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11. CHAPTER XI.

Bush-ranging.

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After leaving the hut where we last brought him, Lynch made the best of his way, avoiding all roads, yet keeping on his course wonderfully. He was a powerful, stout man, but rough walking and much fasting began to tell on him. He was now beyond his own range. He only guessed his way, and had no longer any friendly hut to seek, where he was sure of shelter and food.

It was a wild country, and he was forced to look about him, and not lose sight of fences or other marks of civilization. Once after a weary spell of many miles, in which his shoes had worn quite off, and his clothes were much torn by the bushes, he came almost suddenly upon a ‘clearing.’ Heaps of trees lay piled and ready for the firing, a lot of ironbark palings were lying on the ground too, ready to begin a fence. Warily he climbed a tree, and saw in the distance some smoke and some sheep. He also heard a sheep-bell.

It was evidently some newly formed sheep station; now the question was, how should he proceed? Food he must have; clothing too, especially shoes, would be very acceptable. He examined his gun and his powder-flask; all was right; so was his knife and his small tomahawk, which he wore suspended in his leather belt—yet he paused, and looked grimly doubtful. Was there no other way of satisfying his hunger? He bitterly cursed the life, and all who had led him into it, but his doubts were suddenly stopped short by the approach of a dog of the terrier breed. Up went the gun in a second, and stepping back behind a large


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tree, he was again a man prepared to resist or attack a fellow-man—an outlaw!

The dog stopped short, and uttered a bark, then came nearer, sniffing and pricking up his ears. But Lynch's threatening eye told, and after another stare, and a few more barks, he turned, and was out of sight. Lynch receded further into the forest, and waited awhile to listen, but except the distant sheep-bell, he heard nothing. For a long time, till the sun got alarmingly low in fact, he skulked about, not liking to go nearer to the station without ascertaining the number he should have to deal with, and yet knowing that here he must feed. Again he climbed a tree, and looked around him, but not a man was to be seen, though still the smoke went up, and still every now and then the bell tinkled. From the look of the clearing, and all the timber which had been felled, he was sure there must be more than one man. Perhaps two, a shepherd and his mate, who felled the trees. Well, he could manage two, unless they had a savage watch-dog, as was frequently the custom. Again he gave a look, and this time he saw a man engaged in gathering up sticks for his fire. It was evidently an old man, Lynch believed somewhat of a cripple, too. Looking further and intently (and blessing his wonderfully keen and clear far-sight), he took notice that from the dress, this man was still a government servant; he might therefore turn out a friend. Greatly relieved, Lynch came down from his post of observation, resolved to try what fair words would do, and glad to be yet once more excused from making his first essay as a robber. He walked on fast, and again the terrier appeared in the path, and again accosted him with a bark interrogatory, to which Lynch this time responded amicably, and whistled for him to approach. He took the dog's obeying him as a good omen, and was even patting the creature, forgetting that he was a bushranger, and thinking of years ago, when he was startled by a familiar voice pronouncing his own name.

‘Jack Lynch, as large as life! Surprises will never go out of fashion! And where's your shoemaker, chum?’ was said in a glib, rapid, low-pitched voice. ‘Come, no guns or nonsense here, man! Though, honour alive, but you make a good highwayman; would do to set up a private theatre, such hattitudes and rolling heyes! But good evening, friend! and welcome.’

‘Welcome where, and to what? Be you the old gentleman himself, Gentleman Bill, that I pop on you here this way?’ said Lynch, with gruff contempt he could not hide, and fingers clutching at his gun, as if he longed to raise it.

Bill—for Bill Smith it was—saw this; he threw a keen, sidelong


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glance, and noted Lynch's angry eye, sunken cheek, and weary gait, as well as his arms and his tattered clothes.

‘Well!’ and he laughed one of his loudest and most chuckling laughs. ‘You are born under a lucky star, my eyes!’

‘Get out with your cursed nonsense!’ Lynch growled. ‘Ye know 'tis a lie.’

‘Civil—polite! I repeat, a lucky star. Law, don't think to growl over me, man. Don't I see with half an eye, that you've been hiding and looking like a hungry fox, waiting your opportunity, and all prepared to present and fire; and don't I see your very heart's a taking a nap like, and going smooth and easy, because there's no question of powder or shot, and only coming across an old chum, who's got a sup, and a bite, and a smoke, over and above, for his friends? Down, big spirit, down. Aisy now,’ and he stroked Lynch's sleeve, as if patting a dog.

‘Get out, will ye? Keep off, or the big spirit may give ye what you don't like, yet! True, I'm a fasting man, and my feet all sores and blisters; but afore I'm agoing to break bread with you in peace, Bill, you'll just answer me, what have you been and done with Nellie? eh, Gentleman Bill?’

A long whistle, expressing the utmost surprise, was Bill's answer; but just as Lynch was about to speak again, he put in,

‘There's not another hut nor gunyio within a score of miles. You must be more than man if so be you set off with a fasting stomach, and leave Pat and me to our supper.’

‘Never mind, I'll take care of myself, never you fear. But answer me.’

‘O! ah, I see! So you mean to try your hand like, 'pon Pat and me. Lynch's first appearance in character! True, Pat's old, Pat's crippled and got only half an eye; and our pet darling bulldog, what would strangle a lion, he's gone a little tour for change of air, with Tony, who is gone down along to a store for fresh tomahawks. Couldn't be a more convenient little opportunity, Jack! Well, let us see how you begin. 'Twill be as good as a play; only, you see—I suppose now, Jack, you think you could finger me in a moment? Bale me up in a trice, eh? Bill don't wear ugly knives, do he? nor shoulder naughty carbines, do he? No; but to tell ye a secret, Jack, he do wear something very pretty too, and as convenient as pretty.’

Saying which, with one of his slyest glances, and shaking his shoulders with his suppressed laugh, he pulled out two pistols, and showed them to be loaded.

‘Nothing! nothing at all, chum! Don't be alarmed. It needn't prevent your little practice at all; all the better, you see, for I can pretend to


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oppose you—all play, you know, Jack! O, yes; pleasant sport, only as I am sure your stomach is uttering dismal groans, suppose we put off our play till we've tried Pat's damper and Pat's cold pork, to say nothing of a half a jar of best mixed pickles, with London shop-mark on it! Ah, glad to see you a Christian. I'd lay a wager now there's Quaker blood somewhere, on one side or the other, in your family—eh, Jack?’

‘As much as there's Quaker's blood in you!’ growled out Lynch, trying to walk on as if unconscious of his companion's meaning.

‘Ah, if you'd said Jew's, that would have been something like it. My great grandmother's great grandmother was a Jewess, and my respected grandfather, of the same generation, was king of the gipsies. A great man he was, and left inheritance to his children, I can tell ye.’

They were now close to a bark hut, and the old man Lynch had before seen, and whom Bill hailed as Pat, was stooping over the fire, while something in the shape of a table was spread with damper, cold pork, and tea—a welcome sight to poor Lynch, who laid aside his gun, and stretched himself out as old Pat bade him, while he muttered to Bill, ‘And who is he, and where did ye get him? Didn't want any more mouths at the barrel of pork; however, please yourself, please yourself! only fill it again when 'tis empty, that's all.’

‘Hold your cursed nonsense!’ retorted Bill, angrily. ‘He's my chum and dearly beloved friend. Come, old crooked bones, you know but for me you'd have been in his shoes, and that's none at all, at present. He's on the bush, you old dotard, with half an eye which can't see nothing.’

‘On the bush? Ay, ay—and how's that about?’ and Pat turned with eager curiosity to Lynch, but he was too hungry to waste his breath on words. After a few mouthfuls he answered him shortly, and then turned on Bill.

‘Now, tell me, Smith, as you'd wish to be answered the day you have got a like trouble—tell me—what of that girl?’

‘O dear me! what it is to be in love! Fancy a strapping, likely chap like you always a ranting and a raving and a sighing and a dying, quarrelling with man and beast, fasting and looking wretched, all for a slip of a female gender! My gracious! they're not worth it!—not worth this, Jack;’ and suiting the action to the word, he filliped a bit of damper away.

‘Don't put me off, Bill, if you mean me well, as perhaps you do. You've fed me when I was fainting I can't deny and wont forget neither, for with all his faults Jack Lynch is no turncoat or masker. What I say I mean—what I mean I says right down.’

‘I know—but 'scuse me, you right down chaps are very unpleasant


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chaps, too.’

‘Is Nelly living?—tell me that!’

‘I believe so—I hope so. Pity for her pretty face to feed worms, or her sweet voice to be dumb. I hope Nelly is alive and kicking—happy, too, as I believe she is; and don't you go to grudge it to her.’

‘I grudge it! The Lord knows what I would do for the girl's good!’

‘That's right. Well—but don't let them big black eyes of yours blaze up at me so. Faith, it makes my eyes water! Don't be opening your nose and your mouth to receive my information, for I've none to give ye. Sorry for it, Jack—but as true as my name is William Bridges and not Smith at all—I knows not where Miss Maclean is at this present. I wish I did, my hearty! I've lost much for my ignorance.’

‘Bill! she left with you! I have heard—Judy——’

‘Told you a pack of lies, of course—dear old lady! Calm yourself, and drink another pint of tea. Now, here's the length and the breadth of the matter. She was with me, or, more properly, I was with her. We were journeying pleasant as possible—she seated like a queen on her throne, 'pon top of the dray, and all the fellows a crowding round her for to hear her sing just like a little bird. She was in tip-top spirits, and had her joke and her word with every one. One spark got quite foolish upon her, and dash me, but I believe he began making his court rather too free—that is, ahem—if others had seen—ahem! Why d'ye look up so? I am not meaning anything. Did ye think I did?’

‘Never mind—go on.’

‘ 'Twasn't going on, unfortunately. 'Twas going off, nobody knows how; but one morning when we all woke up and was about starting, my bird was a missing. Ay—flown right away, I believe you. We coo-ee-eed, we screamed, shouted, waited, cursed, swore, and called upon saints (for two of us was Catholics). But nothing came of it; whether she flew right up, or ran away upon a kangaroo, or what, I don't know. Never more we heard or saw of her, and, what's more, don't believe ever shall. That's my tale, believe it or no, as you like. It lost me a good five-pound note, as I'm a man. Gad, if I did come across her, I'd feel much disposed to try what I could do in the line of bringing refractory females to order.’

‘Well, Bill, God in heaven knows whether you speak truth or false. As I said, I've eaten with you and touched your hand, so—you're safe now. But, by heavens, I scent some nasty dirty plot you have hatched that wont bear daylight, I fancy. What you intended I can't say, but 'twas no good for her, I guess, and perhaps 'tis better for her she's lying dead under a bush, as I suppose she is this minute, than . . . .’

But he could not go on. Covering his face with his large brown hand,


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he crouched down, out of the fierce blaze, and soon his frame shook, while gurgling, suffocating sobs seemed to tear him, and tears rained down over his slice of damper. In a few moments he succeeded in stopping himself.

‘It do you credit,’ muttered old Pat. ‘I cried myself when I buried my gal—thirty years and more agone. I don't give in to hearts as hard as stones. No, not I!’

‘Nell was a sweet bird—worth a few tears, if any gal ever is,’ said Bill. ‘But I don't take to them. They are not in my line.’

Then he told Lynch which road he ought to take if he still persisted in going on Nelly's track. Lynch said one road was as well as another, so he could get victuals as he went on. And then Bill told him where one or two solitary habitations, in reality, sly grog-shops, were situated, as well as where a few well-stocked farms lay, one of which he might visit with great chance of success if he was wary and chose a good moment. Listening to these directions, Lynch soon followed old Pat's example, and fell into a sound sleep, even where he lay.

He awoke early, and before his companions. But not caring to move, he lay on, considering Bill's tale, and looking forwards with a heavy, oppressed heart, for what was life to him? Hardly worth fighting for food to support it! Nelly was dead! Then he thought it all over again, recalling former suspicions and hints, and Judy's account of Nelly's screams, till he was certain that some foul play had been used, that she had been decoyed or forced to go away. Then suddenly came back the name the boy had mentioned, and he saw how it was. Sitting there in the dim dawn alone, his face kindled and his hands were clenched, as one thought brought another, till once more a purpose filled him. He had something to do—something worth living for! He drew in his breath so loudly that he disturbed both sleepers.

‘Cautious! I must be wary! Ay, ay, deep Gentleman Bill! I must beat you if I can. Revenge—revenge. Ay, Jack Lynch, go-a-head, and be revenged!’

Quietly and noiselessly he managed to rise and leave the small hut. The dog looked up drowsily, but on a gesture from Lynch laid down again. Taking a good-sized piece of the damper, which had been left on the box that reversed acted as table, he got away, and, looking back once to see if all was still quiet, he plunged into the thick scrub, having carefully ascertained his bearings from the first rays of the sun as they lighted the topmost leaves of the tall trees.

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