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CHAPTER IV.

THE COLONIAL CONSTABLE—THE TRACK IN THE SNOW—SEVEN-MILE BEACH—THE DESOLATE HUT—THE DISCOVERY—BAULKED AGAIN.

WE urged the boatmen to make the best of their way over the river to the Pitt-Water side, and the constables assisting, we soon neared the opposite shore.

“The snow lies thick on the land,” observed the magistrate.

“It won't lie there long,” said one of the boat-men; “the wind has got into the north, with a little westing in it; when the sun comes out, the snow will disappear in no time; see how the light air draws down the river.”

“Many persons passed this morning?” asked my friend.

“Not many; may be half-a-dozen or so. There was one party in a precious hurry to get across a


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little before six o'clock; they took a wherry and sculled over to Kangaroo Point. It's a shame to let people go over that way when there's a regular ferry-boat! Keep her off the point a bit, Bill; mind the shoal. It's a shame; and the Governor ought to stop it. But they were no good, I'll warrant. There was one pale-faced chap in a black coat that looked as if the baillies were arter him.”

“Which way did they take when they landed?” said I.

“Oh! we couldn't see which way they took from the jetty; but they told me they went off in the direction of Knopwood's Farm; but I don't see what could take 'em that way; that's not the way to Pitt-Water. They're arter no good, I'm sure, or else they'd ha' gone by the reg'lar ferry what's provided for people on purpose.”

So saying, by a shift of the helm, he brought the broadside of the boat abreast of the landing-place; and we all got out of the boat, our horses, who were used to the work, jumping out with the same readiness as the bipeds.

Taking a hint from the boatman's communication, we immediately proceeded in the direction


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of Knopwood's Farm, and it was not long before we came to marks of footsteps in the snow. There were marks of two persons having passed that morning, the impression of the feet of one being large and broad, and of the other small and narrow.

“These are our game,” said one of the constables; “they have been in a hurry to get over the ground; see how they have digged their toes into the snow in their haste. You see when a person walks slow and leisurely, he puts his foot flat on the ground, and takes it up even; but when he runs or walks quick, he bends his foot, and digs his toe into the ground, leaving quite a different trace from the other.”

“Well—that's good,” said the magistrate; “I should never have thought of that. Why (to the constable), you can track like a native!”

“Better, I hope, a little,” replied the constable; “though those black chaps have a knack of tracking in the bush quite wonderful to see at times; but I know a trick more than they, I fancy. Look at this: here's a shoe that I found in the red-house. A native wouldn't have thought of that now. Look here; it fits exactly the small


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print in the snow. Now we're right on the scent, I reckon; but they're a good bit ahead of us, and we have no time to lose, if we are to spoil their fun.”

“Now we are sure of our track,” said the magistrate, “I think you and I, Thornley, had better ride on. The marks are so plain that we cannot miss them, and we will leave the constables to follow us.”

“That's the way,” said the constable, “try to get up with them, Sir, if you can; but, I don't think you'll be far before us, if I guess right.”

We trotted on accordingly, and easily tracked the footsteps till we came to one end of the Seven-mile Beach, when the marks were lost in the sea. We tied our horses to a tree, and searched narrowly about, but we could not recover the trace of the footsteps. The tide was still coming in, but it was nearly high-water. We directed our eyes along the beautiful margin of the crescent-shaped beach, on which the sea was breaking loudly. The white foam of the waves sparkled in the sun, giving an animated appearance to the scene, that inspired cheerfulness and activity, but we could see no sign of


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living thing; but a low-masted vessel was disappearing in the distance. We were quite at fault, and we rambled from the stony beach to the bush, and from the bush to the beach, quite at a loss how to recover the track, which seemed lost in the sea. While we were still searching for it, the constables came up at a trot, and Sanders, the one who had exhibited his knowledge of tracking in the snow, sat down on the shingles.

“Excuse me, Sir,” he said, “but I'm blown with this run. Here's a beautiful place! It's remarkable that the sea is always rough on this beach; it always breaks more or less as you see it now, and you may hear the roaring for miles and miles when there's a high wind setting in-shore. Well, Sir, your honour seems dead beat. Water leaves no track?”

“We have searched all-about for more than a mile round, and we can find nothing,” said the magistrate. “I fancy they must have been taken off by a boat, for it's plain they have gone to the water's edge, but here I lose them.”

“Let me think,” said Sanders. “Jim Burke's


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hut must be about midway between this and the other end of the beach, and about half a mile inland, behind that rise yonder that you see in the distance, with some scrub on it. I'll be bound they've kept on the sands, knowing the tide was coming in, and then cut over to the hut, but we'll soon find that out.”

We proceeded in a body along the margin of the shingle, the other constable searching inland, and continued our way without discovering the track for three or four miles, when the other man, who was a little in advance of us, made a sign with his hand.

“That's the way to do it,” said Sanders, “never shout out or make a noise when you're after game in the bush, whether it's man or beast.”

“He's found the track, I suppose?” said I.

“To be sure he has, and so have we; look here; let's try my shoe—fits exactly! Now we have 'em again, Sir.”

“Follow us as fast as you can,” said the magistrate, “we'll push on.”

“You'll see the hut directly you round the little hill,” said Sanders; “but if they show


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fight, better wait till we come up. Soft and easy does it.”

We cantered on to the little hill before us, and in a few minutes we reached the hut. It was the very picture of desolation. The sides were constructed of that which is technically known in the colony by the name of "wattle-and-dab," formed of upright-stakes, with twigs interlacing them hurdle-fashion, and rudely plastered with mud. The roof, which was thatched with native grass, was rough and out of order, and some planks nailed together and fastened to a cleft log by hinges of bullock's-hide, composed the door. A curtain of kangaroo-skin, much the worse for wear, and looking as if it had the mange, was pegged over the opening which formed the window. Some big pebbles from the beach, with rough slabs of the stone which is abundant almost everywhere in Van Diemen's Land, were piled up with an intermingling of mud, to serve the purpose of a chimney. We saw in a moment that it was empty.

“Poor country house for an independent gentleman,” said Sanders, “but retired—very! Nobody would think of looking for this rural


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retreat, unless he knew where to pitch on it. Many a stolen sheep has been cut into mutton-chops in this hut, I'll be bound, without troubling the butcher to call at the Marine Villa for orders.

“Don't lose any time, Sanders,” said the magistrate, “we must go to work again; you're a clever fellow, so try if you can discover anything to give us information of the parties we are in pursuit of.”

“Let Scroggs try first, please Sir,” said Sanders, “and that will give me time to rest, for I'm almost knocked up.”

The other constable made a rigorous search, but he could find nothing in or near the hut but the remains of some scorched sheepskins, which had most likely been burnt to avoid detection.

“Now, Sanders,” said the magistrate, “try what you can do; but you must look sharp, for the sun is melting the snow fast, and we shall soon lose the tracks.”

“Ay, ay, Sir,” said Sanders, roused by this remark, “I did not think of that. Now let's have a look at the premises.”


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“Scroggs,” said he, “have you searched the thatch where it has been disturbed there?”

“It's only the wind,” said his less observant coadjutor; “the wind has blown the thatch about all round.”

“Yes,” said Sanders, “but that's to leeward of the wind; don't you see, by the bend that the trees have got, which way the wind blows in these parts? That thatch has been disturbed lately, I'll swear, and not by the wind, or I know nothing of my trade.”

Thus speaking, the acute and practised constable mounted on the shoulders of his fellow, and thrust his arm into the part of the thatch which had excited his suspicions.

“I thought so,” said he; “but what have we got here? A tinder-box! No great find this. Lots of tinder, with flint and steel, all complete! Handy to get a light with, but no great use at present.”

“Let me look at it,” said the magistrate. “Turn out the tinder, and see if there are marks about the box.”

“No marks about it, Sir,” said Sanders, “except the tinman's. Don't let the wind blow away


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the tinder, Sam; one never knows what one may want in the bush. I've known the time when its weight in gold would have been given for that bit of tinder at Oyster Bay. Let me put it back again..... Eh! what's this? Look here, Sir, here's a name on the unburnt part of the tinder! The rag has been the upper part of an old stocking, and here's the name of ‘John Shirley;’ who's this John Shirley now, I should like to know?”

The magistrate took the tinder-box, without making any remark, and, drawing me aside, we conversed for a few minutes apart.

“George Shirley is the real name of the Gypsey,” said the magistrate, “if his packet speaks truth. It seems that we have lighted on a near relation when we least expected it.”

“I see it all,” said I, a sudden flash of light breaking in upon me; “the person that called himself John Wolsey struck me that night as resembling some one whom I had seen before; it's the bushranger. He gave me a look, when he discovered my disguise, which reminded me of other features which I could not call to mind; it was the look of the Gypsey bushranger as he


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rolled over the precipice at the Clyde. That's it! I see it all! This is the brother who is next heir, if the girl was out of the way, Depend upon it, that's the clue to all this mystery.”

“I think as you do,” said the magistrate; “but there's a great deal to be explained still. In the meantime let us try to recover the poor child, for if our surmises are correct, the party who has gone so far will not stop short in effecting his object. I hope the poor girl may not be murdered before we come up with her. I don't like the appearance of that schooner that we saw in the distance when we came to the Seven-mile Beach. But we have no time to lose, let us be moving; the men are rested by this time, and we can push on.”

“There ought to be a third track here,” said Sanders, “but I don't see it. A child's foot is light, but it ought to leave its mark on snow. Here are the other two, and a new one, as if making off in the direction of the creek, where a boat could take them off, but I don't see the little one's. The large foot makes a deep mark in the snow, and deeper than before. How's that? I have it; the large foot has carried the child, to


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conceal the taking of it. Thoughtful that; but it's hard if I can't match any one in the colony at this game. There they go; and large-foot doesn't like his load, for you see he goes stumbling on, and here he has been down; but he's up again—and there they go; and by George here's the print of the little one's foot, when her bearer had the tumble. They trod it out, as they thought, but here it is as plain as can be on the top of this tuft of native grass, with the snow on it, like the sugar of a twelfth-cake; Hurrah! my lads, we have 'em! Three miles will bring us to the creek, and then we shall see what comes next.”

In little more than half an hour we came to the edge of the creek, which at high water is deep and navigable, but at the fall of the tide is a succession of shoals, through which it is difficult to direct even a small boat. The searching eye of Sanders soon espied an indentation which had recently been made by the prow of a boat striking against the bank, and we had the mortification to feel that the parties of whom we were in pursuit had by that means escaped for the present beyond our reach.

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