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II

Young Simpson propped himself up against the slabs and gazed disconsolately down the sunny road. He was suffering a bad recovery, his pockets were empty, and his credit exhausted. He had lately finished a job of horse-breaking, and had knocked his cheque down in orthodox style. Now, life was all dust and ashes, and everything a mockery and a delusion. He was only thirty-six, and had already managed to break every breakable bone in his body, and pull through several bad attacks of delirium tremens. He was the son of a well-to-do squatter, but ere he was twenty had managed to incense his father so bitterly that he had been cast forth without even the proverbial shilling, and a younger brother, a


  ― 168 ―
good and well-behaved youth, reigned in his stead. Since his expulsion from home he had steadily gone to the dogs, and it was a pity, for, however weak, he was a good-hearted young fellow. A strong, helping hand would have saved him, but he never got it, and now it was too late. At least so everybody thought and said.

Simpson had been dozing on a rude bench in the verandah, and had just got on to his feet, under the impression that somebody had ridden up and aroused him. Presumably this impression was correct, for a horse was hitched up to the rail outside, and voices could be heard in the bar. Possibly there was a drink on hand. He licked his dry lips with a still dryer tongue, and lurched inside.

A deeply sun-tanned man, with bright eyes, was talking to the landlord.

“Here, Joe,” said the latter to Simpson, “come and have a wet, you look sleepy.”

This was most astonishing; only that morning his credit had been peremptorily stopped, and now he was invited to refresh


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himself. The landlord shifted down the bar a bit and Simpson followed him.

“This gent,” said the publican in a subdued tone, “has got a mob of cattle going north, and wants another hand badly. I'll put in a good word for you, and, perhaps, he'll be right for a bit of an advance, so that you can square up with me before you go.”

Simpson “dropped” to the situation at once. He immediately poured out a drink so “long” that it made the landlord eager to clutch the bottle again. Refreshed by this, he accosted the stranger, and with few words a bargain was struck, and Joe Simpson went off to roll up his scanty belongings in his blanket.

“As good a man as ever crossed a horse,” said the effusive publican; “only keep him off the booze. Born a gentleman, too.”

Jim Gilmore, for it was he, on his way out with cattle to stock the country he and his brother had lately examined, looked curiously after the retreating form. He was


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warm-hearted, and something in the ne'er-do-well had appealed to him.

The long trip drew to an end, and tired men, leg-weary horses, and listless cattle all desired the arrival of that morning when they should mutually take leave of each other. Dry stages had been successfully crossed, wet, blustering nights experienced, and death in many forms had taken toll of the herd before Jim, with a sigh of relief, dismounted on the bank of a long serpentine lagoon, some twenty miles from the shallow lake where they had formerly camped. Leaning on his horse he watched the long string of cattle troop in to the water.

“Poor Joe!” he thought, as he caught sight of Simpson steadying the leaders, “he's got a bad touch of this northern fever. Glad we are here so that he can get a spell.”

The blatant publican's recommendation had turned out true. A better man than Joe Simpson had proved himself could scarce be found. Ever ready when the weather was bad and the cattle rowdy on


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camp; always alert during the long sleepless nights across the dry plains, and alas! never neglecting the opportunity of a short spree in the few townships they had passed, Joe had been young Gilmore's right hand throughout the tedious journey. Now, the malarial fever that the cattle seem to turn up with their hoofs from the virgin soil in new country had recognised his ill-used constitution and seized on him. The day after the herd was turned out Joe lay delirious under a bough shade.

Jim devoted all his spare time to him, and at last had the satisfaction of witnessing his return to reason. But Simpson was very weak—he had played too many tricks with his physique to be able to stand a severe attack of fever with impunity, and lay almost apathetic as regarded his chances of final recovery.

One morning Jim noticed that the patient had been idly tracing letters and signs on the dusty earth alongside his rude bed of dry grass. Amongst them he recognised with a start the E followed by a triangle.




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“What are you up to, Joe?” he said quietly.

“Just trying to remember a lot of brands,” returned Simpson, in his weak voice.

“Whose brand is that?” asked Gilmore, indicating the one he was interested in.

Simpson's wasted face flushed hotly. “When a fellow gets down in the world,” he said, after a pause, “he does not always stick to his right name. That brand was our old station brand on my father's place. There were three partners at first, Emerson, Unthorpe, and Charters, and, as their initials made the first syllable of Euclid, they took the triangle as a brand with my father's initial before it. Finally he bought them out, and my brother has the place now.”

“Then,” said Jim, staring hard at him, “your name is——?”

“Emerson.”

“Good God!”

“What is the matter? What do you know about me?” cried the invalid anxiously.




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“Nothing, nothing, go on. Tell me, where did your father die? How is it you were left so badly off?”

Joe Emerson looked at his questioner with some surprise, but answered quietly enough. “My father died in his bed on Bellbrook station, where I was born. He and I had quarrelled some years before and finally he disowned me. I was a bad lot, there's no denying.”

“Was your father ever up this way?”

“Yes. He had a share in a station in the north of Queensland, and took a trip out west, I know. In fact, it was through some terrible hardship he endured that he afterwards died. He was too old to stand it. I never heard the rights of it, but I believe through some stupid blunder of one of the men some of their horses got away from them on a dry stage with packs and saddles on. My father and the others managed to get into water, but the horses made back and probably perished.”

“Your brother then took your place in your father's will, and you were left out in


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the cold. Do you know the date of that will?”

“It was the time of our final row, in the beginning of '69.”

Jim strode outside and thought for a moment, then he returned. “This is the strangest thing I ever came across outside of a novel. I have good news for you. Your father must have been in a tight place before the horses were lost, and when he anticipated death he repented of his harshness to you, and wrote out another will. It commences: ‘I, George Henry Emerson, now expecting death, and being desirous of making amends to my dear son Joseph for my stern conduct.’ I do not remember any more, but it was duly witnessed by Isaac Wright and Thomas Peberdy. Do you know anything about them?”

Young Emerson was looking at Jim as though bewildered by what he heard, and answered slowly. “Peberdy was an old servant of my father's, and went north with him; he has a selection now, down south.


  ― 175 ―
Wright I don't know. But surely you remember the purport of this will?”

“Certainly. It left the whole of his property to you, subject to certain charges on it for your brother and sister.”

“But—but, Mr. Gilmore!” cried the sick man, impatiently, “how did you find it? Who has it now?”

“My brother has it now. We found it with the remains of your father's horse, preserved in an old-fashioned sandwich case. Do you remember it?”

“Yes, with his monogram on it; he brought it from England.”

“If the two witnesses are alive, it seems to me that the will cannot be disputed. My brother may be here at any time; he knows when we are due, and is bringing up supplies from Burketown, and will probably push ahead.”

There was silence for a short time; then Emerson reached out and felt for Gilmore's hand. He grasped it and sat upright. “Look here,” he said, “I'm going to do three things.”




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“Don't be in a hurry,” murmured Jim.

“I'm going to get well.”

“Hear, hear!”

“I'm going to knock off liquor.”

“Hear, hear, hear!” from Gilmore.

“And I'm going to get the skeleton of that old horse set up and mounted on a pedestal.”

“When the will is proved, I presume,” said his companion.

No need to tell much more. One witness was alive and able to swear to the signatures. Joe kept to his three resolutions. The skeleton of the old horse adorns the hall of Bellbrook station, and Jim Gilmore's wife was once Miss Emerson.

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