|Chapter Title||ON THE TRACK.|
|Newspaper Title||The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916)|
|Trove Title||Benbonuna: A Tale of Thirty Years Ago|
A TALE OP THIRTY TEARS AGO. B
[All righto reserved by (he author.'] h CHAPTER XVII (continued).
Br ROBERT BBTJCE. d
ON THE TBACK. Yes, there was something dead, and on examination it proved, to be the shepherd's dog, slaughtered like its master by a terrific blow on the head that had caused its brains to protrude—but these, with the poor animal's eyes, were already in the crops.of the crows, which, in a garrulous flock, watched every movement of Mr Bowyer, all impatient for his departure, that they might return to tbeir interrupted banquet. Bowyer, however, who entertained a bitter hatred for these black scavengers, prevented this by covering the carcase with bushes in euch _ a manner that they could not get at it; and then set himself to follow the cnlleah tracks, after taking a half circle so as to make sure that he was on the outside of them. The tracks were easy enough to run so long as they led over dusty and cut-up gronnd; but when Bowyer came to a hard spot near the hut on which the sheep had not been allowed to encroach, and
which had also been well swept by the Btrong wind of the day before, all traces vanished. Consequently he was at fault and had to hark back several timeB, but always with the same result. He next went back to the outside of the trackB near the yard and followed down on the ground cut up by the sheep farther to the eastward, where they had been driven up by the two men from the water overnight ; but excepting the tracks of the hawker's team and of Brusher, there were no others; and Bowyer was consequently certain that the murderer bad entered the creek at the back of the hut and bad made off along its bed—but which way ? That was the question. As before mentioned the stony bed of the Benbonuna was a sealed book ; and again Bowyer applied himself to a patient study of its rushy margin and a narrow strip at the foot of the bank composed of soft crisp soil that had drifted down from the plain above and there settled. On this strip, a few yards from where he had fastened his horse, he saw those queer pad marks again, two of them close together, as if made in coming and going, and near them was something else which seemed to greatly excite his astonishment, for he exclaimed, " By jingo 1" as be stared with all his eyes at it. On an ordinary occasion there was nothing to excite particular surprise about the track—for track it was—that Bowyer gazed at so eagerly—it was merely the sole print of a neat No. 7 boot—nothing more. It was, however, the company the boot track kept, that made it worthy of especial notice ; for it was paired off with a thievish culleah, and had ran in couples with it on a very ghastly hunt. Bowyer did not stand long inactive, but followed the new track for several paces till he came to a very clear print in the black clay, which (after noticing the way the steps trended iust before striking the boulders) he proceeded to measure carefully with pieces of rushes, which he broke off to the various measurements. Then to protect this important track from injury he covered it, in an apparently careless manner, with a broken bush, and went on, following the boot heel marks np the bank to a place close to the bodies, where they suddenly ceased, proving to the acute tracker that there the culleah had become detached from the boot. The question now to be solved was—where • was that culleah? It was not an easy question to settle, but the keen sighted Bowyer soon answered it to bis own satisfaction ; the fresh track led straight to the creek from its first impression, which would not have been the case, bad the wearer of the boot turned to pick up the lost pad. The murderer at any rate had left it behind him, and the problem now to be solved was—who had taken it ?" Bowyer moved very gingerly so as not to disturb any existing tracks, and presently satisfied himself that the culleah had fallen into the possession of Brusher ; for leading from the calf pen, his tracks with their hobnail embellishments were plainly discernible close up to the spot where the culleah had become detached, at which point they appeared side by side, just as a man's feet would be if he stooped to pick anything from the ground. As Bowyer himself said afterwards, " The whole affair waB as clear as mud," which after all was not an inappropriate simile —seeing that the whole story was written in dirt. The face of mother earth wears a very tell-tale countenance to those who have long made it their study ; and, in the present instance Bowyer, who was a most intelligent student, had so well read the story written there, that, had he been an eye-witness of the tragedy, be could not have been more conversant with all its details. The only pointB upon which he was still dubions was the identity of the murderer, and as to whether Brusber had actually witnessed the crime. At all events he had obtained one very strong point of evidence against the murderer, and such a knowledge of Brusher's movement on the night of the murder that be would have little difficulty in forcing the latter to tell him all he knew in order to clear himself. After pitifully regarding the dead men for a few moments, Bowyer brought a couple of blankets from the hut, with which he carefully covered the corpses and to prevent this covering being dis arranged by the wind, brought some pieces of fire wood from the wood heap, and laid them on the edges of the blankets. Then closing the hut door, he went down to his hor6e, led it to the nearest water hole for a drink, took one for himself from a freBher spring under the bank, and rode slowly down the creek, carefully selecting those parts of itB bed which were moBt likely to disclose the tracks of the murderer, who, however, bad taken great painB to avoid tell-tale spots. Bowyer had ridden about a couple of miles, and was just on the point of turning back with a view of running the southern bank when a series of loud whip cracks arreBted bis attention, and soon Falconer and Leak, driving tbeir dray and four bollocks, with the hawker's man riding beside them, made their appearance round the rocky point that marked the' junction of the Illeuroo with the Benbonuna. The tongues of the men were as busy as the whip thong, and all were evidently in a in a high state of excitement. " Have you seen anything of bim_ Mr Bowyer ?" eagerly asked Falconer, directly he was within speaking distance. " Who, Tom ?" was Bowyer's quiet re joinder. " Why, Bam Billy, of course, sir ! It was him, wasn't it ?" " I wish I knew ; I am trying to find out now," answered Bowyer. " Did be come this way ?" chorused the hntbuilders, while the hawker's man began to look rather uneasy. " That also I am trying to discover. One thing is certain, though—whoever it was, be came down into the creek, and I believe has not left it so far—at least, not from this (the northern) side; but perhaps he has gone away towards Cudleytans, that is, if it was Ram Billy." " Ob, you may depend upon it, sir it was him; and be's np in the Mernindinie Ranges by this time. You might as well run after a euro on foot; and yon can't get A hone up there," averted Falconer.
" What makes you so certain that Ram illy is the man, eh, Tom ?" " Why, he's just the sort as would ha' one it, and Mr Hawley said laBt night aB ow Billy was prowlin' about somewhere B andy, and that it was him as speared the eifer. In fact, Mr Hawley was a lookin' or him all day yesterday, wasn't he, ack ?" " Indeed!" said Bowyer dryly, while ack, AB UBUBI, did the confirmation business. " Yes, 'n it wouldn't have bin good for Master Billy if be had dropped across him, ven before he done this murder, would it Jack ?" My word, no; Mr Hawley was a hinkin' on him last night while you was down at the troughs ; an' I seen his face, an it didn't look handsome, you bet." " Ob," said Bowyer, interogativeiy, " he was at your camp last night, was he ?" " Yes, slep' there, an' started for Ilka this mornin'," answered Falconer. "You've sent Schlinke after him, bavn't yon, Mr Bowyer ?" " I told him to go, hut I very much doubt whether he'll pluck up courage to start. But it does not matter. You are a good hand at tracking, I think, Jack ?" said Bowyer, addressing Falconer's mate. " Well, pooty tniddlin," answered Jack, modestly. " Then jump out of that dray and come along with me. Two pairs of eyes are
better than one any day. And, Falconer"— " Yes, Mr Bowyer." " You go on, and if you get there before us, pick out the softest place you can find by the blind creek at the side of the old cowyard, and start digging a hole seven feet long by four feet wide. But I expect we shall be up there aB soon as you." Falconer started off at once; and Bowyer, after directing Jack to run the edge of the south bank of the creek, himself renewed his search for a stray track in any sandy patch that might present itself ; and though be saw no actual footmark, he was convinced in biB own mind that on two occasions the murderer had stepped on tell-tale spots, but had blinded his tracks by passing a bush over them. Therefore, whoever he was, he had kept to the bed of the creek and gone in the direction of Mernindinie. As Leak could not discover the slightest sign of any one leaving the creek, there was very little delay, except through following the windings of the wattr-courBe; and Bowyer and hi aBBietant reached the hut almost aB soon as Falconer; but even during the short time that the hut builder bad preceded them, he had made a hurried survey of the place and tBken note of the culleah tracks, which confirmed him in his belief that Ram Billy was the assassin, and so be said to Mr Bowyer directly the latter rode up. " It's Ram Billy, sure enough. There's his tracks up at the yard. Did you see them, sir ?" " Yes, I saw them," answered Bowyer, who did not seem disposed to go into particulars with the men. " Well, they must be bis, sir. I don' believe any of the other blacks has got them things he wears on his hoofs, do you Jack ?" Jack expressed his positive conviction that they hadn't,and Bowyer quietly asked Falconer if he W8S certain that Billy had " Well, next door to certain, Mr Bowyer. Besides, the Gaffer, when he was lookin' at mine last night, said Billy must have 'em on when he's ' goin' through' a camp, and that's how ye can't foller I is tracks." " Oh, did he ?" said Bowyer quietly, " Would your culleah make tracks like those up there ?" " J>Bt the same, I reckon. They're all made on the same pattern I expect." " They must be curious affairs, from the tracks they leave ; I should like to see a pair. I suppose you haven't yours with you ?" aeked Bowyer with apparent curiosity, adding, " I suppose you've a regular rig out of native spears and things eh ?" " No, I've only them things—that is I've got one of 'em in my bag there ; but t'other got lost last night. Them blessed kangaroo rats walked off with it, didn' they, Jack ? " Indeed," said Bowyer. " How did they get hold of it ? ' " Why, you see, after Mr Hawley looked at 'em he put 'em down on the ground and left 'em there, instead of putting 'em in the bag when be turned in Shall I go an' get the oue as is left, sir ?" " No, thank you, Tom, not just now we've wasted too much time already," replied Bowyer calmly, though the instant before he had almost given vent to a most significant whistle. " Well, sir, if you'll come and show us where to dig the grave, we'll start at it at once." " Before you begin that, I want you all to come and look well at the bodies, so that you may be able to give proper evidence in case an inquest is held when the troopers arrive ; and perhaps some of you may be able to identify the stranger. " I don't think so, Mr Bowyer," observed the hawker's assistant, " neither Mr Con sidine nor I have ever seen him before and we know everyone in the North almost." " Well, you had better look at them, so that you may be able to state the number and character of the wounds and also the position of each body. Will you fold back the blankets—thanks." When the coverings were removed the men gazed on the mutilated corpses with that transient awe which the most hardened feel in the presence of Death, even in his most placid guise; and then, after they had made a thorough inspection of the bodies, Bowyer directed Falconer to search their pockets, in which were found only a couple of knives, some pieces of hard dry tobacco, and a few loose matches— nothing whatever to tell of friends or kindred. " Falconer," said Mr Bowyer after a short pause. " Yes, Mr Bowyer." " I've just been thinking that if possible we ought to put these poor fellows in coffinB. Is there anything about Ben bonnna from which you could knock up a couple of shells ?" " There's nothing there, 'ceptin some sheets of bark as come off the old smithy, and they're terrible orkerd ; but we could make a sort of frame with 'em in the grave. like, and then lay another couple of sheets on it for a lid, coulden't we Jack ? Do you think that would do, Mr Bowyer ?" " It will have to do, but do you think you could iranage to have it done to-day ? There'll be no going near those poor wretches to-morrow. " What do you Bay, Jack ?" questioned Falconer of his mate. " We kin do it right enough if we starts on it at once. Will you go for the bark, or shall I go Tom ? One will soon knock that hole down." " 0! it don't matter to me," replied Falconer, and there is no doubt the amicable controversy would have lasted for 6ome time, had not Mr Bowyer promptly decided it for them by saying " You're the bullock-driver generally ain't you, Tom ?" " Yes, Sir." " Well then, yon go to Benbonuna. Jack can dig the grave ; you had better start at once, and when there, I wish you would tell Mick to inform Mr Heslop, who iB at the station, that the murder has been committed by one person,and that there is no reason for alarm there. Also tell Frost, the mailman, to stop till he seeB me. I'll be at Benbonuna about sun down." " Very well, Mr Bowyer, I'll not forget;
answered Falconer, starting with hie team for the station at once. " Now Jack, and you, young man, I I think we had better roll np the effects of BaggB and the other poor follow, and then they will be ready to deliver over to the troopers when they arrive," said Bowyer, as he led the way into the hut, followed by the others. " It will only take a few miuutes, and then nothing can go astray." " Shall we look into their bagB to see if we can find out any thing about tbem ?" aeked the hawker's assistant " No, we will leave that to the police. And now you see what drink does ; had it not been for that miserable rum, both those men would, no doubt, be alive now." " Had they been drinking, sir ?" aeked the hawker's young man, innocently. " Had they been drinking!" repeated Mr Bowyer, with sudden passion. " What do you mean, sir, by insulting me with such a question, knowing as you do, that your employer furnished the filthy liquor which made senseless beasts of those poor creatures ? Had they been drinking, indeed ! I did not ask you to criminate your master ; but you might at least have preserved a decent silence. You had better go I" he concluded sternly, and the young fellow slunk off without a word. " It wasn't 'Arry as done it, was it, Mr Bowyer?" ventured Jack in extenuation.
" No it was not, and I bad no intention of blaming him ; but I hate a quibble worse than a lie, and he richly deserved what I said to him. Now as these things are all tied up, we had better go and choose a place for the grave." Bowyer remained till the grave was dug and lined with gum bark, then after assisting the hutbuildera to place the dead bushmen side by Bide in it, juBt as they were when found, be Baw the rude covering of bark lowered down, and rode away, not to Benbonuna, though the sun was just dipping behind the great range—but towards Brusher's but, which lay about three miles to the eastward of the creek, and to reach which he had to traverse the southern portion of those scrubby hills amongst which HeBlop had lost himself on the previous evening, But Bowyer, who had attended many a muster at Benbonuna in the old cattle days, knew the country intimately, and would have had no difficulty in striking a bee line for his destination even had not s the converging sheep tracks pointed out the road with the precision of finger posts, Brusher's but was situated on the extreme eastern border of the patch of low hill country, cloBe to a small spring in a gully which opened on to a wide grassy plain ; and at the time of Mr Bowyer's visit—it being a hot, still evening—the site of the out-station was marked by a low clond of dost, which, stirred up by the sharp feet of three thousand sheep, hovered over the place and completely hid both hut and sheep from view. On an ordinary occasion there would not have been such a dust, for Brusher's own flock would have drawn quietly home and entered the yard at their leisure, but to-night, being both hungry and mixed with a number of strange sheep, they had been " dogged" home. Perhaps the fact that all the " tangle foot" not drunk on the previous night was in Brusher's hut had ha an influence in raising the dust. Be that as it may, the ex-poacher, when he emerged from the cloud ae dusty as any miller, seemed to think an explanation necessary, for he observed apologetically to Mr Bowyer— " Yer see they're orkerd ternight, d'ye see, seein' aB how, d'ye see, they aint got their bellies full, ceptin' with water, an' d'ye see, Baggs' sheep, d'ye see, wanted to part, d'ye see; an' so I had to dog 'em d'ye see." " Yes, I dare say it could not be helped but what I've come for is to have a few words with you about last night's work," said Bowyer quietly, endeavoring at the same time to fix the shepherd's shifty eye " Have yer diBkivered anythink fresh d'ye 8ee," answered Brusher with feigned eagerness. " I have discovered this, Brusher—you were at Baggs' hut at the time the murders were committed—which may turn out to be a serious matter for you, see ing that you are under a cloud just now.' " But I didn't do it, d'ye Bee." " Well in that caBe it is just as well to have a respectable witness on your side 80 you had better be candid with me, and just tell me what you know about the man who wears a No. 7 boot and lost a black fellow's pad off it cloBe by the bodieB You picked it up at daylighttbiB morning, you know." "Who the devil told you?" cried Brueher, Burprise taking him quite off his guard. " Never mind who told me. I know it And now, if you will help me to make sure of the man with the boot, I'll see you clear of the business, and see also that you are well rewatded." " Well, d'ye see, I've writ ter the perlice already, d'ye see," replied Brusher, endea voring to look like a man who has nothing to fear, and who is not inclined to b questioned. " Oh, you have, have you ? But pray may I ask whether you or the other man has the worse character ? Don't you think it quite likely that he has also written to the police about you ? It will only be a case of cross-swearing ; and with your record I think I know who is likely to come out worst, unless you have someone to back up your evidence." Brusher was evidently staggered, for he blurted out, " But he's wanted already d'ye see." " Yes, I do see. There's a reward attached, and you want to nail it." " Who sed there was, d'ye see ?" " Look here, Brusher, you need not beat about the bHsh any longer. You want the reward; I want the man. You be straight with me, and I'll not only see that you get the money, but I'll protect you both before and after it comeB out. Come it's your safest course ?" Brusher seemed to think it was, too, for he did tell Bowyer all he knew, which, however, did not seem to surprise that gentleman, as he said, " Yes, I was almost certain that it was him, but I could not understand his motive. But look here, Brusher, he is a most determined character, and would as soon wipe you out as look at you, if he got the least inkling of this. You had better hand over the rest of that tangle-foot to prevent risks. You can look after yourself when you're sober ; but not when you're drunk. Pass it out." Brusher looked as if he would almost as soon have lost his life as the rum ; but there was no evading Bowyer, who soon had the remaining liquor delivered to him, and then poured it out to the very dregs aB a libation to the ants, while Brusher looked on like a very ugly statue of misery, and asked pitifully, " Can't yer leave a pore cove one nobbier, d'ye Bee." " Not a drop," replied Bowyer in the most cheerful manner ss be tOBsed the bottle into the creek, " You're safest without it; and mind, not a word to anyone if you want to get that reward and to keep a whole skin." Then bidding Brusher as civil a good night as he could force himself to utter, he rode away into the thickening gloom towards Benbonnna, whilst poor Brusher dug np some of the rum-saturated earth, put it to soak in a little water in the bottom of a bucket, and from it afterwards managed to extract a respectable drink. (To be continued.)