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IV.

Bob Bentley, general hawker, was camping under some rocks by the main road, near the foot of Long Gully. His mate was fast asleep under the tilted trap. Bob stood with his back to the fire, his pipe in his mouth, and his hands clasped behind him. The fire lit up the undersides of the branches above; a native bear sat in a fork blinking down at it, while the moon above him showed every hair on his ears. From among the trees came the pleasant jingle of hobble-chains, the slow tread of hoofs, and the “crunch, crunch” at the grass, as the horses moved about and grazed, now in moonlight, now in the soft shadows. “Old Thunder”, a big black dog of no particular breed, gave a meaning look at his master,


  ― 143 ―
and started up the ridge, followed by several smaller dogs. Soon Bob heard from the hillside the “hy-yi-hi, whomp, whomp, whomp!” of old Thunder, and the yop-yop-yopping of the smaller fry — they had tree'd a 'possum. Bob threw himself on the grass, and pretended to be asleep. There was a sound as of a sizeable boulder rolling down the hill, and presently Thunder trotted round the fire to see if his master would come. Bob snored. The dog looked suspiciously at him, trotted round once or twice, and as a last resource gave him two great slobbery licks across the face. Bob got up with a good-natured oath.

“Well, old party,” he said to Thunder, “you're a thundering old nuisance; but I s'pose you won't be satisfied till I come.” He got a gun from the waggonette, loaded it, and started up the ridge; old Thunder rushing to and fro to show the way — as if the row the other dogs were making wasn't enough to guide his master.

When Bob returned with the 'possums he was startled to see a woman in the camp. She was sitting on a log by the fire, with her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands.

“Why — what the dev — who are you?”

The girl raised a white desperate face to him. It was Mary Wylie.

“My father and — and the woman — they're drinking — they turned me out! they turned me out.”

“Did they now? I'm sorry for that. What can I do for you?…She's mad sure enough,” he thought to himself; “I thought it was a ghost.”

“I don't know,” she wailed, “I don't know.


  ― 144 ―
You're a man, and I'm a helpless girl. They turned me out! My mother's dead, and my brothers gone away. Look! Look here!” pointing to a bruise on her forehead. “The woman did that. My own father stood by and saw it done — said it served me right! Oh, my God!”

“What woman? Tell me all about it.”

“The woman father brought home!…I want to go away from the bush! Oh! for God's sake take me away from the bush!…Anything! anything! — you know! — only take me away from the bush!”

Bob and his mate — who had been roused — did their best to soothe her; but suddenly, without a moment's warning, she sprang to her feet and scrambled to the top of the rock overhanging the camp. She stood for a moment in the bright moonlight, gazing intently down the vacant road.

“Here they come!” she cried, pointing down the road. “Here they come — the troopers! I can see their cap-peaks glistening in the moonlight!…I'm going away! Mother's gone. I'm going now! — Good-bye! — Good-bye! I'm going away from the bush!”

Then she ran through the trees towards the foot of Long Gully. Bob and his mate followed; but, being unacquainted with the locality, they lost her.

She ran to the edge of a granite cliff on the higher side of the deepest of the rocky waterholes. There was a heavy splash, and three startled kangaroos, who had been drinking, leapt back and sped away, like three grey ghosts, up the ridge towards the moonlit peak.

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