previous
next



  ― 282 ―

8. CHAPTER VIII.

The Hurricane.

note

Another storm of wind! Not common windy weather which sweeps up clouds of dust or leaves, and rattles at windows and doors, and which some persons really enjoy, but a fearful hurricane, destroying everything weakly which lay in its path, scaring the animals, and leaving its mark wherever it passed. Just before sunset there was every symptom of a thunderstorm. Then, when the sun was gone, those black clouds seemed riven asunder, and dispersed, covering the sky with light and rapidly moving vapour, and a dull but deep sound came up the valleys, setting all the trees swaying and shaking, till the noise increased to a sound which might have been mistaken for the loudest thunder. It was not a night on which one would choose to pass through a Bush road where the slight, brittle trees were sure to snap and fall in all directions. At any pause in the deafening roar might be heard sharp, loud reports from their fall.

Mr. Jolly paused and turned his horse's head back again.

‘No,’ he said to his wife, who greeted him eagerly at the stable door. ‘I will not go there to-day. It would be a clear tempting of Providence. Such a wind is not often felt.’

‘And only so lately we had such another storm,’ she put in.

Before they reached the house, lingering to ascertain the safety and well-being of many a fowl or animal, or to mourn over fallen shingles and the debris from any tenement the least out of repair, they were turned back by hearing the steps of a horse clatter over


  ― 283 ―
the paved yard.

‘Tom!’

‘Ay, the lad himself!’

‘Why back so soon, boy?’

‘Why—why—? Haven't you heard? Don't you know? Mr. Budd said all the district was up about it!’

‘About what? Why, the lad looks scared! What ails you, Tom?’

‘Yes—no—that is—Then you haven't heard?’

‘We hear the storm, and think you a rash fellow to come on such a day. Did you take the short road?’

‘I did.’

‘Good heavens! Tom; do you know how great the peril is?’

‘Yes. But I didn't consider—O, father—mother—something so terrible—I don't know how to say it! Yet father and I ought to be busy searching, too——’

‘Tom! speak out—suspense is worse than any certainty!’ and Mr. Jolly's rubicund face turned pale.

‘Mr. Lang is . . . .’

‘Dead? Good God!’

‘You don't say so!’ cried Mrs. Jolly.

‘Not dead—at least, no one knows. He is missing. Left Sydney day before yesterday——’

‘Pooh! He has visited some one. He's snug somewhere. Lang is an old hand, and would know this wind was not good travelling,’ returned Mr. Jolly, with evident determination not to allow any danger, and with sudden relief shown in every feature.

‘But, sir, he left Sydney the day before yesterday,’ Tom put in very gravely. ‘It was fine weather. He generally does it in a day. And then his horse is come home, saddle turned round and torn to bits, and bridle, of course, in pieces. The creature was found by a man who knew him and his master, who lives at Bango Bridge Inn. The landlord sent him on to Langville. I hear they are distracted!’

‘Upset—taken to some hut or house near—will turn up. Nonsense, Tom; nonsense!’ again asserted Mr. Jolly, but with a fallen countenance.

‘They had heard,’ Tom went on, but speaking now to his mother, ‘that his affairs were very bad; in fact, he had settled to go through the insolvent court. He told them to expect him as the day before yesterday. Men are out in every direction searching. Nothing has been discovered; but great suspicion is entertained on account of that wretched convict who ran away with threats of vengeance. They say


  ― 284 ―
he swore to have Lang's life. The mounted police are out.’

‘The mounted monkeys! Cowardly dogs!’ ejaculated Mr. Jolly, glad of something on which to vent his excitement; ‘what do they do? Make a row, and give warning, and let the rogues get off! You and I and half-a-dozen free British hearts will do more than half-a-hundred mounted police! John! saddle my stock mare!’ called out Mr. Jolly. ‘And Prince for Mr. Tom,’ he added.

The wife cast a rueful look at the terrible tempest still raging, but said no word of discouragement. She hurried in to prepare food and start them as comfortably as she could.

‘Would it be any good my going to the house? Could I comfort any of them?’ she said.

‘I called there,’ Tom returned, humbly and in a mournful tone. ‘I saw Issy. She looks like—like a stone image. Mrs. Lang was very ill, and Kate—Miss Lang—had only then come back from—a visit. Miss Terry was kind enough to speak to me, and even ask our help in the search. From what she said, misfortunes have not come singly, for the officers were there to put an execution in the house, the doing of that insolent fellow, Swartz and Co., who tried to oppose his being whitewashed. She and Issy told them that Mr. Lang had set off with a full purpose of throwing up all he had. But they were insolent, the brutes, and there they remain, till Mr. Lang's lawyer or some one comes to settle matters. Mr. Vesey was there, making a precious row in the yard. But I don't fancy he knows much, or that Isabel depends on him. She said she wished so much for an ‘old’ friend! Father! I know she will like you to go!’

‘Pooh, pooh! A very foolish affair! Lang robbed and murdered, indeed! The very last man! That strong active fellow—an old stager, too! Pooh! Old friends? Of course! Where's Herbert? He is sure to be there?’

‘No, sir,’ and again Tom looked distressed; ‘Mr. Herbert had set out for his station; but—so the report goes—he was stopped on the road by an express messenger from his sister, bearing a letter of wonderful news from England. That he is heir to a title, and immense estates, and that he must go there immediately. They say at Bango Bridge Inn that he is already on board the China, which is advertised to sail to-morrow. And—and—there are many reports!’

‘A budget of gossip!—news, I mean—not half of it is true, I'll wager,’ said Mr. Jolly, considerably disturbed, but not willing to allow it.

Towards evening the mighty wind went down. It was gone, no


  ― 285 ―
one knew where or how! People were occupied in estimating the ravages, and breathed more freely, finding their dwellings not swept bodily away, though requiring considerable repairs.

In the little morning-room, as in former days, sat Kate, Isabel, and Miss Terry. The Jollys had been there, and had taken back the little girls, while the boys were with Mr. Farrant. Mrs. Lang was stunned and stupified; she shed no tears, but remained still all day, refusing food, and only shaking her head, when anything was said of failure after a fresh search.

‘They were all wrong,’ she said. ‘All stupid! Mr. Lang knew the country so well. He would soon come home, she knew!’

Parties of twos and threes went out in all directions, all, hitherto, in vain! Mr. Jolly showed himself indefatigable and wise, a true friend in need, as Isabel often repeated and with marked emphasis. It was a pity to see her so pale and stricken, all the free, bright look gone. In its stead an expression of startled terror. The very efforts she made to rouse herself were spasmodic, her tone of voice altered. Whenever she could, she sat resting her head on her hands, and gazing with dry eyes, that seemed to burn for want of a tear. Kate, too, was deeply dejected, and wept all day. She was glad if she could find any one to listen, to talk. Miss Terry was a great support, being calm and self-possessed, and Mr. Farrant was constantly there, acting as much like a son as he could.

‘What was the report to-day?’ Kate inquired, languidly.

‘It is supposed,’ returned Miss Terry, ‘that another servant is involved—Lynch! He is known to have been at Charlie Brand's hut. They are searching for him in another direction. Mr. Fitz, they say, is out with a party of mounted police. The poor wretched man has been seen in that district, and they think he is hiding not far off.’

Kate's face brightened a little.

‘So, you see, he has not so entirely forgotten us!’ she remarked, triumphantly.

Isabel, on the contrary, looked only more sad. She said—'Lynch, too! Poor fellow!’

But the real pressure was in the thought that among all who came forward to show sympathy and offer help, the one she most anxiously looked for, kept away. Why was it? Could it be that the wretched misunderstanding with her father had engendered so deep an anger? The entire absence of the Herberts from any participation in this trouble


  ― 286 ―
gave great offence to Mrs. Lang and was sharply commented on by Kate. Even were he still at his station, there was time to have heard (for such news flies fast), and to have written. Miss Herbert, too! where was she, that no message or line even, came to remind them of her being an acquaintance? There was a great struggle in Isabel's mind whether she should volunteer a note to Miss Herbert or not. It would end suspense. But it was too like begging for notice, and her pride refused such a step. When a subject is shut up in one's own mind and dwelt upon unduly, it is apt to become magnified and distorted. It was so, perhaps, here. Isabel was suffering a double portion of grief in imagining the reasons for this painful and unaccountable silence. At last she broke silence, and remarked to Kate, ‘What can have come to Miss Herbert not to call, or send to inquire?’

‘Why, Issy! is it possible? Have you been asleep or deaf? Don't you know that Miss Herbert is gone away—they say, sailed for England. Certainly her brother took his passage in the China; Mr. Jolly says they have succeeded to some property.’

This was news! Isabel, engrossed at first in the terror of her father's disappearance, had failed to hear any other remarks. Since then her own silence and reserve had kept her ignorant. Without another syllable, she now withdrew; whether this was a relief or not, she did not know. It was so strange, so unexpected, that it needed consideration, and her mind was so tired, so utterly weary of supposing and concluding, that even while she mused, she dropped into an uncomfortable nap, the result of over-taxed strength. When she roused herself from this fit of drowsiness and rejoined the others, she found them eagerly gathered round a letter just received from Mr. Jolly, who had despatched a messenger with it.

previous
next