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Prologue

THE trouble was first caused by the Malingerites, and, needless to say, it was a case of cherchez la femme. One of the youthful members of that tribe had forcibly abducted a maiden of the clan of Layovah, and red war ensued. The worst of it was that they selected as convincing ground a spot close to a much-frequented cattle-camp, on the boundary of two large runs where the herds met. This greatly extended the circle of commotion. The noise and tumult of battle, “the thunder of the captains and their shouting,” coupled with the shrill yells of the gins, were enough to unsettle the temper of any well-regulated beast, and at the end of the engagement the casualties were—one blackfellow seriously


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injured by falling over a stump during the heat of combat, two slightly scratched, and one gin very hoarse through screeching. The cattle scattered to the four winds. Most of the Seldon Downs beasts fled on to Inverlochy, and most of the Inverlochy ones to Seldon Downs—all vowing in their bovine hearts never again to set foot on that camp.

So two stations, whereon the owners had dwelt for years in peace and amity, fell out on account of an obscure aboriginal quarrel. Jack Bell, of Seldon Downs, said it was the fault of Tom Devine, who should have kept his niggers in better order; and Devine said that Bell knew as much about managing blacks as he did about squaring the circle. The cattle were soon mustered and put right; but the remarks were repeated and remembered.

The two erstwhile friends were in this embittered state when Baines, the hawker, was murdered at the old boundary hut. Then the smouldering feud broke out. Devine maintained that it was evident the


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man had been killed by the natives on Bell's station; and Bell held as his salvation that the unfortunate fellow met his death at the hands of whites, probably some men lately discharged from Devine's. So the matter stood when our story opens, and the ends of justice were finally defeated because the Malingerites quarrelled with the Layovahs. It is as well to trace things back to their first cause.

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