Chapter X

The Flight of Black Anderson.

Ah, hark! the fatal followers do pursue;
And I am faint and cannot fly their fury;
The sands are number'd, that make up my life;
Here must I stay, and here my life must end.’

   ‘Henry VI.’ Shakespeare.

WHEN Dave had flung off Jenny down in the gully as a useless encumbrance, it had been, as Sergeant Sells was right in thinking, with the intention of crossing the border into New South Wales. And for the first

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hour he made his way steadily up the hill in the pouring rain, a fierce anger boiling in his heart against the man who would betray him, and the woman who had put the means into his hands. Had he not loved her and trusted her, had he not taken her to share his home with him, given her half of all he himself possessed? And the first moment she is tempted she has betrayed him. Never trust a woman—never, never! It is a good old adage, whose worth has been proved a thousand times: she'll betray you because she hates you, she'll betray you because she loves you, she'll betray you for no reason, or for a thousand reasons. The man who has any truck with a woman is bound to come to grief.

The hillside was slippery with the pouring rain, and as his feet slid from under him, he laid that to her score too. But for her, he would not have been out in this rain; but for her, he would have been sleeping comfortably between the blankets in his hut, with a comfortable fire in the doorway; but for her, Pard Derrick would have gone on supplying him with provisions till the hue and cry should be forgotten, and he could have slipped away down south to the fields of Ballarat or Bendigo; but for her—— And as his foot slipped again, and he came down on his face, he swore an oath to be revenged on her.

She would go back to her husband; let him take her back. She was enough to weary any man; it was better to be out here in the rain, a hunted man, than alone in the hut with her, with nothing to do but listen to her trying to suppress that cough, or watching the patient smile upon her face that wore out his patience. These last few weeks had been enough to kill any man; he was glad they were over. She would be cold, too, without a fire and without any

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blankets. Well, let her; she would realize then something of what he was suffering now.

The ground was so slippery it was with difficulty he kept a foothold, and at each slip that he made he swore an oath, for he felt that he was making a path it would not take a black tracker to follow. But, still, there was safety in the rain. They would never get the trackers to work in the rain, and if it only held on another day and night they would be useless.

At the top of the hill he sat down to rest, panting. The hill was covered with close-growing scrub and timber, so light it hardly formed any shelter; but at last, when he was drenched to the skin, and more than certain that the rain had got under the oil cloth that covered his blankets, he found a hollow tree, and getting inside, built a small fire outside at which to warm and dry himself. He did it in fear and trembling, for he knew well enough how far the light of a fire will carry even on a night like this; but it was so wet and wintry, and he was so done with the unaccustomed exertion, that he felt he must risk something. Then, cosy and warm, he dozed for two or three hours, though even in his dreams the thought haunted him that Pard Derrick knew he was a murderer, and would put the police on his track, and that even now they might be hunting up the gully.

He woke wide awake more than once, and listened intently, but there was nothing to be heard but the fizzing of the fire as the rain-drops fell upon it, and the sound the rain made trickling down the tree which sheltered him. Occasionally, too, there came out of the depths of the bush strange and weird sounds that struck on his ear fearsomely as he listened intently. A branch broke, weighed down by a weight of water; some night-bird cried; a stone dislodged by the rain

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went crashing down through the brushwood. Pooh! he had heard these same sounds a thousand times, only to-night—to-night, with the thought that the police would have more knowledge of his whereabouts and his habits than they had yet had—they struck on him dismally.

About three o'clock in the morning he could stay no longer, but, gathering up his blankets, started out into the rain again. He was on the top of the ridge now; he fully intended to make north. Once across the border he thought he would be safe. He ought to have gone long ago, when he had Pard Derrick to help him, and he cursed his folly in bringing the girl to be a plaything who proved a weight round his neck. Well, he was rid of her now—now, when his old mate would raise the country against him!

He could not make south; he could not dream of such a thing. He could only go northward by Wooragee and Mitalagong; in the lonely gullies there the stray diggers would likely know nothing about him, or if they did they would not recognise him, or, again, even if they did, it would be a fair fight—a man against a man—and it would go hard with him if he could not get his tucker. He was a desperate man, and nothing should stand in his way.

That was his difficulty—food; he had none—none at all. In his hasty flight he had omitted to take so much as an ounce of tea or a pannikin of flour, and to-morrow morning he must try for some food. He might stick up the Chinamen at Wooragee; but no, that was too risky—too near Deadman's. Far better to go into the gully beyond, where he knew Peter Grimes hung out—Surly Pete, as they had called him at Deadman's—and beg, borrow, or steal from him enough tucker to carry him across the Murray.

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The idea pleased him. Surly Pete, though he might not give graciously, would give, especially when he knew the ‘traps’ were pressing him hard, and there was no need to tell him Pard Derrick had gone back on him and slipped him up. Once beyond Mitalagong, it seemed to him his difficulties would be almost over. Why, oh why, when it was so easy, had he not made a bid for freedom before? Bitterly he blamed himself. He might have done the same thing almost any time the last five months; but he had feared, he had feared, and he had trusted Pard Derrick's judgment. Well, at any rate he had been driven to it now, and he felt it was a good thing.

His spirits rose as he walked on and felt that every step was so much gained. Once away from Mitalagong, it would be hard if he could not steal a horse somewhere to carry him across the border. If that —— girl had not lost the gold-bag, he would have had gold in plenty, and would not have needed to steal, but she had driven him to this; it was her sin, not his; it was an added grievance against her.

And the rain came down as steadily as ever; the wind blew in stormy gusts, and more than once he had to turn aside because of the water-courses the rain was wearing in the hillside. He must have a horse, certainly; the creeks would be almost impassable in many places, and without a horse he would never get away, though certainly a horse would not be much good in a place like this. It was almost worse coming down hill than going up. There was only one consolation: it was going down; there was the high ridge he had just crossed between him and his enemies. But it was pitch dark and bitterly cold; it was midwinter, and the day would not break much before seven, and he had ten long miles through

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scrub and brushwood before he reached Surly Pete's hut in the gully below there.

The present prospect was not invigorating. He shook his fist angrily as he slipped again; then in the darkness his foot caught in a root which was above-ground, and in a moment he was thrown forcibly on his face, twisting his ankle so, in the endeavour to keep his balance, that he could not repress a cry of pain. For a moment he lay there head downwards on the hillside, his hands grasping at the clayey soil—at the shrubs and brushwood that grew so close around him. Then he scrambled to his knees, and found to his horror and dismay, when he tried to put his right foot to the ground, that not only was he unable to walk, but that every movement gave him such exquisite pain he could only sit down and rock himself backwards and forwards, moaning, and groaning, and cursing the man, and above all the woman, who had driven him to this.

Again he tried, and again, for if he failed to reach Pete's, then he was indeed lost; and if he stayed here, even if he were not found, he must perish miserably of hunger and cold. Again and again the pain made him sit down with a moan, and the rain beat pitilessly down on him. He was wet before; sitting now on the damp clayey soil, he was soaked through and through, and yet in an hour's time he had not gone ten yards. He gave up at last, and, crawling about painfully on his hands and knees, managed in the darkness to rake together enough brushwood to give himself a little shelter from the rain. Sitting down, he took out his knife and cut off his boot. It gave him too much pain to try and pull it off, and his ankle was all swollen, and his foot was swelling rapidly. He thought he must have

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broken a bone somewhere, and a cold fear came over him as he thought how impossible it would be to elude the police with a broken leg.

Even if he managed to crawl as far as Surly Pete's, what then? He could not hope to lie hidden there for long; the police must find him eventually; and in any case he could not reach there before the day broke; now he would not have a chance before the next night, and he had not a scrap of food. Already he was hungry almost beyond bearing, he was starved with the cold, and his box of matches was soaked with the rain; everything he possessed had got wet through in that last fall. There was no prospect of its clearing; it rained as hard as ever. He could not stop here another twenty-four hours, and he started up and struggled on down the hill, sometimes hopping on one leg, sometimes scrambling along on hands and knees.

But his progress was painfully slow. After he had been at it it seemed the livelong night, Dave had got but a very little farther down the hill: his hands were torn and scratched, his bones were aching with the unaccustomed exertion, and, above all, the scrub seemed to shut him in and close down on him on every side. He endeavoured to keep a downward direction, but every now and then he found himself turning upwards, and at last, utterly worn out, he lay down under the lee of a log where there was some little protection from the rain, and from very weariness he slept. It was a disturbed and troubled sleep, for again and again the pain in his foot awoke him, and again he dreamed that the police were upon him, and once, for the first time since he had done the murder, the gory face of old German Max came to him through the misty rain threatening him. It

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seemed to him that the old man had tied his gold-bag—that bag which had cost him his life—to his leg, and the pain of it was weighing him down, while the mounted police were coming over the hill with the sergeant he had wronged at their head. Nothing, nothing could save him, and he started up in wild affright, crying aloud, only to find that dull gray day was breaking through the rainclouds, that the rain was coming down as steadily as ever, and, though the police were not upon him, his foot was cruelly painful, and here he must stay for another twelve hours at the very least.

He felt about in his pocket for tobacco, and found a little; but his pipe was useless, for his matches would not light, and he could only cut off a piece and chew it to keep off hunger, and lie there feeling the cold water trickle under his shelter, and watching the light grow broader and broader. And it rained on pitilessly, and the wind every now and then came up in great gusts that tore off branches from the forest trees and pierced through his very bones. Not much fear of his being found so long as he lay still, but he would die of cold and exposure if he lay here long, and even if he had had the means, he would hardly have dared light a fire.

Colder and colder he grew, till he rose to his knees with the intention of at least making an effort to get on a little way, when a crashing in the scrub above made him sink down in his lair again, and then through the brushwood he saw two troopers scrambling, swearing to each other as they shook the rain off their heavy cloaks and pushed the dripping branches away from their faces. Between them was a black tracker, his head sunk between his shoulders, looking

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as miserable as only a blackfellow can in the cold and wet. The other two were pushing him before them, but it was evident to the quarry, who saw it with no little satisfaction, that the blackfellow was most unwilling, and was certainly not making the faintest effort to help. Even in this rain he might have seen the track had he so pleased; but he did not please; he whined like a child, and wrung his hands because it was cold and wet.

Quite close they came, closer a great deal than the listening man liked, and he could hear every word they said.