|Chapter Number||I & II|
|Newspaper Title||The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser (NSW : 1856 - 1861; 1863 - 1889; 1891 -1954)|
|Trove Title||Lost Eddy Hamilton|
LOST EDDY HAMILTON.
BY N. Walter Swan.
(From the Australasian.)
IN FOUR CHAPTERS.
Mr. Belltree keeps a school—a school in which pupils were taught the battle of life, taught to fight with the privations of the wilderness and the solitudes of the grey plains, to preserve a steady eye and brain in chases after mad cattle, and in the madder ventures of the drafting yards, to ride patiently in furious rains and furi ous suns after lost sheep, to endure hardships, to be manful and self-reliant. And Belltree was usually successful. Those who matriculated with him had no fear for the untrodden country. They were energetic men, who pushed forward settlement and civilisation into the mysteries of the dim land in which silence and thirst and hunger had wrestled with the traveller, and led him, faltering or raging mad, where acres of glad blue flowers looked lakes, and the quivering atmosphere danced above—where, in the long vegetation, they sank as below the surface of merciless waters, to leave wisps of rags fluttering over bleached bones—to leave a condensed stoiy of death scratched some how in the time of resignation that God gives finally as a passport before the bourne is crossed. In the year of grace 1842 Mr. Belltree had three pupils, who had taken kindly to the lessons which the Sydney bush taught them after quitting
A week before Christmas, where the Waramatti plains were ringed in by crests of hills that tiered upright from the level, bearing tufts of groves and shadows to their topmost lands, the quiet was dis turbed by the jingling of bits and curbs, the low conversation of riders, and the sound of horses' feet. The pupils were out for a stock hunt, and I think the long gallop on their free-going horses, the sing ing reports of their whips, and the thun der of the cattle hoofs were their most grateful music. It was the mustering time. The bellowing from the stock yards had gone on for a fortnight with little intermission, but there was one lot that had not smelt the wings, and the branding irons and roping poles were wait ing. So Arthur Wilton and his compan ions were out in search, with " Sunday." Sunday, the blackfeilow, rode beside Wil ton always ; he was more than his shadow, he was his slave. Wilton had won him and the leadership at the same time. It was in this way. The three pupils were riding over to Hamilton station one Sun day afternoon, along a frill of wattle trees that broidered the green ridge with yellow blossom. The horses made no noise on the upland turf, but the peacefulness that hangs round the restful Sabbath was fretted by the distant rumbling of a dray, the nearer sounds of a stinging whip, and uncontrolled blasphemy. The young men turned their- horses from the track and rode outside the foliage, for sounds car ried meaning then. They saw a bullock team moving quietly on without guidance, and, below, the driver slashing at the ground, where lay an aboriginal. Wilton caught sight of a face raised above the grass with a terrified expression of pain and pleading in it, and he galloped down. The devil of the driver was in his square face and his passionate words. The white Bavage was cutting the black one with every stroke that fell, and the seamed features were flushed with sullen enjoy ment. In the unbridled lust for cruelty that he was indulging, and the ringing strokes of his formidable lash, the man did not hear the horses coming; bethought himself 10 miles from interference till the hot steam of the horse's breath was on his neck, and the slow voice of the rider in his ear.
" Leave that blackfeilow alone, Halter, spoke Wilton in his drawling way.
Halter turned, with a scowl on his face and measured the speaker and his com panions.
"Come," he said, in steady dogged ness, with his bad blood up, " cut an5 go I ain't interferon' with you. If y' git be tween him and me," snarling down oi the man at his feet, " I'll send yer or with a tattooed fiegger-hed for Mis Hamilton to dress. If I got y' in mi grip, I'd stain yer Sunday shirt for ye." *
fie missed a cut at the horse's head a Wilton stepped quickly from his stirrup Bill Halter was a formidable man, witl the traces of reckless years in his face and scars on his bronzed breast; thi savage history of a bull-dog was writtei on his bruised features as he looked a Wilton with a pleased glare that hac something of wonder in it, and he rollec up his sleeves with a quickness that pro nrised the former little hope of reaching his horse again unharmed if he had beei
" Now I'll show yer," said the curved legged flogger, stepping nimbly up witl his fists raised, and looking over them a! men do along a gun barrel. " Now then.' But somehow he became uncomfortably conscious that his blows never reachec their destination, while Wilton's long arms and sharp, hard hands slashed hi worn face anew with a quickness ant science he had never experienced before Halter was half-blinded in 30 minutes he tried the defensive, but the whit hands flashed down upon him where i pleased their owner to direct them. I was not till the man's arms fell, and h staggered away bewildered, that Wilto:
"You're a poor boxer against a Ion: reach and science," he said, as he ben over the bound blackfeilow. " Find you bullocks before your eyes swell, my man and hark ye, if you name Miss Hamiltoi in that way again you shall feel the effi cacy of your own whip." The bull; of theJeflcot hut was more than beatei when he started off gropingly in th direction of his team. They brongh
the blackfeilow home and called him Sun day.
It was a moody day with a slate-colourei B|ty—this day on which the party wa riding on the Waramatti plains ; the hoi low warm winds swept the brown gras and hissed voices into the native oaks but the fresh horses and the prospects o a chase had their own buoyant influences and all rode merrily on, with Walton am Sunday in front. They had not got hal way to the camping ground when tli blackfeilow pulled up and the rider stopped. He looked down for a moinen on the coiled thong on his leg, and thei turned his big face on his shoulder, a his quick eyes took the direction o
" What is it, Sunday—not cattle ?"
"Not cattle; no, somebody after us,: still keeping his position. They turned but it was nearly a minute before the thi] call of a distant voice travelled up to ther on :he wind, and yet longer before the; saw a moving red spot dancing against th white trunks and the grass. When Bol Lee—horsebreaker and stockman—drei rein he said that Mr. Belltree had com to him, and told him to ride after then on the first horse he could see ; he wa
charged to bring them back as fast as their horses could lay foot to the ground.
" What's wrong, Bob V'
" Blowed if I know, the boss looks nigh a fit, his face were as white as buckskin. All 'ands is told to turn out; Jack's gone
for the bosses."
" What did he say V
"Wot I told yer. There's some peo ple on the verandah. The boss didn't, seem able to reckon it up. The devil's to nav, an' there ain't no one to cash
When they clattered over the slip panels again, they rode round to the verandah, where were men silently and waiting, where were women in riding habits and tears, and over all a pale care and a fretful anxiety forcing men to stride hurriedly up and down the red-tiled
" Lads," spoke Mr. Belltree, with a solemn voice, as appreciating the situation and the trial that was possible, " Eddy Hamilton has been lost in the ranges since
The pleading faces of the women fol lowed the words. The eyes of Anne ' Hamilton brimmed, and her mother's face
had an unspoken misery in it. Hamilton and three men, he said, had been home for fresh horses that morning, and started again in 10 minutes. The old homestead
was empty. The ladies would join in the
Belltree planned out the mode of pro cedure, and gave instructions to the men as they rode over from the yards. "Wil ton dismounted and walked across the verandah, where tropical plants languidly swayed a tender greenness in the shade the creepers threw. There was a bent female form beside them, a cluster of soft hair trailing on her dark habit.
" Where was the boy lost from, Miss Hamilton ?" enquired Wilton, simply put ting aside useless words for the pressing
" From the cattle track at the creek"— raising herself quickly from contemplation of the probable sorrow, and her long lashes from hazel eyes that were not soft, but clear. " God help us, sir; this seems to me to be the greatest sorrow that can be sent in a country like this. The un
| certainty and the dread stab mercilessly." [ " He will be found, Miss Hamilton ; do
not fear. There are men enough on the I two stations to scour every acre from this
to Elephant Peak. Let people travel in J circles."
I "Wilton," said Belltree, coming up,
"you'll take the lead."
" No, sir. You know all the country— I'll act with you, but you must take the responsibility. I dare notand as Mr. Belltree was turning away, " there is a stipulation to make."
" What is it ?"
" The ladies must stay at home."
" Impossible, Mr. Wilton," from Miss TTa.miU.nn quickly; "my mother would go mad."
"Better go mad at home," answered the young man earnestly, " than in the droughty scrub beyond. The number of searchers should not be weakened by send ing back an escort."
" Sending back an escort 1"
" Do you think it will be all over this evening ? God grant it may, but I fear it may not. We may be out to-night, and to-morrow night, and the night again be yond." She put her hand upon her eyes for a time, and drew it away again to look over at her mother, who was scanning the hills before her with, an awe-stricken face. "Go on, gentlemen," standing up and
speaking in those steady sonorous tones j which so often accompany ability in wo men ; " there is no time to lose, and God go with you. We remain behind."
Every one heard her except her mother. She was over on the scarred side of the ranges opposite, tracking her boy, and fighting towards his voice through tangled bush ; the nervous jerkings of her arms and the twitching of her lips told that. She was unconscious that the men were on horseback all provisioned, and that the final instructions had been given. She was far before them, amongst the fern and parasites under the boding veil that wrapped the lonely hills—looking at her boy's bewildered face, and pressing him
in her arms—found.
" Now, lads," spoke Belltree, in a low voice that was half a whisper, " hats off." The speaker's thin grizzled hair was swept upon his forehead, enhancing the rever ent calmness of Ms face. There were a score of heads uncovered at once. Faces that were hard and evil-looking caught the appeal, and bowed before some superior mystery they did not understand. Sun day looked at Mr. Belltree with an ex pression of wonder around his open mouth and laughing lips.
There are those who do not believe in the efficacy of prayer. I wish they could have seen these reckless bushmen awed into prayer on the moment—the prayer that is felt rather than uttered. I wish they could have seen the unkempt heads and the corded hands holding tattered hats, the powerful faces bent in undefin able reverence, while Mr. Belltree ad dressed a few words to the Mystery that lives in us and around us. They might not have heard the grandeur of an organ swell, or the cadence of an antiphon, but if ever beseeching is heard by a Power that rules the destinies of earth it was heard from that valley traversed with its forest aisles, walled in by the cathedral pomp of majestic rocks and the fretted eminences that corbelled the vaulted spans of sky. And if there is no prayer heard—if there is no interference under heaven or among men with immutable laws—if they know no variableness or shadow of turning, how wild soever may be the cry of the supplication—its uses spoke in the firmer determination and the evident elevation it had on those who rode slowly and silently out into the wilderness to snatch a young life from the glamour of the silence and the sameness of the piti
They were away through the gate and half across the first paddock when Mrs. Hamilton came back from the mist that hid the crags and stony rents before her. She rose hurriedly to find her horse, but Mrs. Belltree's resolute face was beside her in a moment, and her resolute hand upon her arm.
" Come inside, Emily (they had been neighbours for years), you must not em barrass the men by going. His arm is
The horsemen reached the cattle track by the crossing where the flowers grew, and they clustered for a minute unde cided, till Sunday rode across the shallow water, and pointed out the direction of the footsteps. In a few minutes they had strung out on either side, and taking a sweep of country with them, crept up the hill, Sunday always ahead, snorting satis faction at his work. His pride was roused, and he read the record of crushed grass, of displaced gravel, of a dropped flower, of any sign that the winds or the rains or the wandering cattle do not print upon rock, or plant, or shingle. They crept up hill a long parti-coloured ribbon flashing
red, or Mack, or white, upon the leaves and the rough land over which the horses stumbled. They hurled out cooeys in volleys, in platoons, in every order and after every fashion. The wild noises danced up before them against the faces of moist rocks and the brows and shoul ders of hills, and rolled jibbering back in unreal tones many times multiplied out of the hollow silence, as in pain—as from the boy—and some cheered that he was found and some galloped on, but Sunday still walked beside his horse, reading as he walked. He had turned the line of search to take sweeps of hills and gorges in many directions, and when the mock ing cooeys returned upon the searchers as faint cries, and the dullest looked up bright and eager that the child had an swered, his swart face never lifted from the line written by the tottering feet. The twilight crept from shadow unto darkness, and the tired men made great stacks of fires that hissed waving flames upon the night, and threw paths of light away up the steeps, and away down below, where dry eyes were watching. Mr. Bell tree stood out from the glare to look through the night if he might perchance discover a flicker from the homestead on the lands below. He knew the suspense hidden there across the lonely fissures and ravines and the steep grim rocks. " To morrow, and perhaps again next day, we may travel fruitlessly and upon the thought he whispered in fear, " Is the boy to die calling upon us from the iron silence and the savage fastnesses, sobbing himself into his last sleep? By God's providence, no."
" Come this way, Alick," spoke a man hoarsely, with a deep tremor of excite ment in his voice—"farther from the men, over here in the silence, I want to
talk with you."
The two walked away into the soft blackness to a smooth plateau that ran down like a carpet from the lights.
" I needn't ask you if you have been successful, Hamilton. Your manner tells me that Sonny is still lost."
He spoke in the old, kind way, whis peringly, and made himself half a father to the child, by using the name used at home, and by the tenderness and sympa thy of his voice.
" Sit down—sit down."
They could but see each other's forms, that looked blacker in tbe darkness, and gauge each other's thoughts by the ex pression in their tones.
" You and I have been friends, Alick Belltree, for many years, through the early troubles and the happinesses that came later—." There was a pause, when 1 the speaker seemed to shrink and strive ; but a hard sob broke the words that followed—"This is the hardest trial
t "The boy cannot be regarded as lost yet, John ; and by God's help he will be found. Our prayers will not be left un
Mr. Hamilton stood up with an impa tient kind of helplessness. " I don't un derstand it. I don't believe it. Fm not often broken like this, Alick ; but my
And they remained so for a time, the figure of one so lost in the blackness and so silent that he could scarce be seen; tbe otber standing swaying monotonously against the crowding clouds and tbe blurred stars. Then, stooping under some sudden thought, Hamilton put a
trembling hand on his companion's shoul- | der, and whispered as he would have j done if under shame or fear—as there might be a trust and a hope in it that he*, did not know of, as his bitterness and wild talk might prejudice the lad's safety—his beard brushing his friend's
" Alick, pray for Sonny."
He threw himself on the ground in silence—a silence that was long un
" I have prayed," said Mr. Belltree, simply and solemnly. " Let us get some
The ground was swept by the belt of searchers. Cooeys rang out, and crannies and sheltered spots where a wildered boy might creep to for rest were searched, till Sunday pulled up with sulky mortification
on his face.
" No use," he said, gloomily ; " no track past cattle track. He couldn't jump on a station horse along of it. I don't see what about it any more." His slen der finger followed his words. " He ain't up it or down it," marking the course of a narrow path that wound along the hill like a thread, and looking at the dust upon it. " A horse canter along here ; plenty wild horses about. I don't know
But the next day and the next the search went on. Solemn and sombre places were penetrated by tired faces and hot eyes, and the sun poured down, and fiercely fought them all till they dropped off one by one. Sunday and Wilton tried back and again to the cattle track. Others parched and aimless cooeyed hoarsely from their stumbling horses as they rode home wards, and Mr. Belltree led the father gently back again, wild with fever and laughing fiercely at prayer.
(To be concluded in our n&ct.)