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II

Barlow had been Crown Lands Commissioner in the neighbouring township five years before. He was a widower, with one girl, but people who knew anything said that the Barlow who got three years for


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embezzlement from one of the banks was his son. It was a much-talked-of case, from the despicable efforts made by the culprit, who was bank-teller, to put the guilt on to an innocent man. Deane and Bunthorpe knew the truth, for they had been fast friends of the commissioner until the fatal day when a broken, miserable man rode to Branksia Downs and confessed to the owner that he had used his name criminally to obtain money; and gave him back the price of his shame. Bunthorp, who was there, believed that it was a mad attempt, made too late, to save his son from disgrace, and begged his old friend, whose nature was less placable, to take the money and spare the unfortunate father. Deane did so, Barlow applied for a change, and his name was never willingly mentioned by the two who had been his friends. All these things came into Bunthorp's mind before he fell asleep; and as the old man knew, too, that black sheep were to be found in nearly every flock, he gradually came round to the opinion that possibly a young fellow like


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Deane, with his head screwed on right, could not come to much grief by marrying a girl like Maggie, whose only fault was a disgraced brother, and a father prematurely broken down by that son's disgrace. Before Bunthorp fell asleep, he had in spirit bestowed a fatherly blessing on the young people.

Fate seemed determined that his slumbers should not be as calm as his conscience merited. Somebody touched him, somebody whispered, “Mr. Deane!”

Bunthorp was not nervous, he had gone through too many rough episodes. “Who is there?” he asked in an equally low tone.

“Bell! Sergeant Bell! We are after somebody, and I think he's here. I don't want to disturb the place or he might give us the slip. Any strangers here to-night?”

“I'm Bunthorp. Fred has changed his room. There was a traveller on the road. I gave him a lift. He's here to-night, I suppose.”

“Where did you pick him up?” said the sergeant, still in a whisper.




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“At the yellow water-hole.”

“Yes, that's where we lost his tracks; we guessed you might have picked him up, so we came straight on here. I suppose he's in the men's hut. But I'm glad I saw you first”—this was allegorical, for it was pitch-dark—“can you come outside for a minute?” Bunthorp noiselessly slipped on some clothes and, barefooted, followed the policeman, who had also left his boots outside. Out of hearing of the house they put on their foot-gear and went a short distance to where a black tracker stood holding three horses.

“I should like to get this fellow away quietly without troubling Mr. Deane,” said the sergeant, “now that I have the chance; for I'll tell you who he is: that son of old Barlow's who served his time for the bank swindle.”

Bunthorp whistled. “What has he been up to?”

“Valueless cheques, for one thing; and doctoring a cheque, for another—turned seven into seventy; very neatly too, I understand. He got a warning from somebody and gave


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the Brisbane police the slip; he's splendidly got up as a hard-up loafer, and has got all the patter off like a professional hand. No one suspected him but a girl at the Royal, in——, who knew him in his bank days. She gave him away. Of course, you know, Deane is sweet on the sister, so I should like to take him quietly for both their sakes.”

“Very thoughful of you, Bell, I am sure;” said Bunthorp; “how can we manage it?”

“We can't take him now without waking the place, and if we wait till daylight he might give us the slip—he's so artful,” returned Bell.

“Deane will be down at the yard for an hour or two after daylight, there are a few calves to brand. Could you manage it then?”

“I think so, it's not more than two hours off daylight now. We'll turn our horses out behind that patch of scrub, and be up there at crow-chirp and catch my gentleman in his blankets as soon as the others go down


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to the yard. There's an old hut alongside the kitchen we can plant in.”

“I'll slip in and get you a bit of grub, our supper is still on the table,” said the hospitable Mr. Bunthorp, and like a substantial phantom he disappeared in the darkness, and presently returned with some provender and a drop of the incomparable whisky, which he had smuggled out without wakening Deane, the only other occupant of the house. Bunthorp had no desire to return to bed, but shared the sergeant's watch until the first streak of light in the eastern horizon warned them to be on the alert. Quietly they stationed themselves in the old hut, whence, through the chinks between the slabs, they could see what went on.

It was done without any trouble at all. Deane and his men were busy at the yard, when Bell stood over the sleeper and requested the pleasure of his company. Before they started, Bunthorp got leave to say a few words privately to the prisoner.

“I know who you are,” he said, “and


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for your father's sake, whom you nearly ruined, I should like to do something for you. What can I do? I presume you are guilty of this charge?”

Barlow looked at him with his manner partly changed; and the old man noted with sorrow the likeness to his sister, which he now saw plainly. “I may get out of this,” was the answer, “I think there's a legal quibble or two in my favour; if I do, may I ask a favour of you?”

“Yes, I will do what I can. What is it?”

“When the time comes I will ask it,” and he turned away. Next minute the sergeant and his prisoner were gone.

When Fred came up to breakfast, he was in blissful ignorance that his prospective brother-in-law had just been marched off in handcuffs; and there was some laughter amongst the men when they were told of the swagman's exit.

Bunthorp naturally scanned the papers with some degree of interest, until he saw that Barlow's favourable anticipation had


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been only partially fulfilled. He had managed to wriggle out of the graver charge, and escaped with twelve months' imprisonment and a severe lecture from the judge for one of the minor offences.

Fred Deane was married, and Bunthorp had beamed on the union. Eighteen months had flown by, when he received a letter he had been for some time expecting; it was from young Barlow, asking for the promised help. The letter touched the good old man. There was no hypocritical pretence of reformation: the writer simply stated his desire to leave Australia and begin life anew in another country, mentioning the Cape as the colony to be honoured with his patronage, and asking for a sum of money to enable him to go there. Needless to say it was at once forwarded; and Bunthorp trusted that that page was folded down for good.

“My dear Fred,” he wrote, some six months afterwards, “I have just remembered that the 5th of next month is your wife's birthday, so I am coming over the day


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before to stop the night, and bring a present to deliver the next morning. Don't show this to Maggie, or she may be curious.”

On the evening of the 4th, according to promise, Bunthorp and Jim Newton drove up to Branksia, but the most inquisitive glances cast into the buggy, still drawn by the faithful Rocket and Revolver, could not discern anything unusual in its contents. This was not to be wondered at, for “the present” was but a letter with a Cape of Good Hope stamp on it, telling of young Barlow's bright prospects, and conveying a kind message to his sister, and an assurance that the future would atone for the past. The old man had a small gift as well, but this was the surprise he had planned. That night he slept in the room made memorable by the visit of Sergeant Bell, and it was with a decidedly nervous start that he found his slumbers once more disturbed. Somebody was moving about the room, apparently examining the contents of the dressing-table. Bunthorp sprang out of bed as fast as a stout, old gentleman, who had been sleeping


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on his back, could be expected to spring. As this was not very rapidly, the intruder had gone before Bunthorp had reached the spot where his shadowy form had been visible. Bunthorp went out to the verandah, but an outcry of dogs by the stables told him that the pursuit was vain; the quarry had too good a start. Returning to his room he struck a match, and, having lit a candle, proceeded to investigate. Apparently nothing had been taken, but on the table was a leaf from a pocket-book, folded and addressed to himself. “If you want to save your friend Deane some trouble and distress,” it ran, “take a walk down the paddock, as far as the gate, before breakfast, as soon after sunrise as possible.”

“Is this Queensland or one of the disturbed districts of Ireland?” muttered the old man savagely, as he got into bed again. “I'll take a walk down the paddock with a good whip in my hand, and all the dogs with me;” and in a few minutes he was sound asleep again. Like all bushmen he instinctively awoke at daybreak, and, dressing


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himself, went out just as the red sun appeared above the low tree line. He had a heavy crop in his hand, and a whistle brought at least half-a-dozen demonstrative dogs of all breeds to his heels, eager for a morning gambol.

The paddock-gate was out of sight of the homestead, being screened by some clumps of scrub; leaning against it was a man, who, when he turned and faced the new-comer, revealed to Bunthorp's intense amazement the features of the former swagman, young Barlow.

He was fairly well-dressed, and a good horse was fastened to the fence a few panels away.

“So you've come back from the Cape?” was Bunthorp's exclamation.

“I've never been to the Cape, you old fool!” was the amazing reply. “That letter was posted by a friend of mine who went there. No; I have got a long score to settle with you before we have done with each other.”

“You d——d thief, you took my money ——” began Bunthorp, violently.




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“Yes,” interrupted the other, “I took your money under false pretences; and I put it on the Melbourne Cup, and, by George, I won, and I intend to get some more out of you, so there.”

“No, I'll be boiled down if you will,” said the old man. “What score have you to settle with me?”

“Didn't you put that —— sergeant on to me? He told me all about it. When you found out who I was, why didn't you give me warning and get me away? You could easily have managed it. Hang you all your friendship for my father. Between you all I've been shamefully treated, and I intend to take it out of you.”

During this harangue Bunthorp had been, so to say, stoking; he was now at boiling heat and ripe for an explosion. “You hangdog gaol-bird!” he commenced, “you been shamefully treated? why, you have never had your deserts yet! Take it out of me, you abominable scoundrel? Why don't you do it?” and he fairly danced with rage.




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“Keep cool, old boy,” said Barlow, “you'll want all your breath before you've done with me. To-day is Maggie's birthday, and I am going to present myself to wish her many happy returns. I can assure you some of my prison anecdotes will quite liven up the conversation, and I really won't stop away under a high consideration.”

“You'll not get a red cent, that I guarantee. Fred Deane is not such a fool as to be blackmailed by you; try it, and see what you'll get,” returned Bunthorp, whose business faculties at once came to the front.

“Oh, but that is not all: you and Fred's father compounded a felony; you know you did. That will be a nice little story to rake up.”

“Whether we broke the law or not I do not know, but every honest man will be on our side, and I don't care a snap of the fingers for the rest.”

The two men looked at each other defiantly across the gate, but the swindler had failed and he knew it. He turned away


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jauntily. “Well,” he said airily, “I'll call round after breakfast, see you again. So long, old Bun.”

This was the crowning insult. Flinging open the gate Bunthorp with upraised whip rushed at the sneering Barlow, while the joyous dogs surged tumultuously around. The two men struggled together and the dogs, wild with delight, sent up a chorus of yelling, barking, and snapping that raised some laggard cur at the station and attracted everybody's attention. Barlow's horse, startled at the uproar, broke his bridle with an indignant snort and trotted away in the bush.

“The dogs have got a kangaroo stuck up at the back of the scrub,” said one of the men, and two or three of them came running down.

Bunthorp had got in serveral stinging cuts before Barlow seized the whip, and then they struggled hard for the possession of it, the dogs making indiscriminate and quite impartial snaps at the legs of both. The younger man succeeded in wresting the


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crop from his opponent, who was soon winded; he threw him off and gave him a blow with the butt as he did so, unfortunately on the head. Bunthorp went down senseless and Barlow started to pursue his horse, but the pack of dogs had to be first scattered with the whip. By this time two active men who had taken a short cut through the scrub appeared on the scene. They vaulted over the fence, and as Barlow's horse was now nearly out of sight, he saw it was useless to run, so stood still to await them.

“The old fellow turned on me with his whip, and in the struggle I knocked him down,” he said, when they reached the spot. They bent over Bunthorp, and one of them gave a loud coo-ee that brought others down—amongst them Deane and Newton. They carried the old man up to the house and marched Barlow along. He did not reveal himself, although some of them recognised him with surprise as the swagman.

Once at the station he requested to see


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Deane alone, and told him who he was, asserting that it was only in self-defence he had struck Bunthorp, which was literally true, and insisting on being allowed to depart in search of his horse. Deane was rather puzzled; he compromised matters by sending a blackboy after the horse and telling his brother-in-law that he would not allow him to leave until Bunthorp was conscious: meantime, if he wanted any assistance, he had better keep himself quiet and not attempt to see his sister.

Between them, Mrs. Deane and Newton had now recalled the unconscious Bunthorp to life once more. “I gave it to him, Jim,” were the first words he spoke. “Called me old Bun.” Then he lay back and closed his eyes. Presently he opened them again; “Maggie,” he said, “I want to be alone with Jim for a minute.” Mrs. Deane nodded and left the room. “Look here, Jim,” said the old man eagerly: “I'm going to die.”

“Go to blazes!” replied his astonished nephew.

“In about an hour's time I shall expire,”


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repeated his uncle. “No, I'm not wandering. I'm in solemn earnest. Do you think you could get me a drop of that old whisky; I feel faint?”

Newton, with astonishment all over his face, left the room, and Bunthorp went off into a series of chuckles; evidently he had got hold of a brilliant idea.

His nephew returned, and Bunthorp swallowed the spirits. “What's become of that fellow?” he asked.

“Deane has locked him up somewhere.”

“Right! Now, Jim, I'll explain myself. So far as dying is concerned, it would take more than a knock like that to kill me; but that scamp is young Barlow, who, of course, you've heard of. Now, he can't do any real harm, and Fred is not the man to be sponged on and robbed, but he might make things unpleasant. People would talk, Maggie would feel it, and there might be trouble between husband and wife, because, after all, people are only human. Now, if I die—you twig? Barlow will stand his trial for murder. Deane gives him a chance to


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clear out and he'll take care never to show up in Queensland again, where he'll think there's a halter waiting for him. Savee, James?” And the restored Bunthorp dug his amazed nephew in the ribs.

Barlow was confined in the store; he had been reposing on the top of a pile of flourbags reading a yellow-back, for some time, when the door opened and Deane appeared. He appeared greatly excited. “The old man is dead,” he said hurriedly, “I can't see you hanged, for you're Maggie's brother after all. Your horse is tied up at the paddock gate, the men are at dinner, slip down through the scrub and be off before Newton comes, for he's going to take you into the police-camp himself.”

“But,” said the other, “it was only manslaughter; he attacked me. I'll stand my trial.”

“You infernal fool, what show have you got? Look at your character, who saw him strike you? who will believe you? The men took you red-handed with the whip in your hand. Stay and be hanged if you


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like. Newton will swear your life away, he's furious.”

“I have very little money,” said Barlow sullenly.

“Here, take this; it is enough to pay your passage, and give you a start somewhere. Now, for God's sake go, before it is too late.”

Barlow moved to the door; he was beginning to grasp the situation, and didn't like it.

“Keep off the roads,” said Deane, “and slip out of the country like greased lightning; everybody liked Bunthorp and they will search high and low for you.”

Deane stood at the door as though keeping watch; he saw his brother-in-law disappear in the first patch of scrub, and that was the last he ever saw of him.

Few livelier corpses have ever been seen at a dinner-table than Bunthorp's was that evening. Newton said that “a crack on the cobra” must have a more stimulating effect on the brain than any amount of the incomparable whisky.

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