― 260 ―


The Bushranger's Progress.


After a circuitous route, and resting two nights by a fire he kindled in the Bush,—on the third day after his visit to Charlie Brand, Lynch found himself in more familiar ground. It was rather surprising how he had contrived to keep right and not lose himself in the interminable monotony of the Bush, and he had not done so without much careful scrutiny of the sun by day and the stars by night, also often referring to a soiled, crumpled piece of paper, on which was roughly dotted down a map of directions for his guidance. Once again he leant against a tree, with his tomahawk carefully within reach of his hand, and consulted his map. Then looking above he recognised with a smile of triumph that the very next tree to that against which he leant, was a blue gum, which had been fired, and one side of which was dead, while on the other its forklike branches had still both green leaves and blossom.

It was a peculiar tree in its decided shape and its half-and-half condition. Moving a little, so as to bring the said tree quite in front; he noted another a little to the side, bearing marks of the notches made by the natives in climbing those tall and straight trunks in search of wild honey.

‘All right,’ he said, and suddenly turning away from the direction he had previously followed, he plunged down among thick undergrowth and loose iron stones. It was a steep hill. At the bottom was an empty water-hole. On the bushes around it hung, as if torn off in scrambling, a piece of cloth, intended to pass for white. Again Lynch's face showed

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satisfaction. He sat down and whistled in a low peculiar fashion, which soon broke into a capital imitation of the curlew's cry. After repeating this three times it was answered, and then a boy, only half-clothed in such rags that it was hard to say what garment they ever represented, came in a stealthy but rapid step straight to where Lynch sat.

‘All right,’ he said.

Lynch arose and followed him, saying, ‘Moved, haven't ye?’

‘Yes; 'twasn't safe, on account of the gentry. Made a flitting; and they think we are gone a long way, instead of a few yards further down. More trouble to get at, especially for horses, you see.’

‘And the police?’

‘They've been, and gone like mad, clatter and crash, and thirsty; always wanting drink. Found tracks of they fellows up country! All quiet here now, and people's eyes looking away, you see.’

‘You are a sharp lad,’ remarked Lynch; and no more was said.

They soon came in sight of a rude hut, formed of two sheets of bark, fastened together by poles. The fowls and other household appendages, were scattered about in a rough and disorderly fashion, and a woman with rough, untidy hair came out and hailed Lynch. It was the same person to whose wild dwelling Mrs. Vesey had once dared to conduct her guests. Taking fright at the visit, and also at the presence, near at hand, of the police, these people had shifted quarters. Their hut was now down in the gully, and out of sight, but not really at all further from Vine Lodge than before. And here Jack Lynch, according to his scheme of doubling the scent, ventured to come back to his old district as an outlaw—at war with authority! It was quite in accordance with their code of honour, that a man should be skilful and brave enough to make his first essay in the new line, close to the very spot of his former bondage; and where people were still talking over his escape with keen interest and open-mouthed wonder.

After greeting the new comer, and swearing at the yelping dogs, Judy returned to the dark hut, and tried to rouse a man who was sleeping there; not in the gentlest way.

‘Come, rouse up, will ye! Up with the stone jar there, 'tis right beneath that big carcase of yourn. We'll drink this night to the ‘free man,’ let to-morrow bring what it will!’

After enforcing her words with some pushes and blows, the man turned over, and peered through his shaggy hair, till he caught sight of Lynch standing without, and feeling at the edge of his tomahawk. One spring brought him close to Jack.

‘Somewhat forbye that will be wanting, Jack; and I've got a right good

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'un.—Have it, on condition of fair share, the first good chance ye get.’

‘Where is it?’ said Lynch, looking eager.

The man retreated again to the hut, and returned in a moment with a carbine, and shot, and powder-flask, as well as a belt.

‘I've got a belt,’ Lynch said, pushing that away, and examining the gun narrowly.

‘I'll warrant 'un as true and good,’ said the man. After a little talking the bargain was made, and Lynch felt himself master of the weapon.

The woman had spread some food meanwhile, a couple of empty tea-chests turned up, forming the table. Cold salt beef, rather hard; freshly baked damper, and a bottle of pickled anchovies, with tea of course, sweetened with plenty of coarse sugar, but no milk, was the fare. And a stone jar was very soon lifted up, and one wineglass, pushed round to each in turn. The boy and two or three children having shown their heads, were sent off quickly, with a good allowance of damper and beef, and told to keep off till bed-time.

‘You are born to luck, Jack,’ remarked the man; at which Lynch only curled his mouth.

‘Lang journeys to Sydney to-morrow, taking the short cut.’

‘Well, and what of that? He never carries no cash, as you know.’

‘No; but the scrub is so thick, and there's but one track fit for a horse. Keep yourself close, dodging behind a thickish stem, and pop with ‘lively’ there, and your revenge is done, eh!—don't that set the blood a tingling now, Jack? Didn't you just think of such a chance, when Dan was at your back, last time?’

‘Hold your peace, Robert, and don't be after copying the very devil himself! I'm not going back that way, just now, seeing I have but now travelled that road. Sydney way isn't safe nor profitable. I shall cut away and join a fellow I know, who keeps snug, and gets no name, but watches the up-country drays, and so makes a very pretty business. I'm told he cleared several pounds by the last venture on tea and sugar, and a wine cask which reached its owner, a leetle the weaker for the journey, and wouldn't shock a teetotaller even, on account of its strength!’

Judy laughed, and refilled the glass. Lynch refused it, and said he preferred the tea: at which she seemed much astonished, and then professed herself ‘up to him;’ adding that in another month he wouldn't be after fearing a glass of the raal genuine Irish milk would make his hand or his eye less steady for business.

‘The priest was after inquiring for you, Jack, some days agone.’

‘Ay, indeed! And for why? It is to him I owe a long bill for coming between me and the girl. I'm up to him, and know him; he said she

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shouldn't marry a Protestant; as if poor Nell knew Protestant from Catholic, or Catholic from Christian!’

‘Seems he is very sharp after his ‘sheep’ as he calls 'em. He's got a sort of a house downaway there, and does a smart bit of business there for O'Connell. He screws them up tight for pence, they say, and has a power of boys at his back, ready for a fight and a row any hour. Don't see the good of it, not I! What's Repale to us, out here? Brings down the law folks about us, and disturbs the liberty of this here free country.’

‘ 'Tis wonderful how you Catholics do hold together. But I don't concern myself with it,’ said Lynch.

‘I'd nigh forgot I was a Catholic, by the powers!’ said the man; ‘Judy there, she keeps it up of a time for the credit of us both, but——’

‘Didn't I pay up our pence to the priest, and didn't he praise me for a good Catholic, eh?’ Judy laughed.

‘So my Nelly was here,’ Lynch presently said, having finished eating, and leaning back so that he commanded the countenances of both his companions.

‘What next?’ Judy said with an oath, after a very evident pause of doubt.

‘Well; she was here! I know all about it. You needn't think to hide it either. Come, you were hired I know on one side. Now you see things are shifted. You know me. If I'm to be any way concerned with you, it will be for your advantage to speak up. What's past is past, I know that. But what is to be, depends you see.’

Judith exchanged inquiring and somewhat frightened glances with the man, who after a short pause, said gruffly,

‘He's right, Judy; Jack's our man. What of the other? The crawling fellow, he uses us all like a pack of dumb beasts, and then just laughs at us.’

‘Gentleman Bill brought Nelly here. That I know,’ said Lynch. ‘I want to know for whom he acted? I did think 'twas the curse of the place there, that scamp Venn. But I saw he was mad, and beaten like myself. No, no, that Bill slides and slips anywhere, and somebody has made it worth his while to lead us on blindfold, and then leave us in a ditch. Who was it? and where is she gone?’

‘As to the first,—Judy, do'ee know the name?’ said the man. ‘It beats me—outlandish thing. But he's a up-and-up chap, lives handy by, or did. Met my lady in the Bush, when she was a crying over her stepmother's blows, and tells her a lot of gammon, and throws dust in her eyes. Well! he gets Bill in to the fore, and she's carried off.’

‘There ye're wrong, man!’ interposed Judy; ‘she went free like, to

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one Allen, as child's-maid, or anything else you like—Allen's woman knows what she's about. There this young spark used to go, and talk up to her. He was thought to be making great love up at the big house, all the same. But he's an out-and-outer, and no mistake; he's got a fine place up and away somewhere, and it seems his drays with stores was going up there (fine chance for a pretty fellow like you, Jack!); and so Nelly was to join them, and 'twas here they brought her for the start. Bless you, no money's enough for the bother and the fuss we had along of it. She was downright crazy, and so haughty like. Her wouldn't do this, and wouldn't go here! and so on! I had to bring her to reason, and Robert here showed her the length of his stick, I warn you, or ever we kept her from running right away, and losing us all our wages.’

‘Go on,’ said Lynch, with his teeth set close, and looking at the woman in a way which, had she seen it, she would scarcely have liked.

‘One time the gentry took it in their heads to come gallivanting down there, where we camped then. Bad manners of them, and good luck for them they never came back again. Well, if you believe me, the girl took on one of her frantic fits, and cried out so that they thought a pig was killing—and that brute of a dog, too, nearly spoilt all sport by whimpering over one of 'em, too sharp for her own good, she was. But they went off again, scared by Robert's handsome face there, and his black mane—off they fluttered like a flock of geese, whispering and glancing, and holding in their petticoats, for fear they'd come to some disgrace in ‘sich a hole,’ as I heard one of 'em say, while she squinted at us all through a brass ring like, or gold, perhaps, it would be. Didn't I laugh when they was off? our young spark and all! 'Twas a audacious trick of his to show his nose here, in company with them all. But he's a prime cock, and will die game, I'll wager.’

‘His name?—surely you must remember it!’ said Lynch.

‘No, I don't. 'Twan't Herbert, was it, Robert?’

‘Tush, no! Why he's owner of the farm at the settlement. A magistrate too. He wasn't here at all. I don't mind the name;—like child's play, no sound in it to catch hold on.’

‘Where's Jem? The boy can tell! Sich a memory he's got! As sharp as a needle!’ Judy said.

‘Well! go on. Did she—did Nelly seem to like his visits? Was it of her own wish and will? Now, Judy, speak true! I'll find out some way, and if you deceive me, 'twill be the worse for you!’

Judy did not like the red light which now glowed in his eyes, or his low determined voice.

‘Nonsense! Why should I go for to gammon you?’ she said, nerv

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ously. ‘As to liking it, she did. She was all smiles and manners when he was here. La, bless us!—didn't he flatter and give her finery enough; but when he was off, she'd turn perverse and sit and moan, with all her hair let down about her like . . . .’

‘I know!’ he interrupted, impatiently. ‘Get on, missis! Quick, and out with it.’

‘The grass wont grow under your steps neither, Jack, if this is your way!’ she replied; a little resenting his short way of speaking.

‘But, Judy, why don't 'ee tell the chap why she leant so kindly an ear to his words? Seems now, were I her follower, as I see plain enough Jack is, that's what I'd like to reach.’

‘Right, Robert. Tell me that, Judy.’

‘Well, I believe 'twas on account of his stories about what he was going to do for her right away; such gammon! But Lord love you, she'd sit and look at him and drink it all down, same as if 'twas true gospel. Summut about a ticket; I never could get no sense of it, not I. And he persuaded her she was to be a married missis, and wear a gold ring, and keep house, and what not. And she was to be his maid, to clean up, and wash and mend! Much notion she had of such work! And she were to have a honest man for a husband, brought up from somewhere. For you see, there never was no talk of hisself, just to humour her like, baby as she was!’

Here the man put aside his pipe, and broke out with a gruff, but hearty fit of laughing.

‘Well, Judy woman, didn't I think ye were sharper? La sakes, now! Where's your wit been wandering? You, who in general jump at anything, like a shark to the bait. Don't 'ee see now, 'twas just this very chap the girl were wild after? Don't you see 'twas about Jack the young fellow gammoned her, telling about getting his ticket of leave, and getting him up there for his servant, and marrying them right away?’

‘As if he would have paid all he did just for that purpose, Robert? Dullard!’ she retorted, contemptuously.

‘But can't ye see, now it lies open afore ye? The girl cared for Jack, and wouldn't leave him, no how. So they just used his name, and got her in their toils. Once they'd got her there, she might whistle for her man and her golden ring! He was mad about it, taken with her silly little baby face; but that's the way of the fine gentleman. Eh, Jack—am I far wrong now?’

But Jack did not speak. His face was buried in his hands. He raised it at last to ask, ‘And where is she now?’

‘O that's more than I can tell or guess. They got her off, though she

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fairly cut and run once, misdoubting something at the last. There was a deal of squealing, I can promise you, and Bill had to just bind her hands if he wished to keep eyes in his head, and then they up with her to a horse, and a stouter man nor Bill held her fast. I heard her squealing for long after they were out of sight; and only that the young spark had been very firm about no violence, they'd have stopped her mouth. As to where she is now—perhaps come to her right senses to know what's what, and not to throw away a good chance up there. Or, there was a report, which I didn't heed at all, at all, that she left them, spite of their watching her, and took to the Bush. One man swore he saw her up in a tree, sitting with her hair all round her and singing; and he was so scared he took to his heels, and just signed the cross and called upon the saints, for he'd heard tell of nasty things, in the shape of women living in wild places, in trees, or in the sea. But I didn't take no account of this till this very minute, and now seems like as if it might be Nelly herself. What do you say?’

‘O, Jem! here, you're wanted!’ called Judy. ‘What was the name of that young gentle chap who comed here after the girl?’

‘What, he down to the house? Mr. Fitz. I knows 'un well.’

‘Ay, ay, that's the go!’ and Lynch's eyes betrayed his also knowing the owner of that name.

‘He's left this. He's got a place up the country. ‘Goorundoo’ they call it, or Fair Dale; some one, some t'other, up Yass way, and I heard tell he'd lots of drays travelling upwards, and a fine stock of horses he got cheap at a sale.’

‘Clever chap!’ Judy said, pleased at her boy's knowledge.

‘Come here, boy,’ said Lynch. ‘Here's the last coppers I have, three—four of them, and if I had more I'd give it to you, and willing. You've done a good deed. Keep your memory, my lad, and make it serve you as it will me this day.’

Long afterwards, when the children were asleep, and Judith and Robert busy in making things secure for the night, feeding the dogs and so on, Lynch sat still on a stone, a little retired from the glow of the fire, seemingly lost in thought. Some of the hard bitterness passed from his face, and his lips trembled as if with deep feeling struggling for mastery. Once when left quite alone for a moment, the man and woman being out of sight in search of a missing fowl, he lifted his head from his hands and said aloud, ‘O Nell, Nelly girl!—have they murdered ye? And you will be seeking the old place, and the old hut, and no Jack there! Jack's gone, Nelly,—bound for the gallows! But, please God, he'll seek you yet, and hear of you, dead or living. And the vile knave, the worse than thief and outlaw, the base deceiver, the craven coward, I'll find him, too, and

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demand full payment for all he owes you and me!’

‘What's that you are saying there, Jack?’ said Judy, coming back.

‘Come, turn in, man,’ said Robert. ‘Now's the time for sleep. To-morrow you'll have to put yourself to the fore and begin work. Which way will ye be going? Best settle the signals, you see. The white rag there and further down by the falls, means ‘all's safe and right here.’ If you sees nothing, don't venture. Down at Sampson's I'll always get your letters or messages, and he's a tight chap. To-morrow—well—shan't you be for having a look after Lang?’

‘No! I'm bound for the tracks about the road to Goorundoo.’

‘You're late for the drays.’

‘I know. But 'tisn't the drays I'm after. Robert, if she—if Nelly should ever come back here, take her in and take good care of her, if you mean to be chums with me. I tell you she's one of heaven's angels got down here by mistake—changed at birth, perhaps! Anyway that man will be bold who dares lay a rough finger on her!’

‘What be you after her? That's a bit of cursed nonsense, Jack, and nothing else.’

‘I am after her till I find her alive or—and I am after him, too. I know him. I'll bide my time—Lang! What is Lang to this one!’

‘Well, you do look like something! I wouldn't care to meet you so everywhere! But 'tis folly to waste so much pluck on a slip of a girl without her wits. One female is as good as another! Let her go, man, and just you put that spirit into your dealings with others, and you'll have plenty of everything, and to spare. And I hope you'll remember your old friends.’

‘Ay,’ put in Judy; ‘ask her, poor silly maid. She'll tell you I was kind to her, and gave her a bit of good advice. Don't forget all you owes us, Jack! In case you start early to-morrow, and I feel so tired I'm like to sleep late, I know; don't forget us, and you'll find it handy to have a friend's place for a hide,—a snug, secure little hide as it is, too.’

Judith would have talked on in her sleepy and now rather fretful tone, had not the man roughly ordered her off to bed. He then brought out a sheet of dry bark and a blanket for Lynch; put fresh fuel on the fire, which was made on some stones outside the hut, and then he left him. But Jack Lynch slept very little that night. Wild thoughts coursed up and down his excited mind. Now he was a boy at home, with his mother; then he remembered, as if it was yesterday, Nelly Maclean's mother's death, and the girl's bitter grief, and all his soothing efforts to console her. Then he was again in the lock-up, being primed by a sympathising friend to meet the cruel scourge with some intoxicating dram, and he writhed and

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loathed with agony and hatred. Above all, Nelly's sweet and artless voice, his ‘sky-lark,’ as they called her, her constant love, her trust, and her beauty, with all her own troubles and ill-treatment, came before him with unnatural distinctness. He could not keep still. He rose and walked about; then took off his hat and brushed back his hair, to feel the night air on his heated brow. His pulses beat quick and full, his limbs trembled. He looked at and handled his carbine, and felt a throb of joy in its possession. He fancied how he would waylay and watch for a sure opportunity when he could face that man, and coolly tell him his sin was found out, and should be punished. He thought he could see the dainty young fellow's face turn white, and hear him plead for mercy. But no mercy should he meet! He grasped the gun so tight as to give a pang of pain to his own hand, which recalled him to himself, and he wondered for a moment at finding himself alone in the still, clear, calm night, the red embers making the wild loneliness of the spot only the more discernible, and those wonderful lights shining overhead. He was free—free in a certain sense—with a deadly weapon at command; but alone,—quite alone, and at war with all. For who was there he could trust? Who was there that would hesitate to betray him to a cruel death for a reward?—who, save poor Nelly, if she yet lived. Then thoughts of her love came and softened him; all that might have been, and now never, never could be! All he and she had talked of and hoped, and which in course of time might have been, but now never could be. He had destroyed their small and distant hope by his own rash deed. For him to live was henceforth to flee from pursuers—from death! He would be followed, and watched, and dogged. He must never rest, never forget; always fight, and take even his needful food by force. And Nelly! If he ever found her, would she care to share such a fate? Overcome at last, the reaction followed, and he sank down exhausted and trembling, cold dew trickling from his face, after the burning fever. Jack Lynch laid his head on the bark and cried very bitterly. From his very heart he called on ‘Nelly’, as if she were some guardian angel. At last he dropped off into a disturbed sleep, calling still on her and on his mother. And the sun was above the hill-top before he woke and understood all that had passed and all that lay before him.

He wished to go before the hut people came out. But they just caught him, and sent wishes, and warnings, and prophecies of ‘good luck’ after him as he scrambled down the hill and disappeared out of their sight in the dense and pathless forest.