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Chapter X.

“And yet a fearfull stillness reign'd
O'er each remembered place:
He saw no hurrying form appear—
No sweet and joyous face.
No kind and welcome words of cheer,
No tone that once had been.
The very music of his life,
Were gladdening the scene!”


“If Salvator Rosa could only see us” said Tudor to himself, as he stood with a stockman on a rugged pile of rocks hanging half way between the high level, and yawning abyss; some two hundred feet below where a cataract known at its head as ‘the springs,’ rushed through its stone walled bed. On every ledge were to be seen the rock wallaby, feeding, playing or scattering away before the stranger; while a dead one slung over the stockman's shoulder, and the gun in Tudor's hand, gave reason for their alarm.

“There's a shot Sir,” said the man, as two animals paused, and, raising themselves on their hind legs, looked innocently at the huntsmen.

“No, we will shoot no more, 'twould be a cruelty to kill them to waste,” replied Tudor, and he looked up the high dangerous precipice.

To all appearances scaling it was impossible; no steps, or path, gave promise of assistance: only the cracks and fissures in the standstone offered a resting place for the foot. “Can you carry the gun?” “Can you take the wallaby?” were the mutual questions; then in silence each began the ascent. Men of courage and resolution were both, cool headed, and keen eyed; but all they might possess of courage was needed. None but the accustomed eye dare look without dizziness down those deep gorges, or up those towering heights; and when deluged with dew, which the great exertion and the hot sun drew from every pore, they stood on the level, a silent prayer of gratitude rose up from the heart of Edward Tudor, though he had often run that peril before. But far more important business demanded his attention, during the brief interval he could give to each station, for they lay wide apart; and mounting their horses they set out across the table land: Tudor to gather in one mob of cattle, the stockman another; while Urutta, and a man belonging to the station, with a visitor from a neighbouring run, were each to scatter through the dangerous ranges, and collect the cattle together for a great ‘mustering,’ and ‘branding day.’ Tudor rode out upon a clear spur to ‘take a survey’ of the surrounding heights from this vast altitude; the scene was so grand and imposing that the young man paused to view it; high, peak above peak, were piled the rocky ridges, some wooded, others clothed in a green sward to their summits, only dotted here and there by a mountain ash, or bean tree; while the vales were intersected by streams rapid, shallow, and shaded by the native oak; in the serene light blue sky an eagle floated, and over all shone the unclouded sun, its rays reflected from the heights with a distressing power and intensity. Tudor shaded his eyes with his hand and scanned the usual resort of the cattle; here and there, a red or white speck in the far distance attested their presence, and faintly sounded the distant crack of the long hide stock whip; then there was an evident alarm among the cattle, the little red and white specks moved briskly about, and presently disappeared into the thick forest upon the table land.

While he watched he became conscious of another sound like very remote thunder, or of the rush of a vast body of water: louder and louder it grew, and yet too indefinite to be accurately judged. Was it a hurricane, or a whirlwind? was it a storm gathering among the mountains, or the approach of a large herd of cattle? A cry of “ho ho ho!” the sharp bark of a dog, and the ringing reverberation of a whip, all very distant, replied. Undoubtedly it was cattle, and he strained his ear to learn their direction.

“Yes, all right, they have taken the bald hill side, and will be down the gully directly.”

On they come, nearer, nearer, the “ho ho!” growing louder, the yelp of the collie dogs more clear. Suddenly they sweep round; there is no doubt of it, they have altered their course, and avoiding the low bald hill, are advancing along the ‘spur’ on which he stands; two minutes more, and they will have cleared the scrub; escape is impossible; to descend the hill not to be done by other than wild cattle, or wallaby.

The last hour has come, the hour from which we all shrink: its solemnity mounting to horror, one chance only remains, to dismount and cling to the tree, the branches of which overhang the rough descent. It was done; a moment more, and even then, collected, and calm, with a prayer for mercy, the young man clasps his arms round the slender trunk, and awaits the end; there they are, a hundred, two, three hundred head at least of wild cattle, with tongues lolling from their foaming jaws, eyes flashing, and tails erect. The horse, conscious of his danger, bounds wildly over the precipitate descent. Poor fellow! thy master's eye follows thee with pity in thy mad career, whilst the furious mob scatter down after thee, keeping their footing as only wild cattle can, and presently the last has passed, and Tudor is safe! How deep the aspiration, “Thank God!”

The stockman did not follow the herd further, only desiring to remove them from the cattle run, and little dreaming how nearly they had caused the death of the superintendent, rode away.

A mile's arduous walking, slipping, and scrambling, enabled Tudor to reach, by a wide circuit, the foot of the ‘spur’ down which his horse had bounded, and there, as it lay, wounded, and dying, he received its last groan with gratitude that he was not a corpse beside it; and many a grave thought occupied his mind during the long march to the hut, and ‘grazing ground’ of a few stockhorses, where, once more mounted, he set off to assist gathering in the herds.

Some time previously when Tudor had visited this station, finding the run overstocked, he had determined on seeking for pasturage in the vicinity, where part of the stock might be removed. The stockmen were called into the council, and the most intelligent of ‘a camp of blacks’ who where located near; the whites looked grave and musing; they ‘did not believe there was an acre fit for more than to feed a bandicoot;’ and others ‘would not exactly say;’ in fact in the extent of their rambles nothing suitable was known. Tudor therefore turned to his sablefriends. “This blackfellow hab farm misser,” said one, who from his knowledge of English acted as spokesman for his less accomplished countrymen. “Yes?”—“Yes.” “Good farm?— big?” “Berry good,” emphatically.—“Murry big?” “Murry.”— As the black's English was not very extensive, Tudor eked out the conversation by his knowledge of their language, which highly delighted them; and a burst of rapturous applause followed each sentence after some patient questioning, and cross examination. Maretta's farm was found to be of sufficient capabilities to warrant an exploring party being formed to visit it. The owner of the land, which descends by regular birth right, like landed estates among ourselves, volunteered to act as guide for the consideration of a certain quantity of tobacco, and sugar, and a bit of white money, that is silver, copper being quite despised among them.

Two young men, proprietors of cattle ‘runs’ in the vicinity were at the hut that evening, and eagerly entered into the excitement of such a trip. These, with one of the most trustworthy and shrewd of the stockmen formed the party of adventurers, headed by Tudor.

“Let us have no more baggage than possible, Tudor,” said young Drayton, filling a short black tobacco pipe while speaking.

“Certainly. I only need a blanket.”

“You must bake us a damper,” turning to the hut keeper,— as usual an old man past active service; and whose care-worn features peeped out from beneath a high pointed red cap.

The man looked at his fire with a critical eye; three long trunks of trees piled one on the other and burning fiercely in the wide fireplace, must be rolled up into one corner; and the deep mound of ashes reduced to a proper temperature. Meanwhile he kneaded the coarse ‘ration’ flour into a large flat cake, or “damper.”

The three gentlemen occupied the evening in cleaning their guns, looking to straps, and buckles, about their saddles; and in dividing the requisite provisions into five portions; each enveloped in a blanket, and strapped on the saddles of the various riders.

The Aboriginals need no instruction in horsemanship. Mounted on a horse they appear perfectly at home: they gallop after stock, they ascend ravines, or descend declivities; they leap fallen trees, and swim streams, as if they had from, (we won't say the cradle that being a piece of furniture not in use in the Gunyah) but from earliest childhood, occupied that position. Maretta's horse was appointed him, and he made no remark, although he had never been mounted before; to him as to his companions, it was a matter of course; he only asked for a pair of boots, because some more experienced comrade informed him the stirrup iron would hurt his feet.

By daybreak next morning the party were some miles from the station hut, traversing the high top of a rocky elevation— presently the grey sky became rose colored, a ruddy glow crept over the distant mountain bound horizon, and tinted the far off heights; then slowly the orb of day appeared! All drew bridle to look for a few moments upon a scene sublime in its grand extent, and solemn majesty. Deep gullies rent the mountain sides, and fell into the course of the river, belted by the oak, or casuarina; shadows lay in rich violet masses upon the slopes; now and then a laughing jackass shouted its unearthly note in the woods; or a native dog returning to his lair, howled a short hungry wail, over a fruitless chase; or a low soft lowing of some herd just rising from their herby couch, deepened rather than broke the silence.

The journey that lay before the explorers promised to be both fatiguing, and protracted: gullies constantly crossed their path, and had to be ‘headed;’ a work often of time and great labour;— dense scrubs, beautified with flowering shrubs, obstructed their path. At one time water was scarce; at another too plentiful.— Thus three days had led them through a country almost, if not quite unknown to white men, or if traversed at all, only by stockmen seeking strayed cattle. Wild herds were frequent, and Tudor began to question if the “farm” would not prove too infested by them to offer sufficient pasturage for the cattle he proposed bringing there.

At length they reached it—a series of well grassed slopes, and hanging levels—watered at distant intervals by springs—and running down to the river. It was evening when they gained the river's banks, and sprang to the ground—unsaddling their horses, confining their feet by hobbles, and leaving Maretta and the stockman to make a fire, and boil the tea, the young men started out on a ramble.

They were a mile or two from the camp when one of the party, a Mr. Gordon, stopping suddenly, exclaimed. “How came this here?” and as he spoke he pointed with his foot to a piece of leather, part of a bridle.

“Ha!” ejaculated Tudor who picked it up and examined it, and then turned a scrutinizing eye around. “Look!” he said in a voice which made them all start, and turn quickly in the direction he was looking.

A skeleton lay there, beneath a tree, where the wanderer had layed him down and died. What a history hung around the bleached bones, “how he must have wandered on for days; finally too weak to ride his horse, he had alighted—unsaddled him—turned him loose; and crept on further. Perhaps it had been in the heat of summer, when no water could be found to cool the parched lips—when the tones of the birds as they flew to and from the river mocked his sufferings; and when in sight of the oaks belting the stream he had died. Oh! the horrors of such a death!”

The young men stood round the skeleton in silent awe.

“Let us come away,” said Drayton presently, “I can't bear this.”

“Tudor,” remarked Gordon with a gravity unknown to him on ordinary occasions, “to think that that poor pile of bones was a man, knocking over the ranges like ourselves, eh? God grant I may never have such a death!”

We, you might have said Gordon,” returned Drayton.

“Yes, we—poor fellow he must have suffered horribly. Let us search for any remains likely to throw light on whom he was. If he had a knife his name might be cut on it.” Tudor stooped as he spoke to inspect the ground. It was growing dark, and after a long and careful search, unrewarded by such evidence as they sought, they returned to the camp, guided by the ‘coo-e-ing’ of the stockman, who was growing uneasy at their lengthened absence.

It appeared that Maretta's farm was in a locality little visited by the blacks, and some considerable time had elapsed since they had been encamped there. The death of the stockman must have been subsequent to that.

Seated round the fire, the travellers passed the greater part of the night in conversation, recounting their own perils, or the loss of those they had known, or heard of—while the cries of the opossum, and squirrel, and the roaring of the native bear in the branches of the trees around, added to the sense of solitude, and wildness.

Early next morning a grave was dug with their tomahawks, and the scattered bones carefully deposited in it, and covered with mould; 'twas a solemn office thus to lay by in darkness and silence, the remains of the Unknown One—and to remember that the soul which had animated those poor remnants of humanity had fled out on the vast for ever!

After the others had left the spot Tudor still lingered. The incident occurred previous to his acquaintance with Gertrude, and religion had then occupied but a small place in his attention; yet the scene was too able a preacher not to claim an attentive hearing—and then came back to his mind the stories from the large, and illustrated Bible which his mother used to read long years before; and forcibly there came to his lips the cry of Esau: “Bless me, even me oh my Father!” He seemed to fancy the dying man when earthly hopes had failed, awaking to a sense of the littleness of earth; and humbled by a consciousness of sinfulness and nothingness, before his Maker, raising that cry like him of old, who had sold his spiritual blessing for a mess of pottage, and when the earthly blessing also failed him, crying in agony “Bless me, even me oh my Father.”

And as Tudor carved on the stem of a large native appletree the brief record, not of his life, for that was enveloped in obscurity—nor yet of his death, for those moans of agony and those impotent struggles were known only to Him whose eye beholds all things—but the records of the remains being found—he added the cry of Esau as if for a perpetual prayer— “Bless me, even me oh my Father!”

And there, in the wilderness, the gaudy parrot, and the solemn crow settled in the branches above the grave, and little birds built their nests, and sung, and labored, till their callow broods were fledged, and took wing; and the native dog, and the spotted cat searching for nestlings, and eggs stole softly above him.

In time, all government regulations having been fulfilled, “Dead man's run,” as the stockmen named the locality, was taken possession of, and held for some years, till subsequently Tudor reduced the stock, by extensive sales, to a compass which made the extra run unnecessary. So it passed into other hands—but always some hand was found to refresh the carving, when the bark overgrew it; though the slight mound settled down to a level with the surrounding sod; and the pink and white orchid bloomed there; and even in winter the yellow snapdragon sent up its golden spike of flowers, as if to bear witness “All flesh is as grass.” To remind man that he “cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down, he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.”

“Wondrous truths and manifold as wondrous,
God hath written in those stars above:
But not less in the bright flow'rets under us
Stands the revelation of his love.

Bright and glorious is that revelation.
Written all over this great world of ours;
Making evident our own creation,
In these stars of earth,—these golden flowers.

And with childlike, credulous affection,
We behold their tender buds expand;
Emblems of our own great resurrection,
Emblems of the bright and better land.”

   LONGFELLOW.

But we must not follow Tudor in all the hairbreadth escapes, and wild adventures of a stockman's life, neither can we venture on a long journey with him across the country to the sheep runs to count the flocks, and mark the victims for the butcher's knife.

Tudor was so accustomed to passing the greater part of every day on horseback, that the hundreds of miles he travelled were scarcely noted, and he turned his horse's head homewards, pleased to do so, but planning farther scenes of activity.

It was Mrs. Doherty's custom to write him a letter, a sort of digest of the farm news and the first Post Office was always visited by him on his return from these excursions.

“Here's your letter,” were the words before he had had time to inquire for one.

“Has it been here long?”

“Three weeks; the news must be old now.”

Tudor broke the seal, and read first, a detail of farm work, and how far his orders were carried out, &c.; then Mrs. Doherty proceeded thus: “I have been in great distress, or things would be forwarder; and indeed I write this at midnight, seated with the old Doctor beside Gertrude's bed; she is very ill. I cannot tell what ails her, except that I am sure she frets. I sadly fear the poor child has thrown away her love upon a fellow unworthy of her. Lately as I have sat silent and thoughtful by her side, and seen how perfectly patient, and resigned she is, I have reflected with more sense on the subject, and you know how many an agonizing thought the sight of that faded girl must have awakened. How is it that the best and most lovely ever become the wife, or loving devotee of the most unworthy? The fellow's gay manners, and bright smiles—I can well know how pleasing,—but here I'm running over the paper with my restless unreadable scrawl, and on a subject you cannot enter into—I only too well.

How will it all end, God only knows. Dr. Bower gives me no satisfaction; but I know from his grave face he thinks badly of the case. Anyway it will be decided before you return. My dear Tudor, the Christian courage of this child has frightened me.”

Thus abruptly the letter terminated.

Tudor struggled hard to look unmoved, but he faded as white, as his tanned skin could fade.

“What's the matter? Nothing wrong I hope,” said the post-master.

“They have had some sickness on the farm, but all are well I hope, before this,” returned Tudor with a desperate effort.

“Come, come, you must not be going, you have not told us the news down the river yet; nor asked for any either; and I'll be bound you have not seen a paper since you passed up.”

“There's no news stirring.”

“Why I heard there was a dispute 'tween Jennings' and Houghton's boundaries.”

“There was something of the sort.”

“How is it likely to go? Who is in the right? Has it been before the Commissioners?”

“I believe not—good day.”

“Hold!” cried the postmaster, spreading out his arms to bar the door, and laughing.

“Give me the particulars of that murder: word reached us that two shepherds were murdered by the blacks. I must have the particulars for the papers.” He was the “our correspondent” of that locality.

“I know nothing about these matters,” replied Tudor sternly; and relaxing a little, added,—“Mr. Jennings is on his way to Sydney, you will see him to-morrow, and can learn all you want to know. I must go, or I shall be benighted. Good day.”

He dashed into the saddle and cantered away, leaving the discomfited contributor looking after him.

When alone, and unobserved he perused the letter again, and a tear forced its way from under the unwilling lids.

However sad, and melancholy may be the death of a friend, if we are present to watch the gradual inroads of disease, to mark the severe sufferings, and perhaps gather words of Christian hope, and faith, these all tend materially to lessen the pang; but suddenly to receive intelligence that one we left blooming and vigorous is dying, and to be uncertain if they still live, to feel each moment of vital importance, and yet be many days' journey asunder, these are tortures which Tudor had to experience.

During his rapid return, he only paused when it was necessary to rest and bait his horse; for the time he neither seemed to require food nor sleep; only pity for his faithful horse delayed him, and then the sacrifice of those hours, any one of which might have witnessed the closing scene of that sick bed, if indeed she still lived, was so much torture wrung from his very heart's core. Nor could he gather any intelligence as he approached home: even the last day, at the wayside tavern, where he called to refresh his horse, they had not heard more than that, a fortnight before, Lakin was there enquiring for the doctor; how the patient then was, he could not learn with any accuracy; and he pushed on as speedily as his weary horse could move.

Next in his own hour of extremity, or in any affliction that had befallen himself had Tudor so earnestly sought the aid of the Almighty, for His sake whose name unlocks the door of mercy, and forgiveness; feeling powerless to avert the calamity he dreaded, humbled by his own insufficiency, he turned to that Rock which presents in every storm an unmoved resting place.

Once more the outward limits of Murrumbowrie met his eye, once more he sped along that road on which he had formerly driven Gertrude and Kitty Kenlow to the Store. His impatience was almost past endurance, the very horse which before moved with drooping head and tail, now pricked its ears and snorted, struggling on to the desired stable and rest. Tudor patted his neck and encouraged him by voice, and the poor thing mended his pace; presently the bleating of a flock of ewes, and lambs greeted him, and he dashed off the road, shouting “Hoy, Bill!” to the shepherd.

“How do, master?” returned the man touching his hat and approaching, “we weren't expecting to see you down so soon.”

“How is all on the farm?” he dared not ask the dreaded question.

“Very well, I believe—the wheat's looking beautiful—I saw it from the point of the hills.”

Had the fellow no feeling?

“They have had some sickness at the house I heard.”

“So my old woman was a telling me.”

Tudor was stung by the man's stoicism, yet dared not show how interested he was in the subject.

“It was not Mrs. Doherty, was it?” he said trying to draw him out.

The shepherd was so proverbially a man of few words that his fellows had surnamed him “Silent Bill,” and he briefly said “no.”

Tudor resumed his way.

“If she were dead he would have been sure to tell me,” he thought, trying to comfort himself. At last the farm and the dwellings met his eye. All was still, and quiet, not a person moving, only the dogs bounded out to meet him, barking and jumping in their glee; the kitchen was empty, so was the stable; he entered the parlor, no one was there. The desertion of the house was nothing unusual, only his excited feelings made him feel so just then. The rapid tread of Mrs. Doherty along the verandah attracted his attention, another movement and her hand was clasped in his.

“Why Tudor,” she said, “how terribly pale, and tired you look; why, you are as bad as us, who have had all this watching and nursing; or the poor girl herself—what have you been doing?”

“A little tired,” he said carelessly, for he saw in the brisk manner no presence of “sorrow for the departed.”

“When did you leave the station?”

He evaded the question and never told her, or any one else on the farm how short a time it had taken him to return; nor had he any difficulty in learning all he wished from Mrs. Doherty, her heart being full of the subject, she only required an attentive listener, and if Tudor said nothing, she had no reason to complain that he did not attend.

“Gertrude is in the garden now, in my old arm chair; I had it carried down there, and Lakin and Mrs. Jackson, who is assisting about the house, took one each side, and we had her in it, so that she went nicely; she is there now, under the large peach trees: we did not see you coming, I came up for her book; will you come down and see her?

“Not to-night.”

“True: you are tired. Will you take tea with us?”

“No, thank you. I shall make a long night of it I think. You will please tell Miss Gertrude I desired my respects, and was gratified to hear she was recovering.”

What a cold message it was, it cost him a pang to send it, but his memory was only too retentive of the cause of her illness.

Gertrude felt it rather unkind that he did not come in person to congratulate her upon her partial recovery, quite ignorant that it was excess, not want of feeling, which kept him away.

Late next afternoon Tudor presented himself, still rather pale, and hollow-eyed, but quite as collected and grave as usual; he shook hands, and drew a chair near her, and said in moderate language that he was sorry she had been ill, and feared she over exerted herself, and that she must be cautious for the future.

“I am so glad you have returned,” replied Gertrude with animation.

“Are you?” said he, quite startled.

“Yes” she returned, “for Mrs. Doherty has been wearing herself out nursing me; indeed, she has been so kind, and so has the Doctor, and every one; but I know now you are here, you will amuse her, and take her out on the farm, she must not sit with me so much, the confinement will injure her health.”

Tudor bowed, and promised to exert his influence, in a very quiet tone.

“I am getting strong rapidly, only my appetite is rather bad,” the invalid continued.

“Have you no fancies? sometimes sick folks relish one thing more than another.”

“I did enjoy a little plump bronze winged pigeon, which was shot, and grilled.”

Tudor rose and extended his hand, “I must not fatigue you with a long conversation” he said, “I hope soon to see you about as usual.”

Gertrude thanked him, and he went. From that time until she recovered her wonted appetite, she never wanted for such game as the bush yielded, and when she thanked him, he made light of the subject, and turned the conversation to some other theme.

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