|Chapter Title||JIM'S REPORT.|
|Newspaper Title||Euroa Advertiser (Vic. : 1884 - 1920)|
|Trove Title||A Final Reckoning: A Tale of Bush Life in Australia|
A FINAL RECKONI)NG' A TALE OF BUSH LIFE IN AUSTRALIA. By G. A. HENTY. CHIAPTER XVI.-J-I's IirEPORT. " Well, Jones, what is it?" "Your black has just come, sir. I would not let him come in, for the fact is he ain't a figure to introduce among ladies." " What's the matter with him, Jones ?-not hurt, I hope." . ? " He has been knocked about a bit, sir, and he is done up with. travelling. The poor fellow can hardly crawl, and was half starved, so Isethim to work eating, and came off to etch you."' By this time they had arrivea at the door of the'shed. Jim was sitting by a fire eagerly devouring a hunch of cold meat. The men were standing round waiting till. he "had ap. peased his hunger before they asked any ques tion. lie looked up and nodded wheun Reuben cntered. " W\Vell, Jim, I am glad to ses you back," Reuben said heartily. "I was beginning to be afraid about you. I hopeyouare not hurt "'t --for the black had a handkerchief tied round his head. Jim gave a grunt, but continued stuffing great lumps of meat into his mouth. Reuben saw that he must wait till the black's hunger was satisfied, and stood quietly looking on until, having devoured some five pounds of meat, he gaveacigh of contentment, and then took a long draught of rum and water which Constable Jones handel to him. " Jim betternow," he said. "That's right, Jim; now tell us. all about it." "Jim's story was a long one, and it took more than anhour inthe telling, for his English was not always distinct, and it often required much questioning on Reuben's part before he could quite make out its meaning. . The sub stance was as follows : On leaving some ten days before on the . mission of discovering the haunt of the bush rangers, he knew that it was of no use to go among the wild blacks, their allies; as the hostility against their semi-civilised fellows was so great that he would have been killed. He resolved togo back to the spot where the trackihadbeen obliterated by that of the flock of sheep, to make a wide circuit and pickit up beyond, and if possible follow it until he found them. The difficulties were great, for the bushrangers had spared no pains in hiding their trail, keeping always upon hard high ground, and at one time getting into the bed of a running stream and following it for two miles before they again struck for their rendezvous. However, step by step Jim had tracked them, sometimes losing the trail altogether, some times guided merely by a fresh made scratch on the surface of a stoen, or by a' broken twig or bruised blade of grass. At last he traced it far out into the bcsh, many miles beyond the furthest range of settlements, and then he loatit altogether. There had been a halt for some time at this spot. Beyond this Jim was entirely at fault. He made circle after circle round the spot, but could find no trace whatever of their passage, and returned to thepoint where he had missed the trail... He relit the embers of the fire which the bush rangers hadl made, cooked some food, .and laid himself down first to think it over, then to sleep, for it was now just the close of day. It was clear to him that here more than any where else the bushrangers had made a great effort to throw anyone who might be pursuing them off the trail. He had no doubt that the bushrangers had muffled their horses' hoofs with cloth, and had proceeded with the greatest care through the bush, so as to avoid breaking a single twig .in their passage, and the only reason for such greatercaution could be that it was here and here only that they wished to throw the pursuers off the trail. It would have seemed to a white man that they had done this before, especially whenthey had kept in the watercourse; but to black Jim's perception it appeared that they had bean more careless than would be expected, and tent while apparently doing their utmost to conceal their tmcr?ks, they had really left sufficient indications to allow a practised tracker tofollow them. Why, then, now that they were far beyond the settlements and fairly in the country of their native allies, should they for the first time so hide their trail that he could not discover it P The result of Jim's thoughts was that when he awoke at daybreak he started back towards the settlements. When he came to the river which the party had passed in pursuit of the natives, he kept along its bank scrutinising the ground with the greatest care. After six miles' walking he suddenly stopped at a point where the soft turf near tfie margin was cut up by the passage of the party of horse man. Here was the confirmation of his ideas. Arguing the matter out with himself, Jim had arrived at the conclusion that hitherto the tail had been a false one, the bushrangers' ob ject being to lead their pursuers to believe that they had gone farout into the native country, w'hereas infect theirhiding-place wa ome where asmong the'settlements: Should this: be so,.the only way to find them was to search fortheirbaeck-track. Thishbe had nowfound, and, with a shout of triumph at his own clever neas, Jim forded the river and followed the track of the horses. This was now clear enough, the horsemen taking no pains whatever to conceal their traces, feeling perfectly confident that any paursuers must now -be thrown off the scent. Jim followed it till sundown, when he had made some thirty miles, and then, withdrawing some little distance from the tracks,' he made his fire and camped for the night. He was now inside the line of the outlying stations. and had approached to the edge of a bit of wild and broken country which offered so few in ducements to settlers that it had been passed by for the better land beyond, although occa sionally, wh-n herbage was scarce, the settlers in the neighbourhood drove the animals up to feed among its hills. The black had no doubt that the gang of which he was in pursuit had their haunt somewhere in the heart of this wild and little known tract. In the morning he again started, and after travelling several miles, entered a narrow valley with very steep sides, with trees and brushwood grosing wherever they could get a foothold. He now adopted a careless and in different carriage, and although he kept a sharp look-out, no one who saw him would have sup posed that he had any particular objedt in view. Presently he noticed that the tracks turned sharply off from the line he had followed in the centre of the valley, and entered the trees which grew thickly here at the foot of the hills. He made no halt even for an instant, but walked straight on. Half a mile further he sat down and lit his fire, and began to cook some food. He had no doubt that he was watched, for just after he passed the pomt where the track turned off he heard a very low whistle asmongthe trees. Ashe sat by the fire he kept his back towards the direction from which he had come, and when he presently heard footsteps no change in his attitude betrayed that he was conscious of the fact that persons were approaching him until two men stooed beside him. TLea writh a cry as of sudden alarm he leapt to his feet. "Lor'-a-mussy". he exclaimed, "de white man fright:en me bery much. WYhat for dey no say dey come ?" Who are you, nigger, and where do you come from, and what are you doing here?" S"Myname Jim," he eaid: "megoingtro'the country looking for place to 'tend hosses. Me bery good at h?osass. lie look arter dehosses ob 'Mr. Hudson." S"What did you leave him for ?" one of the men asked steronl-. "Someting lost from de house," Jim said qietly. "assa Hudson tlink me took it. He nmake bobbery. so Jim ran away and look for nodder place'" "Um," the man said; "I wonder whether you are speaking the truth? If I thought you weren't I would put s bullet through your head in double quick tome." "so, sah,"Jim svid in great terror; "dat de truth sure 'ough. Jim trr to get work at - .Sd€n?ey..-' Couldn't et, so start awa~andsaok 'lcssese so keep on'and'tink dere more chance out furder. oses massa want a boy for hoess?" S' "WVhst do you think, Bill?" the man who hadspoken asked his companion. "Shall we put a bullet in this fellow's head at once or make him useful ?" "I dussay he is a liar," the other replied, "but then all these blackfellows are liars, so that does not make much difference. A black follow would certainly be useful for the horses and to loot' after the fire. We can always shoot him when we have done with him. We alisoo . see by the way he handles the horses whether he has been accustomed to them." "ALU right," the other said. "You come along with us, then." " What wages masse pay ?" Jim aalsked. "Anythingyou maybe worth. Don't you fret about wages." Jim pretended to hold out for a fixed sum, but the man said in stern tones, " Come along, we dont want no more jaw, so you had best hold your tonrue." No other words passed till they got back to the trees, and then turned off where the horses had previously done so. Two minutes' walk irought them to a roughly-made shed built againat the almost perpendicular side of the hilL. It was built of logs, and there was nothing to show that it sras inhabited. No smooke 'curled up from the chimney; the door and shutters were closed. Any one who, ra-,ing through the va!ley, had turned among the trees and accidently come upon. it, would have taken it for some hut erectet by a woodcutter. One of the men knocked three times at the 'door, and it was at once opened. Jim was psnhed inside. the men followed him, and the 'bhohaveyoo gothere" ,a mansiteing- by 't- side of'a large fire some distance inside the cottage asked angrily. 'It's anigger who wants work. He says he 1s accustomed to hores, so as it was the choice *between shooting him and bringing him here, wethonght we might as well bring him to von. It would be handy to have a fellow to look &fter the horses and cut the wood, and make himself *Publistesed b speill eamaegermet with theactks:
useful. If we find he is of no use, there will be no great trouble in getting rid of him." "That is true enough,h' the other said, "and I don't think there's much risk about it. Come here, you fellow, and let me look atyou." Jim stepped forward towards the fire. IHe saw now that the lihunt was built against the entrance to a cave of considerable size. In the centre was a great fire, the smoke of which probably made its way t) the surface through crevices in the rock above. Four other men besides the one who had addressed him were lying on sheepskins against the wall. There was an opening at the further end of the cave into ah inner chamber, and here Jim knew, by an occasional snort or an impatient pawing, the horses were stabled. The chief of the party asked a few more questions as towhereJim had come from, and how he chanced to .be passing through so unfrecuented a country. As the black had alreadydecided upon his story, the questions were answered satisfactorily enough. "I think he's all right," the man said at last. "At anyrate, here heis, and he's not likely to go out again. - We have been talking of getting a black-fellow for some time, and as here is one ready to hand, we may as well make the best of him. Look you here," he went on sternly to the black, "you come of your own' free will, and here you haveto stop. You will have as much to eat as you can stuff, plenty of rum to drink and 'bacca to smoke, and if there's anything else you fancy, no doubt you can have it; only look you, if you put your foot outside that door unless you are ordered to do so, I will put abullet through your black brain." "All right," Jim said. "Plenty eat, plenty drink, plenty smoke: dat suit Jim bery well. He no want to go out of de house if massa say no." - "That's settled, then. Now, put some more logs on that fire." Tim at once assumed his new duty, and the bushrangers, who all hated the slightest work, were soon well satisfied with their new acquisi tion. There were several carcases of sheep hanging from hooks placed in the roof, where they were slowly smoked by the fumes from the wood. A pile of logs were heaped. up in one corner, and these had to be cut up cuto sizes and lengths suitable for the fire. At one end a space was roughly partitioned off, and this was filled with groceres, flour, and cases of wines and spirits which had been taken from waggons going up-country. - Inthe stable were several sacks of oats and a barrel filled with water which was drawn from aspring a short distance from the but. The first time Jim went into the stable the captain accompanied him, and soon saw by the black's handling of the horses that his account was so far accurate, and that he was thoroughly accustomed to stable work. The cooking was also handed over to him. and the gang passed their time in sleeping, drinking, playing cards, and discussing plans of robbery. For the first few days a sharp watch was kept up on the black, ann the men went out themselves to chop wood or bring in water when it was required. After a few days, how ever, they relaxed their vigilance, and Jim gradually took these tasks also upon himself. He was perfectly aware, although e pretended to be unconscious of it, that the first few times he went out one or other of. the bushrangers stole quietly after him and, watched him at 'work, bit as nothing suspicious?was ohberved. in his conduct' this supervision was gradually given up. .-- -. " It's time to be moving again," the leader of the band said about a weak after Jim. had joined them. " We settled the next job should be Donald's station. We know for certain that he generally has money by him, and there will be the watchesandtrinkets of the women. That fellow Thompson, who worked for them at first, says he has got a first-rate cellar of wine, and that the women are both out-and-outers. If they are pretty as he says we will have them here, lads, to do the housekeeping. We want something to liven us up; besides we shall for get our company manners if we don't get some ladies to keep us up to the mark a little." There was a burst of coarse laugrhter. " What do you say, boys; s'all we start to-morrow ? It's a long ride, and we had best leave about noon. We must get into the neigh. bourhood before dark, so as to give the horses twelve hours' rest before we begin, for we may have to ride for it. "It ain't likely. Barker's is the nearest station, and it would be hours before they could get together men enough who would dare to tollow us: butstill it's just as well to be pre pared, and since that confounded new police officer has been on the station there's never beenno certainty about things.? Wo. owe him one for that last affair, which cost Smith, Wilson, and Mulready their lives,- but we will pay him out yet. Who would have thought of is being there just on that very night? I swear if I ever catch him I will roast him alive." " He is no'fool," one of theothers said. "He gaveit thoseblackfellows hot and no mistake. The sooner he's put out of the way the better. He's a differentsort of chap than the last fellow. I sha'n't feel comfortable till he's got either a spear or a pistol bullet in him." Jim, who was -squatting.- in the co uer apparently half asleep. was listening intentl to everywbrd. "Th?e did nhot heed his presence. in the slightest, fort indeed, he had since, his arrival so mixed his talk with native words that the bushrangers had no idea that he could follow their conversations. He was thinking now what was his best course to adopt. In the first place, he had gathered from their talk that this was only one of their hiding places, and that they seldom stayed very long in one neighbourhood. The question, therefore, was whether they would return. It was of no use his going to give the alarm unless he could return before his escape was suspected, or they would have made off before he could get back again. As for the Donalds, whose station was to be attacked, it gave him no concern whatever, for the Aus tralian blacks had little or no regard for life, except those of people to whom they were attached. It was Reuben's mission to capture the bushrangers, and had it been necessary Jim would have remained quiet while a dozen families were slain until he found an osppor tunity of bringing the police down upon them. He listened now intently for any word which might afford anindex to their intentions. Pre sently the question he hored for came. "Isuppose you will not come back here again. Tome?" "aNpo, I thinks it's getting too hot to hold us in these parts. We might ride back here, give ourhorses a rest, and load up with a few thmgs we may want. We can bring two or three spare I horses from Donald's. The weather is pleasant Snow, and we might very wellputin a few weeks with the blacks. That last haul we made of traders' goods-cottons, and beads, and trum peries for the gins, and brass rings and such like for the men-will putthemi n the beat of Shumours. You may be sure there will be a hot chase after us after this business, and I should I propose that we try our luck down south or a bit." " I agree with you," one of the others said. "L' We hare hadea very good spell here for the Slast ten months, and it don't do to tempt luck too long. .That losing three of our number I last week looked as if it was going to turn." ';What's it matter?" the captain laughed. "So much the more for us to divide. - We have got a roodish bit of brass now, to say nothing of thegoods we have got at each of our places. We can fill up their places easy enoughoany time, and those who come in are free to their share of what there is in the way of grub and goods, but they only share in the brass from the a time they join." - Jun had heard whathe wavnted, and he how lay down airld thought it'out. They were only coming back for a 'short time; possibly they might clisge their minds and not return at all.? It would be a risky thing todapend'updn it-; besides, his master: might be blamed if this attack on the Donalds succeeded. It would be better, then, to try to get word to him in time Sfor him to be there before the bushrangers arrived. He himself wouid seturn to the hut, so that if the polre arrived too late he would beableto continue with the bushrangers till somefresh opportunity occurred for bringin his master upon them. It was possible, of csoes, that ose of the mes would be left in the hut. in which casebh had only to wait. .. * The next morning the men busied themselves examining and cleaning their arms, and after dinner they went to the inner care and led out their horses. S"Now, look here," the leader said to him, "we are going away, you see." Jim nodded. S"We come back again to-morrow. I lock this place up, you stop quiet till we come back. Ifanyone comes and knoeks while we away, Sdon'tJim answer. Let them think place empty.," "All right," Jim said shortly, and went and sat down by the fire as-if he had no further interestintheirproceedings. The windows, he Shad alreaay not:ced, had Sot only shutters out side, but they were firmly closed within with massive planks securely nailed and fastened. Jim heard the last of the party go out, and then the door was shut and the lock turned. Jim heard the party ride off. and then threw himself on the ground and listened to assure himself that they kept steadily on their way. SThe moment he was sure they were gone he Sbegan to search theplace for a tool which would fairly suit his purpose. Presently he found a large butcher's knife with which they cutup the caresses, and with this he set to work to dig a hole in the ground Sclose to thea wall of the hut. The bottom log was only sunk a few inches in the soil, and in e two hours he had burrowed under it and made his way out beyond; then he crept back again, scraped the earth into the hole again as tightly as he could, crawling out backwards. Hethen placed a pieceof turf over the outside hole and stamped it down fist. It was poasible that after he had startedthey might change their mind and send one of their number back again; that, however, had to he risked, and at a eteadyrunhe set off for the settlements. He did not make for the nearest, for he hsd gathered from the talk of the men that the convict labourers of most of thesettle ments in the neighbourhood were inleague with them. After three hours' steady running, in which he had covered over twenty miles, he saw a shepherd's cottage, and making for it gave the man the message which he had taken to Reuben.
He had no sooner done so, and had found that the man was willing to set off with it at once, than he t armed and retraced his steps to the hut as rapidlyashe had come. It was alreadydusk when he reached it. Instead of approaching boldly he made a` S circuit, and crawled up to it on lis belly, and n lay for some time listenming intently with his ear, to the door. He felt convinced that no one.w.s' P there; but to make sure he knocked, anthen a withdrew among the trees. But all was still, and feeling sure now that the place was un tenanted, %eremoved the piece of turf from the p hole and made his way back into the hut again, t carefully replacing the piece of turf, and then packing earth under it so that it would not give way if trodden upon. This, however, was a very unlikely occurrence, as he had made the opening where some bushes screened it from He swept up every scrap of soil from the floor inside, filled up the hole there and trampled it f down, and then, after indulging hisappetite to the fullest, threw himself down and went to f sleep. When he awoke a few streaks of light I streaming; through the cracks of the door 1 showed' that it was day, and he made up the s fire and awaited the return of the bushrangers. It was tour or fivehoursbefore they returned, I and the iistant they opened the door and entered t Jim was sure that they had failed; burt to his disappointment all were there, and his plan of taking them in a trap had not succeeded. At this he was not surprised, for his own calcula- i tions as to the distance to be traversed had shown him that it was very questionable I whether, even under the most favourable cir- I cumstances, Reuben could have got there in I time with his men. Without speaking a word to him the men led r their horses through to the inner cave and threw themselves down by the fire. Jim at once proceeded to unsaddle the horses and rub them down, keeping an ear open all the time to I what was being said by the bush rangers. ( Their remarks, however, were for a time con- I fined to terrible curses as to their luck. - "How did it come about, that's what I want to know?" the leader said; "this is the second time that accursed police fellow has turned up and put a spoke in our wheel. W'hy, it was not more than half an hour after the first shot was fired before they wa's down upon us; there I must have been pretty nigh twenty of them. How could they have got such a lot of men as that together if they hadn't known that we were coming P It beats me altogether." tSo it does me!" was the general exclama toun. "They' seemed regularly to jump out of the ground just when all was going pleasant. Never knew such a bit of luck-that is, if it was luck, and not done o' purpose; and yet I don't see as they could have known possible as we were going there. Why, we didn't know ourselves till yesterday, not what day it was to be, and except ourselves and that black fellow no one could have known it." "Well, it's. certain none of us blabbed, and I don't see as how he could have. told anyone." "Not exactly," the leader said, "considering he's been shut up here ever since we have been away; besides, I don't believe he knew any thingabut it. He don't make out half we say to him, and .when we are talking together he minds us no more than if he has been a black monkey; 'but if he"did it's no odds; he could not have:passed'through these walls and back aoain, aidf he :could who was he to tellit to? T'se men rounid here are all our palse and would. have cut'his jaw short with a bullet. But there,. it's no use talking about it he's not been out,. and there's an end of it. Still, it beats me al-. together; that police fellow seems to know what we are up to just as well as we do our selves. I would give all my share of the swag we have made for the last six months for a shot at him." - "I don't like it," one of the others said, "I don't; blest if I do, and I says as the sooner we are out of here the better. After what's happened I eha'n't feel safe till I- am well out in the blacks' country. If he knows what we are goinf to do, there ain't any reasons whyhe shouldn't know where we are." " Why, Johnson," his leader sneered, "von don't really believe the fellow's' a sort of con jurer do yo 'e?" 1" I don't know," the man said doggedly,' "after he has turned up twice as he has, I shouldn't be surprised at nothing-not- if i heard the sound 'of him and his men, galloping up outside now.'!. There was a moment's, silence as each in voluntarily listened. "We are getting to be like a pack of gals," the leader said savagely, "and I agree. with you the sooner we are out of this th elttler. As soon as it gets. dark we will be on the move; but I tell' you directly we get out ,amon" the .blacks I shall come back again. Y am going to carry off that gal somehow. I've owes her one for years and years, and I always pay my debts-at least, that sortof debt. ' "Now then, you black, just leave them horses for the present, and come and cook us some food; the quicker the better.' Jim hurried about, but in the bushrangers' present state of temper nothing would satisfy them, and when, in his hurry to satisfy their angry orders, he stumbled and upset a gla's of spirits and water he was handing to thecaptain. the latter caught up a brand from the fire and struck him so violent blow on the temnle with I the glowing end that he fell senseless on the ; ground. He must have lain there a lon- time. Ho was brought to his senses by a buscet of water being dashed over him, and he found when he I staggered to his feet that' the band were pre paring to depart. They had already packedup I the bales of presents for the blacks and placed them on the horses. Some of their more valuable s belongings were packed away in a secret i hiding-pl?ce, the rest were left to take their chance till they returned, and, indeed, except t by their friends among the shepherds there was little probability of anyone paying a visit to the hut, however long their absence might be. SHad not been that Jim had proved himself a really useful fellow for the last week they i would have shot him. at once and tossed his i body in the wood; but they found it so pleasant having all their work taken off their hands that after a short discussion they decided i to take him with them. The door was.locked, and they started at a trot, but evening was closing in, their horses had already performed a two long journeys in the last twenty-four hours, and they soon settled into a walk. They. travelled for some hours; and it being then a evident that the horses could proceed, no s further, a halt was called. No fire was lighted, for they were scarcely. bevond: the settlements, t and for aught thev' couldtell;,'n active search s mihtstill be carried on for them.. "r So anxious were they throat they agreedita keep watch by turns, but when' morning broke i t was discovered that the black was missing. i The next quarter of an hour was spent in angry t recriminations; but as none could savin whose I watch he made his escape their quarrel ceased. "It's no use bothering about it," the leader said; "there's one thing, he knows nothing and can tell nothing against us; he may guess what he likes, but people don't waste time in listening to black fellows' r stories. I expect he has only given us. the slip because of that lick across the head I gave him last night. I admit I was a fool to a do it, but I wasn't in the best of tempers; g however, if the worst comes to the worst he can only lead them to the hut, and they won't p find much worth takng there. When we once Sget out to the blacks we can snap our fingers at e It was, indeed, about midnight when Jim had stolen away; he was still faint and giddy,' and his face was terribly burned' by the .blow p -which had been dealt him . but when once 'fairly away from the busherngers he set out.in i. thie direction'in. which' he ]kew the' Dou)ol.' ;'station lay, and- never. halted until he:arrived' a there on the following evening, utterly weariod e and worn out. " Then they have got away after all, Jim." Reuben said, when he had listened patiently to the long narration. "You have done all Sthat was possible, Jim; you have done I splendidly,my poor fellow, and although we were just too late to catch the bushraogers, we saved the people here; but it is indeed un fortunate that they should have got off." ""die knows where dey hab gone," the black said; "dey hab gone to de country of Bobitu--I heard dem say de name. Jim know dat country well--he come from der." Further question showed that Jim had indeed belonged to Bobitu's tribe, and had come'with a party of his people down to the settlements, where he was taken ill and left to Sdie, but was picked up and nursed by Mr. Htudson. " And you cauld take us there 1" Jim nodded. d "Bery long march, massae; tree days with horses. Plenty bad people; much fight." " I don't care how far it is. or how much ; fighting web. ve got to do; I am bound to h hunt down that fellow however far he's gone. I suppose there is no trouble about water-if d they can go there, we can." "Four, six waterholes." Jim said; "no trouble about dat; trouble from de black fellow." " Well, we must risk it, anyhow. We can't tart for a day or two. I must send and fetch up all the police, end I daresay some of the colonists will toin. The news of this business here has maddenedeveryone, and as it is not likely that the blacks will give any trouble for some i time, and as we know the bushranhers have Sleft for the present, no one need be afraid of leaving their station for a week or two." The next day mounted messengers were sent off in all directions, giving notice that the Spolice would start in three dirys' time for a Shunt after the bushrangers, and that there was 1 this time every prospect of success, as their hidmg place was known. On the day named no less than thity settlers assembled, together with the whole of "the apolicefore. All were well armed, and had Sbrought several days' provisions. with- them. M r. ronald had made marked progress, and the surgeon had now every hope of his re Scovery; but as he could not be moved, and it Swas just possible the bnshrnger might return to carry out his threat during their absence,. Stwo constables were left in the house, and Kate was charged on no account to put her foot Soutside the door. . Cro en coao'trno.n.)