Chapter VIII.

“Alas! my soul by passion's tempest tost,
Proclaims my hope, my love, my comfort lost!”

Saturday afternoon, rations were served out, no inconsiderable task, as there were the domestics, farm labourers, shepherds, and stockmen, to supply for a week; at such times there was a great gathering about the store, and it was in the midst of this busy scene that Mrs. Doherty came into the pantry where Gertrude was storing away cakes and pies for the morrow.

“Take this note to Mr. Tudor,” she said, “and tell him Mr. Staple's man brought it from the Wattletree Flats.”

Gertrude set down her tray of delicacies on the dresser, and took the note; a little fluttered at having to seek him in the store.

There were some half dozen bare-foot children hanging about the rails of the back verandah, and two women from the huts stood gossiping, and comparing the dirty faced little babies crowing and jumping in their arms, while a precious little rogue extracted a “cockroach,” that is a lump of sugar, from the pile of ration bags behind them.

Entering the storehouse she espied Tudor and Lakin engaged in distributing the contents of a cask of salt beef. Such of the men as were not at work were there, the “sheep watchman” waiting to take the rations of himself and three shepherds, whose flocks he guarded of a night; the bullock drivers and ploughmen whose work was over for the day; a sawyer just up from the “gullies;” Owen the stockman; John the dairyman; and several women, whose husbands were yet absent in their various employments, fencing, splitting timber, threshing, or what not; with a troop of children who had followed their parents. These were the occupants of the long room, which was half filled with casks and bags. Unwilling to force her way through the group, and seeing that the superintendent was too busy to attend her mission at that moment, Gertrude drew aside, and sat down on a chest of tea, where a large bin of flour hid her from the general gaze; presently Owen and the sawyer drew near, and leaning against a cask of tobacco entered into conversation, in perfect ignorance of her presence.

“What's that Urutta was saying about a cow being lost?” inquired the sawyer.

“Lost!” echoed Owen “lost into the “round swamp;” an I tell ye what, I oud as soon lose my week's grub as that hifer, she os the finest un I had in the mob.” Owen was a Welshman, a tall, cadaverous, lean fellow, with grizzled hair in tangled curls bushing out from under the cabbage tree hat of his own platting, and one brown stubbled cheek pouted out with a ball of tobacco.

“Which way did she go, do you think mate?”

“Muttee Muttee, or I'll be—” and an oath fell on the listener's ears, hardly more appalling than the assertion.

“No! I did not think they did anything that way,” said the first speaker.

“There is 'nt un of the Inkysole's but is as big a rogue as—.” Owen paused for a simile.

“As yourself,” suggested the sawyer with a grin.

“Did'nt I know old Inkysole? he went blind with roguery, the willin he was: he put five of my workers into the cask, that I turned out to run, did'nt he get his cattle by “gullie raking” at the first? He got every un of um off the ranges; and then to the last he'd plenty, or he 'oud have had some of mine. I heard him tell the old master ‘I don't want um’ says he ‘'tant I see no harm in it Doctor,’ that's 'to he said.”

“Yes. I heard old Inkersole was a great one at that sort of thing: but I don't myself see any harm in it, if it a'n't a neighbour's beast,” returned the sawyer.

Gertrude had forgotten the note by this time; the blood was tingling in her cheeks, and to the tip of her ears.

“There a'nt a greater cattle stealer than Dick Inkysole,” pursued Owen. “He broke his leg “moonlighting,” and it's Charley this time. 'Taint un, but tu they took, and spoilt the whole cask of beef, every bit turned bad on um, and was chucked out.” The old fellow shrugged his shoulders and shook his long frame in a smothered chuckle of satisfaction, that the marauders had not been able to eat his prime beef. His, he called it, for he had served his term of bondage, and passed eight years subsequently in the employ of Mrs. Doherty, and her late husband, and he identified their interest with his own.

“What do you mean to do now?” inquired the sawyer.

“Tell the “super,” he 'll scent um out I know. They 'll be wanting another now they spoilt that cask; but the Captain 'ill take care on that,” and he gave another of his curious chuckles, wheezing with asthma, and expectorating tobacco juice between each word.

“Owen take your swag,” called Lakin from the other end of the building, and the stockman swung away, always stepping as if he had a fifty pound weight hanging round each coarse leather boot.

The sawyer also mingled with the others, and entered into their gossip. Once a week, one or other left the deep wild glens where they were engaged sawing, and mounted on the old raw boned short-tailed packhorse, travelled a good day's journey for their supplies of tea, sugar, salt beef, and coarse ration flour; and then it was that at this general muster every little bit of news and scandal was detailed, and gleaned, to be carried back to the dusky sylvan glen, the rude bark hut, or the watch box by the sheep folds: then were the employers and their affairs subjected to the scrutiny and detraction of persons many of them dyed in the deepest stains of guilt; murderers, incendiaries, robbers, all mingled there, leading quiet and tolerably decent lives now, but all keenly relishing any error, or deviation from the path of rectitude among those higher in life, and morally their superiors. Then too the more innocent, and indeed all, asked and told their own little affairs, marriages, births, deaths, courtships, changes of places, rates of wages, &c., to all of them subjects of vast importance, and duly noticed.

What was said and done around her, Gertrude knew not, she had laid her head back against the rough slab wall, sick at heart, and dizzy. Could it be, could her beloved Charles be a robber! “Oh God! Oh God!” she cried mentally in her agony “help me.” The bitter blight of disappointment had fallen upon her confiding heart; thoughts whirled through her brain, and sight forsook her eyes, but she did not faint, she did not move, but she was stunned; only the soul desired to pray, she could utter no petition: she knew not what to ask for: but is not the desire of the spirit a prayer? and it was answered; slowly she recovered, and then hope gathered strength again, she dashed the foul suspicion from her as a falsehood. No, there were no secrets of midnight deeds of plunder buried in that heart apparently so gay and loving; nothing to conceal in those eyes, that full of life and admiration sought her when he entered the yard. Charley was innocent. He must be; yet the fire burnt at her heart: doubt had entered, and reasoning without a foundation, love however strong could not unseat it.

She rose, and walked up to Mr. Tudor, no one heard her speak but him; but he turned quickly at her low voice uttering.

“If you please Mr. Tudor.”

“What has happened?” he exclaimed, breaking open the note as if expecting to find a solution of his question there.

“Nothing,” she said, but her cheek was colorless, and she looked crushed and bowed down. He took her hand, saying “sit down, you are ill—run some one for a glass of water.”

He led her to a box, and threw an empty sack over it.

“No thank you,” she said “I am not ill—I shall be better presently.”

“It is the smell of the brine,” suggested Lakin.

At the demand for water a great “Irishman” who was just taking his ten pounds of flour threw down the bag, dusting its contents over every body, and bounded off, knocking down little Billy Jackson, and flying, arms and legs hurling here, and there, as he shouted to the bystanders.

“Move can't ye, an' a lady murthered—fire an' turf can't ye get out of the way.”

Every one drew aside, such feet and fists were too heavy to be withstood, and by the time Mr. Tudor had run his eye over the note, Pat alighted with a bound upon poor Lakin's most particular corn, dashing the water into Gertrude's face which he had meant to present to her lips.

“What are you doing man!” cried Mr. Tudor pushing the zealous son of Erin away, and shaking the generous shower from Gertrude's hair, while Lakin groaned, and stood on one foot.

“Thank you, thank you, he meant very kindly,” said she with a gentle smile.

“Why did you not let Mary bring this note, it is of no consequence; nothing to put in comparison with distressing your feelings by coming among these things.”

“Mrs. Doherty bid me.”

“She should—” he checked himself, he never under any provocation spoke, or acted otherwise than respectfully towards her.

In the present instance Gertrude heartily wished that the whole party were less kind and attentive, and would suffer her to escape unnoticed.

“Lean on my arm, let me take you up to the house. Lakin weigh the four messes for the shepherds, forty pounds of flour.”

“No thank you Sir, indeed I am better,” pleaded she, rising.

Mr. Tudor drew her arm through his, and walked out, and across the yard to the back door, and then returned with rapid steps.

Gertrude ran into her room, and falling on her knees by the bed side, burst into tears. She was distracted by the revelation of the young man's character; nor could she view the practice of cattle stealing in a venial light. The broken nature of the country, the wide forests, and indolence of many persons in charge, enable the herds to stray; thus there have sprung up thousands of cattle for generations unclaimed, and unbranded. Gertrude did not know that many holding the rank of magistrates and even members of council, made, in days gone by, no scruple of appropriating these cattle, and if in driving them from their strong holds some were gleaned from neighbouring runs, that they also were made a part of the spoil, and marked with the burning iron brand. Neither did she know that many moving in respectable circles make no hesitation in killing their neighbour's fat cattle, or the stray “worker” turned out of the team, too jaded to proceed, and which had crept to some adjoining run, and fattened there: still had she known all this could she have felt comforted, for the commandment “thou shalt not steal,” she rightly judged to admit of no exception; while “follow not the multitude to do evil,” was equally expressive. Only the recollection, checked the flow of scalding tears, welling up from a heart whence the sunshine had departed, and the nightmare of departed hopes brooded.

She bathed her face, and arranged her hair, but it would not do; her eye lids drooped, and her lip quivered; so she took up her German Bible and in its sacred pages found a balm, even for her wounds.

“Trust then in the Lord, for the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” was not this enough?

“For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

After ration time, when Mr. Tudor had locked the door, he came up to the house. Mrs. Doherty was scolding Mary in the kitchen, and Gertrude not visible, so he walked into the parlour, where he found her sorting out ripe apples to bake for supper, looking pale but calm.

“I took the liberty of coming to see how you were,” he said.

“I am better thank you. Quite well indeed.”

“Not quite, you have no color, I was thinking you stay too much in doors. If you would permit me to put the side saddle on old Don, (he is perfectly quiet) and take you out for a ride, I would walk by your side till you acquired the control of your horse,” he looked anxious, but it was for her health merely; he evidently had not heard Owen Jones's communication. Gertrude breathed more freely for this conviction.

“I am much obliged” she returned, her eyes glistening with gratitude: “but I would rather not: pray forget this little paleness, I should feel it a kindness that you did so.”

He bowed in silence, but looked grave, perhaps disappointed; and retired.

An hour later Edward Tudor was at home. His cottage stood upon a level, a little way up the range, where the creek made a detour, and a long deep pool of water lay immediately before and below it, an Eucalyptus, dull blue stemmed, with leaves almost black, towered considerably more than a hundred feet in height close by the building, and a few lesser ones stood at the back. Otherwise the slope was clear, till a thick belt of wattles shut in the top of the range. From this position the superintendent's eye could take in the whole farm; the huts lay just below him near the water, in a long straggling line, terminating with the high fenced cattle yards, stock yards, and grey wooden barn: across the creek lay the cultivated fields stretching away to the side of the residence, and beyond it.

Though the walls of the cottage were wooden it was superior to the ordinary huts; the windows were glazed, the door painted, the floors boarded, and the walls white-washed. The furniture was perfectly plain; a square cedar table, a few chairs, a colonial couch, with cushions and palliass, a lock up book case, with pigeon holes for papers; these were all in the sitting room, which Tudor paced with rapid steps, his brows knit, his arms folded, and his cheek pale as the bloodless lips which were drawn in upon the set teeth: something more than ordinary had agitated him; something beyond a drunken shepherd, a “rushed flock,” or an insolent idler. Lakin who waited upon him, and was his hutkeeper, brought in the beef and damper, and butter, and the tin pot of tea, and spread the table for the evening's meal.

Tudor paced slower and calmer in his presence, but did not evince any inclination to partake of the supper.

“If you please Sir, the tea is ready,” remarked Lakin, with that alarmed look he always wore. The brief “very well” satisfied him and he departed.

Tudor continued to pace up and down; sometimes his thoughts took words, and he spoke aloud unknown to himself.

“I would rather any hand than mine must deal her this blow; he, he, I could send to Cockatoo with little regret—but she loves him. Oh! that some other had been found to do this, she will abhor me—” he strode on quicker, then suddenly stopped “Has she already any suspicion? was this the cause of her sudden illness! Owen would not tell her—Pshaw! why should he, he has not seen her loving earnest eyes rest on that fellow, he has not seen her whole frame lighted up with pleasure, and become buoyant at his smile. Why should he know she was interested in him; him above all people, who no more values the love of such a woman, than if she were a factory wench! Who does not know, who cannot know what a treasure is concealed in that fair little form. How can he understand the fine shades of her pure guileless character? A fellow scarcely beyond the blacks in culture—who would marry her and make her his dairy woman, and wear the shirt that had wrung the skin from those dear little hands to wash. I can save her from that, at least, but how will she thank me for it?” Sufficiently painful was the latter reflection, and when he had fairly spent his strength, he began to reflect upon the propriety of not letting Lakin exactly know his thoughts and feelings; and therefore seated himself at the table, and made a show of taking supper but the slice of meat went into his great cattle dog's mouth, and the contents of the cup of tea out of the window, and Lakin was summoned to remove the things, really untouched by the person for whom they were prepared.

“Did you give my horse a mouthful of hay, Lakin?”

“Yes sir.”

“I shall have to go out this evening; you can leave the door unbolted.”

“Yes sir,” said Lakin with alarm depicted on his countenance.

“And Lakin, saddle Don as soon as you have had your supper.”

“Shall I saddle him now Sir?” he looked perfectly horrified.

“No, when you have supped.”

Lakin retired. Tudor opened his bookcase, and took down a little volume of devotional exercises which Gertrude had lent him, and read till informed his horse was saddled.

To spring into the saddle was the work of a moment. The shades of evening were gathering round, and he broke out into a moderate canter, taking a circle to avoid observation from the huts; and ascended the range at a gentle pace. Whatever indecision had disturbed his purposes previously the lines of his countenance had now settled into their usual expression, with some additional firmness.

Edward Tudor was very young when he entered upon the command of Mrs. Doherty's property; he came, by the dying request of the late Doctor Doherty, but though that request came penned by the hand of the widow, and impressed with the vivid passionate feelings of her nature, it was not in his power to respond immediately. He was the eldest son of an orphan family, and his mother required his care; nor did he leave home till he had established his brother in the place he had filled for three years, from the period when he came home from school a long legged thin boy, with a strong mind, and a character that ripened under this early responsibility into energy and firmness, not untinctured with a dash of melancholy and a certain haughty manner which had crept upon him in the days of boyhood, to repel the advances and temptations of those who would have drawn him into the paths of sin; or made him a tool in their hands. When after some six weeks delay the new superintendent did present himself, a revolution in affairs took place; he found the ripe wheat cut and left in the fields during a very wet season, and the long green shoots of the sprouting grain matting the sheaves; “slip rails” had been left down, and a splendid lot of brood mares wandered in, and partaken so heartily of the wheat as to cause the death of several, while their foals perished of want; the hay stacks were unthatched; the sheep dwindling away under the attacks of native dogs, and the pilfering of shepherds; the cattle were wandering over the country; and the distant stations where the news of Dr. Doherty's demise had just reached, were rejoicing in the prospect of gleaning a rich harvest, as the widow was certain never to trouble them.

It was afternoon when Tudor arrived at Murrumbowrie, and he summoned all the farm servants together; explained his position briefly, and concluded, “I shall require a new leaf turned over, you must work well; if there's any man here unwilling to do a fair day's work, and wishes to shirk his duties, let him say so, and I'll pay him what is due, and send him about his business.” None responded to the call, and one or two muttered something about being ready to do fairly by the missus, and him. “Very good,” he returned, and the assembly retired with expressions not loud, but deep, of indignation against the “young un, who was doing it with such a high hand.”

Hardly less astonished was Mrs. Doherty, who exhausted by violent grief entirely unsubdued, was worn down by an accumulation of disorders. Tudor requested to see her, and was told she could see no one.

“Was she in bed?” “No.” “Then say I must see her; and should be greatly obliged by her allowing me to do so now.”

The messenger infected with the general awe, repeated the command, rather than request; and Tudor carried his point. What he said it matters little, but ultimately they were seen pacing up and down the long walks in the orchard; in a few days more Mrs. Doherty resumed her usual active life, and three weeks later found the homestead in tolerable order; then like a flash of lightning the youth appeared at the far stations, and displayed the same vigorous management as before. Having oiled, and set in motion his extensive machinery, Tudor proved thoroughly competent to superintend, and make it profitable withal. That such a man had enemies was not a matter of wonder; he never swerved from the path of rectitude, nor suffered others to do so as far as he could prevent it, his zeal and industry were untiring, and the lazy received no quarter; yet the heart had found no resting place in religion, and to “serve his generation” had been his only ambition till he had met with Gertrude Gonthier, his conscience then whispered a new suggestion; it pulled down the proud structure of works he had raised on the altar of selfrighteousness; and it told him why even duties performed in a wordly spirit leave such an aching vacuum in the heart.

Dashing through the high daviesia and peppermint tree scrub, Tudor had reached the further boundary of Mrs. Doherty's land, adjoining Muttee Muttee; here among a thick mass of wattle and fallen timber he dismounted, hung up old Don's bridle, and silently approached the brow overlooking the Inkersole's farm; the moon was bright and full, but frequently obscured by a damp, thick scud, passing rapidly across the sky, and it was some time before the silver gleams rested on the group of white buildings below; then plain as in the light of day he saw the brothers catching their horses in the stubble paddock, with a great savage deep-mouthed bulldog stealthily creeping at their heels.

A deep low “Ha!” escaped the watcher. The information of Owen Jones had led him to anticipate their presence that night, and he had protracted his ride to ascertain where the nearest mob of cattle were reclining, or “bedding” for the night; and as he had seen their sleek well filled skins shining in the moonlight, he had readily marked which would be the victim.

Again the moon was obscured, and every faculty centered itself in hearing. After such a length of time had elapsed that he feared he had chosen a wrong place, the distant tread of horses' feet greeted him, they were shod horses, and their regular pace showed them to be under guidance. On they came, only a slight clinking of the iron shoes against a stone, or the snapping of a stick enabled him to judge their progress. Presently a low hungry sound between a whistle and a whine apprised him of danger, and he sprung into the trunk of a fallen tree striking down the dog with the leaded handle of his whip.

“Bully's after a 'possum” said the voice of Dick Inkersole.

“Nonsense, it's a man. I know his whine. Down Bully.”

The cry came just in time to arrest the second mad deadly spring, and the well trained beast obeyed the low whistle, and fell into the rear of the horsemen.

“Who's there?” demanded Charley. The moon breaking out from under a cloud rendered an answer unnecessary.

“What, Ned Tudor!” cried both in equal astonishment, and as he descended with a cold look, Charley recovered sufficiently to add.

“Good evening Mr. Tudor, out 'possum shooting?”

Tudor bit his lip, and briefly said “No.”

“It's hardly a good night for that,” remarked Dick.

“More fit for larger game,” suggested Tudor eyeing their fowling pieces.

“There an't any large game about here that I know of, excepting paddy melons, foresters are scarce now,” remarked Charley with innocent audacity.

“Neither of us are deceived I believe Charles Inkersole, by this child's play,” said the young man coldly.

“What do you mean?” demanded Charley reddening.

“What business have you out here at eleven o'clock at night, with that bull dog, armed with guns, and butcher's knives?”

“I suppose we may pass through the bush. I did not know there was a rule against that.”

“That is no reply to my question.”

“What are you doing here acting the spy upon us?” thundered Charley.

“I hope Mr. Tudor you don't think any harm of us. I assure you we were only crossing over the run, going down to the river for a little duck shooting in the morning,” remarked Dick, who was of a pacific temper.

“With a bull dog and butcher's knives,” suggested Tudor in a tone of withering coolness.

“I know what it is,” roared Charley coming up close to the other, and leaning forward with flashing eyes, “you thought to catch us moonlighting, and to have had the ‘satisfaction’ of sending me to Cockatoo. You'd like that would not you?”

Tudor grew very white, but said nothing.

“I know why you want to get me out of the way,” pursued Charley.

“Shut up Charley,” interposed Dick, but the younger Inkersole was in no humour to be checked, and shouted.

“I won't.”

“I caution you both,” returned Tudor, “I know what I am about, I have information you are not conscious of; you have defeated me this time, but you won't always; don't be too boastful Charles Inkersole, you may not always have such good luck as you have had to-night,” and slowly he turned away to where his horse stood patiently awaiting him.

“Had Bully caught him he would have been a dead man this minute,” said Dick.

Charley was in too great a rage to do otherwise than mutter with an oath, that he wished he had, and Dick understanding his brother's humour contented himself by telling Bully that but for him they would have passed Tudor by unseen, information the creature appeared to understand and relish, for he wriggled his body and short tail, and smacked his long lips with unmistakeable satisfaction.