalty of your crime to lose it, and my punishment, for recording a rash and wicked oath, to take it. But, believe me, that Coolamie shall be cared for.”

“It is good!” said Macomo. “Let the Greybeard watch over her, and let him get the white women at the farm to receive her, and Macomo will start contented for the long journey.”

“Take my word for it, it shall be so!” cried George, and, in the impulse of the moment, he put out his hand as if to clasp that of Macomo, but, suddenly remembering himself, he withdrew it with a shudder. Then, with a look of blended horror and compassion, he waved a farewell to Macomo, and without another word left the spot.

Macomo stood looking after his enemy until his form was lost to sight in the distance. For some time he stood buried in sombre thought; then, resuming his self-possession, he stalked away and took the nearest route to his camp.

  ― 320 ―

Chapter X The Last Long Journey

WHEN Jamie returned from Newcastle with the message that everything was satisfactorily arranged for Jack's escape, Margaret had an interview with her brother, in which she received his promise to make a fresh start in some new country, and endeavour to make some atonement for the misery he had brought upon his unfortunate family. He had but one strong desire before departing, and that was to see his mother once again and obtain her forgiveness, if possible. In this his sister coincided, and she arranged to bring Mrs. Marcomb to the rendezvous, provided she could be induced to accede to the request. During all these arrangements, Mrs. Marcomb, although yearning in her heart to clasp her erring son to her bosom, had persistently refused to go near him, partly on account of her desire to keep the terrible secret from her husband, and partly because, in the first flush of the degradation and disgrace that overwhelmed her and her family, she had taken a vow never again to look upon his face until he was about to die, and the memory of that vow rose up as an impassable barrier, and stemmed the tide of a mother's emotions. Although a deeply religious woman, she was at the same time very superstitious, and, so strongly had the recollection of her awful vow taken possession of her, that it required all the persuasions of Margaret and of George,

  ― 321 ―
whose aid she had enlisted, to bring the mother to take a broader view of things, and consent to a reconciliation. The meeting was eventually brought about by George, who led Jack round to the garden as soon as night's mantle had covered all, and, no sooner had he thrust him inside the gate than mother and son were face to face.

“Oh, mother! Dear, dear mother!” Jack almost sobbed out as he rushed forward.

He would have thrown himself at her feet, but, instinctively guessing what he was about to do, Mrs. Marcomb prevented it by hastening forward and taking him in her arms, as she cried, “My son, my own boy! And is it thus we meet, to part so soon and for ever!”

There was silence for a few seconds, as the mother and son, so long separated, so soon to be again severed, held each other in a mute and fond embrace. Mrs. Marcomb, her motherly feeling alive to the danger of delay, was the first to recover from the transient happiness of the meeting.

“My boy, my Frederick!” she exclaimed as she released her arms. “We must not delay, when every moment is fraught with danger!”

Jack smiled lovingly upon her. “I care for nothing now. There is no danger that can affright me, now that your embrace has given my heart assurance of your forgiveness.”

“Ah, Frederick,” said the poor mother, “human pardon, even if it be from those who have been the most injured by our crimes, is but of small account. It is elsewhere we must look if we would have it avail, and may Heaven pardon you as fully and as freely as I have done long, long ago!”

Jack kissed his mother fondly as he cried in a joyful tone, “Now let the worst come; I am prepared for it.

  ― 322 ―
Good or evil fortune will be met with a daring front, for, armed with a mother's loving blessing, I shall be strong in mind as well as in heart.”

No sooner had he said this than a warning coo-ee from Coolamie told them that danger was near, and in a few seconds more the sound of voices and the rush of feet left them in no doubt.

As a matter of fact, the surprise had been effected by Mr. Marcomb and a posse of police whom he had called in order to effect the arrest of the croppies, little guessing that his own wife's son was amongst their number.

Mickey, the serving-man, who had all along been in league with the croppies, and who pretended sympathy with the family merely for the purpose of serving his own selfish ends, having learned the secret of Gentleman Jack, tried to extort blackmail from Mrs. Marcomb, and it was her refusal that brought about his revenge. Knowing that a meeting between mother and son had been arranged, Mickey the faithless had informed Lanty and Ted and Roger, and they thereupon planned to interrupt the interview, and extort as much money as possible from the Marcombs. Unfortunately for the success of their scheme, the police had arrived a day earlier than Mickey had anticipated, and thus the scrubbers and the police came upon the scene in the garden from different directions. But Mickey's sense of honour was an elastic quantity; so he bethought him that, if he pretended to assist the police in their search for the robbers, he might thereby gain his own freedom.

As soon as the alarm was raised, the scrubbers, wild at being baulked of their prey, determined to have a certain measure of vengeance on Jack, if possible, and accordingly, even at the risk of discovering their own presence, they fired in his direction, and succeeded in

  ― 323 ―
wounding him. For a few seconds he wavered, and then fell by the side of the fence, where he was immediately set upon by Ted, who plunged a sheath knife into his breast by way of making sure of him. But his victory was short-lived, for, ere he could withdraw the knife, the tomahawk of Macomo, who arrived just a moment too late to protect Jack, crashed into the scrubber's skull and silenced him for ever.

Only when, by the exertions of her husband and daughters, she was carried up to the house, did Mrs. Marcomb recover consciousness. Her first thought was of her son, her first question concerning him. “Where, where is Frederick?” she exclaimed. “Has he succeeded in escaping?”

Margaret answered sadly, “He has been wounded and made prisonér, and can hardly survive more than two hours.”

“Not more than two hours!” exclaimed the lady wildly. “Oh, my vow, my fatal vow! Where is he? Let me go to him!”

“Will it not be too much for you in your present weak state?”

“A mother knows no weakness when her children demand her attention. But anything will be better and more bearable than this suspense. Where is he?” And she rose to her feet unaided, and to all appearance as strong as ever.

“In the sitting-room. And, oh, mother, dear, prepare yourself for a melancholy sight, for his life blood is slowly ebbing away from a wound received, not from the weapons of the police, but from the hands of one of his old associates.”

Mrs. Marcomb could not prevent one choking sob from rising out of the depths of her overladen bosom.

  ― 324 ―
Then she added resignedly, “Heaven is just! It is our own evil deeds that find us out and punish us!” So saying, and leaning on her husband's arm, and followed by Margaret, she approached the couch on which lay her dying son, and, seating herself at his head, took Jack's hand in her own. This action caused him to open his eyes, over which the film of death was just gathering. Then for the first time he noticed his mother.

“Loving to the last!” he said faintly, whilst a smile of love played upon his face. “Dear mother, you have not deserted me!”

“No!” replied Mrs. Marcomb firmly. “To the last I will stand by you!”

And Mrs. Marcomb, encircling him with her arm, besought him to calm himself.

“How can I be calm,” he whispered, for he was fast sinking, “with him always before me?” and he pointed out straight in front of him. “He always stands like that—him arms folded, and his fair hair and forehead dabbled with blood. He never mocks me, but that look of quiet scorn he turns upon me is more terrible than the most bitter words!”

“No, no!” cried Mrs. Marcomb. “You deceive yourself. He had no such bitter feeling towards you. With his dying breath, and it was sent forth in my arms, he forgave you and prayed to Heaven to pardon you!”

“You were with him in his last moments!” exclaimed Jack, his astonishment at the announcement giving more strength to his voice than it had previously displayed.

Mrs. Marcomb had spoken hastily, and now regretted having said so much. “Yes, yes!” she answered, “think no more of it!”

“I must, I must know all!” he said excitably. “I

  ― 325 ―
have not many minutes to live, and shall soon be face to face with him whom I have injured. How was it you were with him? Quick! I have not long to wait!”

“Oh, no, no, mother dear! Make not his dying moments more painful than they are!” implored Margaret.

“You, too, Margaret! Ah, a horrible doubt comes upon me! He was about to be married when I butchered him—to whom, mother, to whom? Answer my dying question!” And in his terrible excitement, he spoke almost in his natural tone of voice, and raised himself up till he rested on his elbow.

Margaret turned an imploring look upon her mother, but Mrs. Marcomb's eye was fixed upon the countenance of her son, and she saw not the mute appeal to silence. Like a person under mesmeric influence, and as if she were constrained unwillingly to utter the words that came from her lips, she muttered hoarsely, and in a voice scarcely audible, “Yes; you have guessed rightly. He was to have been married to your sister Margaret; and on that terrible night when he met his death he went to find you, with the express intention of weaning you from your wretched mode of life, by disgusting you with it.”

Jack raised himself into a sitting posture as his mother proceeded, and when she had finished he stretched out his hands, made fearful, but ineffectual efforts to speak, and then there was a gush of blood from his mouth, his eyes fixed themselves in agonised pleading upon Margaret's face, and without a groan or a sound he fell back, and the next instant was dead.

Margaret sprang forward as he fell, and, burying her face in the couch by the side of her brother's body, breathed a fervent prayer for the sinful soul that had just gone to its account.

The poor mother sat as if turned into marble, and,

  ― 326 ―
unable to take her eyes off that face, upon which that look of pleading agony was still imprinted. It was only when her husband approached and soothingly placed his hand upon her shoulder that she was brought back to herself. Pressing her hand to her side as though in pain, she rose and made a step towards the door. She staggered and would have fallen, had not her husband been by her side to support her. She turned, wondering at the aid she had received, and, seeing her husband, she smiled faintly, as she said, “Thank you, James; it was thoughtful of you; but you were always thoughtful for me. I shall be better presently, but—lead me to my room.”

  ― 327 ―

Chapter XI Coolamie

WITH the first light of day the police were off on the track of the scrubbers. Macomo had picked up the track very readily, and the party were far away from Mount Pleasant long before any of that grief-wearied family were stirring. When at last its members made their appearance, Margaret saw with great satisfaction that her mother appeared to bear up better than she had expected against the blow she had received. Her son lay dead, but still there was the consolation, poor as it may seem to those who have never been placed in similar trying circumstances, of knowing that, at all events, the assassin's hand had saved him from an ignominious death. To this he was certain to have been doomed had he been taken alive, and the heart-broken lady almost thanked Heaven that, in its mercy, it had spared her this last trial.

The day passed over heavily. There were certain formalities to be gone through, but the Sergeant of Police had saved them from much difficulty by authorising them to bury the body and promising to report the matter to his superior officer. There was thus nothing left but to make preparations for the interment. In those early days a burial-ground was to be found upon every large establishment, and that of Mount Pleasant already contained eight or ten graves. The Government men were

  ― 328 ―
set to work to dig two graves—one for each body—and, this done, they were allowed their liberty for the day. In the afternoon the corpses were consigned to the earth, unfollowed except by Mr. Marcomb, who, when the state of affairs was explained to him, behaved in the most magnanimous manner, though his wife and daughter watched on its journey to its last resting-place the remains of him they had so dearly loved, shedding bitter tears at this untimely ending to a career that had commenced with so much promise.

In the evening the little family assembled in the sitting-room, silent and plunged in grief. Their loss was too recent for any pretence of indifference to be made. What little conversation there was was conducted in few words and in low tones. No word was spoken about him who had that day been borne to his last home; but it was evident that the thoughts of all were travelling to that narrow spot where lay a sinner awaiting the dread fiat of the Eternal Judge. Thus they retired early to rest. Mr. Marcomb, however, expressed his intention to sit up a little longer, in order to communicate with the police in case they should return. They had been gone hardly half an hour, and Mr. Marcomb was sitting buried in thought, with a book before him which he had been trying, but trying unsuccessfully, to read, for his thoughts would wander away from the page. He was disturbed by hearing the sounds of footsteps outside, and instantly rose, thinking the police had returned. He had hardly gained his feet, before the French light, which served as a door, was rudely pushed open, and Mickey, followed by Lanty Maher and Roger, entered the room.

“God save all here!” said Mickey in a tone of unconcern. “You see, I've come to tell ye that I did be

  ― 329 ―
coming back. It's not so soon as ye were expecting me back, I'll go bail!”

“You impudent scoundrel, you! You shall pay dearly for this!” cried Mr. Marcomb.

“There, there!” interposed Mickey. “It isn't praching we do be wanting. It's money. So just give us up what ye have, an' thin we'll lave ye alone!”

Mr. Marcomb looked from one to the other of these ruffians, and at once saw that his unhappy reference to last night had done more harm than good, by exciting the evil passions of the men. Assistance was not to be had. If he could get rid of them by giving them the money, without alarming his wife, he would do so. He therefore said, “Silence! Make no noise to alarm the ladies, and you shall have what you want.”

This being settled, Mr. Marcomb, followed by Lanty, left the room. No sooner had he done so than Roger, who had hitherto kept up appearances tolerably well, sank exhausted into a chair, and gave indications of fainting.

“Kape your spirits up, Roughey!” cried Mickey. “Shure it's only this one sthroke, and we are made men for the next twelve months.”

The Rough groaned heavily, and placed his hand upon his shoulder. “If I could only get the bullet out!” he growled out.

“After the night, ye'll be able to take it aisy, alanna, wheer ye like,” was Micky's consolation.

“The confounded arm hangs like a ton weight at my shoulder, and seems to drag me down,” groaned the Rough.

“Shure, an' won't the money we'll get buy ye a docthor, an' thin——”

He stopped short, for he heard a footstep on the

  ― 330 ―
verandah, and the next instant there was a tap at the French light.

Mickey and Roger looked at each other. The blinds were down, and the person outside could not see into the room.

“Hide behind the windy curtains!” whispered Mickey to Roger, who rose heavily from the chair and did as directed. “Who's there?” now asked Mickey in his usual tone of voice.

“It's me—Jamie. I want to see Mrs. Marcomb,” was the reply.

Mickey's eyes sparkled as in a savage whisper he said to Roger, “The spy's brat! By this an' by that, but it's in luck we are this night. Ye won't see her by shtopping outside!” he cried aloud.

Jamie opened the door and entered. He carried his gun in his hand, and seemed not a little astonished at the chamberlain who was there to receive him. “Hullo!” he ejaculated, “my lame chap! So you've worked it, have you? Got promoted to house-work?”

“Shure, an' yes,” replied Mickey, with a grin. “It is a little house-work I do be doing just now; an' what is it I'll be afther doing for ye?”

“I want to see Mrs. Marcomb.”

“An' it's Mrs. Marcomb ye want? Faix, thin, ye'll have to wait, for it's in bed she does be at this blessid minnit.”

Jamie had come fairly into the room, so as to have Roger behind him. Mickey, as he spoke, had gradually approached the lad, until now he was close to him. The boy, not in any way dreaming of attack from that quarter, had allowed him to come thus near. And now, as Mickey concluded, he made a sign which Roger was not slow to interpret. He was almost within reach of Jamie, and

  ― 331 ―
one step after he had quitted his concealment placed him close to the lad. As he stepped, he seized with his unwounded arm the gun which Jamie held carelessly, and tore it from his grasp. At the same time, Mickey seized Jamie by the throat, and endeavoured to cock a pistol which he held in the other hand. Jamie, however, was much more powerful than Mickey had reckoned for, and the ruffian had as much as he could do to retain the mastery that the first attack had given him. As the boy struggled, he called loudly for help.

“Knock out his brains, Roughey, jewel. He twists like an eel, an' his muscles are like iron, an', faix, it's as much as I can do to holt him!” Mickey panted out as he struggled with the boy.

Mickey threw away the pistol, as he cried, “Here, Roughey! Hoult him wid yer one hand, and grip him tight!”

The Rough obeyed. He held the lad by one hand, and Mickey also held on by one hand, whilst with the other he drew a clasp knife from his pocket, opened the blade with his teeth, and, grasping it firmly, was about to strike his victim, when he in turn was seized and his arm was borne down by Coolamie, who, with flashing eyes and dilated nostrils, now confronted him. Aided by this surprise, Jamie tore himself loose from Mickey, and the latter, with an oath, seized the young girl savagely, and plunged the knife again and again into her bosom. With a wild shriek, as she received the wounds, Coolamie fell to the ground, and Mickey turned once more to attack the lad. Jamie was now prepared for him. He had made but short work of the Rough, whom he had thrown off with as much ease as if he had been a child, and then, seizing his gun, he had it to his shoulder just as Mickey turned upon him. Before the convict could make the

  ― 332 ―
spring he meditated, Jamie fired, and the ball, true to its mark, entered the ruffian's skull between the two eyes. He gave a shout and a spasmodic spring into the air, and fell dead.

At the same instant that Coolamie had given her first death shriek, screams of terror were heard to arise from the room towards which Lanty had gone. He had heard Coolamie enter the house, and, fearful of surprise, had called out to Mr. Marcomb, and had thus alarmed the ladies. When they screamed, he thundered at the door for admittance, and, not being able to force it, he placed his pistol against the lock and discharged it. Mr. Marcomb, seizing the first offensive weapon that came to hand, was prepared to dispute his entrance; but just then Lanty caught the sound of voices and of eager rushing feet outside, and, guessing that the game was up, left the door and made his way back to the room, just as the shot was fired that had killed Mickey.

After discharging his gun, Jamie had clubbed it, with the intention of settling accounts with the Rough. Roger, however, had made his escape as soon as he saw Mickey fall, and Jamie only barely caught sight of his retreating figure. Before he could follow him, Lanty rushed in, calling upon the others to hurry off and escape. He ran against Jamie before he perceived who it was. Then he uttered a wild execration and struck fiercely at him. The boy, however, rushed forward at the same time to grapple with him, and the blow that was aimed at him with the butt of Lanty's musket took but little effect. Coming by surprise, however, it took him off his feet, and he fell before he could close with his assailant. Lanty gave one wild, vengeful look, as if regretting that he could not stop to finish the work, and then rushed off, as the hurrying footsteps of the police were heard in the

  ― 333 ―
house. Jamie sprang to his feet again, but before he could rub his head and look to his weapon, Lanty had disappeared and the police had rushed into the room, and, presenting their guns at him, called out, “Surrender in the King's name! Stir a step, and you are a dead man!”

“No thanks to you that I ain't one now. I've had a pretty close scrape of it as it is; and now here you corner me up, when I ought to be following them rascals,” answered Jamie, with an injured air.

“Who are you?” asked the sergeant, seizing Jamie by the collar with no very gentle hand.

“Keep your hand off me, for I'm rather hot-tempered,” answered Jamie, with a frown. “If you must know, I'm Jamie Maxwell.”

“Son of Sergeant-Major Maxwell?”

“Of him as was Sergeant-Major; yes——”

“Give me your hand, my lad. Now, what is all this about?”

Mr. Marcomb had now entered the room, and he briefly explained the attack that had been made, though he was astonished at the appearance of Jamie.

Jamie then told of his entering the room, of his colloquy with Mickey, and of the attack made on him. “I was settled to a certainty if it had not been for the black girl there. And they have settled her, poor girl! She was a game 'un, and no mistake, to tackle that fellow there!”

“And did the black girl do this?”

“No, that's my work. Pretty shot, wasn't it? Plumb centre between the two eyes.” He then detailed the particulars of the struggle, and of the rush of Coolamie to his rescue, of her death, and of what occurred subsequently, up to the arrival of the police.

  ― 334 ―

“Poor Coolamie!” said Mr. Marcomb, bending over the body of the black girl. “I ought, however, to say, poor Macomo! For I do not know how he will bear the loss of his gin.”

“Macomo!” exclaimed the sergeant. “Yes, now I look at her, I can see it is the gin who was with him last night.”

He had scarcely finished speaking before the black chief entered the room, followed by George. He looked eagerly round the room, as though he had hoped to see his enemies in the hands of the police; and then his eye fell upon the group who surrounded the body of his Lake Blossom. He advanced, as if curious to see what so interested them, with no thought of the loss he had sustained pressing upon his heart. But one glance showed him the dress which Mrs. Marcomb had given her, and which she took so much pride in wearing. Hastily he stepped up, and those who stood around considerately made way for him. For a second he stood transfixed, as if doubting what he saw, then, as if he could doubt no longer, he uttered a hollow moan of pain, and threw himself on his knees by the side of her he had loved so well. He raised her hands, pressed them tenderly, and then let them drop; and, as they fell heavily, he lifted her head and gazed into those eyes over which death had cast its dull, senseless film. He uttered no word, but now and again a wild sob broke from his bosom as though it would rend it. Then he pushed the dress aside, and looked at the gaping wounds through which her young life had escaped. Uttering rapidly some native words, but in so low a tone that none could hear, he sprang to his feet, drew himself up proudly to his full height, and, though almost choked by the sobs that would find vent in spite of all his struggles to suppress them, he looked round

  ― 335 ―
with an unmoved countenance upon those who stood about him. Then, leaning forward, he raised the body, and threw it with a sudden jerk over his shoulder. Without speaking, for he could not trust himself to utter a word, and bearing his bleeding burden with him, he strode out of the room.

Mr. Marcomb would have interfered to detain him.

“Let him go,” interposed George. “It's always best to let these blacks have their own way with their dead. He wants to be in a quiet place to indulge his grief over her, and then he will bury her after the fashion of his tribe. When she is thus disposed of, then woe to the man who struck the blow!”

“The man who struck the blow won't give much trouble,” put in Jamie, “for there he is, quiet and harmless enough.” And he pointed to the body of Mickey. “I put him out of harm's way, you see.”

“You!” exclaimed George, who now for the first time saw his son. “How came you mixed up in this business? How came you here?”

“Well, you see, General,” and Jamie scratched his head, “it is a breach of orders, sure enough. You told me to wait for you—there's no denying that; but, after I'd waited two nights and nobody come near me, and after stopping to-night until I knew it was too late to expect you, I come up here to see what was wrong, for I made sure there was a difficulty some where, and was half afraid you'd got into a scrape.”

“You see the consequence of disobeying orders,” said George sternly. “If you had stopped as you were told, you would not have risked your own life, and would not have caused the death of that poor girl.”

“She saved me—there's no doubt about that. She's a regular trump, and no mistake. If you'd seen how she

  ― 336 ―
tackled my lame friend, and stuck to him, too, like one o'clock. If she kept her hold only a second longer, my bullet would have done for her what her gameness did for me.”

“And do you know that she is the gin of Macomo?” asked George in a low tone.

“Yes; I heard the sergeant say so just now. I say, General, it's a rum go, isn't it, that his gin should save my life?” And Jamie shook his head, as if there could not be a stranger thing, according to his idea.

In the meantime Mr. Marcomb had inquired from the sergeant how it was that he had come up so opportunely, and that officer detailed the circumstances which had led them to resolve upon returning. He would have set out that same night to follow the scrubbers, but George advised him to wait until Macomo had laid poor Coolamie in her last resting-place, as he was certain that the black would be only too glad to assist in running down the murderers of his faithful gin.

The police officer, when he rose at daylight the next morning, found Macomo sitting at the door awaiting him. Only staying to take a hasty meal, the party started off in pursuit of the escaped felons, but, after they had been gone for a week, news reached the farm that they had been unsuccessful, and had given up the search. They had picked up the tracks of the scrubbers readily enough, and Macomo had followed them down to the river-side, about two miles above where the Paterson debouches into the Hunter. There they had evidently taken possession of a small boat and embarked upon the river. After that all trace of them was lost, and, though the police and Macomo searched both banks of the river for several miles above and below the spot whence they had started, their landing-place could not be discovered. When at

  ― 337 ―
last the constables gave up the search, Macomo refused to return with them. Certain of ultimately finding what he sought for, he declared that he would continue the search until he was successful. When he had tracked the marauders—and of his ability to do this he had no doubt—he promised to send a message to the police, so that the apprehension of the offenders might be made by them. Relying on this promise, they left him to his solitary perquisitions.

George and Jamie continued in the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant until they learnt the result of the expedition. When they ascertained beyond all doubt that the police had failed, they disappeared without saying farewell to any.

  ― 338 ―

Chapter XII The Last Black Hand

A FORTNIGHT has passed away since the sudden and unannounced departure of George from Mount Pleasant; and the events of the story now take the reader back to the spot where its first terrible incident occurred—the now-deserted farm of George Maxwell. Three years of neglect and desertion had made a great change in its appearance. The fences had fallen or been broken down in places, while the whole aspect of the place had become more wild and overgrown than it had been in its original state, and before the hand of man had interfered with the work of nature.

It was after sundown, and darkness was already closing in upon the scene. The day had been bright and cloudless, and the night promised to be fine and clear. By the side of the grave, and looking pale and spectral in the moonlight, stood George Maxwell, leaning on his gun, and his eye fixed in troubled thought upon the grassy mound beneath which he buried all his hopes of happiness in the world.

George stood for a few seconds regarding the grave with sorrowful eyes; then, as thoughts of the past and of the present thronged upon him and half-maddened him with conflicting memories, he let his gun fall from his hands, and with a heavy sob dropped on his knees beside the mound and buried his face in the long grass that grew

  ― 339 ―
over it. “Oh, must our separation be eternal!” he groaned out. “Shall we never meet again! Must this wicked oath in its fulfilment divide us hereafter, as the fearful deed that called it forth has parted us here? Oh, wife, wife, hear my voice, and, if Heaven permits the spirits of the departed to commune with those they loved here below, guide and direct me in this cruel strait!” In his agony of mind he clasped the cold earth in a frantic embrace, and lay sobbing hysterically for some seconds. Then he became quiet, and was lying thus, when Jamie came to inform him that supper was ready.

“Now then, General, all's ready!” said he.

George raised his head at the summons, but even in the pale moonlight it could be seen that his cheeks were wet with a moisture that had never come from the dewy grass.

“Hullo!” cried Jamie in astonishment, as he remarked this evidence of what he considered a weakness. “What's up?”

“There is this,” replied George, in a calm and assured voice. “The dew of Heaven has fallen upon my heart and found an outlet from my eyes. We are pardoned, Jamie! we are pardoned!” he said excitedly. “We shall once more meet those sainted ones who lie below!”

“And have you really been crying about it?” Jamie asked, unable as yet to overcome his wonder at the phenomenon.

“I thought never to be able to shed a tear again,” George went on. “I thought that the fountain whence spring these blessed drops had dried up for ever, and that I should never weep again. But, as I lay in mad despair upon the grave, there came from below the whispering voice of my beloved wife ‘As you forgive your debtors,

  ― 340 ―
so shall your debts be forgiven you!’ Those were the words she uttered. I knew them well once—strange that I should have forgotten them. When I heard that small whispering voice, I knew what I had to do, and in my heart I forgave this last offender the wrong he had done me. Then came the blessed tears, my brain was cleared, and I saw plainly the course that lay before me. Here on this grave we will to-morrow seal the pardon of him who was the chief offender, and thus secure our own forgiveness for the past! Remember, Macomo has saved my life—saved it, too, from a fearful death of torture, from which, unaided, I had no escape.”

“Well, and didn't you save his life many a time?” rejoined the son.

“Saved it—yes, but for what? Can we claim credit for that which was only one portion of our scheme of vengeance.”

“To my mind, saving a life is saving a life, whatever it's done for.” Then, as George shook his head, he added, “That's the way I look at it. However, he didn't save me, so I've nothing to thank him for, and he hasn't wiped off my score!”

“No, but you forget that the poor girl Coolamie gave her life to protect yours—at a moment when, without her, you must have perished.”

Jamie was silenced, but only for a few seconds. “She did save me—I won't attempt to deny that; but I can't see how that is to go to Macomo's account.”

“She did it, knowing our intentions towards Macomo, and knowing that your death would release him from his greatest enemy. And yet she gave her life for yours, and thrust herself into danger, solely with the hope of conciliating us.”

“Well, she was a game one—there's no saying

  ― 341 ―
against that. She was about the best sample of a black gin that I ever came across, and I was right down sorry when I found I wasn't in time to stop the knife work.”

“Remember, too, that Macomo has done you good service, for it was his hand that took the life of the coward who killed poor Blucher!”

“His hand, was it? Well, that's a good chalk to him. Though I don't know,” and Jamie shook his head reflectively as another view of the case presented itself. “I hardly think I have anything to thank him for. He took the job out of my hands, and it would have been more satisfaction to me to have done it myself.”

“But you loved your old friend, Blucher, and must feel thankful to the man who avenged him.” And then, as Jamie still shook his head doubtfully, he added, “He might have escaped as the others have done.”

Jamie laughed a short, scornful laugh. “Not a bit of it! I should have been on his track; and I don't lose a trail that I'm once on.”

“Jamie,” and George laid one hand fondly on the boy's shoulder, whilst with the other he took that of his son, whilst he spoke in a gentle, persuasive voice, “Listen to me, boy. God's law has said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ And if we knowingly offend against that law, we shall never again meet with your mother and the little ones. They are in Heaven, and if we lose our places there, we shall never see them more.”

Jamie remained silent, though George paused to give him an opportunity of reply.

He continued, “Macomo has done much good since that evil day when he robbed us of everything.” Jamie made a sign of assent. “He has saved my life, and his gin has saved yours, when they might have let us perish, and so have been safe from our pursuit. But it is the

  ― 342 ―
sin that we shall commit that I wish you to see—a sin that will prevent us from hereafter joining your mother and the little ones. You loved them, Jamie, when in life, and I am sure that you would not wish to be separated from them for ever.”

Jamie looked as if he were half inclined to shed tears himself, singular as he conceived the operation to be. “Look here, General,” he said with a husky voice, “if you put it that way, it's another thing. You give the order, and I'll obey; so say no more about it.”

That same evening two other individuals were camped upon the old farm, at no very great distance from where George and his son had held their conversation. They were Lanty Maher and Roger the Rough. Lanty looked faint and hungry, and he had evidently undergone great privation since he was last seen at Mount Pleasant. His beard, untended, had grown wild and straggling over his face. His one eye looked unnaturally large, and appeared to protrude from the hollow, sunken orbit, glittering and fiery, and instinct with more than its usual malice. Roger the Rough was in equally bad plight. His burly form was now emaciated, not only by the semi-starvation he had suffered, but also by the wasting effects of the wound so long untended. All his old boldness and energy had departed from him, and he was utterly listless and broken down. He shivered before every passing breeze, rendered delicate by weakness, and complained bitterly at not having a fire whereby to warm himself.

“And who do you expect to meet here, anyway?” whined Roger.

“It's our old friends they do be. Friends, ye remember, Roger, ma bouchal—the black spy and the white spy.” And he growled out a curse in Irish upon the

  ― 343 ―
pair. “They're to meet forninst the ould grave I did be showing ye, on the day of the full moon, an', by the same token, that does be to-morrow.”

“Well, and what have you got to say to 'em? We never had any luck where they were, and we'd ha' done better to have vamoosed,” replied Roger uneasily.

“If I spake to thim, it will be out of this, Roger darlin',” and he tapped his musket. “If we can do nothing else, we can pay thim off for the tricks they did be playing us.”

“And how did you come to know all this?”

“Faix, it was Mickey, the jewel, that tould me all about it. He was listening onst, forninst the mistress's windy, an' he hard her spaking to her daughter about some solemn meeting that was to take place betuxt the black spy and the white spy.”

Roger shook his head nervously, as he replied in a fretful tone, “Just what I said. We've never had any luck when we've made attempts on these people. If you take my advice now, you'll leave 'em alone.”

“Divil a lave! If there did be a rigimint of crushers it's meself would chance 'em for the revinge I'll have to-morrow. What's to hinder us, thin, from lying hid in the bushes, which do be thick enough to cover a rigimint of yeomanry. Thin, whin we get thim together, you take one and meself will take the other, and over the pair of thim go.”

“It's all very fine laying a thing out that way, but you know I can't use my arm.”

“I forgot—but it's no matter, ma bouchal. It's meself will shoot the pair of thim. Whin I fire an' knock over the first—an' it's the white spy shall be the first—whin I fire, do ye be afther giving me yeer loaded gun,

  ― 344 ―
an' shure the black divil will be settled before he knows what hurted him!”

The night passed away and the morning opened bright and clear. Noon had passed, and the sun had already begun to sink towards the west, when Jamie's quick ear caught the sound of approaching footsteps. He clutched the gun fiercely, and something like an angry flush spread over his countenance. His father also heard the sound, and, turning to his son, by a mild but impressive gesture directed him to lay down his weapon. The lad let the butt of the piece fall to the ground, but still retained his hold upon the barrel. The next instant there was a low warning coo-ee, and Macomo stood before them.

He had taken great pains with his toilet for this last and deadly meeting with his foes, and was in full dress as a war chief of the Maroo, about to start upon some great and dangerous expedition. His hair was bound up with a broad fillet of plaited currajong, and the knot of hair thus formed was decorated with the three eagle feathers that had once been his distinguishing badge. He carried his gun, the gift of Mr. Marcomb, in his right hand, and a powder-flask slung by a belt hung from his shoulder. He had no native weapons with him, for the tomahawk that was stuck in his belt was the small, sharp, steel axe that he had received at Mount Pleasant. He looked jaded and weary, as if he had just come off a long journey; his form was emaciated, his cheeks hollow and sunken, and his eyes, deep sunk in their sockets, looked dull and heavy. He strode up to the grave, near which George was seated, and then, laying his gun upon the earth, he took the belt with the powder-flask from his shoulder, and the tomahawk from his girdle, and laid them by the side of the gun. Drawing himself up with

  ― 345 ―
something of a proud and defiant air, he folded his arms over his bosom and exclaimed, “Macomo has come. The great chief of the Maroo knows how to keep his word, and is not afraid to join his brothers on the silent path!” George bowed his head. “I expected nothing else from you,” he said, and then there was a silence for a space. This was broken by George, who thus addressed the black in a voice that shook with emotion, “Macomo, you have deeply injured me—injured me in a way that nothing can remedy. Does the black know how to forgive?”

“Macomo has long known that he did a wrong to the Greybeard, but he never knew the full extent of that wrong until he himself lost the bright flower he had brought with him from the lakes. Macomo knows now that he deserves death. He is here to die!”

“Have you no word,” asked George, in tones of commiseration, “for those who lie below—no regret for the deed which in an evil hour you committed?”

“Macomo's life since that unhappy day has been one continued regret. Often and often, as his comrades fell beside him, has Macomo wished that evil deed undone; but since the Lake Flower faded, Macomo has wept tears of pity for the Greybeard and the sorrow he has endured!”

“And did you really shed tears of pity for me?” cried George exultingly.

“Macomo knows from what he has himself suffered how much he must have caused the Greybeard to feel.”

“This was repentance!” said George with joy, “and repentance should be crowned with forgiveness. Give me your hand!” And he stretched out his hand to the black, who, however, hesitated to take it. “Give me your hand, I say! I swore an oath that the three black right hands that had joined in the bloody deed, of which

  ― 346 ―
this green mound is the memorial, should go together on this cross,” and he took the hand of Macomo in his own and placed it upon the timber. “Here,” he continued, “upon this symbol of Christianity, the sign that gives us warrant of our redemption, I now clasp the third of the three right hands that robbed me of those I loved, and here before my Maker I declare that, as fully and freely as I hope to be pardoned myself, so fully and freely do I forgive you for the wrong you then did me.”

Macomo started back in surprise as he heard those words.

“Do not wonder,” George went on. “Your repentance—for the feeling you described was repentance—has ensured you the forgiveness which I had previously determined to bestow on you.”

Macomo drew back and looked wildly upon George. “No, no! It cannot be!” he exclaimed. “Macomo has earned death, and he came here to receive it. Let the Greybeard take the life of Macomo, and then the spirits of those who lie below will be able to travel unfettered upon the long journey.”

At that moment there was a sound in a cluster of scrub close by. Each of the three turned towards the spot, and each at once saw what had caused the rustling that had given them warning. The barrel of a gun had been protruded through the bushes, and, half hidden by the leaves, a fierce countenance was seen, the eyes fixed upon George, who was fairly covered by the piece.

“Dhoul!” muttered Lanty, for he it was. “It's meself will oblige ye, but the white shpy first,” and only a second or two after they caught sight of him he had George covered and pulled the trigger. Macomo, however, sprang forward the instant he perceived the scrubber, probably hoping to reach him before he fired, or at

  ― 347 ―
all events to so disconcert him as to prevent his taking steady aim. His spring brought him between Lanty and George, and directly in the line of fire, and almost as he reached the ground he received the contents of the barrel full in his breast. Throwing up his arms, he gave one wild yell, and then fell forward on his face.

The instant the black had fallen, George sprang off to cover, but Jamie, who had retained possession of his gun throughout the whole interview, stood his ground, and, raising his weapon to his shoulder, pointed it at the spot where the villain had previously shown himself. The moment Lanty's head was visible, Jamie pulled trigger, and with so true an aim that the ball entered the forehead of the scrubber and caused instant death.

Dashing into the cluster of saplings that had given shelter to the treacherous murderer, he there found Lanty lying dead, and Roger standing over him endeavouring to discover some sign of life in the body.

“Surrender!” cried Jamie, as he covered Roger with the gun.

“There's nothing else for it!” growled the ruffian, looking down and nodding his head towards the disabled arm that hung helplessly by his side. “You see I can't resist; and I ain't sorry that this has been put an end to, though, if you'd sent a ball through me as well as him, it might have been a good service!”

Jamie, with the assistance of Roger, dragged the body of Lanty out into the open space near the hut. He found his father kneeling by the side of Macomo, whom he had raised up into a half-sitting—half-reclining attitude, in which he supported him. Seeing that Lanty was quite dead, Jamie joined his father, and took his place in supporting Macomo, whilst George examined the injury he had received. It was evident that the wound was

  ― 348 ―
a mortal one, and that the black had not many more minutes to live.

He regained consciousness just as George communicated this opinion to his son. He smiled faintly upon the two, as they now knelt by his side, supporting him and vainly endeavouring to staunch the blood that flowed from the wound. “The Greybeard is very wise,” he said in a broken voice. “He said that Macomo should die, and the croppy took the life of Macomo, when the Grey-beard refused to do so.”

“Alas!” cried George. “I had hoped for something different to this. I wished to make you a better man.”

“The Greybeard can see very far, but he could not see the croppy behind the scrub. The Greybeard wished to save Macomo, but could not. Macomo was not deceived. He knew that he had been summoned to join his tribe on the long journey. He was prepared.”

“Macomo, once again you have saved my life. That shot which you received was aimed at me, and only for your intervention I should be lying here instead of you.”

“Macomo is glad. If he has done anything to please the Greybeard, let him see that Macomo is laid as a warrior should be, with his face towards the full moon and his weapons by his side, so that he may take his place as a chief at the head of his tribe.”

“Fear not,” said George, as he grasped Macomo's hand. “You shall lie in your grave as you have fallen. None shall touch you.”

An unmistakable look of satisfaction spread over Macomo's face. “The Greybeard is a great chief,” he murmured, and then, as he lay, he told him in faint accents and in broken phrases how he had continued searching for the track of the scrubbers until he had found it. He had followed it up, and had come upon

  ― 349 ―
them on this spot four days ago. He had watched them for a day, and, seeing that they had evidently encamped here for some days, he had started off to give information to the constables. They had wished him to wait to guide a party to the spot, but, fearing that he would be too late for his appointment, he had left instructions by which they would be enabled to follow him, and had come on at once, having arrived only at the moment when he stood before the Greybeard. “They will be here to-day,” he continued. “They have a boat, but Macomo had to walk a long round.”

“Why did you not tell us of this? Had I known of their presence, a very little precaution would have saved your life.”

“What are they? Dogs—warrigals! Macomo feared them not. He knew the Greybeard did not fear them. He came to give his life to the Greybeard. He gives it for him. He is content!”

“But I—I—who would have saved you!” groaned George.

“It is better as it is. Macomo could not live. His camp was very lonely. The bright Flower of the Lake is waiting for him on the dark track. She loved Macomo, and she will not start upon the long journey without him.” His voice had sunk lower and lower, and he spoke these last words with great difficulty.

“Oh, Macomo!” cried George. “Would that I could say that we shall meet again in the better land; but, oh! it may be that a beneficent and merciful Providence will permit us hereafter to reap the benefit of our mutual forgiveness!”

Macomo's eye lit up for an instant, and he raised his head proudly. “Macomo is a great chief—the Greybeard is a great warrior. They will meet again at the

  ― 350 ―
end of the dark journey.” The excitement was only momentary. His eye paled again, and his head sank down. He was silent for some seconds, and then in a weak, murmuring tone he said in his native tongue, “Coolamie—loved Coolamie—we will make the journey together.” His head dropped, his eye glazed, there was a brief tremor of the body, and then the last of the once-dreaded tribe of the Maroo had passed from earth.

As Macomo had said, the constables arrived on the old farm about sundown. They buried Lanty, and took charge of Roger the Rough, who was executed some fortnight afterwards, in company of five or six others who had been guilty of some of the many crimes then punished with death.

George and Jamie performed the last rites to the black chief, according to the ceremonials of the tribe of which Macomo had been the leader. When this duty had been attended to, the father and son paid a brief visit to the mill. They found old Sandy hale and hearty as ever, though he had given up the greater part of the management of the mill to his son-in-law. Sophy was as busy and as bustling as when first introduced to the reader, though she certainly did not bounce her husband to the same extent as she did then. Two days George and Jamie remained at the mill, and then they departed.

Mrs. Marcomb did not long survive the death of her only son. Mr. Marcomb continued to live on at Mount Pleasant until his daughters married, and then retired to Sydney. The daughters became founders of families, that now count many members in the colony during the generations that have intervened.

  ― 351 ―

George Maxwell was never again heard of, but many years back there lived upon the Blue Gum Flat, the spot where one scene of this narrative was enacted, an old, grey-headed man. He had cleared himself a block of land, out of the very heart of the heavy forest, and lived there altogether alone, serious and somewhat taciturn, but by no means morose. The traveller passing along the road after dark would be sure to see the light burning in the windows of the hut, and, if he paused and listened, he would hear the voice of the old man, reading aloud from that Book which is at once a source of comfort to the old and an invaluable instructor to the young. He worked but little in the field, but there was one small enclosure upon which he bestowed considerable attention in keeping it neat and free from weeds—a grave, at the head of which was a broad black-butt slab, with the one word “Jamie” inscribed thereon. None knew who Jamie was, though, amongst the earlier settlers in the district, there were some who remembered that “Old Smith”—for that was the name by which he was known—soon after his arrival amongst them, had been accompanied by a younger man, who, some five years later, fell a victim to one of the savage tribes.

Old Smith of Blue Gum Flat continued to live on there for fifteen or sixteen years longer, and was well known to all the then residents in the district as a man who never lost an opportunity of doing a good turn to his fellow-man, be his colour white or black. In this calm and serious old man there was no vestige to be traced of the terrible Greybeard who had been the scourge of the Maroo, or of the dreaded Old Man of the Gun who had been the phantom of the Colos.

Whether it were he or not, he has now long since passed away, and his house has disappeared before the

  ― 352 ―
rush of population. Of the grand, old, primeval forest, with its stately trees, few vestiges remain, save here and there some hoary giants stand erect, like gaunt finger-posts on the road of time, pointing to the dark deeds that were done in their midst—one hundred years ago.

no next