Chapter 188979846

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Chapter NumberIII & IV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188979846
Full Date1874-07-10
Page Number2
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Word Count5052
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Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser (NSW : 1856 - 1861; 1863 - 1889; 1891 -1954)
Trove TitleLost Eddy Hamilton
article text

THE STORY-TELLER.

LOST EDDY HAMILTON".

By N. Walter Swan.

(From the Australasian. J In Four Chapters.

(Concluded from our last.)

Chapter III.

Jack Shropsley, the dark stockrider •with flashing teeth, rode hard towards home on the day when the party filed off from the verandah of Mr. Belltree's house to assist the search. Shropsley, about whom were vague but always active hints of reckless devilry, of strange doings in Sydney and high connexions in England, was cantering along the brow of the dividing range where the men lit the fires. He was sitting as only a stock rider can sit on the square upstanding horse that carried him with sure feet and an almost equal pace across the billows of land that rolled down to the flat level. The trees were tossed and swept against abrupt banks and mammoth stones, hoar with moss, and solemn from the silent ages that had dwelt around. One power ful hand held the reins loosely, while his grey eyes looked bodingly in front—his beard swept about his breast as did the

trees around the track the horse was spurning. He had an uncertain,^ shifty face, that kept a mystery behind it. There was danger in it, and no repose. When the shoulder of the steep was gained, and the rider could look down on the other side, where the open forest bore trees high and straight enough to mast a navy, he pulled the horse suddenly, and sat looking down on lost Eddy Hamilton. The -imy's embroidered summer clothes were torn and stained, there were clay marks and smudged traces of tears upon his face, but the steadfast eyes and soft hair spoke his position. There was a bunch of draggled flowers in his hand that he had forgotten to throw away, or kept for company, perchance ; and he looked so weary and scared, and his dry lips twitched so painfully, that the horseman could not but pity him. The boy knew nothing but the desire to get home, and so he sobbed " Mamma !" and held his brown hands up. There was the horse man, and he wanted to get back to the old gabled house ; to him all tracks led there, and when Shropsley lifted him to the pummel of the saddle and laid his head back upon his breast he slept with the dead flowers. The handicap made no difference to the big-breasted Sydney cob; the carriage of the little life did not dis turb the owner, who pursued his journey without thought of turning. When the boy awoke they were far upon plains he had never seen before, still riding at the

same steady pace.

Mrs. Jack, as she was called, had dead black hair, and a bearing and manner the bush dress could not disguise. Mrs. Jack had an untamed, withered, once-hand some face, that had a fierce beauty con sistent with a slight scar upon her cheek. She was known upon Melville station to be a good musician and a French scholar. Like Shropsley's face, there was a mys tery behind her. It was to the charge of this couple the lost boy had wandered. While the summer days and the sad bright evenings were travelling across the out station where they lived Mrs. Jack found herself beginning to like him with all her dormant wildness; she grew to love him with an unthinking affection that had something poetic in it. She taught him to read and write, and many other things besides, in the silent days out there. It was altogether a strange board ing school, but I doubt whether the go verness at Hamilton's, who carried shoals of stately references, from reverend at testors in Sydney, could have taught him so well. He might have worn finer clothes, for the embroidered blouse and every scrap thereto appertaining had been early hidden away, and the" story of the finding with them. Eddy was watched by Mrs. Jack with tigerish affection. He was her only companion when Shropsley took them to a new rush known as Muck ford's Ranges, many miles away. There the man made money mysteriously fast, saw orgies through, and drank nigh unto madness, till he wandered off one day and they saw him no more. They walked to gether, and looked down silent holes, and enquired ceaselessly of diggers.

* Straight as the crow flies, beyond the ranges that the blue sky above the Warra matti Plains threw out into strong relief, sometimes Mr. Hamilton could see from his woolshed the last ridge that rose be tween him and his son. Mrs. Jack had seen many phases of life, and when a re spectably dressed man, carrying a hunting crop, called in an elaborately promiscuous way, and enquired of her for her husband, while enquiring, also, of the tables and the chairs and of everything that was hers, asking one set of questions with his lips, and another set with his eyes, and when he was followed in course of time by another enquirer quite as promiscuous and curious, she looked down no more de serted shafts, bnt waited, not knowing what the future might bring forth.

Gradually Hamilton's old house grew sullen with the sorrow that was in it, and lowered out at the brightness that brokenly and tenderly crept in upon roof and gable through the thickly-growing trees. Slowly out to meet it, to gather some gladness from somewhere, Anne Hamilton used to come and watch the freshness of life be yond the gaunt shadows the queer house threw. She had not changed much to outward appearance since the morning the horsemen rode from before Mr. Belltree's . verandah, only for a subtle seeming of re

signation and hopelessness that somehow brooded above her and lived in her voice and bearing. She stood half-hidden by the foliage one day in a lance of light that quivered down about her through softly swaying branches, looking out upon the track leading towards Belltree's. Arthur Wilton had been asked to take charge of a mob of Mr. Hamilton's cattle to sell at the Muckford rush, and she waited there till a pennon of dust heralded the horse man. In half an hour he was with her in

the verandah.

" And their sorrow still continues, Miss

Hamilton ?"

" That will never leave them. My fa ther has no thought but for the secret hidden in those hills. He rides over there week after week, and sketches out new routeB and new theories of Eddy's disappearance. If he could but find something that would set his mind at rest, or the remains of my brother, he would become more resigned, I think. He has

visited every tribe of aboriginals for miles

round."

" Is lie much altered ?" " Look."

Beyond the garden gate tbey saw Ham ilton ride up on a strong restive horse, that he was unconsciously fretting with a nagging rein. He dismounted, and turned to look back upon the ranges he had left. He seemed sadly broken, though he frowned back upon them the frown that wood and rock bore, and looked bitterly at the dark shadows and the tree tops shot with sunlight.

The sentinel trees that circled round the homestead could not keep out the buoyant brightness of the following morn ing. The sun streamed down past leaves and boughs, making sudden spots of light where shadows fell, and the rays twisted and danced on the old walls, and smote them with unusual expression. The cat tle had started on their way, but Wilton was nervously loitering in the garden. His face turned a quick red when he saw Miss Hamilton coming.

" I have waited to see you before leav ing," he explained, by way of greeting, "for I have something to say to you that could not well be said last night. I want to remind you, Miss Hamilton, that I have known you for four years, and that during that time I have learned to love you more than anything else in this world. And, oh !" he said passionately, "if you but knew how sincere I am—how fully I know the depth of the feeling I express, you might not think me unworthy. Miss Hamilton, it will not be long now till I can offer you a home."

She looked straight at him with her wide clear eyes, and a shade or two swept her features that might be pain or sur prise, he could not tell which ; but when he stopped the flush had quitted his face,

and he feared for the answer. " Mr.

Wilton," in that sonorous voice he thought so impressive, " I have never regarded you from the position you have just taken ; and if I did, how could you ask me, even in thought, to leave my fattier and mother

to their loneliness and their sorrow 1 As truly as I stand here, if any other man had said to me what you have said, at such a time as this, I would have laughed him to scorn. Do you think, sir, that a girl like me has no thought but for senti

mental nonsense beside an affliction that

is not yet buried ; beside parents whose sorrow is too deep for words, too sacred for reference ? Do you take this oppor tunity of doing my father a service in hopes that such a consideration may assist your pleading ? Is that the high opinion you have me—of us ? You have done us many kindnesses since Eddy waudered to his death ; but—but—She stopped, for her voice shook. She put her hand forth to pluck a spray of foliage, but it trembled so that she drew it petulantly back, and turning with a swift gesture, walked rapidly away.

" If you would but hear my explana tion," he spoke, in an irregular pleading fashion. " You misunderstand me—in deed you do. If you but knew—She only quickened her pace, and poor humi liated Wilton was on his horse unknow

ingly, and dimly- realising the fact that the regal eyes and imperious manner of Anne Hamilton had smote him scornfully, not knowing nor caring whether his horse

carried him to the veil of dust that ho

vered above the travelling cattle or other

where.

And Anne Hamilton ? When she heard the footbeats of the horse she walked back all trembling to stand among the branches where the spear of sunlight had bright ened her the day before, and she watched him as he rode away, and she marked a change in the way he bore himself in the saddle. Her lofty bearing was gone, she stood holding her hands before her with her fingers twined together, there was a lingering tenderness in her eyes. When the sailing cloud that hung around the drove hid the horsemen from her sight, she ran back, sick of the garish sunlight, sobbing as she went.

Chapter IV.

Wilton had discharged his mission suc cessfully on the third day from his de parture, and he rode back languidly by the side of Sunday. Would he see her again ? He would not so much have cared if she had heard his explanation, and he thought that perchance some time, when her feeling had worn away and the haughty eyes had come to regard him forgivingly, he would tell her that he was prompted to the avowal by the intelli gence of money having been left him in England. -He would tell her this—it was due to himself to do it—and he would serve her interests for years, without any hope, if he could but lessen her anxiety

or assist her father. He would toil in the ranges with Sunday for evidences of. the boy's death or of his fate, so that her father might rouse to the work of life again, and clear the station—now so hea vily burdened—if only for the sake of her

future.

It was late when they arrived. The old house and rows of huts rose sullenly up among the trees like stealthy watchers. Wilton brought Sunday with him to the homestead, and taking the key from its nail among the creepers, they opened the door softly, and crept upstairs to the strangers' room. When a light was struck they saw a visitor sleeping in one of the beds, and Sunday was about retiring to the men's quarters when his master stopped him by pointing to some folded rugs and the floor beside his bed. Mow in silence Wilton began to feel the dull sense of restlessness. There was before

him the shining morning in the garden, and Miss Hamilton's look when he told her of the feeling he had nursed. One minute he was close to her below the trees, with sunlight upon the brown hair that carried metallic glimmerings in its folds ; the next his eye was caught by the figure of the stranger and the strong flow ing beard lying out upon the pillow; then to fragmentary thoughts that clothed a refuge for such as he drifting in upon

mind—

" Passion, as it runs, grows purer; loses every tinge

of clay;

As from dawn, all red and turbid, flows the white

transparent day.

And in mingled lives of lovers, the array of human

ills

Breaks their farther course to music as the stones

break summer rills."

What if the stranger were introduced to him to-morrow as her intended husband 1 What if a struggle came about between them? Wilton's face partly brightened as he caught sight of the clean-cut profile, and measured the outline of the limbs be low the counterpane. If the old days were back, he thought, when prowess won all things, what an effort there would be between them. It would be far better

than the silent fight he must now and henceforth wage against the tumult that was growing. He crushed his hands to gether, and told himself he could not bear it. To lose her whose eyes looked through his dreams, the face that was with him in the silence, the form that was always be fore him—the possibility that was a ter ror, and although, while he thought, his determined mouth was firmly closed, the fever grew. But labour and health are imperative ; he put the proceeds of the cattle sale beneath his pillow and slept. Sunday threw glittering looks at the sleeper, too, before his heavy lids fell.

Wilton could never tell how long he had been unconscious. He was dreamily surging through unusual sounds when a shock upon the bed awoke him He started into wakefulness, but the room was in darkness, and there was a heavy rolling pressure above his feet. Springing up without speaking or noise, he half dressed himself while the sound of hurried

breathing seemed to fill the room, and re- ' peated stragglings shook and agitated, as with throes of shivering, the bed he had slept on. When the little point of light sprang out from the match beneath his fingers he saw the forms of two men in that quiet relentless grip that reminds one of the silent fight of bull-dogs. Sun day and the stranger were struggling for life and death. He could just see the blackfellow's eyes turned towards him with an appealing look as he ran to place

the candle far out of reach. When he turned the owner of the long beard was close up, holding a stained knife behind him. Thought was not more rapid than the instinct that caused Wilton to strike out and send him staggering back ; to seize a caraffe full of water from the

dressing-table at his hand, and hurl it af ter him with so true an aim that it struck his face, and the globe of glass broke like an egg-shell; then Wilton, resolute and relentless, was upon him. Something of the feeling with which he regarded the man before going to sleep stimulated him, and it was with a lithe eagerness he

closed. But he seemed to have met one

in every way bis equal, and as he would not give an alarm, which would be useless in the rambling, thick-walled house, the second straggle proceeded with the si lence that had characterised the first. The fellow had dropped the knife when struck by the missile, and then came a wild trial of strength, but both were matched. They coiled and twisted in vain. They tried tricks of the athletes equally known to both, but to no advan tage. Then Mr. Belltree's pupil, with a sudden spring, stood free and bore down upon bis opponent in a wary attitude of defence, and with danger in his eyes, with his shirt in tatters, and his arm and breast bare; but he found that every blow was parried. It mattered not how he feinted and rained them down, the broad hard arm of the man met and warded them. The strangers' room was in the extreme end of the building from that part occupied by the family, and the soughing, the swaying endeavour, the sudden crashes against the stout walls, might have gone on indefinitely before being heard by the other sleepers beneath the roof. In the dim light, with the si lence round them, they looked at each other, breathing hard., There was a gash in the stranger's cheek, and the blood dripped down and pattered in slow drops on the floor ; but his eyes had the quick, quiet look of coolness and resource. They did not stand thus for many seconds. The stranger's back was to the wall, as at bay, the young man before him quivering with, rage, for he had sighted the cover of liis bed, and it was red with Sunday's blood. The bag of money he had placed beneath the pillow lay on the floor beside the red knife. Observation is quick with men in the position of these two, and the time occupied seemed scarce a beat of a minute, yet the second's truce was suffi cient to let the robber slip his band be hind him and grasp the handle of a stock whip that he felt with his back. It was off the nail in an instant, and the small end in his broad grasp. The lash fell at his feet like a folded snake, and the at tack this time was made by the possessor of the loaded handle. Had be struck Wilton it would have been liis last strug gle ; the downfall of such a weapon, im pelled by such an arm, would have broken any guard and sunk into his skull. They almost met again, and the man smiled grimly when lifting his long arm for the stroke. But he stood upon the thong, and the weapon flew from his grasp as Wilton slipped aside and planted a straight blow on the temple. The stranger lurched forward half stooping, and fell with his head crashing on the walL He sank quietly, almost gently, upon liis face and his^ hands, pattered the floor strangely, while his powerful limbs quivered and then lay still; in a few minutes he was bound with the whip he had snatched for

a weapon.

Sunday was motionless on the bed, his feet touching the floor. When Wilton lifted him in and propped his head ten derly with pillows, he opened his eyes dreamily, and moved his dusky hand to

wards the watcher.

" Shake hands, Mr. Arthur," he whis pered with an apparent effort; " I'm go ing along a dead; I know it. Mr. Ar thur, you save me once, you 'member, I save you now. I would always live with you but for knife. Hold my hand along of me while I go." There was an ominous gargle in his breath, and his face was moist. He went on more faintly, " No more ride together, Mr. Arthur—no more," and mistily realising some change of state in the future life for both when

Wilton should enter there too—" You my master always ; have no more blackfellow only me—only Sunday. I go now, Mr.

Ar

The cold, thin hand closed softly in Wilton's and gradually relaxed. The lids fell tremblingly, veiling the dimming eyes, and the poor black friend went away down into the black valley, with his hand still grasped by bis master. There was no sudden pang, no effort, he but composed himself as to sleep, when bis life flickered out and went up to God.

And when Wilton looked at the big, faithful face that had been with him for years, that loved to serve him better than freedom on the ranges or in the sun steeped woods—when he saw the merry dark eyes shrouded for ever, and his com panion pass to the solemn portals of the other world, he rested his head upon a pillow near him and wept in broken

prayer.

The dawn flowed softly in, turning the darkness to the morning's twilight, and creeping freshly round the walls and across the gloomy room, lighting the scene of the straggle, showing the bound man, showing Wilton awed before the solemn presence beside him, the sombre peacefulness of the face and the moveless ness of the limbs. Wilton looked over at

his prisoner curiously. He was sitting on the floor, looking before him at thoughts

that rose filled with records that are never

blotted nor lost, and contemplating the one unwritten page of life still remaining.

Wilton spoke—" I wish for your sake and mine you had not killed him."

"So do I," the man said quietly, " if there's any good in wishing."

" How did you get in ?"

" I know the place better than you do —stole up before the house was locked. Came for the bag I saw you put in your breast-pocket at Flicker's auction rooms."

" This is a hanging matter."

" So much the better. I was tired of the riddle of life 10 years ago. If death does bring knowledge, I'm on the thres hold. Parsons say it brings devils to those who don't believe in their hanky panky ; let it. The devils of the next

world can't be worse than the devils of this. Don't look shocked, Mr. Wilton. I don't know if I would call Sunday back to life if I could. If he's no better, he's no worse. The happy hunting grounds !" The speaker laughed recklessly.

" You know me V'

"Oli yes, I know you, and Mr. Hamil ton, too. Tell liim that Long Jack, the stockrider—Jack Shropsley—that he once potted for horse stealing, wants to see him ; and give me a drink before vou go."

Mr. Hamilton heard the story before breakfast, and told his wife and daugh ter. He ran up-stairs to look at the room with the evidences of the night's history in it, and when there promised to see the prisoner alone.

Wilton walked aimlessly in the garden, trying to think the night over again. Down near to the same spot where he met her a few days before Annie Hamil ton approached.

"I have been looking for you, Mr. Wilton," she said, in a nervous, apolo getic way. " I have heard of the danger you escaped last night, and—guarded us from—and of the fate of poor Sunday." It was not often this young lady's voice was low or irregular. When she felt emotion she was usually strong enough to hide it. but there was an unwonted soft ness in her hazel eyes this morning, and her voice shook with a tremor she could not control. She went on to say, " I spoke hurriedly the other morning, and I ask your pardon. Will that suffice??' She smiled, and held out her hand, but tears were misting her sight.

The hand was hidden in a warm grasp. " If you had but heard my explanations. A—Miss Hamilton, I did not presume

my services. I do not "

" Not now," she said, flushing. " I've been sent to ask you to breakfast."

And they went in together.

When Mr. Hamilton came down from his interview with Jack Shropsley he looked frightened and feverish, but there was an expression on his face that was new to it. Miss Hamilton looked at him in surprise, and his wife roused from thoughts of the blue-mantled hills and the sinking cries of her child to ask him the reason of the change that appeared to have lifted him into hope.

" He is a dangerous man ; I know he is—and he ha^paid me with interest, God knows. Do you know what he

says V' :

He looked at liis wife with such a joy, such a gleam of hopefulness and expecta tion, that unknowingly she caught the

change.

" What is it, husband ?"

But his face seemed to sink-back to greyness as she asked, and the thought that was in his eyes gave place to the troubled look that lived in them always.

" What is it

"Nothing," he said, sighing; "it was only a thought. Wilton, I am going to Muckford rush to-day. I must tell the police, and get all this terrible business

over."

" I'll go, sir, at once ; my horse is in the stable.'' Arthur had risen, and stood before him as he was walking out.

"You'll stay here, Arthur, my boy, and mind the prisoner. I'll do the work this time. I want to go. I'll know now —perhaps—Arthur." He put his hands in a fatherly way*on his shoulders. " God

bless you."

There was a queer twitching in the old man's face as he hurried out, and in a quarter of an hour his horse was gallop ing towards the diggings.

Constables came and looked knowingiy at the house offtside, and at the house in side. They went up the stairs and down the stairs, and saw the room and the dead aboriginal. They took note of the stained counterpane and the stained knife. They asked to see the bag of money, and when informed that Mr. Hamilton had taken it to the bank, they shook their heads dubiously at such a proceeding, as being altogether ill-advised, and to the last de gree loose and irregular. They hand cuffed Shropsley, and set food before him with a cheerful and business-like alacrity which seemed to imply that house-break ing and murder were, on the whole, rather popular pastimes, but, likebazaar lotteries, slightly illegal.

The day wore to its close, but Mr. Hamilton did not return, and the next day was well advanced when Bob Lee, from Captain Mickletom's run, clattered into the yard, clanged his spurs along the verandah, and asked to see "Mr. Wilt ing, or Miss 'Amilton ; or Missus 'Amil ton would do, if so be she 'andy."

" What is it, Bob ?" Arthur asked, com

ing to the door.

" I sawer Mr. 'Amilton at Muckford, sir, an' de asked me to call an' say he weren t a coming 'ome to-day, nor yet

maybe to-morrow."

" What was he doing ?"

" Well," explained the messenger com placently, " he looked 'sif he'd found a fi'-pun note, an' was a going to buy a candle an' sit up all night and watch it. Somethin's up with the boss ; he's buzzin' about like a bum'ie bee. I don't think he's on the spree, neither."

" What ?"

" Well, I don't mean that; but he is a teann of his shirt in a devil of a way over something. He give me 'alf a snf ferin, an' told me to ride like 1 o'clock. That's all, sir."

^ When Mr. Hamilton did return it was in a hired trap, and with a dark hand some woman beside him. She had a sfcar

on her face, and a broken-down lady-like bearing ; and a boy bore them company who was tall and quiet and sunbrowned. Mr. Hamilton carried a small bundle, with which he ran in advance of the visi tors and began tremblingly to open be fore his wife and daughter. There were the embroidered blouse and the little

shoes that had printed the reading for j poor Sunday at the Christmas time two years before, and there were some faded sprigs of hearth in the little pockets, and the handsome dark woman walked in with a certain sorrowful dignity, and kissed the lad wildly before-telling him to go to his mother, and his mother came away at last and for ever from the bine draped hills, and embraced her boy with storms of sobs, and Miss Hamilton stood by all trembling and weeping, and Arthur

pect ke saw a gladder pros

Mrs. Jack did not see her husband ; she saw a madman in the local hospital that was once the devil-may-care rider, mid latterly the devil-may-care criminal. He told her earnestly that he and Sun day were going mates, and would leave tor Lngland soon. He entered upon the shoreless sea while fighting with the ghosts of his wild past.

, ^kere was rejoicing and happiness in the old home, and one day, when Mr. Helitree and his wife had come, and pleasant voices were round the hearth again, the visitor laid his hand quietly on

tf s shoulder, and asked him what he thought of prayer.

, Hamilton's smile faded, and he bowed his head reverently.

t i Is instructed and trained, John, better than you would have had it done Keep her with yon," referring to the silent woman sitting apart.

" I will, Alex. I owe her much grati

tude.

It might have been a month after this visit", it might have been three weeks— Arthur Wilton could never distinctly remember—but on one evening, when the twilight, all flushed with red and yellow, was stealing away from the coining "night, Anne Hamilton intimated she had been unjust to him in not hearing his explana tion before, and when he made it, stars were trembling in the sky, and tears were

on her face.