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Title: The Call of the Southern Cross
       A Romance of Australia
Author: John Sandes
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000511.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2010
Date most recently updated: September 2010

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Title: The Call of the Southern Cross
       A Romance of Australia
Author: John Sandes




Published in The Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania,
17 October, 1914.



CHAPTER I.--TOM BRISBANE MAKES USEFUL FRIEND.


If that energetic young ensign, Tom Brisbane, of His Majesty's 38th
Regiment of Foot, had not been quartered in Galway in 1790, and had not
shouted a ringing 'hooray' when a long-nosed young officer on a raking
bay mare flew over a formidable stone wall that had pounded most of the
field, Sydney Verner would not have been born at Parramatta a good many
years later and this veracious chronicle of his strange experiences
would never have been written. That is at least as certain as anything
can be in this uncertain world.

The long-nosed young officer, who happened to be a lieutenant in the
12th Light Dragoons, and who was passionately fond of hunting, turned in
his saddle to see who it was that had shouted 'hooray' with such obvious
sincerity. Making inquiry of a local squireen, Mr. Cornelius Blake by
name, the lieutenant was curtly informed that the acclaimer of his
horsemanship was "a d--d Scotchman be the name of Brisbane." Whereupon,
after transfixing Mr. Blake with a most haughty stare from his cold,
blue eyes, the long-nosed young officer rode off as hard as he could in
the wake of the flying hounds, and at the first check found himself
alongside Tom Brisbane, to whom he courteously offered his hunting
flask. The young ensign took a drink from the flask with a smile of
thanks, and there and then inaugurated a life-long friendship with the
long-nosed young officer, whose name was Arthur Wellesley, and who many
eventful years afterwards procured for Major-General Brisbane, K.C.B.,
the governorship of the colony of New South Wales in succession to
Macquarie.

It is very doubtful whether at that time Tom Brisbane had ever heard of
New South Wales, the distant colony of which he was to assume the reins
long afterwards as a result of a personal request made by the Duke of
Wellington to Earl Bathurst, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He
had embarked on a military career, and as his adventure eventually led
to Henry Verner with his wife and little son and daughter coming to New
South Wales, where the second son, Sydney, was soon afterwards born, it
is necessary to keep an eye on Tom Brisbane's campaigning and follow him
as rapidly as possible from one battlefield to another, until at last he
was able to spend his time more congenially in his observatory at
Parramatta.

After hunting over the Galway stonewall country and shooting the Galway
woodcock in the company of that long-nosed Arthur Wellesley, who was the
keenest sportsman that Tom Brisbane had ever met, the young ensign of
the 38th was summoned to serve his country in less agreeable
circumstances, and he bade good-bye for a season to the long-nosed young
gentleman, who went back to Dublin Castle to resume his duties as
aide-de-camp to the Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Westmorland.

By steady devotion to his military duties, and the exercise of some
considerable family influence--for the Brisbanes of Brisbane House,
Largs, in Ayrshire, were people of some consequence, and had a guid
conceit o' themselves--the young ensign found himself a captain when the
war with France broke out in 1793. Having received his captaincy in the
53rd regiment, he journeyed to Flanders, and smelt powder for the first
time in the Duke of York's disastrous expedition.

Long years afterwards, in the sultry Sydney summer, the Governor of New
South Wales was accustomed to look back to those freezing marches--when
the army was retreating to Bremen and when for six nights in succession
he slept in the snow wrapped only in his military cloak, and awoke at
dawn to find himself frozen to the ground. And once no fewer than 800
men who had lain down like him to sleep never woke again. It was not
much wonder that 'our armies swore terribly in Flanders.'

But it was a fine, hardening experience for Tom Brisbane, and, after
fighting and freezing for a couple of years in the Low Countries he
sailed with Sir Ralph Abercromby's expedition to the West Indies, where
he fought, and was grilled, at Jamaica, and where he began that study of
astronomy which was the real interest of his life.

But, once a soldier, always a soldier. Retirement on half-pay did not
suit Tom Brisbane's active spirit, and after a period of enforced
idleness, he bethought himself once more of that long-nosed young
gentleman who had been so friendly with him at Galway and with whom he
occasionally corresponded still. Tom Brisbane, though a colonel, was
plain Tom Brisbane still, but the long-nosed lieutenant, by reason of
his genius for harrying the enemies of Great Britain, had been made a
marquis, and members of Parliament who had been clamouring for his
recall a few years earlier were tumbling over each other in their desire
to offer him the thanks of the nation for his victories and to vote him
generous grants.

So Tom Brisbane, after much cogitation and also much earnest
consultation of the stars, wrote to his distinguished friend who was
Commander-in-Chief of the allied forces in the Peninsula, and suggested
that he would like an appointment if one could be found for him.

Wellington received the letter at Arroyo das Molinos, just after the
complete surprise and defeat of Giraud's force by General Hill, and he
was in a very good humour indeed. So he promptly wrote a short despatch
to the Secretary for War, in which he required rather than recommended
that Colonel Thomas Brisbane should be forthwith gazetted a
brigadier-general and appointed to the command of the first brigade in
the famous Third Division under General Sir Thomas Picton. The request
was at once complied with. Colonel Brisbane lost no time in getting his
equipment together, and he arrived at Wellington's headquarters early in
1812, with two horses, two pack mules and a creaking iron-wheeled
Portuguese ox-waggon, loaded with his ample baggage, in which he had
included as many astronomical instruments as he had dared to bring.

So there he was--in the field again and full of fight. His personal
staff included two thieving Portuguese muleteers, and he speedily
provided himself with a batman or soldier-servant in the person of
Private Terence Flynn, and a clerk or secretary in Private Henry Verner,
who was strongly recommended for the post by his colonel.

"You'll find Verner a most useful fellow, General," said Colonel Fox,
confidentially, "a man of considerable ability and education. Indeed, I
have heard that he held a commission formerly, but retired and fell on
evil days. Having neither money nor friends, he returned to the only
trade that he knew, and enlisted in the ranks."

So, Private Verner took his place in the ranks when the troops were on
the march, and when in camp he performed the duties of clerk to
Brigadier-General Brisbane, who taught him how to use the sextant, and
how to take the daily observation that enabled the Brigadier to keep the
time of the army.

Verner was a silent, uncommunicative man, but an excellent soldier. With
his refined and regular features and his tall, graceful figure, he was
in marked contrast to most of the rank and file of his battalion. On one
occasion a foulmouthed fellow named Jim Mullens who was an
ex-prizefighter and belonged to Verner's company, was indiscreet enough
to comment with blunt offensiveness upon his birth and breeding and
being in liquor at the time, to cast aspersions on his mother. The mill
that followed was long remembered in the battalion, for the ex-pugilist
got a worse hiding than he had ever received in the ring. So, after that
they took care to let Private Verner alone.

It was soon after Brisbane arrived to take the command of the first
brigade in Picton's Division that Wellington began the brilliant series
of movements that ended in the complete rout of the French army at
Vittoria. In six weeks Wellington, with 100,000 men marched 600 miles,
crossed six great rivers, captured two fortresses, and fought a decisive
battle by which he hurled King Joseph Bonaparte and his army across the
Pyrenees and out of Spain.

Brigadier-General Brisbane, whose name is commemorated in the capital of
Queensland, the site of which was discovered by his Surveyor-General,
Mr. John Oxley, long after the last battle of the Peninsular War was
fought, marched every step of that 600 miles to Vittoria, and played his
part as a brave and capable leader of men, when the great collision took
place between Joseph Bonaparte's army and Wellington's
British-Portuguese force with Spanish auxiliaries.

Along with the brigadier and his three battalions went his clerk,
Private Verner, and his batman, Private Flynn. But in that great
historic march there also participated Mrs. Biddy Flynn, whose right to
travel with the battalion was recognised by the Regulations which
prescribed that soldiers' wives to the number of four to six per company
might follow the army on the march. Thus it was that Mrs. Biddy Flynn
was one of a strange assemblage of about forty wives, the hardiest of
campaigners who marched in the rear of the battalion and whenever they
could elude the Provost Marshal, in advance of it, riding for the most
part upon donkeys and enduring untold hardship's with extraordinary
fortitude.

Brisbane encountered his batman's wife very early in the campaign, and
she freely enlightened him as to her history.

"Shure, me first husband, Mick Donovan, wasn't he kilt at Talavera?
Hiven rest his sowl, an' me not two days a widder whin Flynn azed me
would I have him. An I thought I'd beter be stayin' wid the battalion,
yer 'anner for what would I be doin' at home in Connemara and me own
sisters throwin' it up to me that I wint away wid a soldier. So I tould
Flynn I'd have him and he found a praste to marry us inside av a week,
an' shure life's a quare thing, yer 'anner, an' we must all make the
best of it."

So Mrs. Flynn dropped a curtsey to the 'gineral' and went off to make a
drop of tay for Terence and herself which they wanted badly, for the
battalion had marched twenty miles since daybreak. A tough old
campaigner was Mrs. Flynn, but she had a heart of gold, as will
presently appear.

When the bugles blew an hour and a half before daybreak, as was the
invariable rule when the army was on the march, Mrs. Flynn was always
the first out of the blankets and ready to give Terence a helping hand
in getting ready his pack. Camp fires blazed out in the darkness, camp
kettles were put on to boil, and Mrs. Flynn, picking her way down the
regimental lines among the stacked halberds and the sleepy soldiers
bandied many a rough jest with the men as she slipped away to steal a
few handfuls of hay from the commissariat cart for her 'burro,' tethered
far off among the transport mules of the battalion. Then back for a bit
of breakfast with Terence--bacon biscuit, and the inevitable cup of
'tay,' and precisely at daybreak she was ready to march with the army.

There was the army--ready to march. Method, organisation, discipline had
done the business. Here was a whole division of 6,000 men--Picton's
division, of which General Brisbane commanded a brigade, and of which
Mrs. Flynn was a unit recognised by the Regulations--and in an hour and
a half the men had dressed, breakfasted, and rolled and packed their
blanket and equipment. They were paraded in companies, told off in
section of threes, and marched to the alarm-posts of their respective
regiments and finally to the alarm-post of the brigade, where they
formed in close companies and marched off by sections of threes from the
right, at sloped arms, and with the greatest precision and regularity.

Mrs. Biddy Flynn and the other women followed the column on their
burros, the assistant provost-marshal with his guard bringing up the
rear of the column and being followed by the rear guard, under an
officer who picked up all stragglers.

In this way the army steadily made its way northward in accordance with
the plan that was formed in the brain of that tall, spate, silent
horseman in cocked hat, cloak, and cape, blue tightly-buttoned frock
coat, and boots and breeches. 'The mind of a great commander is the soul
of armies,' says one of the old-time historians of war, and the mind of
Wellington was certainly the animating principle of the army that
marched by day and rested by night, northward and ever northward, to
where King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jourdan lay with 70,000 men
encamped near the little city of Vittoria.

While Wellington was weaving his spells, King Joseph remained inactive,
first vacillating and then paralysed by his inability to discover what
was going on behind the frowning ranges that encircled the valley of the
Zadora, beyond which rose the spires of Vittoria. And so it was that on
the 20th of June, 1813, Brigadier General Brisbane knew before he lay
down to sleep that on the morrow he would fight the greatest battle of
his life. He discussed the position freely with his clerk, Private
Verner, who was writing out his orders. Brisbane was on the Staff of the
Army, and was in close touch with the Duke. He had a map on the table in
his tent and he pointed out the features of the country to this very
intelligent private, whose appearance, manners, and education were so
inconsistent with his station.

"You see, Verner," said General Brisbane indicating a winding line on
the map, "here is the river Zadora, curving through the valley, and
protecting the French position on the opposite hillsides. The river has
steep, high banks, and is practically unfordable. General Graham, with
his division, has already got across the high road to France, and has
cut the main line of retreat, so that the French army, if it escapes us
at all, can only get away by bypaths."

Verner nodded his head. "In which case," he said, "it must drop all its
artillery, baggage and stores."

"Precisely," said Brisbane, "and if everything goes right to-morrow, we
should have a good chance of capturing King Joseph himself along with
his baggage. Well, good-night, Verner. The general advance will begin at
daybreak. You had beter get a few hours' sleep, if you can." The
brigadier dismissed his clerk, and sat up writing letters until
midnight, when he turned in for a couple of hours' sleep.



CHAPTER II.--THE CHILD OF THE BATTLEFIELD.


There was a thick mist and a light rain was falling when the army moved
forward at daybreak. Flynn and Verner, who were in the same company,
found themselves climbing up the steep hillside together, and as the sun
rose just when they reached the crest they could see the British
uniforms trickling over and through the hills all around them, and
flowing into the valley in a great and ever-growing torrent that soon
became a flood.

As Verner and Flynn scrambled down the stony hillside together, they
became aware of a lonely little cottage nestling on the flank of the
hill in the midst of a small patch of cultivated ground. It was right
between the opposing armies. Coming closer to it they perceived the
Spanish peasant, who was the occupier of the place, sitting on a
wheelbarrow, smoking, and in a shed alongside the cottage was a girl,
milking a cow. As the redcoats came swarming down the hillside, she
looked up with a startled gaze, and ran to her father.

The black-bearded Pedro Moreno shouted to Verner, and, Verner, who had
picked up a good knowledge of Spanish during his campaigning, rapidly
explained to him the danger of remaining at the cottage, as the French
artillery might open at any moment, and the peasant and his daughter
would be in serious danger.

At this remark Juana approached, wide-eyed, and Verner saw that she was
a pretty, dark-eyed girl no more than 16 years of age at most. He smiled
at her encouragingly, and told her not to be frightened, whereupon she
blushed shyly and clasped her father's hand.

Moreno quickly grasped the military position. He had seen more than one
battlefield during the past four years. He spoke rapidly in the rough
patois of northern Spain. "The French devils are over there. They have
been in this valley for weeks. Carajo! They have dug up and eaten my
turnips, they have driven off my sow and her eleven young ones, they
have taken my two best bullocks to drag an ammunition waggon, and if I
had not sat at my door with my rifle on my knee they would have taken my
daughter, Juana, also. But they are strongly posted, senor. It will be
hard work to drive them out."

"Lord Wellington will drive them out very quickly when he once begins,"
said Verner, "meanwhile I strongly advise you to remove with the little
Juana to the other side of this range at the back of us. You will be far
safer there." The soldier, who was usually so silent and reserved,
smiled pleasantly at Moreno's daughter. "Don't you think so, Juana?" he
asked, and the girl nodded and showed her pretty white teeth in a
pleased smile. She liked this tall Englishman already, and was flattered
at the thought that he was so solicitous for her safety.

Moreno scowled as he looked across the Zadora, and shook his fist at the
hills on which the French outposts were drawn up. "If His Excellency
Lord Wellington could cross the river he might soon drive out those
French devils," he remarked. And then he added, suddenly. "It is I,
Pedro Moreno, who will guide His Excellency. It is I who will show him
where he can cross."

Verner was startled. "Where is the place?" he asked rapidly.

"At the bridge of the Tres Puentes," said Moreno. "I shall guide His
Excellency to it myself. You will take me to him now."

"Oh, father, must you leave me?" It was Juana who spoke.

Pedro turned to her swiftly and kissed her on the forehead. "It is
necessary for me to go now, my little Juana, but I will be back soon,
and if any accident should happen to me, this English soldier will look
after you. So, courage, my little girl, and now goodbye. You will look
after her, senor, will you not?"

And Verner quietly assented.

By this time the columns were pouring into the valley on the right and
on the left, but still the Frenchmen made no sign.

Flynn had gone on and rejoined his company, which was already forming up
with the brigade. Verner hurried along with the black-bearded peasant to
where he saw the easily recognised figure of Wellington, whom sat on his
horse surrounded by his staff, and repeatedly glanced impatiently at the
tail ends of the columns that were still defiling into the valley of the
Zadora.

General Brisbane, as a member of the Staff of the Army, was one of the
group, and it was he who first recognised Verner.

"Now then, Private Verner, what on earth are you doing here? Why are you
not with your company?"

Verner saluted punctiliously. "I came across this civilian, sir, who
desired to be brought to the Commander in-Chief. He declares that he can
guide the troops to a place where the river can be crossed."

"Eh, what's all this?" said Wellington himself, who rode up in time to
hear the explanation. "Well, my man, if you do what you say you can do,
you shall be well rewarded. Where is the place?"

"The bridge of the Tres Puentes, Excellency," said Moreno, looking
Wellington frankly in the face. "The French pigs have left it unguarded.
I can guide you to it now."

Wellington made up his mind instantly. The tail-ends of the columns were
already through the hills. "Lead on, then, Guide," he cried.

But Moreno stopped for a moment to say a few words to Verner. "And
remember senor," he said, "if anything happens to me you have promised
to look after my little Juana, for she has no one else but me to look to
now."

"I give you my promise," said Verner, and he clasped the peasant's
strong hand in his own and pressed it earnestly.

Wellington selected Kempt's brigade of the Light Division to open the
ball. A bugle blew, and the brigade was quickly on the march, led by
this brave Spanish peasant, who guided them by a circuitous path through
rough and rocky country to the bridge of the Tres Puentes, a narrow
wooden structure that had been entirely overlooked by the French
general, Marshal Jourdan. In fact, Jourdan was harassed so perpetually
by King Joseph's constant interference that he forgot many other things
on that ill-fated day as well as the bridge of the Tres Puentes.

As Kempt's brigade dashed across the bridge, followed by Picton's first
brigade, in which Verner and Flynn ran side by side, the French at last
realised that the bridge of the Tres Puentes had been left unguarded,
and they opened fire from their battery on the rising ground that
commanded the bridge.

As the Spanish peasant stood with outstretched arm pointing out the path
to a couple of officers a round shot from the battery struck him, and
hurled him to the ground. He was lying there in a pool of his own blood,
while his life ebbed away, when Picton's brigade reached the bridge head
and Verner saw him.

Holding his water bottle to the lips of the dying man, Verner caught his
last words. "Senor, it is for your country as well as my own that I die.
Remember your promise. Take care of my little Juana."

Pedro Moreno, a peasant with a hero's soul, fell back dead, and Verner
rushed forward to rejoin his battalion, which was supporting the 15th
Hussars, who had crossed the bridge of the Tres Puentes and were now
preparing to charge the French batteries.

It was Picton's sudden rush with his troops across the bridge and right
up to the village of Arinez that first shook the French defence.
Brisbane and his brigade were in the hottest of the fighting, and they
pressed forward indomitably, driving the French back to the second range
of heights in front of the village of Gomecha.

But the second position soon became as untenable as the first, for the
centre attack was directed by Wellington himself with four divisions of
infantry, together with his artillery and cavalry, and D'Urban's
Portuguese horsemen. The whole weight of this force was hurled upon the
shaken French defence, which was steadily pushed backwards, and the
battle resolved itself into a running fight and cannonade for six miles
towards the city of Vittoria.

It was 6 o'clock in the evening when the French were driven from the
last defensible height and the British troops, "faint, yet pursuing,"
could see the terrified multitude of the non-combatants, a confused
mass, including numbers of women and children, carriages and vehicles of
all sorts, and transport animals, all gathered in the plain behind the
city.

What a rout!

Never was there seen anything like it in the whole five years of the
war. The streets of the city were so densely blocked with fugitives and
carriages that the pursuing cavalry could not force their way through
the mass in time to cut off King Joseph, who jumped from his travelling
carriage and escaped on horseback, when the British riders were yelling
"View holloa," as they hunted him on the line of retreat to Salvatierra.

Nothing saved King Joseph but the fact that the horses of the British
cavalry could not raise a gallop at the close of that tremendous day.

The French King saved his skin, but he lost everything else, for, though
his army escaped with a loss of 6,000 men on the field of battle, he had
to throw away all his artillery, transport and stores, and even the
priceless pictures and art treasures that he was carrying away with him
from the Royal Palace at Madrid.

Late in the evening, when the troops were still cheering in the
exaltation of the great victory, Henry Verner made his way back slowly
over the eight miles of country that he had traversed in the fury of the
fight. Here and there--especially on the crests of the hills, where
there had been hand-to-hand fighting--the dead men, both French and
English, lay thickly, and Verner could see the ghouls of the
battlefield, Portuguese muleteers and camp followers, flitting hither
and thither, as they bent over the corpses robbing them.

The moon was riding high in the heavens as Verner reached the bridge of
the Tres Puentes. He had brought a spade with him. He intended to bury
the brave Spanish peasant where he had fallen.

And then the thought struck Verner that it would be necessary for him to
go still further--up to the flank of the hillside on which Moreno's
little cottage stood in its patch of cultivated ground, so that he might
break the news to that brave peasant's daughter, and at the same time
find out from her where her dead father's relatives could be found, so
that he might hand her over to them. He felt a thrill of pity for Juana.
The task in front of him was a painful one.

He descended the last ridge, picking his way among the silent dead, and,
spade in hand, strode down the slope towards the bank of the Zadora,
where Moreno fell.

Yes, that was the spot. He remembered it well. The guide had just
crossed the wooden bridge to the French side of the river, when the
round shot from the battery on the hillside struck him. Verner could see
the spot, for the moon was nearly full. He could see the long, narrow
bridge of the Tres Puentes, and the dark waters of the Zadora River,
silvered by the moonlight. As he reached the same spot early that
morning the roar of the artillery was deafening. His ears were filled by
the crash of the musket volleys and the yells of the charging troops.
But all was silent now. The stillness was awe-inspiring where the dead
men lay with their faces turned towards the sky.

And then, as he drew near to the spot where Moreno fell, a low sound
broke the silence--the sound of a child sobbing.

Verner hurried forward to the place where he had left the dead guide,
whose devotion had enabled the great Commander-in-Chief to throw that
first handful of troops across the river and thus make the first step
forward of the triumph at Vittoria.

The sobbing continued, soft and low, and as he drew near to the spot,
the soldier saw the girl plainly. It was Juana.

She was sitting on the ground holding the dead man's head in her lap.
Over his body she had drawn a heavy military cloak that some infantryman
had thrown away to lighten his burden in the charge. She was keeping
vigil over her dead.

"So you found him, Juana," said Verner, leaning on his spade as he
looked down upon the Spanish girl. "How did you know that he was dead?"

"He did not come home to me, senor," said the girl, simply. She had
recognised Verner at once. "So I came to look for him."

"And what are you going to do now?" asked Verner.

"I do not know, senor," said the girl, through her tears. "My father
always took care of me since my mother died. And now he is dead also. I
have no other relative. But I shall pray to the good God, and He will
send someone to take care of me."

Verner was troubled in his heart. Juana was so young, go lonely, and so
helpless, that it was absolutely necessary that someone should look
after her--and someone of her own sex if possible. The only woman with
whom Verner had any real acquaintance was Mrs. Biddy Flynn. He made up
his mind to ask Mrs. Flynn to take the Spanish orphan girl under her
experienced wing.

He looked down at the dead man and then at the white face and large,
dark eyes of Juana, who had ceased to weep. He tapped the handle of his
spade significantly.

Juana rose to her feet. "It is to bury my father," she said, quietly.
"Thank you, senor; it is good of you." There were no more tears now.
Indeed, the girl displayed a firmness and resolution that showed her to
be a worthy daughter of her brave father.

So Verner dug a deep grave on the battlefield close to the Bridge of the
Tres Puentes, and there he and Juana buried the heroic guide on the spot
where he fell, and Juana knelt by the grave and said a prayer for the
repose of her father's soul, while Verner stood bareheaded beside her.
It was past midnight when the girl rose from her knees and placed her
hand in Verner's. "Senor," she said, "I prayed to the good God to send
someone to help me. He has sent you."

Day was breaking, and Mrs. Flynn, who had made the best of her way on
her burro in the wake of the army, and had speedily discovered the
bivouac of Terence's battalion, was just busying herself in boiling a
kettle at the camp fire for a much-needed cup of 'tay' when she became
aware of a stranger in the lines of the battalion.

Looking up from her kettle, she saw Private Verner leading a raw-boned
commissariat mule, that carried instead of a saddle a sack partly filled
with hay. And on the sack sat the prettiest girl that Mrs. Flynn had
seen since she left Connemara, a girl with large, dark, tired eyes that
turned instinctively towards Verner's tall, soldierly figure.

"Shure, where did ye get her at all, at all?" asked Mrs. Flynn, who was
thoroughly mystified.

"Her father is dead," said Verner. "He was killed while acting as guide
to the troops. I promised him before he died that I would look after
Juana. I want you to help me, Mrs. Flynn."

"Shure an' I will do ut with a heart and a half," responded Mrs. Flynn,
briskly. "Yo can lave her to me, Verner. Faith, I can see that what the
poor lamb do be needin' is slope an' food. 'Tis meself that'll be after
takin' care of her this minnit."

So Mrs. Flynn, from Connemara, opened her arms and her heart to darkeyed
Juana from the Spanish mountains, and the tired girl slipped in with a
sigh of contentment. Whereupon Private Verner went off to the tent of
the brigadier-general to report himself and to explain the reason of his
absence.

Instead of the reprimand that he expected, he received a few words of
warm commendation from General Brisbane, who was aware of the death of
the brave guide, and expressed satisfaction at the news that Verner had
buried the body.

"There's another small matter that I have to report, sir," said Verner,
looking the general straight in the face.

"Well, Verner, out with it, man."

"I have brought Moreno's daughter, into the lines, sir, and have left
her in the care of Mrs. Flynn, the wife of your batman."

"The deuce you have, Verner!" ejaculated the brigadier, with some
perplexity. "But was that quite necessary?"

"In my opinion, sir," said the soldier, "it was imperatively necessary.
I gave her father my word of honour that if he died in the service of
Lord Wellington and the British Army I would be personally responsible
for seeing that his daughter was cared for."

General Brisbane was a religious man, a conscientious man, and a
thoroughly honourable man, who was never in his life known to go back
upon his plighted word. "In those circumstances, Verner," he said, "you
did the right thing. I shall mention the matter to Lord Wellington
myself, and in all probability some suitable provision will be made for
the young woman in view of the great service rendered by her father."

Verner made no reply to that, except to salute the general. "Is that
all, sir, for the present?" he asked.

"Yes, that is all for the present," said Brisbane, "but you look
absolutely tired out, Verner. Go and have a few hours' sleep. I'll send
Flynn for you when I want you."

So Private Verner, that silent and reserved man, whose past was an
insoluble mystery to his comrades, went away to his own quarters in the
great encampment and lay down and slept.

And when he slept he dreamed of dark-eyed Juana.



CHAPTER III.--THE CAMPAIGNING OF BIDDY FLYNN.


"See here now me jool," said Biddy Flynn, when Juana awoke from a good
sleep several hours later, and found her new friend beside her with a
cup of coffee and a handful of biscuits, "ye must be after takin' thim
goold earrings out av yer pretty ears, or wan of them murderin'
blayguards av Portugee muleteers will be tearin' 'em out an' robbin' ye
entirely."

Juana looked at Biddy with a pathetic little smile. She did not
understand a word of the Connemara dialect, but she recognised the
kindly feeling that inspired the speech. She let Biddy take the big gold
rings out of her ears, and Biddy made signs to her that they would be
safely kept.

Talking all the time to her, in her sootherin' way Biddy helped the girl
to dress herself in her white chemisette, her dark blue bodice laced
outside, and her short red skirt reaching to the knees. Thick woollen
stockings and stout buckled shoes completed her costume.

Just as the girl finished dressing, a tousled head was poked in through
the opening of the tent in which Mrs. Flynn had deposited her charge,
and a pair of twinkling brown eyes surveyed the newcomer with interest.

"Och, come in here Anita, ye poor haythen, and help me to talk to this
child of the battlefield, for I have only enough of the Spanish to curse
the mulemen, and she haven't any English at all, at all." This was Biddy
Flynn's ingenuous appeal, and in response to it Anita popped in very
willingly, sat down cross-legged on the ground, and lighted her
cigarette.

Anita was one of those girls of the country who had elected to follow
the drum. She had allowed herself to be snapped up by an enterprising
foot-soldier, who discovered her while he was engaged on a private
foraging expedition. She was strictly loyal to her man, and was rather a
favorite with Mrs. Flynn.

"Ax her is she willing to jine the battalion for be this an' be that
'tis a harrd life, but if she don't come wid us I don't know what I'll
do wid her at all, at all."

So Anita, showing a set of perfect teeth in her very friendly smile,
engaged Juana in rapid conversation, punctuated with puffs of her
cigarette.

"She say she go where you go, Bidi," interpreted Anita; "she verra happy
wit' you. But she ask all ze time where is ze senor. I not know 'oo is
ze senor."

"Av course ye wudn't, me girl. Shure, 'tis Verner, she's axin' for, the
poor lamb. Him that's the gineral's own secretary. 'Twas him that found
her down on the battlefield keenin' over her father's corpse, an' he
brought her in on a mule an gev her to me to take care of."

Anita's eyes sparkled with renewed interest. She proceeded to question
Juana, discharging her interrogations with incredible velocity. Very
quickly a red signal was hoisted in Juana's cheeks, showing that Anita,
who had a keen eye for a romantic situation, had struck home with her
questions.

"She say she make a prayer to ze good God to send somebody to take care
of her when her fazzaire die," interrupted Anita, "and ze good God He
send immediately Senor Verner. I ask her if she loves Senor Verner. She
say she not know what is to love, but she is 'appy with Senor Verner,
and her heart beats faster when he speak to her."

"Osh! that's it, is it?" said Mrs. Flynn. "Well, the likes of you an'
the likes of me, Anita, is quare company for such an innocent lamb; but
if she's got to thravel with the battalion, faix there's only the wan
thing for ut."

"Wat you tink Bidi?"

"Senor Verner must marry her, Anita, an' be this an' be that from the
luk I saw him give her whin I tuk her away to me tint, I think he'll
find it aisy 'an plisint enough to have Juana for a wife, an' 'tis my
belafe that a good wife she'll be to him too. So you can tell her that
now."

Again Anita poured forth a flood of animated Spanish patois, until
Juana, with her neck and cheeks suffused with blushes, half-laughin' and
half-crying, pushed her bold-eyed visitor out of the tent.

Biddy Flynn determined to arrange the whole matter. She would leave them
alone for a week or so, until she was sure that the silent Verner really
loved the girl, and then she would act decisively.

But one morning, just before the army marched out of Vittoria, Verner
came to her in his abrupt way and spoilt all her good-natured scheming.

"Mrs. Flynn," he said, "I am going to marry Juana to-day at 12 o'clock.
The new battalion chaplain will perform the ceremony in his tent. We
shall be very glad if you and Terence will come and see us married."

It was a very quiet wedding, for Terence and Biddy were the only
visitors. Biddy would have preferred a 'praste,' and she had her own
private doubts as to the ability of the nervous little 'Prodestan' to
tie the knot securely. But the Rev. Mr. Tinkler, fresh from his country
curacy in England, rose to the occasion and read the marriage service
with quite an air of authority.

Verner had duly received the colonel's sanction to this marriage, which
was also cordially approved of by Brigadier-General Brisbane.

Biddy and Terence both affixed their 'marks' to the marriage lines as
witnesses, writing not being a strong point with either of them, and
they listened in wonderment while the Reverend Mr. Tinkler addressed a
few remarks on the mutual duties of the married state to the bride and
bridegroom, quite oblivious of the fact that the bride did not
understand a single word that he was saying.

After the ceremony there was an informal drinking of healths in the
married women's quarters--between the ammunition bullocks and the
transport mules--and Juana settled down very happily and contentedly in
that new station of life to which it had pleased the good God and Senor
Verner to call her.

There was plenty of hard fighting after Vittoria before the war was
over, for Wellington pressed hard on the retreating French army.

General Brisbane, with the first brigade of Picton's division, was in
the forefront of the fighting, and the newly married Verner fought side
by side with Terence Flynn through the nine days' conflict in the
Pyrenees, and afterwards in the battles at the Nivelle and the Nive on
French soil, and at Orthez and Toulouse.

Then came the abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau, and the close of
the war just ten months after the battle of Vittoria.

All through those ten mouths Juana followed the column, happy in the
love of her tall, strong husband, who, though silent and reserved with
others, found plenty to say to his lovely young wife, to whom he was
most passionately devoted.

Biddy Flynn and Juana rode their burros side by side in the wake of the
column, along with the other women attached to the brigade, all the way
from Vittoria to Toulouse, camping every night with the troops. Verner
was always sure of seeing the little white donkey that Juana rode
plodding into camp alongside of Biddy's big mouse-coloured burro, and as
the two wives sat with their husbands by the camp fire Biddy was
accustomed to relate the adventures of the day, and to enlarge upon the
hardships which attended the wife of a soldier.

"But shure," she would say, "bad an' all as it is now, it isn't anything
to what it was when I was along o' Mick Donovan, God rist his sowl."

"That'll do now, Biddy," said Terence, who was apt to show a bit of
temper at times when the virtues of his predecessor were enlarged upon;
"lave Mick Donovan rest in his grave."

"An', a good man he was to me, too," continued Biddy, ignoring the
interruption. "Well, as I was sayin', 'tis a harrd life for a woman, but
cowld an' all an' tired an' all as I am this minnit, shure 'tis Hiven
itself to what I wint through in the retrate to Corunna. Juana, me
darlint, 'twud ha' made yer heart bleed to see them poor women that
dropped an' died in the snow, for they cud not kape up with the arrmy;
an' them that didn't die fell into the hands av the Frinch, and ten I
don't know wat happened to them at all, at all."

And then Juana would look at Verner with a brave smile, which said as
plainly as possible: "I know that my husband will protect me, and I do
not fear any danger as long as he is with me." She was able to
understand Mrs. Flynn's strange language fairly well now, but better
still she understood Mrs. Flynn's warm and generous heart.

Sometimes Biddy would decide to make an early start and march ahead of
the column, instead of at the rear of it, in order to have a fire lit
and some food ready for Terence and Verner at the next bivouac. Juana
would always go with her on the little white donkey. She was getting
used to the life now, though at first the horde of women who accompanied
the battalion terrified her, and without Biddy's strong arm and ready
tongue to help her she would have fared ill with her youth and innocence
in that extraordinary throng.

Englishwomen, Irishwomen, and Scotchwomen who were the bona-fide wives
of men in the ranks were mixed up with Portuguese and Spanish girls whom
the soldiers had picked up on the march, and who speedily acquired all
the arts of the skilled campaigner. Their plundering and fighting and
disregard of all discipline worried the Provost Marshal more than the
misdeeds of the worst offenders in the ranks, and occasionally the
Provost Marshal asserted his authority.

As the usual four sat round their camp fire one evening at a bivouac in
the Pyrenees, Biddy related the abominable conduct of the Provost
Marshal.

"Me an' Juana, an' about forty of the gurls were ridin' ahead av the
column this mornin'," she said, "an the thrack was so narrer, an' curly
that the dunkeys blocked the pass intirely. I looked behind me, an'
there was the battalion comin' up the pass wid the band playin'. 'Millia
murther!' sez I. 'Shure, we can't get on, the way the women hev got the
thrack jammed,' sez I, 'an' the battalion will be blocked behind us, an'
the whole of the arrmy wid Wellington and the Shtaff will be blocked,
too,' sez I. So I called out to the gurls in front to push on, or we'd
be kilt intirely, when I seen the Provost Marshal an' his gyard beyant."

"Shure, what wud he be doin', annyway?" inquired Terence.

"He calls out," said Biddy, "'You women were ordhered to kape in the
rare, and I'll tache you to obey ordhers in the future.' An' wid that he
gives a wurrud of command to his min; an' what does the blaygards do but
stip out an' shoot threee of them poor dunkeys dead. Judy Callaghan an'
Mary Murphy, an' Anita, the Spanish gurl, were ridin' dunkeys, an' the
three of them pitched into the road wid all their pots and pans on top
of thim. An', och, murther! Ye niver heard such cussin' of the Provost
Marshal, the durty spy of the camp. Bad cess to him. But the road was
cleared, and the three gurls came along wid us on fut loaded up wid
their baggage an' cryin' and cursin' like their hearts was bruk. Me and
Juana helped to carry their bits of things, didn't we, Juana?"

Juana nodded and looked at Biddy admiringly. Her protectress was
extraordinarily efficient. No contingency found her unprepared or
resourceless. Moreover, Juana had picked up a kind of English from
Biddy, and she spoke her remarkable diction with surprising fluency.

"And see also my Henry," she said to her husband; "the good Bidi, she is
strong like a boule-dogue. She say to me, 'Juana, take care of dat
Portugee spalpino, Gomez. I no like one look in his eye.' So by an' bye
dat spalpino was dronk, oh, very mooch dronk. 'E come by me. 'E try to
put his arm round me, an' I cry at once, 'Bidi!' At once comes Bidi
running wit a bucket av water, very hot, an' she throw it over ze durty
spalpino, Gomez, an och, begorrah, he runs off like ze devil was behind
'im."

Terence roared with laughter at Juana's serious and dramatic recital of
her peril and of the rescue effected by his adored Bidi, but Verner's
brow grew black. The 'spalpino' Gomez would certainly have a bad time if
he ever happened to cross the path of Private Verner.

When a battle was expected, Flynn and Verner would take leave of their
wives with serious faces. To Biddy these leave-takings were nothing. She
was inured to them, but poor Juana used to get terribly upset. She cried
her eyes out every day in the Pyrenees, and afterwards at the Nivelle
and the Nive. Then it was that Biddy Flynn showed that she had a true,
womanly heart under the rough coat that she had picked up on a
fire-swept ridge outside Vittoria, and invariably wore when on the
march.

"There now, alannah," she would say, taking the little Spanish bride in
her capable arms, "don't be cryin', asthore, for faix the bullet isn't
mowlded that ud harrum that great long, lanky Verner, an' shure enough
ye'll see him this night in the bivouac. An' haven't you the great news
to tell him intirely."

Then Juana would smile, though her face was very white. She found it
hard work marching behind the army those days. She needed all the care
and kindness Biddy Flynn could give her.

On April 18, 1814, when the Peninsular Army was at Toulouse, the news of
Napoleon's abdication arrived, and hostilities ceased.

On the same evening Juana's baby was born in a tent in the lines of the
battalion. The regimental surgeon and Biddy Flynn both declared that
they had never seen a finer child.

A proud and loving husband was Henry Verner, as he held Juana's hand
while the roar of the field guns that saluted the end of the war
reverberated through the camp, and Juana, with the child beside her,
looked up into her husband's bronzed and furrowed face with an
expression of ineffable love.

"It's all right, darling," said Verner. "The brigadier himself has
promised to stand godfather to the boy. Little Tom Verner will make a
fine soldier some day."

"Arrah, how could he help it?" interjected Biddy, who was arranging the
blankets of the narrow camp bed on which Juana lay, "an' him a-followin'
the army befure he was born."



CHAPTER IV.--OFF TO AUSTRALIA.


In the six years that followed the abdication of Napoleon, many
important events occurred.

In the first place, Tom Verner attained his sixth birthday, which he
spent in the company of his father and mother and little sister at
Brisbane House, Largs, Ayrshire, where Henry Verner was retained in the
capacity of secretary. At the close of the war, Major-General Brisbane
was made a K.C.B. So, Henry Verner, who had gone with Sir Thomas
Brisbane to Canada, when that distinguished officer went there and
commanded a brigade at Plattsburg, missed being present at Waterloo--an
abiding disappointment to him. Brisbane, hurrying back to join
Wellington's army, when he heard of Napoleon's escape from Elba, arrived
too late. Waterloo had just been fought. But his distinguished friend,
whose acquaintance he had made many years before in the Galway
hunting-field, did not forget him, and Major-General Sir Thomas Brisbane
commanded a division in the British Army of Occupation in France. He
sent Henry Verner back to Ayrshire to rejoin Juana and his little son,
who were attached to the household during his absence in Canada.

Juana received her husband, whom the good God had sent to her on the
battlefield of Vittoria, with all the passionate joy of her warm Spanish
heart, and little Tom surveyed his father with wide-eyed approval,
crowing lustily. So the years passed quietly and happily until little
Tom was six years old. But Henry Verner, in spite of his happiness,
could not forget the endless variety and adventure of those old
campaigning days. He often found himself wondering what would be the
next move of that distinguished soldier and man of science, Sir Thomas
Brisbane, for he had a strong impression that wherever Brisbane went his
secretary would go too.

It was not long after little Tom Verner's sixth birthday that Sir Thomas
Brisbane, walking in Paris one summer morning on the boulevard, happened
to meet his old friend the Duke of Wellington, who took his arm very
cordially and walked along with him, while the passers-by turned their
heads to see the famous Duke strolling arm in arm with one of his
generals.

"Ah, Brisbane," said the Duke, "Othello's occupation's gone. The army is
to go back to England, and we are to go back with it. Well, we've seen
some great days together--you and I, but there's no more campaigning for
us now. What do you propose to do with yourself?"

"I confess to you, your Grace, that I should like very much to serve His
Majesty the King in any situation where my experiences and abilities,
such as they are, may be of value."

"Ah, there's the rub, Brisbane. Now that there is no more fighting to be
done, it will not be easy to find employment for all the officers who
are anxious to serve His Majesty. But, have you any particular
opportunity in mind?"

"Well, your Grace, since you ask me. I must be frank with you. I learn
that the Governorship of New South Wales is likely to be vacant shortly,
and if without displacing anybody else from such an honourable
situation, I should be considered worthy of it, I should be proud to
serve His Majesty in that capacity."

"Ha, very good. And how is the astronomy getting on?"

"Excellently, your Grace, but I can assure you that I never allow it to
interfere with my military duties."

"Of course not, Brisbane; of course not. By the way, do you remember the
crest of that ridge where Reille made his last stand outside Vittoria,
and how I found you when the stormers had carried the hill standing on
the summit admiring the scenery?"

"I have not forgotten it, your Grace."

"And as you looked round while our fellows were still in hot pursuit of
Marshal Jourdan, on the Salvatierra road, you exclaimed to me, 'What a
glorious site for an observatory.' Egad, Brisbane, the ruling passion,
you know. You'll have to beware of it."

Sir Thomas Brisbane was secretly amazed at his distinguished friend's
power of intuition. How had the Duke of Wellington guessed the secret
ambition of his heart, which was to make a thorough astronomical study
of the southern heavens that had been very imperfectly studied by
Lacaille from the Cape of Good Hope, but save for that single observer,
formed a virgin field for the astronomer? Brisbane gloated secretly over
the prospect of watching and classifying the constellations of the
Southern Hemisphere--never adequately observed before. He almost hated
Lacaille for having, however incompletely, forestalled him.

It was the Southern Cross that specially fascinated Sir Thomas Brisbane.
He felt its lure. He confessed to his own heart that but for the chance
of observing the Southern Cross--so imperfectly charted by that
impostor, Lacaille--the thought of going to New South Wales would never
have occurred to him.

It was the Southern Cross that drew him on.

And so, the Duke, after shaking his old friend warmly by the hand, went
off chuckling to keep his appointment with a very great lady, and Sir
Thomas Brisbane resumed his walk alone, wrapped in entrancing
mathematical meditations, concerning his famous method of determining
the time with accuracy from a series of altitudes of the sun taken on
the same side of the meridian.

But, a few weeks later he met the Duke again, and the Duke informed him
that Earl Bathurst had told him that he wanted a Governor to rule the
earth, and not the heavens. However, Earl Bathurst had eventually
decided to appoint him, and he was to go out to New South Wales at once.

Sir Thomas Brisbane was highly delighted, and expressed the thanks in
the somewhat formal diction that was habitual to him.

"Why, d-- it all, man," said the Duke, genially, "one must not forget
one's friends. Good luck to you, and remember that I have told Bathurst
that I hold myself personally responsible for you."

And so it came about that in May, 1821, Sir Thomas Brisbane, with Lady
Brisbane, to whom he had been married not very long before, and their
infant daughter and her ladyship's sister, Miss Makdougall, and their
personal belongings, and Sir Thomas's staff, and his two assistant
astronomers and his astronomical instruments, and finally his
assistant-secretary, Henry Verner, with Juana and their two children,
were all embarked in the merchant ship 'Royal George,' Captain Pondite,
then lying in the Thames, and sailed from England bound for New South
Wales, arriving in Sydney harbour five months later.

Sending a swift glance back across the intervening years, one descries
the 'Royal George' lying at anchor in Sydney Cove, while the guns at
Dawe's Point battery discharge their welcoming salute and
Lieutenant-Governor Erskine, in the absence of Governor Macquarie who is
travelling in the northern settlements, goes forth in his pinnace to
receive the new Governor.

Tom Verner, now seven years of age, holding his small sister by the hand
observes with intense interest the arrival of the pinnace and the
appearance of Lieutenant-Governor Erskine, brilliant in scarlet and gold
lace. Yet not half so brilliant as Sir Thomas Brisbane, who after being
secluded for more than half an hour in his state-room appears on deck in
the full uniform of a Major-General, K.C.B., with a big sword that Tom
Verner regards with veneration, mixed with envy.

Sir Thomas majestically signifies his intention to make his official
landing on the following morning and engages the Lieutenant-Governor in
conversation on the state of the colony, whilst her ladyship and her
sister, Miss Makdougall, survey the coast and the buildings along the
foreshore with disconsolate apprehensions writ large in their troubled
eyes.

Henry Verner is down in his cabin, busy with official correspondence,
but Juana is on deck with the children. She is a different Juana now
from the blushing girl in her father's cottage in the valley of the
Zadora River. A beautiful young matron of 24, she is the pride of Henry
Verner's life, and with the marvellous adaptability of women, she suits
herself without effort to each new phase of her ever-changing
environment. She speaks English fluently now--with a slight Scotch
accent, contracted in Ayrshire, though at rare intervals some word
suggestive of Biddy Flynn and Connemara still makes its appearance.

This clear atmosphere, in which the outlines of the buildings and the
contours of the hills around the harbour stand out so sharply out,
remind her of her native Spain. This blue sky is very like the sky of
Andalusia, and not at all like the grey and misty sky of Ayrshire.
Juana's heart warms already towards her new home. Home for her is truly
where the heart is, and her heart is with Henry Verner, the man whom the
good God had sent to her at Vittoria, and who has brought her out over
unimagined leagues of sea to this new country where the white buildings
stand out against the blue sky just is they used to do in Spain, and
where the wind that laughs along the water is sun-warmed like the breeze
of the Mediterranean.

Next morning, at 10 o'clock, the guns at Dawe's Point battery give
tongue again as soon as Sir Thomas Brisbane steps into the boat that is
to take him ashore along with Lady Brisbane, and all his household and
retainers. Little Tom Verner counts the number of guns in the salute. He
feels a personal pride in every one of them, and there are nineteen in
all.

Stopping ashore at the private landing place at Binnalong Point, Sir
Thomas is received by the Lieutenant-Governor and the whole party walk
the short distance up to Government House, where they are received by
Mrs. Macquarie on behalf of Governor Macquarie, who is not yet returned
from the northern settlements.

Mrs. Macquarie is most gracious, and shakes hands with all the ladies,
including Juana, while little Tom Verner at once rushes to the lawn,
where the band of the 48th Regiment is playing the martial music that
his small soul loves, for little Tom is every inch a soldier.

Then at the request of Sir Thomas, the gates of Government House grounds
are thrown open in order that the Australian public may come in and he
may make their acquaintance.

Thus Tom Verner, among the rest of the party has his first glimpse of
the Australian public, and fraternises with them merrily. But he goes
back at frequent intervals to talk to the bandsmen of the 48th Regiment
or the sentries on duty in their sentry boxes. The quarter in which all
his interest is engaged is quite plain.

In the afternoon carriages were brought round, and the whole of Sir
Thomas Brisbane's large party journeyed out to Parramatta to take up
their abode there in the fine Government House that had been completed
three years before to take the place of the first unpretentious
structure built by Governor Phillip at Rosehill.

The mounted escort followed by the carriages clattered into
George-street at a canter, and then settled down to a steady trot for
the journey in front of them. Passing along the street, where every shop
bore its sign, as well as every public-house, the escort soon left the
Rose and Crown in George-street north, behind them. An important place
was the Rose and Crown, for the four-horsed stage coach for Parrramatta
started from its front door in great style with the driver cracking his
whip and the guard blowing his long coach-horn.

Governor Brisbane, surveying the scene from the carriage window, was not
greatly impressed by it, and Lady Brisbane and her sister, Miss
Makdougall, were frankly steeped in melancholy. The objects of interest
along the route were few. They saw the two small pottery furnaces at the
brickfields without emotion. Even the handsome Gothic gateway, through
which the tollbar was approached, left them cold, and they refused to
show the slightest signs of enthusiasm over Brickfield Farm, which
belonged to the Government, the homestead being surrounded with handsome
grounds in which golden wattles bloomed luxuriantly. Lieutenant
Stirling, the young officer of the Buffs, who occupied a seat in the
Governor's carriage for the purpose of supplying him with local
knowledge, pointed out the various objects of interest along the route,
but Lady Brisbane sniffed and Miss Makdougall steadily refused to be
comforted. Even the country house of the late Colonel Johnstone, with
its fine avenue of tall, tapering Norfolk pines, failed to move them and
they listened with resignation to the story of Colonel Johnstone's
famous coup d'etat by which he deposed Governor Bligh and took over the
Government of the territory himself.

Not by such scanty features of interest in the depressing landscape of
this new country could two ladies from Ayrshire be beguiled into
acquiescing with any other feeling than one of deep melancholy in the
mysterious dictates of Providence which had brought them to this remote
country, where members of the Presbyterian Church were few and far
between, and where red faced rum-drinking officers and their wives were
almost the only society.

They could see nothing to admire even in Underwood's Inn, eight miles
out, where the stage coach changed horses and they sniffed critically at
Mrs. Darcy Wentworth's fine mansion, Homebush, with its surrounding park
of 1,000 acres of cleared land. Thank goodness they reached the
Parramatta tollbar at last, and from the top of the hill saw the whole
town spread before them. The sight of the Church of England church, with
its steeple, was not pleasing to Miss Makdougall, and she directed a
glance that was positively hostile towards the Rev. Samuel Marsden's
fine brick house which crowned the rising ground to the left, surrounded
by clumps of trees. More tolerant was her gaze when she looked upon the
rows of neat detached cottages, each standing in its garden, and upon
the considerable number of two-storey residences built with taste, and
suggesting possibilities of social intercourse.

The Governor's cavalcade clattered past 'The Golden Fleece,' which was
then the principal inn at Parramatta, and stopped at last at Government
House.

The mansion at which Governor Brisbane looked with satisfaction on that
lovely summer evening, and which was surveyed with obvious misgivings by
Lady Brisbane and her sister, the long-visaged melancholy and deeply
religious Miss Makdougall, was a substantial structure designed by
Lieutenant Watts and built of stone three feet thick. The rooms were
large and lofty, particularly the dining-room and the ball-room, and the
guard-room and offices at the back.

In the plans of those early military architects nothing is more
remarkable than the careful provision which was made for the convenient
bestowal of ample supplies of liquor. Lieutenant Watts the designer of
the Parramatta Government House, was evidently of the opinion that the
official occupants of the residence would be great topers. All the
ground under the house was excavated and in the excavated space huge
cellars were constructed with bins for the reception of multitudinous
bottles. Also there were 'horses' of wood in the cellars to support many
barrels of beer and spirits.

Tom Verner, making a delightful tour of exploration with Aileen,
immediately upon his arrival, discovered the brick steps leading from
the courtyard into the cellars, and promptly descended into the depths.
A gorgeous place for all manner of games, but it was so dark that one
bumped one's head against the barrels. Aileen, clasping him lightly by
the hand dragged him out, much against his will, from the fascinating
catacombs designed by Lieutenant Watts for the reception of the
vice-regal liquor.

Next morning there were other delightful explorations to make. Tom and
Aileen sallied forth, hand in hand, and, climbing the hill, discovered
the wonderful bathhouse that had been erected for the ablutions of His
Excellency and the household. There was a big tank on the top of the
bathhouse supplied by pipes through which water was forced by pumping.

Tom was examining the tank with keen interest, and was privately
speculating on the possibility of being able to climb up and look into
it when he heard voices just round the angle of the little building.

"I tink dis vill do alretty, eggselently, sir," boomed a voice, which
Tom recognised at once as that of Mr. Rumcker, the Chief Assistant
Astronomer, whom Brisbane had brought out, together with the second
assistant, Mr. James Dunlop, in the Royal George, from England.

"A varra guid place. I canna thenk that ye can better it, Sir Tawmas,"
added Mr. Dunlop.

"I am of your opinion," said the Governor. "I shall give instructions
today to have the building of the observatory commenced on this site at
once."

The two children scuttled away down the hill, as soon as they heard the
Governor. But Tom was quite thrilled at the prospect of assisting
informally at the construction of the observatory.

Mr. James Dunlop, in an expansive moment on board ship, had promised to
let him see the man in the moon through his big telescope as soon as the
observatory was built.

So in due course the observatory was built close to the bathhouse. It
was a small rectangular building with two domes. The north and the south
sides had five windows each, but there were no windows on the other
sides.

Tom Verner peeped in when the building was finished, and all the
astronomical instruments that Governor Brisbane had brought out with him
were installed. The inquisitive urchin saw that the interior of the
building was divided into two halves by a cross-wall. Strange objects of
which Tom knew neither the name nor the use, were installed in place. A
great achromatic telescope 46 inches long, through which one might
easily see the man in the moon, was placed under the south dome, and a
repeating circle under the north dome. There was a transit instrument in
place, an eight-day clock keeping sidereal time and other strange and
fascinating objects. Also there were Mr. Rumcker and Mr. Dunlop, who
abused little Tom Verner angrily in their respective dialects whenever
they caught him meddling with their precious instruments.

Soon after the observatory was finished and Governor Brisbane had
entered upon the entrancing task of observing the stars in the southern
heavens instead of worrying over the distracting quarrels between the
'exclusives' and the 'emancipists' that formed the politics of the time,
little Tom Verner experienced another delightful surprise. He acquired a
little brother.

Juana was just as proud of her son, who was born under the Southern
Cross, as of her first-born, who saw the light amid the thunder of the
guns at Toulouse, and her husband who was kept busy with the private
scientific correspondence of the Governor--his official correspondence
being handled by his official private secretary, Major Ovens.

"What name shall we give to this little 'spalpino,'" asked Juana, her
thoughts going back by the association of ideas to her firstborn, and
then to Biddy Flynn, who had ministered to her.

"Why not call him Sydney, dearest," said Verner, stroking his wife's
beautiful hair, "for he is our little Australian son."

So Sydney it was.

Even as a baby Sydney Verner was fascinating above all other babies. Tom
was a second edition of his father--adventurous, eager to see and do all
that there was to be seen or done, but solid and steadfast, slow in
forming his ideas, and earnest rather than brilliant in expressing them.
Sydney had his mother's graceful charm--the charm that had captivated
Verner, and made even that hardened old campaigner, Biddy Flynn, her
staunch friend and unwearying helper through the last year of the
campaign. Little Sydney Verner was startlingly like his mother--a
regular little Spanish baby. It was a pretty sight to see him when he
was three years old, toddling about with his big brother, Tom, who
adored him.

The place that the two children loved best of all was Governor
Brisbane's Observatory, which was built near the bath-house on the hill,
and the Governor, with his kindly nature could not find it in his heart
to deny them admittance.

Mr. Rumcker, the first assistant, having quarrelled with the Governor
soon after the Observatory was opened, retired in great dudgeon to his
fine farm, which he called 'Stargard,' after his native place in
Pomerania, and which was situated at 'the Cow Pastures.' Consequently
Mr. Dunlop became the officer-in-charge of the Observatory, under
Governor Brisbane, and it was to Mr. Dunlop that Tom and Sydney applied
for permission to look through the big 46-inch achromatic telescope, in
order that they might see the Man in the Moon.

They did not see the Man in the Moon, but they saw the starry heavens,
including the Southern Cross, and it made a profound impression upon
their youthful minds.

That dome of the observatory was a real cave of magic, and the wizard
who inhabited it was Mr. James Dunlop, Governor Brisbane's astronomer--a
slenderly-built man, clean-shaved, swarthy and pale, with piercing dark
eyes. He wore a blue coat with brass buttons on it, and nankeen
trousers. He showed Tom and little Syd. the wonders of the planets, and
then the four principal stars of the Southern Cross, and neither of the
boys ever forgot what they saw through that big achromatic
telescope--big for those days--which Mr. Dunlop manipulated so
carefully.

Jupiter, hanging in the dark sky, for all the world like an enormous
pearl, with his four little bright moons around him, impressed the boys
profoundly, and Tom was old enough to get a glimmering idea of the
meaning of Mr. Dunlop's remarks on the subject.

"Hech, laddie," said the Scotchman, with the light of enthusiasm in his
piercing eye, "ye're seein' the noo what Galileo saw through the first
telescope. Thenk of it, laddie, just thenk of it. Jupiter was the first
of the wonders of the nicht that Galileo pointed his new-made telescope
at, an' the movement of those four wee bricht munes tellt to Galileo
that Copernicus was right after a'. It was through obsairving yon great
pearl of the nicht that Galileo learnt the truth about our airth,
laddie--the truth that she moves round the Sun, instid of the Sun moving
round her, as was falsely taught by the Church of that time. They would
like to hae burne Galileo, laddie, ay, as they burned Giordano Bruno,
but they daurna. Yet 'tis said that they tortured him for telling what
he saw in yon bricht globe, with the four wee sma' munes around it that
ye are lukin' at this mennit laddie." There was a tremor of profound
emotion in Mr. Dunlop's voice.

Tom was only vaguely aware of the meaning of Mr. Dunlop's talk, but it
excited him. There was something eerie and mysterious in this dome of
metal plates, painted black, with its panels that were hauled up by
cords running through pulleys. Moreover, in that small circular chamber
the acoustic effects were startling, and even terrifying. When Mr.
Dunlop spoke at the far side of the dome, his voice travelled round the
circular wall and boomed into Tom's ears from behind him. Mr. Dunlop
became to him and to little Syd. a wizard of darkness.

Little Syd. listened open-mouthed to the braw Scot's tongue, that boomed
in his ears from behind, while he plainly saw Mr. Dunlop in his blue,
brass-buttoned coat and white nankeen trousers in front of him at the
far side of the dome. The child's imagination was stimulated by the
weird surroundings--and so was Tom's imagination, also. They desired to
see fresh wonders. So Mr. Dunlop showed them the Southern Cross.

Neither of them forgot ever afterwards that night in the little
observatory at Parramatta when they saw the Southern Cross--at first
pointed out to them low on the horizon by the bony forefinger of Mr.
Dunlop, and afterwards seen star by star through Mr. Dunlop's big
achromatic telescope.

Mr. Dunlop pushed against a handle, and the whole of the black dome
moved round in its bed until an aperture, formed by the raising of a
panel, came opposite to the Southern Cross.

"Noo, Tom," he said, "ye canna see a' the five stars at once, laddie,
forbye they winna gae upo' the objec' glass togither. So we wull een hae
tak 'em ane by ane." He pointed the telescope on its stand and applied
his eye to it. Then making room for Tom on the stool which he had placed
there for his personal convenience, he went on: "Yon's Alpha Crucis, twa
stars that luik like ane, a' bricht an' gletterin' like a bonnie big
diamond."

Mr. Dunlop's telescope was not big enough to divide the binary into a
triple star. Probably Governor Brisbane's astronomer, with his piercing
dark eyes, never found out to the day of his death that Alpha Crucis is
a triple star, and not a binary.

Then he turned the telescope upon Beta Crucis, the second white star of
the Cross, and upon Gamma and Delta Crucis, the two red ones. Just above
Beta, the sharp eyes of Tom Verner could make out through the glass
innumerable faint points of coloured light. What he saw was Herschel's
'Jewel Cluster,' now known as Kassa Crucis. Long and earnestly Tom and
little Syd. stared at the stars of the Southern Cross--that cross of
fire that pointed to the south.

The two boys could not tear themselves away from that big telescope. One
after the other they sat there with their eyes glued, to the eye-piece,
watching the coruscations of Alpha Crucis.

"Why are those stars called the Southern Cross, Mr. Dunlop?"

"Because they aye point to the South, laddie."

"If a boy was to walk away from here and go on and on, and keep them
always in sight, where would he come to, Mr. Dunlop?"

"He mich come to a bad end, I'm thenkin'," responded Mr. Dunlop,
cautiously.

"But if he didn't come to a bad end, where would he come to?" persisted
Tom.

"I suppose he would come to the most southern part of Australia,
laddie--the country that Mester Hume and Mester Hovell hae discovered on
the ither side of that great river o' theirs--ain' a fine country it is,
too, they're tellin' me."

"I would like to follow the Southern Cross and go down and see that
country," said Tom, the adventurous, as he took one last lingering look
at Alpha Crucis.

"Me too," said little Syd., with eyes wide open. "Me go there with you,
Tom." He clasped his big brother by the hand. He had an idea that if he
and Tom were to follow the great white star that Mr. Dunlop conjured up
out of the night and placed at the end of his big telescope, they would
reach a very pleasant land--a land of unknown delights--better perhaps
even than Parramatta.

When Mr. Dunlop at last, with great difficulty, drove them off, and sent
them down to the big house where Juana put them to bed, they dreamed all
night of the Southern Cross, and of the beautiful country and mysterious
treasures that they would come to if they followed it.

Both Tom and little Syd. determined firmly to follow the Southern Cross
as soon as they were big enough, and explore the unknown treasures of
that land in the South, of which Mr. Dunlop, the Wizard of Darkness, had
spoken.



CHAPTER V.--PIONEERS OF THE WEST.


Governor Brisbane did not stay many years in Australia. He had not the
brusque strength of character, the independence, the will power, the
contempt for the opinions of those around him when they conflicted with
his own, that marked his predecessor, Macquarie. To Brisbane, the
perpetual attempts of the 'Exclusionists'--that is to say, the official
and military class--to retain all the wealth, power, and influence of
the territory in their own hands, were as ignoble as the unceasing
efforts of the 'Emancipists' with whom many of the free immigrants of
small means and unofficial standing threw in their lot--to procure for
themselves social recognition and a share in the lands that were being
made available for settlement. The Governor was sick of the interminable
wrangling between these two classes. His philosophic and scientific
temper caused him to hold himself aloof from both of them as much as
possible, and consequently he satisfied neither.

He was a great mathematician. He could tell the distance of Saturn from
the earth with wonderful accuracy, but he could not make the revenue and
the expenditure of the colony balance. He could predict the exact hour
and minute when a transit of Venus across the sun's disc would begin,
but he could not foretell that financial troubles would follow if he
interfered with the currency, and that the smaller agriculturists would
be ruined if the Government refused to buy more than three months'
supply of wheat from them at a time, instead of buying the whole crop,
as previously.

Consequently the time came when Governor Brisbane received a strong hint
from certain persons in authority in England that he had better return
to London, but before he went he summoned his faithful clerk, Henry
Verner, and disclosed to him his impending departure. "Before I go,
Verner," said the Governor, "I would like to feel that you and your
family are comfortably settled here. If you will make a formal
application to me for a grant of land, say, 5,000 acres, I shall be very
glad to cause the grant to be made. I shall give you a letter to Mr.
John Oxley, the Surveyor-General, instructing him to place you in
possession of the land in any locality that you may select, provided
there is land available. I consider that you are a most suitable person,
from my personal knowledge of your steadiness and trustworthiness, to
have a grant of land made to you."

Verner expressed his gratitude for this mark of consideration, and
before the Governor, with his wife and family--including a son and a
daughter, both born at Parramatta--sailed for England, Mr. John Oxley
was obliged, much against his will, to deal with Henry Verner's
application--granted by the Governor--for 5,000 acres of land.

Verner and Juana had long and anxious consultations as to the district
in which they should choose their estate.

"I do not like this Parramatta, dear one," said Juana. "It is in a
hollow, closed in by the small hills. It is so hot here in the summer.
It is not good for the children; see how white they become."

"Then, where would you like to live, Juana?"

"Ah, my Harry, have you forgotten where you found me? In the mountains,
I was born in the mountains, and I would like to breathe the mountain
air again--to remind me always of my mountain home in the Valley of the
Zadora, where I first saw you."

"We might try the Western tableland," said Verner, thoughtfully. "I
believe that there is a fine climate up there, and splendid soil. I'll
see the Surveyor-General about it."

The Surveyor-General was almost rude when Verner presented his
application for 5,000 acres of land, bearing a minute from Governor
Brisbane, ordering that the required number of acres should be allotted
to him in whatever locality he might solicit, so long as land was
available there. Mr. John Oxley was in two minds whether he would not
tear up the application, in spite of the fact that it bore the
Governor's signature. But after brief reflection he consented surlily to
carry out the business, although he considered it most reprehensible on
the part of the Governor to make a grant of land to a mere dependent. A
thorough-going 'Exclusionist' was Mr. John Oxley, with all the
prejudices of his class deeply ingrained in his nature.

"Where do you want this land?' he inquired ungraciously.

"I should like it, if possible, on the Western tableland, sir, on
account of the good climate there," replied Verner, with military
precision and directness.

"Umph!" Mr. John Oxley grunted. Evidently this man knew what he was
talking about. He drew out a large map and spread it on the table in
front of him. "How would the Macquarie River suit you?" he asked,
reflecting safely that if this undesirable person had to have 5,000
acres of land, it would be just as well to locate him as far away from
Sydney as possible.

Verner looked at the large-scale survey-map, upon which Mr. John Oxley
pointed out the Macquarie River with his pencil. The country along the
Macquarie appealed to be desirable land, Mountain ranges were indicated
by criss-cross lines, but in several places Mr. Oxley, in his neat
caligraphy, had written the words 'rolling downs,' and the region was
intersected by a network of creeks running into the main stream or into
its tributaries.

Scanning the map with a practised and understanding eye, Verner
indicated a place marked 'rolling downs,' a little to the North-west of
Bathurst. The Downs were near several creeks that flowed into the
Macquarie. "I should like my land there, sir, if it can be managed," he
said.

Mr. Oxley grunted again. "Very good. Mr. Verner, I will look into the
matter, and let you know in due course."

The matter was arranged sooner than Verner had anticipated.

Governor Brisbane treated his faithful henchman very generously, and
just before sailing for England with his wife and family, he made Verner
a handsome present of money, wherewith to buy stock for his land. Verner
attended the famous valedictory banquet which was given to Sir Thomas
Brisbane by the Emancipists, at Andrew Nash's 'Woolpack Inn,' at
Parramatta, and two days afterwards he and Juana said good-bye to the
generous patron with whom they had been so long associated, and together
with sturdy little Tom, and blue-eyed Aileen, and Sydney, the baby,
turned their faces towards the West.

To Juana, the loneliness and the silence of the illimitable solitudes
that spread before them as they lost sight of the spire of Parramatta
church were terrifying. But one glance at her confident, resolute
husband reassured her. With him she was ready to face whatever this wild
new country had in store for her. She sat in the bullock dray, which was
covered in with stout canvas as a protection against the weather, and
which lumbered slowly forward, carrying the Verner family and all their
possessions towards the Macquarie River, 140 miles away.

Along with them went a couple of hundred sheep, mostly breeding ewes,
and a few head of horned cattle. Verner rode beside the dray on a useful
looking stock horse, and his three assigned servants marched on foot.
The expedition camped at Penrith for the first night, and tackled
Lapstone Hill next morning. Slowly it crawled along, seldom
accomplishing more than nine or ten miles between dawn and dark.

Sitting round the camp fire at night, when the children had been put to
sleep in the dray, Juana and her husband recalled again their old
campaigning experiences. Sleeping under the dray, wrapped in their
blankets, they awoke before the dawn, having heard through their dreams
the bugle calls of long ago. But when they peered out there was no
sleeping army round them. Nothing but the interminable trees and the
three men stretched out in front of the embers of the camp-fire, and the
sheep cropping the scanty native herbage beside the track.

A week out from Parramatta they reached Mount York, and saw on their
left a huge and formless mass of sandstone that Verner, with his
skeleton map in front of him, identified with a thrill.

"Guess what that mountain over there to the left is called," he
whispered to Juana.

"Oh, my dear, I cannot tell," said Juana, "but tell me then, my Harry."

"Mount Vittoria," said Verner in a tense whisper. "They named it after
our Vittoria--in honour of that great battle, dearest, that began on the
Zadora River and ended in the Spanish city."

Juana covered her face with her hands and went down on her knees beside
the track. Turning towards this new Vittoria in a strange land, she said
a prayer for the repose of the soul of her brave father, who lay in the
grave where she had placed him near the old Vittoria, so far away in
Spain. And Henry Verner stood bare-headed beside her as twelve years
earlier he had stood bare-headed while the child of the battlefield
prayed at the grave by the Bridge of the Tres Puentes.

After passing Wallerawang the working bullocks were stampeded at dawn by
a mob of wild scrub cattle that thundered down the hillside like an
avalanche. For a few moments it seemed as though the intruders would
sweep over the encampment and annihilate the whole party.

But Verner, prompt as ever in action, sprang into the saddle and charged
the wild mob with his stock-whip. Swerving from that biting lash, they
swept away from the bullock dray and vanished with thunder of hoofs and
splintering of timber, into the bush. It took a couple of hours to round
up the working bullocks when the mad charge was over.

On the sixteenth day after leaving Parramatta, Juana and her husband saw
the swamp oaks that fringed the bank of the Macquarie River, and on the
seventeenth Verner entered into possession of his fine estate--5,000
acres of rich, well-watered park land--close to which ran an unnamed
creek that was one day to be famous.

The family lived on the bullock dray while Verner and the three men
built the first little house of logs, roofed with bark. Later on Verner
built a neat stone bungalow, set in a fenced enclosure, adorned with
native shrubs and flowers.

In their new surroundings more than 2,000 feet above sea level, Juana
renewed her girlish bloom, and the three children grew as hardy as the
young saplings. Little Aileen kept close to her mother for the most
part, but Tom and Syd. roamed far afield with their father. There was
always some new and delightful adventure to engage in, some fresh and
entrancing sight to see on the hills and plains around 'Coonara,' the
native name for the hill behind the house. Verner discovered that the
name meant 'Bright Outlook,' and he promptly adopted it as the name of
his fine estate, which was a lonely spot, many miles distant from
Bathurst, which lay to the south-east.

Within cosy distance of the homestead was a small creek, which was a
tributary of a larger one. The larger one ran into the Macquarie River,
which was called by the blacks 'Wambool,' meaning 'the meandering one.'
But the creeks were at that time unnamed.

Tom and Sydney Verner, following the little creek down to its junction
with the larger one, found a swimming pool, and many a time on the hot
summer days the lads used to paddle in the stream that carried beneath
its shining water that which was to change the history of Australia.

A natural protector--that was Tom. He kept a sharp eye on little Syd.,
and was always ready with a helping hand in the time of need. Little
Syd. had a knack of getting into trouble, and it was invariably Tom who
got him out of it.

When the little fellow slid into the deep swimming pool in the creek
while he was sailing his boat made of a chip of bark in the shallows.
Tom heard his scream that ended in a gurgle, and, running at top speed
to the bank, dived in where he saw the boy's rough straw hat floating on
the surface. Little Syd. was a long way down when Tom reached him and
dragged him up again. And when they got home Juana wept over both of
them, and Verner patted Tom's head with an approving "Well done, little
son," that was music in his ears.

Then there was the eventful day when the new bull, which had just been
bought and brought home from the Government cattle run at Bathurst, came
charging down the paddock with head lowered at little Syd. Syd. was
fully fifty yards from the fence, and he started to run as fast as his
fat legs would carry him, but the bull was travelling like a locomotive,
and Juana, who was watching from the verandah, screamed in agony.

Tom caught the cry, and saw what had happened. Without even a stick in
his hand, he dashed to the rescue, and, running in between Syd. and the
bull, distracted the animal's attention with loud shouts. The bull
changed his objective at once, and made after this new and audacious
intruder, leaving little Syd. to scramble breathlessly through the
fence. The gallant Tom, having achieved his object, and drawn on the
pursuing enemy from his small brother, started for safety himself.

But he was too late. The bull caught him, and with one vigorous butt,
bore him forward and upward. By a miracle the animal's horns missed the
boy, one going on each side of him, but the bony forehead hit him like a
battering-ram, and with a prodigious lift hoisted him clean over the
stout four-rail fence. The wind was knocked out of Tom Verner when he
fell, but not the pluck, and when his father and the three 'Government
men' arrived with pitchforks he advanced with them to the attack, armed
with a heavy stock-whip, and gave the bull such a merciless hiding that
the animal never charged again.

Never was an elder brother more devoted to a younger one than was Tom to
little Syd. The two boys roamed together over the lovely rolling
uplands, clothed with sweet-scented Kangaroo grass. Every valley was
knee-deep in luscious herbage, and Verner's sheep and cattle fattened
and increased both in the ranges and on the plains.

When Syd. was still a little fellow he was hoisted upon a horse, and
watched his father and Tom and the three men mustering the cattle each
day, "a wonder and a wild delight."

He learned to like the taste of the wild berries on the warria bushes,
and when he was thirsty he drank the water from the 'gilgais' or shallow
pools in the rocks. Also, when Tom took out his gun, there would be
parrot for dinner--parrot grilled on dry branches of the scented gum
trees, and eaten with the delicious damper that Tom could bake so well
in the embers of the wood fire.

Those were dinners to be long remembered, for they were eaten in the
shade of the river-oaks that fringed the Lewis Ponds Creek, which was
called after the Rev. F. Lewis, the first Wesleyan minister who went to
Bathurst. And the Lewis Ponds Creek was destined to be famous in
Australian history.

Tom and Syd. ate their parrot and damper sitting--though they did not
know it--on golden ground.



CHAPTER VI.--HOW LITTLE SYD. WAS LOST AND FOUND.


The country lying at the back of Henry Verner's land was rough and
rangy--difficult country to find one's way in. Juana got a terrible
fright when little Syd. was lost there during her husband's absence in
Bathurst, where he had gone to buy some cattle from the Government run.
It all happened simply, and yet, as it seemed inevitably.

George Collins and his friend Con. Burke had ridden over from Pretty
Plains station in the afternoon to warn Verner that wild blacks were
showing signs of unusual restlessness. They found that Verner was not at
home, but the hospitable Juana speedily made them forget their
disappointment, for she invited them into the house and set before them
watermelon, and rockmelon, nectarines, and cool drinks. Tom was away in
the horse paddock, and little Syd. was playing round the verandah.

Mr. Collins often rode over to Coonara. In those wild solitudes it was a
real treat to meet such a beautiful and simple-natured woman as Mrs.
Verner, and George Collins thoroughly enjoyed talking to her. As for his
friend, Mr. Con. Burke, that impetuous young Irishman, fell head over
ears in love with Juana the moment he saw her. He had heard a vague hint
of her romantic history from Collins, and the reality of her warm
Spanish beauty fired his imagination at once.

The two of them sat on the verandah talking to their lovely hostess, and
they found plenty to say to her. Mr. Burke in particular was full of
questions, and would not be satisfied until Juana had told him the whole
story of the Bridge of the Tres Puentes, the death of her brave father,
and the dramatic appearance of Henry Verner, spade in hand, on the
battlefield at midnight, in answer to her prayer to the good God to send
a helper to her.

The sun had set before Mr. Burke's romantic interest in the adventures
of the 'child of the battlefield,' as Biddy Flynn called her, was half
satisfied. The two young men rose to go and get their horses, and Juana
looked round for little Syd.

Little Syd. was nowhere to be seen. Juana ran round the house calling
for the child, with cries that became more and more like sobs. Mr.
Collins and Mr. Burke coo-eed loud and long.

No answer came from the plains in front or from the densely wooded hills
behind the homestead. As they were still coo-eeing. Henry Verner rode up
with his eldest son Tom, whom he had met in the horse paddock, and
brought along with him.

Juana, half-distracted with terror, burst out into passionate
self-denunciation, wringing her hands. "Oh, my Harry," she sobbed, "it
is all my fault. I was talking to these gentlemen and I did not watch
the little one. He has wandered away in the great forest, and now he is
lost."

But Verner, with his prompt and resolute character tempered like fine
steel by years of campaigning, lost not a second in useless repining. He
issued rapid orders to Mr. Collins and Mr. Burke, and calling Tom to
follow him, galloped off towards the belt of light scrub that gradually
merged into heavy timber higher up the range.

Burke was despatched to fetch two black stockmen, who were skilled
trackers, from his own station, and Collins was bidden to round up the
neighbouring run-holders and let them know that the child was lost.
Verner knew well that they would respond to the call. It was imperative
to find the boy as soon as possible. Verner thought with a shudder of
the wild blacks. He also thought of the dingoes. They had killed many of
his sheep lately. He felt an icy tremor at his spine when his brain
framed an instantaneous picture of little Syd. stumbling along through
the immense solitude and darkness of the bush until his chubby legs
could go no further, and then sinking exhausted at the foot of one or
other of those tens of thousands of mighty trees that loomed up in front
of him.

Verner could almost see the yellow eyes of the dingoes as they drew
closer and closer to the wearied child. By a stern effort of will he
blotted out the picture, and concentrated his brain on the immense task
of finding his son before it was too late.

The night set in cold and dark. Juana, alone in the house, spent it on
her knees praying to the good God to send a deliverer to little Syd. as
he had sent a helper to her at the Bridge of the Tres Puentes. At
intervals she heard with straining ears the faint far coo-ees as the
searchers called to each other.

Out in the bush the black stockmen hunted persistently for little Syd.'s
tracks. But they could not do effective work in the darkness.

Mr. Burke and Mr. Collins, with half a dozen of the neighbouring
run-holders, who had responded instantly to the call, divided up a
section of country between them and quartered it persistently. Several
of them carried lanterns on their saddles. They shouted and coo-eed hour
after hour, listening eagerly for the childish cry in reply that they
longed so much to hear.

Harry Verner and Tom kept near to the two black-trackers. They spoke
very little. Their hearts were too full. Tom, like his father,
resolutely put aside those chilling paralysing fears for his little
playmate. He concentrated all his will power on the task of finding
little Syd. before it was too late. He knew that there was no danger
from the wild blacks until daylight. Their superstitious fears was a
sufficient guarantee of that. Not a blackfellow in New South Wales would
venture to leave his camp during the hours of darkness.

But the dingoes! Tom tried not to think of the dingoes. He roused his
tired horse with his heel and pushed on beside his father. As he joined
him a long melancholy howl came through the night. Tom shuddered in
spite of himself.

With thud of hooves and crackling of branches, half a dozen of the wild
scrub cattle that ranged at liberty over the hills until the mustering
parties should come to round them up, charged past the searchers, and
disappeared through the dark colonnades of blackbutt and tallow-wood.

Sunrise at last!

The two blacktrackers had brought Henry Verner and Tom clean through a
ten-mile belt of timber of varying density during the night. Grassy open
pastures were found in the timber belt here and there. The scrub cattle
found them readily enough.

Verner, as he looked with haggard eyes towards the dawn, saw the open
country in front of him--a vast immensity of plain and range. Yonder was
Coombul Creek to the south-east. Turning northward, he could see the
great mass of the Canoblas mountain miles and miles away. He could not
help giving a groan.

"We have passed the poor little chap in the thick timber in the night,
Tom," he said huskily. "I must go back and cheer up your mother. Keep
with Long Jimmy and Derribong, and I will be with you again soon."

Henry Verner touched his horse with the spur and rode off, heavy at
heart, to encourage Juana with new hopes, though his own hopes were
sinking, in spite of his determined efforts to ward off despair.

The coo-ees of the other searchers were growing faint and
infrequent--depressing evidence of their discouragement. But Long Jimmy
and Derribong applied themselves to their task with new vigour, now that
daylight had come. They quested forward silently with the pertinacity of
bloodhounds on a trail.

Tom looked towards the ten-mile belt of timbered country that he had
traversed during the night, and as he looked something like despair
began to creep into his heart. Somewhere in that vast track of pathless
forest little Syd. was lying. Dense brushwood and heavy scrub of box and
myall and young saplings, hundreds of thousands of blackbutts and
bluegums, a single one of which would screen a child from the sight of
the searchers--how could he hope to find little Syd. in all that mighty
maze, even if the lad had survived the exposure and all the perils of
the night?

But Tom summoned his will power to enforce his hopes, and the
indomitable resolution that was part of his very nature, and had been
absorbed in to his being during the long months when Juana had marched
behind the army from Vittoria to Toulouse before he was born, reasserted
itself. He put all doubts away from him, and pressed forward steadily.

The silence of the bush was oppressive--broken only by the occasional
screech of a lory or the soft tap tap of a wallaby hopping through the
undergrowth.

The blacks had not yet picked up the trail, and were taking the shortest
line back to the point where they had entered the thick timber on the
previous evening. In the daylight they expected to find the lost child's
footmarks easily enough in the soft ground near his home.

After travelling for a couple of hours the blacks led Tom up a slope
that rose stiffly to a green well-grassed plateau on the top. The
frightened bellowing of a bullock fell upon the boy's ears, and he heard
a warning shout from Derribong just in time to pull his horse off the
treacherous surface of a shaking bog. He realised the danger at once.
There were many such bogs on the high points of the rolling downs or
plains in the region round Bathurst.

The bullock had sunk to its brisket in the horrible morass. It had
ceased to struggle. It continued to bellow with terror.

Tom would gladly have stayed and attempted to rescue the helpless
animal, but he steeled his heart against pity. Delay might be fatal to
his chance of rescuing his brother. He left the wretched bullock to sink
to its doom, and pressed on after the black boys.

A terrible thought flashed through his mind, that little Syd., stumbling
forward through the darkness, had walked into one of these bottomless
swamps that were covered with a deceptive surface of green herbage. The
thought turned him sick with horror. He wiped his brow and found it
clammy. Resolutely he refused to think of that dread possibility. The
blacks had described an arc of a circle during the night. They were
returning along the tangent and were travelling fast, in order to have
plenty of daylight when they had once picked up the trail in the clear
ground outside the wide belt and thickly-timbered country.

Tom was very tired. He had had neither food nor sleep. He could not
touch the food he carried in his wallet for Syd. Fortunately there was
plenty of water in the creeks. He did not suffer from thirst. He kept
his energy unflagging, and his determination unweakened.

The coo-ees of the other searchers had entirely ceased. They must have
travelled many miles away. Tom began to wonder where his father was. He
coo-eed as loudly as he could. There was no reply.

The bush became more and more open. The blacks showed Tom the tracks of
the scrub cattle leading towards a large patch of lightly wooded country
almost like a park.

Tom shaded his eyes with his hand. He could see the cattle bunched
together half a mile away. Something in the way they were standing made
his heart beat faster. He watched them carefully. A black bull trotted
forward with his nose to the ground, and then stopped abruptly. Several
others did the same. They left off feeding and moved slowly forward.
Something in their movements suggested inquiry.

"Mine bin tinkit bull gindie," remarked Derribong.

That was it. He could see the cattle 'gindie.' To 'gindie' was to play
around. The expressive word seemed to signify restlessness--and
investigation.

A sudden hope flamed through Tom's brain. He put spurs to his horse and
dashed forward to investigate the investigations. Why did the cattle
'gindie?' His wild yearning suggested an answer that he hardly dared to
accept lest it should be followed by disappointment. But, the hope
became belief, and the belief became assurance long before he reached
the spreading bluegum round which the cattle were grouped, nosing the
ground, and snorting inquisitively.

As Tom rode up they galloped off, tails in air. And there at the foot of
the bluegum, a good eight miles from his home, lay little Syd., wearied
out and fast asleep, still clutching in his small fingers the remains of
a fern root that he had been chewing to assuage his hunger when he
dropped off.

Little Syd. opened his eyes and smiled faintly, as Tom dropped on his
knees beside him. "I knew you'd come, Tom," was all he said, and then
holding Tom by the hand he struggled to his feet.

But Tom made him sit down again and drink the milk and eat some of the
bread and meat that he had brought so far, in spite of his own hunger.
But Syd. would not eat unless Tom would eat too, and when Long Jimmy and
Derribong rode up they found the lost child relating his adventures to
his rescuer between generous bites of the food that Tom had rigorously
refused to touch all through the long search.

Tom put Syd. on his own horse, and then climbed into the saddle behind
him. The blacks led the way at a canter shouting loud and joyous coo-ees
as they rode--coo-ees that soon brought Henry Verner crashing through
the light scrub on his big stock horse, to look with delight and pride
on his two sons, the rescuer and the rescued.

Juana met them with tears of joy and thankfulness long before they
reached the homestead, and in a very short time Mr. Collins and Mr.
Burke, and all the surrounding settlers who had taken part in the
search, were gathered together at the homestead to offer their
congratulations and to receive the heartfelt thanks of Juana and Verner
for their arduous work. The men had all been in the saddle for nearly
eighteen hours. They were hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, but
overflowingly happy. Juana would have liked to kiss them all, but she
contented herself with shaking each one of them warmly by the hand
instead, and Mr. Con. Burke was so much overcome by his feelings that he
could not resist taking Juana's hand and kissing it before them all.

It was a memorable evening at the hospitable homestead, and both little
Syd. and Tom had to recount their respective adventures over and over
again amid a chorus of exclamations of apprehension and admiration from
the assembled party.

The moon was riding high above the vast dark timber belt that had been
robbed of its prey, when Mr. Collins, Mr. Burke, and the friends whom
they had collected to join in the search mounted their horses and set
off for their homes, leaving Juana and Verner alone together with their
sons.

Juana put her hand in her husband's as they stood looking out over the
open country, that stretched away in front of them, in a succession of
low ridges towards the distant ranges. By night the scene reminded her
of the country outside Vittoria.

"I prayed to the good God to send a helper to the little one, my Harry,"
said Juana softly, "and He sent our own son--just as He sent you to me
long ago."

"Tom is a splendid fellow," said Henry Verner proudly. "He ought to be a
soldier."

A wave of recollection flooded Juana's brain, making her think of Biddy
Flynn and her emphatic prediction. The very words came back to Juana.
She looked up info her husband's face, and said whimsically, with a
depth of feeling that contrasted curiously with the veritable accent of
Biddy Flynn. "Arrah, how cud he help it, an' him a follerin' the arr-my
befure he was born."



CHAPTER VII.--ENTER MOIRA BLAKE.


Unusually heavy and continuous rainfalls marked the early thirties
throughout New South Wales, and the iron gangs working on the road over
the Blue Mountains suffered terribly, but they kept the road to Bathurst
open, and the little city made steady progress. Bathurst even possessed
the civilising and refining influence of the town stocks, and one of
little Syd.'s earliest recollections was connected with those same
stocks in which a drunken man was confined.

Verner had taken Tom and little Syd. into Bathurst when he went there to
transact some business with the Bathurst Bank, an enterprising little
institution which had been started by six of the leading men of the
district, among whom Verner was included. While their father was in the
bank, the two boys wandered along the main street to investigate, and
speedily arrived at the town stocks in which the town drunkard was shut
up as usual, with his feet sticking out through two holes in a stout
board. Two or three urchins were jeering at the unfortunate prisoner,
and just as Tom and Syd. came upon the scene one of the urchins picked
up a handful of mud and threw it at the defenceless confinee.

The town drunkard was an old man with long white hair and a straggling
white beard. The mud struck him on the cheekbone, and spattered both
hair and beard. While the urchin was still clapping his hands in delight
at his successful shot, a particularly active and ferocious wild cat
descended upon him, apparently from the clouds, and proceeded to assault
him furiously.

It was little Syd. who had been seized by a sudden access of rage at
this assault upon an old man who could not protect himself. Syd. flew at
little Jack Hall, the assailant of defenceless old age, and planted a
solid smack on the nose of that young gentleman that warned Jack Hall to
do his best. Tom 'kept a ring' as the small fry showed a disposition to
pour in and overwhelm the valiant Syd. by force of numbers. Round one
ended with Jack Hall very much the worse for wear, and bleeding from the
nose, while Syd. glared at him, shouting, "Come on when you're ready."

The town drunkard made a pathetic noise, which Tom interpreted as a
feeble attempt to cheer his young champion. The old man clapped his
hands. "Well done, my young cockerel," he wheezed. "Give 'im another one
on the conk for me."

Round two opened at a pace that was plainly too hot to last. Little Syd.
went for his urchin with a succession of punches aimed at the freckled
little snub nose that stood out on the small round face like a raisin on
a plum-pudding. Jack Hall subsided into the gutter at the side of the
road, holding his nose with his grimy little thumb and forefinger as
though to assure himself that it was still in its place, and howling
loudly at his own discomfiture.

When Verner arrived on the scene he found Syd. presenting the slices of
bread and butter with which Juana had carefully provided him for his
luncheon to the town drunkard, who was eating the food ravenously. It
was the town drunkard who narrated little Syd.'s prowess--in language
that would have been extravagant if applied to Sayers or Heenan.

And Tom, too, added his meed of praise. "My word, father," he whispered
privately. "Syd. has plenty of pluck. That other boy is at least two
years older, and quite a stone heavier." Tom said no word about his own
part in keeping the ring, and holding off the rabble of boys. He never
spoke of himself. That was due to the inborn soldierly instinct.

As the two boys grew towards manhood the affection between them was
undiminished, though the differences in their characters were
accentuated. Tom was still the protector, loyal, steadfast, reticent,
inspiring confidence in men and women alike--the confidence which
carried an assurance that he would be faithful unto death. He was
devoted to his handsome, dashing, brilliant young brother, who did
almost everything better than Tom did himself--even to making love, at
which Syd. was an adept.

Now it happened that their sister Aileen, who had always been a quiet
little thing in her childhood--the darling of her father and mother and
her two brothers--bloomed out in her teens into a singularly lovely
girl, who resembled to an extraordinary degree the Juana of past years.
To Henry Verner the likeness was remarkable, and he often spoke about it
to Juana. Remembering Juana's irresistible charm, he used to look with
misgivings at his daughter, wondering how long he would be permitted to
keep her, and speculating upon the suitor who would one day arrive. When
a girl is as pretty as Aileen, suitors have a way of dropping from the
clouds. Henry Verner's experience of life had taught him that much.

And indeed her father was not the only person who had noticed Aileen's
ripening beauty and the allurement of her large, dark, long-lashed eyes.
These attractions had been vividly impressed upon the plastic
imagination of the Verner's nearest neighbour, Mr. Con. Burke, whose
romantic regard in old days for Juana was gradually transferred to
Aileen. To Juana, young Con. Burke had never been more than an impulsive
and romantic boy. She felt a genuine pleasure when she found him riding
over in the evenings to talk to Aileen, who, in truth, was completely
captivated by the handsome young fellow. And so it came about that at
least two or three times a week Con. Burke's horse was to be seen at the
slip-rail soon after sunset, where he had to wait patiently, swishing
off the flies with his tail, while Con. and Aileen discussed matters of
serious import on a log amid the bushes.

It was only natural that Aileen should like Con. Burke, seeing that his
sister, Moira, was her closest girl friend. And as Con. Burke's visits
to Coonara became as regularly recurrent as the tides, it was inevitable
that Moira Burke should find her way to the Verner homestead more
frequently than before.

At each successive visit the fact was borne in upon Tom Verner with
increasing force, that Moira Burke was an extraordinarily attractive
girl. Her freshness and charm positively bewitched him. Her dark hair
and dark blue Irish eyes held him captive. When she smiled at him her
little white teeth were the prettiest things in the world.

It was singularly unfortunate that Syd. should have formed almost
precisely the same opinions about Moira as Tom. Every time she rode over
in the morning to see Aileen it occurred to Syd. that she looked fresher
and more flower-like than before. Syd. did not believe in keeping
knowledge of that kind to himself. He would not lock it up in his own
breast as Tom did. He imparted the information to Moira with a flashing
glance from his own dark eyes, and Moira, listening, found his voice
full of music.

Among Tom Verner's many sterling and serviceable qualities the gift of
keen observation was not included. Moreover, though he could be silent
he could not act a part, and hence it never occurred to him that any
other person, least of all his dearly-loved brother Syd., would
deliberately conceal his feelings and behave with a lighthearted and
unconcerned demeanour that gave no clue to his emotions on a question of
such vital importance as that of Moira Burke.

It was true that Moira never gave Tom any real encouragement. But, as he
reflected, girls were not expected to know their own minds all at once.
He had made known to her unmistakably his feelings towards her, and her
cheeks had flushed suddenly rose-red, while tears gathered up the
corners of her dark-blue Irish eyes. She had stretched out both her
hands to him, and had said: "No, Tom, indeed I am not good enough for
you." And then she had run out of the room. Tom was a bit puzzled, but
he resolved to be patient and trust to time. Poor Tom!

He said nothing to Syd. about his love for Moira. It would not interest
Syd., he thought. Besides, there were some things that were too sacred
to he talked about, even between brothers. That was how Tom felt about
Moira.

But to Juana's heart there came a sharp pang of grief for the lost
happiness or her firstborn son. She had seen the situation with unerring
clearness. Syd.'s dashing manliness and fascinating grace had captivated
Moira. It was nobody's fault. It was just the working of fate--the fate
that operates and achieves its object, by the mysterious forces of
character and temperament. Juana had always known in her inmost heart
that if Tom and Syd. ever loved the same girl, Syd. with his
irresistible grace and gaiety would win the day against the sterling
steadfastness and honest loyalty of his brother.

Juana looked wistfully at her two sons as they rode off together, with
Moira, while Con. Burke and Aileen rode side by side behind them, to the
mustering of the cattle. It seemed to her then that big-hearted Tom was
the only one of the party who did not know that all his hopes were dust.

Henry Verner brushed aside all Juana's uneasy apprehensions when she
whispered them to him. Of course the boys would fall in love. Boys
always did. But they got over it. "Do not worry yourself about them,
dear one." he said. "They will marry when fate fixes the day and the
girl, as their father did before them. Perhaps they will fall in love
many times before then."

"Ah! And did you fall in love many times before you married me, my
Harry?" asked Juana, half in play, and half in earnest.

Verner kissed her tenderly and, like a wise man, 'smiling, put the
question by.'

But Juana's fears for her firstborn were not relieved. She could see
that when Moira rode over to Coonara with her brother Con., it was Syd.,
and not Tom, who brought the new light into her eyes, and the flush of
colour to her cheeks. Tom himself could not, or would not, see it. Syd.
to him was still the 'little Syd.' of his boyhood--to be loved always
and guarded against all danger.

Riding over to Pretty Plains with Con. Burke and Aileen and Moira one
afternoon, the two brothers learnt a disquieting piece of news from
Burke's shepherd, a sinister beetle-browed old man, who had been a
poacher in the Old Country in his youth, and had been mixed up in an
affray in which a gamekeeper was brutally murdered. Old Ben, the
shepherd, was a man of few words as a rule. But he was quite talkative
on this occasion.

"Them wild blacks is givin' us a lot of trouble, Mr. Burke," he began,
as he showed the party into his bark hut, and proceeded to brew a billy
of tea. "I reckon I'll teach 'em a lesson pretty soon."

"What have they been up to now, Ben?" asked Burke.

"Sheep-spearin' again," remarked the ex-poacher grimly. "They got away
with three fat yowes larst night. Mortial fond of mutton them wild
blacks are." Circumstances alter cases, and the ex-poacher, having
become a keeper, was very bitter against the poaching blacks.

"But I thought that you were very friendly with all the blacks around
here, Ben?" said Moira. "You told me that you often gave them damper and
mutton when they came to the hut."

"So I did, Miss, so I did. But them villains, aint got no gratitude.
That there Bremeba, the king of the tribe, stole my tommyhawk directly
my back was turned, an' went off with it an' 'arf a bag o' flour as
well. Many a time they come around and steal my dinner outer the pot
when I'm out on the run. They want a lesson badly for sure." Old Ben
looked reflectively at his double-barrelled gun standing in the corner.

"Now look here, Ben," said Burke, "I'm not going to have you shooting
Bremeba or any of his men, just remember that. We don't want to be
attacked by the whole tribe and waddied when we're asleep. If they do
spear a sheep or two, let 'em alone. It'll be less trouble in the end."



CHAPTER VIII.--THE POISONED DAMPER.


Old Ben muttered to himself as he showed his visitors out of the hut and
watched them mount their horses. When they had ridden away he returned
to the hut, took some flour out of a sack, and proceeded to make a
damper.

He usually made a damper with flour and water and salt. On this occasion
he added another ingredient--several spoonfuls of a white powder which
he took from a small paper parcel that be carefully replaced in his
cupboard. He made enough dough in this way for three large dampers,
which he then baked in the embers of the wood fire. The dampers when
withdrawn from the ashes were of a rich golden brown colour. They looked
deliciously appetising.

Old Ben's Kelpie sheep-dog, Bluey, his pride and joy, the best drafter
of sheep in the whole district, sniffed at the dampers and looked at Ben
inquiringly. "Get out of the hut, d-- you," snarled old Ben, in sudden
rage and alarm. The obedient dog slunk out of the hut in perplexity.
There was something that he did not understand about this.

Having laid the three large golden brown dampers on the rude table in
the hut, old Ben walked out and closed the door behind him. It was close
upon sunset. Whistling to Bluey, he walked off in the direction of the
Pretty Plains homestead, while the dog followed at his heels.

He was hardly out of sight of the hut when half a dozen blacks, who had
watched his departure from a clump of timber on the hillside, emerged
from cover and ran down to the shepherd's lonely dwelling. Bremeba led
the way. With him went his relatives, Eereenina, Peshoo, Wonga Wonga,
Korere, and Berrilong.

The blacks carried no weapons. They were fine, tall, muscular savages,
full of bounding vitality. Moreover, they were hungry: all except
Bremeba, who had just finished a satisfying meal of stolen mutton.
Bremeba peered through the window of the empty hut. He saw old Ben's
double-barrelled gun in the corner, and his eyes glistened. He saw the
three golden brown dampers lying on the table. In other circumstances
the dampers would have interested him supremely. But as his stomach was
full of lightly broiled mutton, the dampers made no appeal to him. His
half-brother, his uncle, his nephew his cousin, and his mother-in-law's
sister's son, who had accompanied him, might have the dampers for all he
cared--as long as he could get that gun.

He had always longed for a gun.

Bremeba opened the door of the hut and went in, followed by his
relatives, who at once observed thee dampers, prepared so thoughtfully
by old Ben, and fell upon the delicious food of the white man with loud
grunts of approval. In a very few minutes nothing was left of the
dampers but a few crumbs on the floor. The leader snatched up the
double-barrelled gun, of which he knew the use perfectly well, and also
the powder flask and bag full of lead slugs that stood by it. He ran out
of the hut followed by his half-brother, his uncle, his nephew, his
cousin, and his mother-in-law's sister's son. They moved at a more
leisurely pace because they were full of undigested damper.

When they reached the cover of the thick bush they earnestly desired to
stop and lie down, but Bremeba would not hear of it. In his savage mind
there was, if not a consciousness of guilt, at any rate a conviction
that when old Ben discovered the loss of his gun he would take up the
pursuit of the raiders. Bremeba determined to put as great a distance as
possible between himself and old Ben.

But before the blacks had travelled more than a mile through the bush
towards the distant camp of their tribe, Bremeba's relatives felt
disagreeable and terrifying sensations quite outside the range of their
experience. They were attacked by horrible pains. They lay down on the
ground to rest, but their limbs twitched and shook. They were seized by
violent convulsions, and burned by dreadful thirst. Their backs were
arched backward like a bow--a frightful spectacle for Bremeba to see.
Gradually their struggles ceased. They turned frightened, dying eyes
full of dumb appeal upon Bremeba. Why had he not protected them against
the evil magic of the white man's dampers? Bremeba realised the cause of
their agony at once. He had not eaten the damper, and therefore he had
escaped. Trembling with fear he watched his relatives die, and then he
hurried away to the camp of the tribe to lay the matter before the old
men.

As a result of the instructions received from the old men of the tribe,
Bremeba, carrying his spear and waddy as well as his double-barrelled
gun, led a party of thirty armed blacks, through the bush at daybreak,
making for old Ben's hut. As they crept up to the hut, Bluey, the sheep
dog barking furiously, rushed out and pinned Bremeba by the leg. The
dog's sharp teeth sank into the black's flesh, piercing to the bone.
Next instant a heavy blow from a waddy descended on the dog's skull
smashing it like an eggshell. Bluey never barked again.

Awakened by the first bark of the sheep dog, old Ben realised in a flash
that the blacks were on him, and rushed for his gun. It was not in the
corner of the hut. He had not missed it on the previous evening when he
noted with grim satisfaction that the poisoned dampers had been taken
during his absence, but now the bitter truth burst upon him with
crushing force. The blacks had taken the gun, and the powder and shot
too, as well as the dampers.

Looking round frantically for a weapon, old Ben found only a stout
sapling that he had used to poke his fire with. He snatched it up just
as the blacks burst into the hut in a confused mass, and laid about him
furiously. But the blacks had brought their long narrow shields, and
they easily warded off the desperate shepherd's blows. Deprived of the
white man's weapons, old Ben was no match for the infuriated blacks. He
was felled to the ground by a blow from a waddy, and then Bremeba
snatched a spear from one of his followers and thrust it clean through
the shepherd's body, pinning him to the floor. Old Ben gave a great
groan, a shudder passed through him, and he was dead.

As the early morning sun poured in through the little window of the hut
it lit up the group of excited ochre-painted savages standing round the
body of the ex-poacher. The embers of the fire in which the dampers,
poisoned with strychnine, had been baked by the man now dead, were cold
and grey. The remains of his last solitary meal were still on the rude
table. His dog, faithful to the end, lay dead outside the door.

The blacks, jabbering together, pointed to the body. A gruesome rite was
still to be performed--the rite of 'buckeening.' One of the blacks bent
down and turned the body over--face downwards on the floor. He thrust a
short spear into the back just over the region of the kidneys, and
worked the spear round and round to enlarge the wound. Thrusting his
hand into the hole, he withdrew the kidneys and the kidney fat, still
warm and gory--the kidney-fat which was believed to confer strength and
courage upon him who tore it from the quivering body of his enemy.

In this way, slain by men of the Stone Age, with all the circumstances
of primitive barbarism, perished the old ex-poacher, seeing again with
dying eyes the leafy lanes of Warwickshire, the thickets where
Shakespeare once killed a deer, and where he himself as a boy had roamed
'in the season of the year' until one day with a trapped hare in his
pocket he was arrested and sent beyond the seas--never to return.

All through the long sultry forenoon the body of old Ben, mutilated in
ghastly fashion by the buckeening blacks, lay uncared for on the floor
of the lonely hut. The thin door swung to and fro on the rough hinges of
kangaroo-skin. The body of the dead dog lay out in the sun, a few yards
from the door.

Silence and desolation enveloped the tragedy.

Moira Burke sang to herself as she moved about the kitchen at Pretty
Plains. She was alone in the homestead. For her brother Con. had gone
off with the three men immediately after breakfast to look at a mob of
sheep that he had bought on the previous day. Moira was singing out of
sheer gladness of heart. She felt very happy that morning. Her thoughts
were very pleasant company. They were all of Syd. Verner.

She went out on the wide verandah at the back of the homestead.
"Bill-ee! Bill-ee!" she called in her clear, young, joyous voice.

The boy who looked after the horses and did the odd jobs at the
homestead came sauntering in from the paddock, swinging a bridle in his
hand.

"Billy," said Moira, "I want you to go and catch the young mare and ride
over to old Ben's hut with his rations. I promised to let him have some
tea, and sugar and tobacco this morning. Hurry up, now, and don't be
long. I've plenty for you to do when you get back."

So Billy set off on the young mare for the old shepherd's hut, and Moira
went back to her kitchen still singing.

Billy whistled as he rode, and the heat of the young mare's unshod hoofs
as she swept along in a springy and inspiriting canter kept time with
his tune. It was a cloudless morning. A light breeze blew right in
Billy's face. The young mare sniffed it appreciatively.

As they drew near to the hut, the mare pricked her ears, and sniffed the
breeze again--this time with vague alarm. There was something in the
wind that frightened her. She stopped so suddenly that she almost shot
Billy over her head. Then she began to back away from the hut.

"What's the matter with ye?" said Billy, angrily. He rammed in the
spurs, and forced the reluctant animal forward. She sniffed the air
again and snorted, sweating and trembling. Twenty yards from the hut she
came to a standstill.

Billy slipped from the saddle and threw his bridle over the gate post.
He started when he saw the dead body of the sheep dog near the door.
"Good Lord!" said Billy, "someone has killed poor Bluey. I wonder who
done it."

The boy went on carrying his sugar bag full of groceries. "Don't suppose
old Ben is in the hut," he muttered to himself. "I'll just leave the
stuff on the table an' get back."

He took two steps into the hut and then let out a scream of fright,
dropping the tea and sugar and tobacco on the floor, beside that
appalling thing round which the flies were thickly clustering.

One glance was enough to assure Billy that old Ben would never need
rations again. The terrified boy saw the frightful wound that had
crushed the old man's skull, and also the gaping hole above the loins.
"The buckeeners done it," he muttered to himself, with a shudder,
looking round the hut with the fear of death in his eyes. Who could tell
whether the blacks might not still be lurking near.



CHAPTER IX.--THE ATTACK ON PRETTY PLAINS.


Leaving the tea and sugar and tobacco strewed on the floor beside the
mutilated corpse of the shepherd, the boy Billy rushed from the hut and
snatched the bridle of the mare from the gate post, and set off at a
wild gallop for the Verners' homestead, which was two miles nearer than
Burke's place to the murdered man's hut.

Ashen pale and shivering with fear, Billy made report to Juana that the
buckeeners were out. They had done for old Ben already. They might put
in an appearance at Coonara, or at the Pretty Plains homestead at any
moment.

Juana took up the double-barrelled gun that stood in the corner, and,
going outside upon the verandah, fired both barrels in rapid succession.
It was the signal that had been agreed upon.

In that still air the sound carried far. Henry Verner heard it away by
the creek, and so did Tom and Syd., and the three 'Government men' who
were with him.

"My God--the blacks!" cried Verner, and rushed for his horse. Tom and
Syd. did the same, and all started for the homestead. Unspoken fears
looked out of their eyes.

But the sight of Juana in her white dress on the verandah reassured
them. She was still safe, and surely that was Billy, the boy from Pretty
Plains standing beside her.

Billy's startling story was soon told, and Verner and his sons held a
brief council of war.

"I must stay here with the three men. They are running back as fast as
they can from the creek," said Verner. "We are well armed. The four of
us with guns can hold the house against the whole tribe if they come.
Your mother will be quite safe here. But you two lads must ride to
Pretty Plains at once with Billy. He says that Moira is all alone in the
house. That's enough. Take your guns, and ride hard."

There was no need to tell Tom and Syd. to ride hard. Billy on the young
mare was in the lead for the first mile. The young mare had all the best
of the weight, for Billy the boy was a featherweight, and Tom's black
horse and Syd.'s grey were each carrying over 11 stone. But the young
mare had already that morning gone the distance from the shepherd's hut
to the Verners' homestead at racing pace. She could not keep with the
black and the grey--both fresh horses. Steadily she began to drop back,
though Billy used his spurs ruthlessly.

"Mr. Tom--Mr. Syd., don't leave me," yelled Billy the boy, half crazed
with terror. "I'm afeared--of the buckeeners."

"Come on then. Shake up the mare. We can't wait," called Syd. in reply.

Tom, a soldier to the core, said nothing. Since Moira's life was at
stake, Billy would have to take his chance. Tom weighed the issue in his
mind, and came to a resolute decision. In order to save Moira from the
blacks he would abandon Billy to his fate, if necessary, with as little
compunction as he had shown in abandoning the bullock in the morass when
he was searching the lost poor little Syd. so long ago.

The black horse was galloping like a racer. He was nearly thoroughbred.
In his heart Tom blessed the wise forethought of his godfather Sir
Thomas Brisbane in the past. Brisbane made some ghastly mistakes in his
administration, but at least he did one good thing. He had a hobby for
horseflesh, and at his own expense he imported a number of high-class
Arab sires, from Mocha and Calcutta to Sydney. Hence he has been called
the father of Australian horse breeding. There was Arab blood in Tom's
black horse. Tom knew that he would gallop till he dropped.

Looking over his shoulder, Tom saw Syd.'s grey--a nearly pure Arab,
smaller than the black, but perfectly moulded--sailing along at his
girths with the untiring gallop inherited from a desert-bred sire. They
had still six miles to go.

Behind them toiled Billy's crossbred young mare. She had nearly shot her
bolt, when they reached that long, deep watercourse that ran down to the
creek, which was one of the numerous tributaries that found their way
into the Macquarie.

Billy looked with horror at the watercourse. It was too wide to jump.
The sides were so steep, that though a horse might slide down to the
bottom without falling, it seemed almost impossible for any animal
except a cat to climb up the opposite bank. Yet it was absolutely
necessary for Billy to get across the watercourse somehow. He would have
to ride several miles along the bank before an easy place could be
reached.

"Come along Billy," yelled Syd., turning his head to see where the mare
was. She was nearly a hundred yards behind them.

As the leaders reached the watercourse Tom urged the black with heel and
voice to the very brink. The black did not like the look of it. He
snorted and hung back, but his inflexible rider held him to the
desperate task. Leaning right back in the saddle Tom called to his
horse, and the black carefully advanced his forefeet over the side of
the bank. Then, putting his feet together he slid down on his haunches a
good six yards to the bed of the watercourse, in which a shallow rivulet
was running. Slipping from the saddle Tom put the bridle over his arm
and began to scramble up the opposite bank. It was terribly steep. It
looked almost like the side of a house. Over and over again it seemed as
though both man and horse must fall back into that deep cleft in the
earth's surface.

Billy the boy watched them with fascinated gaze. At last, with one more
bound, the black horse stood on the top, trembling while Tom patted his
neck.

"Hurry up, Syd.," cried Tom in a hoarse voice: "we've no time to waste."
He put his foot into the stirrup and swung himself into the saddle. The
black horse broke into a gallop at once.

But Syd. was wasting valuable moments in endeavouring to persuade Billy
to face the inevitable. At last he got the mare up to the brink, with
Billy still in the saddle.

"Sit well back, Billy," shouted Syd., shaking out the long, heavy thong
of the stock-whip that he carried in front of him. He and Tom had both
brought their stock-whips. There was no escape for the mare. Stock-whips
whistled behind her, and fell on her quivering flanks. She could neither
turn nor go back. She had to go forward, and she went. Sliding down the
precipitous bank of the watercourse in a cloud of red dust, she fell
over on her side just before reaching the bottom, and Billy slipped off
just in time to escape being crushed to death.

Syd. looked out and saw the black horse already well away in the front.
He bitterly repented his folly in wasting time over Billy. Bringing the
grey Arab to the edge of the bank, he imitated Tom's tactics, and
quickly reached the opposite side. Leaving Billy and the mare still
floundering in the bed of the watercourse, he set sail in pursuit of Tom
on the black.

The grey Arab had a wonderful turn of speed. He began steadily to
overhaul the black. Syd. thought of Moira alone in the homestead at
Pretty Plains. Then he thought of the buckeeners, fresh from a killing.
He called to the grey Arab, and the grey Arab flew along in the wake of
the black.

"Oh, the French will come again, says the Shan Van Vogh," sang Moira in
her joyous, fresh, young voice, as, with sleeves tucked up above the
elbow, she kneaded a great mass of white dough on the table of the
kitchen at Pretty Plains homestead. She was very lovely and very happy,
and the sound of her voice floated out through the open window as she
sang the old ballad that her father had sung her to sleep with many a
time when she was a little child. At regular intervals, fitting in with
the beat of the melody, she paused to press the yielding dough upon the
table, and to anyone listening the sound would have sounded like this:--

"The French--(knead) will come again--(knead),

Says the Shan Van Vogh (knead);

And they'll bring--(knead) ten thousand men--(knead),

Says the Shan Van Vogh (knead),

With musket and with ball--"

Bang! Bang! went two shots that sounded like a double-barrelled gun down
in the scrub, a quarter of a mile away, almost at the same moment there
came a scream of pain. Moira stopped singing. She was puzzled to account
for the firing, and also for the scream.

Down in the scrub Bremeba was carrying old Ben's gun by the barrels. It
was loaded with parrot shot, and had the percussion cap on the nipples.
Bremeba, who had been on friendly terms with old Ben before the damper
poisoning episode, had often seen the shepherd load and fire the gun,
bringing down parrots from unheard of distances. Bremeba had observed
that old Ben rammed gun powder and leaden shot down the barrels and
placed the little copper caps on the nipples before putting the gun to
his shoulder and causing it to roar fire and death by pulling the
trigger. But it did not occur to Bremeba that the gun could roar
destruction by itself. Crawling through the scrub immediately in front
of him on hands and knees, went that noted warrior Koringa, carrying his
shield and redgum waddy slung over his left shoulder, the boomerang
stuck through his belt of plaited grass and a bundle of long spears,
with barbed points in his right hand.

As Bremeba with the barrels of old Ben's gun pointing straight in front
of him was crawling through the bush, immediately behind that naked buck
Koringa a tendril of supplejack caught in the triggers of the gun. Both
hammers fell, and as the two explosions rang out almost simultaneously a
handful of parrot shot struck Koringa in a non-vital part of his person.
It was Koringa's yell of pain and terror that had startled Moira and
caused her to break off in the middle of her song.

Koringa, bleeding freely from a severe flesh wound, took no further part
in the expedition. He crawled away to the creek and lay down on a bed of
ferns to recover.

The chief concern of Bremeba now, was to reload the white man's
thunder-stick. He had watched old Ben perform the operation often
enough, but for the life of him he could not recollect the proper order
of the proceedings that made up the complicated rite. He had the powder
flask, the percussion caps, and the bag of shot in his hands, but what
to do with them he could not remember. At last, after long and earnest
cogitation, he rammed a handful of shot down each barrel as a
preliminary, and then a small piece of bark instead of the wads that he
had seen old Ben using. Finally he poured a liberal charge of powder on
top of the shot and completed the operation by ramming down another
piece of bark and driving it well home with the ramrod, as he had seen
old Ben do. Placing percussion caps on the nipples, he cocked the
hammers, and holding the gun gingerly aloft at arm's length, he signed
to the bucks to resume the advance.

After the recent rains the native grass in the paddocks round the Pretty
Plains homestead was nearly three feet high. Thirty bucks crept unseen
through the tall grass, each carrying club and shield, and dragging
after him a long, slender spear, gripped between his toes. The sinuous
line of bucks was like a long black snake. It glided nearer and nearer
to the homestead. Bremeba was the head of the snake. After the
unfortunate accident to Koringa, not a single one of the bucks would
consent to crawl in front of the white man's thunderstick--a malevolent
thing that required to be humoured, or else it would destroy
blackfellows of its own accord.

The long, black snake crept up close to the homestead. Bremeba was not
sure whether any of the white men would be at home or not. He resolved
to send out Naringa to reconnoitre. Naringa departed on his mission--a
black shadow in the grass.



CHAPTER X.--"BAKKOOI NAN-NOMBA NINDA."


"The French will come again,

Says the Shan Van Vogh,

They'll bring ten thousand--"

Ha! What was that? Moira's joyous singing broke off abruptly again as a
hideous black face glared at her round the corner of the open window and
a gutteral voice remarked, truculently, "Gibbit bacca."

In an instant Moira slammed down the window and closed and bolted the
heavy shutters. She stepped to the door that opened from the kitchen to
the back verandah and locked it. She bolted it top and bottom. Then she
locked and bolted the other door leading from the front hall of the
bungalow-cottage into the kitchen. She barricaded the back door by
dragging the kitchen table up against it, and the door leading into the
hall by pushing the heavy kitchen dresser across it. Her brother's gun
stood against the wall loaded in both barrels with slugs for kangaroo.
In the drawer of the dresser was a heavy meat chopper. Moira was pale,
but there was fighting blood in her veins. She went to the drawer of the
dresser, took out the meat chopper, and laid it on the table. Surely she
could keep off the solitary prowling black until Con. or Billy, or, both
of them, arrived.

Listening intently, with every nerve strung to its highest pitch, she
heard the soft pad-pad of the blackfellow's naked feet as he ran round
the verandah peering through the windows, to see if there were any white
men in the house. Very soon Naringa realised with exultation that the
'white Mary' was alone in the house.

"Bakkooi nan-nomba ninda. Bakkooi nan-nomba ninda--("You are my prey.
You are my prey.")," muttered Naringa, as he tried to peer through the
closed shutters at the white woman alone in the house.

Moira heard the black muttering and padding round the house. She
trembled at the peril that she scarcely dared to think of. There were
things that were worse than death. She glanced at the kitchen fire. The
logs were burning brightly, and the water in the big saucepan was
boiling and bubbling. She ladled about half of it with a dipper into an
iron bucket.

Crash! Naringa brought down his 'conterra,' or heavy-knobbed waddy, on
the window pane and the reinforcing shutter inside. His brain was on
fire. He did not intend to call up Bremeba and the bucks just yet.
"Bakkooi nan-nomba ninda. Bakkooi nan-nomba ninda."

There was another crash, as the conterra descended again, and the
splintered shutter fell inwards, letting in the sunlight. Framed in the
shattered woodwork, Moira saw the hideous face of the black, with low
receding forehead, broad flattened nose, and wide cruel mouth. There was
something in Naringa's expression that made him look more hideous than
before--an appalling glare of ferocity and savage passion.

"Bakkooi nan-nomba ninda." He shouted it at her victoriously now. The
window was smashed, and the shutters were in pieces. Naringa, leaving
his waddy behind him on the verandah, threw himself into the opening and
began to climb into the room. As he placed one hand on the window ledge
Moira struck. The heavy meat chopper fell on the black's forearm,
shearing down through the muscles and cleaving half way through the
bone. The chopper stuck in the bone. Moira could not withdraw it, though
she tugged frantically, while the black's yell of rage and pain rang in
her ears. As Naringa fell back on the verandah, the chopper went with
him.

Pulling out the chopper with his left hand, the infuriated black hurled
himself at the window a second time. He would kill the white Mary for
that blow. He would kill her, but first--

The distorted black face, with gleaming white eyeballs and strong teeth,
bared like the teeth of a wild animal, came through the window. Naringa
was half way into the room. In another second he would have his
unwounded hand on the white Mary.

Ah! that stopped him. Moira hurled that bucket of boiling water in his
face, blinding him and scalding him. His eyeballs were scarred by the
awful heat. Naringa fell back in agony on the verandah, groping blindly
with his hands. He would never see the sunlight again. Moira realised
that from him, at any rate, she was safe.

She stood there with the empty iron bucket still in her hand, shaking
like a leaf. Her dark hair had fallen down, covering her white face, but
her eyes looked out, shining and triumphant. She had conquered an
unimaginable fate.

But even as she looked through the window, the light of triumph died out
of her eyes, and they were filled with grey despair. Bremeba and the
bucks had heard Naringa's yell. They were rushing upon the house. She
saw them--armed, naked, and terrible.

Whish! A spear flew through the window and buried itself quivering in
the wall behind the girl. Moira dropped on her knees and prayed. Well
death would be swift, at any rate. She closed her eyes.

Was that the drumming of blood in her eyes? Or was it the thunder of the
hoofs of galloping horses?

She heard shouts of alarm and warning from the blacks, who were calling
to each other. They had almost reached the house. The drumming sound
came louder and nearer. Moira could hear it plainly now. If was the
sound of horses going at racing pace.

The window was darkened once more.

A blackfellow, club in hand, was already on the verandah. As he put his
leg over the window ledge a gun spoke quite close at hand, and the
window was clear again. Beside Naringa, who was still groping and
muttering in blindness and agony, lay another of Bremeba's bucks--dead
with the side of his head blown off by a charge of slugs.

"Moira! Moira! You're safe now," said a voice that thrilled the girl to
the soul. It was the voice of Syd. Verner.

"Thank God we were in time!" cried Tom, "but stay where you are, Moira.
Don't come out yet."

She looked through the window, and saw the two brothers sitting on their
steaming horses, gun in hand. A heavy stock-whip hung on the saddle in
front of each of them. Fifty yards away, the bucks stood irresolute,
hesitating whether to fight or fly. Bremeba stood in front of them,
carrying the white man's thunder-stick across his arm.

He spoke passionate words to his followers. He pointed to the white men,
and held up two fingers to indicate the insignificance of the enemy. He
pointed to the gun that he carried on his arm. The bucks brandished
their waddies and stamped their feet. They shouted yells of defiance.

Still Tom and Syd. sat there on their horses. Moira could not take her
eyes from them.

For Bremeba the longed-for moment of his life had at last arrived. He
would slay the white man with the white man's own weapon, and be famous
forever in the tribe. He raised old Ben's gun to his shoulder, and
exactly at that moment, the two brothers dropped their guns and charged.

Bremeba pulled both triggers of old Ben's gun. The percussion cups
exploded--but nothing else, the gun having been loaded with the shot
first, instead of the powder. The black hurled the gun to the ground in
disgust. The white man's gun was evidently inhabited by an evil devil.
It would wound a blackfellow of its own accord, but it refused to
destroy a white man, even when it was treated with the utmost respect,
Bremeba's faith in the weapon, of which he had fondly hoped so much, was
shattered for ever. He seized his 'conterra,' the nubbly war club that
had never played him false, and, with heart aflame, awaited the onset of
the white men.

Behind him stamped the buckeeners, armed with spear and club and shield.
Their savage war-cry was flung out on the wind. They chanted the death
of their enemies, whose kidney-fat they would tear from the quivering
bodies and leave the remains to be eaten by the black eaglehawks.

In the midst of their chant the whirlwind struck them.

Riding wide apart, Tom and Syd. galloped straight at the vaunting
blacks. Each of the riders grasped a heavy stock-whip, with a twenty
feet thong of plaited rawhide, in his right hand. The bridles lay on the
horses' necks, the riders guiding them with knee and heel.

Tom and Syd. preferred to rely altogether on the stockwhip. They were
adepts in the use of those terrible weapons, which would cut strips from
the hide and flesh of the toughest-bullock, if the wielders wished to be
severe. As they galloped straight at the buckeeners, the long, murderous
thongs flashed through the air, cracking like machine guns. At each
crack a strip of black hide flew from the body of a shrieking savage,
who a few moments earlier had been gloating over the prospect of the
death and mutilation of the white man.

The mode of attack which was adopted by Tom and Syd. completely
demoralised the buckeeners. Against those terrible lightning strokes all
defence was vain. The two young men wielded their weapons with a
dexterity that was almost demoniacal. Swinging the heavy stockwhip with
his right hand, the rider would cut hide and flesh from one would-be
murderer, and then, carrying on the swing, would pass the stock like a
flash to his left hand, and come back with a reverse stroke that hit the
body of the next man with the force and shock of an explosive bullet.
Tom attacking on the right, and Syd. on the left, had the blacks between
two fires. They proceeded quite literally to cut them to pieces. The
thought of Moira at the mercy of the buckeeners added fury to every
stroke.

The blacks were full of wild courage. They would stand foot to foot
against a foe and submit to be battered to death with the 'conterra,'
rather than yield an inch. But the stockwhip was a new and unheard of
terror. Those agonising strokes that made the blood spurt in fountains
and laid bare the quivering nerves, paralysed their will power. Flinging
down shield and spear and waddy, they made a mad bolt for the bush,
realising that once they reached the thick timber they would be safe.

Moira was out on the verandah now, watching the extraordinary scene. Tom
and Syd. dealt with the buckeeners exactly as they were accustomed to
deal with a mob of wild scrub cattle. Galloping round the mob, they
headed them back from the timber with terrible volleys from the rawhide
thongs, that never fell without searing a black body and leaving a long
red gash on it. Individual blacks would break away in frantic attempts
to gain the shelter of the timber, but either Tom or Syd., with a
stockwhip instead of a flaming sword, was always ready to hurl them
back. And then the riders would charge at full gallop, and flog the
fugitives back into the mob, knocking the blacks over like ninepins and
distributing a crackling fire of stockwhip strokes as they passed.
Wheeling their horses round, they would charge back again, repeating the
operation until at last very few of the buckeeners were left standing.

When almost tired out with inflicting this tremendous punishment, the
two brothers rounded up the harried and bleeding remainder of the
savages, who had set out to massacre the inhabitants of Pretty Plains.
Tom and Syd. drove the remnant in front of them with many a scarring
stroke and flogged them with a last furious volley into the cover of the
timber. Half a dozen blacks, including Bremeba had been killed outright,
having been galloped on by the horses as well as slashed by the
stockwhips. The remainder crept away into the shelter of the timber and
sought their camp in the far recesses of the bush, where the women
waited to dress their wounds.

It was a terrific punishment--but think of Moira's fate, if Tom and Syd.
had not reached the homestead in time! Also, it was an effective
punishment, for never was a wild black seen on Pretty Plains Station
again.

As the two young men, with blood on their stockwhips, and their horses
dripping with foam rode up to the homestead and slid from their saddles
to the ground, the white-faced girl tottered out upon the verandah,
descended the three steps that led to the ground, and came towards the
brothers, swaying from side to side as though every moment she would
fall.

Tom and Syd. both ran to meet her as she came on with outstretched arms.
Tom was a few paces in advance. Moira did not seem to see him. With her
white face showing through her dark, dishevelled hair, she stumbled past
Tom and made straight for Syd.

Never a word she said, but, walking up to Syd., threw her arms about his
neck, and burst into tears. Her spirit had sustained her during the
crisis. Now that the imminent deadly danger was past, overwrought nature
protested against the strain. The girl broke down utterly, and sobbed
without restraint upon Syd.'s shoulder.

"Oh, my love! my love!" she murmured. "Thank God, you were just in time
to save me."

The words were uttered in a voice that was scarcely more than a whisper,
but Tom heard them, and a blinding revelation flashed upon his brain.

Moira loved his brother Syd.--little Syd., whom he had cherished and
protected from babyhood! It was a staggering blow. But Tom had the blood
of a soldier in his veins. He could face the inevitable and even
smile--though palely. He stretched out his hand to Moira and held her
hand in his for a moment. "I'm thankful that we got here in time to hunt
off those black devils, Moira," he said, lightly; "but I don't think
that they will annoy you again. Come along into the house and make us a
cup of tea. I declare I'm dead beat."

Moira looked at him gratefully. She understood.



CHAPTER XI.--THE BECKONING OF THE STARS.


They went into the homestead.

Naringa, scalded and blinded, had groped his way out from the verandah
and had departed, taking with him the dead body of the black who had
been shot in the act of climbing through the window. The brothers
surveyed the scene in the kitchen with astonishment--the smashed window
panes, and splintered shutters, the door into the passage still
barricaded by the heavy dresser, the cauldron on the log fire and the
empty iron bucket standing beside it. Moira told them rapidly what she
had done.

"By the Lord, Moira," said Tom, with honest admiration, "you are a brave
girl."

"It was dear old Tom who saved you, Moira," said Syd., with a sudden
burst of candour, for he could not bear to sail under false colours. "It
was he who raced all the way to get to you in time. He even left Billy
and the young mare struggling in the watercourse rather than stay to
help them out. And he reached the homestead just in time to bring down
the buck who was getting through the window. It was a long shot,
too--and a good job that he did not miss it."

Moira came straight over to where Tom was sitting, and kissed him on the
forehead. "Tom," she said, with a quiver in her voice, "I believe you
are the noblest-hearted man alive."

"'Pon my soul, Moira, you'll spoil me if I stay here," said Tom,
cheerily. He rose to go. "Hullo," he said, "there's Billy at last. I'll
go and see what has happened to him."

Tom walked--just a little unsteadily--towards the door, leaving Syd. and
Moira sitting side by side in the room that had so lately been besieged.
The long spear that had been hurled by one of the bucks was still
sticking in the wall opposite the window. Tom walked out of Moira's
house, and in the same moment as he confessed to his desolate heart, out
of her life also, leaving his brother Syd--the much-loved,
constantly-protected 'little Syd.' of long ago--in full possession.

The boy Billy, with his round eyes goggling with excitement and alarm,
was leading the leg-weary mare to the shed that served as a stable. She
had had more than enough galloping for one day. He told Tom his story.
He had walked the mare three miles along the bed of the watercourse
before he reached a place where he and the mare could climb out. Then he
had made the best of his way to the homestead, keeping a sharp lookout
for the blacks all the time.

"You did not see wot they done to old Ben, Mr. Tom," said Billy in a
shaky voice. "Me t'roat gets like the sole of me boot when I thinks of
it."

Tom was still talking to Billy when Con. Burke himself rode up. He had
been away to the far end of the run, and he was staggered to hear of the
attack by the blacks, and of Moira's narrow escape. He ran off to the
homestead to see Moira, and to learn her experiences from her own lips.

"Come along, Moira," he said, when she had finished her thrilling story,
sitting beside Syd. Verner and holding his hand, "let's all ride over to
Coonara, and tell Mr. Verner. He will be anxious to hear what has
happened. Our three men came back with me from the out-paddocks and they
can look after the homestead while we are away. I don't fancy the blacks
will come near the place again after the tremendous lesson that they
have had."

So the two Verners and Con. and Moira all rode off together in the cool
of the evening, heading for Coonara. But Moira rode beside Syd., and
what they talked about Con. Burke did not know, because he was too far
in front of them to hear.

But Tom Verner, who rode beside Con. could make a good guess. He was a
silent companion during the long ride, for he was revolving a great plan
in his mind.

When they reached Coonara it was dark. Henry Verner was sitting with
Juana and Aileen on the verandah, waiting anxiously for their return. He
had his gun across his knees. He heard the sound of cantering hoofs, and
coo-eed vigorously. Tom and Syd. both sent back a cheery answer, and in
a few minutes the stirring tale of the day's adventures was being told
again by Moira, with interpolations from Tom and Syd.

Aileen sat next to Con. Burke, and Moira sat next to Syd., but Tom stood
up by himself, and looked out into the sky--a dark blue velvet sky
sprinkled with diamonds. His gaze was fixed on the Southern Cross, low
down near the horizon.

The points of fire were beckoning to him.

Con. Burke and his sister Moira gladly accepted Juana's invitation to
stay the night at Coonara, and, wearied out by the excitement of the
day, the young people retired to rest soon after supper--but Tom still
stood on the verandah, gazing at the Southern Cross, which was calling
to him.

Juana came to him and took him by the hand. "Tom, dear," she said, "you
are unhappy, and I know the reason. I am so sorry, for you, my own dear
lad."

So Tom told her everything in his simple, straightforward way. It was
true that he loved Moira, but Syd. loved her too; and in the
soul-revealing crisis brought about by the attack of the buckeeners
Moira's love for Syd. was disclosed with staggering clearness.

"But what then will you do, my Tom," asked Juana, with tears in her
eyes.

"I am going away from home, mother," said Tom, "for a little while, at
any rate. Afterwards, if all goes well, I will come back to you."

"But where will you go, my Tom?" asked Juana, in sad bewilderment. She
dreaded the thought of losing her eldest son, who was born amid the
rattle of the guns, at Toulouse.

"I am going yonder," said Tom, pointing southward, where the starry
cross lay close to the horizon. "I am going down to that fine new country
in the south. I am going to Port Phillip."

When Henry Verner came out to bring Juana in from the verandah Tom told
him everything, and Verner, who felt a strong bond of sympathy uniting
him with the son who had been born at the close of that great campaign
of long ago, reluctantly consented.

Cheerily next morning Tom set about preparing for his departure.

But first the three young men had to perform a solemn duty. The dead
body of old Ben still lay in the hut unburied.

So Con. Burke and Tom and Syd. Verner, taking tools and spades with them,
drove down to the old shepherd's hut and made a rough bush coffin of
sawn wood. They placed in it the body of the victim of the buckeeners,
and dug a grave close by on the bank of Lewis Ponds Creek. There they
buried him, and Henry Verner, with Juana, and Aileen and Moira Burke,
came and stood by the grave. Henry Verner read a prayer, and the three
young men fired a volley from their shotguns over the last resting place
of the old shepherd.

But even in death old Ben was not destined to remain undisturbed. There
came a day when strangers were to invade his solitude and rudely move
his bones.

When the bush funeral was over Tom announced to all that he intended to
make a trip to the new settlement down in the south. Tales of Mitchell's
wonderful journey to Portland, where he found the Hentys on their
prosperous station, had already penetrated to Bathurst, and stories of
the settlement that Batman and Fawkner had founded on the banks of the
Yarra, and of the rich land that was to be obtained down south almost
for nothing, flew from lip to lip.

Tom spoke sturdily of the magnificent prospects at Port Phillip, and
Syd. never dreamt for a moment that his brother's love for Moira was the
real cause of his hurried departure. Deep down in her heart Moira knew
the reason of the sudden resolve, but she kept her own counsel. She
never told Syd. What would be the use. Henry Verner and Juana talked the
matter over together, and came to the same conclusion.

When Tom left the beautiful home where he had spent so many happy years
and started for Sydney to take passage there in the schooner Stella for
Port Phillip, he said good-bye bravely enough to his father and mother
and sister Aileen, assuring them that he would soon return. But the
parting from Syd. was harder. Both the brothers were strongly moved.
Their lives were linked together by ties of daily companionship and
closest intimacy. Recollections of the past rushed to the minds of
both--recollections of events in which Tom was always the helper and
Syd. the helped. And now they had to part at last.

"Cheer up, Syd., old boy." said Tom, with the old protecting look in his
eyes. "It won't be long before we meet again. Say good-bye for me to
Moira. So long, dear lad. I'm leaving you to look after the old folks
till I come back again."

And then he went away, but the real reason of his going Syd. Verner did
not find out until long afterwards.

As Tom Verner said good-bye to his brother and rode off on the first
stage of his journey, lured by the beckoning of the Southern Cross, a
strange scene was being enacted in a lonely Californian valley, through
which flowed the Sacramento River. Snow lay deep on the ground. An icy
blast whistled down the valley. On a rough bunk in a tattered tent, an
old man lay dying. He had left the sunshine of Australia for the snows
of the Sierra. Pneumonia had seized him in its deadly grip.

"Bend down your ear, Mr. Hargraves," he whispered, huskily, "there's
something I want to tell you before I die."

"You're not going to die yet awhile, Jim," said the other man, cheerily,
making an effort to reassure the sufferer. But Jim was under no
delusion.

"I'm sent for all right, Mr. Hargraves." he whispered. "But listen.
We've got no gold in this God-forsaken valley. We'd have done better if
we had stayed at home in our own country. There's plenty of gold within
gunshot of the old place on the Bathurst Plains."

"Poor old Jim! His brain is wandering." said Hargraves to himself, and
the dying man read the unspoken words in his face.

"No, Mr. Hargraves," muttered Jim. "My memory is quite clear. Before I
came over here with you I found gold myself in New South Wales. I never
told anyone, but I'm going to tell you now." His face was quite blue. He
could hardly speak. Hargraves poured a little brandy into a cup and
moistened the dying man's lips with it.

"Where was the place, Jim? Where was the place?"

Old Jim half raised himself on his elbow. He pointed southward, with
extended arm. "Down south," he muttered, with a last effort. "Down
south, under the Southern Cross. At the meeting of Lewis Ponds Creek and
Summerhill Creek. You know the spot, Mr. Hargraves. You know the spot
where the two boys of Mr. Verner's used to play--long ago."

Old Jim, the shepherd who had gone with Edward Hammond Hargraves from
New South Wales to California in the great rush of the 'forty-niners,'
fell back dead; but his dying words to Hargraves set in motion a train
of great events that brought Tom Verner and his well-loved brother Syd.
together again at last, though far from the old home of their boyhood.



CHAPTER XII.--GOLD-FEVER BREAKS OUT.


Tom's letters came to Coonara very irregularly, for the mails were few
and far between in those days. He wrote that the new settlement at Port
Phillip was experiencing a wave of depression, and that many people were
leaving the country. He had decided not to take up any land for the
present. And then one day there came a letter to his father, in which
Tom said that he had yielded at last to his old craving to be a soldier.
He had enlisted in the 40th Regiment.

"As you were a soldier yourself, father," wrote Tom, "you will
understand how I have always loved the army. I can never forget that I
was born on the march. Tell mother not to grieve for me, because I am
very happy here now, and I like the life so much that I have no desire
to leave it."

"I always felt, my Henry," said Juana, as she read the letter again and
again, dwelling with loving eyes on the handwriting of her eldest son,
"that Tom would turn soldier in the end. The rattle of the drums was in
his blood, I think. Shall I ever forget that long march, on my little
white burro, all the way from Victoria to Toulouse, where Tom was born
on the last day of the war."

"Indeed, it seems like destiny," said Henry Verner. "Tom would always
leave everything and everybody to watch the soldiers. I was like that
myself once, so I can hardly wonder at him. I warrant that he will be a
good soldier, too, and a brave one. Cheer up, Juana, dearest. We will go
down to Melbourne and see him in the spring."

But they did not go to Melbourne in the spring, because great events
happened almost at their doors, and they stayed to watch the surging
flood of humanity that swept over the country, destroying old landmarks
and threatening to sweep away their second son upon its raging flood.

The new era in Australia was ushered in by a long, dry summer of
unprecedented heat, and on the 6th of February came Black Thursday, when
the greater part of New South Wales and Victoria was on fire, and when
thousands of head of stock and not a few hapless human beings who were
caught and cut off perished in the flames.

A few days later, as Syd. was riding through the country, that bordered
upon Henry Verner's property, pointing out to Moira Burke, who rode
beside him, the ravages caused by the bush fires, he came with his
companion to Lewis Ponds Creek. And there was the very pool almost dried
up now after the long, hot summer, into which he had fallen when he was
a small boy, and from which Tom had saved him, diving for him after he
had sunk. Sydney Verner told the story again to Moira, and Moira's eyes
filled with tears. Dearly as she loved Syd., she could never forget that
chivalrous elder brother, who had saved her from the buckeeners, and who
went away from his home when he found that her love was not for him, but
for Syd.

As Syd. and Moira rode along the bank of Lewis Ponds Creek deep in their
thoughts, they became aware of a tall man with grizzled hair and beard,
who stood in the bed of the creek, attended by a lad, whom they
recognised as the son of the landlady of the little inn at Guyong. The
tall man had a tin pan in his hand. He was washing the clay from the bed
of the creek in it and pouring off the dissolved clay and water with a
circular motion that presently got rid of all the contents of the dish,
leaving it quite empty.

No, not quite!

A residuum of shining, yellow grains lay at the bottom of the tin dish.
Syd. could see it quite plainly from the top of the bank.

"Hullo, Mr. Hargraves. Where have you been for the last couple of years,
and what are you doing down there in the creek?"

The tall, grizzled man looked up with a smile. "Ha! Verner. I see you've
caught me fairly. I've been away in California, looking for gold; and
now I find that it was here in abundance all the time, close to my old
home and yours." He carefully scraped the yellow grains out of the tin
dish and placed them in a small glass bottle, which was already half
full of gold dust. "This is a red-letter day for Australia. I shall be a
baronet. This lad, who has acted as my guide, will be knighted, and my
old horse grazing over there will be stuffed and sent to the British
Museum."

Gold!

The fever of it leaped into Syd. Verner's veins. Sliding from his horse,
he questioned Hargraves breathlessly.

"I reached Sydney from San Francisco only last month, in the barque
Emma," said Hargraves. "I was in California for more than a year. I've
been up in San Joaquin and to the Sierras--on the Sacramento and the
Feather River and the Yuba. I put in a h--l of a time there--travelled
hundreds of miles, been attacked by grizzly bears, been nearly frozen to
death, been within a coo-ee of starvation many a time. But I found gold,
and I saw the lie of the country--slates, quartz, granite, and red soil,
just the same as here. That's why I came back. And now I've got it, I've
got it, I've got it!"

He executed a wild war dance in the bed of the Lewis Ponds Creek, and
Moira watched him with amazement. She watched Syd. with amazement, too.

He was completely enthralled by Hargraves and his story. All the way
back to the homestead Syd. talked of Hargraves and the gold that lay in
the drift of the creek bed.

Hargraves returned with his guide to Guyong the same night, and wrote a
report of his discovery to Mr. Deas Thomson, the Colonial Secretary; but
he was back at the creek next day, and Syd. Verner joined the little
knot of men who began pan-washing under his directions. Syd. had the
gold fever very badly indeed. He attached himself to Hargraves and went
with him, and the two local youths who accompanied him as
guides--Lister, the son of the landlady at Guyong; and James Tom--on a
prospecting trip down the Summerhill Creek, all the way to its junction
with the Macquarie. They got gold almost everywhere along the creek.

Then Hargraves tried the Macquarie River itself. He got gold there, too.
Ascending the tableland from the Macquarie with him, Syd. Verner could
see the Turon Mountains in the distance.

Thither he travelled with young Lister and James Tom, and returning to
the Macquarie, found Hargraves there, and reported to him that his
prediction was fulfilled. There was gold on the Turon; they brought a
few ounces back with them in proof.

Mr. Deas Thomson sent up Mr. Stutchbury, the Government Geologist, to
see Hargraves, and examine into the genuineness of his alleged
discoveries. Mr. Stutchbury arrived, and Syd. Verner watched him dig out
a pan full of 'dirt' from a spot in the bed of the Lewis Ponds Creek,
within a few yards of the site of the original discovery. Mr. Stutchbury
washed the dirt in the pan and got good gold. He repeated the operation
several times at different places in the Summer Hill Creek and the Lewis
Ponds Creek, and almost invariably found gold in the pan.

The genuineness of the discovery was assured, and the rush was not long
in coming.

Oh! those wild months in the bitter winter of 1851, when men began to
stream over the Blue Mountains from every part of Australia and from
every country in the world to Ophir and Tarshish--so named by
Hargraves--in search of the yellow metal, for which many of them
bartered life--and even desecrated death.

It was in the early days of the Ophir rush that the bones of old Ben,
the shepherd, who had been killed by the buckeeners, were rudely
disturbed. Both banks of the creek were taken up for several miles, and
a party of Italians had pegged out a claim which included the area upon
which stood the shepherd's grave. They sunk a shaft down through loose
earth, which had evidently been previously excavated, and to their
amazement came upon a rough coffin of slabs. Pietro's pick went through
the lid of the coffin, and disclosed the face of the corpse. Pietro was
horribly frightened, and scrambled out of the hole as fast as he could,
but Guiseppe, who was working the cradle, insisted that the occurrence
of a corpse in a claim was an indication of extraordinary luck. After
hauling out the coffin by means of their windlass, the Italians
continued digging, and bottomed on the day a couple of feet below the
dead man's resting place. They took out seventy ounces of gold from the
ground under the coffin, chiefly in the form of small slugs and
waterworn nuggets.

If Tom and Henry Verner had excavated the ground a couple of feet deeper
when digging a grave for old Ben, they must have found this 'jeweller's
shop,' and won the fame that so soon afterwards was reaped by Hargraves.

As for old Ben, it mattered nothing to him. The Italians replaced the
coffin, and the corpse that it contained, after they had cleaned up the
pocket of nuggets, and then they filled in the excavated ground again.
Possibly old Ben's last sleep was disturbed by a swiftly-passing
dream--a dream of dark faces and flashing eyes and joyful exclamations.
But that was all. He could turn to his rest again with the long, long
night of eternity before him.

So Verner surrendered himself to the frenzy of the time. Dazzled by the
golden gleam he gave up father and mother and sister, and even Moira
Burke his beloved, to follow it. He followed it to the Turon, to the
Abercrombie, and to half a dozen different rushes on the Macquarie. He
found a little gold--just enough to whet his fierce craving for more.

Disappointed diggers began to stream back over the Blue Mountains,
cursing Hargraves as the author of their miseries. Syd. Verner went with
them, for he had heard wild tales of fabulously rich discoveries in
Victoria--at Clunes and Anderson's Creek, at Mount Alexander, at
Buninyong.

Camping with the friendly owner of a bullock waggon at Mount
Vittoria--that place which was named after the battlefield in Spain,
where his father and his mother had first met many years before--Sydney
Verner climbed a great rock by the side of the track and looked out into
the night. Mount Vittoria is the highest point on the Blue Mountains--a
natural observatory. His gaze travelled far through the starlit sky.

On the winding road were long lines of twinkling camp fires, lit by
diggers seeking or returning from the land of their golden hopes. But in
the midnight sky, far off and low on the horizon to the southward,
burned the four great stars of the Southern Cross, the beacon that had
beckoned Sir Thomas Brisbane to New South Wales with the alluring
promise that he would be the first astronomer to chart the southern
heavens,--the celestial wonder that Tom and little Syd. had examined
through the big telescope in Governor Brisbane's Observatory at
Parramatta, under Mr. James Dunlop's direction, the constellation that
had already summoned Tom southward, with its pointing finger, to Port
Phillip.

Syd. Verner saw the four great stars that he knew so well--white stars
blazing against the deep, dark blue--and he made up his mind there and
then to follow them. There came into his mind the memory of the 'Jewel
Cluster,' that Mr. Dunlop had spoken of, just above that second great
white star, called Beta Crucis. He could not see the 'Jewel Cluster,'
with the naked eye, but he knew that it was there. Where there were
jewels there must be gold. Syd. Verner dreamed that he would find it, if
he followed those stars that called him southward.

When he reached the city of Sydney he wrote to his father and mother
telling them of his resolve. His gold-digging at Ophir and on the Turon
had already provided him with enough money for his enterprise. He wrote
to Moira, too, assuring her of his love, and promising to return to her
very soon with his fortune made.

Moira read the letter with a gesture of sadness and disappointment. How
happy she had been before gold was found in the Lewis Ponds Creeks. The
last few months had brought pain and disillusion. What was gold compared
with love? And now the gleam of the gold had lured her lover from her
side altogether. He was going away to seek it in distant Victoria. The
perils that awaited him there she could only dimly guess. But of one
thing at least she could be sure. If he met his brother Tom, over there,
Tom would protect him from danger. He had always done so since they were
children. He would do so again--if the occasion ever arose--for her sake
as well as for the sake of 'little Syd.' Of that she was well assured.

So she went to look for Aileen, and in comforting her to assuage the
sting of her own grief. Aileen was very unhappy, too, for Con. Burke,
after asking her to be his wife, had succumbed to the gold fever, and
had gone away to Turon. Since his departure Moira had been staying with
the Verners at Coonara, leaving Pretty Plains to be looked after by the
overseer. She could not stay at the homestead by herself, and the kindly
hearted Juana insisted that she should stay at Coonara until
Con. returned. The two girls consoled each other as best they could, and
earnestly wished every day of their lives that the madness of the gold
fever had never invaded their homes, and lured their lovers away from
them.



CHAPTER XIII.--DIGGERS IN MELBOURNE.


The sailing vessel that Syd. Verner took passage in for Port Phillip was
a slow and unwieldy little tub greatly overcrowded with diggers. She
took three weeks to make the voyage to Hobson's Bay, which was thick
with masts, as she came up the South Channel and dropped anchor off
Williamstown.

When Syd. Verner and a party of his shipmates at last reached Melbourne,
after a tiresome journey along the bank of the Yarra, which was crowded
with traffic, they found the town fairly humming with excitement.
Although Syd. was familiar with the diggings in New South Wales, the
roaring life of the city was quite new to him, and he felt uneasily with
his fingers for the belt that he wore under his shirt--the belt that
carried all his money. He wore the customary dress of the
diggers--cabbage tree hat, blue flannel shirt, and moleskins.

Reaching the foot of Queen-street, he paused opposite 'Rag Fair,' the
alfresco bazaar where immigrants were selling their varied and
incongruous possessions set out on the turned back lids of their sea
chests. Cash was the one thing needful--cash, to buy picks and cradles
for the diggings and flour and stores to support life until the expected
fortune was acquired. Syd. bought a first-rate London-made
double-barrelled gun for L5 from an anxious immigrant, and also a big
American six-shooter. There was no telling what emergencies might be met
with.

The great rush that had set in from the Turon, as well as from other
places to Ballarat, included for the most part a good class of diggers,
law-abiding men who had no sympathy with the disorderly element, but
Syd. Verner had not been in Melbourne many hours before he heard stories
of the outrages committed by the Van Demonians--ex-convicts from Van
Diemen's Land, who roamed the country, plundering the diggers of their
stores on the way to the goldfields, and robbing them of their gold as
they returned. It was very necessary to be well armed against these
assailants, and also against the rough element in the city.

Lieutenant-Governor Latrobe, who was charged with the onerous duty of
administering the newly-constituted colony of Victorian in the early
part of the gold-discovery period, was almost in despair owing to the
wholesale defections among the police, who joined in the rush to the
diggings, leaving the whole place so utterly unprotected that in January
of 1852 he penned an urgent despatch to the Secretary of State for the
Colonies, asking for military aid. The aid was forthcoming.

The indignation at the imposition of license fees was already breaking
out among the diggers, but Latrobe was in a very difficult predicament.
If he enforced the license fees he irritated the section which was
rapidly becoming the largest part of the population, but if he
relinquished the licenses he had no means of carrying on the Government
of the goldfields. The New South Wales Government had already adopted
the license system at the Turon and Macquarie River diggings in
accordance with the opinion of the law officers, who advised that the
Crown had an indefensible right to all gold found in public or private
lands. In order to preserve the rights of the Crown, and to obtain
revenue, they recommended the issue of monthly licenses, empowering the
holders to dig for gold; these licenses being regarded officially not as
taxation, but as rent.

A similar form of license for Victoria was promulgated by Latrobe in
August, 1851. Mr. Latrobe upheld his view, but it turned out in the long
run to be an untenable one.

Syd. Verner was one of those who took a share in demonstrating that it
was not in accordance with public opinion in a democratic community, and
was therefore doomed to fail, but this demonstration was not effected
without an outburst that at one critical period came near to wrecking
the authority of the Crown, at any rate, temporarily in one of the most
important regions of Australia.

With those stirring events of the old digging days, the lives and loves
and fortunes of the Verner family, and particularly of the two brothers,
Tom and Syd., were interwoven in a strange and fateful manner.

In those first hours of Syd. Verner's brief sojourn in Melbourne he was
dominated by one impulse and master passion. The gold-hunger had
temporarily driven out every other emotion. Even his thoughts of Tom and
his memories of Moira became dim and indistinct in comparison with the
urgent impulse to form a party, acquire the necessary equipment, and
undertake the toilsome journey to the new diggings at Ballarat.

So, with his four shipmates, all of whom he had met and worked with on
the Turon, Syd. walked up Queen-street with the immigrant's revolver in
his belt and the immigrant's double-barrelled gun in his hand, and
stared in bewilderment at the tumultuous life that surged through the
roaring city. The streets were crowded with wheeled vehicles,
bullock-drays, and horse-drays that churned up the roadway, so that the
fierce north wind blew thick clouds of dust down towards the river, on
the opposite side of which he could see the white tents of Canvas Town.
The sidewalks were filled with a jostling crowd of both sexes, who paid
no attention to Syd. Verner or his mates--Barney Brannigan, Horace de
Lacy, Jim Dunn, and Angus McIvor--all of whom had caught the infection
as badly as Syd. himself, and were eager to be off to the diggings.

It was not without difficulty that the party made their way down
Collins-street to the intersection of Elizabeth-street. They were bound
for Bourke-street, their objective was the horse bazaar. The first
essential for the journey to the diggings was the purchase of a horse
and dray.

The broad, straight line of Collins-street, which is now one of the
stateliest city thoroughfares in the world, presented a strange scene in
the early part of 1852. As Syd. Verner and his mates made their way
along the uneven sidewalk they ran no inconsiderable risk from the hoofs
of half-wild horses bestrided by bearded bushmen, who were not at all
particular where they rode. Bullock-drays, heavily laden, ploughed down
the middle of the street, and the bellowing of the bullocks, the loud
cracking of innumerable stockwhips, and the imprecations of the
teamsters, made up a terrible din. Every kind of vehicle, from costly
carriage to humble wheelbarrow, helped to fill the street from kerbstone
to kerbstone, and the sidewalks carried the most extraordinary amalgam
of humanity ever seen in Australia.

Gold, the great leveller, had swept away all class distinction, and Syd.
Verner hurried along almost hypnotised by the prodigal display of wealth
that he saw around him. At intervals the pedestrians surged together in
knots and small jostling crowds, as the human units were shaken into new
patterns in the great kaleidoscope by some unexpected picturesque or
sordid or thrillingly dangerous street incident.

As Verner and his party approached Elizabeth-street, one of those
miniature rushes took place, and Barney Brannigan dashed forward to see
and report the cause. A digger, with earrings in his ears, and his huge,
gnarled fingers adorned with costly rings, had cleared a space on the
sidewalk, and was dancing a grotesque jig with a much-bedizened female
companion arrayed in a red satin gown surmounted by a blue silk opera
cloak. The bystanders jeered or applauded as the mood took them, but
presently surged on in an excited rush towards the Elizabeth-street
corner, leaving the digger and his companion dancing without their
audience. The cause of the new rush was a street accident. A man had
been knocked down by a drover riding an unmanageable brute that had
backed right in among the crowd.

A swift eddy in the jostling throng carried Syd. Verner to the edge of
the sidewalk. He saw two of the passersby lifting the white-faced,
prostrate victim to his feet. The sufferer's hat had fallen off, his
eyes were closed, and there was blood on his mouth. Verner recognised
him in a flash. It was Con. Burke, of Pretty Plains, Moira's brother,
whom he had lost sight of for many weeks. Con, like himself, had been
swept into the great human tide that was setting towards Ballarat.

Pushing his way through the throng, Syd. took Moira's brother by the arm
and dragged him into the friendly doorway of a chemist's shop, where the
sufferer speedily recovered. He had escaped with a nasty cut on the
mouth. He explained that he had ridden overland, following Hawdon's old
stock road from Yass, crossing the Murray at Howlong, and emerging at
last at Heidelberg. He had left his horse up at the horse bazaar in
Bourke-street.

"Come along," said Syd., eagerly, linking his arm in Con's. "That's just
where we are bound for; you must join our party."

Con. Burke gladly agreed, and at once made the acquaintance of
Brannigan, de Lacy, Jim Dunn, and McIvor. Together, they made their way
round to Bourke-street with the object of buying a horse and dray.

In Bourke-street, the scene was even busier than in Collins-street, for
the neighbourhood of the horse bazaar was crowded with excited diggers,
with all their troubles before them, and their fortunes yet to make;
while Collins street was the parade ground of those who had returned
victorious and triumphant from the goldfields. Great business was doing
at the horse bazaar, and for some little time both Syd. and Con. were
content to watch the devices of the knowing sellers and the easily
gulled immigrants, who were no match for them.

Not for nothing was the horse bazaar located on the side of the stiff
hill running up from Elizabeth-street to Queen-street. That hill formed
a splendid test for staunchness, as the eager buyers could see readily
enough when it was pointed out to them by the astute people who brought
their horses to the bazaar to be sold. An animal that could drag a
heavily-loaded dray up that stiff pinch was just the horse that any man
of common sense would choose for the arduous journey to Ballarat, 75
miles away, or the new rushes further north, which were even a greater
distance from Melbourne.

In front of Syd. and Con, at the foot of the hill, in the middle of the
roadway, stood a horse-coper volubly addressing an irresolute immigrant,
whose white hands and too-fashionably cut clothes proclaimed him the
natural prey of the horse dealer. The coper was explaining to his client
the merits of a dejected, slab-sided animal harnessed to a heavy cart
loaded with timber.

"But his front legs are frightfully bowed, by Jove," said the immigrant,
doubtfully, as he put up his eye-glass and surveyed the horse with
ill-concealed apprehension.

"They're best like that," explained the coper swiftly. "You'll always
find that an 'orse wot 'as 'is forelegs nicely arched is the best for
pullin' a big load. It 'elps 'im to get a purchase on the ground, ye
see."

"But his ribs are sticking out through his skin, and there's a nasty
lump on his hind shin," continued the immigrant, critically. He had
heard strange tales about horse dealers, and he did not intend to be
taken in, not he.

"The 'orse is in good 'ard training," retorted the coper, with lofty
pity for the ignorance of his customer. "Did ye ever know a 'orse go on
the course mud fat? That there 'orse is fit to pull three ton; look at
the muscles in 'im. An' as for that bit of a cut on is stifle, if ye
knew anything about an 'orse at all, ye could see how he done it. Racin'
over fences; that's 'ow 'e got that there little cut. 'E was a
steeplechaser last year, and a fine bit of blood, too."

"How much do you want for him?" asked the immigrant, hesitatingly.

"Only eighty pounds," replied the coper, with alacrity, "an' I can tell
you on my word of honour as a man that ye won't find another 'orse like
'im for work in the 'ole colony."

Syd. nudged Con, and they grinned in concert.

"I'll tell ye wot I'll do now," said the coper, with the air of a man
struck unexpectedly by a generous thought. "I'll give ye any trial in
reason. Will ye take the 'orse at eighty pounds if 'e pulls that there
load of timber up the 'ill from the bottom to the top without a touch of
the whip or the sign of a jib?"

Barney Brannigan looked at the horse and whistled softly. He knew a
horse when he saw one, and if ever he saw a foundered brute in all his
life, this was one. "Lets stay and watch," he whispered to Syd., who was
getting tired of the comedy, and Syd. consented.

The immigrant again surveyed the horse with obvious doubt, and bending
down, felt the animal's forelegs with a knowing air. "If he does the
trial as you describe it," he said to the coper at last, "I'll give you
eighty pounds for him. I'll ask these gentlemen to be good enough to act
as judges, and decide whether the horse performs the task according to
the conditions." He courteously introduced himself to Syd. and Con. as
Dr. Leslie Smallpage, late of Bloomsbury, London.

"If that harrse pulls that load up that hill," remarked Barney
Brannigan, sotto voce, "I'll ate him, shoes 'an all."

The coper went over to the dejected, lop-eared hungry-looking animal in
the shafts, and loosened the cheek strap of the headstall. Next he took
up the train traces a couple of links. The lop ears pricked up, and a
look of intelligence--one would almost say of determination, came into
the vacant eyes. The animal actually pawed with one bowed leg upon the
roadway as if eager for the ordeal to begin.

Barney Brannigan observed this sudden change in the animal's demeanour
with amazement. The horse appeared to be really alive after all.

The coper patted the horses skinny neck and then stood back as the
animal visibly braced itself for a great effort.

"Giddup, Smoker!" ejaculated the coper, bringing his hands together with
a sharp clap.

Smoker threw all his weight into the collar, and, bending to his work,
scrabbled furiously with his iron-shod toes on the road. The
timber-laden cart began to move slowly up the hill.

The bowed forelegs planted themselves convulsively with quick steps
forward on the steep incline, and the hind toes dug desperately into the
macadam. The coper walked beside the horse, clapping his hands together
and speaking words of encouragement.

"Good old Smoker! Giddup, ole boy. Now, then, lift her along."

It was a wonderful demonstration of grit and staunchness. Up the hill
for the short distance from Elizabeth-street to Queen-street that
scarecrow of a horse dragged the timber-laden cart, nor did the coper
once touch the devoted animal with the whip. Reaching Queen-street.
Smoker stopped of his own accord. His breath came in quick sobs. His
heaving flanks were streaming with sweat.

Giving the horse a few minutes to recover himself, the coper turned him
round and led him back half-way down the hill to the great wide entrance
of the horse bazaar. He backed the cart into a corner, and led out
Smoker.

"Well, wot did I tell yer?" exclaimed the coper triumphantly, "'e done
the trial all right, didn't 'e?" The judges nominated by the customer
assented with some misgivings. They could hardly believe their eyes.

So the sale was completed, and for eighty pounds Dr. Leslie Smallpage,
of Bloomsbury, became the happy possessor of the phenomenon. He had
already acquired a dray from Smoker's owner, and he made arrangements to
start with his party from the horse bazaar for Ballarat on the following
morning.

As the coper departed with his customer to wet the transaction overt a
glass of liquor, Syd. Verner, Con. Burke, and Barney Brannigan strolled
over to the open stall at the far end of the bazaar to have another look
at the wonderful horse that had upset all their preconceived ideas of
equine capacity. At the same time De Lacy, Dunn and McIvor walked across
to cast a glance at the loaded dray that Smoker had pulled up the hill.

It struck Syd. Verner as odd that the equine scarecrow should be
enjoying a magnificent feed of oats. Oats were expensive at that time--a
good deal more expensive than wheat. Also there was half a bucket of
chopped-up carrots in the manger. The horse coper had fed the animal
with unparalleled generosity. Verner was frankly puzzled. Certainly the
slab-sided animal had been well rewarded for its brief but strenuous
effort. Verner felt vaguely that there was more in the incident than met
the eye. Was it possible that Smoker had been carefully trained to put
forth every effort in the sure and certain hope that he would be
liberally rewarded with oats and carrots when the task was completed?

While he was still pondering over this problem, a shout from Brannigan
reached him. "Begob, shure 'tis a false bottom that's in the kyart,"
roared Brannigan, excitedly, "'an there ain't more than a hundredweight
av timber in ut altogether, though it looks for all the wurruld as if
there was half a ton."

Verner speedily satisfied himself that this reading of the situation was
correct. The cart had been faked as well as the horse. Smoker had been
carefully trained to make a short sharp effort in order to obtain the
reward of a splendid feed and the cart had been doctored, so that the
light load appeared to be a very substantial one.

"I'm afraid that Dr. Smallpage will be disappointed with big bargain,"
said Verner grimly, "but he has nobody to blame but himself. And the
trick was clever enough to take in even a bushman."

"Shouldn't wonder if we meet the doctor again," added Con. Burke,
thoughtfully. "He said that he was going to Ballarat."

Verner, who was tacitly acknowledged as the leader of the party picked
out a good, strong horse of the half-draught type from the miscellaneous
collection for sale at the bazaar, and after some haggling got him for
L60, each member of the party contributing his share of the purchase
money. A capacious dray filled with a canvas tent was acquired in the
same way, and the rest of the day was occupied in purchasing
stores--flour, sugar, tea, tobacco, horse-feed, blankets, a cask of
corned beef, a tent, picks, shovels, pans, a cradle, buckets, ropes, and
a bush-carpenter's rough outfit. McIvor agreed to sleep in the dray,
which was to be left for the night at the horse bazaar, and it was
arranged that an early start should be made next morning.

In the evening Syd. and Con. strolled round the city, and mixed with the
jostling crowds. The streets were not lit by lamps after dark, but by a
regulation of the Government every hotelkeeper was compelled to exhibit
a light over his front door. There were so many hotels in the principal
thoroughfares that the effect was much the same an if the streets were
illuminated with lamps. In 1852 there were over one hundred hotels in
Melbourne.

Syd. and Con., in going round the town, went into a couple of
hotels--one in Bourke-street, and the other in Elizabeth-street--where
'free and easies' were announced. These very rough entertainments were
quite the vogue, and were well patronised, since there was nothing else
to see. In the first, the orchestra consisted of a piano and violin,
which accompanied songs that were sung by everyone who cared to oblige.
In the intervals between the songs the pianist and the violinist, more
intent on noise than on tune, pounded and rasped out dance music or
negro melodies. The audience consisted of women as well as men, and
there was a good deal of rough horseplay. In one corner, as Syd. and
Con. entered, a digger, with the solemnity of semi-intoxication, was
performing a grotesque pas seul, and in the inside of the great, bare,
unfurnished room a jig was in progress. The women were tricked out in
costly finery, and the hilarity of the assemblage had plainly an
alcoholic origin.

In the next 'free and easy' that was visited, the orchestra included a
cornet, a piston, two or three horns, and a big drum, which the drummer
thumped with maddening effect. The increased volume of sound attracted
an increased assemblage. The diggers liked noise, and their heavy
hob-nailed hoots thumped the floor in hornpipe and reel to their own
entire satisfaction.

Syd. and Con. soon had enough of it, and they went back to their dray in
the horse-bazaar for a sleep before starting on the journey.



CHAPTER XIV.--OFF TO BALLARAT.


Rising at dawn from their blankets spread under the dray, they found the
whole of the party ready to start, Brannigan and Jim Dunn had aching
brows, as a result of their potations on the previous evening, but after
sluicing their heads in a couple of buckets of water they speedily
recovered. Con. Burke arranged to share his horse with Syd., riding turn
and turn about, and the others set out to walk beside the dray, which
the big powerful draught horse pulled easily.

The road lay through the grassy glades of North Melbourne, where the
prospective streets were marked out, and alignments indicated, though
houses were few and far between, it was at the foot of the North
Melbourne hill that Syd. Verner's party saw their acquaintance of the
previous day again--Dr. Leslie Smallpage of Bloomsbury. He was
belabouring that dejected animal, Smoker, with a heavy strap, and using
most unprofessional language at the same time. Four other men, all
members of Dr. Smallpage's party, and all equally ignorant of
horse-craft or practical horsemanship, stood beside him vituperating the
patient beast in the shafts of the waggon that, with its load, must have
weighed nearly a ton. The beating had no effect whatever upon Smoker. He
merely offered a passive resistance to the tyranny of his tormentors.

Several other drays passed by the stranded vehicle, the drivers loudly
jeering the white-handed new chums, and shouting 'Joe, Joe' in
derision--the cry that was used on the diggings to indicate the presence
of any person whose fashionable clothing announced pretensions to
gentility.

As Syd. Verner was pointing out to Dr. Smallpage that the task of
pulling the loaded dray was utterly beyond the strength of the obviously
exhausted horse, an obliging carter put in an appearance lending a rough
little cart mare of a useful type, and offered the animal for sale. He
would accept the useless Smoker and the sum of L60 in addition, for his
cart mare, which would pull the waggon easily. Smallpage was compelled
to accept the offer, since there was nothing else to do. So the money
was paid over, and the transfer made. The new purchase exhibited a
tendency to kick as well as bite, but she was a good worker, and she
hauled the doctor's dray up the North Melbourne hill at the first
attempt. As for the carter, he went off, chuckling, with the rejected
'Smoker.'

Barney Brannigan, as he looked after the departing stranger and the
dejected animal that he was leading, scratched his head thoughtfully.
"Shure, I'm after seein' that same felly at the horse bazaar,
yesterday," he said to Dunn, "an' I misdoubt him intirely."

"How's that?" inquired Dunn--a man of much muscular power, but little
perception.

"'Tis my belafe," said Brannigan, casting another glance at the
retreating man and horse, "that he is in wid the felly that sold the
harrse to young Sawbones, beyant. Belike, he's what they call a
confederate, if ye know what that is. Do ye?"

"Not me," said Dunn, the dunderhead, cutting a pipeful of tobacco as he
made ready to resume the journey. "Wot's a confederate?"

"Wan that helps the other thafe," explained Brannigan, concisely. "That
felly beyant there will take old Smoker back to the bazaar in
Bourke-street, and I shuldn't wondher if the coper that sold him to the
Sawbones yisterday for L80 will he selling him to a merchant or a lawyer
to-morrow for a hundred. 'Tis a trained harrse he have there, an' the
coper can make more goold out of him in a month than he could get on the
diggings."

And Barney Brannigan was right.

Resuming their journey, Syd. Verner's party soon left the grassy
paddocks of North Melbourne behind them, and crossed the winding chain
of waterholes, called Moonee Ponds, and so through Flemington and
Essendon, across high plains intersected by deep creek beds to the
Saltwater River.

Thence the road led to the little township of Keilor, and past paddocks
covered with a monstrous growth of huge Scotch thistles as high as a man
on horseback. The thistles were moving like corn in the wind. A few
miles further the route to Ballarat left the main Mount Alexander road,
and turned westerly, becoming a mere unmade bush track that ran between
post and rail fences on either side. The ground had been greatly cut up
by the heavy traffic along it, and was almost like a ploughed field. The
big draught horse struggled stoutly on through the deep soil with
frequent short spells of rest and at last the party emerged from between
the fences into the great bare Keilor plains, and began to climb the
grassy slopes of Pentland Hills. After crossing the ridge, they reached
the flat rich land of Bacchus Marsh, and there by the side of a winding
creek bed with occasional waterholes, they unyoked the horse and camped
for the night, spreading leaves under the dray for a bed, and wrapping
themselves warmly in their blankets. They kept a big fire burning all
night and two men with loaded guns were always on guard, for bushrangers
were overrunning the whole country and vigilance was the price of safety
from their attack.

Next, day travelling through stringybark country they reached Ballan,
and camped not far from the township.

"I wonder where dear old Tom is now," said Syd. Verner to Burke, as they
sat by the camp fire smoking on the last night of their journey, before
reaching Ballarat. "I wish I could have seen him when we were in
Melbourne. Tom always hankered after soldiering. In fact, he seemed a
born soldier."

"That's exactly it," said Burke. "A born soldier is just what he is." He
remembered Juana's story well enough. He recalled how she had told it to
him long ago when he was quite a boy--on the day when little Syd. was
lost in the bush and when Tom found him with the cattle standing around
him as he lay at the foot of a big gum tree, miles and miles away from
the homestead of Coonara.

Syd. was silent for a few moments. "I should like to know what Moira is
doing at this minute," he said, "and whether by any chance she is
looking at the same stars that we see up there, and thinking of us."

Con. Burke did not answer. His thoughts were far away--with Aileen.

Tall trees, silvered by the starlight, stood all around the camp, and
looking southward through a vista in the trees Syd. saw the Southern
Cross again. Yes, there it was; the beacon that had drawn him far to
search for the gold that he hoped to find beneath the 'Jewel Cluster' of
Kappa Crucis. The Southern Cross was just as far away as ever, but at
least it had guided him to Ballarat. The gold-fever burned in his veins
again. To-morrow he would reach the goldfields, the richest goldfields
that the world had ever known. As he looked up into the velvet blue of
the summer night, where the Southern Cross was shining, it seemed to him
that the constellation had exercised a subtle but potent influence on
his life, ever since as a child he had first looked at its four great
stars through the big achromatic telescope in Governor Brisbane's
Observatory at Parramatta. And now at last the stars had led him to the
door of a treasure-chamber crammed with unimaginable riches. Syd. Verner
quivered with anticipation--wondering what the treasure-chamber had in
store for him.

It was late next evening when the dray reached Ballarat. The men pitched
their tent, and then attended at the Gold Commissioner's office, where
they received licenses, authorising them to dig for gold for a period of
one month on payment of a fee of L1 10s. apiece. Provided with these
essential documents, they sallied forth and joined in the strange and
stirring life of the most eventful and romantic period in Australian
history.

Verner and Burke and their mates achieved very moderate results at
first. Others struck rich pockets in adjoining claims, but Fortune
refused to smile on the men from the Turon. They made good wages, but
that was all, and good wages merely amounted to bitter disappointment
for Syd. Verner. Was it for good wages that he had left his home and the
girl of his heart? A thousand times no. But want of success, so far from
quenching the gold fever, actually inflamed it, and when the party broke
up, and De Lacy and Dunn, Brannigan, and McIvor drifted away to join
fresh combinations, Syd. Verner and Con. Burke went far afield together.

They joined in every new rush. They went to Forest Creek, to Mount
Alexander, to Creswick, and to Bendigo. And wherever they went they
found the mutterings against the licenses, and against the rigour with
which the law was administered growing and gathering strength. The daily
'digger hunts' were fiercely resented, and the sight of diggers arrested
by the troopers and chained to logs when they were found without
licenses stung the general body of the gold-seekers to madness. Cases
occurred of diggers being chained to logs and left there all night. Such
things were unendurable.

The ideas of 1848 that 'year of revolutions,' in Europe, were still in
the air. Indeed, not a few of the diggers came from countries whose
rulers were glad enough to see the turbulent spirits depart for other
climes. The diggers had no Parliamentary representation, and the cry of
'no taxation without representation' carried a very real significance
for them.

Public meetings began to be held. Harangues were delivered from many a
stump against the police and the gold commissioners. Spokesmen of the
diggers sprang up by magic and the angry protests penetrated to
Melbourne.

Troops were moved to Ballarat.



CHAPTER XV.--THE MURDER AT THE EUREKA HOTEL.


One night in early spring, Syd. Verner sat in his tent writing in the
light of a candle stuck in an empty bottle.

Con. Burke was out. He was attending an informal gathering of angry men
in very muddy clothes who were discussing the advisableness of
establishing a Diggers' Congress. An unsuspected aptitude for politics
of the most vigorous kind had flared up in Con. Burke. He was one of the
most vehement of the speakers in the advanced section of the
dissatisfied diggers.

Syd. took advantage of Con's absence to write a letter to Moira. He
wrote to her regularly every week now. If one had peered over Syd's
shoulder as he sat on a candlebox industriously writing one might have
read this:--


October, 1854.

My Own Darling Moira,

Here I am, sitting all alone in the tent and thinking of you and longing
for the day when I shall see you again. It will be very soon now, I
hope. Con. and I have done wonderfully well this week. After a bit of
prospecting in Dead Horse Gully, we settled down there, and bottomed on
the clay on Monday. We took out nearly ten ounces a day till Friday, and
then had to stop on account of the heavy water, but we will soon bale it
out, and get going again. I have sent to Geelong for larger buckets. You
ought to see this place now. The whole field is covered with red,
yellow, and white earth heaps, and most of the holes are half full of
water. An unfortunate kiddie, only three years old, fell into one of
them yesterday, and, though the mother reached it, she was not in time
to save it, and it was drowned. The poor woman is almost mad with grief.

Everything is getting quite civilised now, and there is plenty of money
about--not like last year when the storekeeper used to give me change in
small potatoes which counted at three pence each. There are about 20,000
people on the field and we have all the luxuries of civilisation. Quite
close to our tent is the Eureka Hotel, which has actually got a bowling
alley at the back. We have plenty of fun, but this digger-hunting
business is getting the men very angry, and goodness knows where it's
going to--

"Here, get out of this, old man; can't you see I'm busy?"

"All ri' (hic) no offensh. Thought you was the bloomin' pub, thatsh
all."

Syd's letter-writing was brusquely interrupted, and he had to lay it
aside unfinished, while he endeavoured to persuade his casual visitor to
move on elsewhere.

But the visitor was really very exasperating. He sat down on Syd's bunk
to explain the situation. He had been spending the day with a friend and
he had drunk so much liquor that he was intolerably thirsty.

"Musht avea drink for I gome," he explained, earnestly wagging a very
dirty forefinger in Syd's face.

"Well, you can't get a drink here old man. I tell you straight. I
haven't a drop of stuff in the place."

"Spose I can get shum upat--the bloomin'--pub," said the visitor,
leering at Verner vinously.

"I'm sure you can if they'll let you in," said Syd. encouragingly, "but
I expect the Eureka will be shut by this time. However you might as well
try, it's your only chance."

"Oh, I'll get in all ri'," hiccuped the visitor. "I'll get inter the
Eureka Hotel to-night--or bust. I will, indeed, sure's my name's James
Scobie."

He staggered out, roaring.

"Shdauld acquaintansh be forgot

An' never brought to mi--i--nd--"

and Syd. went back to the candlebox and resumed his letter.

But he hadn't written half a dozen lines when he heard a loud banging
and thumping on a door not far away.

Mr. James Scobie was trying to get into the Eureka Hotel sure enough.
The banging and thumping continued, and Syd. with an exclamation of
annoyance, put away his letter, and went to the front of his tent to
listen. It was impossible to write with that noise going on.

As he stood outside the tent he could see camp fires burning here and
there--on Black Hill Flat and Gumtree Flat, on Specimen Hill, and on
Bakery Hill. The night was dark and chilly. Little knots of diggers had
gathered round the camp fires, and were discussing their grievances--the
digger hunts, the license fees, the fact that they had no voice at all
in making the laws by which they were taxed and harried. Syd. could see
the dark forms of the men as they passed in front of a campfire a few
hundred yards away. He could see a man who had mounted a stump and was
haranguing the assemblage with vehement gestures.

"Look's to me very much like Con. Burke," muttered Syd. Verner to
himself as he stared at the distant orator. Then he turned his head and
surveyed the dark outline of the Eureka Hotel, in the front of which a
big lamp was burning.

The lamp threw its light upon the front door, which was shut. Mr. James
Scobie was still hammering and banging upon the door with unabated
persistence. "Lemme in," he roared, as he kicked the door with his heavy
hobnailed boots, and then he added with drunken irrationality, "I won't
go away till ye let me in, Bentley, so ye may as well do it at once."
Bang, bang, bang, went the hobnailed boots on the door.

A window was raised immediately above the front door of the hotel, and a
bullet head was thrust out.

"What the blazes are ye making all that noise for at this time of night?
Get to h--l out of that, or I'll shift ye pretty quick."

"Lemme in and gimme a drink, an' then I'll gome," replied Mr. Scobie,
raising his eyes to peer at the bullet head above him. But the bullet
head was withdrawn, and the window was closed with a thud, so that Mr.
Scobie's only resource was to go on punishing the door with his ironshod
boots. He continued this proceeding for fully five minutes, yelling out
at intervals some highly insulting comments on the landlord's past life
and present habits.

"Come down, ye d--d thief, an' lemme in and gimme a drink. I know all
about you, Jim Bentley. You've done time, that's wot you've done. Ow did
ye like Norfolk Island when you were there? Eh, tell me that."

Trump, thump, thump. Fists as well as feet were hard at work on the door
of the hotel now. Syd. Verner was just about to start for the hotel, in
order to attempt to persuade the drunken digger to go off to his own
tent, when he saw the bright spurt of a match through the window of the
room above the door. Then a candle was lighted.

"He's coming down at last to let him in, thank goodness," muttered Syd.
Verner. "Now there'll be a bit of peace." He went back into his tent and
set to work again on his letter to Moira.


"The men on this field are, a real decent lot, take them on the whole,"
wrote Syd., "but the cruel wrongs that they are suffering from the
Commissioners and the police have put them into a very nasty temper and
I shouldn't be surprised if we have some lively times here soon. There
is no actual disloyalty in them and when Sir Charles Hotham, the
Governor, and his lady visited this place lately, the diggers gave them
a splendid reception. One big chap, an Irishman, too, insisted on
carrying the Governor's lady across all the wet patches, so that she
would not get her feet muddy. But all the same, they won't stand being
chased and chained to the logs much longer. I think it only needs a
small spark to make a very big blaze on Ballarat. Almost anything might
do it now, and if there was only--"

"Ha! What was that? A wild shriek and then silence! Next moment a door
banged loudly----"

Syd. Verner rushed out of his tent and looked instinctively towards the
Eureka Hotel. He could just make out the dark outline. The lamp was
burning over the front door but there was no candlelight to be seen in
the room immediately above it. The whole of the house was in darkness.
Mr. James Scobie was quite silent now.

But Syd. Verner was strangely disquieted. If Scobie had been admitted to
the hotel what was the meaning of that wild shriek and then the banging
of the door? Syd. covered the distance between his tent and the Eureka
Hotel at a rapid pace. He met several other men running in the same
direction.

"What's up?" "What's the matter?" "Anybody hurt?" Everybody was asking
questions, but nobody was answering them, because nobody knew anything.

Syd. was the first to reach the hotel. A dark figure lay face downwards
on the ground a few yards from the door. It was limp, huddled,
motionless.

Syd. Verner and Bill Tregarthen between them turned the body over on its
back. Jim Scobie would never disturb anybody again. Still thirsty and
clamouring for that last drink, he had gone into the presence of his
Maker. There was a terrible wound in his head, a great gaping hole that
looked as though it might have been made by a blow from a pick.

"This is a bad business, mate," said Bill Tregarthen, kneeling beside
the body and looking across it at Verner.

"Do 'ee know who done it?"

"No, I do not," said Syd. "I don't know for certain but I have a strong
suspicion."

"That dirty dog in the pub there, I suppose," said Tregarthen, shaking
his fist angrily in the direction of the Eureka Hotel.

Syd. Verner nodded his head.

The two men lifted the body carefully and laid it down at the side of
the road so that it could not be run over by any passing cart. Then they
set off for the camp to report the matter to the police but before they
had gone far they met a couple of mounted troopers on patrol duty, and
reported the occurrence to them. The troopers returned with them, and
took charge of the body. Also they knocked peremptorily at the door of
the Eureka Hotel, and continued knocking until the landlord came down in
shirt and trousers, rubbing his eyes, and demanding to know what what's
the matter.

"I reckon you know what's the matter well enough, Jim Bentley," said
Bill Tregarthen, grimly. "That man,"--he pointed to the motionless
figure lying on the ground across the road--"was heard knocking at your
door and trying to get in to get a drink a few minutes ago, and now he
is dead."

"Well, I know nothing about it," said Bentley. He was very pale, and his
voice was shaking. "What has it got to do with me?"

"That will do Tregarthen," said the trooper, sharply to Bill. "Now, look
here, Bentley?" he added, "I want a statement from you about this, and I
am going to ask you some questions. It is my duty to tell you that you
are not obliged to answer these questions, but what you do answer will
be taken down by me in writing and may be used as evidence against you."

So the two troopers and Syd. Verner and Bill Tregarthen went into the
Eureka Hotel, and Bentley lit a lamp in the bar parlour. The senior
trooper took out his pocket-book and wrote down Bentley's extremely
halting and inconclusive statement. Then they left the hotel, and, after
making arrangements for the temporary disposition of the body, rode off
to the Camp to report the case to Sergeant-Major Milne, in charge of the
police, taking with them the landlord of the Eureka Hotel, who was
arrested on suspicion and charged with being concerned in the murder of
one James Scobie, said to have been a digger.

Syd. Verner went back to his tent a good deal shaken by the terribly
tragic and sudden end that had overtaken his unwelcome visitor, and
finished his letter to Moira.

During the days that succeeded the murder of Scobie the diggers to a
large extent suspended operations on their claims and devoted themselves
to discussing the tyranny under which they suffered--and concocting
measures with the object of securing justice.

Justice! Yes, that was what they did not get. But they intended to get
it. Syd. Verner found himself one day listening to a dark-haired,
impetuous Irishman, a certain Peter Lalor, native of Queen's County,
whose father had represented an Irish constituency in the House of
Commons. By sheer forcefulness of character this man, Lalor, was already
accepted as a leader. He was one of the foremost spirits in the Reform
League. He mounted a stump and addressed a gathering of several hundred
men.

"Men, and brother diggers." said the dark-haired Irishman, "an event has
lately happened among us that cannot be passed by in silence, because it
shows us with unmistakable clearness that the fount of justice on this
goldfield is poisoned at the source."

Here the speech was interrupted by a wild burst of applause, and Syd.
Verner himself felt impelled to wave his cabbage-tree hat violently
round his head. He was powerfully moved by the speaker's magnetic
eloquence.

"This ruffianly scoundrel Bentley," continued the orator, leaning
forward and letting his eyes range over the multitude of bearded faces
in front of him until his gaze rested on Syd. Verner, "has been
acquitted by a bench consisting of Dewes, the presiding police
magistrate; Rede, the Commissioner; and Johnston, the assistant
Commissioner, though it is only fair to say that Johnston dissented from
the finding, and expressed his dissent in the strongest possible terms."

Another outburst of wild applause, followed by cheers for
Assistant-Commissioner Johnston.

"Yet, I see before me amongst you now," continued Lalor, his voice
rising and reaching to the extreme limit of the gathering, "one of the
men whose evidence on the subject must have been conclusive to any
honest mind." He riveted Syd. Verner with his gaze amid a chorus of
exclamations of assent, and Syd. at once, felt that he, too, was an
important link in the great chain of events that were clearly about to
connect Ballarat with history.

"There is no moral doubt, and there is no legal doubt," continued Lalor,
with tremendous emphasis, "that the man, Bentley, murdered that
unfortunate digger, James Scobie, in a most brutal, callous, and wanton
manner."

The crowd was quite certain on that point. A tumultuous roar of
confirmation endorsed the speaker's statement.

"But there is something more to be said," continued Lalor, with deep and
concentrated feeling, "and it is this. There is no moral doubt, and, to
my mind, there is no legal doubt, that the man Dewes, police magistrate
and president of the Bench, is in close personal association with the
prisoner, Bentley; is personally indebted to him; and is consequently
guilty of gross corruption and abuse of his office in acquitting
Bentley, whom he knows to be guilty."

A yell of rage went up from the assemblage of diggers when they heard
this. They had not heard it before, except as a mere suspicion. But they
trusted Lalor implicitly. They were convinced that he told them the
truth.

A general rush was made in the direction of Specimen Hill, on which the
Eureka Hotel stood. Thousands of diggers joined the hurrying crowd. They
came from all parts of the field--from Canadian Gully and Blackhill
Flat, from Dead Horse Gully and Eureka Lead, from Frenchman's Gully and
Bakery Hill. There were not less than 10,000 diggers assembled outside
the ill-starred hotel where Jim Scobie had been murdered when other
speakers mounted stumps and urged the excited men to avenge the blood of
the murdered man and punish the murderer.

In many varieties of accent, but with wonderful solidarity of feeling,
the orators played upon the emotions of their hearers, spurring them by
sharp and trenchant words into action. Hayes, the Irishman, and Vern,
the Hanoverian, and Raffaello, the Italian, each took a turn in
addressing that stormy gathering, and then in one moment a rush was made
for the hotel.

"Burn down the accursed place and the murderer inside it," yelled
somebody, and the suggestion was eagerly adopted with wild yells of
approval.

A man carrying an armful of paper and rags ran round to the bowling
alley that adjoined the hotel, and in an instant leaping tongues of fire
that licked the doomed building caught the sight of the crowd. The
diggers were so intent upon watching the hotel burning that they did not
see a white-faced, bullet-headed man dash out from the burning building
and leap on a horse that was standing saddled and bridled in the yard
behind the hotel. But they saw him when he emerged from the yard and
headed away at full gallop for the Government Camp.

It was Bentley, the acquitted slayer of luckless Jim Scobie, and as the
crowd saw him disappearing as hard as he could pelt in the direction of
the camp, they melted rapidly away, leaving that sinister house of
blood, the Eureka Hotel, a prey to the greedy flames.

Before the soldiers and police summoned by Bentley to protect him could
reach the scene of the diggers' 'wild justice,' the Eureka Hotel was
completely gutted, and the menacing crowd had utterly banished away.
However, the police arrested three men--McIntyre, Fletcher, and
Westerby--and charged them, on the information of Bentley, with
incendiarism. Syd. Verner had a narrow escape himself of being arrested
along with them, for he was well acquainted with McIntyre, and had been
standing quite close to him when the orators were addressing the
assemblage.

If only the police had arrested him then and sent him to Melbourne to be
tried with the other three men, the tragic experience that was even at
that time looming up to involve him might have been averted.



CHAPTER XVI.--MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM.


"I simply can't bear it any longer, mother." It was Aileen who spoke,
and Juana listened with a troubled air, for she was greatly troubled
herself. The long absence of her two sons weighed heavily upon her
heart.

"But what can we do, my Aileen?" said Juana. The silver streaks were
showing in her hair, but she still kept the freshness of her emotions,
the tenderness of her heart. And, for that reason she suffered with her
daughter, whose lover had left her to pursue the gleam of gold, almost
as much as she grieved for the loss of her two stalwart sons.

"I have been talking it over with Moira," said Aileen. "She is as
anxious to see Syd. as I am to see Con. We have made up our minds what
to do. I am going to ask father to let us go to Victoria. We can travel
from Melbourne to Ballarat quite easily now, and when we get there Syd.
and Con. can take care of us."

Ah, little bush-bred Aileen! She was much in love, but poor, indeed, in
experience of the world. Juana sighed as she looked at her daughter, and
stroked her shining hair.

"My Aileen," she said, softly, in the presence of such innocence, "what
you would like to do is impossible. Young girls cannot travel alone to
meet their lovers, and, indeed, the country is so full of wild
characters now that you could not even make a journey from here to
Sydney by yourselves in safety."

Aileen's eyes filled with tears. She had set her heart on making the
journey with Moira, who was so courageous and resourceful. Surely a girl
who had defended herself single-handed against a whole tribe of
blood-thirsty buckeeners was a trustworthy escort for a mere journey on
the beaten track from the Bathurst Plains in New South Wales to Ballarat
in Victoria.

But Juana showed her that the plan was impossible. "Still, if your
father would go, too, and take me with him," she added, "it might be
done." Memories of the old campaigning days crowded in upon her. What
were the hardships and dangers of a journey from the Bathurst Plains to
Ballarat compared with the sufferings and perils of that tremendous
march--punctuated by battles--from Vittoria across the Pyrenees to
Toulouse.

"Oh, mother, darling, do ask him," said Aileen, clasping her mother by
the hand, and reading the sympathy in her shining eyes.

So that evening Henry Verner, greyhaired now, but still sturdy and
vigorous, underwent a siege. His wife, his daughter, and Moira Burke
conducted the attack, and they pressed it home with such relentless
perseverance that he was obliged to surrender.

Long after Aileen and Moira had retired to the big room that they shared
together, Henry Verner and Juana sat up, discussing the plan of
campaign. Finally Verner decided to place his overseer in charge of the
station, and to drive his wife and the two girls down to Sydney in his
light American waggon. They would do the journey in three days, camping
the first night at Hartley Vale, at the foot of Mount York, and the
second night on the Nepean River, at the other side of the Blue
Mountains. He would take one of the black stockmen along with him to
drive the waggon home again, and at Sydney they would embark on one of
the sailing ships that were constantly leaving with diggers bound for
Port Phillip. Once in Melbourne, it would be an easy matter to travel to
Ballarat. In November they would have no floods or swollen creeks to
battle with, and as Cobb and Co.'s coaches were already running to the
goldfield, there would be no necessity to buy special transport in
Melbourne.

Verner became thoroughly interested in the journey that was before him.
He even permitted himself to speculate upon the prospect of being able
to find a few nuggets with his own pick at Ballarat or Creswick or
Fryer's Creek. But he did not impart these vague ambitious to his wife
or daughter, both of whom detested that seductive pursuit of
gold-digging, which had already ensnared too many of their men folk.

"We shall travel very comfortably, I think," said Verner to his wife,
"and it won't be anything like as bad as it was in the old days in
Spain. Do you remember the little white burro, Juana, that you used to
ride?"

Juana did remember it, and many other things besides, in that distant
past. Especially did she remember her little son, who was born at
Toulouse amid the rattle of cannon, and who was now a soldier in the
40th Regiment. Juana's heart yearned for her two sons, but the elder of
the two was linked so closely with the great and stirring romance of her
girlish days that her thoughts flew first to him. Besides, she knew that
he loved Moira. He had given up the girl and quietly effaced himself
when he knew that she loved his brother Syd. Juana was glad indeed to go
to Victoria, where she would see her firstborn son again.

Next day Henry Verner, with his wife and the two girls, set out in the
American waggon for Sydney, and Long Jimmy the black stockman rode in
front of them and helped them to make their first camp at the foot of
Mount York, and their second on the Nepean River. As soon as they
reached Sydney a visit to a shipping office in George-street brought to
light the fact that the barque Britomarte, Captain James Callaway, was
due to sail at daybreak on Saturday for Port Phillip. There were a few
berths still vacant, and Verner hastily secured a couple of cabins.

The Britomarte was accounted a fast sailer. In spite of being
considerably delayed by headwinds, she made the run from heads to heads
in eight days. But a terrible disappointment awaited Juana. The 40th
Regiment had been ordered away from Melbourne, for the country was in a
very disturbed state, and Sir Charles Hotham, the Governor, was being
besieged with requests from all the disaffected centres for troops. In
the circumstances, Verner decided to push on at once to Ballarat and see
Syd.

Melbourne was almost like a deserted city in October and November, 1854,
for every man who could scrape up enough money to get to the diggings
had given up his job and gone there. The shopkeepers and publicans were
anxiously looking forward to Christmas. That was the season when the
diggers came down to the city, and they seldom left it until all their
money was gone.

Verner found comfortable lodgings for his party in Bourke-street. On the
first day of their stay they learned the disquieting news of the murder
of James Scobie, at the Eureka Hotel, Ballarat, and the burning of the
hotel by a mob of thousands of diggers, who were infuriated at the
acquittal of Bentley, the hotelkeeper, by Mr. Dewes, the Police
Magistrate, who--as was now remembered--had been the magistrate who
originally granted Bentley the license for the hotel, and who was
strongly suspected of being a secret partner in Bentley's business.

"I hardly think that the country is safe for travellers," said Verner,
discussing plans with his wife and the two girls. "How would you like to
stay down here in Melbourne until we see what is to be the upshot of all
this angry feeling?"

But Juana, Moira, and Aileen raised such a chorus of objections that
Henry Verner was obliged to listen to them. It was hopeless to expect
Aileen to remain in Melbourne while Con. Burke was at Ballarat, and it
would need more than Verner's eloquence to persuade Moira that it was
impossible for her to go to Syd.

And so with some misgivings, Verner engaged seats in Cobb and Co.'s
coach for Ballarat for the following Monday morning. He learned with
satisfaction that Bentley had been retried in Melbourne, convicted of
manslaughter, and sentenced to three years on the roads. Also that his
supposed associate, Dewes, the Police Magistrate, had been dismissed
from the service.

"That ought to settle the trouble," said Verner to Jack Bennett, the
clerk in Cobb and Co.'s office. But Jack Bennett shook his head
doubtfully. "I hardly think so," he said. "The Government is terribly
stiff-backed over the trouble. They are determined to prosecute those
three men--McIntyre, Fletcher, and Westerby--on the charge of burning
down the Eureka Hotel, and the trial is to be held in Melbourne, because
they know that no jury would convict the men in Ballarat. If they gaol
these three men you'll find that the diggers won't take it lying down."

Hum! Henry didn't suppose that they would. They had no representation in
the Legislative Council, which consisted mostly of members nominated by
the Government, and included no representatives of the goldfields. They
had to obey the law, but they had no hand in making it. They had to pay
taxation, and very heavy taxation, too, but they had no voice in
imposing it.

Jack Bennett expressed some doubt whether the jury would convict
McIntyre, Fletcher, and Westerby, but if they did--well, it would be a
case of 'look out for squalls.'

When he left the coaching office Verner was more doubtful than ever as
to the wisdom of taking his wife and the two girls up to Ballarat, where
wild disturbances and scenes of disorder seemed to be imminent.

Two days later the three men, McIntyre, Fletcher, and Westerby, were
convicted by a Melbourne jury, who added a strong recommendation to
mercy, on the ground that the outrage was provoked by the improper
conduct of the Ballarat officials. McIntyre was sentenced to three
months, Fletcher to four months, and Westerby to six months'
imprisonment. The announcement of the sentences created apprehensions in
Melbourne, and uproar in Ballarat. Henry Verner postponed the
contemplated journey, in spite of the tearful protests of his wife and
the two girls. The outlook was very black.

"It is no good, Juana," he said. "I cannot expose you and the girls to
the dangers that may be in front of us if we go to Ballarat in the
present state of excitement among the diggers."

"But, my Henry, is not our son, Syd, already there?"

"Yes, yes. But just think a moment. How could a few police and a handful
of troop's maintain order if 20,000 diggers get out of hand? Ballarat
would be no place for women then."

Juana gave a shudder. She remembered certain tales told to her long ago
round the camp fires in the Pyrenees by Biddy Flynn. Biddy had followed
the troops into Badajoz. She had seen things to make the heart stop
beating. But Juana was a soldier's wife, and a hero's daughter. She put
all fears behind her. "I am not afraid, my Harry," she said, quietly. "I
do not think that the diggers would hurt us. I should like to go to our
son, and the girls must come too. If there is fighting at Ballarat there
will be work for women--afterwards."

Verner surrendered after that. It was the only thing to do. He made
arrangements with Cobb and Co. for seats for Juana, Aileen, and Moira on
the 26th of November.

Scarcely a pick was put into the ground at Ballarat on the day that news
of the conviction of the three diggers for incendiarism reached the
goldfield. The Reform League quickly got to work, and among the most
energetic and fiery of the speakers who urged that the release of the
prisoners should be demanded forthwith were Syd. Verner and his mate,
Con. Burke.

Syd. and Con. had both done remarkably well out of a new claim in
Sailor's Gully. They sent away a big consignment of gold by every
Government escort to Melbourne, taking receipts from the Commissioner.
Their deposit receipts now represented very considerable sums that each
of them had lying to his credit in the Melbourne Treasury. But
indignation at the tyranny and oppression of the Government and at the
proved corruption of an important Government official drove all thoughts
of gold out of their heads. They were both strong supporters of the
Reform League, and they rushed off to attend a gathering which was being
held at Specimen Hill to discuss the situation.

Neither love nor gold occupied a great place in the thoughts of either
of the men from the Bathurst Plains at that crisis. It was not that Syd.
did not love Moira, or that Con. Burke did not love Aileen, but the
fiery indignation that was sweeping through all the goldfields in
Victoria had for the time being cast out love. The determination not to
be down-trodden was the dominant idea of Syd. and Con.

It was largely through the passionate eloquence of Burke, who mounted a
stump on Specimen Hill and addressed the diggers on their rights, as
well as through the less rhetorical but equally forcible advice of Syd.
Verner from a similar post of vantage that a decision was arrived at to
send Kennedy and George Black down to Melbourne to interview the
Governor and demand the release of the three men who had been sentenced
to imprisonment.

Syd. Verner and Con. Burke were among the crowd of diggers who assembled
to watch the departure of Kennedy and Black on their momentous mission
and a very excited gathering it was.

In the tense moments that preceded the departure of the delegates, while
Lalor and Hayes and the other leaders of the Reform League were
consulting together, Con. Burke shouldered his way to the front, and was
greeted with encouraging cheers by the diggers, who recognised him as
one of their most earnest spokesmen.

"Go on, mate. We're listening to you," someone shouted.

So Con. climbed into an empty cart that stood near, and spoke a few
words to the departing delegates. He bade them remember that they
represented the whole body of the diggers at Ballarat, and that when
they met Governor Hotham they would express not merely their own
demands, but the demand of 30,000 men, that McIntyre, Fletcher and
Westerby should be released instantly. "And if that request is not
granted, boys," he cried in a voice that carried far, "we shall know
what step to take in our place here to protect our rights and liberties,
and to defend ourselves from brutal oppression and tyranny."

A very distinctive feature of the landscape was Mr. Con. Burke, as he
stood up in the empty cart, exhorting the diggers to defy the
Government. His figure caught the eyes of the spies from the Government
Camp at once, and his heated language reached their ears. They carefully
noted both his name and his remarks, and reported them to Captain
Thomas, who was in charge of the troops. They also reported the fact
that his mate and intimate associate was a certain Sydney Verner, a
native of New South Wales, and late of Bathurst Plains.

Destiny had thrown her net round Syd. as well as Con. Both were now
classed definitely among the insurgents.

When Kennedy and Black reached Melbourne they presented to Governor
Hotham a demand in the name of 30,000 diggers for the liberation of the
three men who had been convicted of incendiarism in burning down the
Eureka Hotel, and were at that moment serving their sentences in gaol.
Governor Hotham recognised the importance of the occasion. He had not
the slightest intention of falling short in what he conceived to be his
official duty, or of allowing the course of justice as laid down by the
Crown to be deflected by a popular outcry. But, being a careful and
conscientious Governor, he resolved to fortify himself with the counsel
of the highest judicial authority in the colony of Victoria.

So, when Kennedy and Black, with aggressiveness and determination
written in every line of their earnest physiognomies, were admitted to
the presence of the Governor, they found themselves face to face not
only with Sir Charles Hotham, but also Chief Justice Stawell.

The representative of the power and majesty of the Crown and the
inflexible guardian of the prestige of the law opposed their collective
will most solidly to the demands of Kennedy and Black. A 'demand' to the
Chief Justice that prisoners who had been convicted by a jury and
sentenced by a judge should be released at the behest of a mere mob
appeared to be little short of an intolerable outrage. But Chief Justice
Stawell, though a choleric man by nature, knew how to be courteous.
Seated beside the Governor, he listened in perfect silence to the
earnest but heated statements of the delegates, who did not hesitate to
make it perfectly clear that they were preferring a demand and not a
request.

When the delegates had finished stating their demand, which was
virtually an 'ultimatum,' there was a brief whispered colloquy between
the Governor and the Chief Justice. Then Sir Charles Hotham, addressing
Kennedy and Black, informed them that the course of law and justice in
the colony of Victoria was not to be interfered with simply because a
number of persons sympathised with prisoners who were paying the
rightful penalty of their crime. He was unwilling to believe, he said,
that the diggers, whom he had himself met during his visit to Ballarat a
few months previously, and who seemed to him to be a fine and
law-abiding body of men, would resort to open violence in order to
defeat the law which prescribed the payment of license fees. But if they
were so ill-advised as to adopt such a course, then he could assure the
delegates that he knew his duty as Governor of the colony of Victoria,
and was fully prepared, and determined to perform it.

Kennedy and Black snatched up their hats and hurried towards the door.
As Black was following his colleague from the room he discharged a
Parthian shot.

"The responsibility will be on your head, Governor Hotham," he shouted,
"if before a week has passed away the flag of the Southern Cross is
flying over the Republic of Victoria."

That same afternoon Sir Charles Hotham sent instructions to Sir Robert
Nickle to despatch a strong body of troops to Ballarat immediately. The
men marched at daybreak--a detachment of cavalry, a detachment of Her
Majesty's 12th Regiment of Foot, and a detachment of Her Majesty's 40th
Regiment of Foot.

Among the men of the 40th Regiment marched Corporal Thomas Verner.



CHAPTER XVII.--AT THE EUREKA STOCKADE.


When the news of the Governor's refusal to liberate the three prisoners
reached Ballarat, a wave of indignation surged over the field, and the
Reform League met to discuss the situation. Men's minds were powerfully
excited, and counsels of violence were freely uttered. Matters were made
worse, when a horseman rode into Ballarat on the morning of 28th
November with the news that troops were marching to the diggings and
would arrive by nightfall.

At Ballan, the mail coach for Ballarat passed the troops on the march.
Verner and Juana and the girls scanned the dusty line of soldiers
anxiously. Stepping jauntily along, with his musket on his shoulder,
marched Corporal Tom, but the coach went past at a fast trot, and
Corporal Tom, with his face thickly coated with dust, was unrecognised.
Henry Verner was greatly relieved at the discovery that Tom did not
appear to be among the soldier's. There was trouble ahead at Ballarat,
he felt certain.

Verner had secured rough accommodation for his wife and the three girls
in a weatherboard building, where Mrs. McPherson took in a few
boarders--visitors and tourists chiefly, who wished to get a peep at the
goldfields during their travels. Thither they retired to rest, after
their journey, while Verner set out to look for his son Syd.

It was not an easy job in the disturbed state of the diggings, for the
men had entirely discontinued working on their claims, and their tents
were deserted. The father searched for his second son in vain. He could
not find him, but near the Warrenheip Gully he came across a stout
stockade, built on the Eureka Lead, and enclosing about an acre of
ground. It was constructed of slabs and strong palings. In the ground so
enclosed were many stout holes where men had been digging for gold. The
holes were half-full of water, Henry Verner peeped between the slabs and
saw several tents in the enclosure. Evidently the tents belonged to
diggers. He examined the place in perplexity. Surely it was not intended
to be used for military purposes. Where were the trenches and earthworks
to protect the defenders? A complete lack of military knowledge
manifested itself to the experienced eye of the old soldier. The place,
he said to himself, could not be held against regular troops for half an
hour.

Late in the evening he was making his way back to the lodging-house,
full of uneasy forebodings, when loud shouts reached his ears from
Warrenheip Gully. Wild hurrahs were followed by a ragged volley, and as
Henry Verner climbed the rising ground he could see that the troops had
arrived, and were being attacked in the gully by a large body of
diggers.

The diggers, hiding behind logs and boulders, fired into the mass of the
soldiers, and shot several of them, including a drummer boy, who was in
the act of beating the 'Advance.' As the troops charged up the slope,
the diggers retreated, but soon crept back and harassed the column with
long range shots all the way to the Government camp.

Henry Verner knew that the die was cast. After that attack a conflict
between the full strength of the Government and the diggers was
inevitable. He went back to Mrs. McPherson's lodging-house sad at heart,
and found Juana and the girls waiting for him with white faces. They had
heard the firing.

"Oh, I do hope that Syd. was not there," said Moira, clasping her hands
together fervently. Aileen was terribly anxious about her brother, too,
but her chief concern was for Con. Burke. If she were to lose him now,
she felt that life itself would be unendurable.

Juana and her husband were both very serious. But Juana had been through
the strain of battles long ago. She had not forgotten the kindly
philosophy of Biddy Flynn. Courage was a great thing, after all. How
thankful she was to think that Tom was out of it all, and safe down in
Melbourne. She did not know that Tom was at that moment cleaning his
musket in his quarters at the Government camp, very tired after the long
march and exciting little skirmish at the end of it, and utterly
unconscious that his brother Syd., or his father and mother and the two
girls, were at Ballarat.

Next morning Syd. and Con. were up at daybreak. An atmosphere of subdued
excitement pervaded the diggings, and as the day wore on they joined the
great crowd of diggers who were making their way to a monster meeting at
Bakery Hill.

As he drew near Bakery Hill, Syd. Verner saw that a platform had been
set up, and beside it a flagstaff was erected. From the top of the
flagstaff fluttered a new flag that Syd. had never seen before--the
diggers standard. But Syd. recognised it at once, and his heart gave a
great leap. Those four silver stars on a blue ground represented the
Southern Cross--the Constellation that had drawn him southward, as
though by some mysterious influence, with a promise of gold to his
heart's desire. It was strange indeed, to see the emblem that he had
followed so far quite close to him at last.

Did it mean for him the end of his long quest?

But Syd. quickly shook off the superstitious fear with which he had
looked at first on the diggers' standard, that symbolised the
realisation of his dreams. He saw many men on the platform whom he
recognised--and among them the chairman, Hayes, the most prominent
leader in the reform movement. Standing in front of the platform, he and
Con. Burke cheered the speakers as they came forward, and followed their
burning utterances with passionate attention.

The two men from Bathurst Plains were conspicuous by their enthusiasm.
They cheered the two priests who occupied seats on the platform with the
members of the Reform Committee. They cheered every reference to the
rights of the diggers, and hissed every comment upon Sir Charles Hotham,
Chief Justice Stawell, and Sergeant-Major Milne, the officer in charge
of the police at the camp, and the chief promoter of the digger hunts.
When Vern, the Hanoverian, came forward and moved a resolution that all
present should burn their licenses forthwith, and swear never to apply
for another they cheered more wildly than ever.

So when the resolution was carried by acclamation, Syd. and Con. helped
to make a big bonfire close to the flagstaff, upon which flew the
standard that bore the emblem--the four principal stars of the Southern
Cross. And this emblem of the Southern Cross floated above Syd. Verner
as he cast his license into the bonfire with the others, and so
committed himself finally to the conflict that was not to be settled
without much shedding of blood.

All that day Juana and the girls remained at Mrs. McPherson's house, for
the spectre of battle was already abroad, and no one could say when the
fighting would begin. Strange tales were afloat of great armies of
diggers on the move from Bendigo and Creswick, and all the surrounding
diggings, to join with the men of Ballarat in annihilating the forces of
the Government and establishing a Provisional Government.

It was said that a Declaration of Independence had already been drafted
by Black, and that a republic was actually in sight.

On the following day, with almost incredible provocativeness, the
authorities at the Government camp organised a digger hunt, and sent out
troops and police to chase the men and demand their licenses. Syd. and
Con. were soon in the thick of it. Volleys of stones were hurled at the
police, and a few shots were also fired. The Government forces drew off
with a few prisoners, whom they took back to the camp and chained to the
logs.

Off to Bakery Hill again sped Syd. and his mate, and saw the diggers'
standard hoisted once more upon the flagstaff. They saw too, that
darkhaired Irishman, Peter Lalor--but a Lalor transfigured by an inner
fire of enthusiasm. Mounting a stump, he addressed the diggers briefly,
disclaiming the possession of special military knowledge, but declaring
himself ready to act as their leader if they would have him.

Have him! Of course they would. Syd. and Con. cheered themselves hoarse
as Lalor, grasping his gun by the barrel in his left hand, and resting
the stock on his foot, lifted his right hand towards the diggers'
standard and solemnly swore allegiance to the diggers' cause.

Every digger present followed the example, and Syd. Verner found himself
lifting his hand towards the emblem that had guided him to the
goldfield, and solemnly pronouncing the words of the diggers' oath--"We
swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to
defend our right's and liberties."

Then two and two abreast they formed up and set off in a long line to
the Eureka Stockade. Syd. and Con. marched immediately behind the
diggers' standard, which was carried by Captain Ross, of Toronto. In the
stockade, Lalor and his lieutenants took down names, formed squads, and
organised drilling, which was begun at once. One of the tents in the
stockade was requisitioned for the headquarters staff, and parties were
formed for patrolling the diggings, visiting the storekeepers, and
requisitioning supplies of stores and ammunition. Receipts were to be
given for every article they obtained.

Syd. and his double-barrelled gun, which he bought from the immigrant in
'Rag Fair,' down in Melbourne, and also his American revolver. Con.
Burke had a muzzle-loading American rifle, and a surprisingly large
number of the diggers were provided with firearms of one sort or
another. Under Lalor's directions, a blacksmith's shop was established
in the stockade, and a blacksmith was set to work manufacturing pikes
with a sharp-hooked projection, to be used for catching and cutting the
bridles of the cavalry.

The Government forces were not idle on their side. Captain Thomas, the
senior officer in command, fortified the camp with breastworks of
timber, in anticipation of an attack in force, and sent the women and
children to the rear.

And so the unhappy day of conflict drew steadily nearer. Henry and Juana
and the two girls had seen neither Tom nor Syd. since they arrived on
the field. They were still under the impression that Tom had never left
Melbourne, and was on duty there, with the main body of his regiment.
Syd. was still quite unaware of the presence of any of his family on the
edge of the battlefield.

Saturday, 2nd December, was a busy day in the stockade. Drill went on at
intervals throughout the forenoon and afternoon. Men were put on to
construct barricades, consisting of overturned carts, palisades, and
rope entanglements outside the main fence. The blacksmith was busy
turning out pikes, and Syd. and Con. joined a patrol party, which
scoured the country for ammunition and supplies. Friendly butchers came
in with carcases of beef, and there was no lack either of food or drink.

Throughout the day there were not less than 2,000 men in the blockade,
but, as the evening drew in, many of them quietly seceded.

Lalor gave 'Vinegar Hill' as the password for the night, and it seemed
to have a sinister significance for many. At any rate, they began to
slip away in such numbers that the 'Commander-in-Chief' threatened to
have anyone else who left the stockade shot at once, and his 'Minister
of War,' Alfred Black, supported him cordially in his decision. Yet
nobody was made an example of and Saturday closed in with a sense of
coming disaster in the air.

Before midnight, the number of men left in the stockade was under 200.
The rest had slipped away, not anticipating attack, some to hold revel,
others to go to their own tents. Neither Lalor nor any of his
lieutenants expected the troops to make a move before the arrival of the
reinforcements, which they knew were coming from Melbourne under Sir
Robert Nickle.

But Captain Thomas, of Her Majesty's 40th Regiment of Foot, away yonder
in the government camp, was a man of soldierly decision. He had spies
out, who brought him full information as to everything that the diggers
were doing. He judged that they did not expect to be attacked until the
reinforcing troops arrived, and so determined upon a surprise assault.
He made his dispositions accordingly, and a few minutes before 3 o'clock
on Sunday morning he despatched a force of 276 men to attack the Eureka
Stockade.

There were 30 cavalry of the mounted corps of the 40th Regiment, and 70
mounted police, as well as 65 infantrymen of the 12th Regiment, and 87
men of the 40th Regiment. Captain Wise, of the 40th Regiment,
Lieutenants Hall and Gardyne, of the cavalry, and Lieutenants Bowdler
and Richards, of the infantry, formed part of the column of assault. The
balance of the total was made up of foot police.

Captain Wise, of the 40th Regiment, led the infantry attack, while the
cavalry and mounted police were sent round to advance from the south and
east, and cut off the retreat of the insurgents.

Among the sentries posted in the stockade was Syd. Verner. He had
relieved a comrade at 2 o'clock in the morning, and was now on duty
until 6. He paced up and down on the platform that enabled him to see
over the top of the stockade, and carried on his shoulder his London
made double-barrelled gun, loaded with ball. Each face of the stockade
was patrolled by a sentry. Most of the other men were asleep, wrapped in
their blankets on the ground, with gun or pike beside them. Lalor
himself was sitting up in the headquarters' tent, writing. Syd. could
see the light of the candle through the canvas.

As he kept his vigil, Syd. Verner had much--very much--to think about.
He had no illusions as to his position. The stockade would be attacked,
if not that night, still as soon as the reinforcing troops arrived from
Melbourne. What would be the result of the conflict? Who could tell? As
for himself, he would fight to the last, but it was not at all unlikely
that he would fall in the battle. What would become of Moira? In that
lonely hour he thought of Moira more than for many past months. He had
followed the gleam of gold, but had left the light of love behind him.
What madness it had all been.

Vern, the Hanoverian, interrupted his meditations. "You see nothing down
there, my friend, eh?"

Syd. peered into the darkness. No, he could see nothing. All was silent.

Vern stumbled off to visit the other sentries. Syd. could not help
noticing that the man was desperately nervous. He looked round to the
headquarters tent. The candle was out. The 'Commander-in-Chief' was
evidently snatching a brief sleep.

Syd.'s thoughts came thick and fast, as he paced up and down with his
double-barrelled gun on his shoulder. Recollections of his boyhood came
back to him, loving memories of his father and mother and little
Aileen--and dear old Tom. How good Tom had always been to him. How many
times in childhood's days Tom had helped him, and had rushed to his aid
in moments of danger. If he only came out of this fight alive, he would
go down to Melbourne and hunt up Tom. What a great yarn they would have.
He began thinking again of all their experiences together. Why had Tom
gone off and enlisted like that? He had never been able to understand
it. But Tom had been born on the battlefield. Soldiering was in his
blood. It was natural, after all, that he should go to the colours.

"Hola! Verner! ees ett oll tranquil?" "Yes!" The voice was that of
Carboni Raffaello, that fiery enthusiast for liberty. He had brought the
ideas of 1848 across the world with him to Ballarat. He was patrolling
round the stockade. It was a marvel to him that his comrades could sleep
in front of the enemy.

"All quiet, Raffaello?" said Syd., in low tones. "It will be dawn in a
few minutes now."

The Italian passed on. Already a faint streak of radiance was appearing
in the eastern sky. It slowly broadened.

Syd. looked out over the long, gentle slope of the ground in front of
him. He could see nothing.

He looked again. Surely that was something moving. The soft glow of the
dawn penetrated the darkness. Ha! The red coats! The soldiers were upon
them.

"To arms!" shouted Syd. Verner, and emptied both barrels of his gun in
the direction of the soldiers. Men leaped from the ground all round him,
and hurried to their places.

"Where are they?" "Where are they?"

"There, there." cried Syd., pointing to a long line of redcoats
deploying at a distance of 150 yards from the stockade.

An irregular volley crashed from the stockade, and the advancing line of
redcoats faltered momentarily.

A bugler began to sound the 'Charge.' But the call was never finished. A
bullet knocked the boy over while the bugle was still at his lips.

"Forward the Fortieth." Syd. heard the officer's confident shout and the
cheers of the men running behind him. The diggers heard it too, and
poured in a heavy fire upon the troops advancing across the open ground.

"Steady, boys, steady. Reserve your fire, and mark your men. Pick the
leaders first." It was Peter Lalor who spoke.

Several of the soldiers fell, but the advance continued, led by Captain
Wise who ran in front of his men moving his sword.

"Come on, men! Come on! Forward the Fortieth." These were his last
words. A bullet struck him, and he fell mortally wounded.

That maddened the troops. In the face of repeated volleys, they charged
up the gently rising ground with fixed bayonets, cheering wildly. The
defenders were already short of ammunition. Their fire slackened. Many
of them had nothing to fire but pistols loaded with pebbles.

The cavalry and mounted police were galloping in from the south and
east. The infantry were charging up the slope in front. Syd. Verner
realised that the end was not far off. He had lost sight of Con. Burke,
but he could hear the ringing words of Lalor adjuring the men to stand
fast.

Ha! The foremost files of the infantry had reached the outer barricade
of the overturned carts, slabs, and rope entanglements. The soldiers
scrambled over the barricade and attacked the stockade with their bare
hands. They tore down the slabs and forced a breach. Half a dozen of
them were inside the stockade already, bayonet in hand, and the diggers
fell back in confusion, taking cover in the shallow holes with which the
ground was pitted.

Syd. Verner gritted his teeth and grasped his gun. He had fired his last
shot. The gun was of no more use, except as a club. Well, he would die
game, at any rate.

Through the gap in the slab he saw two of the stormers rushing at him.
One of them was half-a-dozen paces in front of the other. The foremost
came on with glittering bayonet held low at the charge. The light of
battle blazed in his eyes. He was burning to take vengeance for his
fallen captain.

Syd. seized his useless gun despairingly by the barrel and whirled it
round his head. He gazed fixedly at the on-rushing soldier with the
bayonet. The soldier was coming straight for him. The bayonet was within
a yard of his breast.

God! It was Tom!

Tom was completely possessed by the madness of battle, but he recognised
Syd. just in time and dropped his point to the ground, letting the
bayonet fall from his hands.

Private Pym, the stormer, who was a few paces behind him, saw his
corporal drop his bayonet by some inexplicable mischance. He also saw a
digger apparently about to club the corporal with the stock of his gun.
Private Pym brought his musket to the shoulder and aimed hastily at Syd.
As he did so, Tom saw him, and once again, as so often in his boyhood's
days, the impulse came over him to save 'little Syd.' from imminent
danger.

Tom flung himself in front of Syd. as Private Pym pulled the trigger,
and the ball that was intended for the digger buried itself in the
redcoat's side.

Almost at the same moment, a shot fired from one of the rifle pits, into
which the diggers had retreated, took Private Pym in the mouth, killing
him instantly.

As the redcoats charged through the breach intent on bayoneting the
diggers in the rifle pits, a flying bullet hit Syd. Verner in the
shoulder, and he dropped beside Tom.

And so he did not see the trooper who climbed the diggers' flagstaff
under a rain of balls, and tore down the diggers standard--the silver
stars upon the field of blue, the Southern Cross that had called the two
brothers southward from their home. Syd. was spared that last pang of
disillusionment.



CHAPTER XVIII.--IN THE CAMP HOSPITAL.


Neither of the brothers knew how the battle went on that fatal day, when
more than 40 of the diggers gave their lives for their cause, and when
not a few of the soldiers also fell, including that gallant officer,
Captain Wise, who had been well known and greatly liked on the field of
battle before an oppressive enactment and the corrupt administration of
justice drove the disfranchised diggers into the recklessness of armed
revolt.

Peter Lalor, who lost his left arm in the fight, was still in hiding
with a price upon his head, when Syd. and Tom recovered consciousness,
and found themselves in adjoining beds, under medical treatment.
Commissioner Rede, on behalf of the Government, received the wounded
diggers, as well as the wounded soldiers, into the camp hospital, and
several medical men, who had been engaged in digging, volunteered their
services in attending to the sufferers.

Then it was that Syd. Verner renewed his acquaintance with Dr. Leslie
Smallpage, whose bitter experiences in buying a horse at the Melbourne
Horse Bazaar had opened Syd.'s eyes so long ago to the wicked wiles of
the experienced coper.

It was Dr. Smallpage who extracted one bullet from Syd.'s shoulder, and
another from Tom's ribs. When the doctor learned privately how Tom had
saved Syd.'s life, by taking the bullet intended for his brother, he was
with difficulty prevailed upon to hold his tongue about it. However, at
last he consented, and as Private Pym, who fired the shot, was dead, the
only witness who could have brought the incident to light was silenced.

Dr. Smallpage had an anxious time with both his patients for a couple of
days after their admission to the camp hospital. He refused to allow any
visitors to see them until the fever abated, and their father and mother
and the two girls had to be content with the doctor's bulletins
announcing the satisfactory condition of the patients.

A good many of the diggers had escaped after the fight, and were in
hiding--among them being Con. Burke, but as Aileen wore a happy face, it
was not difficult to conjecture that she at least had found out Con.'s
hiding place, and was ministering to his necessities. She managed to
tear herself away from that interesting rebel, in order to accompany
Henry Verner and Juana and Moira, when they were at last allowed to
visit Syd. and Tom at the camp hospital.

What tears of thankfulness Juana wept as she sat on a chair between the
two beds, and held a hand of each of her sons! How proudly she listened
to Syd.'s whispered story of those last breathless moments in the
stockade, when Tom dropped his bayonet and ran in to cover Syd.'s body
with his own from Private Pym's bullet.

Henry Verner thrilled with pride in his soldier son, though he could not
help feeling a glow of sympathy with Syd.'s whole-hearted espousal of
the cause of the oppressed diggers. Both of the young men had nobly done
their duty--each in his own fate-allotted sphere. Both of them had
proved brave men and worthy sons of a father and mother whose love was
consecrated amid the thunder of the guns.

When Juana at last rose to leave her sons, Moira took the vacant chair
for a few minutes. Syd. had fully realised since that last vigil of his
on sentry duty, just before the attack, that the gleam of gold is a poor
thing for a man to guide his course by. The star of love was to be his
beacon henceforth. He asked Moira's pardon for his long absence in
pursuit of the golden lure, and Moira, of course, forgave him. She loved
him too much to complain of him for seeking fortune, as a man is bound
to do.

Then she turned to Tom. "How can I thank you, Tom," she whispered, "for
all you have done me?"

"By saying no more about it, Moira," said Tom, with a cheery smile. "I
want you to be happy, my dear, and I know quite well that little Syd.
will make you as happy as the day is long."

"But what are you going to do, dear old Tom?" A couple of warm tears
dropped from the girl's eyes on the back of Tom Verner's hand.

"Why, Moira," said Tom, quite briskly, "you must remember that I am a
soldier now. I think I always wanted to be a soldier. It must be in my
blood. When I get out of this place I shall go back to the Regiment, and
I shall be quite happy there. I don't think I was cut out to be a
marrying man, Moira;" he smiled at her so gaily that she almost broke
down before them all; "and so the Regiment shall be my only bride."

And so, after all, the call of the Southern Cross was not the call of
either strife or gold--but the call of loyal love.



THE END




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