previous
next



  ― 100 ―
view facsimile

CHAPTER VII.

THE CHASE—SCROGGS' PATHOS—CONFIRMATION OF THE FUGITIVE—UNEXPECTED INFORMATION—A SAILOR ON HORSE-BACK—A NEW ARRIVAL.

WE were now in the most fertile part of Van Diemen's Land, the agricultural district in which the greatest part of the wheat grown in the colony was then raised, and which, from its fertility and its propinquity to water-carriage, is particularly adapted for tillage-farms. The soil in this district is above the average quality of the land in the island; some of the wheat lands having yielded good crops for more than fifteen years without manure or artificial irrigation; but it is not suited for sheep and cattle, the unlocated grazing-ground being too limited in extent. From the desirable nature of the locality—the facility of water-carriage being such a prodigious advantage for the transport of grain in a


  ― 101 ―
view facsimile

young colony—small farms soon became numerous in this neighbourhood, but from their close proximity, there can be, of course, but few opportunities for back runs.

Our direction lay on one side of these settlements, and as it was early morning, we did not meet with a single person on our route, nor did we think it worth while to go out of our way to seek for information, as it would have been a certain loss of time, which was very precious, for a very uncertain benefit; besides, we could not tell whether we might not do more mischief than good by entrusting our object to promiscuous persons. We kept steadily on, therefore, for five or six miles, and then we crossed the line on which we calculated the pursued party would pass, hoping to hit on their track, but without success, and it was not until we got near Brighton Plains, to the right, that we came on their footsteps.

“You see, Sir,” said Sanders, “we have 'em; they can't escape us now; but, by the sinking of the marks, they must have made good use of their time in the night.”

“The poor little girl must have suffered terribly from the cold of last night,” observed the


  ― 102 ―
view facsimile

magistrate; “it was brutal to expose a child of such tender years to the inclemency of a winter's frost and snow.”

“Poor little thing!” the passive Scroggs ventured to remark; “poor little thing! you don't think they cut her throat then, Sir, do you? The sight of that blood has been worrying me ever since! I remember once, before I came to this country, I had to slaughter a lamb for my master, and, by mistake, I killed the pet-lamb of my young Missis. She came up just as I was a-doing of it, and I never shall forget the look she gave me! I was standing with the lamb's head between my legs, and my knife —— ”

“Well-well, my man,” said I, for the picture that he had conjured up made me feel sick—“that will do. We can't be sure whether the child is alive or not, but it is likely that she is, by their taking the horse; I wish we could find some sign that would relieve us from our suspense! Keep your eyes open, and there's a bottle of rum for you, if you can discover anything to help us in our search.”

“Ay, ay, Sir, I'll keep a sharp look-out; not that I care about the rum; it's the child,


  ― 103 ―
view facsimile

poor little thing! I fancy I am always seeing her with her poor little head hanging down, and her throat.....”

“There-there, say no more about it, but get on ahead, and try if you can make any discovery. An hour—nay a few minutes—may make the difference of life or death.”

Thus urged, the obedient Scroggs moved forward in advance with some appearance of alacrity, and, stimulated partly by the present danger of the child, whose fate I believe he sincerely commiserated, and partly by the bottle of rum in prospective, he cast his eyes vigilantly about on all sides, and it was not long before he had the satisfaction of detecting a digression in the path of the pursued.

“There's been something new going on here,” said he; “the small-footed man has gone away to the left, and the other man and the horse have gone on.”

“It's the small foot,” said Sanders, “that's plain enough; and he has gone off to the left, and I don't see the sign of his having come back. What's to be done now? There is some dodge in this, that's certain.”


  ― 104 ―
view facsimile

“Do you three,” said the magistrate, “go on till you get to the rise with the big gum-tree on the top of it, and wait there till I join you. I will follow this track for a mile or so, and then we can consult on the best mode of proceeding, should it appear that the parties we are in pursuit of have separated.”

He cantered off, accordingly, and we presently lost sight of him behind a little hill, but before we reached the big gum-tree, he passed us at an angle, and waited for our coming up, when he communicated the result of his visit.

Behind the hill there was a stock-keeper's hut, which we could not see from the spot where we were, and there the magistrate learned that before dawn of day a new settler had called at the hut, and asked for refreshment, saying that he had a companion whom he had left at a little distance, and for whom, as well as for himself, he wanted a supply of provisions.

“It was easy to tell he was a new settler,” said the stock-keeper, “because he had on a black coat and waistcoat, and a new hat in the bush, and didn't mind showing his money to strangers!”


  ― 105 ―
view facsimile

The stock-keeper gave him what he had ready, which consisted of some cold mutton-chops, and nearly a whole damper, with about ten pounds of uncooked meat, for which the stranger gave him a four-dollar note. My friend asked to see the note, and pretending that he wanted a note of that particular signature, the stock-keeper readily exchanged it for other smaller notes.

“This note,” observed the magistrate, “may help to trace our man.”

My friend did not think it necessary to tell the inhabitant of the hut that we were in pursuit of this new settler, “as it was better,” he said, “not to be making confidants without necessity.” As the track of the small foot in the snow was easily seen on leaving the hut, he followed it up to the point where we rejoined him.

This was so far satisfactory; we were on the track of this John Wolsey, or John Shirley, and we could not be very far from him, but still there was no trace of the little girl; but the manner of his obtaining provisions in going alone to the hut seemed to show that he had left the child with his companion, from the fear of being


  ― 106 ―
view facsimile

traced the more easily if she was seen with him. This consideration gave us hope, so that we continued the pursuit with renewed spirit.

We were beginning to feel the want of food ourselves, however, and we were at a loss where to obtain it without considerable delay; and it was necessary that we should not neglect to procure a supply while we were within a reasonable distance of the settled part of the country, for our route was leading us more and more into the bush; the parties whom we were pursuing being obviously desirous of keeping away from the inhabited parts of the district through which they fled.

We did not allow these thoughts to slacken our pace, and leaving Bagdad on our left, we continued our way through a very difficult country, still with the track in view, till we came to a point which we calculated was abreast of the Green Ponds. It was now considerably past noon, and we were desperately hungry, but we did not like to relax in our pursuit, for we expected every minute to come up with the fugitives, when the track made a sudden bend to the left, and we observed the same divergence as before, but this


  ― 107 ―
view facsimile

time it was the broad-footed man. Not caring for him, we did not stop to examine into his movements, but the reason of his absence was presently explained, for about three miles farther we found the track of a second horse joining the track which we were pursuing; and from the appearance of the strides of the two horses and the marks of the snow that was kicked up, it was plain that they had contrived to get possession of a second horse, and that Wolsey, not being detained by his companion being on foot, was pushing forward with all speed.

On this the magistrate immediately decided what to do. He wrote on a leaf of his pocket-book, in pencil, a request addressed to any one who might read it, that, for the purpose of furthering the ends of justice, the constables might be supplied with horses, for the hire, or the purchase of which if necessary, he would be responsible.

“Now, Sanders,” said he, “there's not a moment to be lost; I and Mr. Thornley will follow them up on horseback, and take the chance of what comes; get up with them we must, or we may be too late. Try to procure horses and follow us with all speed, for we may want your


  ― 108 ―
view facsimile

assistance. And now do your best. You will not leave me at this push, I suppose, Thornley?” said he, “but if it does not suit you to stay away from your farm, I will go alone.”

“I will not leave you,” said I;—“if you have duty to prompt you, I have inclination.”

“I have both duty and inclination,” said he, and off we set at a smart canter. The party whom we pursued was evidently guided by some one who had an accurate knowledge of the country, for their track proceeded in a straight line across the island, so far as was consistent with their keeping clear of the various small settlements and farms in their route. In this way we passed through a country much less hilly than before, skirting on our left the fat flat of the “Cross Marsh,” and a few miles farther the beautiful district of “The Lovely Banks,” till we came to the base of the Tier over which the road had been cut by a steep hill to Jericho, which is about forty miles from Hobart-Town. Having got over Spring Hill Tier, which winded our horses a bit, we had a strong inclination to make a detour to our left, to Jericho, to get some refreshment; but the sight of the fresh track provoked


  ― 109 ―
view facsimile

and incited us, and we pushed on after them through Fourteen-Tree Plain, and past Lemon Springs, till we got to Oatlands, the neighbourhood in which the notorious bushranger, Howe, performed many of his exploits. It was in this part of the country that he made the remarkable escape which is still remembered in the colony, and related to new-comers over a bush fire and a kangaroo steamer. He had been taken, and his arms bound behind him; one soldier with a loaded musket went before him, and another behind. By some means never discovered he contrived to get possession of a knife, with which he quietly cut the bands that fastened him. Watching his opportunity, as they passed round the narrow base of a high hill, and before the soldier behind had come into sight, he sprung on the one before, and stabbing him in the back, laid him prostrate. Seizing his musket, he fired at the soldier behind, who was hastening up, and shot him dead. He then escaped into the bush.

But we met with no living thing, and we still kept on, angry at not being able to overtake the black-coated gentleman and his victim, and we passed, with longing eyes and ravenous appetites,


  ― 110 ―
view facsimile

Albany Vale and St. Peter's Pass. We had now a fine level country, but thinly covered with trees, to the neighbourhood of Antill's Ponds. By this time our horses were nearly exhausted, but the tracks now appeared fresher and fresher as we gained upon the fugitives; we were tempted to make another effort, and we presently reached Salt-Pan Plains. At any other time we should have taken time to admire the magnificent view of these extensive plains, where the eye can range for many miles without obstruction; for in a country where timber abounds, which forms one of the most serious obstacles to the increase of a settler's tillage, the sight of a large expanse of country clear of trees never fails to excite in a colonist of Van Diemen's Land the most pleasurable contemplations. We could not help pulling up our tired horses for one minute to admire the sinking of the setting sun behind the lofty mountains to our left, causing their cloud-capped tops to glow with a peculiar light of serene and placid brilliancy.

To the east of these plains are extensive ponds saturated with salt, from which the settlers within reach obtain their supplies in the summer season


  ― 111 ―
view facsimile

by evaporation, by means of the sun's heat. In front of us was the superb mountain of Ben Lomond, the outlines of which, though the dusk was coming on, were still distinct in the white line of snow which covered its towering summit.

“One effort more,” said the magistrate, “and we shall come up with them.”

But our horses were sadly fagged, and in want of food, as well as ourselves. We alighted, took off their saddles, and rubbed down their backs with our handkerchiefs.

“Don't let our horses get stiff,” said my friend; “as long as they're warm, they will keep on, but if they get stiffened in the cold, they will knock up. One effort more.”

But our horses, good as they were, and fitted, like most of the horses on the island, to bear long and continued fatigue with but scanty refreshment, soon showed unequivocal symptoms of exhaustion. We turned to the left, therefore, towards Blackman's Bridge, near which we knew we could obtain food and shelter.

With that sort of instinct which I have often observed in the animal, our wearied horses pricked up their ears as we turned them in the


  ― 112 ―
view facsimile

direction of the inn; and snorting with visible signs of gladness, their strength appeared to revive, and they bore us gaily to our place of rest. Our first care was to see them properly tended. We gave them a warm mash of siftings, and let them pick a little at some barley in the straw, till they had recovered from the excitement of their travel. In the meanwhile, we put some barley in soak in boiling water, for there were no oats to be had, which we mixed with a small portion of siftings, and fed them well, taking care not to give too much at a time. We took particular pains to have them well rubbed down, particularly their legs and heels, for a good dressing is as good as meat and drink to a tired horse.

“You've given them a warming,” said the ostler, who, from a weaver in England, had become the tender of horses in Van Diemen's Land; “they seem to be made of a good sort of stuff, these beasts, but they look a little mottled now with sweat, like shot silk by a side light. Where are you come from?”

“We have come some distance,” said we, “but we have ridden very fast, which has blown the


  ― 113 ―
view facsimile

horses a bit.” I did not choose to tell him that we had come nearly seventy miles without pulling up, although, for the honour of colonial horseflesh, I had a strong inclination to brag of it.

Having seen our horses' feet stopped with a cooling application, and our minds being at ease about their comfort, we entered the public room of the inn.

I need scarcely say, that while we were looking to our horses, the usual meal of the country, the eternal mutton-chops, were prepared for our entertainment by the people of the house, to which were added some kangaroo-tail soup, and the unusual luxury of pancakes made with eggs. Some capital bottled stout, Barclay's, of course, added a zest to our supper, and by the aid of some excellent brandy, we soon found ourselves restored to our usual spirits.

We were discussing the propriety of a second tumbler when the clattering of a horse's hoofs, which suddenly stopped at the door of our hostel, and the slight bustle usual on such occasions, announced the arrival of a new guest. As there was only one room for travellers in the inn, which


  ― 114 ―
view facsimile

had been hastily built of weather-boards on speculation, the landlord ushered in the new-comer to the apartment where we were sitting, and he entered the room without ceremony, shaking from his rough great coat a plentiful shower of snow.

“Servant, gentlemen, hope I don't intrude. Landlord —steward—landlord—d'—, that is, bless my eyes, get us something to eat. Here have I been riding on that rickety old craft; d' him—that is, bless him—he's as crank as a Norway timber-ship—for I don't know how long, and the cold has made me so sharp-set, I'm ready to eat the purser!”

The stranger, whom we had regarded with some curiosity as he gave vent to this nautical effusion, was a seafaring man, by his dress, which his language seemed to corroborate; but as I had recently attempted the personation of that character myself, I was not disposed to give him credit for the reality without further examination.

Thought I to myself, “It's all very well to call a horse a ‘craft,’ and to sport your ‘starboard’ and ‘larboard,’ but who knows that this is not another would-be sailor?”


  ― 115 ―
view facsimile

I gave a glance at the magistrate, as I revolved these thoughts, and I saw by the gleg of his eye that he had the same suspicion as myself; so by a sort of tacit confederacy, we began to sift our new acquaintance.

“You don't seem to have enjoyed your ride, Sir?” said my friend.

“Enjoy it! Lots of enjoyment in riding an old brute like that in a snow-storm! I thought it never snowed in this country?”

“Sometimes,” I said, “but not often, and the snow does not remain long on the ground. You seem, Sir, to have had a feathering?”

“Feathering, do you call it? It wasn't much like a feather bed, I can tell you. Three times have I been capsized coming from that last place—Antil Ponds, I think, they call it; they have the queerest names for places in this country! Oh! here's my supper: mutton-chops! of course—I'm d' —that is, I'm blessed if I've eat anything but mutton-chops since I've been in the country; the sheep in these parts are all chops! from head to starn, I think!”

“There's some capital kangaroo-tail soup,” suggested the landlord.


  ― 116 ―
view facsimile

“Kangaroo-tail soup! Ah! there it is again! I'm blessed if I've heard about anything but kangaroo-tail soup all the while I was at Launceston. They souped me there night and day. It was a regular caulking! If I'd gone on with it, I do believe I should have been quite transmogrified, for I felt a tail a-growing, and was beginning to hop already! But d'—”

“What's the matter?” said I, for our facetious friend suddenly stopped, and with knife and fork outstretched, seemed to be taken with a fit. I got up instantly, with visible signs of alarm, to assist him, but he held up the hand that had the fork in it.

“Avast there!” said he, “I was only counting twenty.”

“Counting twenty! what on earth do you count twenty for?”

“Oh, you see, my wife made me promise whenever I was going to swear, to count twenty, to stop it's coming out; so I always do it, 'cept in a gale of wind or so, when one can't be particular; and that's why I say 'bless me,' because, as my wife says, if I must say something to relieve myself, better say something good than the


  ― 117 ―
view facsimile

other! Ay, ay, she's the one to keep a good look-out ahead; there's nothing in the voyage of life like having a consort! She was like to lose me though, once, for my craft gave a tremendous lurch just before I got here. I held hard-on by the leather tackle, but it was of no use; down I came by the run!”

“You are not used to riding on horseback, I suppose?” said my friend.

“Used to it! no—nor never shall be. I started off to see the interior of the country, ten days ago, and managed very well while I trusted to my own legs, though it's not so pleasant walking on shore as at sea—there's no motion to steady you. But when I was at Jericho—there's a rum name for a place!—I got a letter from my skipper to tell me I must come back with all sail. So what did I do, but I hired that horse, that somebody wanted to send back to Launceston.”

“But that enabled you to get on quicker?”

“Slower, by four knots! for such a pitching about I never had before! It wasn't easy to get steerage-way at all, the thing was so slow and lumbersome; and when you did, it wasn't much


  ― 118 ―
view facsimile

better, for somehow the cantankerous brute never would answer the helm the right way, let alone the awkwardness of the tiller-ropes coming forward instead of aft, which kept confusing me; at last I clapped my hand to his tail, and then the brute stopped and gave a heave up with his starn legs, but I contrived, by twisting his tail hard to starboard or larboard, as I wanted it, to make him steer this side and that; for I tried to keep him in the middle of the road, to have the force of the tide, and he kept sheering to the side, as if he was in a hack eddy. It was a rare sight to see, I fancy! But here I am, safe at last!”

“Starboard and larboard!” said I to myself, “it's all very well, hut it won't do!” “And pray, Sir,” said I, aloud, “how was it that you happened to get aboard that clumsy craft that has occasioned these mishaps?”

“Eh?” said he, inquiringly, and suspending his draught of rum-and-water; “and pray, mate,” said he, with an incredulous grin, “what ship do you belong to?”

“Me!”

“Ay—look at your rig! Oh, oh! —I see!—Yes, yes,” putting his finger on his nose; “false


  ― 119 ―
view facsimile

colours! Want to steal off!—Blue jacket better than a yellow one—eh?”

“Why,” said I, “what do you take me for?”

“Not for a sailor! But, never fear, never tell tales! No business of mine! Wish you well out of it, and better luck another time, that's all I can say.”

Thought I, to myself, “the tables are turned drolly enough,” for I had on the sailor's dress in which I had disguised myself in Hobart-Town, with the exception of the little tarpaulin hat, which I had replaced by my own black beaver, and I was exposed to the very suspicion which I had rather too hastily formed of our new acquaintance. This was provoking, especially as the real sailor obstinately persisted in mistaking me for a prisoner in disguise, trying to escape from justice.

“And pray,” said I, “how do you know I am not a sailor?”

“How do I know! Lord love ye! D'ye think one sailor can't tell another, and know a landsman from a blue-jacket? Did you ever see a sailor sit with his back against a chair, and one


  ― 120 ―
view facsimile

leg crossed over another that fashion? what would become of his sea-legs? But never mind; I'm as mute as a stock-fish; a Yorkshireman, you know, can see through an inch-board, but he never tells what's behindit.”

“A Yorkshireman, are you?” said I eagerly; “from what part?”

“From Whitby; that is, I served my time at Whitby, but I was born on Squire Shirley's estate, near Limedale, close by Heron Abbey—everybody knows it in Yorkshire. My father was a tenant of Squire Shirley's, but I would go to sea, as boys will sometimes.”

“Then you know this Squire Shirley?”

“To be sure I did—William Shirley; but he's dead now.”

“How long ago?”

“It's about two years since.”

“Had he any children?”

“No children, but he had two brothers.”

“And what is become of them?”

“The eldest, George, went away somewhere, nobody knew whither. He was a wild chap in his youth, was George; but the youngest, John,


  ― 121 ―
view facsimile

is at the Abbey, because, as there was no account of George, of course John was next heir to the estates.”

“What are the estates worth?” asked I.

“I don't know that, but it is one of the prettiest estates in the county.”

“Did William leave any will?” asked the magistrate.

“There was a talk about some will, but I never knew the rights of it. It was said George died years ago, but some people thought there was some mystery about it.”

I exchanged looks with my friend the magistrate at this information, which had come on us thus unexpectedly, and in so strange a way, but we did not think it necessary to communicate to our new acquaintance the deep interest which we took in these inquiries; and, under the pretext of seeing our horses well littered down for the night, we left the room, and had a short private conversation together on our way to the stable.

“Can we make any use of our new acquaintance?” said I.


  ― 122 ―
view facsimile

“I don't see that he would be of any use at present,” said the magistrate; “he would be rather in the way than otherwise. But we shall see when we get to Launceston, and then we can act accordingly.”

The snow lay two or three inches deep on the ground, but the night was clear and bright, and we regretted the time that we were losing, but it was unavoidable; for the darkness of the night, which aids a man to escape, is an effectual bar to his pursuit in a country where he can be followed only by the foot-marks that he leaves behind him. We were obliged, therefore, to put up with the delay, and indeed, our horses would not have been in a condition to travel before the morning; so, bidding our new acquaintance good night, and leaving him to the enjoyment of a huge tumbler of grog, in which he had induced the landlord to join him, we retired to our beds, having made arrangements for resuming our journey at the first dawn of day on the morrow.

But the course of events did not allow us to enjoy our rest unbroken. A little after midnight


  ― 123 ―
view facsimile

we were waked up by a vigorous knocking at the door from the butt-end of a heavy whip, and we heard a voice outside demanding instant admittance.

previous
next