|Chapter Title||THE BUSHRANGER'S RETREAT.|
|Newspaper Title||The Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW : 1873 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Ettie's Error. An Australian Story|
ETTIE'S ERROR; AN AUSTRALIAN STORY. !
By HAROLD W. H. STEPHEN.
(Continued.) CHAPTER XX. TIIIS BUSHRANGERS' RETREAT.
. ; ~ I dBspair of~boihg able to convey to the . . reader any adequate conception o£ the feelings ot Miss Tilly Davidson, as she lay, bound and gagged, at the bottom of the cart in whioh she was carried oft by the bushrangers. Most youtg ladies, on finding themselves in such a position, would givo way to despair
most young Iadio3. She was courageous and high-spirited, and her training had accus tomed her to contemplate even such a gross outrage a3 by no means unlikely to happen to a girl in Australia. Her first thought was rage at lior helpless ness, and a fierce dosire for revenge 011 her persecutors. She remembered,. with joy, that. ?- she still possessed her poeket-rcvolver ; and as she reflected that tho time must come when she would be freed from lior bonds, she determined to watch for a suitable opportu nity, and then, without more ado, elioot down her enemies, one after the other. She had perfect confidcnce in her own ability to dis pose of all four, before either o£ them could lay hand upoir her, or upon her weapon ; for Bho know her unrivalled skill, and part of her practice had been to accustom herself to rapid firing at objects removed some distance from one another. But, the important con sideration arose, would bIio bo able to avail herself of that skill after a rough journoy in a spring-cart ? — She would surely bo cramped and bruised, moro or loss, and, under such circumstances, dare she risk so audacious a plan as a combat with four armed and des perate men ? — No ; she would wait until her muscles had recovered their normal elasticity, and then— why, it would not bo well with tho bushrangers; unless, perchance, they met with a re-inforcement. But, of this last contingency, there was small probability. Bushrangers rarely worked in gangs of over four in number, and the worst that alio had to dread would be tho pre sence of some superannuated convict hut keoper, at tho den to which, alio had no doubt, they woro convoying her. Theso reflections coursed rapidly through the mind of the young girl, and were suc ceeded by such sensations of intolerable dis oomfort and physical pain, that all connected thought soon became simply impossible. | She was scarcely able to breathe under the heavy weight of the rug and sacking which had been thrown over lior ; tho wooden gag hurt hor mouth, and tho ropes wero cutting into tho flesh of lier wriats. Thon the cart was being driven rapidly over a rough road, and tho jolting was awful. Tilly feared her senses would soon forsako her; and then, what might not happen whilst sho lay uncon scious? At last a halt was made, and the coverings were taken off hor by tho driver, who also proceeded to roniovo the gag, telling hor that ahe might yell as much as sho pleasedi as they wero now securo from the possibility ot being overheard by any human being. ; ' Will you not untie my hands, and allow mo to sit up ? ' sho asked, in a faint, humble, voice — it was her cuo to appear to bo com pletely broken-spirited, both in order to throw the bushrangers oft their guard, and to gain time to recover tho use of her limb3. 'X am terribly bruised,' sho added, ' and tho rope is cutting my wrists.' ' Shall I? ' asked the driver, turning to tho leader of the gang. 'Yea,' was the reply. 'She could'nt get away if she tried, and wo can ride oloae to the cart.' When tho rope was removed, Tilly essayed to sit up, but fell back on tho sacking — her musoles wero too cramped for aation. Then tho driver, not unkindly, raised hor into a Bit ting position, and propped lior up with her own portmanteau, and the rug with whioh she had been covered. ' Take a sup of this,' ho added, offering hor a flask. ' You'll be all right directly.' Tho girl took tho proffered flask, with a faint murmur of thanks, and raised it mechanically to her lips. It was filled with undiluted brandy, and tho fiery spirit burnt her mouth and throat. Still tho draught did her good, and sho was soon ablo to look around her as the cart once moro went on. It was night, and Tilly could seo that they were in tho midst of a forest, and apparently travelling on no track, for ono of the men walked slowly in front, with' a lantern, to point tho way to tho driver. Aftor what seemed a long interval of timo, tho faint glimmering of a light was Been in the distance, and, a few minutes later, they Btopped beforo a largo liut, the interior of which was lit up by a huge fire, and a ' slush lamp,' suspended from the rafters. A woman came out to meet them, and asked, in a snarling voice : — ' Havo you got her? ' ' Ay, ay— all right,' responded the leader of tho gang. ' Boar a hand with a stool — I gueaa sho's too atiCf to get out without it.' The woman brought the stool, and tho ' ,1' - ¥-':.
tail-board of tho cart having been let down, Tilly managed to slip to tho ground, assisted by tho captain,- who was now quito respectful in manner, and appeared really solioitous for hor well-being. Ho lod her into tho hut, and gave hor in cliargc to the woman. ' Take her into her bedroom, mother,' I10 said, ' and let her lio down. Then you can fetch hor in a cup 0' tea, and a slice of bread and butter. Wo'll just see after tho horses and then come in to Bupper.' Now, for tho first time, Tilly perceived that the woman too was masked — that is to say sho woro a huge poke bonnet, from which a thick black veil depended, so as to thoroughly conceal hor features. ' Sho spoko in quorulous tones, and scorned to grudgo cvon tho slight service that was required of her. Tilly followed her into an adjoining apart ment, tho solo furniture of which was a atretcher, covered with dirty blankets, and a rough log table, tho logs of which were snnk in tho ground, which formed tho only flooring. There was no ceiling, and a sulli ciencyof light came over tlio partition, which divided the room from the kitchen. ' Sit down and I'll fetch yer portmantle,' said tho woman, pointing to tho bod, for other seat there was nono. ' I don't expect you thought you'd find a palace out here in tho bush, and, anyways, it don't matter much if yer did. Beggars can't be choosers, you know,' sho added, with a coarse laugh. Tilly sank mechanically upon tho bed, for, in truth, sho was acarco able to atand, and was far too weak to bo fastidious or critical. Even already, however, sho had begun to think of her plan for achieving her freedom, and she at oncc determined that she would wait until tho morning — always provided that she were loft in peace during tho night. And of this she had good hope ; for the presence of a member of her own sex, combined with tho civility of tho loader of the gang, had renewed her belief in their intention merely to detain her for the purpose of extorting a ransom. Still sho know ttot such men were not to be trusted, and that, if any drunken orgie took place, it would go hard with her, if sho were not prepared to dofend herself. Sho then felt in hor pockot, and found that her revolver was aafe, and she was satisfied, for she had hersolf eleaned and loaded it that morning, Presently the woman returned with tha ' portmantle,' whioh she sot on the ground by tho bed, and advised tho young lady to ' hurry up,' as the men were coming in to supper. 'I shall not require your services, thank you,' said Tilly. 'Which you wouldn't be likely to get 'em, if you did. Now I'm jest a-goin' to lock this down, young woman, 'cos the men doesn't want to be reekonised while they're at their meals. Soon's tho tea's made, I'll fetch you in a cup, and a bit of broad and butter. Tiler's chops, if you'd like 'em.' ' Tho bread and butter will be sufficient,' roplied Tilly, who would have declined eating anything had she not been so desirous to gain strength for her projooted attempt at escape. The men were very quiet over thoir moal, and tlicir conversation was so restricted that their prisoner could gain nothing from it as to their intentions respecting herself ; she gath ored enough, however, to lead her to the belief that they Uad been acting under instructions from some other person, whom sho had not yet seen. When they had finished, the woman came in again (she had previously brought in tho promised tea), and said that everybody was going to bed, and that Tilly had better do the samo. Then Bhe retired, without waiting for a reply, and carefully locked the door behind her. Tho invitation to go to bed, in such a bed, would bo eminently diataateful to any young lady ; but our Tilly was determined not to bo squeamish, but ;to lose 110 moans for recruit ing her strength; Bhe, therefore, lay down, without undressing, and soon all was silonco in the hut. CHAPTER XXI. A FRIEND IN NEED. Tho night passed in tranquility, and Tilly awoke, completely refreshed, at early dawn. No one waB, as yet, astir ; bo sho sprang lightly from her unsavoury couch, and began that examination of her prison which fatiguo and semi-darknesa had prevented hor from undertaking on the previous evening. Sho found that the walls ot tho hut wore of well seasoned sawn slabs, tho joints of whioh had been covered by strips of tin. The door of hor room was securely fastened ; but sho was ablo to open the shutter of a very small win dow; too small, sho saw at oneo, to admit of hor exit through it. The view from this window was restricted, as a skillion abutted on one side; and, close to the other, thore began a strong high paling fence, which enclosed a small yard. Beyond tho fenee nothing was to be seen but dense scrub, rising high up the mountain at the back of tho hut. The prospect was not encouraging, and the girl began to think that her task would not bo as easy as sho had supposed. If she were kept a clo3e prisoner, in that room, how would sho bo ablo to use her revolver, with any chance of ultimate success ? She might shoot down one man, or even two, but sho would surely bo overpowered eventually ; and the bare contemplation of the revenge the other bandits might tako made the girl shudder. No ; she would have to trust to accident to furnish hor with the desired opportunity ; and, meanwhile, she would lull their sus picions by an affectation of bodily weakness and mental prostration, whioh must infallibly render them less careful for her security. In pursuance of this plan, she closed the window-shutter, and, a3 soon as sho heard the woman stirring, lay down again upon the stretoher. Alter an interval, which seemed to Tilly intolerably long, the door was opened, and the woman entered, disguised as beforo in tho poke-bonnet, and thiok orapo veil. 'Not up yet?' she growled, as sho flung open tho window-shutter. 'Breakfast will be ready in five minutes. Maybe you'd like a wash ? ' 'I should, thank you,' said Tilly, in a faint voice ; ' but, I feel very weak and un well. That was a terrible journey last night.' Tho woman chuckled. ' You made it nasty for yerself, my lady, and must not complain. If you'd como along quiet, they wouldn't oven havo tied yor hands. I'll fetch yer a dish of wator, and then you can have some breakfast. There's ohops— I s'pose you can eat a chop this mornin' ?' &Tilly had tho fine healthy appetite of a country-bred girl, and sho would gladly have eaten, not ono chop, but perhaps even two or three ; atill such a proceduro would not havo been in accordance with tho part she had Bot herself to play ; so she civilly declined, saying that a cup of tea would be aa much as she could manage. 'Stuff an' nonsense I ' replied the woman, angrily. ' Wo ain't a-goin' to havo you fall siok on our hands, I can toll yer. I shall fetch you in a chop, and, mind me I you've got to eat it ; else I'll toll them as 'ull find means to make yer 1 ' How joyfully tho young lady heard this por tentous announcement may easily be imagined. As in duty bound, she made some faint show
of resistance ; but, when tho chop did como, she eat it very eagerly, and inwardly sighed for more. Tho day passed without incident. Tilly was not suffered to oross tho threshold of her room, and again failed to over-hear anything of importance. Tho woman (who announced herself aa 'Mrs. Smith') paid her soveral visits, but her conversation was also abso lutely non-committal, and, indeed, for tho most part, consisted of bomoanings of tho hard fate of women in this world, and tho capoeially cruel luck which had befallen her self. Tilly occupied herself with somo fancy work, tho materials for whioh wore in her portmanteau, and puzzled moro and more over the problem of lior fate. Towards nightfall, thero was a break in tho monotony of tho proceedings, for tho voice of a young girl was audible, and presently Mrs. Smith (as wo will call hor for the future) entered tho room. ' Now,' she began, ' young woman, my husband, whioh in my belief lie's a fool for his pains, thinkin' you'd bo miserable lonely here, has brought over a yong gal to stay with you.' ' I am very much obliged,' said ;TilIy ; ' it is lonely here.' ' But that young gal don't set foot over tho threshold of this hero room onloss you tako3 your Bible oath you'll never botray her, or let on as you knows hor, if so be as you over sees her agin.' ' Iwilldo that willingly.' 'An' what's more, you've got to take your oath you'll never repeat a word she says to you, if so bo she's fool enough to lot on any thin' as sho should'nt.' ' You have my word, nay, as you requiro it, I solonly swear to observe your con ditions.' ' Stella, come here,' cried Mrs. Smith, and then, as tho girl entered, she continued : ' You've heard what the young woman have sworn — whioh not havin' no bible handy, the same not bein' of no uso in those diggins', we can't swoar her reg'lar ; or kiss tho book sho should, satno as i£ sho were in tho witness box. You take my tip though, my gal,' (still to Stella), ' if I catches you a-talkin' of things as should'nt be talked of, I'll warm your hide so's you'll never forget it, long's you live 1' With this majestic ' warning, Mrs. Smith stalked out of the room, and slammed tho door, leaving tho two girls alone. Tilly saw a lovely dirty maiden, who stood Bhyly at tho ontranco, not daring to approach nearer to the first real lady sho had over seen in her life. ' Como and sit here by me,' said Tilly. 'There ara no. chairs in tlio room, so, you soo, we must both sit on tho bed.' The girl approached timidly, and placed hersolf at the extreme end of tho stretcher, ' leaving a wido gap between her and her com panion. 'Your name is Stella?' continued Tilly. ' It is a pretty name — and you, you aro as pretty as your name. ' 'Do you think so, miss? Do you think you will like to have mo here ? ' ' Why, of course I shall I I have been most terribly lonely and miaerable, and would have welcomed a far less attractive com panion than you.' ' What is ' attractive,' miss ? ' asked Stella gaining confidence. ' Attractive means lovoablo — nice — some- thing that you tako to at once.' ' Oh, miss 1 And havo you takon to mo in that way ? ' ' Yes, my dear, I am sure I shall like you very much indeed. But toll mo, why is it that you, who are so very pretty, take so little pains to make yourself look nice? ' ' I did not know I was pretty, miss,' was the naive reply. 'And besides, what does it matter ? Thero ain't nobody to care how the likes 0' me looks.' ' A young girl should not dress for others,' replied this very wise young lady ; sho should try to look nice for her own sake. Seo, my my dear — if you like, we will amuse ourselves by trying to mako you look moro like what you ought to look. Suppose you begin by taking off that very dirty gown, and giving your face and arms a thorough wash, whilst I look over my things, and seo if I can't find something to fit you. Then wo will brush your hair, and I will show you how to do it up properly.' Now, )it must not bo imagined that Tilly was not in earnest in making this offer. It is true that, from the first moment she heard that alio was to havo a companion, ahe deter mined to win that companion's good-will, if it were possible. But Stella was so gloriously beautiful, and withal so shy and unconscious, that Tilly totally forgot her intentions, and only carried them into effect from sheer at traction to the object. The girls had a good time. First there was a lavish expenditure of soap and water, followed by a tremendous hair-brushing. Then Tilly arranged Stella's hair in several different ways before sho finally deoided which would suit the girl best. That done, tho robing proccss began, and Stella was rigged out afresh, from Tilly's simple storo of ?clothing. Unfortunately tho effect was some what marred by the impossibility of finding shoos to fit the hitherto untramellcd feet of the bush-maiden ; but, when she finally ap peared in a fair whito frock, which needed hardly any alteration to fit licr figuro, a dainty collarette, and a rich crimson ribbon, nono but tho basest of misogynists would havo scorned her for her lack of shoon. ' Now,' said Tilly, ' you look something like. What do you think ot yourself now? ' Hore she hold before Stella's eye3 a largo hand-glass, which formed part of her toilet paraphenalia. Tho girl gasped with astonishment and de light. Is that me? Is that really me?' she whispered in awe-struok tones. ' It is, indeed, my dear ; and you might look like that every day if you olioso, after your work was done.' ' Hero, you, Stella 1 ' cried Mrs. Smith at this juncture. ' Como along hero and lend a hand with the supper.' 'Oh, what Bhall I do? What shall I do ?' cried the girl, wringing her hands. ' Mothor'll beat mo if I don't go at onoe ; and how oan I go in theso beautiful things? ' ' Nonsense 1' said Tilly, pushing her to-, wards the door. ' Ilun away at once. Your mother will only bo pleased to see you look ing so nice. As for the things, if you aro careful, you need not dirty them, and besides, they are your own, and thoy will wash, if they do get soiled.' |'Eh? Hallo 1 Good gracious I Who's this ? ' — Theso and sundry othor ejaculations of surpriso greeted Stella's entrance into tho kitchen; whero sho found, not only her mother, but hor father, and the other mem bers of tho band. ' What mummery is this ? ' asked Mrs. Smith, savagely. ' Tho young lady gave mo those things,' said Stella, timidly. ' Strip 'em off 1 Strip ovory rag 0' that finery from your back direotly minute I ' cried hsr mother. ' Fallals and foolishness 1 What next, I wonder? You'll bo a-wantin' to go to a ball next, or maybe to oliurch I ' But tho father interfered. ' Let tho gal be, missus,' he Baid gruflly. 'Sho looks reelnice in them storo olothes, though I ses it as shouldn't. Come over hero, my gal, an' give yer ole dad a kiss. My 1 but you du look chipper 1 ' Mrs. Smith (or, rather, Mrs. Chamberlain, as tho perspicuous reader has long since divined) evidently stood in groat awe of hor
I husband, so sho contented herself by sundry ' growljngs and muttoring3 whilst sho prepared | tho supper — unaided, for Black Chamberlain would not suffer his daughter to soil hor 'storo clothes' by any handling of pots and pans. Tilly and Stella enjoyed their tea together immensely ; for tho young lady hail, by this timo, quito forgotten tho desirability of keep ing up tho deception as to loss of appetite, etc.; and, if the truth must be said, she cvon cat moro htan her fair sliaro of tho food pro vided them; for Stella was far too prooccu piod and happy to do justice to tho ' squarest meal ' that ever graced a table. Tho girl had learned two things : — Tho beauty of olcanliness, and the oharm of self rcsprct. For tho first timo sho thought her self of somo worth in tho world — not merely tho Cindorella, grovelling in dirt and ashes, useful only as a drudge, to bo kicked and buffetted at discretion by anyone who would tako tho treublo — but a woman, who, if opportunity wero afforded her, might gain respect, admiration, and oven love from hor fellow-kind. In tho full flood-tido of the joy which welled up in her heart, she sate, as if spell bound, scarcc heeding what her benefactress said, and roplying by suoli vague and outii answers, that Tilly was often fain to smilo, and would have laughed outright, had she not known exactly ' what was the matter.' By and bye, the men trooped off, to smoko and yarn outside, and Mrs. Chamberlain be gan a vigorous ' wash-up,' Stella being held exempt from duty that evening, in consider ation of her gorgeous raiment. Then, in whispers, Tilly told her story, and strove to enlist hor hearer'B sympathy. That Stella gave freely, but she declared that it would be utterly and entirely im possible for her to aid in any sohtme of es cape. 'Father would kill mo, if you got away through me,' sho said. ' He's not bad or unkind, isn't father ; but whon he's roused, he's terrible. Oh, I dursn't help you I I dursn't do it. And, even if I did, I wouldn't know how. You can't get out of this room, to begin with ; and, if you was out, what could you do?' Of course Tilly could not toll her new-found friend of the nice little plan for a general massacre, which sho had previously enter tained. Stella would hardly ho lilcoly to assist in a sohemo which involved the slaughter of at least one of hor parents. And, indeed, the young lady now felt by no means 6Ujte that she would be ablo to mako up her mind to deal out such wholesale destruction as she had contomlpated. Stella had strangely attraotod her, and she felt that sho could not bring herself to cause terrible grief to her now friend. ' See now, Stella,' she said, after a pause ; ^/Joppcising I wero to promise you that no harm shall happen to any of your people, if I escape through your agency ? ' ' But how could you help it? Tho p'leee wouldn't never I030 tho chance of copping a gang of bushrangers, as they calls 'em.' ^flt was now Tilly's turn to ask for an ex planation. The young lady was tolerably well posted in colonial slang, but ' copping' was still absent from her vocabulary. 'Copping means nabbin' of 'em, Miss,' replied Stella. 'You see, there's always great talk about bushrangers, and the p'lecce, they don't often git a reel good show to ketch any. I don't seo how you could stop'em from it, nohow.' 'But I will, Stella — I assure you I will. You dont know how important it is that I should get away from here soon. Why cousin's trial will como on in a few days, almost, and, if I am not there to prove his innocence, I10 may bo sentenced to death.' ' Your cousin ? You never told mo of that. What's ho up for ? ' ' Murder. But I know ho is innocent, and I can prove it.' 'It's very hard,' muttered Stella, half to herself.' 'Here's the cousin of tho only lady as ever treated me kindly got to como to grief, unless I gives up my own father and mother 1 It's cruel, cruel, hard 1 ' ' I tell you again, I am sure I can manage so_ that they will not be proaecuted. Just think of tho many friends my cousin has got I Why John Davidson Squires ' — ' Who did you say ? ' cried Stella, with a sort of smothered Shriek, as sbc clutched tho young lady's arm. ' Who did you say ? ' 'John Davidson Squires,' repeated Tilly, wonderingly. ' And is he the cousin as is up for murder ? ' ' Of course I10 is 1 Didn't I tell you that, if I do not get away in time to give my evi dence, he will most likely be oonvictcd ? ' Stella, with a low moan of anguish, sunk down to tho floor, and buried her face in the coverlet of tho bed. ' What is the matter, child ? ' cried Tilly, anxiously. ' Aro you ill ? ' ' Him— to suffer I ' sobbed Stella. ' And me only able to prevent it by givin' up my own flesh and blood 1 Oh, oil 1 What shall I do 1 ' ' Stella 1 ' cried Tilly, still failing to com prehend tho position. ' Get up, and be sensible. What is tho matter with you ?' ' Ho saved my life,' said the girl, in a smothered tone. ' Saved it whon I was nigh drownded, and his own lifo was risked in doing it.' ' Who saved your life ? My cousin ? ' 'Yes— John Davidson Squires. And now I must see him hang, or send my own to gaol, perhaps for life I Oh, 0I1, it is cruel hard I ' Tilly saw that tho game was won. Very distinctly she again affirmed that Stella's parents should not be proseoutod ; and very emphatically sho asserted that her cousin's life depended upon her escape. 'Tell me all about it,' said Stella, when sho had somewhat recovered her equami mity. - Thus adjured, Tilly recounted the wholo story, as it was known to her, winding up by the assertain of her conviction that James Squires was at tho bottom of tho whole affair. ' I see it all 1 ' cried Stella, when she had finished. ' What do you see ? ' ' I see you are right, It was James Squires that did it — and, what's more, it was him as caused you to bo carried off, so's to stop you from appearing agin him 1 ' ' How do you know that ? ' ' Came to our placo, ho did, tho scoundrel 1 got hold of father, and talked him over. Oh, it's as plain aB the nose on your face I ' ? ' Then, if that is the caso, you muat see how very important it is that I should es cape?' 'That's certain Buro — and, father or no father, I'm bound to help you. I'm not goin' to seo the man liangel as saved my life, not if I know it.' ' Oh, thank you, dear 1 ' cried Tilly, kissing her. ' But how's it to be dono ? I tell you agin, there ain't no show for you to git away from hero, nohow.' 'Then tho only other way is to bring some people hero to sot mo freo.' ' You mean, set tho traps on the placo ? ' ' I supposo the polico must bo brought hore,' roplied Tilly, reluctantly. ' Well, if it's got to bo dono, I'll do it 1 But, I tells you what, Miss — this moans death to mo. Father'll kill me, ovon if I10 iBn't prosecuted ; and, if ho did'nt, there's others as would.' ' You shall go away with mo, my dear. I will take oaro of you in future ; and, by and byo, your fatlior will have forgotten all about it, and will bo glad to make friends with you again.'
— — ? ; ? ; ? . - JK This prospect evidently appeared to bo more chcering, for Stella began, without moro ado, to discuss waj's and means. Tiie result of their oonfabulation was that, whon ovcrybody had retired, Stella orept carefully out of tho house, and made hor way, as well as bIic could, down tho track which led to tho main road. How she met the troopers, lias been told in a previous chapter. To be Continued.