|Chapter Number||XVI (CONTINUED)|
|Newspaper Title||The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Ronald Walton: A Tale of Early Squatting Life in Moreton Bay|
A TALE OF EARLY SQUATTING LIFE IN
Br TUB AtrrnoROF *'AdvestohesinQueessland."
[AU Rights Reserved.]
Ronald was the first to speak.
" I thought you said, Pot, that the time had passed this year without anything connected with the horrible mystery occurring ? "
" So it has, sir-just a ueek. It always carno at midnight on the first of Soptembor, nnd this is the eighth. I can't make it out."
" You aro out in your reckoning, Pet-this is the night of the firat of Soptember."
"Well, I'm blowed ! I've gota week a-hoad, somehow. Wo does get out sometimes in theso out-of-the way places. Why, I've often worked a Sundays nnd spoiled a Mondays nfore this, iu the bush. P'r'nps he," jerking his head towards the corpse, "knowed it, and that's why ho sot up. Don't you believe it now, sir ?"
" I must think over it a bit. I am unwilling to believe in the supernatural. I will tell you what I think. Poor Billy committed the murder-or knew all about it. It has preyed upon his mind till he becamo queer. Such terrible Becrcts will tell that way, you know, Wo talked of digging to seo if wo could discovor anything at the foot of that tree, and his terror
at the certainty of our finding what the uloments ' have revealed, may have quite unhinged his j
mind. When the door blew open, his fears so
acted on a diseased mind, that ho mentally saw | tho very mau ho so much dreaded, beckoning I to him. His running three times round the hut, ' and then towards the treo, may have been sug- gested by what wo were saying not so many hours before. Then wo know that both liish trees and iron attract lightning, so that thero Í3 nothing wonderful in that tree being struck as many trees are on every run in Australia
"What about the skeleton, sir 1"
"Thero is nothing very wonderful, either, in a skeleton being turned to tho surface when such a root ns that was split, and the earth heaved over by it. The presence of the chain no doubt had n good deal to do with that par- ticular root being split. If the chain had been thero without the skeleton, the result would have been precisely the same."
"Well, sir, I ain't ngoing to argiefy with a scholard the likes of you, n3 know3 such a lot about them things ; but I think it's true ns ' Murder will out'-I moan," he Baid, correcting himself, "wilful murder."
At daylight they all procoedod to tho fatal spot. It was a ghastly sight. The proud spreading branches of the treo were scattered over an area of fully a hundred yards in diameter. The trunk wna rent and splintered to the roots ; and the skeloton, with the still
fettered leg-bones, and a bullot-holo through tho j left temple, lay almost entire, on the freshly turned mound of oarth. Ronald picked np the decayed flint-lock pistol, and on comparing it with one belonging to poor Billy, its length, mountings, and other features corresponded. The corpse of Billy was examined next. Ono stroam of electric fluid lind entered the head at tho left temple, leaving a mark like that produced by a bullet, while others had scorched the flesh down the whole length of tho body.
" We cannot do the dead any good, ao wa had better be stirring, and cut down some moro trees for the shoop, and then wo can get break- fast. It is not raining so hard now, mid tho sun íb struggling to shine. I think the storm has caused a break, and it may clear np some time to-day," said Ronald.
They all chopped away till about ton o'clock ; let the sheep out to feed, and thon went to breakfast, which consisted of very lean mutton, damper, and tea. No matter who dies, workers muBt be fed. The large flat in front of the hut Was a perfect sea. A few of the wretched sheep had died in tho night ; and, to add to the troubles, the ewes had begun to lomb. None of the early lamb3 could possibly bo reared, so they wero killed as soon as they came. Ronald had faint hopes of being ablo to save some of the later ones, if the grass sprung sufficiently to givo the mothers a little condition and strength to Bupport them. One consolation remained, and that was, that with the exception of the oldest, and tho weakest of tho young sheep, there would be no arcat losses from starva- tion, for there would bo an abundanco of grass in a week, and the shoop could be kept alive on apple trees for that length of time. After breakfast-which was certainly not to say a hearty or comfortable one, for the terrible events of the previous night had spoilt naturally good appetites, and the meal was taken under the little open kitchen, for the rain was again falling-thoy dug two graves. The ground was hard and stony two foot below tho surfaco, nnd the tools not being very good, it was lato in the day oro their task was completed. Ronnld had intended to leave the burials till the next day, but the remains of poor Billy Cantwell were decomposing so rapidly, that he deemed it neces- sary to hasten the last rites. Consequently, the body was decently wrapped in tho blankets upon which it lay 1 then plncod in a large sheet of bark stripped for the purpose, and lowered into the gravo. Tho skeloton was also sewn up in a blanket, and put into its grave, minus tho rust eaten chains, which Ronald determined to keep as a memento of the tragic occurrence. A prayer book was searched for, nnd found where tho Pot had stuck it months before, in a orovico between two of the thoolB of bark covoring the roof of the hut ; for Ada liad supplied all tho out stations with both serious and light literature, as soon as she becamo mistress of Boorooma. The former was eithor stowed away quietly, or converted into pipe-lights ; and the latter, after it had been thumbed over for a ii me, was either pasted on tho walls of thohuts, or jammedbetween the slabs to keep tho cold winds out during the Winter. Ronald read tho burial service betweon the two graveB, which wero then fillod in. One
of the men caught his horse and ho rodo towards I home, carrying tho chain with him. I
That ovoning, when all the men wore as- sembled in tho hut after toa, tho conversation naturally turned on tho sad events that had so recently transpired.
"The master wasn't convinced," said tho Pet, " with all the proof ho had. Ho'll try and find out all about it though."
"Ho'll never find it oui, then ! and ho must bo a thunderin' unbolieving Jow, if ho don't believo !" exclaimed one of the men.
"I'm glad ho took them chains away. I wonder how the missus '11 like 'em at the head station 1" said tho Pet. He ain't afraid of
"I shouldn't wonder if they rattled every first of September. Tho missus 'li soon get rid of 'em if thoy do," said Hal.
"No, I don't think they'll rattle no mero," replied the Pot, with an anthoritativo air. "Causo why, when a murder's found out, and the murderer's dead, and prayers is road over the murdered man's bones, tho ghost doesn't »how up again. I've henrd of many eich stories, and they all eiidod the same way. Murder will out-leastways, wilful murder-and whon there's no chanco of tho law a tikin' holt of the murderer, why tho ghost just takes the tiling into its own hands, and worries tho cove to death, liko a bulldog."
" Well," objected Ha', " hut you don't mean for to say ns tho ghost brought the lightning to kill poor Billy ?"
"P'r'aps I don't," said tho Pet, slightly nettled at Hal's doubt, mid thumping his kneo with his big fist ; " but the ghost might havo knoived just tho timo when the lightning wus coming-mightn't ho ? Somo ghosts is precious knowin', and knows moro than thoy let on. That's
my belief, Hal."
_ Hal thought a bit, anti ns the Pot was con- sidered " knowledgeablo " on such knotty points, he dropped that part of tho subject, and said,
"Don't you think it was bad burying the two »o close together ? Don't believe thoy'll agree
Ho delivoted tho above very seriously, and tivol °ubled- Tho Pet wpl'cd autliorita
"No, Hal. Thoy'ro down for good now. You see prayers wus road- between tho two
"Well, may bo you're right, Pet," replied Hal, Bomowhat re-assured, " but if they do havo a go in, I hope they'll have it out underground,
and not bother ui no more."