|Chapter Title||LOST IN THE SCRUB.(Continued.)|
|Newspaper Title||Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||Studies in Bush Life. On a Gippsland Selection|
LOST IN THE SCRUB.
They came to another densely grown flat. Vivien assured Effie that snakes remained at home during the dark hours. Effie remem- bered that Tom Watts had told a tale of a
snake abroad on a moonlight night. Vivien said that in any case they had to go ahead, so they must take their chance. Effie declared that she would not move a step further. They were only getting deeper into the mire. Vivien wished to know if they were to stay there all night. "Ah, there is the moon appearing, Effie," she said. "Come on child." They dragged their weary feet onward, stumbling in the log-strewn pathlessness of the scrub too abundant. Slowly the uncanny half moon climbed the blue black sky. A ghostly, silver film of light fell through the thin leaves, and sharpened the shadows in the undergrowth. The night life of the bush awoke. There was rustling n the scrub as flying squirrels leapt from the branches ; 'possums scratched the bark of the trees, and native bears growled in low, deep chorus. Strange cries came out of the darkness. " Do you believe in ghosts ?" Effie asked, in a tone that strove to be nonchalant, as she stumbled utter Vivien. A wind stirring in the trees blurred light and shadow. Vivien's laugh did not ring true. "What an uncanny question, Effie," she said : "in doubtful taste, too, considering our position. Well, no, childie, theoretically I don't suppose myself to, but I was never nearer being shaken in my unbelief than to- night. Can't you imagine an army of them floating over that white space of light ? But you would see the trunks and the scrub through them." She was throwing defiance at the indefinite something or nothing that frightened her in the night. Effie shivered, stood still, and began to cry. Vivien's arm went round her. " Don't cry, dearest, there couldn't even be the ghost of a stray blackfellow in this primeval wilderness." A low, shuddering cry rang out of the bush depths, and a black form suddenly started from a clump of willow and thumped
close past them. Effie cried out and hid her face in Vivien's dress. "It's only a wallaby, Effie ; don't you know your old friends ?" " What was the noise ?" she sobbed. " A native bear or something trying a new note." Effie sank on a log and put her head down on her arms. "We'll, have to stay here all night, anyhow, Vivien." Vivien's lips quivered as she looked help- lessly at Effie's doubled-up figure, with the long hair spread over it. But she recog- nised th wretched futility of tears or of cries for help in the intense loneliness of the night. These weird, white, closed-in gullies had got them, and the bush holds fast its lost ones, she thought. "Why don't you coo-ee, Vivien ?" Effie said, suddenly, looking up. . "Who is there to hear I'll try though." She coo-ecd with all her- strength. Effie tried to join, but her voice, was so mingled with tears that the attempt was a dismal failure. The gully caught Vivien's voice and throw it round the tree tops. " Stop it," cried Effie ; "it's horrible." Vivien sat down beside her on the log. So they stayed for five slow minutes. Then Vivien stood up with trembling knees. "Come on, Effie," she said ; "let us die marching. We are rested a little, now; let us see if we can't and something human." "I can scarcely move my legs," said Effie, staggering to her feet. For another long while they dragged through the weary bush, steering as best they could by faint glimpses of the Southern Cross, Effie gripping Vivien's hand, starting at every sound, and stumbling over every stick in the delusive light that was so bright, yet indistinct. " Oh, Effie, look here," Vivien cried, hope- fully. " Oh," said Effie, gazing with a tearful smile at a narrow, well worn track in the scrub. " Cheer up, old woman ; this will take us somewhere," Vivien said, and turned boldly down the path. Half an hour later Effie groaned that it was an invention of the Evil One to lead them further into the wilder- ness. She was sure It was all a judgment- on them for running away from Aunt Manly. " A judgment on me for my big opinion of my topographical bump, you mean," Vivien sold. She went down on her knees and ex- amined the earth of the path. " There are hoof marks," she said, strain- ing her eyes in the dim moonlight. She gave loose rein to her imagination, and add- ed : "I believe it is a man's footstep, too, in that bit of dust." Effie hoped so, but felt sceptical. She began to cry quietly again ; Vivien took her hand, and they went on. " I see ring-barked timber, Effie." " Oh, so do I." Hope shot through Effie's tones. " Where there's dead timber, Effie, there must have been a man, and there will pro- bably be a house, with ——" "Hush up," said weary Effie, crossly ; "I'm not a baby to want cheering up like that." They came to a fence with inhospitable barbed wire. They crashed through, with a very large rent in Effie's dress, and found themselves in a civilised grass paddock. At the top of the hill the moon struck whitely on the walls of a house. Fruit trees were round it. There was something strange- ly familiar in it. "Billy Spadger's house," said Vivien, with a deep drawn breath. "Billy Spadger's house," echoed Effie. " I can't make it out," Vivien said, feeling quite at home, and stopping to look round. "We must have come the most tremendous circle." "What does it matter?" said Effie, drawing her on. "We've got two miles yet, and I'm dead tired." Vivien hurried on. "I'm afraid mother will be nearly off her head," she said, beginning to think of something else than the fears of the night. She wondered if Aunt Manly had come. She found that weariness and moon- light wandering had stilled her active objec- tions to that lady. Suddenly she felt a rush of sympathy for her because she disliked her. "Suppose I was going to a place and knew they did not like me, how should I enjoy it ?" Vivien said to herself. "Poor Aunt Manly, I will be good to her If she doesn't worry me very much." She gave a tired, quivering little laugh at a certain queerness In the situation. "Just imagine, I'm sorry for her because I don't like her," she thought. "What are you laughing at ?" Effie said. "Nothing." Vivien thought she had never known what weariness was before. She felt that she would pay Esau's price for a glass of water. They began to think solely of holding out till they reached home. At last Punmanitel's airy height came Into view; a kerosene star shone welcome from the window. "Poor souls, of course they are waiting up," Vivien said. They were toiling up the steep road between the pines, when two horsemen clattered down. "Hullo, Dugald, here are the truants," called the man in front. It was Mr. Hum- phries's voice. He and Dugald both dis- mounted. "Where on earth have you been, Vivien ? It's near midnight," Dugald said, with the irritation that follows fright, because she smiled at him so gaily in the moonlight. "Oh, if you are going to talk like that—— " she began, trying to walk steadily. "Mr. Humphries, have you been looking for us —— ." Her voice died away ; she forgot where she was ; the only thing in the world worth while was sleep. Dugald caught her arm. "Don't talk to them, Dugald," Mr. Hum- phries said. "Let's get them up to the house. They are about knocked up." "Oh, Aunt Manly," Vivien said, sincerely, as he laid her weary head on the pillow and saw that lady coming in to the room, "I am very glad to see you. How are you ?" She went to sleep before the answer came. [The End.]