|Chapter Number||VII (CONTINUED)|
|Chapter Title||THE BRAND OF CAIN.|
|Newspaper Title||Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Mount Macedon Mystery|
AN AUSTRALIAN NOVEL, BY IVAN DEXTER.
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.]
THE Mount Macedon Mystery ————— CHAPTER VII.— (Continued.)
——————— The sound of the old lady's voice seemed to reassure the apparent fugitive, and he walked up withoutfurther hesita- tion. His appearance was not calculated to disarm suspicion in the mind of a timid person, but Mountain Mag had long ago ceased to fear anything in the shape of humanity, and was not at all taken aback. The stranger's clothes were almost in shreds— a not unusual circumstance to travellers on the mount. He was bare- headed, and his manner was that of a hunted, panic-stricken creature. He did not appear to be more than thirty years of age, whilst his muscular frame, horny hands and bronzed face showed that he was not unused to muscular toil. As the woman looked at him she saw that the remnant of his clothes were stained in various places with blood, which in some spots was not yet dry. "Have you hurt yourself, my friend ?" she asked, motioning him to sit down on a rough bench in front of the hut, " I see blood on your clothes. " " No," he hurriedly replied, " that is — in fact — I mean to say, I got those stains from a wallaby I shot down in the Glen." " Have you come through the Devil's Glen? If so, I wonder you have any clothes left at all !" questioned the old woman. "Yes, and it's a terrible place. I had to leave the wallaby, as it was as much as I could do to get through the undergrowth myself. " ''Where is your gun?" she suddenly enquired. The question seemed to stagger him, as he did not reply for a minute, and she re- peated it. "I let it fall; into one of these man- traps — a wombat hole. I stumbled into it, dropping the gun, and before I could recover it it had slipped beyond my reach." ''You could dig it out if you knew the spot again," she said. "Oh, it wasn't worth much, so that I shall not go to that trouble. Besides, the animals may carry it away to the end of their hole, and my labor would be in vain." "You are not a stranger to this district by the way you talk," she queried, look- ing searchingly at him. " Oh, yes, I am. This is the first time I have been on the mount, and it will be the last. Strolling here is anything but pleasant. One would require a new suit of clothes every day. " "Are you going to Middle Gully or to Woodend ?" asked Mountain Mag. "To Woodend," and if I don't start at once it will be dark before I get out of this infernal scrub." The old woman hospitably pressed him to have some refreshment, but though he appeared in need of it he promptly de- clined, and at once proceeded on his journey. As he made his way through the inter- lacing branches of the dogwood grove, which surrounded the hut, a bough caught in the already tattered coat and almost pulled it off, he angrily, tore it away, and as he did so Mountain Mag, who was watching him keenly, saw some glittering object fall to the ground. She made her way to the spot, and to her astonishment picked up an apparently
valuable gold watch. With lusty lungs she cooeed after the stranger to restore him the watch, but though the echoes took up the sound, and it reverberated again and again through the mountain silence, causing many a porcine wombat to retreat to its den there was no response. "Well," muttered the lonely Alpine dweller, "I can't follow him. He must have heard me, and if he doesn't like to come back I can't force him. A coat pocket is a queer place to carry such a watch, and when he finds out his loss he will come back I suppose, and I'll keep it fr him." "He seems regular frightened," she continued, "of the mount, and I shouldn't wonder if I never saw him again;" and the old woman resumed her seat at the hut door until the gathering shades of evening lengthened slowly out, and that indescribable sense of loneliness, which the approach of night causes to residents in the Australian bush, impelled her to withdraw inside to the cheerful fire. Even there she could not help thinking of the traveller with his queer manner and appearance, and as she mused sleep asserted its dominion, and the strange solitary woman, fell into a slumber, more secure in that wild region than if she slept in palace surrounded with body- guards and ladies of the bed-chamber.
The traveller with the ragged raiment had scarcely gone a quarter of a mile from the hut in the direction of Woodend, when he turned at a right angle and went slowly forward to the observatory on the western peak of the mount. He distinctly heard the cooee of Moun- tain Mag, but heedless of it continued on his journey. "The old hag wants me back for some- thing," he said, " but she can cooee until she is hoarse. She seemed a little sus- picious of me, and no wonder," he added, looking at his torn and blood-stained garments. "I must contrive to sneak into camp to-night and get a change of clothes. Then I'll decide on future action." A survey camp was pitched beside the newly-built observatory, and in this direction the hunted-looking man was making. Night fell rather suddenly as he neared it, but he knew that in a couple of hours the moon, a few days past "full," would rise and light up the dark mountain." He did not wish to enter the camp until then, and he paced restlessly to and fro waiting for the rising moon. More than once he sat down on a log, but his thoughts— no pleasant ones ap- parently— would not suffer him to rest. He glanced suspiciously around at the various objects, that in his imagination assumed weird shapes. The white skeleton of a blasted gum tree that reared itself between the watcher and the horizon, and was outlined in the orange-colored sky which marked the vanishing spot of the sunken sun, seemed to him to assume new forms, and to be instinct with life, as the kaliedoscopic changes of the background caused new tints to appear on the fiery horizon. The hooting of an owl close by fell upon his startled ears like the moan of some mortal being in his last agony, whilst occasionally a startled wallaby would spring past him, crushing through the dry ferns, and give him a start that would cause the perspiration to break out. "Hang this unearthly place," he mut- tered, "I would give a hundred pounds to be down in one of the villages, but I must get a change first. I'll go nearer the camp and chance being seen, for I can't stand this." He walked cautiously towards the camp until he could see thr blazing fire and hear the voices of the occupants. What a contrast it presented to the silence and solitude he had just en- dured ? As he stopped behind a huge log that a month previously had been a noble tree, one of the inmates of the camp be- gan to sing, "Home Again," and, as the rather melodious voice trembled through the night air the gloomy watcher bitterly said ;
" Home ; aye, some people may talk of a happy home, but I have never known what it meant. To me home has been an accursed place. I have never known a happy moment there, and now," he added, sadly, " I shall nevermore have peace or happiness on earth, or mayhap in the next world eithor — if there in one — but," he fiercely cried, "I have had revenge, long threatened revenge, and I ought to be satisfied." The restless, haunted look of the man did not convey the impression of satisfac- tion, but, on the contrary, spoke of a pur- turbed spirit and a guilty conscience that boded ill for the future. Gradually the cheerful sounds died away from the camp— that human oasis in the desert wild— as one by one the occupants sought early rest in slumber to rise with the morrow's dawn. The watcher, some time after the last sounds had ceased, crept towards a tent, from which no light that night had ap- peared. He reached it unobserved, and opening the canvas door passed inside. In half-an-hour he emerged, carrying a large bundle or swag, and, as the glow of the camp fire fell upon him it showed that his tattered clothes had been ex- changed for a new suit. He went cautiously past the straggling tents, out of the circle of light the blazing fire shed around, and, heading in the direction of Woodend, disappeared in the long amber-light shadows cast by the ris- ing moon.