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CHAPTER XII. A DANGEROUS INTERVIEW.




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DR. ARABIN had not an intimate acquaintance with the country; and although the distance from Captain Thomson's station to that of the poor insane settler was but trifling, yet it was wearing late before he reached it. The Bush is bewildering to strangers: only experienced hands can thread its intricacies without straying from the route. The scene is upon such an extensive scale, that unless the traveller understands the country, and can guide his progress by the sun or some prominent landmark, it is impossible to march on a correct line. The moment the traveller in these solitary regions is at a stand-still, he is certain to go wrong, because the country everywhere around presents almost the same aspect and proportions. We have frequently known strangers go forward for ten or twenty miles—diverge—change again—and ultimately turn round, and towards night approach the very station from which they had started in the morning. These bewildered travellers are unwilling to credit their senses; it requires not merely the sight of the station, but also the sight of the faces connected with it, to convince them. It is very fortunate for poor wanderers in the Bush that a liberal hospitality is exercised by the settlers, with very few exceptions. It is true, there are exceptions; we have known weary and


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hungry travellers turned away without a kind look or word. We cannot too severely censure such conduct, especially in the wilderness, where houses for the accommodation of travellers are rarely to be met with, and where inhospitality is a crime of the most atrocious character.

To return to our narrative. Dr. Arabin had been directed to Willis's station by Captain Thomson, and, as it was but fifteen miles off, it appeared next to impossible that he should mistake the route. At first, he pursued his journey devoid of hesitation or fear. He then reached a thinly-wooded ravine, over which it was necessary to pass. There was no water visible, but the stones in the bed of the deep rut marked where winter torrents had thundered along. The banks were steep and shelving, and wooded with a thick scrub, into which the horse appeared unwilling to enter. Arabin, by means of his spurs, forced him about ten yards into this dense brushwood, where he came to a dead halt, and refused both the admonitions of the spur and whip with dogged indifference. In another moment an enormous black snake raised itself from the thick wiry grass, and darted its hissing mouth and tongue at his legs; the horse wheeled round in an instant, and rushed out of the brushwood.

Dr. Arabin was unable to extricate his legs from the brushwood, and one of them having been entangled, was seriously injured: the pain was severe, and he repented his temerity in rushing through the scrub, instead of searching for a pathway across. We may remark, that the black snake is the largest of the species to be met with in Australia. They are of a


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dusky colour, and generally lie coiled in the long grass, or in haystacks or about dwelling-houses. In the cold weather they retire to holes in the ground; they are rather unwieldy in their motions, and not so dangerous as others of smaller proportions. The best remedy for the bite of these venomous reptiles is a quantity of warm Madeira wine taken internally, with an outward application of eau-de-luce to the punctures.

Arabin was rather angry with himself that he had not struck the reptile with his whip, and turned to kill it, but it had escaped. The pain of the injured limb made him more anxious than before to get home if possible, and he commenced a strict scrutiny for a passage over the ravine.

He passed several miles up the bank, and at length was gratified by finding a bank almost without a tree or a blade of herbage. When he reached the opposite side, he found himself at fault: the ravine had a strange curve at this particular spot, and it was difficult for a total stranger to discover the direction in which Willis's station lay. We assure European readers that they can have but a faint conception of the difficulties frequently experienced in finding places out in the wilderness. We knew a settler's house which was concealed in a ravine so effectively, that a person might have lived for years within a few hundred yards of it and not been aware of its existence; nay, the very owner was at times puzzled to find it in broad daylight.

Arabin retreated some distance down the bank, to consider the country attentively. Unfortunately, the most prominent landmarks were not visible, and as


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he stood upon rather a flat spot, the country appeared nearly all the same. He caught a glimpse of the spot where Captain Thomson's station lay, as he thought; he once more studied the direction, and proceeded towards the point where Willis's station was situated. He had lost time by this hesitation, and the sun was already sinking towards the west. He saw this with some concern, as he was perfectly aware that to a stranger it was awkward to commence a journey towards nightfall in the Bush: it was probable, also, that he might be detained some time at Willis's station.

“A good fire!” he muttered, as he observed a thick smoke issuing from the kitchen chimney of the hut. He saw no one about the house, and he dismounted and entered. Not a person was in the front apartment, although the expiring embers proved that a fire had been burning in the morning. He then walked into the kitchen, and was surprised to find no one there. He had observed, as he approached, a large volume of smoke issuing from the chimney; and now upon entering the apartment he could not discover any cause for this phenomenon, because the fireplace was cold and empty. He looked through the house, but not a creature did he see. He walked to the door, and was positive that he heard the sound of voices. It was by no means pleasing to have to wait and night approaching, yet he could not well pass on without inquiring after his patient. He shouted at the top of his voice, and in a short time he was surprised at the appearance of Willis himself.

He was not prepared for this. As a matter of course, he expected to find him under proper restraint;


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but the only attendant was the black servant. The terrible scene in the bedroom flashed on his mind, and he wished himself a hundred miles from the spot. He had not time to retreat, for the settler entered and welcomed him in his usual manner. He seemed better; but Arabin did not like his eyes' “wild radiance,” and inwardly resolved to be off as soon as possible.

The settler had no intention of parting with him, and insisted upon his waiting for tea. He would not take as an excuse that night was approaching, and that his visitor had far to travel over a country with which he was but partially acquainted. Dr. Arabin exceeded the bounds of politeness in endeavouring to get away, without effect; and at length he agreed to remain and partake of a Bush tea, upon condition that it should be prepared without delay. This he did with a very bad grace; he had no wish to contradict the settler, and bring on a violent fit of the slumbering disease. The delay would put it out of his power to reach town, and he determined to ride over to Mr. Butler's for the night.

The black servant was so long in preparing tea, that he cursed his good-nature in remaining. The shadows of evening began to fall before it was placed before them. By the time it was finished, the room was so dark that candles were necessary. When the tea-things were removed, the settler insisted upon his taking a parting glass; and the spirit decanter having been placed upon the table, he was asked to help himself.

“You must excuse me, Willis,” replied Dr. Arabin,


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“I never drink; I think that spirits are very injurious to you in your present delicate state of health, and I must deter you from using them.”

“You must take a ‘doch-an'-dorris,’ as they say in Scotland, before you start.”

“I shall not,” said Dr. Arabin.

Willis here rose, and walking across the room, turned the key of the door, which he put in his pocket; the other door was shut, so that Arabin had not a very comfortable prospect before him.

“I am determined,” continued Willis, “that you shall take a glass with me, and you do not leave the room before you swallow it.”

Dr. Arabin, upon mature reflection, saw that it was no use to reason with a madman, and therefore agreed to follow his advice and partake of a glass with him before he left.

The tea-kettle was upon the fire, and the singular companions mixed a glass of spirits and water each, and sipped it. Even this would not please Willis, who now insisted that Arabin should drink all that was upon the table. This he positively refused to do. He saw that his companion was becoming violent, and he determined to look out for his own safety. The only way to get out was to coax or overawe the lunatic. He tried frequently to catch his eye, as he had heard that a stern look fixed upon any one labouring under mental derangement would have an instantaneous effect. It was impossible to catch the eye of his companion, who seemed to guess his intention and purposely to avoid meeting his glance. He would not allow him to leave the room, and kept


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the keys of both doors in his pocket. He ordered him once or twice to drink the spirits on the table, and on his continued refusal became very angry.

Arabin repented of his rash visit. It was now late, and he determined upon a strenuous resistance if any violence should be offered. The only other person in the house was the black servant, and he appeared to be ignorant of the state in which his master was. The evening wore on; the lunatic walked to and fro across the room without speaking or looking towards the other. At length a fit of utter madness seized him, and he raved about the men in coffins, and about the horned devils and murders, nearly as incoherently as when Dr. Arabin had last seen him. He then noticed Arabin, and grinding his teeth at him, absolutely foamed at the mouth in impotent passion. Arabin expected he would have attempted his life, but he did not lay hands upon him; he only called to the black servant to bring his gun, and this command the poor fellow was compelled to obey. He then procured his flask and shot-belt, loaded his gun with the greatest attention, and turned round and spoke as follows:— “Dr. Arabin, I know you to be my bitter enemy: you have taken away my lady-love and blasted my hopes; you have come here to find out my secrets to take to the Government, and you want to make me out mad and have me put into the lunatic asylum. You are in league with the men in coffins to ruin me, and you die. I have tasted bread with you, and must not dip my hands in your blood until after twelve o'clock; when the new day commences I am free.


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Prepare for death, and do not think of escape. Every effort is fruitless, so be prepared.” As he finished, he put a cap on his piece, and walked to and fro across the room in great pomp.

Arabin was taken rather aback at the turn of affairs. He cursed his stupidity, and vowed that if he were once well off the station, he would have Willis sent to a madhouse without further delicacy. It did not seem probable that he should get away; it was little use to try to overpower the madman, who, at times, appeared to possess superhuman strength; it was impossible to coax him into a more lenient frame of mind;—in a word, Arabin was very uneasy; he hardly knew what means to adopt to avert the horrible calamity with which he was threatened.

The lunatic suspended his watch by a silk guard to a nail in the wall; and continued to walk up and down the room, gun in hand. It was about eight o'clock, and the only chance in favour of Arabin seemed to be that an accident might prevent Willis from carrying his threat into execution. Time passed; at length the other got tired of walking about the room, and calling in the black servant from the kitchen, locked the door of communication; he ordered his servant to watch Arabin closely, and to prevent him from moving or speaking, while he went and rested himself for half an hour. He then retired to the inner room, the door of which he left open, and extended himself upon a rude bed.

Dr. Arabin observed this movement with inward satisfaction, and turned his glance at once towards the window. It was very small, yet it appeared practicable


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to get through, and at any rate he resolved to make the attempt. The black servant who had charge of him appeared to commiserate his condition in so far as his confined intellect permitted him to understand it, and Arabin now tried to open a communication with him, so that he might find out how he was disposed. It was becoming rather cool, and Arabin asked him to “blow up the fire;” this he attempted to do, when Willis screamed out, “Hillo! is the prisoner safe? What noise is that, Mango?”

“All right, sir,” replied the black.

While he was speaking to the servant, Arabin had managed to get his hand upon a piece of paper, and taking a pencil from his pocket, he wrote, “Does your master mean to murder me?” and handed it over to the black. He shook his head, and returned it without any reply.

Foiled in this attempt, he almost lost hope; yet, before he reconciled himself to a death terrible and sudden, he resolved to escape if any chance should offer.

The black man appeared willing to assist him, but he was terrified at the violence of his master; once or twice he tried to get him into conversation, but the instant a murmur disturbed the utter silence of the night, the terrible voice from the inner room screamed out, “Is the prisoner safe, Mango?” About eleven o'clock he rose, and entered the room gun in hand. Arabin expected he would despatch him. This was not, however, his intention. The wild, haggard air of the poor fellow reminded him of the description of a mountain bandit in "Italy:"


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“ 'Tis a wild life, fearful and full of change —
The mountain robber's. On the watch he lies,
Levelling his carbine at the passenger.
*****
Tasso approaches—he whose song beguiles
The day of half its hours, whose sorcery
Dazzles the sense, turning our forest glades
To lists that blaze with gorgeous armoury.
‘Hence, nor descend till he and his are gone;
Let him fear nothing.’ ”

“I love these banditti, and their captain Marce di Sciarra,” thought Arabin, “for the respect they showed to the talented and unfortunate Tasso. I have now to deal with a person who has no noble feelings to work upon—or, rather, whose feelings are obliterated by insanity.”

Willis walked across the room and looked at the watch; it was but eleven, and his fearful resolve could not be executed before twelve o'clock. Once or twice he handled his gun and glanced towards his prisoner; the resolution was present in his mind, and he lowered the piece and once more returned to the room.

Arabin had no time to lose. He pointed towards the room, and then towards his throat, and by signs gave the black servant to understand that unless he escaped, his master would murder him. The black understood him, and whispered, “The window is your only chance.” Arabin made signs to indicate that if he attempted to escape, the other would shoot him. The black man shook his head, as much as to say there was no hope. Dr. Arabin reflected for a moment, and inquired of the black servant where he


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slept. He pointed with his finger towards the bedroom; the door was ajar, and Arabin observed that it fastened on his side. He drew a couple of guineas from his pocket, and placed them in the hands of the black. “Now, Mango,” he whispered, “you go into bed, and I will shut the door.” Mango reflected for a few minutes, and at length signified his consent to this. Arabin placed himself in such a position that he could draw the bolt the moment Mango entered. This aroused the suspicion of the lunatic, who cried, “Mango, is the prisoner safe?” Mango made a rush into the bedroom crying, “Oh, yes! massa, him all right—quiet, massa.—D————n,” he shouted, as Arabin slammed the door in his face—“d—————n the prisoner!” This was said with such well—feigned astonishment, that his betrayed employer had no suspicion of his treachery. Arabin rushed to the window, which was small and difficult to push up. He was gifted with supernatural strength; he forced it up, shot out, and unfortunately stuck—the window being very difficult to push open.

While he lay sprawling in the window, unable either to get out or in, the lunatic was sensible by the noise that he was endeavouring to escape. He thundered in a frantic manner at the door, and shouted that unless he opened it, he would blow out his brains. The black man also thought it necessary to make a noise, which increased the tumult. At length Arabin made one effort more potent than the others, for the window flew up just as the united strength of the lunatic and his servant burst the door. Arabin made an enormous spring, turned the corner,


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and ran just as he heard the lunatic scream, “The prisoner has escaped. Mango!—follow—shoot him! What, ho! Signor Braganza, ho!” It may well be supposed that Arabin lost no time in making off, sore as his leg was. He was destined to meet another interruption of this eventful evening. He had just reached the corner of the paddock, when a fellow interrupted him, and asked him to wait a moment. Not taking much notice, the other admonished him rather quickly, by throwing a stout walking-stick between his legs. As he was walking rather smartly, he ploughed the ground with his nose before he was conscious of the interruption.

When he was able to stand upon his legs, he found himself surrounded by three men: the person who had stopped him once more addressed him “Now, my young beauty, where might you be running to?”

“Who are you?” sternly demanded Arabin.

“I am the inspector of distilleries, and have my commission in my pocket. What may your name be?”

“Dr. Arabin, a person with whom you can have nothing to do.”

“You don't know that; my commission is very general, and I would stop the Governor himself if it was necessary.”

“Well, I wait your commands,” said Arabin.

“Can you inform us where Mr. Willis is usually to be found?” inquired the leader.

“I think he is generally at home; I parted with him only this minute.”

“And why were you running so fast?”




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“Because Mr. Willis is insane and wished to murder me,” replied Arabin. “May I ask you what you want here?”

“Suppose I was on the look-out for an illicit still?”

“I advise you,” replied Arabin, “not to approach the house at the present moment: Willis is insane, and has a gun, with which he would have shot me had I not escaped.”

“Never mind,” said the officer; “we shall see him presently. You will wait a few moments?”

“Forward,” said the officer.

The whole party now approached the house. Willis had been looking out, and saw them approaching. He did not seem to care much who they were, but fired his piece at random, and ran into the house. Before he could close the door, the whole party had made a rush and were in the house.

“Lay hands on him!” shouted the leader. “Knock him down!” he cried, as he saw him preparing to fight. He rushed forward, and giving a quick jump, his stick descended with violence on the head of the lunatic, and he fell sprawling on the ground.

The officers now commenced their search. Arabin expected they would find a still, for the circumstance of the smoke issuing from the kitchen-chimney when there was no fire on the hearth recurred to him just then. It was no business of his, and he did not say a word. They looked into every hole and upon every shelf in the house, in the garden and the outhouses, but not a single indication could they discover of an illicit still.

“This is certainly singular," said the officer, who


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was a fierce man in half uniform: “we are positive there is a still at work upon this station, and yet we cannot find out where it is.”

“It must be under-ground,” replied a constable, who had the character “vagabond” branded on his countenance in indelible characters.

The party again looked over the house and in the garden with no better success; the officer was about to give up the attempt to discover the still, when the constable inquired if he would allow him any part of the reward if he made the discovery.

“Five pounds and a pardon, you convict ragamuffin!” said the officer.

It appeared that this fellow had considered the premises, and concluded that if there really was a still, it must be in some subterranean place, and that the smoke from thence would be emitted by means of the chimney. This was a happy thought. The fellow procured a spade, and with great exertion cut a trench along the end of the house, close to the wall. His ingenuity was rewarded with success. He came upon a large iron pipe, which conducted the smoke into the kitchen-chimney. He had now only to follow the direction of this pipe: this was rather difficult, as it was deeply imbedded in the earth. After great trouble, they traced it some distance in the direction in which the stable was situated. The party returned to examine it even more attentively than upon the previous occasion. Each article was carried out, and the convict already mentioned searched every corner. At last, in one of the mangers he discovered a rent, and on trying the board it shifted in his hand. He next attempted


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to take it out, which he accomplished without very great difficulty. Beneath, there seemed a cellar or vault. No one of the party would venture down, as the candle seemed inclined to go out. At last the officer discovered that the depth was not more than six feet; and he laughed at the convict, and said he would not get the reward unless he discovered the still. The reward incited the fellow to renewed exertion: and without another word he leaped into the den. He found the candle burned below, and he was at once followed by the officer and the other constable.

The apartment was about eight feet by six, and contained a still, with all the necessary appurtenances for distilling: there were also two kegs filled with whiskey, and about twenty bushels of malt. There was no person in the distillery, and the operation seemed to have been left off in haste. The officer was happy at the idea of pocketing his half of the penalty, and the convict was glad that he had earned his five pounds. Each of them tried the spirit, and pronounced it capital.

“It is run down partly from molasses,” remarked the convict.

“You know the way to make it, I suppose?” observed his companion.

“Yes I do; many a good gallon of spirits I have made.”

The spirits were seized, and the usual mark having been placed upon the casks, the whole party left. Arabin went and had Willis undressed and put to bed, where he continued insensible for some time, and then, mounting his horse, rode to the out-


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station to procure assistance. It was becoming evident to him that the proper course was to confine him. He had apparently no relations in the Colony, and it was a difficult and delicate thing to place him under restraint and put his property into the hands of mercenary individuals. He resolved, however, to take the advice of one or two gentlemen, and if they should approve of the measure, to have a commission de lunatico inquirendo, as to the sanity of the belligerent settler.

He found two shepherds on the out-station, who accompanied him with a very bad grace to the house. Willis still remained in a stupor, but he occasionally started and opened his eyes.; he appeared writhing with pain, for a few minutes conscious, and then he went off as before. Dr. Arabin gave the shepherds strict charge to watch him attentively until assistance arrived.

He now remounted his horse, and rode off in the direction in which Mr. Butler's house was situated. The grey dawn was usurping the place of the darkness, and every object had a singular aspect viewed in the twilight. He had a very correct knowledge of the spot from the bearings of the different mountains, and yet it was not without some difficulty and several hours' unnecessary delay that he reached it.

The settler had only been home about four hours, and was fatigued. It was, of course, unpleasant to start upon another journey, and he grumbled at first, but at last consented. Arabin joined the family at the breakfast-table; and did excellent justice to the fare which was placed before him. He conversed for


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some time upon the proper course to pursue with regard to the lunatic, and the settler agreed with his views, and advised him to apply to the Coroner, or the Police Magistrate, and have a commission issued as soon as possible. The difficulty, however, was this: —who should make the application? what business had they with his affairs, which did not concern them? On the other side, it was evidently a matter not to be neglected. Mr. Willis would do himself, or some other person, serious injury unless instantly confined: this reason prevented them from abandoning the idea.

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