Chapter 196752204

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Chapter NumberXXXII
Chapter Url
Full Date1887-07-05
Page Number3
Word Count3089
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916)
Trove TitleBenbonuna: A Tale of Thirty Years Ago
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" I'm killed,.d'ye see 1" groaned Brusher, as be stared wildly up into the faces of those wbo had crowded around him, when shot down by Hawley. " I hope not," said Mr Probyn seriously. u Where are you wounded ?" "Through the heart, d'ye seel I'm killed, d'ye see I I'm killed, d'ye see I" Not quite so bad as that, Brusher, for ifiyou were shot through the heart you would not be telling us about it, and you're worth a dozen dead men yet," returned Mr Probyn cheeringly ; then turning to the men he continued, " Now lads, we must get him ont of this hot sun as quickly as we can. Falconer, you and Leak cross bands behind bis back, take him under the legs with yonr disengaged hands, and carry him into the shade. I'll raise his shoulders—There—gently with him—that's right!" and the wounded man was raised, as in a chair, by the hutbuilders and Mr Probyn, who then carried him to the shadiest mallee, beneath which on a couple of sheepskins, brought from the drafting yard fence on which they had been hanging, the miserable Brusher was laid us tenderly as if he had been an ailing infant. Mr Probyn made an hasty examination of the wounded man, and soon found that Elawley's bullet had penetrated the right breast, and was still lodged in Brueher's body. It was evident that, though, there was little external hemorrhage, Brusher had received a serious if not mortal wound, for he could not bear to remain in a recumbent position, but begged piteously to be held up, still persisting that he was shot though the heart and had not a moment to live. " If that is the case, it would be a good thing if you were to try to give me a ehoit account of what you know about the murders at the Flagstaff, so as to en 6ure tie conviction of the murderer," suggested the squatter, after one of Brusher's protestations, as he lay reclining on the breast of Falconer, who sat on the. ground behind him. " I will, d'ye see," replied Brusher in a vindictive whisper, broken by a fitof coughing, followed by a rush of blood, " Make haste, d'ye see. The — dog, —him, !" " For God'e sake, do not corse like that, you will only excite yourself and hasten your death," urged Probyn, as he produced a note book and pencil from a pouch at his side.

" Die 1 die 11 won't die, dy'e see 1" almost screamed the ex-poacher—and paid the penalty of bis excitement with another blood-bringing cough. " You will, if you do not keep quiet. Pray try to compose yourself, both for yonr own sake and the sake of justice." " I will, dy'e see 1 But get me some water, for I'm on fire, dy'e see" wailed the wounded man, with a wild gleam of pain and affright in bis eyes. Probyn directed Leak to hurry to a email spring in the limestone, at a little distance from the yard, for some cool water, and himself emptied theluke-warm liquid which still remained in the canteens on the ground near by, thus cooling the air a little in the immediate vicinity of the s'ifferer. Leak obeyed Mr Probyn's order with alacrity, and speedily returned with some beautifully pure and cold spring water, with which he continuously moistened the lips of Brusher, who, swayed alternately by abject fear of death and vindictive rage against his murderer, told what he had learned about the Flagstaff murders and the antecedens of Hawley ; but the story was so broken by paroxysms of coughing followed by ghastly vomitings of blood, that I will not attempt to follow it, but from data thus furnished, and from other sources, briefly explain those portions of this veracious history which till now have been enshrouded in mystery, and so clear up the reader's perplexities. On the afternoon preceding the night of the murders, Brusher, as I have already stated, mounted tbe iow range of hills above the waterhole at which his sheep were camping, to watch for the advent of Mr Considine with his cargo of tanglefoot, and had noted the overseer watching the Flagstaff hut from a clump of mallee on the west side of the hill—a discovery he had duly communicated to baggs, whom he found in a in?udiin state, on his arrival at the hut about an hour aft"r Bundown to participate in the orgie and afterwards carry home, somehow, what might be left of his share of the liquor. " D'ye see, Baggs, old chummy, d'ye see, I seen the gaffer a staggin' on yer, d'ye Bee, this arternoon, d'ye see. So ye'd better mind yer hye, d'ye see," were the words of warning he had addressed to his friend, (thoughtfully replenishing the flaring slush lamp with fat as he spoke). But Baggs, who was in that state of potvaliance wherein prudence is not, and reverence for our batters is altogether forgotten, replied with a drunken laugh and a glance of maudlin intelligence to his friend, whom ho had previously introduced to Brusher as " Billy the Dart." " Let him stag, the . Wot do s yer think I cares for him an' his staggin'. The boot's on t'other leg, an 1 he'll have to be civil, won't he Bill ?" Very far gone aB the Dart was, he still tried to warn the garrulous Baggs that h« was treading on dangerous ground ; but a nod is no better than a wink to a drunken man, and so the shepherd, dalj incited thereto by sundry commendatory looks and parliamentary ejaculatious from Brusher, continued, " He's bin havin' a high old time, him an' his square moll at the station, he has ; an' we're agoin' to sheer some ov the shugger, we are." " Stash that, yer bloomin' fool. Ain't two enough in it ?" hiccoughed the Dart, staggering out of the hut—never to re-enter it. It was his intention to return in order to make a fresh assault on the tanglefoot, but the liquor he bad already surrounded fully justified its name, by depriving him of the use of his understandings directly he exchanged the heated atmosphere of the hot for the cooler end purer sir outside. In a few minutes be was snoring on the ground like a surfeited hog, and Brusher had a clear field for his investigations. Ho did not neglect Lis opportunities and was soon possessed of all the facts regarding the antecedents of Hawley and Mrs At-.hby that Baggs had learned from his fri< nd, the Dart, together with the bistoiy of that gifted individual, and the particulars of the little plan the pair had formed for their own profit. First then, Bill Modderidge, alias The Dart, had been a fellow passenger to Tasmania (at his country's expense) with Baggs; but whereas the latter, after arduously toiling for Beven years to aid the march of civilization in the Little England of the South, had made his way to Adelaide, the Dart, after serving a similar term " on the reads," betook himself to Melbourne, and thence strayed away into New South Wales, and joined Hawley, otherwise Hall, who having escaped from Darlinghurst, had become the leader of a daring gang of bushrangers, whose head quarters lay :<mong the precipitous ravines of the Blue Mountains, whence they levied black mail on th surrounding country, "stuck up" Cobb and Co.'8 coaches, and occasionally looted & Btation by way of variety.

Hall (tiiown to the reader as the ovcrsrer J?hj>'v) .ins the son of a wealthy S\«lm-y scjustter, and bad received a pon ! education. I ut had turned out such a Mack sh'op that his father had fell oMis-<1 to banish li?t;i from home with tin--j'lowance of a '.[All few hundreds a year 1o support rig him. Bnt between gambling, hon»:.i acing, and other evil practices, not, however, including drankenness, the young Bcape grace, after marrying a handsome, Unprincipled girl from behind a Melbourne bar, w«nt r^pHly from bad to worst:; and jnst before Mr Aahby's memorable visit to Sydney, he had found bims"lf « convict for life, as a slight reward for bis too ingenious imitation of another man's signature. It was oh the supposition that, her amiable husband was caged for the term of " his natural life" that Mrs Isabella Hall, alias Miss Isabella Hawley, had laid siege to the affections of the susceptible owner of Benbonuna, and bad married him. But when did the tide of matrimonial felicity run onward to the end without a ripple to disturb its smiling placidity ? It most have been with the diabolical intention of inserting a painful thorn in tho Bide of the happy bride, that Hall made a most daring and ingenious escape from Darlinghurst; and of course it was to obtain funds wherewith to institute a thorough search for his lost love, that he gathered a few choice spirits together, and for a time garnered a golden harvest with impunity. Unfortunately, however, in endeavoring to make sure that the strong Toom of a certain country bank contained as much bullion as its manager reported to head quarters, the gang so injured the banker, who foolishly resented their investigations, that he died—and the Government called it" murder."' The police were stirred up, the country roused, and the whole gang, with the exception of Hawley, were reported as captured or shot. The Government of New South Wales then offered a reward of £500 for the capture, dead or alive, of the notorious leader of the gang; but Hall, by means of a cunning disguise and the assistance of trusty partisans (who circulated a false report of his death) succeeded in eluding pursuit. After roaming about in the far back country for a considerable time, he joined a party of stockmen wbo were bringing a mob of cattle overland to Adelaide, and finding himself at the end the journey in sufficient funds to purchase a respectable outfit, be started North with a view to business. On reaching Benbonuna he went to Mr Ashby's bouse for the simple purpose of asking hospitality for the night, at once recognised bis wife in Mrs Ashby, and after that mysterious interview with her on the flat, took up his abode on the station as we have seen. Bnt Hall was not the only member of his gang wbo succeeded in cheating the hangman, for the Dart, having been prevented by illneBS from joining in the bank robbery, bad, by prudently lying perdu, escaped notice tili the affair had almost blown over, and then in the guise of a decrepit bushman had crawled (when anyone was looking) through the colonies of New Sooth Wales aDd Victoria, casting his slough of grey wig and beard when he crossed the Murray, to follow the " wallaby track" in the farinaceous colony of South Australia. As he went, he did " odd jobs" among the farmers (who generally found that portable property disappeared in a mysterious manner when he was in their service.) At last, finding himself in what was, at that time, the paradise of loafers—the Far North, he had on that hot afternoon in which our story commenced, foregathered with his old fellow convict Baggs, who was lurking near the roadside on the chance of a "pitch" with any chance passer-by. " Joe 1 old son 1 is that you ? " S'elp me 1 if it aint Billy the Dart; How do you live, old pal ? dash me ef I ain't glad ter see yer!" " What air yer doin' on here, old pal ?" "Why a looking arter them sheep, don't yer see ; my hut's ioun' that there hill, an' you'd better stay for a bit, yon kin easy keep outer eight, an' they don't ration us here!" urged Baggs with the effusive hospitality of a man who can luxuriously entertain a friend at the expense of some one else. Of course the Dart accepted his friend's invitation and accompanied him to the Flag-staff hut, in the sleeping room of which he secreted himBulf when the overseer unexpectedly arrived, and then and there, through a chink in the wall, he recognised bis old captain, but prudently resolved to keep himself dark till he found out how tli© land lay, and had had time to consider his best line of action. There was amongst the old " lags" a species of freemasonry, in pursuance of which they were in the habit of confiding their past experiences to one another, with a candour not to be beaten by a reformed young lady of the Salvation Army, when relating her past naughtiness to a street congregation of larrikins and ragamuffins. Before the night was over, then, Baggs was as perfectly conversant with the past history of the overseer as was bis oid companion in irons, the Dart; and in return he had given his guest such a description of Mrs Ashby that the latter had not the slightest doubt about her identity with Mrs Hall. The conclusion unanimously come to by the pair was—to make tiie most money they could out of the situation. After some cogitation that night, and several happy thoughts in the morniug, th"V decided on the following line of action :—Baggs was not only to insist upon retaining his flock, hut also on having the s-rvices oi a hutk<< per, in the person of Tiie Dart, WIIOBO appearance was to act <i:-> tin; Archimedian screw that was to ruij-o their fortunes. For, of course, Hawley would be obliged to accede to Uitir wishes and pay them whatever they demanded (however he might obtain it) as the price of his own and hiB wife's secret. Meanwhile The Dart was to rest and refresh hitrself at Mr Ashby's expense, till the time arrived for their first attack on the Bavage kre-strel whom they intended to pluck as a pigeon. The opportunity for the initiatory step in this programme occurred sooner than the two conspirators anticipated. Baggs, rendered daring by consciousness of power, at once became careless, and had his sheep within sight of the hut that very morning whilst he returned for a renewed palaver with his pal. The sheep were seen by Hawley from the shoulder of the hill at the back of Benbonuna ; he sent Moses on before him to Ummarilpena, and himself, boiling with indignation, swooped down on the Flagstaff hut to pour the overflowing vials of his wrath on tiie Lead of the contumacious shepherd. He cantered right up to the hut, and without dismounting called ont in a tone of voice that ought to have made the delinquent tremble— " Baggs I" " Well, what is it ?" coolly demandad that worthy, as he sauntered to the door with his hands in his pockets, " What's yer hurry, mate. Can't yer git down ? Hawley 6tared for one instant as if he doubted the evidence of his senses, and then with a wild cry of rage leaped from his horse, and was dashing into the hut to wreak vengeance on the squalid scoundrel who had so insolently answered him, when he was stopped by the muzzle of a pistol in the hands of his former comisde, the Dart, who stepped from behind the door with the significant remark—"No e yer don't." Hawley evidently recognised the man at a glance, for he stopped as suddenly aB if confronted by the Gorgon's bead, and

though he did not turn to stone, appeared for an instant completely stupefied—to the hug<» enjoyment of the puir of scoundrels who burst simultaneously into a mnckins- l««i?h. ' DUu't Vpss.t the pleasure of s^t'in' >»e hts just reserved- now, did by yer the ? w.-ls, yer dosen't author.] look bloomin', but how's Mrs Hall ! She's on the station, aint she ?" queried the Dart with a villainous chuckle. " Who the devil are yon, nn<J -what fh« hell do yon mean ?"dein;mdr:d Haw'ey, IIIB face livid with apprehension and rage. "O, you knows well enough, though yer dosent seem glad ter see me. Baggs an' me on'y want a few ov the crumbs as iB scatterin' around—and we means ter heve 'em ; so yer mought as. well be reasonable at once, an' not make a fuBS," coolly answered the Dart. " What do you want ?" inquired Hawley hoarsely, abandoning all attempts to beat further about the buBh, as he saw that course was futile. "Only a fair thing. But there, as I ain't agoin to run away from yer again, we kin talk matters over when you're cool. Won't yer heve some tea ? There's any amount in the kettle, 1 ' concluded the Dart with the most hospitable air imaginable. If rage, without the assistance of apoplexy, could kill tho mortal possessed by it, then Hawley would have died where be stood ; but tho first whirlwind of his passion having swopt by, he quickly camo to the conclusion that open violence was out of the question, and that the only course left open for him was to temporise and affect compliance with his enemies' demands. This he did with a sudden affability which deceived neither of them, for on his departure the Dart remarked to Baggs, " He's the devil an' all his fiendses when he's like that; an' ef we don't want ter git plugged, we'll heve to keep our glims skinned ;" to which remark Baggs replied, " O, there's two on us, an' we'll fix him." This then was the cause of the overseer's excitement when he returned so unexpectedly to the station, after Frank and Bowyer's arrival there. On finding him self alone he had become a prey to alternate fits of vindictive fury and uncertainty of purpose ; one moment he wonld, urged by panic, decide on instant flight; the next, incited by cupidity and rage, he resolved to Btay on and fight his adversaries with his own peculiar weapons ; and we have seen with what results be followed up the latter idea when he had once resolved upon it, and bow a strange series of favoring circumstances seemed to lead up to success, which equally unforeseen, occurrences suddenly snatched from him. (To be continued.)