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12. CHAPTER XII.

The Chase.

note

We can only briefly follow Lynch in his several adventures, losing his way at one time, and being driven to eat grubs, as the natives do, from hunger; then chancing to stumble upon a convict shepherd watching his sheep, who bade him roughly but heartily God speed, and shared his last drop of whisky in drinking ‘Death to masters and liberty to government-men!’ Not once did he take his food by force, though two or three times it was a narrow escape. At last he approached Goorundoo, and coming to a sly grog-shop to which he had been directed, he learnt that the mounted police were out in search of him; a strong body, and headed by the new comer, who had brought such a fine lot of cattle, and got such a fine place at Fair Dale. ‘Yes,’ the man said, ‘he was a smart, up-and-up chap; powers of money and some sense. Fond of his pleasure, too, if all was true. He had been in a mad passion a while back at the miscarriage of a plan of his. It seemed he had set his mind on a slip of a girl, who by all reports was out of the way comely and well-favoured.’

‘Ah! her name, did you hear that?’ exclaimed Lynch.

‘Was Nellie; that's all ever I heard. Well, and so they got her 'pon top of a dray, and had orders to treat her like a queen, and they say as how she fairly turned all their heads, and sang more like a bird than anything else. But whether one of the party made too free, or what, or whether she came with her own free will, no one knows. Any way, she gave them the slip, and was missing one morning. They searched up and down, and


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sent out here and there, but never saw nor heard no more of her. No! there I'm wrong, for the curious part of all is, they did hear! God bless your soul! not a man hereabouts would go out to that spot where last they camped out, alone! Fact, I assure you. I heard Phil Blunt with my own ears declare as how, when they were searching and calling out ‘Nellie! Nellie!’ that they heard her voice answer on the top of the highest tree there, but they saw only a yellow bird, and it spread its wings out, which shone like gold, and sang, just as she did and in her voice, and it flew right away up, out of sight; and when they fetched the other men to that place, there was she herself, in white, sitting upon a branch, crying bitterly, and when they spoke to her she gave a scream, and there was a rustle in the branches over head, and they never see no more of her! Ay! and now of nights they say there's singing often heard, and sometimes crying and wailing. Our young master, the owner of Fair Dale, took horse they say and went himself, being greatly set on her, like one ‘witched’ they say, and he came back as pale as ashes, and wouldn't speak a word, good or bad, only swearing under his breath against some one who had deceived him.’

‘What is his name?’

‘A queer one, not just handy to my lips; Fig, or something like it.’

‘Fitz?’

‘Ay, you're on it! Just one of your rough-riders, what don't stick at man nor beast, so he feathers his own nest and hatches his own eggs. He's as good as two at a bargain any day. Well, he's out now with this party of cursed police, and take my advice, and just make off westwards, and hide up for a bit. You could easy borrow a horse from the young master's paddock. I knows one would carry ye safe and fast, a stocking hind off leg. Come at a whistle, tame as a kitten. Saddle? Well, I've an old one would patch up; here, I'll chop it for your knife there, eh? No, bless'ee, a knife's no great use; besides, after a bit, ye can help yourself from Downley's big store, some twenty miles to westward. Find out Tim Stone and his mate, cutting bark near the Jerry river, well known. They'll join you, I guess; watch for a branding-day; all hands in stock-yard with cattle; walk in bold and straight; maidens squeak, bale 'em up; go into the store, fill your pockets and ride off; keep stocking for the purpose.’

Lynch gave up his knife, and took the wretched, rotten old saddle, which by dint of tying with cord, he managed to use. He found and caught the horse with his friend's help, and set off, not as he was advised, to hide exactly, but to reconnoitre, to come up with his pursuers. If he, if Mr. Fitz should be with them—then it would be hard if he didn't get


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one fair shot at him. For the rest he cared not! The sun struck powerfully on Lynch's head, causing a kind of half-drowsy sensation, and his thoughts seemed to go strangely back, and recall old scenes long since put aside, if not quite forgotten. His mother showing him some pictures from a large family Bible; her very voice seemed to sound in his ears, as she spoke of that other life which his father had already entered into. If it were so, if Nellie was there, should he meet her? and what would his stern old mother say to the poor girl's wild ways? Then he remembered the man's account of her singing, and wondered, if really dead, whether she might not possibly return and sing, and in some way point out who had injured her. The plaintive note of some magpies overhead seemed to chime in with his thoughts, and looking upwards through the spare attenuated foliage of the eucalyptus trees, to the intense blue sky, he wished he could hear her voice, or see her. The country being altogether new and strange to him, he let his horse take his own way a little, and after a couple of hours' quiet riding, he came up with a shepherd, attended by two dogs, and plaiting the cabbage-tree leaf into lissums for hats.note The shepherd was the first to greet, after a keen, prolonged stare at Lynch.

‘Well met; stranger, I guess?’

‘Ay, and seeking information 'bout one Fitz; got a station hereabouts, lately.’

‘Ay, ay! You know him, do you? Queer stories abroad of that 'ere spark. I'm soon after going home to yonder hut. Ye'll be welcome to a can of tea, and a smoke.’

Lynch accepted the invitation, and meanwhile offered his new acquaintance some tobacco, which he eagerly accepted, and placed in his cheek with great gusto. Under its influence he began to talk, and at last hit on something which caused his hearer to pause in his attention to his horse, and hearken with all his might.

‘So you see, folks do say that this very slip of a girl, what scared folks so hereabouts, is the culprit. The report says she murdered Lang of Langville, and has confessed to it too!’

‘What! Nelly, Nelly Maclean, murdered Lang—my master—Mr. Lang! Were you saying that?’ exclaimed Lynch, with emphasis.

‘So they are saying.’

‘ 'Tis just a lie! a black, wicked lie! Why, 'tis an impossibility! That slip of a child! My poor singing bird, who hasn't heart to tread on a worm. Go on; tell me all you know. Hell and murder! I begin to feel astray, like as if everything was clean turned topsy-turvy.’

He ended with a deep sigh, almost a groan, and sank his head between


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his hands, heedless of the horse's attempts to pull his head away from any hold. But as the shepherd went on speaking of the report which had reached this distant place by some drays passing onwards, Lynch again seized the halter, and seemed to arouse himself, and to take good care of the horse. After waiting an hour, he said he should push on without accepting the shepherd's offer of shelter and food. He must get on as fast as he could, he said, and having asked and received some minute directions as to the road, he mounted his stolen horse, and set off through the bush, avoiding public roads—often astray—but sustained by some exciting impulse, which caused him to forget hunger and danger.

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