|Newspaper Title||The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916)|
|Trove Title||Barumba Station; Or, Amy Rivers Sacrifice. A True and Eventful Narrative of the Early Days in New South Wales|
A Me mid fireotfdlnarrative EAfiLf DAYS HI HEW SOUTH VILES.
BY CAPTAIN LACIE.
[CoPTBIGHT EkSEEVED.] CHAPTER VIL
When Captain Benson had finished speaking grog was served out by the mate, and, filling the flask, the four men left the brig and walked down the jetty. The horses were concealed in a belt of timber not far away, and, passing over the spot where Moncton had been struck down, the assassins soon came to the animals. Mounting there, no time was lpst in reaching the homestead. Reckless as they were with drink and the tragedy of the night, they galloped on in break-neck fashion and reached the house before ten o'clock. In order to minimise suspicion they called for the meal as though they were hungry, but it was left almost untouched. They had no appetites after what had transpired. As the reader already knows, Lynch at once assumed
a dictatorial manner which Cosgrove did not think it wise at the time to resent The latter was a prev to considerable anxiety. He had promised to meet James Moncton at ten o'clock at the ."waterfall," a small cataract in the creek, about a mile and a half away, and it was on the stroke of ten when the meal was served. As he concluded the men would not require him again he decided to go cn his mission at once, and a few minutes later he slipped out and went in the direction of the meeting-place. He was not more than twenty minutes late and fully expected to see the manager; but it is needless to say he was disappointed in the hope. For at least an hour he waited, loitering round the place, but no sign of his old friend was forthcoming and he resolved to go down in the direction of the jetty. " Perhaps," he thought, " he is watching to prevent the men loading cattle which may have been driven down during the day and is unable to come here. I'll go and, if necessary, help. Some
of these sea-faring fellows would not stick at a trifle. They would as soon put a knife into one's body as eat their breakfast Moncton is a hot-tempered man, too, and would easily get into a row." Reflecting in this strain, the old man went in the direction of the port. He knew the district intimately, for during his six years' residence at Barumba he had made scores of visits to the bay. His injured leg was rather a hindrance to him, but still he made good headway and shortly before midnight came on the sands near the jetty. His eyes at once sought out the ship in the position he expected to find it, but there was no sign of the craft at the pier. As his eyes wandered over the moonlit bay a dark object intercepted the beams for a few moments, and the brig was outlined under full sail and making towards the entrance of the haven. "Didn't stay long," he muttered. " I wonder what can have become of Moncton ? The sooner this watching business is at an end the better. He has a queer fancy about the ranges yonder which I can't make out It would be no use to plant live stock in
any of them, and from what I can see that is what the manager seems to think. I wonder what was the matter with that fellow Lynch to night ? He appeared to be eccentric, and only I know he will be sent from here in a few days I'd have turned rusty. They were up to something to-day, I feel convinced." For about ten minutes Alfred Cosgrove stood near the beginning of the jetty musing audibly on the events of the day and the suspicions which filled, his mind. Had he the gift of prescience he would have known he was on the very spot where about three hours previously his friend, Moncton, had been struck down by Gibson.' No spirit whisperings prompted him with the truth, and, utterly ignorant of the tragedy which had been enacted at the fateful spot, the old servant turned slowly away and went back to the waterfall. The trysting-place was still soli-
tary, and, after a few minutes delay, he continued his journey to the homestead, half hoping he would find the manager at the house before him. In this he was disappointed, as on going to Moncton's rooms they were seen to be tenantless and just as he had left them before going out to keep the appointment Filled with anxiety —for the manager was most punctual —he went to his bed, but not to sleep. It was the first time in his experience that Moncton had made an appointment and failed to keep it, and at last Cosgrove came to the conclusion that the chief had either left the district in the brig of his own free will, or had been taken on board by force. It was just possible he might have met with an accident whilst riding which had disabled him: but if so, the horse would return to the homestead, and that had not happened. At daylight Cosgrove was about again, and an hour later Lynch made his appearance, but passed out without speaking to him and went to the stables. As a matter of fact, the cook's absence had not been unnoticed on the previous evening. Not many minutes after Cosgrove left for the waterfall the men decided, on the suggestion of Laurie, to invite him to a glass of whisky.
"There is no reason why we should quarrel with him/' remarked the young man; "and I know he is partial to this. I think we hare had' enough of the stuff" This view was shared by all the men, and Laurie was sent to call the old man, but he could not be found. The house was searched and his name called out but there was no response, and then the stables and outbuildings were examined, but the quest was fruitless. This led to a sort of council of war which sat upon the absent man. " He is what I told you," began Lynch. "Nothing more than a spy. He has all along been in league with Moncton, and has now gone to meet him; but this time he will be disappointed. Moncton must have been about here all the time watching us. Ever since the night Cosgrove saw the money we have been watched, and that old skunk has been fetching and carrying to put a rope round our necks. What is to be done?"
In the present temper of the men Laurie, who, at the time, was the most humane of the party, saw if a decision was arrived at that night there might be a repetition of the tragedy which had taken place down at the beach, and he counselled a waiting policy. This his comrades would not hear of, but he urged them to at least wait until morning, and, after considerable trouble, he carried the point " What is the use of being hasty in this matter," he contended. " It may be injurious to us if we put Cosgrove out of the way without first learning what we want to know about Moncton's recent movements. It may be the manager has sent for other men or to Braidwood to the authorities. If he suspected us he would never venture to tackle us singlehanded, you know, and
Cosgrove would not be much assistance to him. Let us pick all we can out of the man before we go to extremes." This advice commended itself to the men, for it was desired by them to get a full knowledge if possible of the manager's actions during the three weeks in which he was supposed to be away at Goulburn. Having thus decided they went to their rooms and, despite what sentimentalists and sensational writers say, slept soundly until daylight stole with golden footsteps through the chinks in the shutters, which served as windows, or rather apertures, through which in the hot weather the breeze could be admitted. At seven o'clock they were all assembled in the big-room, and when breakfast was finished Lynch said to Cosgrove, who was in the apartment, and looking as if he had not slept for a week,— "Where Alf?" did you go to last night, The man looked up in surprise, and then slowly answered:
"Out for a stroll. I haven't been well for some time, and not a wink of sleep can I get. I thought to wear myself out by along walk, but it was no use." There was a substratum of truth in the reply, but the men only took it for what it was worth. " You look bad certainly, but wandering around in the night-air will not help you to get better. We had some medicine here last night which would have done you more good. In fact there is some left yet," and, pulling out the big flask, lynch urged Cosgrove to have a little. The old man was fairly worn out, and, with a strange feeling of apprehension weighing upon him, he was not disposed to resist the friendly invitation. A double allowance was taken, and, feeling the influence of the liquor, he became more at his ease; " Moncton is having a long spell this time, Alf. Do you know if he was sent for? That nigger, 4 Ned,' doesn't often come unless there is something in the air," queried Laurie. " I believe he was sent for by Mr. Booth himself, but as Moncton didn't
know what he was wanted for of course he couldn't tell me. I expected him back several days ago," the old man cautiously returned. "Perhaps we are all going to be 'cleared.' Booth is a peculiar fellow and takes strange ideas into his head. I wont be sorry to leave this confounded place if that is the message," spoke Gibson. " I dont know, I'm sure, lads, what is the object It's not often the manager goes to the head-station so soon after his regular visit, and there is something the matter out of the ordinary, you may depend. I believe that fellow Rivers has a hand in it" retorted Cosgrove. "Ah," interjected Laurie, "Rivers, you say! Perhaps he is going to take the management of Barumba?" and there was a glitter in the young man's eyes not pleasant to see as he interjected.
" I don't know; but there is a change to be made and Rivers is at the bottom of it so far as I can make out We should know for certain in a day or two. Moncton was under the impression Booth's nephew—for such I understand Rivers is—would be coming here very shortly; but of course, he didn't know for certain. Well, I must be getting about, boys; my work is all behind," and, after getting another " drop " from the flask, the old cook moved briskly out of the room. " I would make a bet that friend of yours, Bill, is not far away at the pre sent moment The manager and Ned must have gone to bring him down, and most likely he is now lying in hid ing expecting to trap us in the act of stealing the cattle and sheep. Old Cosgrove wouldn't tell a lie about that, spoke Lynch. In fact, Cosgrove had told a little truth in order to avert odium from his friend, Moncton. He well knew the young men would cherish a hatred against him if they thought he (Moncton) was solely instrumental in having them dismissed, and the old fellow choose that Rivers should bear the brunt of the matter and not the manager. When Lynch had finishedLaurie said, in a bitter tone,—
" I hope that man will not come here. If he does perhaps he will never leave the district again. I feel just in the mood to wipe out old scores, and am not particular how it is done. If Rivers comes here it must be to watch us. Depend upon it, he has been sent by Booth for some purpose and we must thwart it Laurie spoke as if he meant what he said, and there is little doubt he did. The loss of Amy Russell still rankled in his breast &n'd now he had tasted blood, like the tiger, he wanted more. Though he had never seen the man who had married the girl he loved, Laurie bore an undying hatred to him, whilst in his eyes the girl herself was almost blameless. " Don't meet trouble half way, comrades. Wait until it comes, and then face it. When Rivers gets here it will be time enough to talk of what we mean to do. It may be a benefit instead of a disadvantage to us. Our plan now is to go about our work as if nothing had happened," concluded
Gibson. This put an end to the conversation, and, following the advice tendered, the four men left the dinfng-room for the stables, but the state of the weather that day deterred them from riding round as usual. A storm of tropical violence had suddenly come upon the district from the north, and while the wind swept along with tornado force a perfect deluge of rain accompanied it. " We had better take it' easy and not make fools of ourselves by going out in such weather as this. Half the trees in the bush will be blown down. Phew! look out! there is most of the roof gone!" Lynch exclaimed, as a fierce blast lifted a portion of the bark roof off the stable and carried it fifty yards away. The storm had come up
with such suddenness that little or no preparation could be made to meet it The strongly built homestead resisted the most violent gusts, but some of the outbuildings were almost wrecked. The storm was in the nature of a tornado, for the men, cowering behind the strong walls of the half-denuded stable, could see the forest on one part of the ranges to the west furiously agitated, whilst on either side comparative calm reigned.. For two hours it raged," and then it lulled itself to slumber. The tempestuous fury was succeeded by a dead calm, but the rain continued to fall in torrents and the adjacent water-courses were filled to overflowing. When the force of the wind had abated and the watery deluge subsided the station hands rode out to see what loss, if any, had been sustained by the sheep and cattle, amongst which the fallen trees were likely to work havoc. " Whether any have been killed or not, we can say a large number have gone under," spoke Lynch. " It will
form a good excuse for missing stock, and one we badly want. Let us take the strip of country which has been swept by the wind," he concluded, riding off to the north boundary where the torn forest denoted the edge of the tornado. The others selected different positions from which the whole of the devastated area could be examined, and in a few minutes they had ridden off leaving Cosgrove alone in the homestead. .This was shortly after noon, and when they were out of sight the cook went to the stable, and, saddling a horse, rode away towards the waterfall where he had arranged to meet Moncton on the previous night The old man was in a condition of acute anxiety, and when the storm first burst he became nearly frantic. Thinking it was general, he realized his friend would be in extreme danger from the falling trees and flying limbs. When he saw only a strip of country was affected he got more composed, but he was eager to be off in quest of Moncton. Now the brig was gone there would not be further occasion for him to watch at the coast, and Cosgrove determined when he saw the manager to urge him to re-
turn to the homestead and wait for a more favorable opportunity to discover the intentions of the young men. The creek was swollen to the dimensions of a river, and the cataract boomed with a sound which could be heard for a distance of at least a mile away. The flood volume would not however, last long as there was nothing to support it; but at the time it was awkward, as to reach the jetty in the bay the stream had to be crossed. After waiting for halfan-hour at the falls and cooeeing without receiving any response, Cosgrove went down the stream for a couple of miles, and at last reached a part where it broadened out and the current was slow enough to allow of the horse swimming it. Strange to say, scarcely a drop of rain appeared to have fallen much outside of the wind track, and as he swam the horse across and cantered towards the .beach the ground showed
no signs of the downpour. He could not tell himself what urged him towards the beach, except he thought if Moncton was not at one point he might be at the other awaiting the arrival of his trusty friend. Cosgrove was again doomed to disappointment, for as he rode out of the scrub the familiar figure of the manager was not visible. After remaining a fewminutes near the pier, he turned the horse's head towards the north, by which route he meant to go back, but scarcely had the animal taken half-adozen strides when it shyed and nearly threw its rider. Wondering at this— for the horse was a most reliable one— he walked it towards the clump of shrubs which appeared to frighten it, and as he did so a dark object lying on the ground met his gaze. He instantly recognised it to be James Moncton's skull-cap. The old manager was bald, and in addition to the usual " cabbage tree" he always wore a close-fitting skull-cap. Marvelling how the article could have fallen in such a place, Cosgrove dismounted, and as he stooped to pick it up he turned pale on noticing it was blood-stained. B 7 (to be continued.)