Mates at Billabong
by Mary Grant Bruce
I. NORAH'S HOME
CHAPTER III. A
CHAPTER V. TWO
POINTS OF VIEW
CHAPTER VII. JIM
CHAPTER VIII. A
CHAPTER IX. THE
CHAPTER XI. "LO,
CHAPTER XII. OF
CUNJEE v. MULGOA
CHAPTER XV. THE
CHAPTER XVI. A
CHAPTER XVII. ON
CHAPTER XIX. THE
CHAPTER I. NORAH'S HOME
The grey old dwelling, rambling and wide,
With the homestead paddocks on either side,
And the deep verandahs and porches tall
Where the vine climbs high on the trellised wall.
G. ESSEX EVANS.
Billabong homestead lay calm and peaceful in the slanting rays of
the sum that crept down the western sky. The red roofs were half
hidden in the surrounding trees——pine and box and mighty blue gums
towering above the tenderer green of the orchard, and the wide-flung
tendrils of the Virginia creeper that was pushing slender fingers over
the old walls. If you came nearer, you found how the garden rioted in
colour under the touch of early summer, from the crimson rambler round
the eastern bay window to the "Bonfire" salvia blazing in masses on
the lawn; but from the paddocks all that could be seen was the mass of
green, and the mellow red of the roof glimpsing through. Further back
came a glance of rippled silver, where the breeze caught the surface
of the lagoon——too lazy a breeze to do more than faintly stir the
reed-fringed water. Towards it a flight of black swans winged slowly,
with outstretched necks, across a sky of perfect blue. Their leader's
note floated down, as if in answer to the magpies that carolled in the
pine trees by the stables. The sound seemed to hang in the still air.
Beyond the tennis-court, in the farther recesses of the garden, a
hammock swung between two grevillea trees, whose orange flowers made a
gay canopy overhead; and in the hammock Norah swayed gently, and
knitted, and pondered. The shining needles flashed in and out of the
dark blue silk sock. Outsiders——mothers of prim daughters, whom Norah
pictured as finding their wildest excitement in "patting a doll"——were
wont to deplore that the only daughter of David Linton of Billabong
was brought up in an eccentric fashion, less girl than boy; but
outsiders are apt to cherish delusions, and Norah was not without her
share of gentle accomplishments. Knitting was one; the sock grew
quickly in the capable brown fingers that could grip a stock-whip as
easily as they handled the needles. All the while, she was listening.
About her the coo of invisible doves fell gently, mingling with the
happy droning of bees in the overhead blossoms. Somewhere, not far
off, a sheep bell tinkled monotonously, the only outside sound in the
afternoon stillness. It was very peaceful. To Norah, who knew that the
world held no place like Billabong, it only lacked one person for the
final seal of perfection.
"Wish Dad would come," she said aloud, puckering her brow over a
knot in the silk. "He's late——and it is jolly dull without him." The
knot came free, and the needles raced as though making up for lost
Two dogs lay on the grass: a big sleepy collie that only moved
occasionally to snap at a worrying fly; and an Irish terrier, plainly
showing by his restlessness that he despised a lazy life, and longed
for action. He caught his mistress's eye at last, and jumped up with a
"If YOU had the heel of a sock to turn, Puck," said Norah, "you'd
be more steady. Lie down, old man."
Puck lay down again discontentedly, put his nose on his paws, and
feigned slumber, one restless eyelid betraying the hollowness of the
pretence. Presently he rolled over——and chancing to roll on a spiky
twig, rose with a wild yelp of annoyance. Across Norah's laugh came a
stock-whip crack; and the collie came to life suddenly, and sprang up,
as impatient as the terrier. Norah slipped out of the hammock.
"There's Dad!" she said. "Come along!"
She was tall for her fourteen years, and very slender——"scraggy,"
Jim was wont to say, with the cheerful frankness of brothers. Norah
bore the epithet meekly——she held the view that it was better to be
dead than fat. There was something boyish in the straight, slim figure
in the blue linen frock——perhaps the quality was also to be found in a
frank manner that was the product of years of the Bush and open-air
life. The grey eyes were steady, and met those of others with a
straight level glance; the mouth was a little firm-set for her years,
but the child was revealed when it broke into smiles——and Norah was
rarely grave. No human power had yet been discovered to keep in order
the brown curls. Their distressed owner tied them back firmly with a
wide ribbon each morning; but the ribbon generally was missing early
in the day, and might be replaced with anything that came
handy——possibly a fragment of red tape from the office, or a bit of a
New Zealand flax leaf, or haply even a scrap of green hide. Anything,
said Norah, decidedly, was better than your hair all over your face.
For the rest, a nondescript nose, somewhat freckled, and a square
chin, completed a face no one would have dreamed of calling pretty. In
his own mind her father referred to it as something better. But then
there was tremendous friendship between the master of Billabong and
his small daughter.
The stock-whip cracked again, nearer home this time; and Norah
crammed the blue silk sock hastily into a little work-bag, and raced
away over the lawn, her slim black legs making great time across the
buffalo grass. Beside her tore the collie and Puck, each a vision of
embodied delight. They flashed round the corner of the house,
scattered the gravel on the path leading to the back, and came out
into the yard as a big black horse pulled up at the gate, and the tall
man on his back swung himself lightly to the ground. From some unseen
region a black boy appeared silently and led the horse away. Norah,
her father, and the dogs arrived at the gate simultaneously.
"I thought you were never coming, Daddy," said the mistress of
Billabong, incoherently. "Did you have a good trip?——and how did
Monarch go?——and did you buy the cattle?——and have you had any
dinner?" She punctuated each query with a hug, and paused only for
lack of breath.
"Steady!" said David Linton, laughing. "I'm not a ready reckoner!
I've bought the bullocks, and Monarch went quite remarkably well, and
yes, I've had dinner, thank you. And how have you been getting on,
"Oh, all right," said his daughter. "It was pretty slow, of
course——it always is when you go away, Daddy. I worked, and pottered
round with Brownie, and went out for rides. And oh, Dad! ever so many
letters——and Jim's coming home next week!" She executed an
irrepressible pirouette. "And he's got the cup for the best average at
the sports——best all-around athlete that means, doesn't it? Isn't it
"That's splendid!" Mr. Linton said, looking as pleased as his
daughter. "And any school prizes?"
"He didn't mention," Norah answered. "I don't suppose so, bless
him! But there's one thing pretty sickening——the boys can't come with
him. Wally may come later, but Harry has to go to Tasmania with his
father——isn't it unreasonable?"
"I'm sorry he can't come, but on the whole I've a fellow feeling
for the father," said Jim's parent. "A man wants to see something of
his son occasionally, I suppose. And any news from Mrs. Stephenson?"
"She's better," Norah answered, her face growing graver. "Dick
wrote. And there's a letter for you from Mrs. Stephenson, too. She
says she's brighter, and the sea-voyage was evidently the thing for
her, 'cause she's more like herself than at any time since——since my
dear old Hermit died." Norah's voice shook a little. "They expect to
be in Wellington all the summer, and perhaps longer."
"It was certainly a good prescription, that voyage." Mr. Linton
said. "I don't think she would have been long in following her
husband——poor old chap!——if they had remained here. But one misses
"Horrid," said Norah, with emphasis. "I miss her all the time——and
it's quite rum, Dad, but I do believe I miss lessons. Over five weeks
since I had any! Are you going to get me another tutor?"
"We'll see," said her father. They were in the big dining-room by
this time, and he was turning over the pile of letters that had come
during his three days' absence from the station. "Any chance of tea,
"Well, rather!" said Norah. "You read your letters, and I'll go and
tell Sarah. And Brownie'll be wanting to see you. I won't be long,
Daddy." She vanished.
A few minutes later Mr. Linton looked up from a letter that had put
a crease into his brow. A firm, flat step sounded in the hall, and
Mrs. Brown came in——cook and housekeeper to the homestead, the guide,
philosopher and friend of everyone, and the special protector of the
little motherless girl about whom David Linton's life centred.
"Brownie" was not a person lightly to be reckoned with, and her master
was wont to turn to her whenever any question arose affecting Norah.
He greeted her warmly now.
"We're all glad to welkim you back, sirr," said Brownie. "As for
that blessed child, she's not like the same 'uman bein' when you're
off the place. Passed me jus' now in the passige, goin' full bat, an'
turned 'ead over 'eels, she did——I didn't need to be told you'd got
'ome!" She hesitated: "You heard from Mrs. Stephenson, sir?"
"Yes," said Mr. Linton, glancing at the letter in his hand. "As I
thought——she confirms our opinion. I'm afraid there's no help for it."
"I knew she would," said Mrs. Brown, heavily, a shadow falling onto
her broad. pleasant face. "Oh, I know there's no 'elp, sir——it has to
be. But——but——" She put her apron to her eyes.
"We're really very lucky, I suppose," Mr. Linton said, in tones
distinctly unappreciative, at the moment, of any luck. "Mrs.
Stephenson has been a second mother to Norah, these two years——between
you and her I can't see that the child needed anything; and with Dick
as tutor she has made remarkable progress. Personally, I'd have let
the arrangement go on indefinitely. Now that they've had to leave us,
however——" He paused, folding up the letter slowly.
"She couldn't stay 'ere, poor lady," Mrs. Brown said;" 'tain't in
reason she'd be able to after the old gentleman's death, with the
place full of memories an' all. An', of course, she'd want Mr. Dick
along with her. Anyway, the precious lamb's getting a big girl to be
taught only by a young gentleman——" and Brownie pursed up her lips,
looking such a model of all the proprieties that Mr. Linton smiled
"She's all right," he said shortly. "Of course, her aunt has been
at me for ever so long to send her to school."
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, Mrs. Geoffrey don't know everythink,"
said Mrs. Brown, bridling. "Her not havin' any daughters of 'er own,
'ow can it be expected that she'd understand? An' town ladies can't
never compre'end country children, any'ow. Our little maid's jus'
grown up like a bush flower, an' all the better she is for it."
"But the time comes for change, Brownie, old friend," said Mr.
"Yes," said Mrs. Brown, "it do. But what the station'll do is
more'n I can see just at present——an' as for you, sir——an' let alone
me——" Her comfortable, fat voice died away, and the apron was at her
eyes again. "What'll Billabong be, with its little girl at school?"
"At——WHERE?" asked Norah.
She had come in with the tea-tray in her hands——a little flushed
from the fire, and her brown face alight with all the hundred-and-one
things she had yet to tell Daddy. On the threshold she paused, struck
motionless by that amazing speech. She looked a little helplessly from
one face to the other; and the two who loved her felt the same
helplessness as they looked back. It was not an easy thing to pass
sentence of exile from Billabong on Norah.
"I——" said her father. "You see, dear——Dick having gone——you know,
your aunt——" He stopped, his tongue tied by the look in Norah's eyes.
Brownie slipped into the breach.
"You're so big now, dearie," she said, "so, big——and——and——" With
this lucid effort at enlightenment she put her apron fairly over her
head and turned away to the open window.
But Norah's eyes were on her father. Just for a moment the sick
sense of bewilderment and despair seemed to crush her altogether. She
had realized her sentence in a flash——that the home that meant all the
world to her, and from which Heaven only differed in that Mother was
there, was to be changed for a new, strange world that would be empty
of all that she knew and loved. Vaguely she had always known that the
blow hung over her——now that it had fallen, for a moment there was no
room for any other thought. Her look, wide with grief and appeal, met
And then she realized slowly that he was suffering too——that he was
looking to her for the response that had never failed him yet. His
silence told her that this thing was unavoidable, and that he needed
her help. Mates such as they must stand by one another——that was part
of the creed that had grown up in Norah's heart. Daddy had always said
that no matter what happened he could rely upon her. She could not
fail him now.
So, just as the silence in the room became oppressive, Norah smiled
into her father's eyes, and carefully put the tea-tray upon the table.
"If you say it's got to be, well, that's all about it, Daddy," she
said. The voice was low, but it did not quiver. "Don't worry, darling;
it's all right. Sarah was out, and Mary goodness knows where, so I
made tea myself; I hope it's drinkable." She brought her father's cup
to his side and smiled at him again.
"My blessed lamb!" said Mrs. Brown, hastily——and fled from the
David Linton did not take the cup; instead he slipped his arm round
the childish body.
"You think we can stand it, then?" he asked. "It's not you alone,
little mate; your old Dad's under sentence too."
"I think that makes things a lot easier," said Norah, "'cause you
and I always do things together, don't we, Daddy? And——and——" Just for
a moment her lips trembled. "Must we, Dad?"
He tightened his arm.
There was a pause.
"Then I've got nine weeks," said Norah, practically. "We won't talk
about it more than we can help, I think, don't you? Have your tea,
Daddy, or it'll be cold and horrid." She brought her own cup and sat
down on the arm of his chair. "How many bullocks did you buy?"
CHAPTER II. TOGETHER
And you and I were faithful mates.
Afterwards——when the blow was a little less heavy as Norah grew
accustomed to it——they talked it over thoroughly.
Norah's education, in the strict sense of the term, had only been
carried on for about two years. In reality it had gone on all her
life, spent mostly at her father's side; but that was the kind of
education that does not live between the covers of books. Together,
David Linton and his daughter had worked, and played and talked——much
more of the former condition than of either of the latter. All that
the bush could teach her Norah knew, and in most of the work of the
station——Billabong was a noted cattle-run——she was as handy as any of
the men. Her father's constant mate, every day shared with him was a
delight to her. They rode together, fished, camped and explored
together; it was the rarest occurrence for Mr. Linton's movements not
to include Norah as a matter of course.
Yet there was something in the quiet man that had effectually
prevented any development of roughness in Norah. Boyish and offhand to
a certain extent, the solid foundation of womanliness in her nature
was never far below the surface. She was perfectly aware that while
Daddy wanted a mate he also wanted a daughter; and there was never any
real danger of her losing that gentler attribute——there was too much
in her of the little dead mother for that. Brownie, the ever watchful,
had seen to it that she did not lack housewifely accomplishments, and
Mr. Linton was wont to say proudly that Norah's scones were as light
as her hand on the horse's mouth. There was no doubt that the
irregular side of her education was highly practical.
Two years before Fate had taken a new interest in Norah's
development, bringing as inmates of the homestead an old friend of her
father's, with his wife and son. The latter acted as Norah's tutor,
and found his task an easy one, for the untrodden ground of the little
girl's brain yielded remarkable results. To Mrs. Stephenson fell the
work of gently moulding her to womanly ways——less easy this, for while
Norah had no desire to be a tomboy, she was firmly of the opinion that
once lessons were over, she had simply no time to stay inside the
house and be proper. Still, the gentle influence told, imperceptibly
softening and toning her character, and giving her a standard by which
to adapt herself; and Norah was nothing if not adaptable. Then, six
months previously, the old man they all loved had quietly faded out of
life; and after he had gone his widow could no longer remain in the
place where he had died. She pined slowly, until Dick Stephenson, the
son, had taken her almost forcibly away. The unspoken fear that the
parting was not merely temporary had merged into certainty. Billabong
would know them no more. The question remaining was what to do with
"I want you to have the school training," Mr. Linton said, when
they talked the matter over. "You must mix with other girls——learn to
see things from their point of view, and realize how many points of
view there are outside Billabong. Oh, I don't want you to think there
are any better "——he laughed at the vigorous shake of the brown
curls——"but the world has wider boundaries, and you must find them
out. There are other things, too"——vaguely——"dancing and deportment,
and——er——the use of the globes, and I think there's a thing called a
blackboard, but I'm not sure. Dick didn't know. In fact, there's a
regulation mill, and I suppose you must go through it——I don't feel
afraid that they'll spoil my little girl's individuality in the
"Is it a big school, Daddy?"
"Yes, I believe so. Several people I know send their girls there.
And it's a great place for sports, Norah. You'll like that. They're
keen on hockey and cricket and all sorts of things girls never dreamed
about when I was young. Possibly I may live to see you a slow bowler
yet, and playing in a match! Honestly, Norah, I believe you'll be very
happy at school."
"And what'll you do, Daddy?"
"I don't know," he said, heavily. "I told you I was under
They sat awhile in silence. It was evening, and they were on the
verandah; Mr. Linton in a big basket chair, and Norah curled up at his
feet in the way she loved. She could not see his face——just then she
did not want to. She said nothing. The moon climbed up slowly, and the
frogs were merry in the lagoon. Far off the cry of a bittern boomed
across the flats.
"Well, at least we've got nine weeks," Norah said at length. "Nine
weeks to be mates——and Jim'll be home next week, and he'll be mates,
too. Don't let's get blue about it, Daddy. It'll be so horrid when the
time comes, that it's no good letting it spoil these nine weeks. Can't
we try to forget it?"
"We can try," said David Linton.
"Course, we won't do it," Norah said. "But don't let's talk about
it. I'm going to put it out of my head as much as ever I can, and have
this time for just Billabong and us. Will you, Daddy?"
"I'll do all I can, my girlie," said her father. "You mustn't start
off with any bad memories; we'll have the most crowded nine weeks of
our lives, and make a solemn resolve to 'buck up.' I'd like to plan
something for this week, but, upon my word, I'm too busy to play,
Norah. There's any amount to be done."
"But I don't want to play," Norah said. "Work's good enough for ME,
Daddy, if I can work with you. Can't I come, too?"
"I'll be exceedingly glad of your help," said her father——which was
exactly what Norah wanted him to say, and went far to cheer her. She
put the dismal future resolutely from her, and set out upon the
present with a heart as light as possible.
It was never dull at Billabong. Always there were pets of all kinds
to be seen to. Mr. Linton laid no restriction on pets if they were
properly tended, and Norah had a collection as wide as it was beloved.
Household duties there were, too; but these could be left if
necessary——two adoring housemaids were always ready to step into the
breach if "business on the run" claimed Norah's attention. And beyond
the range of the homestead altogether there lay an enchanted region
that only she and Daddy shared——the wide and stretching plains of
Billabong dotted with cattle, seamed with creeks and the river, and
merging at the boundary into a long low line of hills. Norah used to
gaze at them from her window——sometimes purple, sometimes blue, and
sometimes misty grey, but always beautiful to the child who loved
them. Others might know Billabong——visit it, ride over it, exclaim at
its beauties; but Norah always felt that there were only two who
really understood and cared——Daddy and herself.
Of course there was Jim——the big brother who was seventeen now, and
just about to leave school. Norah was immensely proud of him, and the
affection between them was a thing that never wavered. Jim loved
Billabong, too; but it was only to be expected that six years of
school in Melbourne would make something of a difference. He knew, in
the words of the old Roman, "There is a world elsewhere." But Norah
knew no world beyond Billabong.
For all that, Jim was distinctly desirable as a brother. He had
always made a tremendous chum of Norah, and the friends he brought
home found they were expected to do the same. This might cause them
surprise at first, but they very soon found that "the kiddie" was
quite excellent as a mate, and could put them up to a good deal more
than they usually knew about the Bush. Norah was invariably Jim's
first thought. He was a big, quiet fellow, very like his father; not
over-brilliant at books, but a first-rate sport, and without a trace
of meanness in his generous nature. At school he was worshipped by the
boys——was not he captain of the football team, stroke of the eight,
and best all-round athlete?——and liked by the masters, who found him
inclined to be careless over work but absolutely reliable in every
other way. Such a fellow does not win scholarships, but he is a tower
of strength to his school.
For the week preceding Jim's return Norah and her father worked
hard, clearing up various odd jobs so that their time might be free
when the boy arrived. There was a quaint side to this, in that Jim
would without doubt have been delighted to help in any station work,
which always presented itself to him as "no end of a lark" after the
strenuous life at school. But it was a point of honour with those at
home to leave none of their work until the holidays and the last week
was invariably the scene of many labours.
Not that there were not plenty of hands on the station. It was a
big run, and gave employment in one way or another to quite a band of
men. But Mr. Linton preferred to keep a very close watch over
everything, and he had long realized that the best way of seeing that
your business is done is to take a hand yourself. The men said, "The
boss was everywhere," and they respected him the more in that he was
no kid-glove employer, but was willing to share in any work that was
going forward. Especially he insisted on working among the cattle,
and——Norah was nearly always with him on his rides——they had a more or
less accurate knowledge of every beast on the place. Outside the
boundary fences they went very seldom; the nearest township, seventeen
miles away, Norah regarded as merely a place where you called for the
mail, and save that it meant a ride or drive with her father, she had
never the slightest desire to go there.
Summer was very late that year, and "burning-off" operations on the
rougher parts of the run had been carried on much longer than was
generally possible. Norah always regarded "burning-off" as an immense
picnic, and used to beg her father to take her out. Night after night
found them down on the flats, getting rid of old dead trees, which up
to the present had refused obstinately to burn. It was picturesque
work, and Norah loved it, though she would have been somewhat
embarrassed had you hinted that the picturesqueness had anything to do
with its attractions.
One after another, they would light the stumps, some squat and
solid, others rising thirty or forty feet into the air. Once the fires
were lit, it was necessary to keep them going; moving backwards and
forwards among the trees, stoking, picking up fallen bits of burning
timber and adding them to the fires, coaxing sullen embers into a
blaze, edging the fire round a tree, so that the wind might do its
utmost in helping the work——there were no idle moments for the
"burners-off." Sometimes it would be necessary to enlarge a crack or
hole in a tough stump, to gain a hold for the fire. Norah always
carried a light iron bar, specially made for her at the station forge,
which she called her poker, and which answered half a dozen purposes
equally well, and though not an ideal weapon for killing a snake,
being too stiff and straight, had been known to act in that capacity
also. Every scrap of loose timber on the ground would be picked up and
added to the flames. Some stumps were very obstinate and resisted all
blandishments to burn; but careful handling generally ensured the fate
of the majority.
There are few sights more weird, or more typically Australian, than
a paddock at night with burning-off in process. Low and high, the red
columns of fire stand in a darkness made blacker by their lurid glow.
Where the fire has taken hold fairly the flames are fierce, and
showers of sparks fall like streams of gold. Sometimes a dull crack
gives warning of the fall of a long-dead giant; and the burning mass
leans slowly over, and then comes down with a crash, while the curious
bullocks, which have poked as near as they dare to the strange scene,
fling round and lumber off in a heavy gallop, heads down and tails up.
From stump to stump flit the little black figures of the workers,
standing out clearly sometimes, by the light of a blaze so fierce that
to face it is scarcely possible; or half seen in the dull glow of a
smouldering tree poking vigorously——seeming as ants attacking living
monsters infinitely beyond their strength. Perhaps it is there that
the fascination of the work comes in——the triumph of conquering tons
of inanimate matter by efforts so small. At any rate it is always hard
to leave the scene of action, and certainly the first glance next
morning is to see "which are down."
Then there were days spent among the cattle——days that always meant
the high-water mark of bliss to Norah. She road astride, and her
special pony, Bobs, to whom years but added perfection, loved the work
as much as she did. They understood each other perfectly; if Norah
carried a hunting-crop, it was merely for assistance in opening gates,
for Bobs never felt its touch. A hint from her heel, or a quick word,
conveyed all the big bay pony ever needed to supplement his own common
sense, of which Mr. Linton used to say he possessed more than most
men. The new bullocks arrived, and had to be drafted and
branded——during which latter operation Norah retired dismally to the
house and the socks that had to be finished in time to be Jim's
Christmas present. Then, after the branding, came a most cheerful
time, putting the cattle into their various paddocks.
One day was spent in mustering sheep, an employment not at all to
Norah's taste. She was frankly glad that Billabong devoted most of its
energies to cattle, and only put up with the sheep work because, since
Daddy was there, it never occurred to her to do anything else but go.
But she hated the slow, dusty ride, and hailed with delight a gallop
that came in their way towards the end of the day, when a hare jumped
up under Bob's nose as they rode homewards from the yards. The dogs
promptly gave chase; and, almost without knowing it, Norah and Bobs
were in hot pursuit, with Monarch shaking the earth behind them. The
average sheep dog is no match for a hare, and the quarry easily
escaped into the next paddock, after a merry run. Norah pulled up, her
"Don't you know it's useless to try to get a hare with those
fellows?" asked Mr. Linton, checking the reeking Monarch, and
indicating with a nod the dogs, which were highly aggrieved at their
"But I never wanted to get it," said his daughter, in surprise.
"It's perfectly awful to get a hare; they cry just like a baby, and it
makes you feel horrid."
"Then why did you go after it?"
"Why?" asked Norah, opening her eyes. "Well, I knew the dogs
couldn't catch it——and I believe you wanted a gallop nearly as much as
I did, Daddy!" They laughed at each other, and let the impatient
horses have their heads across the cleared paddock to the homestead.
There a letter awaited them.
Norah, coming in to dinner in a white frock, with her curls
unusually tidy, found her father looking anything but pleased over a
closely covered sheet of thin notepaper.
"I wish to goodness women would write legibly," he said, with some
heat. "No one on earth has any right to write on both sides of paper
as thin as this——and then across it! No one but your Aunt Eva would do
it——she always had a passion for small economies, together with one
for large extravagances. Amazing woman! Well, I can't read half of it,
but what she wants is unhappily clear."
"She isn't coming here, Daddy?"
"Saints forbid!" ejaculated Mr. Linton, who had a lively dread of
his sister——a lady of much social eminence, who disapproved strongly
of his upbringing of Norah. "No, she doesn't mention such an extreme
course, but there's something almost as alarming. She wants to send
Cecil here for Christmas."
"Cecil! Oh, Daddy!" Norah's tone was eloquent.
"Says he's been ill," said her father, glancing at the letter in a
vain effort to decipher a message written along one edge. "He's
better, but needs change, and she seems to think Billabong will prove
a sanatorium." He looked at Norah with an expression of dismay that
was comical. "I shouldn't have thought we'd agree with that young man
a bit, Norah!"
"I've never seen him, of course," Norah said unhappily, "but Jim
says he's pretty awful. And you didn't like him yourself, did you,
"On the rare occasions that I've had the pleasure of meeting my
nephew I've always thought him an unlicked cub," Mr. Linton answered.
"Of course it's eighteen months since I saw him; possibly he may have
changed for the better, but at that time his bumptiousness certainly
appeared to be on the increase. He had just left school then——he must
be nearly twenty now."
"Oh——quite old," said Norah. "What is he like?"
"Pretty!" said Mr. Linton, wrinkling his nose. "As pretty as his
name——Cecil——great Scott! I wonder if he'd let me call him Bill for
short! Bit of a whipper-snapper, he seemed; but I didn't take very
much notice of him——saw he was plainly bored by his uncle from the
Bush, so I didn't worry him. Well, now he's ours for a time your aunt
doesn't limit——more that that, if I can make a guess at these
hieroglyphics, I've got to send a telegram to say we'll have him on
"And this is Wednesday——oh, Dad!" expostulated Norah.
"Can't be helped," her father said. "We've got to go through with
it; if the boy has been ill he must certainly have all the change we
can give him. But I'm doubtful. Eva says he's had a 'nervous
breakdown,' and I rather think it's a complaint I don't believe in for
boys of twenty."
The dinner gong sounded. Amid its echoes Norah might have been
heard murmuring something about "nervous grandmother."
"H'm," said her father, laughing; "I don't think he'll find much
sympathy with his more fragile symptoms in Billabong——we must try to
brace him up, Norah. But whatever will Jim say, I wonder!"
"He'll be too disgusted for words," Norah answered. "Poor old
Jimmy! I wonder how they'll get on. D'you suppose Cecil ever played
"From Cecil's appearance I should say he devoted his time to
wool-work," said Mr. Linton. "However, it may not turn out as badly as
we think, and it's no use meeting trouble halfway, is it? Also, we've
to remember that he'll be our guest."
"But that's the trouble," said Norah, laughing. "It wouldn't be
half so bad if you could laugh at him. I'll have to be so hugely
"You'll probably shock him considerably in any case," said her
father. "Cecil's accustomed to very prim young ladies, and it's not at
all unlikely that he'll try to reform you!"
"I wish him luck!" said Norah. But there was a glint in her eyes
which boded ill for Cecil's reformatory efforts
CHAPTER III. A BATH——AND AN
Quiet and shy, as the Bush girls are,
But ready-witted and plucky, too.
A. B. PATERSON.
The telegram assuring a welcome to Cecil Linton was duly
dispatched, and the fact of his impending arrival broken to Mrs.
Brown, who sniffed portentously, and gave without enthusiasm
directions for the preparation of his room. "Mrs. Geoffrey" was rather
a bugbear to Brownie, who had unpleasant recollections of a visit in
the past from that majestic lady. During her stay of a week, she had
attempted to alter every existing arrangement at Billabong——and when
she finally departed, in a state of profound disapproval, the relief
of the homestead was immense. Brownie was unable to feel any delight
at the idea of entertaining her son.
Norah and her father made the utmost of their remaining time
together. Thursday was devoted to a great muster of calves, which
meant unlimited galloping and any amount of excitement; for the sturdy
youngsters were running with their mothers in one of the bush
paddocks, and it was no easy matter to cut them out and work them away
from the friendly shelter and refuge of the trees. A bush-reared calf
is an irresponsible being, with a great fund of energy and
spirits——and, while Norah loved her day, she was thoroughly tired as
they rode home in the late evening, the last straggler yarded in
readiness for the branding next day. Mr. Linton sent her to bed early,
and she did not wake in the morning until the dressing gong boomed its
cheerful summons through the house.
Mr. Linton was already at breakfast when swift footsteps were heard
in the hall above; a momentary silence indicated that his daughter was
coming downstairs by way of the banisters, and the next moment she
"I'm so sorry, Dad," Norah said, greeting him. "But I DID sleep!
Let me pour out your coffee."
She brought the cup to him, investigated a dish of bacon, and
slipped into her place behind the tall silver coffee pot.
"What are we going to do to-day, Dad?"
"I really don't quite know," Mr. Linton said, smiling at her.
"There aren't any very pressing jobs on hand——we must cut out cattle
to-morrow for trucking, but to-day seems fairly free. Have you any
ideas on the subject of how you'd like to spend it? I've letters to
write for a couple of hours, but after that I'm at your disposal."
Norah wrinkled her brows.
"There are about fifty things I want to do," she said. "But most of
them ought to wait until Jim comes home." She thought for a moment. "I
don't want to miss any more time with Bobs than I have to——could we
ride over to the backwater, Dad, and muster up the cattle there? You
know you said you were going to do so, pretty soon."
"I'd nearly forgotten that I had to see them," Mr. Linton said,
hastily. "Glad you reminded me, Norah. We'll have lunch early, and go
Norah's morning was spent in helping Mrs. Brown to compound
Christmas cakes——large quantities of which were always made and stored
well before Christmas, with due reference to the appetites of Jim and
his friends. Then a somewhat heated and floury damsel donned a neat
divided riding skirt of dark-blue drill, with a white-linen coat, and
the collar and tie which Norah regarded as the only reasonable neck
gear, and joined her father in the office.
"Ready? That's right," said he, casting an approving glance at the
trim figure. "I've just finished writing, and the horses are in."
"So's lunch," Norah responded. "It's a perfectly beautiful day for
a ride, Daddy——hurry up!"
The day merited Norah's epithet, as they rode over the paddocks in
the afternoon. As yet the grass had not dried up, thanks to the late
rains, and everywhere a green sea rippled to the fences. Soon it would
be dull and yellow; but this day there was nothing to mar the
perfection of the carpet that gave softly under the horses' hoofs. The
dogs raced wildly before them, chasing swallows and ground-larks in
the cheerfully idiotic manner of dogs, with always a wary ear for Mr.
Linton's whistle: but as yet they were not on duty, and were allowed
to run riot.
An old log fence stretched before them. It was the only one on
Billabong, where all station details were strictly up-to-date. This
one had been left, partly because it was picturesque, and partly at
the request of Jim and Norah, because it gave such splendid
opportunities for jumping. There were not many places on that old
fence that Bobs did not know, and he began to reef and pull as they
came nearer to it.
"I don't believe I'll be able to hold him in, Daddy!" said Norah,
with mock anxiety.
"Not afraid, I hope?" asked her father, laughing.
"Very——that you won't want to jump! I'd hate to disappoint him,
"Oh, go on!" said Mr. Linton. "If I said 'no' the savage animal
would probably bolt!" He held Monarch back as Norah gave the bay pony
his head, and they raced for the fence; watching with a smile in his
eyes the straight little form in the white coat, the firm seat in the
saddle, the steady hand on the rein. Bobs flew the big log like a
bird, and Norah twisted in her saddle to watch the black horse follow.
Her eyes were glowing as her father came up.
"I do think he loves it as much as I do!" she said, patting the
"He's certainly as keen a pony as I ever saw," Mr. Linton said.
"How are you going to manage without him, Norah?"
Norah looked up, her eyes wide with astonishment.
"Do without BOBS!" she exclaimed. "But I simply couldn't——he's one
of the family." Then her face fell suddenly, and the life died out of
her voice. "Oh——school," she said.
The change was rather pitiful, and Mr. Linton mentally abused
himself for his question.
"He'll always be waiting for you when you come home, dear," he
said. "Plenty of holidays——and think how fit he'll be! We'll have
great rides, Norah."
"I guess I'll want them," she said. Silence fell between them.
The scrub at the backwater was fairly thick, and the cattle had
sought its shade when the noonday sun struck hot. Well fed and sleek,
they lay about under the trees or on the little grassy flats formed by
the bends of the stream. Norah and her father separated, each taking a
dog, and beat through the bush, routing out stragglers as they went.
The echoes of the stock-whips rang along the water. Norah's was only a
light whip, half the length and weight of the one her father carried.
It was beautifully plaited——a special piece of work, out of a special
hide; while the handle was a triumph of the stockman's art. It had
been a gift to Norah from an old boundary rider whose whips were
famous, and she valued it more than most of her possessions, while
long practice and expert tuition had given her no little skill in its
She worked through the scrub, keeping her eyes in every direction,
for the cattle were lazy and did not stir readily, and it was easy to
miss a motionless beast hidden behind a clump of dogwood or Christmas
bush——the scrub tree that greets December with its exquisite white
blossoms. When at length she came to the end of her division and drove
her cattle out of the shelter she had quite a respectable little mob
to add to those with which her father was already waiting.
It was only to be a rough muster; rather, a general inspection to
see how the bullocks were doing, for the nearest stockyards were at
the homestead, and Mr. Linton did not desire to drive them far. He
managed to get a rough count along a fence——Norah in the rear,
bringing the bullocks along slowly, so that they strung out under
their owner's eye. Occasionally one would break out and try to race
past him on the wrong side. Bobs was as quick as his rider to watch
for these vagrants, and at the first hint of a breakaway he would be
off in pursuit. It was work the pair loved.
"Hundred and thirty," said Mr. Linton, as the last lumbering beast
trotted past him, and, finding the way clear, with no harrowing
creatures to annoy him and head him back to his mates, kicked up his
heels and made off across the paddock.
"Did any get behind me, Norah?"
"That's a good girl. They look well, don't they?"
Norah assented. "Did you notice how that big poley bullock had come
"Yes, he's three parts fat," said Mr. Linton. "All very
satisfactory, and the count is only two short——not bad for a rough
They turned homewards, cantering quickly over the paddocks; the
going was too good, Norah said, to waste on walking; and it was a
delight to feel the long, even stride under one, and the gentle wind
blowing upon one's cheeks. As he rode, Mr. Linton watched the eager,
vivid little face, alight with the joy of motion. If Bobs were keen,
there was no doubt that his mistress was even keener.
They crossed the log fence again by what Norah termed "the direct
route," traversed the home paddock, and drew up with a clatter of
hoofs at the stable yard. Billy, a black youth of some fame concerning
horses, came forward as they dismounted and took the bridles. But
Norah preferred to unsaddle Bobs herself and let him go; she held it
only civil after he had carried her well. She was leading him off when
the dusky retainer muttered something to her father.
"Oh, all right, Billy," said Mr. Linton. "Norah, those fellows from
Cunjee have come to see me about buying sheep. I expect I shall have
to take them out to the paddock I don't think you'd better come."
"All right, Dad." Sheep did not interest Norah very much. "I think
I'll go down to the lagoon."
"Very well, don't distinguish yourself by falling in," said her
father, with a laugh over his shoulder as he hurried away towards the
Left to herself, Norah paid a visit to Brownie in the kitchen,
which resulted in afternoon tea——there was never a bush home where tea
did not make its appearance on the smallest possible pretext. Then she
slipped off her linen jacket and brown leather leggings and, having
beguiled black Billy into digging her some worms, found some fishing
tackle and strolled down to the lagoon.
It was a broad sheet of water, at one end thickly fringed with
trees, while in the shallower parts a forest of green, feathery reeds
bordered it, swaying and rustling all day, no matter how soft the
breeze. The deeper end had been artificially hollowed out, and a
bathing box had been built, with a springboard jutting out over the
water. Under the raised floor of the bathing box a boat was moored.
Norah pulled it out and dropped down into it, stowing her tin of worms
carefully in the stern. Then she paddled slowly into the deepest part
of the lagoon, baited her line scientifically, and began to fish.
Only eels rewarded her efforts; and while eels are not bad fun to
pull out, Norah regarded them as great waste of time, since no one at
Billabong cared to eat them, and in any case she would not let them
come into the boat——for a good-sized eel can make a boat unpleasantly
slimy in a very short time. So each capture had to be carefully
released at the stern——not a very easy task. Before long Norah's white
blouse showed various marks of conflict; and being by nature a clean
person, she was rather disgusted with things in general. When at
length a large silver eel, on being pulled up, was found to have
swallowed the hook altogether, she fairly lost patience.
"Well, you'll have to keep it," she said, cutting her line;
whereupon the eel dropped back into the water thankfully, and made off
as though he had formed a habit of dining on hooks, and, in fact,
preferred them as an article of diet. "I'm sure you'll have shocking
indigestion," Norah said, watching the swirl of bubbles.
The boat had drifted some way down the lagoon, and a rustle told
Norah that they were near one of the reedy islands dotted here and
there in the shallows. There was very little foothold on them, but
they made excellent nesting places for the ducks that came to the
station each year. The boat grounded its nose in the soft mud, and
Norah jumped up to push it off. Planting the blade of the oar among
the reeds, she leant her weight upon it and shoved steadily.
The next events happened swiftly. The mud gave way suddenly with a
suck, and the oar promptly slithered, burying itself for half its
length; and Norah, taken altogether by surprise, executed a graceful
header over the bow of the boat. The mud received her softly, and
clung to her with affection; and for a moment, face downward among the
reeds, Norah clawed for support, like a crab suddenly beached. Then,
somehow, she scrambled to a sitting position, up to her waist in mud
and water——and rocked with laughter. A little way off, the boat swayed
gently on the ruffled surface of the water.
"Well——of all the duffers!" Norah said. She tried to stand, and
forthwith went up to one knee in the mud. Then, seeing that there was
no help for it, she managed to slip into deeper water——not very easy,
for the mud showed a deep attachment to her——and swam to the boat. To
get into it proved beyond her, but, fortunately, the bank was not far
off, and, though her clothes hampered her badly——a riding skirt is the
most inconvenient of swimming suits——she was as much at home as a duck
in the water, and soon got ashore.
Then she inspected herself, standing on the grass, while a pool of
water rapidly widened round her. Alas, for the trim maiden of the
morning! soaked to the skin, her lank hair clinging round her face,
her collar a limp rag, the dye from her red silk tie spreading in
artistic patches on her white blouse! Over all was the rich black mud
of the lagoon, from brow to boot soles. Her hat, once white felt, was
a sodden black-streaked mass; even her hands and face were stiff with
"Thank goodness, Daddy's out!" said the soaked one, returning
knee-deep in the water to try and cleanse herself as much as might
be——which was no great amount, for lagoon mud defies ordinary efforts.
She waded out, still laughing; cast an apprehensive glance at the
quarter from which her father might be expected to return, and set out
on her journey to the house, the water squelching dismally in her
boots at every step.
In the garden at Billabong walked a slim youth in most correct
attire. His exquisitely tailored suit of palest grey flannel was set
off by a lavender-striped shirt, with a tie that matched the stripe.
Patent leather shoes with wide ribbon bows shod him; above them, and
below the turned-up trousers, lavender silk socks with purple circles
made a very glory of his ankles. On his sleek head he balanced a straw
hat with an infinitesimal brim, a crown tall enough to resemble a
monument, and a very wide hat band. His pale, well-featured face
betrayed unuttered depths of boredom.
The click of the gate made him turn. Coming up the path was a
figure that might have been plaintive but that Norah was so immensely
amused at herself; and the stranger opened his pale eyes widely, for
such apparitions had not come his way. She did not see him for a
moment. When she did, he was directly in her path, and Norah pulled up
"Oh !" she said weakly; and then——"I didn't know anyone was here."
The strange youth looked somewhat disgusted.
"I should think you'd——ah——better go round to the back," he said
condescendingly. "You'll find the housekeeper there."
This time it was Norah's turn to be open-eyed.
"Thanks," she said a little shortly. "Were you waiting to see
The boy's eyebrows went up. "I am——ah——staying here."
"Oh, are you?" Norah said. "I didn't know. I'm Norah Linton."
"You!" said the stranger. There was such a world of expression in
his tone that Norah flushed scarlet, suddenly painfully conscious of
her extraordinary appearance. Then——it was unusual for her——she became
"Did you never see anyone wet?" she asked, in trenchant tones. "And
didn't you ever learn to take your hat off?"
"By Jove!" said the boy, looking at the truculent and mud-streaked
figure. Then he did an unwise thing, for he burst out laughing.
"I don't know who you are," Norah said, looking at him steadily.
"But I think you're the rudest, worst-mannered boy that ever came
She flashed past him with her head in the air. Cecil Linton,
staring after her with amazement, saw her cross the red-tiled verandah
hurriedly and disappear within a side door, a trail of wet marks
"By Jove!" he said again. "The bush cousin!"
CHAPTER IV. CUTTING OUT
And the loony bullock snorted when you first came into view,
Well, you know, it's not so often that he sees a swell like you.
A. B. PATERSON.
Norah did not encounter the newcomer again until dinner-time.
She was in the drawing-room, waiting for the gong to sound, when
Cecil came in with her father. For a moment he did not recognize the
soaked waif of the garden whom he had recommended "to go round to the
A hot bath and a change of raiment had restored Norah to her usual
self; had helped her also to laugh at her meeting with her cousin,
although she was still ruffled at the memory of the sneer in his
laugh. Perhaps because of that she had dressed more carefully than
usual. Cecil might have been excused for failing to recognize the
grave-faced maiden, very dainty in her simple frock of soft white
silk, with her still-moist curls tied back with a broad white ribbon.
"As you two have already met, there's no need to introduce you,"
said Mr. Linton, a twinkle in his eye. "Sorry your reception was so
informal, Cecil——you took us by surprise."
"I suppose the mater mixed things up, as usual," Cecil said, in a
bored way. "I certainly intended all along to get here to-day, but
she's fearfully vague, don't you know. I was lucky in getting a lift
"You certainly were," his uncle said, dryly. "However, I'm glad you
didn't have to wait in the township. You'd have found it slow."
"I'd probably have gone back," said Cecil.
"Ah——would you?" Mr. Linton looked for a moment very much as though
he wished he had done so. There was an uncomfortable pause, to which
the summons to dinner formed a welcome break.
Dinner was very different from the usual cheery meal. Cecil was not
shy, and supplied most of the conversation as a matter of course; and
his conversation was of a kind new to Norah. She remained unusually
silent, being, indeed, fully occupied in taking stock of this novel
variety of boy. She wondered were all city boys different from those
she knew. Jim was not like this; neither were the friends he was
accustomed to bring home with him. They were not a bit grown up, and
they talked of ordinary, wholesome things like cricket and football,
and horses, and dormitory "larks," and were altogether sensible and
companionable. But Cecil's talk was of theatres and bridge parties,
and——actually——clothes! Horses he only mentioned in connexion with
racing, and when Mr. Linton inquired mildly if he were fond of dances,
he was met by raised eyebrows and a bored disclaimer of caring to do
anything so energetic. Altogether this product of city culture was an
eye-opener to the simple folks of Billabong.
Of Norah, Cecil took very little notice. She was evidently a being
quite beneath his attention——he was secretly amused at the way in
which she presided at her end of the table, and decided in his own
mind that his mother's views had been correct, and that this small
girl would be all the better for a little judicious snubbing. So he
ignored her in his conversation, and if she made a remark contrived to
infuse a faint shade of patronage into his reply. It is possible that
his amazement would have been great had he known how profoundly his
uncle longed to kick him.
Dinner over, Norah fled to Brownie, and to that sympathetic soul
unburdened her woes. Mr. Linton and his nephew retired to the
verandah, where the former preferred to smoke in summer. He smiled a
little at the elaborate cigarette case Cecil drew out, but lit his
pipe without comment, reflecting inwardly that although cigarettes
were scarcely the treatment, though they might be the cause, of a
pasty face and a "nervous breakdown," it was none of his business to
interfere with a young gentleman who evidently considered himself a
man of the world. So they smoked and talked, and when, after a little
while, Cecil confessed himself tired, and went off to bed, he left
behind him a completely bored and rather annoyed squatter.
"Well, Norah, what do you think of him?"
Norah, sitting meekly knitting in the drawing-room, looked up and
laughed as her father came in.
"Think? Why, I don't think much, Daddy."
"No more do I," said Mr. Linton, casting his long form into an
armchair. "Of all the spoilt young cubs!——and that's all it is, I
should say: clearly a case of spoiling. The boy isn't bad at heart,
but he's never been checked in his life. Well, I'm told it's risky for
a father to bring up his daughter unaided, but I'm positive the result
is worse when an adoring mother rears a fatherless boy! Possibly I've
made rather a boy of you——but Cecil's neither one thing nor the other.
Why didn't you come out, my lass?"
"Felt too bad tempered!" said Norah; "he makes me mad when he
speaks to you in that condescending way of his, Daddy. I'll be calmer
to-morrow." She smiled up at her father. "Have a game of chess?"
"It would be soothing, I think," Mr. Linton answered. He laughed.
"It's really pathetic——our Darby and Joan existence to be ruffled like
this! Thank goodness, he's in bed, for to-night, at any rate!" They
got out the chessmen, and played very happily until Norah's bedtime.
"Do you ride, Cecil?" Mr. Linton asked next morning at breakfast.
"Ride? Oh, certainly," Cecil answered. "I suppose you're all very
keen on that sort of thing up here?"
"Well, that's how we earn our living," his uncle remarked. "Norah
is my right-hand man on the run."
"Ah, how nice! Do you find it hard to get labour here?"
"Oh, we get them," said Mr. Linton, his eyes twinkling. "But I
prefer to catch 'em young. We're cutting out cattle for trucking
to-day. Would you care to come out?"
"Delighted," said the nephew, glancing without enthusiasm at his
flannels. "But I didn't dress for riding."
"Oh, we're not absolute sticklers for costume here," Mr. Linton
said, laughing outright. "Wear what you like——in any case, we shan't
start for an hour."
It was more than that before they finally got away. The delay was
due to waiting for the visitor, whose toilet was a lengthy proceeding.
When at length he sauntered out, in blissful ignorance of the fact
that he had been keeping them waiting, no one could have found fault
with his clothes——a riding suit of very English cut, with immensely
baggy breeches, topped by an immaculately folded stock, and a smart
"That feller plenty new," said black Billy, gazing at him with
Mr. Linton chuckled as he swung Norah to her saddle.
"Let's hope his horsemanship is equal to his attire!"
Norah smiled in answer. Bobs was dancing with impatience, and she
walked him round and round, keeping an eye on her cousin.
A steady brown mare had been saddled for Cecil——one of the "general
utility" horses to be found on every station. He cast a critical eye
over her as he approached, glancing from her to the horses of his
uncle and cousin. Brown Betty was a thoroughly good stamp of a stock
horse, with plenty of quality; while not, perhaps, of the class of
Monarch and Bobs, she was by no means a mount to be despised. That
Cecil disapproved of her, however, was evident. There was a distinct
curl on his lip as he gathered up the reins. However, he mounted
without a word, and they set off in pursuit of Murty O'Toole, the head
stockman, who was already halfway to the cutting-out paddock.
The Clover Paddock of Billabong was famous——a splendid stretch of
perfect green, where the cattle moved knee-deep in fragrant blossoming
clovers, with pink and white flowers starring the wide expanse. At one
end it was gently undulating plain, towards the other it came down in
a gradual slope to the river, where tall gums gave an evergreen
shelter from winter gales or summer heat. The cattle were under them
as the riders came up——great, splendid Shorthorns, the aristocracy of
their kind, their roan sides sleek, their coats in perfect condition,
and a sprinkling of smaller bullocks whose inferiority in size was
compensated by their amazing fatness. It was evident that this week
there would be no difficulty in making up the draft for the Melbourne
The cattle were mustered into one herd; no racing or hastening now,
but with the gentle consideration one should extend to the dignified
and portly. They moved lazily, as if conscious of their own value.
Cecil, hurrying a red-and-white bullock across a little flat, was met
by a glare from Murty O'Toole, and a muttered injunction to "go aisy
wid 'em," followed by a remark that "clo'es like thim was only fit to
go mustherin' turkeykins in!" Luckily the latter part of the outbreak
was unheard by Cecil, who was quite sufficiently injured at the first,
and favoured Murty with a lofty stare that had the effect of throwing
the Irishman and black Billy into secret convulsions of mirth.
Norah rode not far from her father as they brought the cattle out
into the open and to the cutting-out camp——a spot where the beaten
ground showed that very often before such scenes had been enacted. The
bullocks knew it, and huddled there contentedly enough in a compact
body, while slowly Mr. Linton and Murty rode about them, singling out
the primest. Once marked down, O'Toole would slip between the bullock
and his mates and edge him away, where Billy took charge of him,
preventing his returning to the mob. With the first two or three this
was not quite easy: but once a few were together they gave little
trouble, feeding about calmly: and generally a bullock cut out from
the main body would trot quite readily across to the others.
Privately, Cecil Linton thought it remarkably dull work. All that
he had read of station life was unlike this. He had had visions of far
more exciting doings——mad gallops and wild cattle, thoroughbred
horses, kangaroo hunts and a score of other delights. Instead, all he
had to do was to tail after a lot of sleepy bullocks and then watch
them sorted out by some men whose easy-going ways were unlike anything
he had imagined. He had no small opinion of his riding, and he yearned
for distinction. The very sight of Norah, leaning a little forward,
keenness on every line of her face, was an offence to him. He could
see nothing whatever to be keen about. Yawning, he lit a cigarette.
Just then a bullock was cut out and pointed in the way he should
go. He lumbered easily past black Billy, apparently quite contented
with his fate; and Billy, seeing another following, gave a crack of
his whip to speed him on his way, and turned to deal with the
newcomer. The first bullock became immediately seized with a spirit of
mischief. He flourished his heels in the air, turned at right angles
and made off towards the river at a gallop.
Cecil, busy with his cigarette, saw Norah sit up suddenly and
tighten her hand on the bridle. Simultaneously Bobs was off like a
shot——tearing over the paddock a little wide of the fugitive. The race
was a short one. Passing the bullock, the bay pony and his rider swung
in sharply and the lash of Norah's whip shot out. The bullock stopped
short, shaking his head; then, as the whip spoke again, he wheeled and
trotted back meekly to the smaller mob. Behind him Norah cantered
slowly. The work of cutting out had not paused and no one seemed to
notice the incident. But Cecil saw his uncle smile across at the
little girl, and caught the look in Norah's eyes as she smiled back.
She and Bobs took up their station again, silently watchful.
Cecil was fired with ambition. Norah's small service had seemed to
him ridiculously easy; still, insignificant though everyone appeared
to regard it, it was better than doing nothing. He had not the
faintest doubt of his own ability, and the idea that riding in a
decorous suburb might not fit him for all equine emergencies he would
have scouted. He gathered up his reins, and waited anxiously for
another beast to break away.
One obliged him presently; a big shorthorn that decided he had
stayed long enough in the mob, and suddenly made up his mind to seek
another scene. Norah had already started in pursuit when she saw her
cousin send his spurs home in Betty, and charge forward. So she pulled
up the indignant Bobs, who danced, and left the field to Cecil.
Betty took charge of affairs from the outset. There was no move in
all the cattle-game that she did not understand. Moreover, she was
justly indignant at the spur-thrust, which attention only came her way
in great emergencies; and the heavy hand on her mouth was gall and
wormwood to her. But ahead was a flying bullock, and she was a stock
horse, which was sufficient for Betty.
"That feller brown mare got it all her own way!" said Billy, in
She had. Cecil, bumping a little in the saddle, had no very clear
idea of how things were going. He had a moment of amazement that the
quiet mare he had despised could make such a pace. Once he tried to
steady her, but at that instant Betty was not to be steadied. She
galloped on, and Cecil, recovering some of his self-possession, began
to think that this was the thing whereof he had dreamed.
The bullock was fat and scant of breath. It did not take him very
long to conclude that he had had enough, especially when he heard the
hoofs behind him. It was sad, for close before him was the shade of
the trees and the murmur of the river; but discretion is ever the
better part of valour, particularly if one be not only valorous but
fat. He pulled up short. Betty propped without a second's hesitation,
and swung round.
To Cecil it seemed that the world had dropped from under him——and
then risen to meet him. The brown mare turned, in the bush idiom, "on
a sixpence," but Cecil did not turn. He went on. The onlookers had a
vision of the mare chopping round, as duty bade her, to head off the
bullock, while at right-angles a graceful form in correct English
garments hurtled through the air in an elegant curve. When he came
down, which seemed to be not for some time, it was into a shady clump
of wild raspberries——and only those who know the Victorian wild
raspberry know how clinging and intrusive are its hooked thorns. Two
legs kicked wildly. There was no sound.
When the rescuing party extricated Cecil from his involuntary
botanical researches he was a sorry sight. His clothes were torn in
many places, and his face and hands badly scratched, while the red
stains of the raspberries had turned his light tweeds into something
resembling an impressionist sketch. It was perhaps excusable that he
had altogether lost his temper. He burst out in angry abuse of the
mare, the bullock, the raspberry clump, and the expedition in
general——anger which the scarcely concealed grins of the stockmen only
served to intensify. Norah, who had choked with laughter at first, but
had become sympathetic as soon as she saw the boy's face, extracted
numerous thorns from his person and clothing, and murmured words of
regret, which fell on unheeding ears. Finally his uncle lost patience.
"That'll do Cecil," he said. "Everyone comes to grief
occasionally——take your gruel like a man. Come on, Norah. Murty's
waiting." Saying which, he put Norah up, and they rode off, while
Billy held the brown mare's rein for Cecil, who mounted sulkily.
Something in his uncle's face forbade his replying. But in his heart
came the beginning of a grudge against the Bush, Billabong in general,
and Norah in particular. Later on, he promised himself, there might
come a chance to work it off.
For the present, however, there was nothing to be done but nurse
his scratches and his grievance; so he sat sulkily on Betty, and took
no further active part in the morning's work, the consciousness of
acting like a spoilt child not tending to improve his temper. Nobody
took any notice of him. One by one the bullocks were cut out, until
between twenty and thirty were ready, and then the main mob was left
to wander slowly back to the river, while O'Toole and Billy started
with the others to the paddock at the end of the run, which was their
first stage in the seventeen-mile journey to the trucking yards at
Cunjee. They moved off peacefully through the blossoming clover.
"Luckily they don't be afther knowin' what's ahead av thim!" said
Murty. He lifted his battered felt hat to Norah, as he rode away.
"We'll go down and see how high the river is before we go home,"
said Mr. Linton.
So they rode down to the river, commented on the unusual amount of
water for so late in the year, inspected the drinking places, paid a
visit to a beast in another paddock, which had been sick, but was now
apparently in rude health, and finally cantered home to lunch. Brownie
prudently refrained from comment on Cecil's scratched countenance,
further than to supply him with large quantities of hot water in his
room, together with a small pair of pliers, which she remarked were
'andy things for prickles. Under this varied treatment Cecil became
more like himself, and recovered his spirits, though a soreness yet
remained at the thought of the little girl who had done so easily what
he had failed so ignominiously in trying to do. He decided definitely
in his own mind that he did not like Norah.
CHAPTER V. TWO POINTS OF VIEW
You found the Bush was dismal, and a land of no delight——
Did you chance to hear a chorus in the shearers' nut at night?
A. B. PATERSON.
"Dear Mater,——Arrived at Cunjee safely, and, thanks to the way you
fixed up things, found no one to meet me, as Uncle David thought I
would not arrive until next day. However, a friendly yokel gave me a
lift out to Billabong in a very dirty and springless buggy, so that
the mistake was not a fatal one, though it gave me a very
"The place is certainly very nice, and the house comfortable,
though, of course, it is old-fashioned. I prefer more modern
furniture; but Uncle David seems to think his queer old chairs and
table all that can be desired, and did not appear interested when I
told him where we got our things. I have a large room, rather
draughty, but otherwise pleasant, with plenty of space for clothes,
which is a comfort. I do think it's intensely annoying to be expected
to keep your clothes in your trunk. The view is nice.
"Uncle David seemed quite prepared to treat me as a small boy, but
I fancy I have demonstrated to him that I know my way about——in fact,
as far as city life goes, I should say he knew exceedingly little. I
can't understand any man with money being content to live and die in a
hole like this out-of-the-way place: but I suppose, as you say, Aunt
Helen's death made a difference. Actually, they have not even one
motor! and when I spoke of it Uncle David seemed almost indignant, and
said horses were good enough for him. That is a specimen of the way
they are content to live. He seems quite idiotically devoted to the
small child, and she lives in his pocket. If she weren't so
countrified in her ways she wouldn't be bad looking; but, of course,
she is quite the bush youngster, and, I should think, would find her
level pretty quickly when she goes to school among a lot of smart
Melbourne girls. I should hope so, at any rate, for she is quite
spoilt here. It is exactly as you said——everyone treats her like a
sort of tin god, and she evidently thinks herself someone, and is
inclined to regard those older than herself quite as equals. When I
first saw her she had just fallen into some mud hole, and her
appearance would have given you a fit. But what can you expect?
"The fat old cook is still here, and asked after you. It's
absolutely ridiculous to see the way she is treated——quite considers
herself the mistress of the place, and when I told her one morning to
let me have my shaving water she was almost rude. I think if there's
one thing sillier than another it's the sort of superstition some
people have about old servants.
"So far I find it exceedingly dull, and don't feel very hopeful
that things will be much better when Jim comes home. Of course, he may
be improved, but he appeared to me a great overgrown animal when I
last saw him, without an idea in his head beyond cricket and football.
I don't feel that he will be any companion to me. He will probably
suffer badly from swelled head, too, as every one is making a fuss
about his return. So quaint, to see the sort of mutual admiration that
goes on here.
"I have had some riding, being given a horse much inferior to
either Uncle David's or Norah's——the latter rides like a jockey, and,
of course, astride, which I consider very ungraceful. She turns out
well, however, and all her get-up is good——her habits come from a
Melbourne tailor. I think I will get some clothes in Melbourne on my
way back; they may not have newer ideas, but it may be useful for
purposes of comparison with the Sydney cut. My riding clothes were
evidently a source of much wonderment and admiration to the yokels.
Unfortunately they have become badly stained with some confounded
raspberry juice, and though I left them out for Mrs. Brown to clean,
she has not done so yet.
"Well, there is no news to be got in a place like this; we never go
out, except on the run, and there seems absolutely no society. The
local doctor came out yesterday, in a prehistoric motor, but I found
him very uninteresting. Of course, one has no ideas in common with
these Bush people. Where the 'Charm of the Bush' comes in is more than
I can see——I much prefer Town on a Saturday morning to all Billabong
and its bullocks. They wanted me to go out one night and——fancy!——help
burn down dead trees; but, really, I jibbed on that. There is no
billiard room. Uncle David intends building one when Jim comes home
for good, but that certainly won't be in my time here. I fancy a very
few weeks will see me back in town.
"No bridge played here, of course! Have you had any luck that way?
"Your affectionate son,
"CECIL AUBREY LINTON."
Cecil blotted the final sheet of his letter home, and sat back with
a sigh of satisfaction, as one who feels his duty nobly done. He
stamped it, strolled across the hall to deposit it in the post box
which stood on the great oak table, and then looked round for
something to do.
It was afternoon, and all was very quiet. Mr. Linton had ridden off
with a buyer to inspect cattle, Norah ruefully declining to accompany
"I'm awfully sorry, Dad," she had said, "But I'm too busy."
"Busy, are you? What at?"
"Oh, cooking and things," Norah had answered. "Brownie's not very
well, and I said I'd help her——there's a lot to do just now, you
know." She stood on tiptoe to kiss her father. "Good-bye, Dad——don't
be too long, will you? And take care of yourself!"
Cecil also had declined to go out, giving "letters to write" as a
reason. The truth was that several rides had told on the town youth,
whose seat in the saddle was not easy enough to prevent his becoming
stiff and sore. Bush people are used to this peculiarity in city
visitors, and, while regarding the sufferers with sympathy, generally
prescribe a "hair of the dog that bit them"——more riding——as the
quickest cure; which Cecil would certainly have thought hard-hearted
in the extreme. However, nothing would have induced him to say that he
had felt the riding, since Cecil belonged to that class of boy that
hates to admit inferiority to others. So he suffered in silence,
creaked miserably at his uprising and down-sitting, and was happily
unaware that everyone in Billabong knew perfectly well what was the
matter with him.
Cecil and his mother were very good friends in the cool, polite way
that was distinctive of them. They "fitted" together admirably, and as
a general rule held the same views, the one on which they were most in
accord being the belief in Cecil's own superior talents and
characteristics. He wrote to her just as he would have talked, certain
of her absolute agreement. When his letter was finished he felt much
relieved at having, as Jim said, "got it off his chest." Not that
Cecil would ever have said anything so inelegant.
Sarah crossed the hall at the moment, carrying a tray of silver to
be cleaned, and he called to her——
"Where is Norah?"
"Miss Norah's in the kitchen," said the girl shortly. The Billabong
maids were no less independent than modern maids generally are, but
they had their views about the city gentleman's manner to the daughter
of the house. "On'y a bit of a kid himself," Mary had said to Sarah,
indignantly, "but any one'd think he owned the earth, an' Miss Norah
was a bit of it." So they despised Cecil exceedingly, and refrained
from shaking up his mattress when they made his bed.
"Er——you may tell her I want to speak to her."
"Can't, I'm afraid," Sarah said. "Miss Norah's very busy, 'elpin'
Mrs. Brown. She don't care to be disturbed."
"Can't she spare me a moment?"
"Wouldn't ask her to." Sarah lifted her tray——and her nose——and
marched out. Cecil looked black.
"Gad! I wish the mater had to deal with those girls!" he said
viciously——Mrs. Geoffrey Linton was of the employers who "change their
maids" with every new moon. "She'd make them sit up, I'll wager.
Abominable impertinence!" He strolled to the door, and looked out
across the garden discontentedly. "What on earth is there for a man to
do? Well, I'll hunt up the important cousin."
At the moment, Norah was quite of importance. Mrs. Brown had
succumbed to a headache earlier in the day. Norah had found her,
white-faced and miserable, bending over a preserving pan full of jam,
waiting for the mystical moment when it should "jell." Ordered to
rest, poor Brownie had stoutly refused——was there not more baking to
be done, impossible to put off, to say nothing of the jam? A brisk
engagement had ensued, from which Norah had emerged victorious, the
reins of government in her hands for the day. Brownie, still
protesting, had been put on her bed with a handkerchief steeped in
eau-de-Cologne on her throbbing forehead, and Norah had returned to
the kitchen to varied occupations.
The jam had behaved beautifully; had "jelled" in the most
satisfactory manner, just the right colour; now it stood in a neat
array of jars on a side table, waiting to be sealed and labelled when
cold. Then, after lunch, Norah had plunged into the mysteries of
pastry, and was considerably relieved when her mince pies turned out
very closely akin to those of Brownie, which were famous. Puddings for
dinner had followed, and were now cooling in the dairy. Finally, the
joint being in the oven, and vegetables prepared, the cook had
compounded Jim's favourite cake, which was now baking; during which
delicate operation, with a large dab of flour on her nose, the cook
sat at the table, and wrote a letter.
"DEAR OLD JIM,——This must be in pencil, 'cause I'm watching a cake
that's in the oven, and I'm awfully scared of it burning, so I don't
dare to go for the ink. Dad said I was to write and tell you we would
meet you on Wednesday, unless we heard from you again. We are all
awfully glad and excited about you coming. I'm sure Tait and Puck
understand, 'cause I told them to-day, and they barked like anything.
Your room is all right, and we've put in another cupboard. We're all
so sorry about Wally not coming, but we hope he will come later on. Do
"Dad and I aren't talking about me going to school. It can't be
helped, and it only makes you jolly blue to talk about it.
"Cecil's come, and he's the queerest specimen of a boy I ever saw.
He's awfully grown up, but he's small and terribly swagger. His riding
clothes are gorgeous, and you mustn't laugh at them. Dad did, but it
was into Bobs' mane. He came with us cutting-out, and Betty was too
good for him, swinging round, so he came a lovely cropper into some
wild raspberries. It was so funny no one could have helped laughing,
and he wasn't really hurt, only prickled and very wild. I am afraid he
isn't enjoying himself very much, but of course he will be all right
when you come. It's jolly hard to entertain him, 'cause he isn't a bit
keen about anything. He has a tremendous array of shaving tackle. And
he has a hand glass. Do you think he will lend it to you to see your
"Bobs is just lovelier than ever. I never knew him go so well as he
is now, and he perfectly loves a jump. Dad has a new horse he calls
Monarch, and he is a beauty, he is black with a star. OF COURSE, don't
say anything about Cecil's spill to anybody, he could not help it. And
he had a much bigger laugh at me, 'cause I fell into the lagoon the
day he came. I will tell you all about it when you come.
"The place is looking lovely, and hasn't dried up a bit——"
An unfamiliar step came along the passage, and Norah sat up
abruptly from the labours of composition, and then with promptness
concealed her letter under a cookery book.
"Why Cecil! How did you find your way here?"
"Oh——looked about me. I had finished my writing, and there was
nothing to do."
"I'm so sorry," Norah said contritely. "You see, Brownie's sick,
and I'm on duty here."
"You!" said Cecil, with a laugh. "And what can YOU do in a
Norah blushed at the laugh more than at the words.
"Oh, you'll get some sort of a dinner," she said. "Don't be too
critical, that's all."
"What, you really can cook? Or do you play at it?"
"Well, there are mighty few girls in the Bush who can't cook a
bit," Norah said. "Of course we're lucky, having Brownie——but you
really never can tell as a rule when you may have to turn to in the
kitchen. Dad says it's one of the beauties of Australia!"
"Can't say I like the idea of a lady in the kitchen," quoth Cecil
"Can't say I'd like to be one who was scared of it," Norah said.
"And I guess you'd get very bored if you had to go without your
dinner!" She seized a cloth and opened the oven door gingerly, and
made highly technical experiments with her cake, rising presently,
somewhat flushed. "Ten minutes more," she said, with an air of
satisfaction. "And, as Brownie would say, 'he's rose lovely.' Have
some tea, Cecil?"
Cecil assented, and watched the small figure in the voluminous
white apron as she flitted about the kitchen.
"I like having tea here," Norah confided to him. "Then I use
Brownie's teapot, and don't you always think tea tastes miles better
out of a brown pot? You won't get the proper afternoon cups either——I
hope you don't mind?" She stopped short, with a sudden sense of
talking a language altogether foreign to this bored young man in
correct attire; and a rush of something like irritation to think how
different Jim or Wally would have been——she could almost see Wally
sitting on the edge of the table, with a huge cup of tea in one hand,
a scone in the other, and his thin, eager face alight with
cheerfulness. Cecil was certainly heavy in the hand. She sighed, but
bent manfully to her task again.
"You take sugar, don't you? And cream? Yes, you ought to have
cream, 'cause you've been ill." She dashed into the pantry, returning
with a small jug. "The cake's not mine, so I can recommend it; but if
you're not frightened you can have one of my mince pies."
"Thanks, I'd rather have cake," said Cecil., and again Norah
flushed at his tone, but she laughed.
"It's certainly safer," she agreed, "I'm sure Brownie thought it
was a hideous risk to leave the pies to me." She supplied her cousin
with cake, and retreated to the oven.
"Why don't you let one of the girls do this?" he asked.
"Sarah or Mary? Oh, they're as busy as ever they can be," explained
Norah. "We always do a lot of extra cleaning and rubbing up before
Christmas, and they haven't a moment. Of course they'd do it in a
minute, if I asked them, but I wouldn't——as it is, Sarah's going to
dish up for me. They're the nicest girls; I'm going to take them tea
as soon as I get my cake out!"
"You!" said Cecil. "You don't mean to say you're going to cart tea
to the servants?"
"I'd be a perfect pig if I didn't," Norah said, shortly. "I'm
afraid you don't understand the bush a bit, Cecil."
"Thank goodness I don't then," said Cecil, stiffly. "Who's that
"Brownie, of course." Norah was getting a little ruffled——criticism
like this had not come to her.
"Well, I think it's extraordinary——and so would my mother," Cecil
said, with an air of finality.
"I suppose a town is different," said Norah, striving after
patience. "We like to look after everyone here——and I think it's grand
when everyone's nice to everyone!" She paused; it was hard to be
patient and grammatical, too.
"School will teach you a number of things," said her cousin
loftily. He rose and put down his cup. "A lady shouldn't lower
"Dad says a lady can't lower herself by work," retorted Norah.
"Anyhow, if taking tea to dear old Brownie's going to lower me, it'll
have to, that's all!"
"You don't understand," said Cecil. "A lady has her own place, and
to get on terms of familiarity with the lower classes is bad for both
her and them." He looked and felt instructive. "It isn't exactly the
action that counts——it's the spirit it fosters——er——the feeling——that
is, the——er, in short, it's a mistake to——"
"Oh, please be careful, Cecil, you're sitting in some dough!"
Norah sprang forward anxiously, and instructiveness fell from Cecil
as one sheds a garment. He had sat down on the edge of the table in
the flow of his eloquence; now he jumped up angrily, and, muttering
unpleasant things, endeavored to remove dough from his person. Norah
hovered round, deeply concerned. Pastry dough, however, is a clinging
and a greasy product, and finally the wrathful lecturer beat a retreat
towards the sanctuary of his own room, and the cook sat down and shook
"My cake!" she gasped, in the midst of her mirth. She flew to the
oven and rescued Jim's delicacy.
"Thank goodness, it's all right!" said she. Her mirth broke out
A shadow darkened the doorway.
"What——cooking and in hysterics?" said Mr. Linton. "May I have some
tea? And what's the matter?"
"Cecil's begun the reforming process," said his daughter, becoming
solemn with difficulty. "You've no idea how improved I am, Daddy! He
seems to be certain that I'm not a lady, and he's very doubtful if I'm
a cook, so could you tell me what I'm likely to be?"
"A better all-round man than Cecil, I should hope," said David
Linton, with a sound like a snort of wrath. "Give me some tea, mate,
and don't bother your head about the future. Your old Dad's not
CHAPTER VI. COMING HOME
The top of my desire
Is just to meet a mate o' mine.
It had suddenly become hot——"truly Christmas" weather, Norah called
it, as she stood waiting on the Cunjee platform for a train which, in
accordance with all railway traditions at Christmas, was already over
an hour late. Norah felt it hard that to-day, of all days in the year,
it should be so——when Jim was actually coming home for good! At the
thought of Jim's arrival she hopped cheerfully on one leg, completely
oblivious of onlookers, and looked up the shining line of rails for
the thousand-and-first time. Would the old train never come?
"Aren't you contriving to keep warm, with the mercury trying to
break the thermometer? Or do you dance merely because you feel like
it?" asked a friendly voice; and Norah turned with a little flush of
pleasure to greet the Cunjee doctor. She and Dr. Anderson respected
each other very highly.
"Because I feel like it, I expect," she said, laughing and shaking
"Which my wide professional experience leads me to diagnose as the
fact that you're probably waiting for Jim!" said the doctor, gravely.
"There's a certain hectic flush, an intermittent pulse, which
convinces me of your painful state, when coupled with the restlessness
of the eye."
"Which eye?" asked Norah anxiously.
"Both," said the doctor. "Don't be flippant with your medical man.
So he's really coming, Norah?"
"Yes," said Norah, "and I don't care if I am excited——so'd you be,
doctor. Billy's outside with the horses, and he's just as excited as I
"Billy!" said the doctor. "But he'd never say more than 'Plenty!'
no matter how excited he was."
"No, of course not, but then he finds it such a useful word," Norah
said a little vaguely. She was peering up the rails. Suddenly she spun
round, her face glowing. "There's the smoke——she's coming!"
Whatever additional remarks Dr. Anderson may have made fell on deaf
ears, for Norah had no further ideas from that moment. The train came
into view over the brow of the hill, and slid down the long slope into
the station, pulling up with a mighty grinding of brakes. Almost as it
stopped a door was flung open violently, and a very tall boy with the
Grammar School colours on his hat jumped out, cast a hurried glance
around, and then seized the small person in blue linen in an unashamed
"Oh, Jim!" said Norah. "Oh, Jimmy——boy!"
"Well, old kiddie," said Jim. "You all right? My word, I am glad to
"Me, too," said Norah. "It's been just ages, Jim."
"Hasn't it?" Jim said. He started. "Oh, by Jove! There's someone
Norah wheeled round, and uttered a little cry of joy. Another boy
with the dark-blue hat band was grinning at her in most friendly
fashion——a thin, brown-faced boy, with especially merry dark eyes.
Norah's hands went out.
"Wally! But, how lovely! I thought you couldn't come."
"So did I," said Wally Meadows, pumping her hands vigorously. "I
was going home, but my aunt obligingly got measles. I'm awfully sorry
for Aunt. But it's an ill-wind that blows nowhere——old Jim took pity
on me, and here I am!"
"I should think so," Norah said. "We haven't felt a bit complete
without you. Dad was saying only this morning how sorry he was you
couldn't come. He'll get such a shock! Oh, it's so lovely to have you
two——and isn't it getting like Christmas! I'm so happy!" She jigged on
one foot, regardless of interested faces watching her from the train.
"You've grown about a foot," said Jim, patting her on the shoulder.
"Pretty thin, too——sure you're all right?"
Norah reassured him, laughing.
"Well, you look awfully fit, if you are thin," was Jim's comment.
"Doesn't she, Wally?"
"Never saw her look fitter," said Wally. "I'm glad as five bob Aunt
got the measles! Oh, what a beast I am——but, you know what I mean!
Jim, this train'll go on, and we've fifty million things in the
"So we have!" Jim said, hurriedly, taking his hand from Norah's
shoulder and diving after his chum into the compartment they had
quitted. They emerged laden with suitcases, parcels, rackets, fishing
rods, golf sticks and other miscellaneous impedimenta.
"Catch!" Jim said, tossing a big box into Norah's hands.
"Chocolates!" said Norah blissfully. "Jim, you're an angel!"
"Always knew that," her brother replied, dropping his load on the
platform with a cheerful disregard of what might break. "Come on,
Wally, we'll get the heavy things out of the van. You watch those,
Nor. Who's in, by the way? And where's Dad?"
"Dad's in Cunjee; but he had business, and he couldn't wait at the
station, the train was so late. Cecil's with him——they're both riding.
I've got the light buggy with the ponies for you, and Billy's driving
the express for your luggage and heaps of things that Brownie wants
for the house." Norah spoke in one breath and finished with a gasp.
"Guess people must have thought you were a circus procession!" was
Jim's comment. "All right, we'll cart the things out to Billy."
Out at the bid express-wagon drawn by a pair of greys, Billy stood,
welcoming them with a smile on his dusky countenance that Wally
likened to a slit in a coconut. The luggage was piled in with special
injunctions to the black boy not to put the bags of flour on anything
that looked delicate——whereat Billy's smile widened to a grin, and he
murmured "Plenty!" delightedly.
"That's the lot," Jim said. "The buggy's at the hotel, I suppose,
"Yes——and we're to have lunch there with Dad. And you've got to be
awfully polite to Cecil!"
"Cecil!" said Jim, lifting his nose. "If Cecil's anything like what
he used to be——" He did not finish the sentence.
"Do we play with Cecil?" Wally asked, grinning.
"The question is, if Cecil will condescend to play with you," Norah
said. "He thinks ME too much of a kid to look at——"
"Oh, does he?" asked Jim resentfully.
"But you're both ever so much bigger than he is, so perhaps he'll
let you love him!" Norah finished.
"I'm relieved to my soul," said Wally, with gravity. "Visions of my
unrequited affection poured out on Cecil have been troubling my rest
for days. May I kiss him?"
"I'd wait a little while, I think," Norah answered. "He may be
shy——not that we've found it out yet. Indeed, he's the unshyest person
I ever met."
"Is he very awful, Nor?"
"Oh, he's a bit of a drawback," Norah said. "Dad says he's not bad
at heart, only so spoilt——and he's just terribly bumptious, Jim, and
thinks he can do everything; and his clothes are lovely! He isn't
caring for me a bit to-day, 'cause he gave me a broad hint that he
wanted to ride Bobs, and I didn't take it."
"Ride Bobs!" exclaimed Jim, in amazement. "Well, I should think you
"Well, I felt rather a pig, considering he's our guest," Norah
said, a little contritely. "If it were you or Wally, now——but he's
really got an awful seat, Jim, and Murty says he's a hand like a ham
on a horse's mouth! I didn't feel I could let him have Bobs."
"Bobs is your very special property——no one but an ass would ask
for him, and I told Cecil last year you were the only person who ever
rode him," said Jim indignantly. "Surely there are enough horses on
the place without him wanting to collar your pony!"
"Well, he didn't get him," said Norah, tranquilly, "so that's all
right and you needn't worry, Jimmy. I do think, if only one could get
him off his high horse, he wouldn't be at all bad——perhaps he'll thaw
now you boys are here. I hope he will, for his own sake, 'cause he'd
have such a much better time."
"Well, if he's going to be patronizing——" Jim began.
"Ah, perhaps he won't——I don't believe he could try to patronize
you!" Norah glanced lovingly at her tall brother. "You're nearly as
big as Dad, Jimmy, aren't you? and Wally's going to be too."
"Ill weeds grow apace," quoted the latter gentleman solemnly.
"Jim's a splendid example of that proverb."
"M'f!" said Norah. "How about yourself?"
"I'm coming up as a flower!" Wally replied modestly. "A Christmas
lily, I should think!"——whereat Jim murmured something that sounded
"More like an artichoke!" His exact remark, however, was lost, for at
that moment they arrived at the hotel, just as Mr. Linton emerged from
it, and Jim quickened his pace, his face alight.
"Well, my boy!" They gripped hands, and David Linton's eye kindled
as it dwelt on the big fellow. "Glad to have you back, old son.
"Turned up like a bad penny, sir," said Wally, having his hand
pumped in turn. "Hope you'll forgive me——it's pretty cool to arrive
without an invitation."
"As far as I know, you had invitations from all the family," said
Mr. Linton, laughing. "We regard you as one of the oldest inhabitants
now, you know. At any rate, I'm delighted to see you; the mistress of
Billabong must answer for herself, but she doesn't look cast down!"
"She's been fairly polite," Wally said. "On the whole I don't feel
as shy as I was afraid of feeling! I was horribly scared of having
Christmas with my aunt——but she's chosen measles instead, so I expect
she was just as scared as I was!"
"It's probable," said his host, laughing.
"You haven't grown up a bit, Wally, and it's such a comfort!" Norah
"I'm getting old and reverend," said Wally severely, "and it's up
to you to treat me with respect, young Norah. Sixteen's an awful age
to support with any cheerfulness." His brown face at the moment gave
the impression of never having been serious during the sixteen years
he lamented. "As for this ancient mariner"——indicating Jim——"you can
see the signs of senile decay quite plainly!"
"Ass!" said Jim affectionately. He broke off. "How are you, Cecil?"
Cecil, coming out of the hotel, a dapper figure beside the two tall
schoolboys, gave languid greetings. He cast at Jim a glance of
something like envy. Height was the one thing he longed for, and it
seemed to him hard that this seventeen-year-old youngster should be
rapidly approaching six feet, while he, three years older, had stopped
short six inches under that measurement. However, generally speaking,
Cecil was uncommonly well satisfied with himself, and not even the
contemplation of Jim's superior inches could worry him for long. He
asked polite questions about the journey, and laughed at the freely
expressed opinion that the day was hot "You should go to Sydney if you
want to know what heat is," he said, with the superiority of the
travelled man; "Victoria really has no heat to talk about!"
"Well, I'm a Queenslander," said Wally bluntly, "and we're supposed
to know about heat there. And I do think to-day is beastly hot——look
at my collar, it's like a concertina! Sydney heat is hot, and Brisbane
heat is hotter, but Victorian heat has a hotness all of its own!"
Whereat everybody laughed, and the discussion was adjourned for lunch.
It was a merry meal; and if the fare was no better than that of
most township hotels, the spirits of the party were too high to
trouble about such trifles as tough meat, watery puddings, and weary
butter that bore out Wally's remarks about the heat by threatening to
float away on a sea of its own oil. Everything was rose colour in
Norah's estimation that day. She sat by Jim and beamed across the
table at her father and Wally. Even Cecil found himself at times
included in the beam, and took it meekly, for the happy face was
infectious, while the frank delight of the boys in having her with
them again was to a certain extent educational to the outsider. There
was no lack of manliness in Jim's strong, handsome face. If he found
it worth his while, Cecil reflected, to make such a fuss over a child,
it might be possible that she was not altogether a person to be
snubbed. So he was unusually affable to his small cousin, and lunch
passed off very successfully.
Afterwards there was shopping to be done. A long list of groceries
had been made out by Mrs. Brown, who professed herself far too busy
with Christmas preparations to come in person, and had laid the
responsibility on Norah, not without misgivings. It was, perhaps,
fortunate that the storekeepers were able to rise to the contents of
the list unaided, for Norah was scarcely in a condition to grapple
with problems relating to anything so ordinary as groceries, and found
it indeed difficult to read out her list coherently, with Jim standing
sentinel in the doorway and Wally wandering about the shop sampling
all he could find, from biscuits to brooms. On one occasion, when
making a special effort to preserve her dignity, she came to the item
"flaked oatmeal," and asked the shopman in rather frigid tones for
"floked atemeal," which had a paralysing effect on the unoffending
storekeeper, while Wally retired to the shelter of a pile of
saucepans, and shrieked. Thus the business of necessary purchases
passed off cheerfully; and then what Norah termed the more interesting
shops——saddlers' and stationers'——were visited, with a view to
Christmas. Finally Jim brought the buggy from the hotel, and they
picked up their lighter parcels.
"Surely that's all?" Jim inquired, as Norah and Wally came out of
the fruiterer's laden with bags of assorted sizes, which they dumped
thankfully into the buggy, with the immediate result that a bag of
peaches burst, and had to be rescued from all over the floor. "Nor.,
you'll not have a penny left, and we'll all be violently ill if we eat
half you've bought. Come on home."
"Brownie's laid in large stocks of medicine, she says," Norah
answered, tranquilly, climbing into the buggy. "So you needn't worry,
need you? But we've truly finished now, Jim, I think. Ready, Wally?"
"Quite," said Wally cheerfully. "I've put these peaches in with the
neatsfoot oil, and it seems a beautiful arrangement!" He hopped up
nimbly. "Right oh, J immy, and pray remember I am nervous!"
"I will," Jim grinned. He laid the whip on the ponies' backs, and
they shot forward with a bound, unused to such liberties. They went
down the main street of Cunjee in a whirl of dust, and turned over the
bridge spanning the river, where the ponies promptly rose on their
hind legs at the sight of Dr. Anderson's motor, and betrayed a rooted
disinclination to come down from that unusual altitude. Jim handled
them steadily, and presently they were induced to face the snorting
horror, wherein the doctor sat, waving his hand and calling cheery
Christmas greetings as they shot past, to which the three responded
enthusiastically. Cunjee sank into the distance behind them.
The miles flew past. On the metalled road the rubbered tyres spun
silently, and only the flying hoofs clattered and soon they had left
the made road and turned on to the hard-beaten track that led to
Billabong, where progress was even smoother. The tongues flew almost
as swiftly as the wheels. The hot sun sank gradually, and the evening
breeze sprang up. It was a time for quick questions and answers. Norah
wanted details of the term just over, the sports, the prize-giving,
and had to laugh over messages from those of Jim's boy friends whom
she knew; and Jim had a hundred things to ask about home——the cattle,
the fishing, his horses, his dogs, "Brownie," and the prospects of fun
ahead. They roared over her ducking and subsequent encounter with
Cecil, and chaffed her unmercifully.
"Such a mud-lark!" said Wally, with glee. "And that prim young man!
Oh, Norah, you are a dream! I'd have given something to see your
"I was altogether worth seeing," Norah remarked modestly. "When I
caught sight of myself in a glass I really didn't wonder at Cecil."
But Jim glowered and referred to the absent Cecil as a "silly ass."
They turned in at last at the homestead gate, and the ponies fairly
flew up the long paddock, something in the spirits of their drivers
communicating itself to them. The house was not visible until the
track had passed through a thick belt of trees, and as they came to
this Jim fell silent, looking keenly ahead. Then the red roof came
into view and the boy drew a long breath.
"There's the old place," he said. "My word, I am glad to be home!"
Under the dust-rug Norah slipped her hand on to his knee.
"It's just lovely to have you——both of you." she added. "You're
glad, too, aren't you, Wally?"
"I could sing!" said Wally.
"Once," said Jim, "you could. But for some years——"
"Beast!" said Wally. "If you weren't driving——"
"And you weren't nervous——!" grinned his chum.
"There'd be wigs on the green," finished Norah, cheerfully. "I'll
drive, if it would be any convenience to either of you."
"We'll postpone it," said Jim. "There's Brownie at the gate, bless
her old heart!"
They shot up the last furlong of the drive. At the big gate of the
yard——very few people, not even bishops, go to the front gate of a
Bush homestead——Brownie stood, her broad face beaming. As they pulled
up, Murty O'Toole came forward to take the horses——a marked compliment
from Murty, who, like most head stockmen, was a free and independent
Jim went over the wheel with a bound, and seized Brownie's hand.
"How are you, Brownie, dear?"
"The size of him!" said she. "The shoulders. No wonder they 'ad you
for captin of the football eleven, then, my dear!" The boys grinned
widely. "If not eleven, then it's four," said Brownie placidly.
"Strange, I can't never remember which, an' it don't sinnerfy, any'ow.
Welkim 'ome——an' you too, Master Wally."
"How are you, Murty?" Jim shook hands with the stockman, while
Wally bowed low over Brownie's hand.
"I've lived for this moment," he said, fervently. "Brownie, you
grow younger every time I go away!"
"Naturally!" said Norah from the buggy.
"Be silent, minx!" said Wally, over his shoulder. "Who are you to
break in on a heart-to-heart talk, anyhow? At this present moment,
Mrs. Brown, you look seventeen!"
"Get along with you, now, do!" said the delighted Brownie. "You're
no better than you was, I'm afraid, Master Wally——alwuz ready for your
"Joke!" exclaimed he, indignantly. "Any one who'd make a joke of
you, Brownie, would rob a church. Jim might, but I——"
"Perish the idea!" said Jim, tipping the orator's hat over his
eyes. "Come and take things out of the buggy."
Across the yard came Mr. Linton, surrounded by a mixed assemblage
of dogs. Puck and the collie had already hurled themselves upon Jim in
a delirium of joy. Cecil strolled after his uncle, looking slightly
amused at the scene by the gate.
"We're quite a family," Mr. Linton said. "I begin to feel like Mr.
Pickwick at a Christmas gathering! Do you think Billabong will stand
the crowd, Mrs. Brown?"
"It looks to me, sir," said Mrs. Brown contentedly, "as if
Billabong's goin' to 'ave the time of its life!"
CHAPTER VII. JIM UNPACKS
Were made for boys to holler!
Jim's room was a rather vast place, with two long windows opening
upon the balcony, two exceedingly plain iron bedsteads in different
corners, and in the midst a wide, vacant space, where a punching-ball
was fixed whenever the owner was at home. There was a very shabby old
leather armchair by one window, and near the other an even shabbier
leather couch, very wide and solid. Jim used to declare that they were
the most comfortable in the house, and nothing would have induced him
to have them altered in any way.
One wall held a medley of various articles: Jim's rifle, the
sporting gun his father had given him when he was fifteen, a revolver
that had been through two wars, and a cavalry sword his grandfather
had carried, together with an assortment of native weapons from
various countries——assegais, spears, boomerangs, throwing sticks,
sjamboks and South Sea Island clubs and shields. A special nail held
Jim's own stockwhip, to which Norah always attended after he had gone
away, lest the supple thong should become harsh through disuse. Then
there were weapons of peace——hockey sticks, rackets, cricket-bats——the
latter an assortment of all Jim had used, from the tiny one he had
begun with at the age of eight to the full sized beauty that had split
honourably in an inter-State school match the preceding summer.
All over the other walls were plainly framed photographs. Mr.
Linton and Norah were there, in many positions, with and without
horses; then there were pictures of all the favourite horses and
ponies and dogs on the place, and a big enlargement of Billabong house
itself. The others were school photographs, mostly football and
cricket teams, tennis fours, the school crew, and some large groups at
the yearly sports. In nearly all you could find Jim himself——if you
looked closely enough. Jim loathed being photographed, and always
retired as far out of sight in a group as his inches would permit.
The room held many of Jim's own manufactured ideas——his
"contraptions," Brownie used to call them. There was a telephone he
had rigged up when he was twelve, communicating with Norah's room by
the balcony; and outside was a sort of fire escape, by which he
could——and generally did——descend without using the stairs. There were
various pieces of bush carpentry——a table, a candlestick and a
book-case of his own construction, which in Norah's eyes were better
than beautiful. There was an arrangement by which he could open his
door or his windows without getting out of bed——which was ingenious,
but quaint, since Jim was never known to shut his windows, and very
rarely his door. Altogether it was an interesting room, and very
typical of Jim.
At present it resembled a maelstrom, for Wally and Jim were
unpacking. Brownie, putting in her head, described it as "a perfick
shambles," and affected great horror at the havoc occasioned by having
boys in the house——beaming all the while in a manner calculated to
destroy the effect of any lecture. Norah, perched on the end of the
sofa, which was the only free spot in the room, looked on at the
operations with deep interest. Occasionally, when some special parcel
was unearthed, one of the boys diverted her attention laboriously,
since it was near Christmas-time, which is ever a season of mysteries.
The parcel stowed away hastily in a cupboard, Norah was permitted to
gaze once more, unrestricted.
"What's that, Jim?" she asked, catching a glimpse of silver in the
recesses of a suitcase.
"I believe it's your cup," said his sister excitedly. "Do make him
show me, Wally!"
"The mug it is!" said Wally, diving in under Jim's nose, and
snatching the article in question. "Don't be an ass, Jimmy——d'you
expect to keep it always in your boot-bag?"
"Very nice place for it," Jim was understood to mutter.
"Ripping——but you'll want it for your boots. Catch, Norah!"
The big silver cup flew across the room, and was deftly fielded by
the lady on the end of the sofa.
"Oh, isn't it a beauty!" she said delightedly. "Jimmy, I'm so proud
to know you!"
"You ought to have seen him going up to get it," Wally said.
"Lovely sight——he blushed so prettily!"
"Blush be hanged!" said the victim.
"Don't be ashamed, my child; it's a very nice thing to be able to
blush," Wally grinned. "No one would ever dream you could, either, so
it's a happy surprise as well!"
"There's not a blush about you, that's one thing," said Jim, from
the depths of his big box.
"Wore out all my powers that way blushing over you!" was Wally's
prompt reply. "Norah, will you use that thing for cocoa, or what?"
"Don't be disrespectful——I'm admiring it," Norah answered, turning
the cup round. "Dad will like it awfully."
"Has he shown you his prizes?"
"Prizes!" Norah exclaimed, falling off the arm of the sofa in
amazement. "Jim, you horrid boy, you never told us. Show me at once!"
"Never thought about 'em," said the unhappy Jim, un-earthing two
resplendent books. "Here you are, anyhow——and Wally needn't talk; he's
"I'm faint in the presence of so much learning!" Norah said,
sitting down on a golf bag. "Who'd ever have suspected you? French and
Prefect's Prize——oh, l'm so glad you got that one, Jim, dear." Her
quick ear caught a step, and she called her father excitedly.
Mr. Linton entered, to be greeted by incoherent tidings of his
son's success, to the meaning of which the two books lent aid.
"That's especially good news, old chap," he said quietly, whereat
Jim grinned happily, blushed with fervour, and muttered something
entirely inaudible. "The cup, too! that's a beauty, and no mistake!"
He looked round the "perfick shambles," and laughed a little. "I don't
think they're very safe here," he said. "With your permission, I'll
take charge of them." He left the room, carrying the books and the cup
At the door he paused.
"Don't forget Cecil," he said quietly, and was gone.
The trio looked blank.
"Cecil!" said Wally.
"Hang Cecil!" from Jim disgustedly.
"Oh, he's such a bore!" Norah said. "And he'd simply hate to be in
here——he wouldn't see any fun in it. I——I really think I've had an
overdose of Cecil."
"Poor old kid!" said Jim. "Well, we'll hurry up unpacking and then
find him." They dismissed the "bit of a drawback" airily from their
minds, and proceeded with the business in hand, hampered slightly by
much energetic conversation. Jim's boxes were full of interesting
things, the result of his six years at school; his packing, he said,
with pained recollection, had been a "corker."
"Lucky I had that extra chest of drawers put in here," remarked
Norah, stowing away numerous small articles. "Jim, how many boys gave
you knives as farewell gifts?"
"Sorra a one of me knows," said her brother. "I lost count——and
lost some of the knives, too. I've an idea Bill Beresford picked up
one I dropped——the one Lance Western gave me; it's got a
tortoise-shell handle, and a nick out of the big blade——and gave it to
me for himself."
"It sounds the sort of economical thing Bill would do," Wally
"Then there are five magnifying glasses, seven pencil cases, and
six pens," said Norah. "All tokens of affection, Jim? I'll put them in
the middle drawer."
"What on earth I'm going to do with 'em all," said their harassed
owner, "I'm sure I don't know. Does any one chap use five magnifiers
in his life? Never used one yet! I wish the fellows hadn't been so
kind——it was awfully brickish of them, though, wasn't it? And the
Doctor gave me this." He held up a large and solemn——looking book.
"What is it?"
"'Self Help,' by a chap named Smiles. Shouldn't have thought there
were many smiles about a book looking like that, but it shows you
can't tell everything by the cover. And Mrs. Doctor gave me this
tie——knitted it herself. It was jolly decent of her, wasn't it? She's
always been awfully kind to me," said the big fellow, who had no idea
of what "Mrs. Doctor" thought of his cheerful habit of picking up two
or three of her babies and treating them to a wild ride round the
school grounds on his back; and who had on one occasion sat up all
night with a sick three-year-old who had cried unreasonably for
"Yinton" to come and carry him. The boy had recovered, somewhat
against expectations, and Jim had thought no more of the matter,
except to drop gently and firmly into a gorse bush a fellow who had
chaffed him for being a nursemaid. He had been amazed, and greatly
embarrassed, by the tears in little "Mrs. Doctor's" eyes as she bade
him good-bye. Nothing on earth would have induced him to mention them.
"If the Doctor ever gives me anything barring the length of his
tongue, I'll have apoplexy!" remarked Wally. "We don't twin-soul a bit
better than we did. He caught me beautifully the other day. Three or
four of us were going to have a supper. I'd been into town to the
dentist, and was bringing home a lobster. Coming out, that idiot Bob
Greenfield was next me on the train, and he amused himself by rubbing
the lobster gently until the thin brown paper they wrap 'em in had
worn through in places. I was talking cricket for all I was worth, and
never noticed him. I'd bought an evening paper, and given him my
lobster to hold while I looked up some scores."
"Yes?" said Norah, happily.
"Well, we came to the school, and off I jumped, and just inside the
gate I ran into the Doctor. He was very affable, and we walked up
together, and he asked me quite affectionately how I'd got on with the
dentist, and altogether he might have been my long lost uncle!
Presently he glanced down at my parcel, and said, 'Been getting a boot
mended, Meadows?' I didn't know what to say for a moment. And while I
was floundering in my mind the string broke, and down went my parcel
with a clatter on the asphalt!"
"Why do I miss these things?" asked Jim, plaintively.
"I wish I'd missed it instead of you!" said his chum. "I picked it
up in a hurry, and the paper had burst pretty well all over-and-well,
you know, there's no disguising the colour of a lobster! I just held
it, and looked a fool, and the Doctor put up his eyeglass and looked
it and me all over. Then he said, 'Curious colour for a boot,
Meadows'——and I promptly turned the same shade as the lobster."
"Did you get into a row?" Norah asked.
"No; I will say for the old chap that he was a perfect brick,"
Wally said. "He just grinned, and walked off, remarking that there was
no need to push investigations too far. And I fled, and the lobster
was tip-top, thank you."
"I don't see why you've any cause to grumble at the Doctor," was
"That's you, feminine ignorance," returned Wally. "He made me feel
"Well, if I get a head mistress as easy-going——" said Norah,
"Don't you get the idea into your mind that our revered Head's
easy-going!" Wally retorted. "He thinks nothing of skinning a fellow
on occasion——only he didn't happen to think a lobster was
occasion——that night, anyhow. You see, it was near the end of term,
and even Heads get soft!"
"Lots of em," said Jim; "look at your own!" He dodged a hairbrush
neatly. "Have a little sense, young Wally; don't you see I'm busy?
Norah, old chap, did you see my blazer?"
"I hung it in your wardrobe," said Norah promptly "Also your
overcoat, also your straw hat, also your cadet uniform——what are you
going to do with that, by the way, Jim?"
"Get photographed in it," said Wally, wickedly.
"I'm likely to!" Jim said, with fine scorn. "Goodness only knows——I
may find some fellow it'll fit. It certainly wouldn't fit me much
"It's been the anxiety of the whole battalion," said Wally. "It
creaked and began to split whenever he drilled in it, and for the last
six parades we've always taken out a blanket in case we should need to
drape his tattered form on the way home! It's an uncommonly good thing
he's left. Most demoralizing for a young corps to see its corpulent
lieutenant bursting out of his uniform!"
"He's not corpulent," said Norah indignantly, whereat Jim, who
personified leanness with breadth of shoulder, grinned even more
widely than Wally, and patted her on the head as he passed with an
armful of clothes, which he stowed into his wardrobe much as he might
have dumped sacks of potatoes into a barn. Even Norah's wide and free
views on the subject of garments were not proof against the sight.
"Are those your good suits, Jim?"
"Yes," said her brother, cheerfully. "They're used to it. Chuck me
that coat, Wally."
Wally complied, and the coat——which happened to be the one
belonging to its owner's evening suit——was added to the heap in the
"I'll sort 'em out some time or other," said Jim. "I'm so jolly
sick of unpacking. Wally, you animal, you're not finished, are you?"
"Ages ago," said his chum. "Hadn't anything like your quantity, you
see. My clothes are neat and trim, and my pyjamas have blue ribbon in
them and I have put out my lace pin cushion and my tulle slippers, and
all is well! Now I feel I can go and play with Cecil with a quiet
"I really don't know why I brought a lunatic home with me," Jim
said, patiently. "Sorry, Nor.; but we'll take him out in the scrub and
lose him. Meanwhile——" He closed the last drawer with a bang, and
advanced with slow deliberation upon the hapless Mr. Meadows.
For the next few minutes the air in the room was murky with
pillows, other missiles and ejaculations. Out of the turmoil came
yelps, much energetic abuse, and shrieks to Norah for aid to which
that maiden, who was enjoying herself hugely, lent a deaf ear.
Finally, the combat restricted itself principally to Wally's bed, from
which the bedclothes gradually disappeared, until they formed a tight
bundle on the floor, with Wally in the centre. Jim piled the mattress
on top, and retreated to the door.
"Beast!" said Wally, disentangling himself with difficulty, until
he sat on the pile, considerably dishevelled, and wearing a broad
grin. "It's only your vile brute force——some day I'll get even with
you!" He rose, hurled the mattress upon the bed, and looked
inquiringly at his blankets. "How do you imagine I'm going to sleep
"Oh, we'll fix it up when we come to bed," laughed Jim. "Come
on——we ought to go down to Cecil."
"Hold on till I brush my hair," said Wally, attacking his disturbed
locks, and settling his tie. "All right; lead on, Macduff!"
"I'm going to my room for something," she said. "I'll be after you
in a few minutes, boys."
She disappeared within her room, and the boys clattered downstairs.
When they had gone, Norah slipped back noiselessly to Jim's apartment,
which gave the impression of having recently been the scene of a
cyclone. She laughed a little, looking at it from the doorway.
"It certainly is a 'perfick shambles'," she said. "Poor old
chaps——and they'll be so tired when they come up to bed!"
Moving quietly, she sorted out the tangled bedclothes and made up
the bed, and reduced to order some of the chaos in thc room. Then she
opened the wardrobe and took out the mass of clothes, sorting out the
suits and putting them away carefully, with a shake to the coats to
remove creases. The dress suit she laid in a drawer, running to her
own room for a tiny lavender bag to keep away the moths. She was
closing the drawer when she started at a step, and Jim came in.
"What on earth are you up to?" was his question. His eye travelled
round the room, taking in the open door of the wardrobe, and the dress
coat in the drawer, where stood his small sister, rather flushed.
"Well!" he said, and paused. "Weren't we beasts?"
"No, you weren't," said Norah indignantly.
"H'm," said Jim. "It's a jolly good thing when a fellow has a
sister, anyhow." He came over to her and put his arm round her
shoulders. "Dear old chap!" he said. They went down the stairs
CHAPTER VIII. A THUNDERSTORM
The Bush hath moods and changes, as the seasons rise and fall,
And the men who love the Bushland——they are loyal thro' it all.
A. B. PATERSON.
"The day after to-morrow is the date of the men's dance," Mr.
Linton said. "Norah mustn't go in for any wild exertion on that day,
as she'll probably want to dance several hundred miles at night. So if
you boys want to plan anything, you had better make your arrangements
"I don't know that I've energy enough to plan anything," said Jim,
lazily. He was lying full length on the lawn, his head on Norah. Wally
was close by, and Cecil and Mr. Linton occupied basket chairs. Peace
would have reigned supreme had not the mosquitoes kept every one busy.
"Any wishes, Cecil?"
"None whatever," said Cecil. "There are no people to go and see, I
think you said, Uncle David?"
"No one that would interest you," Mr. Linton said; and Wally and
Jim, who had groaned internally with fear of being taken "calling,"
felt their spirits return.
"My brain's not equal to planning, as I remarked," Jim said. "But
if I go anywhere, I'd like to do so on a horse. I want to feel a horse
under me again."
"Hear, hear," from Wally, softly.
"Well, I can't go out to-morrow," said the squatter. "I've letters
to see to, and Anderson may be out; so you must look after
yourselves——which I believe you to be entirely capable of doing.
Norah, haven't you any ideas?"
"Loads," said Norah, promptly, "but they're all connected with
mosquitoes!" She aimed a vicious blow into space as she spoke, and
sighed, before rubbing the bite. "Well, suppose we ride out and boil
the billy somewhere along the river? Cecil, would you care for that?"
"Very much," said Cecil, in the tones that always gave the
impression that he despised the particular subject under discussion.
Norah had quite withdrawn the opinion formed in the first five minutes
of their acquaintance, that he was ill mannered——now she bewailed the
fact that he was so uniformly and painfully polite.
"Well, if you would——" she said, hesitatingly. "What do you boys
"Grand idea," responded Wally. Norah loved Wally's way; he was
always so pleased and interested over any plan that might be formed.
Jim was wont to remark that if you arranged to clean out a pigsty,
Wally would probably regard it as a gigantic picnic, and enjoy his day
hugely. She smiled at him gratefully in the darkness.
"You too, Jim?"
"Rather——anything you like," said her brother. "What horse can I
Jim had no special horse of his own. His two ponies, Sirdar and
Mick, he had outgrown, although they were still up to anything of a
lighter weight——the former only inferior to Norah's beloved Bobs. His
absences from home were so long that it had not seemed worth while to
procure him a special horse, and for several holidays he had been
accustomed to ride any of the station mounts. Privately, Jim was not
altogether satisfied with the arrangement, although quite admitting
its common sense. Now that he had left school he intended to ask his
father if he could buy a horse.
"You can try my new purchase, Monarch, if you like," Mr. Linton
answered. "He's quite a decent mover——I think you'll like him."
Cecil bit his lip, under cover of the darkness. He coveted a ride
on both Bobs and Monarch, and had given hints on the subject, but
neither had been taken. Now Jim, nearly three years his junior, was
lent Monarch without even having asked for him; while he was still, he
presumed, to ride the steady-going Brown Betty, whom he thoroughly
despised, in spite of the fact that she had once got rid of him. He
registered another notch in his general grudge against Billabong.
Mr. Linton was absolutely ignorant of what passed in his nephew's
mind. To give the city boy, with his uncertain seat and heavy hands,
anything but a steady horse, never occurred to him; he would have
regarded it as little short of inviting disaster to put him on
Monarch, thoroughbred and newly broken in as he was; and, of course,
no one but Norah ever rode Bobs.
"That's all right," he said, as Jim expressed his pleasure. "And
what about you, Wally? You're too long now for Mick, I think."
"Oh, anything you like, sir," said Wally, easily. "I haven't met
any bad 'uns on Billabong. Warder, or Brown Betty, or Nan——have you
got them all still?"
"They're all here," the squatter said. "Cecil generally rides
Betty, and I believe Burton's using old Warder just now. But you can
have Nan, if you like."
"Thanks very much," said Wally. "I'll take the shine out of you,
"I'd like to see you," returned Norah. Monarch might beat Bobs or
yes, perhaps one other horse she knew of, in a small tree-grown
paddock; at the thought of which she smiled happily to herself. But no
other horse on Billabong could see the way Bobs went when he was in
"Well, that's all settled," Mr. Linton said. "I hope you'll have a
good day——you're bound to have it hot, so I should advise you to get
an early start. If you go as far as the Swamp Paddock, Norah, you
might ride round the cattle there, and see if they're settling down——I
put the new bullocks there, you know."
"All right, Dad, we'll do it. I like having an object for a ride."
"Same here," said Jim sleepily. "Picnics are asinine things!"
"I don't believe you know much about anything——you're three parts
asleep!" said Wally, flinging a cushion at his chum, which Jim caught
thankfully, and, remarking that Norah was uncommonly scraggy, adjusted
under his head. The result was a vigorous upheaval by the indignant
Norah, who declined to be a head-rest for such ingratitude any longer.
At this point Mr. Linton discovered that it was time for supper; and
the boys, tired after their long journey, were not long in saying
Jim came up with Norah, and switched on her light. His eye
travelled round the pretty room.
"I don't know what part of home's HOMIEST," he said——"but I always
reckon your room runs pretty near it! Blest if I know what it will be
like when you're not here, little chap."
Norah rubbed her face against his coat sleeve.
"We don't talk of it," she said. "If we did, I'd——I'd be a horrid
coward, Jimmy——boy, and you wouldn't like me a bit!"
"Wouldn't I?" Jim said. "Well, I can't imagine you a coward,
anyhow." He bent and kissed her. "Good-night, old kiddie."
They set out in good time next morning, for the sun gave promise of
a scorching day.
Billy had the horses ready under the shade of a huge pepper-tree;
even there the flies were bad enough to set Monarch and Bobs fretting
with irritation, while the two stock horses lashed unceasingly with
their tails and stamped in the dust. Nan was a long, handsome brown
mare, with two white feet——an old friend of Wally's, who came and
patted her and let her rub her worried head against his coat. Cecil
mounted Betty and looked on sourly, while Jim walked round Monarch and
admired the big black.
"He ought to carry you like a bird, Dad."
"He does; a bit green yet, but he'll mend of that," his father
answered. "Now, get away, all of you." He put Norah up and watched,
with a silent look of approval, the way Jim handled his impatient
steed, taking him quietly, as one treats a fractious baby, and
mounting gently. Then he stood under the tree to see them ride down
the paddock, valises containing necessaries for the "asinine picnic"
strapped on Nan and Betty's saddles. Norah, as the lady of the party,
was exempt from carrying burdens, and Monarch brooked no load but his
They made good time across the shadeless paddocks, anxious for the
pleasanter conditions along the river bank, where a cattle track wound
in and out under the gum trees. It was one of Norah and Jim's
favourite rides; they never failed to take it when holidays brought
the boy back to Billabong. They pushed along it for some time,
eventually finding the slip rails, through which they got into the
Swamp Paddock——so called because of a wide marsh in one corner, where
black duck and snipe used to come freely. The new cattle had taken to
the paddock like old hands. Satisfied with their inspection, Norah and
Jim led the way back to the river, where presently they came to an
ideal place to camp; a bend thickly shaded, with the river bank
shelving down to a sandy beach, where it was easy to get good water.
Wally volunteered to boil the billy, which he accomplished after
much vigorous fanning with his hat at the fire. The job took some
little time, and if the tea was eventually brewed with water that had
not quite reached boiling point, that was a matter between Wally and
his conscience——certainly the other members of the party were far too
thirsty to be critical! Lunch was lazily discussed close to the water,
after which they lay about on the bank and talked of many things.
Nobody was inclined to move, for the heat, even at the river, was very
great; a still, thunderous day, on which no shade could keep out the
moist heat, that seemed, as Wally put it, "to get into your very bones
and make them lazy."
At length Jim rolled over.
"Well, I'm off for a bathe," he said. "Coming, Cecil?"
"Oh, yes," Cecil answered, a little doubtfully; while Wally jumped
up as a matter of course.
"Ugh!" groaned Norah. "Pigs! Why was I born a girl?"
"So's we could lay ourselves at your feet!" said Wally solemnly,
suiting the action to the word, and placing his forehead forcefully in
the dust before her.
"M'f!" Norah wrinkled her nose. "It's very nice of you, but I don't
quite see what use it would be. Anyhow, I'd far rather go bathing."
She huddled on the ground, and looked tragic. "Go——leave me!"
"Sorry, old girl," grinned Jim. "We won't be long."
"Be as long as you like," said the victim of circumstances,
cheerfully. "I'm going to sleep."
The three boys disappeared along the bank, finding, apparently,
some difficulty in discovering a suitable bathing place, for it was
some time before shouts and laughter from a good way off told Norah
that they were in the water. She sighed, looking ruefully at the river
flowing beneath her, and half decided to go in herself; but her father
did not care for her bathing in the open alone, and she gave up the
idea and shut her eyes so that she would not see temptation rippling
down below. Presently she fell asleep.
She did not know how long it was before she woke. Then she jumped
up with a start, thinking, for a moment, that it was dark. The sun had
disappeared behind a huge bank of deep-purple cloud that had crept up,
blotting out everything. It was breathlessly hot and quite still——not
a leaf stirred on a tree, and the birds were quiet.
"Whew!" said Norah. "We're going to have a storm——and a big one!"
She listened. From far up faint calls and laughter still met her
ears. It was evident that the boys were finding the water very much to
"Duffers!" Norah ejaculated. "We'll have the loveliest soaking——and
Dad'll be anxious."
She coo-ee'd several times, but no response came. Finally she rose,
with a little wrinkle in her brow.
"I guess I'd better saddle up," she said.
The horses were tied up in a clump of trees not far off, the
saddles out of reach of their restless feet. Norah saddled Bobs first,
and then the two stock horses——which was easy. To get Monarch ready,
however, was not such a simple matter: the youngster was uneasy and
sweating, and would not keep still for a moment; to get the saddle on
and adjust breastplate and rings was a fairly stiff task with a
sixteen-hands horse and a groom of fourteen years, hampered by a
divided riding skirt. At length the last buckle went home, and Norah
gave a relieved sigh.
"Bother you, Monarch!" she said. "You've taken me an awful time.
Come on, Bobs."
Leaving the other horses tied up, she mounted and cantered down the
bank, calling again and again. An answer came sooner than she had
expected, and the three boys, somewhat hastily arrayed, came running
through the trees.
"Jimmy, have you seen the weather?" asked his sister, indicating
the blackened sky.
"Only a few minutes ago," Jim said, visibly annoyed with himself.
"We were diving in a hole with the trees meeting overhead, and the
scrub thick all around us——hadn't an idea it was working up for this.
Why didn't you call us, you old duffer?"
"I did——but I couldn't make you hear," said Norah, somewhat
injured. "Hurry——I've saddled up."
"You have? You didn't saddle Monarch?" asked Jim quickly.
"Yes, he's all ready, and the valises are on. We're in for a
ducking, anyway, don't you think, Jim?"
"I think you hadn't any business to saddle Monarch," Jim said,
soberly. "I wish you wouldn't do those things, Norah."
"Oh, it was all right." She smiled down at him. "He was only a bit
fidgety; I believe he's frightened of the weather, Jim." She looked
across at Cecil, seeing that young gentleman, wonderful to relate,
with his stock folded awry, and his hair in wild confusion. "Do you
mind thunderstorms, Cecil?"
"I——don't care for them much," Cecil panted. Running evidently did
not agree with him, and he was finding his tweed riding suit very
unfitted for the heat of the day. Jim, jogging easily, clad in white
silk shirt, cord breeches and leggings, looked at him pityingly.
"Carry your coat, Cecil?" he sang out.
"No, thank you. I'd rather wear it," said Cecil, who disapproved of
being coatless at any time, and had looked with marked disfavour at
Jim and Wally as they set off in the morning.
"Stupid donkey!" Jim muttered, under his breath. "Ah, there are the
He made for Betty at once, and tossed the breathless Cecil into her
saddle, advising him to ride on quickly.
Wally was up in a twinkling; but to mount Monarch was no such easy
matter, for the black horse was dancing with restlessness, and a low
growl of thunder far to the west evidently terrified him. Finally,
with a quick movement, Jim was in the saddle, whereat Monarch promptly
reared. He came down, and tried to get his head between his legs, but
the boy was too quick for him, and presently steadied him sufficiently
to move away in the wake of the others.
"Go on!" Jim shouted. "Don't lose a minute!"
They went down the river bank at a hand gallop, chafing now and
then at the necessity of striking away from the track to find gates or
slip-rails, as one paddock followed another. At first Monarch gave Jim
all he knew to hold him, and at the gates Wally and Norah had to do
all the work, for the black thoroughbred was too impatient to stand an
instant, and threatened to buck a score of times. Jim watched the sky
anxiously, very disgusted with himself. He knew they had no chance of
getting home dry, but at least they must be out of the timber before
the storm broke. It was coming very near now——the thunder was more
frequent, and jagged lightning tore rents in the inky curtain that
covered the sky. He took Monarch by the head, and sent him tearing
along the track, passing the boys——Wally riding hard on Nan, and Cecil
sitting back on Betty with a pale face. Before him Bobs was galloping
freely, Norah riding with her hands well down, and on her face a smile
that was like a child's laugh of sheer happiness. Norah loved
thunderstorms; they seemed to call to something in her nature that
never failed to respond. She glanced up at Jim merrily as he passed
"Grand, isn't it?" she said. Then her face changed. "He isn't
getting away with you, Jim?"
"Not he!" said her brother, grinning. "But we've got to get out of
this jolly soon——hurry your old crock, Norah!" Norah's indignant heel
smote Bobs, and they raced neck and neck for a moment.
They swung out of the trees just in time, the plain clear for home
before them. Almost simultaneously, the storm broke. There was a mad
flash of lightning across the gloom, and then a rattling peal of
thunder that rang round the sky and finished with a tremendous crack
overhead. The black horse stopped suddenly, wild with terror. Then his
head went down, and he bucked.
Norah and Wally pulled up, regardless of the rain beginning to fall
in torrents. Monarch was swaying to and fro in mad paroxysms, trying
to get his head between his knees, his back humped in an arch, all his
being centred in the effort to get rid of the weight on his back, and
the iron in his mouth, and the control that kept him near that
terrible convulsion of nature going on overhead. Jim was motionless,
each hand like iron on the rein——yet with gentleness, for he knew the
great black brute was only a baby after all, and a badly frightened
baby at that. Cecil, coming by on Betty, his face white, looked aghast
at the struggle between horse and rider, and fled on homewards. The
thunder pealed, and the lightning lit the sky in forked darts.
Possibly the rain steadied Monarch, or sense came back to him
through Jim's voice. He stopped suddenly, planting all four feet wide
apart on the ground. Jim patted his neck, and spoke to him, and the
tension went out of the big horse. He stood trembling a little.
"Slip along," nodded Jim to Norah.
Bobs and Nan went off together. Behind them, Monarch broke into a
canter, obedient once more.
Five minutes later they were at the stables, Billy out in the wet
to take the horses. The storm was raging still, but there were
coolness and refreshment in the air. Billy grinned at the three soaked
riders as they slipped to the ground, and then at Brown Betty,
trotting down the hill in the rain. There was no sign of Cecil, who
had fled indoors.
"Him plenty 'fraid," said the black retainer, his grin widening.
"Him run like emu!" His eagle gaze dwelt on Monarch, who was still
trembling and excited.
"Been buck?" he asked, his eyes round.
"Plenty!" Jim laughed. "All right, Billy, I'll let him go myself."
CHAPTER IX. THE BILLABONG DANCE
The slope beyond is green and still,
And in my dreams I dream,
The hill is like an Irish hill
Beside an Irish stream.
"Don't dress to-night, if you don't mind, Cecil," said Jim, putting
his head into his cousin's room.
"Not dress?" Evening clothes were part of Cecil's training, and he
kept to them rigidly, putting on each night for dinner what Murty
O'Toole, having seen in wonder, referred to as "a quare little
cobbed-shwaller-tail jacket." He regarded with fine scorn the cheerful
carelessness of the boys where clothes were concerned. To Jim and
Wally who were generally immensely occupied until dinner-time, and
more often than not had further plans for the time following, putting
on regulation evening dress seemed a proceeding little short of
lunatic; but since Cecil "liked that sort of thing," they let him
alone. To-night, however, was different, and when Cecil repeated his
query half impatiently, Jim nodded.
"No. Didn't we tell you? It's the dance in the loft."
"Oh——don't you people ever dress for dances then?"
"Not for these dances," Jim answered. "It's the men's spree——all
the hands and their friends; and you can be jolly well certain they
won't run to dress clothes. So we make a point of not putting 'em on.
Father did one year, and felt very sorry he had."
"I don't know that I'm keen on going, anyway," said Cecil.
"Oh, I think you'd better. Dad likes us to go, and it's really
rather fun," Jim responded, patiently. "Norah's quite excited about
"Norah's young and enthusiastic," said Cecil.
"Oh, well, you're hardly hoary-headed yourself yet!" Jim grinned.
"Might as well be cheerful while you're alive, Cecil, 'cause you'll be
a long time dead!" He withdrew his head, shut the door with an
unconcerned bang, and his whistle died away up the corridor.
"Hang it!" said Cecil, disgustedly, looking at his forbidden
garments. "Who wants to go to a beastly servants' ball, anyhow?" He
donned a dark suit reluctantly, a little consoled in that its very
recent cut would certainly be an eye-opener to Billabong, and went
down to dinner, meeting on the way Norah, in a muslin frock, with her
hair flying and her eyes sparkling.
"Oh! I'm so glad you haven't dressed up!" said she. "It's such fun,
Cecil!——we've been helping to decorate the loft, and really you'd
hardly know it was a loft, it looks so decent. And it's so funny to
see the men; they pretend they don't care a bit, but I do believe
they're quite excited. Murty came in with a trememdous lot of ferns,
and he's been nailing them all on the wall in streaks, and he and Mick
Shanahan nearly had a fight 'cause Mick leaned against one of them and
the erection came down, and the nail tore Mick's coat. Still, it was
Murty who seemed most aggrieved! And the musicians have come out from
Cunjee, and they've been practising——they can play, too!" She paused
for lack of breath.
"What sort of music does Cunjee supply?"
"Violin and flute and a funny little piano," said Norah. "They had
quite an exciting time getting the piano up into the loft with the
block and pulley. But the music sounds very well up there. The only
trouble is old Andy Ferguson, the fencer——he's always been accustomed
to fiddle for them, and he's very crushed because we've got out these
men. Dad says he'd never have got them if he'd dreamed how
disappointed old Andy would be."
Cecil had seen Andy, who struck him as a peculiarly uninteresting
old man. That such consideration should be shown to his wishes and
feelings was a thing beyond him, and he merely stared.
"However, he's going to play the supper dances and some others,"
said Norah, not noticing his silence, "so he's a bit consoled." They
entered the drawing-room at the moment, finding Jim and Wally in
armchairs, tweed clad and unusually tidy, and chafing miserably
against the tyranny of white shirts after days of soft variety. "And a
big buggy load of girls has come out from Cunjee already; and Brownie
says there's a tremendous demand for hot water for shaving from the
men's quarters, and Dave Boone came in for some mutton fat for his
hair, but she wouldn't give it to him. Now she's half sorry she
didn't, 'cause she believes he'll use the black fat they keep in the
harness room; he's so dark no one would be able to tell——from the
look! Who are you going to dance with, Cecil?"
"You, if I may," drawled Cecil.
"Why, of course, if you want to," Norah said, laughing. "But we
always dance with every one on these occasions. It's one of the sights
of one's life to see Wally leading Brownie out!"
"And am I expected to dance with Mrs. Brown?"
"Very possibly she won't have a dance to spare you," said Wally
serenely. "Brownie's no end popular, you see. Thank goodness. I've
booked mine with her already!"
Cecil's stare spoke volumes.
"And who are your partners, Norah?"
"Any one who asks me," said that maiden promptly.
"And your father allows it?"
"Certainly he does," said Jim. "Don't get tragic, Cecil. The men on
the place are an awfully decent lot, and most of them have been here
ever so long——besides, it's their one night in the year, and they
never overstep their limits. Dad always plans this spree himself
specially. Of course, if you don't like——"
Jim stopped short, and bit his tongue. It had suddenly occurred to
him that he was host——and he had nearly said something rude. So he
whistled vaguely, and asked Wally if he were going to dance with Lee
Wing, who was the Chinese gardener.
"Wish I could get the chance," said Wally, his eyes twinkling.
"Think of piloting fat old Lee Wing through a polka——he'd get so
beautifully puffed, and his pigtail would wave in the breeze, and he'd
be such an armful!"
"Do you mean to say that Chow comes, too?" queried Cecil.
"No; he's shy," Wally answered. "We've tried to get him, but in
vain; he prefers to go to bed and dream of China. And Billy hangs
about like a black ghost, but he won't come in. So we lose a lot of
international enjoyment; but, even so, what's left is pretty good,
itsn't it, Norah?"
"I love it," said Norah.
"And you don't get any of your own friends to come? It seems to me
the queerest arrangement," said Cecil.
"It's the men's dance, don't you see? There wouldn't be much fun
for them if the place were filled up with our friends."
"Well, I should think a few of your own sort would be better.
Aren't there any girls or boys within reach that you know? I suppose
you've a juvenile sweetheart or two in the district?"
Norah looked at him blankly. Wally gave an expressive wriggle in
his chair, and Jim sat up suddenly, with a flush on his brown face.
"We never talk that sort of rot here," he said angrily. "Norah's
not a town girl, and her head isn't full of idiotic, silly bosh. I'll
Mr. Linton came in at the moment, and the point on which Jim
intended to express his gratitude remained unuttered. Cecil had
reddened wrathfully, and the general atmosphere was electric. Mr.
Linton took, apparently, no notice. He pulled Norah's hair gently as
he passed her.
"You're all remarkably spruce," he commented. "Can any one tell me
why almost every maid I have met in my house this day turns and flees
as though I were the plague? Sarah is the only one who doesn't shun
me, and her mind appears to be taken up with affairs of State, for I
asked her twice if she had seen my tobacco pouch, and she brought me
in response a jug of shaving water, for which I have had no use for
some time!" He laughed, stroking his iron-grey beard. "Can you explain
the mystery, Norah?"
"It's easy," said his daughter. "Sarah's hair has a natural friz,
so she's the only girl in the house without curling pins
concealed——more or less——in her front hair. Brownie gave permission
for the pins to-day; I guess she thinks it would give Sarah an unfair
start if she didn't!"
"But the shaving water?"
"Ah, well, I expect Fred Anderson wanted that. She's engaged to
him, you know," said Norah, simply.
"Well, I hardly see why she should give me his shaving water,
either from Anderson's point of view or mine; but I suppose it's all
right," said Mr. Linton. "The whole place is upset. I really wanted
some work done, but the men who should have been sinking a well were
tacking up ferns, and those whose mission in life is——or ought to
be——hoeing out ragwort were putting French chalk on the floor of my
loft! Judging from my brief inspection, it seemed to me that the
latter occupation was far more strenuous than the ragwort job; but
they seemed much happier than usual, and were working overtime without
"To hear you talk so patiently," quoth Norah, "no one would imagine
that you'd bought the French chalk yourself!" She perched on the arm
of his chair, and looked at him severely, while the boys laughed.
"The men are like a lot of kids to-day," Jim said. "Did you hear
about old Lee Wing, Dad? He was standing under the block and pulley
after they'd hoisted up the piano, and I expect the sight of the hook
on the end of the dangling rope was too much for the men, for they
slipped it through Wing's leather belt and hauled him up too! You
should have seen him, with his pigtail dangling, kicking at the end of
the rope like the spider in 'Little Miss Muffet!' They landed him in
the loft, and Fred Anderson insisted on waltzing with him, while one
of the musicians hammered out The Merry Widow on the piano. Poor old
Wing was very wild at first, but they got him laughing finally."
"Why that long-suffering Chinaman stays here is always a mystery to
me," said his father, laughing. "He's the butt of the whole place; but
he fattens on it."
"There's the dinner gong!" said Norah, jumping up. "Come on,
gentlemen, we've to hurry to-night, so that the girls can get free
The loft over the stables, which had been built with a view to such
occasions, was quite transformed when the house party entered it a
couple of hours later. The electric light——Billabong had its own plant
for lighting——had been extended to the loft, and gleamed down on a
perfect bower of green——bracken and coral ferns, the tender foliage of
young sapling tops, Christmas bush, clematis and tall reeds from the
lagoon——the latter gathered by Jim and Wally during their morning
bathe. Rough steps had been improvised to lead from outside up to the
main door of the loft, over which still dangled from the block and
pulley the rope that had suspended the irate Lee Wing earlier in the
day. It was also possible to enter by the usual method——a trapdoor in
the floor over a ladder leading from the floor below; but this was
considered by the men scarcely suitable for their partners. All traces
of its usual contents had, of course, been removed from the big room,
and the floor gleamed in the light, mute evidence of the ardour with
which Mr. Linton's French chalk had been applied. At one end, near the
railing guarding the trapdoor, the Cunjee musicians were stationed,
and close to them a queer old figure hovered——old Andy Ferguson,
gnarled and knotted and withered; Irish, for all his Scotch name, and
with his old blue eyes full of Irish fire at the thought of "a spree."
He held his old fiddle tenderly as he might hold a child; it, too, was
the worse for wear, and showed in more than one place traces of
repair; but when Andy wielded the bow its tones were just as mellow to
him as the finest instrument on earth. He kept a jealous eye on the
Cunjee men; they might oust him for most of the night, but at least
his was to be the old privilege of opening the ball. "The Boss" had
The homestead men had lined up near the door to receive their
guests——to-night they were hosts to Mr. Linton and his children, as to
every one else. They were a fine lot of fellows——Murty O'Toole, and
Mick Shanahan, the horse breaker, and Willis and Blake and Burton——all
long and lean and hard, with deep-set, keen eyes and brown, thin
faces; Evans, who was supposed to be over-seer, and important enough
to arrive late; younger fellows, like Fred Anderson and David Boone
(the latter's hair suspiciously smooth and shiny); Hogg, the dour old
man who ruled the flower garden and every one but Norah; and a
sprinkling of odd rouseabouts and boys, very sleek and well brushed,
in garments of varying make, low collars, and the tie the bushman
loves "for best"——pale blue satin, with what Wally termed "jiggly
patterns" on it. Of the same type were the guests——men from other
stations, cocky farmers and a very small sprinkling of township men.
The ladies kept rigidly on arrival to the other side of the loft.
There was Mrs. Brown, resplendent in a puce silk dress that Norah
remembered from her earliest childhood, with a lace cap of monumental
structure topped by a coquettish bow of pale pink ribbon. Her kind old
face beamed on every one. Close to her, very meek under her sheltering
wing, were Sarah and Mary, the housemaids——very gay in papery silks,
pink and green, with much adornment of wide yellow lace. Norah had
helped to dress them both, and she smiled delightedly at them as she
came in. There was Mrs. Willis, who ruled over the men's hut, and was
reckoned, as a cook, only inferior to Mrs. Brown; and Joe Burton's
pretty wife, in a simple white muslin——with no doubt in big Joe's
heart, as he looked at her, as to who was the belle of the ball. Then,
girls and women from that vague region the bush calls "about," in
mixed attire——from flannel blouses and serge skirts, to a lady who
hurt the eye it looked at, and made the lights seem pale, in her
gorgeous gown of mustard-coloured velveteen, trimmed with knots of
cherry-coloured ribbon. They came early, with every intention of
staying late, and cheerfully certain of a good time. The Billabong
ball was an event for which an invitation was much coveted.
Norah kept close to her father's wing, as they entered, shaking
hands gravely with the men by the door, and with Mrs. Brown——which
latter proceeding she privately considered a joke. The boys followed;
Jim quiet and pleasant; Wally favouring Murty O'Toole with a solemn
wink, and Cecil plainly bored by the little ceremony. He let his
fingers lie in each man's hand languidly——and would probably have been
injured had he seen Murty wipe his hand carefully on the side of his
trousers after he had passed on. The men had no love for the city boy.
"S'lect y'r partners!" It was Dave Boone, most noted "M.C."——in
demand at every ball in the district. Dave knew what he was about, and
saw that other people understood the fact; no shirking when he was in
command, no infringement of rules, no slip-shod dancing. Even as he
kept his eagle eye on the throng, he "selected" one of the prettiest
girls himself, and bore her to the head of the room. There was never
any doubt of Dave's generalship.
Cecil turned to Norah.
"May I have this?"
"Sorry," Norah said, "I always dance with Jim first."
"P'f!" said Cecil, lightly. "That old brother-and-sister idea is
"Not with Jimmy and me," Norah answered. "Why don't you ask Mary?
She can dance awfully well."
"No, thank you," said Cecil, with elevated nose. "I'll watch."
Wally had approached Mrs. Brown, and bowed low.
"Ours, I think?"
"Now, Master Wally, me dancin' days are over," said Brownie. "Go
an' get one of the girls, now, dearie, do!"
"A girl!——when I can get you?" Wally ejaculated. "Not much I" He
tucked her hand into his arm and led her off in triumph.
"Promen-ayde y'r partners!"
Dave turned and nodded to Andy Ferguson, who, with fiddle tucked
lovingly under his chin, was waiting for his signal. He broke into a
march——the time a little shaky, the tune a little old, for the hand
that held the bow was old and shaky, too; but still a march, with a
swing to it that set the feet going at once. The dancers promenaded
round the room in a long procession, led proudly by Wally and Mrs.
Brown. At one end a few men, disappointed in obtaining partners,
clustered by the wall; near them stood Mr. Linton, watching in his
grave, pleasant way that was so like Jim's, with Cecil at his elbow,
his delicate face dull and expressionless. Round and round marched the
"Circular waltz, please!"
The music swung into a waltz without a break, and simultaneously
the march broke into the dance as every man seized his partner by the
waist and began to revolve solemnly and silently. Cecil gaped.
"What on earth is a circular waltz?"
"Blest if I know for certain," replied his uncle, laughing. "Much
like any other waltz——but you mustn't use the middle of the floor.
Watch young Boone."
Dave was keeping an eagle eye on the dancers. For the most part
they were content to gyrate near the wall; but should any more daring
couple approach the unoccupied space in the middle of the room, they
were instantly detected and commanded to return. As Cecil looked,
Wally, who was dancing with a broad grin of sheer happiness on his
face, swung his ponderous partner right across the centre——and was
greeted by the vigilant M.C. with the stern injunction——"Keep circle!"
Quite oblivious that this outbreak had anything to do with him, while
Mrs. Brown, feeling the most miserable of sinners, was far too
breathless to explain, Wally presently repeated his offence, whereupon
Boone pulled him up gravely, and pointed out his enormity to him. The
culprit grinned the more widely, promised amendment, nodded
vigorously, and danced off, Mrs. Brown remaining speechless
throughout. Mr. Linton smothered a laugh in his beard.
Presently the music came to an end. Old Andy put his fiddle down
and looked along the loft with a happy little smile. The dancers
stopped, and Mr. Boone's voice rose sonorously.
At this, each man rushed with his partner to the side of the loft
previously tenanted by the ladies, and deposited her on the long forms
ranged there. Then the men retreated hastily to the other side.
There was no conversation, nor had there been any through the
dance. It seemed that the poetry of motion must suffice for enjoyment.
Norah and Jim, who had been dancing vigorously, pulled up near the
"Did you see me get hauled over the coals?" asked Wally gleefully.
He had placed Mrs. Brown on a seat, and followed the example of his
sex in retreating.
"Rather——we were in fits, behind you!" said Jim. "Was Dave cross?"
"Oh, quite mild; took my assurance that I didn't know I was
sinning, and forgave me like a man and a brother. And why shouldn't a
fellow cross that floor?"
"Goodness knows; but it's a rule. They dance very strictly, and in
many ways more correctly than we do."
"There are two lovely couples," said Wally, gleefully. "They hold
each other firmly round the neck, and they revolve on the space of a
threepenny bit. It's beautiful. May I try that way with you, Norah?"
"No, you mayn't," laughed Norah; "at least, not here. They might
think we were imitating them."
"Curious penetration on their parts!" rejoined Wally. "Well, can
you tell me why lots of the men hold one arm behind their backs?"
"In my young days that was quite ordinary," Mr. Linton put in. "I
always danced that way——and I was remarkably run after," he added,
modestly. Whereat Wally meekly assured him that he thought the
practice a highly desirable one, and had serious thoughts of adopting
"I've been looking at the programme nailed up for the musicians,"
said Cecil. "There are some dances I never saw——Varsoviana, Circassian
Circle, and Caledonians."
"In the Varsoviana," said Mr. Linton, retrospectively, "I used to
"Well, they beat US," said his son. "We can't dance 'em; but we
look on. The first two are round dances, and the Caledonians is a
square. I suppose they'd be all right, only they're not taught now."
"And there are no two-steps," said Cecil, in a tone of personal
Jim laughed outright.
"It'd be so much simpler for you if you'd remember you're at what's
commonly known as 'a bush hop'," he said. "You can't expect the last
adornments of a city spree. Anyway, they get more honest fun out of
this than most people do at a Melbourne or Sydney ball."
Cecil looked patient.
"May I have the next dance, Norah?"
"I'm sorry, truly, Cecil, but I've promised it to Murty."
"Oh!" said Cecil. "The next?"
"That's Mick Shanahan's," said Norah, laughing. "But you may have
the one after that if you like."
"I must be thankful for small mercies, I suppose," said he,
"Won't you dance with any one else?"
"No, thanks, I don't care to." The tone was final.
"Well, I'm going to collar Sarah or die!" said Wally, manfully.
"I'll probably die, anyway, 'cause Fred has his eye on her. Still,
The musicians gave a preliminary blast, on which followed a shout
from the M.C.
"Select y'r partners for the lancers!"
At the word there was a general stampede. Youths who had been timid
before, grown bolder now, dashed towards the long row of girls. Where
more than one arrived simultaneously, there was no argument; the man
who failed to speak first shot off to find another damsel. In a moment
every available fair one had been secured firmly, and the dancers
awaited further commands.
Wally had not waited for permission from Mr. Boone. At the first
sound of the music he had darted towards Sarah, arriving beside the
lady with "the natural friz" a yard in front of Fred Anderson.
It was not etiquette to refuse to dance, and the fact that he was
"the Boss's" guest, if only a boy, carried weight. Sarah rose, with a
rueful glance at her disappointed swain. The two disconsolate faces
moved Wally to compassion.
"I say——I'm awfully sorry," he said. "'Fraid I got ahead of you
unfairly, Fred——perhaps you'll excuse me this time, Sarah? You don't
mind? Well, you'll give me the next, won't you? Thanks, awfully." He
relinquished her to the beaming Fred, and returned, partnerless, to
Mr. Linton and Cecil.
Then it was a marvellous sight to behold young Dave Boone! With
Mrs. Brown on his arm, he "took the floor" at the head of the room,
seeing that the dancers were correctly sorted out in sets; and thence
proceeded to dance and instruct the room simultaneously, in a manner
truly amazing. With what agility did he "set to partner" and "swing
corner," with his eagle eye all the time scanning the sets to make
sure no one mixed up the commands!——how ably bear his part in "First
lady and second gent.," not even put out of step by the necessity of
telling the further end of the room that it was going wrong!——how
splendidly issue the edict to "chassee-crossee" and "gent. solo,"
finding time, even in the press of his double occupation, to propel
his panting partner in the way she should go! His voice rang out over
the room, indicating each figure as it came——there was no excuse for
making any mistake in a square dance when Mr. Boone was in command.
And all the while he danced with a wholehearted energy and a face of
absolute gravity. No one, watching him, could have possibly imagined
that this was a pastime.
"I've seen Boone looking infinitely more cheerful when fighting a
bush fire!" said Mr. Linton.
"Talk about a conjurer!" was Cecil's astonished comment. "I never
saw one man do so many things at once!"
The music ceased at last, and the "Seats, please!" marked the
temporary termination of the labours of the M.C. Murty brought Norah
back to her father, thanked her gravely, and made off.
"What happened to you, Wally?" queried Jim, restoring a blushing
damsel in blue to her form and rejoining his relations. "Did Sarah
turn you down?"
"I resigned gracefully in favour of Fred," Wally said. "He looked
murderous, and Sarah looked woe-begone, so it seemed the best plan.
But she's mine for the next——and ill befall the caitiff that disputes
"No one'd dare!" said Jim, hastily. "I'm after Brownie, myself."
"Ah, Jim, be steady with her," said Norah. "It's a polka!"
"I'll be steady as old Time," Jim told her, smiling. True to his
promise, when the music began he danced mildly and moderately, and
Brownie emerged from the ordeal in far better order than might have
After that the evening flew. Dance after dance went by in rapid
succession——for the guests were out to dance, and where no time is
wasted in talking much may be done with a few hours. Cecil steadfastly
declined any partner but Norah, and as that maiden had no mind to
spare him more than two, his evening was dull, since his sense of
humour was not equal to finding any fun in the entertainment. He was
the object of considerable curiosity among the visitors, and was
generally voted "stuck-up," and "too big for his boots." As for Jim
and Wally, they flung themselves cheerfully into the business of the
night, and even succeeded in making most of their partners talk,
albeit this was a daring proceeding, and not looked upon with favour
by the M.C. They were too popular, however, to come in for any real
criticism, and being regarded by the majority of the men as "just
kids," were allowed to do very much as they liked.
Supper was a majestic meal, spread on long tables in a big tent.
Mr. Linton led the way to it with Mrs. Brown, followed by Mick
Shanahan, who conveyed Norah much in the way he danced with her——as if
she were a piece of eggshell china, and apt to crack with careless
handling. There was no "head of the table"; every one sat in the place
that seemed good, and tongues flew as fast as the knives and forks. At
the end Mr. Linton made a little speech.
"My friends," he said, "it's a great pleasure to Billabong to see
you all here. I hope you'll keep it up till morning, and come again
next year; you're always welcome. However, it is time my daughter went
to bed." (Dissent, and cries of "Not her!") "Before she goes, though,
I would like to see one more dance. I move that our old friend Andy
Ferguson play the 'Royal Irish.'"
There was frantic applause, and supper adjourned hastily, while
every one hurried back to the loft; in the midst old Andy, his
quavering voice a little raised in excitement, his fiddle held firmly
in one hand. "Too old to work," some called him, wondering why David
Linton kept the old fencer, when younger men were always wanting work
on Billabong; and now, as he faced the long room with his faded blue
eyes a little misty, Andy looked an old man indeed. But the pride of
work was in him, and his master knew it——knew how the gnarled hands
ceased to tremble when they grasped the adze and mattock, just as
there was now no quiver in them as he raised the brown fiddle and
cuddled it under his chin. Age would seize on Andy only when he could
work and play no more. The light came back into his eyes as he saw the
boys and girls waiting for the music——his music.
He drew the bow lovingly across the strings, and swung into the
Irish dance the old, common tune with the little gay lilt to it that
grips the heart and makes the feet beat time, and has the power to
wake old memories across the years. There were no memories to wake in
the happy young hearts in the loft at Billabong that night. But Andy
looked over the heads of the dancers at his master, meeting his eyes
as man to man, and each knew that the mind of the other had gone back
to days long dead.
The long floor echoed under the dancers' feet——up and down, swing
in the centre, hands across; the pace was always a good one when Andy
Ferguson played the "Royal Irish." One foot tapped out the time, and
his grey head nodded in sympathy with it. They called to him now and
again, "Bravo, Andy! Good man, Andy! Keep it going!" and he smiled at
the friendly voices, watching them with the keenness of the Irishman
for a light foot in a dance.
Just before him, Mrs. Brown, dancing with Jim, was footing it in
and out of the figures like a girl, holding her skirts quaintly on
either side as she advanced and retired, and came back to sweep a
curtsey that shamed the quick bow of the younger generation, while the
tall lad she had nursed waited for her with a grave gentleness that
sat prettily on his broad shoulders. Near, too, the old man's eyes
dwelt lovingly on Norah, whose eyes were dancing in time with her feet
as Wally pranced her madly up and down, his own brown face glowing....
just for a moment Andy saw "the little mistress" who had known her
baby for so brief a time fourteen years before; her face looked at him
through her child's grey eyes. He looked across at his master again, a
The tune broke into "St. Patrick's Day," and Murty O'Toole gave a
sudden involuntary shout, his hand above his head, Mick Shanahan
echoed it; the Irish music was in their blood, and the old man with
the brown fiddle had power to make them boys again. He, too, had gone
back on the lilt of the tune; back to his own green country, where the
man with the fiddle has his kingdom always, and the lads and lasses
are his subjects. There was a girl with blue Irish eyes, coming to
meet him on St. Patrick's morning... the tune wavered ever so little
then, as his heart cried out to her. Then the dream passed, and he
knew that he was a boy no more, but old Andy Ferguson, playing for the
boys and girls in the loft at Billabong. The bow moved faster and
faster yet——only a good pair could see him right through the "Royal
Irish." They were panting when he dropped his hand at last and stood
looking at them a little vaguely. Then they crowded round him,
thanking him. Even the Cunjee musicians were saying that he could beat
them all, and Miss Norah had put her hand into his, and was patting
his arm. There was a mist before him——he could not see them all,
though he knew his triumph.
"'Tis wid the kindness of all of y'," he murmured. "So good to me
y' all are!"
David Linton's hand was on his shoulder.
"Come on, old friend," he said, gently; "we're getting old and
we're tired, you and I." He led him away, Norah still holding his
hand. Behind them the music broke out again, cheerily, and the flying
feet made the loft echo until the dawn.
CHAPTER X. CHRISTMAS
O mellow air! O sunny light!
O Hope and Youth that pass away,
Print thou in letters of delight
Upon each heart one glorious day!
G. ESSEX EVANS.
Norah woke up early.
Close outside her open windows a magpie in the magnolia tree was
carolling as though he knew it was a special morning, and that he had
a special message to deliver. The linen blinds were rolled tight up,
and she could see him near one of the great creamy blossoms, each big
enough for his bath; his black and white coat very spruce and smart,
his head thrown back in utter enjoyment of his own song. Norah smiled
at him sleepily from her pillow.
"Nice old chap!" she said; and then she remembered.
"Oh!——Christmas." She gave a little happy laugh, for to-day was
going to be such a very good day. There was something that had taxed
all her patience; it was so hard to keep the secret until Christmas.
Norah was not a very patient person by nature, and she was glad that
the need for it was almost over.
She turned over lazily, and then burst out laughing as something
caught her eye at the foot of the bed——a huge football stocking,
assuming extraordinary shapes by reason of strange packages within it,
while from the top a monkey on a stick grinned at her. Norah jumped up
and brought the stocking back to bed for examination, weak with
laughter when she had finished. A big box of chocolates; a scarlet
Christmas cracker; a very flowery mug of thickest china, with "Love
the Giver" on it, and tied to the handle a label with "For a Good
Little Girl" in the best handwriting of Wally, who evidently
considered it not sufficiently adorned by nature; a live frog in a
glass-covered box; a huge bundle, which took her many minutes to
unwrap, and was finally found to contain a tiny pig of Connemara
marble; a Christmas pudding the size of a golf ball; and finally, in
the very toe, a minute bottle labelled "Castor Oil; Seasonable at Any
"Oh, you NICE donkeys!" said the recipient of these varied gifts,
lying back and investigating the chocolates. A sound at the window
made her look up, and Jim's laughing face peeped round the curtain.
"They're lovely," said Norah, fervently. "Come in, Jimmy, you old
duffer. Merry Christmas!"
Jim came in, immensely tall and lean in his pyjamas, and sat down
on the bed.
"Merry Christmas, old kid!" he said, and kissed her. "Taken your
"Pudding first——and chocolates," said Norah, solemnly, indicating
the box. "Take lots, Jim, they're beauties. How did you get that thing
into my room?"
"Waited until I could hear your cheerful snores, and then sneaked
in by the window," said her brother, dodging a chocolate. "My best
stocking; I think I was jolly good to lend it to you——you'll kindly
notice that the frog's box tore a hole in it, and take steps
accordingly! It's a ripping morning——but it's going to be hot. Do you
know what time it is?"
"I don't," said Norah.
"Five o'clock," said Jim; "isn't it ridiculous!——and you wide awake
and playing with pigs and frogs! I'm off to bed again for a
bit——besides, young Wally's bursting to know how you liked your sock.
Go to sleep again, old chap."
"I'll try," said Norah, obediently, snuggling down, "Take some
chocolates to Wally——and the castor oil!"
At the moment Norah was quite convinced that sleep was the last
thing possible for her, and merely laid down to please Jim, just as
she would cheerfully have endeavoured to jump over the moon had he
expressed any wish in that direction. Thus she was considerably
surprised on waking up two hours later to hear the dressing gong
pealing through the house. Further off came the cheerful voices of Jim
and Wally on their way to the lagoon. Cecil preferred the bath in the
house, saying that he considered it cleaner, which remark had incensed
Norah at the time. But they were learning not to worry about Cecil's
remarks, but to regard him with a kind of mild toleration, as one who
"could not help it."
Norah tore in haste to the bath, and returning made a speedy
toilet; breakfast was to be half an hour later than usual, but still
there was much to do. Her gifts to the men's quarters had gone over
the night before, in charge of Mrs. Willis; still there were parcels
for the girls in the house, together with the envelopes containing
cheques for them, which Mr. Linton always gave into Norah's care, and
of course Brownie's gifts, besides the nearer and dearer excitement of
the breakfast table. To the latter she attended first, scattering
parcels at each plate before any one else arrived on the scene. Then
she raced off, just escaping in the hall Jim, who immediately put his
hands behind him and began to whistle with great carelessness. Jim was
a man of tact.
Mrs. Brown, narrowly watching some fried potatoes, heard flying
footsteps, and turned to receive Norah bodily.
"Merry Christmas, Brownie, dear!" said the breathless one. She hung
over the stout shoulders a tiny shawl of softest white wool.
"It's only a shawl-let," Norah explained, "just for when you feel
the summer evenings get cool, you know."
"An' you made it, my precious!"
"Why, of course," said Norah, lifting her brows; "do you think I'd
buy it, when you taught me to knit? Ah, Brownie, I'm having such a
"Look at me!" said Mrs. Brown, sitting down in rapture, and
forgetting her frying pan entirely. "This lovely shawl——an' your Pa's
cheque——and here's even Master Wally brung me down a cap, an' Master
Jim——don't 'e always think!——a frame with the photer 'e took of you
an' your Pa, an' it's sollud silver, no less, if you'll believe me,
an' then it's none too good for the photer, but the dear lamb knew wot
I'd like more than anything on earth! Of all the loving——kindest
children——" At this point Brownie's feelings overcame her, and she
sniffed and, inhaling a threat of burnt potato, rushed to conceal her
emotions over the stove.
Sarah and Mary felt delighted with the pretty collars Mrs.
Stephenson had chosen for Norah in Melbourne; the daughter of the
house encountered Jim returning from the back regions, with a broad
smile on his brown face. Jim's invariable gift to Lee Wing was a felt
hat, and as the Celestial still wore the one first given, eight
Christmases before, it was popularly supposed that the intermediate
half-dozen went to support his starving relatives in China! Lee Wing
had never mentioned the existence of any starving relatives, but Wally
said it was well known that all Chinese gardeners had them——speaking,
as Norah remarked, as though it was a new complaint, like measles or
"You didn't give Wing another hat, Jim?" queried his sister.
"I did, though," returned Jim, firmly. "Asked him at midwinter what
he'd have, and he grinned and said, 'Allee same hat!' So he got it——a
lovely green one!"
"Jim!——not green! For Lee Wing!"
"There weren't any other colours left," said Jim; "next year it
would have had to be pale blue! He took it with a heavenly smile, and
looked at it all over inside and out; then he looked down at his feet,
and I beheld his toe sticking out of his boot. He didn't say 'Thank
you' at all. What he did say was 'Nex'-Clis'mas-socks,' all in one
word, and you couldn't have widened his smile without shifting his
ears further back!"
"Merry Christmas, Norah, asthore!" said a cheerful voice, and Norah
turned to greet Wally. So Wally had to hear the story of Lee Wing all
over again, and they were laughing over it when Mr. Linton came out on
the verandah, pausing in the doorway a moment to look at the slender
figure in the blue frock, with white collar and tie, and the tall lads
in white flannels beside her.
Three greetings flashed at him simultaneously as he came into view.
"Merry Christmas, every one!" he said, one hand on his small
daughter's shoulder. "Going to be a hot Christmas, too, I believe.
"Coming," said that gentleman, exchanging good wishes with a
languid air. "Sorry to be late, but I couldn't open the bathroom
"Good gracious, was it you in there?" he asked anxiously. "I
thought it was Norah——and we wanted her out of the way at the moment,
so I barricaded the door! Then I saw her afterwards, so I reckoned
she'd got out all right, and I never bothered to take down the
barricade. I'm awfully sorry!"
Every one laughed but Cecil, who saw nothing humorous in having
been obliged to climb through the bathroom window, and said so with
"I'm a fearful ass, truly," said Wally, with contrition. "Norah,
you've no need to laugh like a hyena——you ought to have been there, if
"That's why I laugh," Norah explained kindly. "Never mind, it's
Christmas——and there's breakfast!"
It was the gong, but not breakfast. Mrs. Brown knew better than to
send in the porridge with the gong on Christmas morning. Instead, the
table was heaped with parcels, a goodly pile by every plate.
"What an abominable litter!" said Mr. Linton, affecting
displeasure. "Norah, kindly oblige me by getting those things out of
your way. How are you going to eat breakfast?"
"You're as bad as I am, Daddy!"
"Dear me!" said her father. "I seem to be. Well, yours is decidedly
the most untidy, so you had better begin."
They watched the eager face as Norah turned to her bundles. Books
from Cecil and his mother; warm slippers made by Brownie; a halter
exquisitely plaited from finest strips of hide by Murty O'Toole, the
sight of which brought the whole gathering to Norah's side; from Wally
a quaint little bronze inkstand, and from Jim the daintiest horse rug
that Melbourne could produce, made to fit Bobs, with a big scarlet B
in one corner, and Norah's monogram in the other. "Not that he needs
it just now," Jim explained, as Norah hugged him——"but a store's no
sore, as Brownie'd say!" Last, a tiny velvet case, which concealed a
brooch——a thin bar of gold with one beautiful pearl. Norah did not
need the slip of paper under it to know it came from Dad.
Then things became merry, and even Cecil warmed at the gifts on his
plate, while the boys were exclaiming in delight over Norah's
knitting, and Wally was shaking hands with Mr. Linton and looking
half-shamefacedly at the plain gold sleeve links from him and the
silver watch chain from Jim; and Mr. Linton's face was alight with
pleasure at the waistcoat Norah had made for him, and the little oak
bookshelf for his bedside that was the work of Jim's spare hours.
Finally all the bundles were unwrapped, and there was a lull, though
Norah's eyes were still dancing, and she exchanged glances with her
"There's a string under my plate," said he, faintly puzzled. "At
least, there's one end."
"Strings always have two ends," said Wally, wisely. "Where's the
"I'm blessed if I know," said Jim. "It goes down to the floor."
Wally came round, investigating.
"Seems to me it goes out of the window," he said. "Guess you'd
better follow it, Jimmy."
Jim looked round, a little doubtful. Then he saw Norah's face, and
knew that there was something he did not understand. He laughed a
"Some one pulling my leg?" he asked, good-humouredly. "Oh, well,
I'll chase it."
The string went somewhere——that was evident. Outside it was at the
height of Jim's hand, and ran along the wall, so that it was easy to
follow. They trooped after him as he went along, Norah completely
unable to walk steadily, but progressing principally on one foot,
while David Linton's eyes were twinkling. The chase was not a long
one; the string suddenly cut across to the door in the high fence
dividing the front and back gardens, and there disappeared.
"What next?" said Jim.
"If it was me," said Wally, with a fine disregard of grammar, "I
should open the door."
"Good for you, Wally," grinned Jim. "Here goes!" He flung the door
open, and then stood as if rooted to the spot.
The string went on. It ended, however, just through the door, where
its end was spliced to a halter, held by black Billy, whose smile
disclosed every tooth in his head. Fidgeting in the halter was a big
bay horse, showing all Monarch's quality, and all his good looks; a
show ring horse, picked by a keen judge, and built for speed as well
as strength. He looked at Jim with a kind eye, set well in his
beautiful head. There was no flaw in him; from his heels to his fine,
straight forelock he was perfection.
Jim had no words. He did not need to be told anything——Norah's face
had been enough; but he could not speak. He took refuge with the big
bay, moving forward and putting out a hand, to which the horse
responded instantly, rubbing his head against him in friendly fashion.
Then, across the arched neck, Jim's eyes met his father's, and the
colour flooded into his brown face.
"Well, old son——will he do?"
"Do!" said Jim, weakly. "Dad!——by Jove, I——I——" He stopped
helplessly; then his hand went out and took his father's in a grip
that made David Linton realize that this big son of his was nearly a
"Oh, Jimmy, I'm so glad——and isn't he lovely?"
"Why, he's perfect," Jim said, stepping back and running his eye
over his Christmas box. "My word, Dad, he'll jump!"
"Yes, he'll jump all right," said David Linton. "Gallop, too, I
"Plenty!" said Billy, with unexpected emphasis, whereat every one
"Billy and Norah have had this little joke plotted for some time,"
Mr. Linton said——"and the experiences they have undergone in keeping
strings and steed out of your way this morning have, I believe,
whitened the hair of both!"
Jim looked gratefully round.
"You're all bricks," he said. "Has he got a name, Dad?"
"'A tearin' foine wan,' Murty says," responded his father; "since
it's Irish: Garryowen, unless you'd like to change it."
"Not me!" said Jim. "I like it." He looked round as the sound of
the gong came across the garden. "I say, don't mind me," he said——"go
into breakfast. I don't want any this morning." His eye went back to
"Rubbish!" said his father——"he'll be alive after breakfast! Come
along," and reluctantly Jim saw Billy lead his horse away to the
stable. He discovered, however, on reaching the breakfast room, that
he was remarkably hungry, and distinguished himself greatly with his
knife and fork.
Afterwards it was necessary to try the bay's paces without delay,
and they all watched Jim take him round the home paddock. Garryowen
moved beautifully; and when Jim finally put him at the highest part of
the old log fence, and brought him back again, he flew it with a foot
to spare. The boy's face was aglow as he rode up.
"Well, he's perfect!" he said. "I never was on such a horse." He
came close to his father. "Dad," he said in a low tone——"are you sure
you wouldn't like him instead of Monarch? He's far more finished."
"Not for anything, thanks, old chap——I prefer my pupil," said his
father, his look answering more than his words. "You see he never
bucks with me, Jim!"
Jim laughed, dismounting. "Like to try him, Cecil?"
"Thanks," said Cecil, scrambling up and setting off down the
paddock, while Jim watched him and writhed to think of possible damage
to his horse's back and mouth. Billy, who was near, said reflectively,
"Plenty bump!" and Murty O'Toole roundly rebuked Jim for "puttin' up
an insult like that on a good horse!" They breathed more freely when
Cecil came back, albeit the way in which he sawed at the bay's mouth
was calculated to strike woe to the heart of any owner. Then Wally
tried Garryowen, and finally Norah, having flown to the house for a
riding skirt, had a ride also, and sailed over the log fence in a
manner fully equal to Jim's. She came back charged with high
"He's nearly as good as Bobs, Jim!"
"Bobs!" said Jim, loftily. "We don't compare ponies with horses, my
"Then he's not to be compared with Bobs!" Norah retorted sturdily,
and, the laugh being on her side, retired quickly to dress for dinner.
Dinner was typical of Billabong, and an Australian Christmas——one
with the thermometer striving to reach the hundred mark. Everything
was cold, from the mammoth turkey, with which Mr. Linton wrestled, to
the iced peaches that topped off what the boys declared "a corking
feed." There was plum pudding, certainly, but it was cold, too. Wally
found in his piece no fewer than four buttons; and, deeply aggrieved,
went afterwards to remonstrate with Mrs. Brown, who was amazed,
declaring she had put in but one, which to her certain knowledge had
fallen to the unhappy lot of Sarah. Further inquiries revealed the
fact that Jim had come to the table well supplied with buttons, with
which he had contrived to enrich Wally's portion as it travelled past
him——which led to a battle on the lawn, until both combatants, too
well fed and weak with mirth to fight, collapsed, and slept peacefully
under a pine tree.
Later on the horses were saddled, and every one rode out to the
river, where Brownie and the maids had already been driven by Fred
Anderson, and where they picnicked for tea. Afterwards they lay on the
soft grass, with the water murmuring past them, and Mr. Linton told
them stories——for Christmas was ever, and will ever be, the time for
stories. Simple, straightforward tales, like the man himself: old
Christmases overseas, and others in many parts of Australia——some that
brought a sadder note into the speaker's voice, and made Norah draw
herself along the grass until she came within touch of his hand. Words
were never really needed between them——being mates.
So they stayed until the golden western sky had grown rose colour,
and the rose glow faded into night, that brought with it a little cool
breeze. Then the horses were saddled, and they rode home by the
longest possible way, singing every imaginable chorus, from Good Old
Jeff to the latest medley of pantomime ditties, and ending with a wild
scurry across the paddock home. They all trooped into the house,
waking its quietness to youth and laughter.
But David Linton called to Norah.
"Come on," he said, "we'll finish up with the real Christmas
So they all gathered round the piano while Norah played, and joined
in the old Christmas hymns and carols——none the less hearty in that
they sang of frost and snow with all around them the yellowing plain,
dried up by the scorching sun, and, beyond that, the unbroken line of
the little trodden Bush. The young voices rang out cheerily, David
Linton listening in his armchair, his hand over his eyes.
Norah was in bed when her father looked in, in passing, to say
good-night. She put up her face to him sleepily.
"It's been a beautiful Christmas, Daddy dear!" she said.
CHAPTER XI. "LO, THE POOR INDIAN!"
I mind the time when first I came
A stranger to the land.
The house was unusually quiet. It was New Year's Day, and every man
on the place, and most of the maids, had gone off to a bush race
meeting, ten miles away. Even Mrs. Brown had allowed herself to be
persuaded to go and, arrayed in her best silk gown, had climbed
laboriously into the high double buggy, driven by Dave Boone, and
departed, waving to Norah a stout reticule that looked, Wally said, as
though it contained sausages! Only Mary, the housemaid, remained. Mary
was a prim soul, and did not care for race meetings. She had remarked
that she would stay at home and "crocher"!
Mr. Linton and the boys had ridden away after lunch. A valuable
bull had slipped down the side of a steep gully and injured himself,
and bush surgery was required. David Linton was rather notable in this
direction, and he had seen to it that Jim had had a thorough course of
veterinary training in Melbourne. Together they made, the squatter
remarked, a very respectable firm of practitioners! Cecil and Wally
were ready to perform unskilled labour as required, and it was quite
possible that their help might be needed, since no men were available.
So the picnic planned for the afternoon had had to be abandoned, and
Norah was left somewhat desolate, since she could not take part in the
"Hard on you, old girl," Jim had said; "but it can't be helped."
"No, of course it can't," Norah replied. She was well trained in
the emergencies of the country, and would probably have been perfectly
cheerful had this particular one only been something that would not
have excluded her. As it was, however, it was certainly disappointing,
and she felt somewhat "at a loose end" as she watched the four ride
off. There seemed nothing for her to do. It was beyond doubt that
being a girl had its drawbacks.
Within, the silence of the house was depressing, and the rooms
seemed much too large. Norah saw to one or two odd jobs, fed some
chickens, talked for a while to Fudge, the parrot, who was a
companionable bird, with a great flow of eloquence on occasions, wrote
a couple of letters——always a laborious proceeding for the maid of the
bush——and finally arrived at the decision that there was nothing to
do. In the kitchen Mary sat and "crochered" placidly at a fearful and
wonderful set of table mats. Norah watched her for a while, with a
great scorn for the gentle art that could produce such monstrosities.
Then she practised for half an hour, and at length, taking a book,
sauntered off to read by the creek.
Meanwhile Mary worked on contentedly, unconscious of outer things,
dreaming, perhaps, such dreams as may come to any one who makes
crocheted table mats of green and yellow. Now and then she rose to
replenish the fire, returning to her needle in the far-away corner of
the great kitchen, where Mrs. Brown's cane armchair always stood. She
glanced up in surprise after a while, when a shadow fell across the
doorway. Then, for Mary was a girl with "nerves," she jumped up with a
An Indian hawker stood there——a big, black-bearded fellow, in dusty
clothes that had once been white, and on his head a turban of faded
pink. His heavy pack hung from his shoulder, but as the girl looked,
he slipped it to the ground, and stood erect, with a grunt of relief.
Then he grinned faintly at Mary, who had promptly put the table
between them, and asked the hawker's universal question:
"Anything to-day, Meesis?"
The Hindu hawker is still a figure to be met frequently in the
Bush——where he is, indeed, something of an institution. "Remote from
towns he runs" a race that no poetical licence can stretch to complete
the quotation by calling "godly." He carries a queer mixture of
goods——a kind of condensed bazaar-stall from his native land, with
silks and cottons, soaps, scents, boot laces and cheap jewellery, all
packed into a marvellously small space; and so he tramps his way
through Australia. No life can be lonelier. His stock of English is
generally barely enough to enable him to complete his deals; the free
and independent Australian regards him as "a nigger," and despises him
accordingly; while the Hindu, in his turn, has in his inmost soul a
scorn far deeper for his scorners——the pride of tradition and of
caste. It is the caste that keeps him rigidly to himself, since, as a
rule, he can touch no food that others have handled. He sits apart,
over his own tiny fire, baking his unappetising little cakes; and in
many cases even the shadow of a passer-by falling across his cookery
is held to defile it beyond possibility of his eating it. As a rule he
has but one idea in life——to make enough money to carry him back to
end his days in comfort by the waters of the Ganges.
There are certain well recognized hawkers in many districts——men
who have kept for a long time to a particular beat, and may be
regarded as fairly regular, and likely to turn up at each place at
their route three or four times a year. Such men have generally
arrived at the dignity of a pack-horse——no unmixed benefit in the eyes
of people driving, since most of the country horses are reduced to
frenzy by the sight of the lean screw with his immense white pack——the
hawker is merciless to his horse——led by the "black" man in flapping
clothes and gay turban. Still the regular hawkers are a more
respectable class of men, and their visits are often eagerly welcomed
by the housewife in the lonely country, many miles from a township,
who finds herself confronted with such problems as the necessity for
lacing Johnny's Sunday boots with strips of green hide, or the more
serious one of a dearth of trouser-buttons for his garments.
It is the casual hawker who is looked on with disfavour, and
strikes terror to the heart of many women. He has very frequently no
money and less principle; and being without reputation to sustain in
the district, is careless of his doings along a route that he probably
does not intend to visit again. He knows perfectly well that women and
children are afraid of him, and as a rule is very willing to work upon
that fear——though the sight of a man, or of a dog with character, is
sufficient to make him the most servile of his race. But where he
meets a lonely woman he is a very apparition of terror.
There was one hawker who came regularly to Billabong; a cheery old
fellow, well known and respected, whose caste was not strict enough to
prevent his refusing the station hospitality, and whose appearance was
always welcome. He had been coming so long that he knew them all well,
and took an almost affectionate interest in Jim and Norah, always
bringing some little gift for the latter. The men liked him, for he
had been known to "turn to" and work at a bush fire "as hearty as if
he weren't a fat little image av a haythen," said Murty O'Toole; Norah
was always delighted when old Ram Das came up the track, his unwieldy
body on two amazingly lean legs. Even Mary would not have been scared
at his appearance.
But this was not Ram Das——this Indian who stood looking at her with
that queer little half-smile, so different from the old man's wide and
cheerful grin. It was a strange man, and a terrible one in Mary's
sight. She gaped at him feebly across the table, and he watched her
with keen, calculating eyes. Presently he spoke again, this time a
"You ask-a meesis annything to-day?"
"Nothin' to-day," said Mary, quickly and nervously.
"You ask-a meesis."
"She don't want anything," the girl quavered.
"I tell you she don't want anything——there ain't any missis," Mary
said. He looked at her unbelievingly, and broke into a speech of
broken English that was quite unintelligible to the frightened girl
behind the table. Then, as she did not answer him, he came a few steps
It was more than enough for Mary. She gave a terrified shriek and
ran for the nearest cover——the half-open door of the back kitchen
behind her. She banged it violently as she dashed through. There was
no lock on the door, so she could not stay there——but the window stood
open, and Mary went through it with all the nimbleness of fear. She
came out into the yard where the way lay clear to the house; and
across the space went Mary, cometwise, a vision of terror and flying
cap strings, each moment expecting to hear pursuing feet. Puck, the
Irish terrier, sleeping peacefully on the front verandah, leapt to his
feet at the sudden bang of the back door, and came dashing through the
house in search of the cause. Mary, half sobbing, welcomed him with
"Good dog, Puck!" she said. She reconnoitred through the nearest
The Indian had come out of the kitchen, and now stood on the back
verandah, his dark face working. He looked uncertainly about him. Then
the back door opened a few inches——just so far that an enthusiastic
Irish terrier could squeeze through——and Mary's voice came.
"Good dog, Puck!——sool 'im!"
The door banged again, and the heavy lock shot home. Mary flew back
to the window, shutting and locking it frantically. She watched.
Puck wasted no time. He dashed at the hawker, with every fighting
instinct aroused, and the Hindu leaped back quickly, seizing with one
hand a broom that leaned against the wall. He met the terrier's
onslaught with a savage blow that sent the little dog head over heels
yards away. Puck picked himself up and came again like a whirlwind.
Then Mary screamed again, for the Hindu dropped the broom, and
something flashed in the sunlight——a long knife that came swiftly from
some hiding place in his voluminous draperies. He crouched to meet the
dog, his eyes gleaming, his lips drawn back from his teeth.
Puck was no fool. He arrested himself almost in midair, and planted
himself just out of the hawker's reach, his whole enraged little body
a vision of defiance, and barked madly. The Indian moved backwards,
uttering a flood of furious speech, while for each step that he moved
the terrier advanced another. Then Mary's heart gave a sudden leap;
for the hand that held the knife suddenly went behind him as he
reached for his pack and swung it to his shoulder. Puck was nearly
upon him in the moment that the knife no longer menaced, but the Hindu
was quick; and again the little dog drew back, rending the air with
his barking. Slowly the man backed off the verandah and along the path
to the yard gate, Puck following every step, loathing with all his
fury that unfair advantage of gleaming steel that kept him from his
enemy. The Hindu backed through the gate, and slammed it in the
terrier's face, spitting a volley of angry words as he went. Mary
flung the window open and called her protector anxiously, lest he
should find some means of exit and leave her alone; and Puck came back
a few steps, turning again to bark at his retreating foe. The tall
form in the dusty clothes went slowly down the track. Mary watched him
out of sight. Then she fled to her own room, locked herself in
securely, and went, very properly, into hysterics.
Meanwhile, at the creek, Norah was nodding sleepily over her book.
It was hot, and naturally a lazy day; everything seemed sleepy, from
the cows lying about under the willows on the banks to the bees
droning overhead. Tait, near her, was snoring gently. Even the water
below seemed to be rippling more lazily than usual; the splash of a
leaping fish made an unusual stir in the stillness. Moreover, her book
was not calculated to keep her awake. It was poetry, and Norah's soul
did not incline naturally to poetry, unless it were one of Gordon's
stirring rhymes, or something equally Australian in character. This
was quite different, but it had been Cecil's Christmas gift, and it
had seemed to Norah that politeness required her to study it.
"It's the rummiest stuff!" said the Bush damsel, hopelessly. She
turned to the cover, a dainty thing of pale blue and gold. "William
Morris? Didn't we have a stockman once called Bill Morris? But I'm
pretty certain he never wrote this. The name's the same, though!"
thought Norah, uncertainly. She turned back, and read anew,
No meat did ever pass my lips Those days. (Alas! the sunlight
slips From off the gilded parclose dips, And night comes on apace.)
"Then I'm positive it wasn't our Bill Morris, 'cause I never saw a
stockman who was a vegetarian. But what's a parclose? I'll have to ask
Cecil; but then he'll think me such a duffer not to know, and he'll be
so awfully patronizing. But what on earth does it all mean?"
She closed the book in despair, let her eyelids droop, and nodded a
little, while the book in its blue and gold cover slipped from her
knee to the grass. It was much easier to go to sleep than to read
William Morris. What a long time Dad and the boys were, doctoring
Derrimut! It was certainly dull.
A quick bark from Tait startled her. The collie had jumped up, and
was bristling with wrath at an unusual spectacle coming through the
trees towards her——a tall man, with a face of dusky bronze, surmounted
by a pink turban. His face was working angrily, and he muttered as he
walked, slowly, as if the pack on his shoulder were heavy. When Tait
barked he started for a moment, but then came on steadily——a collie is
rarely as formidable as an Irish terrier.
Norah paled a little. She was not timid, but no Australian girl
takes naturally to an encounter with a Hindu and there was no doubt
that this man was in a very bad temper. The place was lonely, too, and
out of sight of the house, even if she had not been painfully
conscious that there was not a man on the place should she need help.
Still, there was nothing to be gained by running. She backed against
the tree, keeping one hand on Tait's collar as the man came up.
"What do you want?"
He stopped, and the pack slipped to the grass. Then he broke into a
flood of rapid speech in his own tongue, gesticulating violently;
occasionally indicating the house with a sweep of his hand in that
direction. As he talked he worked himself up to further wrath——his
voice rose almost to a shout sometimes, and his face was not pleasant
to see. Once or twice he held his left hand out, and Norah saw that it
For a minute or two she was badly frightened. Then, watching him,
she suddenly came to the conclusion that she had nothing to fear——that
he was telling her something he wanted her to know. She listened,
trying hard to catch some word in the flood of fluent foreign speech,
and twice she thought she made out the name of Ram Das. Then he
finished abruptly with almost the one word of Hindustani she knew,
since it was one the old hawker had taught her. "SUMJA," ("Do you
understand?" he hurled at her.
Norah shook her head.
"No, I don't 'SUMJA,'" she said: but her tone was friendly, and
some of the anger melted from the Indian's face, and was succeeded by
a quick relief. "Can't you speak English? You know Ram Das——Ram Das?"
she repeated, hoping that the name might convey something to him. To
her immense relief, the effect was instantaneous.
"Know Ram Das," said the man, struggling for words. "Him——him." He
swept the horizon vaguely with his hand.
"I know Ram Das," Norah put in. "Him good man."
The Hindu nodded violently. His face was natural again, and
suddenly he smiled at her. "You a meesis?" he asked. "Ram Das say l'il
"I'm little meesis," Norah said promptly. It was the old man's
title for her. "Did Ram Das send you?"
"Him send me," said the man, with evident pleasure in finding the
word. He struggled again for English, but finally gave it up, and held
out his left hand to her silently.
"Why, you're hurt!" Norah said. "Is that why Ram Das sent you?"
He nodded again, and began to unroll the long strip of cotton stuff
round his hand and wrist. It took a long time, and at last he had to
go down to the water and bathe the stiffened rag before it would come
away. Then he came back to Norah and held it out again——a long,
hideous gash right up the wrist, torn and swollen and inflamed.
"Oh!" said Norah, drawing back a pace, instinctively. "You poor
fellow! How did you do it?"
"Barb wire," said the Indian, simply. "Three days. Him bad. Ram
Das, him say you help." With this stupendous effort of eloquence he
became speechless again, still holding the torn wrist out to her.
"I should think so!" said Norah, forgetting everything in the sight
of that cruel wound. "Come on up to the house quickly!" She turned to
lead the way, but the man shook his head.
"Woman there," he stammered.
"It's all right," Norah told him. "Come along."
"Small dog," said the Hindu, unhappily. "Them afraid of me." He
pointed towards the house. "Been there."
"Oh-h!" said Norah, suddenly comprehending. She knew Mary. Then she
laughed. "You come with me; it's all right." She led the way, and the
hawker followed her. A few yards further on, Norah bethought herself
of something, and turned back.
"You must have that covered up," she told him. "No, not with that
awful rag again," with a faint shudder. She took out her handkerchief
and wrapped it lightly round the man's wrist. "That'll do for the
Puck, still in a state of profound indignation in the back yard,
was thrown into a paroxysm of fury at the sight of his enemy
returning. Norah had to chain him up before the Hindu would come
inside the gate. Then she led the way to the kitchen and called Mary.
No Mary answered, so Norah went about her preparations alone——a big
basin of hot water, boracic acid——standby of the Bush——soft rags, and
ointment from the "hospital drawer" Mrs. Brown kept always ready. She
shuddered a little as she began to bathe the wound, while the Indian
watched her with inscrutable face, never flinching, though the pain
was no small thing. It was done at last——cleansed, anointed, and
carefully bandaged. Then he smiled at her gratefully.
"Ram Das him say you good," he said. "Him truth!"
Norah laughed, somewhat embarrassed.
"Hungry?" she asked. "You take my food?"
It was always a delicate question, since the Hindu is easily
offended over a matter of caste. This man, however, was evidently as
independent as Ram Das, for he nodded, and when Norah brought him
food, fell to work upon it hungrily.
Thus it was that Mary, brought from the hysterical sanctuary of her
room by the pressing sense of the necessity of looking after the
kitchen fire, and coming back to her duties like a vestal of old,
found her dreaded enemy cheerfully eating in the kitchen, while Norah
sat near and carried on a one-sided conversation with every appearance
of friendliness, with Tait sleepily lying beside her——at which
astonishing spectacle Mary promptly shrieked anew. The Hindu rose,
"Come here, you duffer, Mary!" said Norah, who by this time had
arrived at something of an understanding of the previous happenings.
"He's as tame as tame. Why, old Ram Das sent him!"
"Miss Norah, he's got a knife on him!" said Mary, in a sepulchral
whisper. "I saw it with me own eyes. He nearly killed Puck with it!"
"Well, Puck was trying to kill him," said Norah, "and I guess if
you had a wrist like his, you'd defend yourself any way you could, if
Puck was at you! He's terribly sorry he frightened you——you didn't
understand him, that was all. Ram Das sent him to have his wrist fixed
up, and his name's Lal Chunder, and he's quite a nice man!"
"H'm!" said Mary doubtfully, relaxing so far as to enter the
kitchen, but keeping a respectful distance from the hawker, who took
no further notice of her, going on with his meal. "I don't 'old with
them black creechers in any shape or form, Miss Norah, an' it's my
belief he'd kill us all in our beds as soon as wink! Scarin' the wits
out of one, with his pink top-knot arrangement——such a thing for a man
to wear! Gimme white Orstralia!"
"Look out, he'll hear you!" said Norah, laughing. "He——"
"What talk is this?" said a cheerful voice; and Ram Das, very
plump, very hot and very beaming, came in at the kitchen door, and
stood looking at them. "I sent this young man to the li'l meesis, for
that he was hurt and in pain, and I know the fat woman is kind, and
has the brassic-acid." He glanced at Lal Chunder's bandaged wrist, and
shot a quick question at him in their own tongue, to which the other
responded. The old man turned back to Norah, not without dignity.
"We thank the l'il meesis," he said. "Lal Chunder is as my son: he
cannot speak, but he will not forget."
"Oh, that's all right," said Norah, turning a lively red. "It
wasn't anything, really, Ram Das——and his wrist was terribly sore.
You'll both camp here to-night, won't you? And have some tea——I'm sure
you want it, it's so hot."
"It will be good," said Ram Das, gratefully, sitting down. Then
voices and the sound of hoofs and the chink of bits came from outside;
and presently Mr. Linton and the boys came in, hot and thirsty.
Cecil's eyebrows went up as he beheld his cousin carrying a cup to
the stout old Hindu.
"It's the most extraordinary place I was ever at," he told himself
later, dressing for dinner, in the seclusion of his own room. From the
garden below came shouts and laughter, as Jim engaged Norah and Wally
in a strenuous set on the tennis court. "Absolutely no class limits
whatever, and no restrictions——why, she kept me waiting for my second
cup while she looked after that fat old black in the dirty white
turban! As for the boys——childish young hoodlums. Well, thank goodness
I'm not condemned to Billabong all my days!" With which serene
reflection Mr. Cecil Linton adjusted his tie nicely, smoothed a
refractory strand of hair in his forelock, and went down to dinner.
CHAPTER XII. OF POULTRY
A man would soon wonder how it's done,
The stock so soon decreases!
A. B. PATERSON
"Where are you off to, Norah?"
"To feed the chickens."
"May I come with you, my pretty maid?"
"Delighted!" said Norah. "Here's a load for you."
"Even to stagger under thy kerosene tin were ever a joy!" responded
Wally, seizing the can of feed as he spoke——the kerosene tin of the
bush, that serves so many purposes, from bucket to cooking stove, and
may end its days as a flower pot, or, flattened out, as roofing iron.
"Anyhow, you oughtn't to carry this thing, Norah; it's too heavy. Why
will you be such a goat?"
Under this direct query, put plaintively, Norah had the grace to
"Well, I don't, as a rule," she said. "It's really Billy's job to
carry it for me, but Jim has been coming with me since he came home,
so of course young Billy's got out of hand. And Jim's gone across with
Dad to see old Derrimut, so I had no one. I looked for you and
couldn't find you. And I asked Cecil politely to accompany me, but he
put his eyebrows up, and said fowls didn't interest him. Oh, Wally,
don't you think it's terribly hard to find subjects that do interest
"Hard!" said Wally expressively. "Well, it beats me, anyhow. But
then Cecil regards me with scorn and contumely, and, to tell you the
truth, Nor., when I see him coming I quiver like——like a blancmange!
He's so awfully superior!"
"You know, I'm sure he's not enjoying himself," Norah went on; "and
it really worries us, 'cause we hate to think of anyone being here and
not having a good time. But he does keep his nose so in the air,
"Beats me how you're so nice to him," Wally averred. "My word, it
would do that lad good to have a year or two at our school! I guess it
would take some of the nonsense out of him. Was he ever young?"
"I shouldn't think so," Norah said, laughing——"he has such a lofty
contempt for anything at all juvenile now. Well, at least he's looking
better than when he came, so Billabong is doing him good in one way at
any rate, and that is a comfort. But I'm sure he's counting the days
until he goes away."
"Well, so am I," said Wally, cheerfully. "So at least there are two
of us, and I should think there were several more. It's pleasant to
find even one subject on which one can be a twin-soul with Cecil.
Norah"——solemnly——"I have counted eleven different pairs of socks on
that Johnny since I came, and each was more brilliant than the last!"
"I don't doubt it," Norah laughed. "They're the admiration of the
laundry here, and even the men stopped and looked at them as they were
hanging on the line last week. Dave Boone was much interested in that
green pair with the gold stripes, and asked Sarah what football club
they belonged to!"
"Great Scott!" said Wally explosively. "Can you imagine Cecil
"I can't——I wish I could," Norah answered. "Well, never mind
Cecil——he's a tiring subject. Tell me what you think of my chicks."
Norah's special fowl yard was a grassy run divided into two parts,
with small houses and wire-netted enclosures in each. At present one
was devoted to a couple of mothers with clutches of ten and twelve
chickens——all white Orpingtons. The mothers were stately, comfortable
dames, and the chicks, round little creamy balls, very tame and
fascinating. They came quite close to Norah as she stooped to feed
them, and one chick, bolder than his brethren, even stood on the back
of her hand. Wally admired without stint, and proceeded to discharge
the practical duty of rinsing out the water tins and filling them
In the other yard a number of older chickens grew and prospered;
these also were all white, of the Leghorn breed, and Norah was
immensely proud of them. She sat down on the end of a box and pointed
out their varied beauties.
"I should have more——lots more," she said, dolefully. "But I've had
horrible trouble with pigs. Why anybody keeps pigs at all I can't
"They're handy when preserved," Wally remarked. "But what did they
do to you?"
"I had a lot of hens sitting this year," said the owner of the
yard——"sitting on lovely eggs, too, Wally! Some I got from Cunjee, and
some from Westwood, and two special sittings from Melbourne. I was
going to be awfully rich! You couldn't imagine all I'd planned with
the immense sums I was going to make."
"There's a proverb," said Wally, sententiously, "about counting
"You're quite the twelfth person who's mentioned that," Norah said,
with some asperity. "Anyhow, I never counted them; I only became rich
in a vague way, and it was very comforting. I'm glad I had that
comfort, for it was all I had."
"Norah, you thrill my very soul with awful fears," Wally gasped.
"Tell me the worst!"
"Donkey!" said Norah, unsympathetically. "Well, they were set. I
fixed up the boxes myself, and lined them so beautifully that when
they were ready, and the eggs in, it was all I could do to prevent
myself sitting on them!"
"I know," Wally nodded. "And then the hens wouldn't sit, would
they? They never do, when you make the nests especially tempting. I
had an old Cochin once who used to sit quite happily for six months at
a time on a clod and a bit of stone, expecting to hatch out a
half-acre allotment and a town hall; but if you put her on twelve
beautiful eggs she simply wouldn't look at them! Makes you vow you'll
give up keeping hens at all."
"It would," Norah said. "Only mine didn't do that."
"Oh!" said Wally, a little blankly. "What did they do, then?"
"And ate the eggs——I know," Wally burst in. "My old brute used to
eat one a day if you got her to sit. I remember once it was a race
between her and the eggs, and I used to haunt the nest, wondering
would she get 'em all eaten before they hatched. They beat her by
one——one poor chick came out. The shock was too much for the old hen,
and she deserted it, and I poddied it in a box for a week, and called
it Moses, and it would eat out of my hand, and then it died!" He
gasped for breath, and Norah gazed with undisguised admiration at the
"So I know how you'd feel," Wally finished.
"I might——but my hens weren't cannibals. They didn't eat any."
"You had luck," said the unabashed Wally. "Well, what happened?"
"They sat quite nicely——"
"And the eggs were addled, weren't they? It's always the way with
half these swagger sittings you buy from dealers. They——"
"Oh, Wally, I WISH you wouldn't be so intelligent!" said Norah,
with not unnatural heat. "How am I ever going to tell you?"
"Why, I thought you were telling me as hard as ever you could!"
Wally responded, visibly indignant "Well, fire away; I won't speak
"I don't think you could help it," Norah laughed. "However, I'd
eight hens sitting, and I really do believe that they understood their
responsibilities, for they set as if they were glued, except when they
came off for necessary exercise and refreshment. Even then, they never
gave me any of the usual bother about refusing to go back into the
right box, or scratching the eggs out. They behaved like perfect
ladies——I might have known it was too bright to last!" She heaved a
"I know you're working up to some horrible tragedy, and I'm sure I
won't be able to bear it!" said her hearer, much agitated. "Tell me
"So they sat——"
"You said that before!"
"Well, they sat before——and after," said Norah, unmoved. "Two of
them brought their eggs out, beautiful clutches, twelve in one and
thirteen in the other. Such luck! I used to be like the old woman who
pinched herself and asked, 'Be this I?' They all lived in a fox-proof
yard——fence eight feet high with wire-netting on top. I wasn't leaving
anything to chance about those chicks."
"Was it cholera? Or pip?"
"Neither," said Norah. "They were the very healthiest, all of them.
The chickens grew and flourished, and when they were about a week old,
the other six hens were all about to bring out theirs within two days.
Oh, Wally, I was so excited! I used to go down to the yard about a
dozen times a day, just to gloat!"
"Never gloat too soon," said Wally. "It's a hideous risk!"
"I'm never going to gloat again at all, I think," said Norah,
mournfully. The recital of her woes was painful. "So I went down one
morning, and found them all happy and peaceful; the six old ladies
sitting in their boxes, and the two proud mammas with their chicks,
scratching round the yard and chasing grasshoppers. It was," said
Norah, in the approved manner of story-tellers," a fair and joyous
"'Specially for the grasshoppers!" commented her hearer. "And
"Then I went out for a ride with Dad, and I didn't get back until
late in the afternoon. I let Bobs go, and ran down to the fowl yard
without waiting to change my habit." Norah paused. "I really don't
know that I can bring myself to tell you any more!"
"If you don't," said Wally, indignantly, "there'll certainly be
bloodshed. Go on at once——
"Am I a man on human plan Designed, or am I not, Matilda?"
"H'm," said Norah. "Well, I'm not Matilda, anyway! However, I
opened the gate of the yard. And then I stood there and just gaped at
what I saw."
"Our dogs are decently trained," Norah said, much offended. "No, it
wasn't dogs——it was pigs!"
"Whew-w!" whistled Wally.
"Pigs. They had burrowed in right under the fence; there was a
great big hole there. And they'd eaten every chicken, and every egg in
the yard. My lovely boxes were all knocked over, and the nests torn to
bits, and there wasn't so much as an eggshell left. The poor old hens
were just demented——they were going round and round the yard, clucking
and calling, and altogether like mad things. And in the middle of it
all, fat and happy and snoring——three pigs!"
"What did you do?" Wally felt that this case was beyond the reach
of ordinary words of sympathy.
"Couldn't do anything. I chased the beasts out of the yard, and
threw everything I could find at them——but you can't hurt a pig. And
Dad was horrid——advised me to have them killed, so that at least we
could have eggs and bacon!" Norah laughed, in spite of her woebegone
"And he calls himself a father!" said Wally, solemnly.
"Oh, he wasn't really horrid," Norah answered. "He wrote off to
town and bought me a very swagger pair of Plymouth Rocks——just
beauties. They cost three guineas!"
"Three guineas!" said the awestruck youth. "What awful waste! Where
are they, Norah? Show me them at once!"
"Can't," Norah responded, sadly.
"You don't mean——?"
"Oh, I've had a terrible year with fowls," said the dejected
poultry keeper. "Those Plymouth Rocks came just before the Cunjee
show, and Dad entered them for me, 'cause the dealer had told him they
would beat anything there. And I think they would have——only just
after he sold Dad mine, a Cunjee man bought a pair for five guineas.
He showed his, too!" Norah sighed.
"Oh!" said Wally.
"So I got second. However, they were very lovely, and so tame. I
was truly fond of Peter."
"Oh, Peter means a Rock," said Norah. "I heard it in a sermon. He
was a beautiful bird. I think he was too beautiful to live, 'cause he
became ill——I don't know what it was, but he pined away. I used to
nurse him ever so; for the last two days of his poor young life I fed
him every hour with brandy and strong soup out of the spout of the
invalid feeder. Brownie was quite annoyed when she found I'd used it
for him," said Norah, reflectively.
"But he was an invalid, wasn't he?" asked Wally.
"Of course he was——and it's an invalid feeder. I don't see what
it's for, if not for the sick. But it didn't do him any good. I went
out about ten o'clock one night and wrapped him in hot flannel, and he
was rattling inside his poor chest; and in the morning I went out at
five and he was dead!"
"Poor old Nor.!"
"So I tied a bit of black stuff on the gate and went back to bed,"
said Norah, pensively.
Wally grinned. "And what became of Mrs. Peter?"
"Oh, Mrs. Peter was a lovely hen," Norah said, "and very healthy.
She never seemed to feel any of Peter's delicacy. He was a very
refined bird. There was another show coming on at Mulgoa, and I found
among the other fowls another Mr. Peter, and it struck me I would have
a try for the prize. Mrs. Peter was so good that I felt I'd get it
unless the five-guinea Plymouth Rock man came up. So I fed up the new
Peter and had them looking very well the day before the show. And
"Yes?" said Wally, as she paused.
"Then a new dog of Burton's killed Mrs. Peter," said Norah, "so I
gave up showing poultry!"
"I should think you did," said the sympathetic auditor. "What did
your father say?"
"He was very nice; and very angry with the dog; but he didn't buy
me any more valuable fowls——and I expect that was just as well," said
Norah, laughing. "I don't seem to have luck when it comes to keeping
poultry. Jim says it's management, but then Jim never kept any
himself. And it does make a difference to your views if you keep them
"It does," Wally agreed. "I used to lose ever so many in
Queensland, but then things are really rough on fowls up
there——climate and snakes and lots of odd things, including
crocodiles! When I came down to school I left a lot of hens, and
twelve eggs under one old lady hen, who should have hatched 'em out a
few days after I left. And the whole lot went wandering and found some
poison my brother had put out for a cat!" Wally wiped his eyes
"It was suicide, I think," said Wally, nodding. "But I always had
comfort about that lot, because I still have hopes that those twelve
eggs hadn't hatched."
"I don't see what that has to do with it," Norah said, plainly
"Why, don't you understand? If they hatched I must have lost them
along with the others; but if they didn't hatch, I didn't lose so
many, for, not having them to lose, I couldn't very well lose them,
could I? Q.E.D.!" finished Wally, triumphantly. "That's Philosophy!"
"You're a credit to your teachers, old man," said a new voice; and
Jim made his appearance behind the fence, over which he proceeded to
"Yes, I'm a nice boy," said modest Mr. Meadows. "Sometimes I think
you don't appreciate me——"
"Perish the thought!" said Jim, solemnly.
"But I always feel that honest worth will tell in the end,"
finished Wally. "Jim, you great, uncivilized rogue, unhand me!" There
was a strenuous interlude, during which the Leghorn chicks fled
shrieking to the farthest corner of their domain. Finally Jim stepped
unwittingly, in the joy of battle, into the kerosene tin, which was
fortunately empty, and a truce was made while he scraped from a once
immaculate brown leather legging the remains of the Leghorns'
"Serve you right," said Wally, adjusting his tie, which had
mysteriously appeared under his right ear. "Norah and I were talking
beautifully, and you hadn't any business to come poke your nose in, if
you couldn't behave, had he Nor.?" Whereat Norah and Jim grinned
cheerfully at each other, and Wally collapsed, remarking with
indignation that you couldn't hope to get justice for either of the
Linton twins when it came to dealing with the other.
"We're not twins!" said Norah.
"No," said her guest, "I think you're worse!" Withdrawing, he sat
in melancholy isolation on a hen coop, and gave himself up, very
appropriately, to brooding.
"Well, I'm sorry if I broke up the party," Jim said, relinquishing
the task of polishing his leggings with marshmallow leaves and looking
at its streaked surface disconsolately. Jim might——and did——scorn
coats and waistcoats in the summer, and revel in soft shirts and felt
hats; but his riding equipment was a different matter, and from
Garryowen's bit and irons to his own boots, all had to be in apple pie
order. "Norah, may I have your hanky to rub this up? No? You haven't
one! Well, I'm surprised at you!" He rubbed it, quite ineffectually,
with the crown of his hat, and still looked pained. "Never mind, I'll
get hold of some tan stuff when I go in. What I came to say when you
attacked me, young Wally——"
"When I attacked you! I like that!" spluttered the justly indignant
"Didn't you? I thought you did," grinned Jim. "My mistake, I
suppose. Well, anyhow, when you attacked Norah——quiet, Wally, bother
you; how can a fellow get a word out?——what I came to mention was that
Dad wants us."
"Oh!" said Norah, gathering herself up. "Why didn't you say so
"Too busy, and you and Wal. do prattle so. Anyhow, he's not in a
tearing hurry, 'cause he said he was going to have an hour at his
income-tax——and you know what that means."
"Solitude is always best for Dad when he's income-taxing," said
Norah. "It has the most horrible effect on his usual serenity. My dear
old Hermit used to help him, of course; but now——well, no wonder he's
starting early! How's Derrimut, Jimmy?"
"Going on splendidly; Dad and I are quite proud of ourselves as
vets.," said her brother. "We made quite a good job of the old chap; I
believe he'll hardly have a blemish. By George, you should have seen
Cecil at that operation! He had one rope to hold and he was scared to
"So was I," said Wally, grinning. "I was always as timid as a
"You!" said Jim, laughing. "Well, you held three ropes, anyway, and
I didn't notice that you looked pale."
"My face won't let me," said his chum. "But I FELT pale!"
"Well Cecil looked and felt it," Jim said. "Of course, you don't
exactly blame a town chap for not taking to that sort of thing like a
duck to water. Still, there's a limit——and I'll swear Norah would have
made a fuss. As far as that goes, Dad says he's known our grandmother,
in the early days, have to help at a much worse job for a beast than
fixing up old Derry's leg. Lots of women had to. They wouldn't like
it, of course, but they certainly wouldn't have made it harder for the
man they were helping by putting on frills!"
"Well, you'd hate to have to get a woman to do a job like that."
"Of course you would. You'd never do it unless it came to a
question of saving a beast or easing its pain. But if it did come to
the point, a decent woman with backbone would lend a hand, just as
she's help if it was the man himself that was hurt. At least, most
Australian women would, or most of those in the country, at any rate.
I'd disown Norah if she didn't."
"I should hope so!" said Norah, quietly.
"At the same time, I've not the remotest intention of employing you
as a vet., old woman," said Jim, untying her hair ribbons in a
brotherly fashion. "Quite enough for you to act in that capacity for
that rum beggar, Lal Chunder——who's departed, by the way, leaving you
his blessing and a jolly little brass tray. The blessing was rather
unintelligible, but there's no doubt about the tray."
"Bother!" said Norah, vexedly. "Silly man! I don't want him to give
me presents——and that wound of his ought certainly to have been looked
after for a few days."
"He said he was going to travel with Ram Das——and old Ram'll see
that he ties it up, I expect," said Jim, with unconcern. "I wouldn't
bother, old first-aid; it looked tip-top when you dressed it before
"I'd have given him rag for it, anyway," said Norah, still
"He can always tear half a yard or so off that turban of his," Jim
said. "Don't go out of your way to meet worry, my girl——it'll always
come quickly enough to meet you. Which is philosophy quite equal to
Wally's!" He sighed. "Here's trouble coming to meet us now, that's
CHAPTER XIII. STATION DOINGS
I see as I stand at the slip-rails, dreaming,
Merry riders that mount and meet;
Sun on the saddles, gleaming, gleaming,
Red dust wrapping the horses' feet.
W. H. OGILVIE
They had turned the corner of the house leading to the verandah off
which Mr. Linton's office opened, and where that gentleman was
presumably to be found, wrestling with the intricacies of his
income-tax schedule——the squatter's yearly bugbear. Along this
verandah came, slowly, Cecil, beautiful to behold in a loose brown
suit, with buff coloured shirt and flowing orange tie. Wally cast a
swift glance at his ankles, and chuckled.
"He's got new socks on!" he said, in a sepulchral whisper.
"Shut up, you duffer——he'll hear you!" Jim said. He raised his
voice. "Looking for us, Cecil?"
"Yes," Cecil drawled. "Uncle David asked me to find you. Fed
"Yes, thank you," said that damsel.
"Awfully uninteresting things, fowls," said Cecil, turning and
walking back with them. "Noisy and dirty——I can't imagine you
bothering your head over them."
"They're not dirty when they're kept properly," Norah said, a
little warmly. "And I don't think any animal's uninteresting if you
look after it yourself. Of course, if you do nothing more than eat
"I assure you that's all I care to do!" said Cecil. At this point,
they arrived at the door of the office, which was perhaps as well, and
found Mr. Linton half submerged in a sea of stock returns, books, and
"Oh, here you are," he said, smoothing the furrows out of his brow
to smile at Norah. "I had an idea I sent you for the others some time
Jim looked somewhat sheepish.
"Yes." He admitted, laughing. "Fact is, I——I got into a kerosene
tin!" He glanced at his left leg expressively.
"I see," said his father, with a smile. "Well, I don't know that it
matters——only a note has just come out from Anderson, and his
chauffeur is waiting for an answer. It seems Cunjee is playing Mulgoa
in a great cricket match on Thursday, and they're short of men. They
want to know if they can recruit from Billabong."
"Good business!" said Jim, joyfully, while Wally hurrahed below his
breath. "But will they let us play, Dad——Wal. and me?"
"Oh, they've fixed that up with the Mulgoa fellows," said his
father. "It's all right. They're kind enough to ask me to play, but
it's out of the question——even if I weren't approaching senile
decay"——he smiled——"I wouldn't be able to go. Mr. Darrell has a buyer
coming to look at his young stock on Friday, and he writes me that if
I want any of them——he knows I did want some——I can have the first
pick if I am over at Killybeg on Thursday. So that means I'll be away
from Wednesday morning——and I think this match will be as efficacious
as anything else in keeping you out of mischief during my absence!"
"I'm glad we'll have something!" Jim said, his grin belying his
meek voice. "Well, we'll have to see who can play."
"You two boys, of course," said his father. "And Cecil——do you
"Not for worlds, thank you," said Cecil, hastily. "It's not in my
"Oh," said his uncle. "Then you can be Norah's escort——if she wants
to go, that is!"
"Want to go! Well, Daddy!" said Norah in expostulation——whereat
"Murty can slog, I believe, and of course, Boone is a cricketer,"
the squatter said. "They only want four, so if those two fellows are
willing——of which I'm not very doubtful!——that will be just right. You
might go out and see if they're anywhere about, Jim."
Jim and Wally dashed off, to return presently with the tidings that
Murty would play "wid all the pleasure in loife." Boone was away at
work, but his acquiescence could be taken for granted.
"Then I'll send a line to the doctor," Mr. Linton said. "He and
Mrs. Anderson want you all to go there for lunch on the day of the
match——a very good arrangement, seeing that you'll have Norah with
you. You'd better get away from here quite early; it's pretty certain
to be hot, and the day will be a fairly long one, in any case. It will
be far better to get the ride over before the sun is very formidable.
And if you'll take my advice, boys, you'll make those fellows have
some practice before Thursday. You two should be in good form, but
they scarcely ever touch a bat."
Jim and Wally approved of his advice, and each evening before the
day of the match saw the Billabong contingent of the Cunjee eleven
hard at work on a level stretch of ground close to the homestead;
while Norah was generally to be found making herself useful in the
outfield. Her sex did not hinder the daughter of the house from being
able to return balls with force and directness, and when, as a reward
for her aid, she was given a few minutes with the bat, to carefully
regulated bowling from Wally, Norah's cup of joy was full. She was
even heard to say that school might be bearable if they let you play
cricket most of the time!——which was a great admission for Norah, who
had kept her word rigidly about not mentioning the dreaded prospect
before her. That she thought of it continually, Jim knew well and he
and his chum were wont, by all means in their power, to paint school
life for girls in attractive colours without appearing to be directly
"preaching" to Norah; which kindly thought she saw through very well,
and was silently grateful, though it was doubtful if her sentence lost
any of its terrors.
It was always more or less before her. Her own circle had been too
limited to give Norah much experience of the outer world, and she
shrank instinctively from anything that lay beyond Billabong and its
surroundings. No one, meeting her in her home, would have dreamed that
she might be shy; but the truth was that a very passion of shyness
came over her when she thought of confronting a number of girls, all
up to date and smart, and at ease in their environment, and all, if
Cecil were to be believed, ready to look down upon the recruit from
For Cecil lost no opportunity to point out to Norah her drawbacks,
and to hint at her inferiority to ordinary girls of her own age;
"properly trained girls" was his phrase. When he talked to her——which
was prudently when no one else was about——Norah felt a complete
rustic, and was well assured that the girls at Melbourne would very
soon put her in her place, even if they did not openly resent the
presence among them of a girl reared in the country, and in so unusual
a fashion. She even wondered miserably sometimes if Dad and Jim were
rather ashamed of her, and did not like to say so; it was quite
possible, since the city boy evidently held her in such low esteem.
But then would come a summons from her father, or Jim would appear and
bear her off imperiously on some expedition with him, and she would
forget her fears——until the next time Cecil persevered in his plan of
educating her to a knowledge of her own deficiencies. It is not hard
for a boy, on the verge of manhood, to instil ideas into an
unsuspecting child; and Cecil's tuition gave poor Norah many a dark
hour of which her father and the other boys never dreamed. It would
have gone hard with Cecil had they done so.
Between cricket-practice, occasional rides and exploring
expeditions, boating on the lagoon, and fishing in the river, to say
nothing of much cheerful intercourse, the days passed quickly——at
least to most of the inhabitants of the homestead, and when Wednesday
came Norah rode across the run with her father to see him on his way
to Killybeg. The Darrells' station was some thirty-five miles away by
the usual roads; but a short cut over the ranges reduced the journey
by fifteen miles, although it was a rough trip, and an impossible one
for vehicles. Mounted on Monarch, however, Mr. Linton thought nothing
of it; and Norah laughed at his self-accusation of old age as she rode
beside him, the lean, erect figure in the saddle giving easily to the
black horse's irresponsible bounds——for Monarch had been "spelled" for
the trip, and was full of spirits and suppressed energy.
"Take care of him, Daddy, won't you?" she said, a little anxiously,
as Monarch executed a more than ordinarily uproarious caper. "He's
"He'll steady down presently," said her father, smiling at the
upturned face. "There's some steep country ahead of him."
"Yes, but he's such a mad-headed animal——and those paths on the
sides of the gullies are very steep."
"You sound like the nervous young woman in 'Excelsior,'" David
Linton said, with a laugh. "Cheer up, my girl——there's no need to
worry about Monarch and me. He's only playful; hasn't an atom of vice,
and I know him very well by now. I never put my leg over a better
"Oh, of course," said Norah, cheered, but not altogether convinced.
"Every one knows he's a beauty——but just look out that he doesn't try
to be too playful on the sidings, Daddy. It would be so easy to slip
"Not for anything with four good legs and a fair allowance of
sense," said her father. "Do you think you could make Bobs slip down?"
"Oh, Bobs is like a mountain goat when it comes to
sure-footedness," she said. "You've said yourself, Daddy that it would
hardly be possible to THROW him down! But then, Bobs is Bobs, and he's
seven years old, and ever so sensible——not like that big four-year-old
baby. So promise me you'll be careful, Daddy."
"I will, little daughter." They were at the boundary fence now, and
it was time for Norah to turn back. "Hurry home——I don't quite like
you being so far afield by yourself."
"Oh, Bobs will look after me." Norah hugged her father so far as
Monarch would permit——Mr. Linton had got off to wrestle with a stiff
padlock on the seldom-used gate, and the black horse was pulling away,
impatient of the delay.
"I expect he will," said the father. "That pony is almost as great
a comfort to me as he is to you, I believe! Make haste home, all the
same." He stood still a moment to watch the little white-coated figure
and the handsome pony swinging across the plain at Bobs' long canter;
his face tender as few people ever saw it. Then he mounted the eager
Monarch, and rode off into the rough country that led to the ranges.
It was comparatively early, but already very hot. Norah was not
sorry when she left the long stretch they called the "Far Plain"
behind her, and came into the welcome shade of a belt of timber. She
walked Bobs through it slowly. Then came the clear stretch to the
homestead, and they cantered steadily across it.
Near the stockyard a cloud of dust hovered, through which might be
seen dimly the forms of Jim, Wally and O'Toole——all engaged in the
engrossing pursuit of inducing three poddy calves to enter the yard.
They had but one dog, which, being young and "whip shy," had vanished
into the distant landscape at the sound of Murty's stockwhip, leaving
them but their own energies to persuade the calves; and when a poddy
calf becomes obstinate there are few animals less easy to persuade.
Each was possessed of a very respectable turn of speed and a rooted
determination to remain in the paddock. When, as frequently happened,
they made separate rushes away in the direction of freedom it was all
but impossible for those on foot to head them off and keep them in the
corner by the yards. They raced hither and thither like mad things,
cutting wild capers as they fled; backed and twisted and dodged, and
occasionally bellowed as they bolted, much as a naughty child might
bellow. To an onlooker there was something distinctly funny in the
Murty and the boys, however, might be excused for failing to see
the finer points of the joke. They were hot beyond expression; they
were also extremely dirty, and were verging on becoming extremely
cross. To and fro they darted wildly, striving to head off the
cheerful culprits: lifted up their voices in fruitless shouting, and
wasted much necessary breath in uttering wild threats of what might be
expected to happen when——if ever——they succeeded in yarding the enemy.
Not one had a hat; they had long ago been used as missiles in checking
a rush, and now lay in the dust, trampled under the racing feet of the
poddies. Moreover, it was distressingly evident that they were
becoming tired, whilst the calves remained fresh and in most excellent
spirits. The chances, as Norah arrived, were distinctly in favour of
From a comfortable seat on a rail Cecil watch the battle, for once
ceasing to look bored. In his opinion it was funnier than a circus.
Once or twice he shouted words of encouragement to the combatants, and
frequently he laughed outright. As an entertainment this quite
outshone anything that had been offered him on Billabong——and Cecil
was not the man to withhold applause where he thought it due. Finally
his attitude attracted the notice of the perspiring Mr. O'Toole.
"Yerra, come down out o' that an' len' a hand!" he shouted,
panting. "It is laughin' ye'd be, wid these loonattic images gittin'
away on us——!" Further eloquence on Murty's part was checked by a
determined rush on the part of a red and white calf, which would
certainly have ended in freedom but for a well-aimed clod, which,
hurled by the Irishman, took the poddy squarely between the eyes and
induced him to pull up and meditate. Unfortunately Murty tripped in
the act of delivery, and went headlong, picking himself up just in
time to stop a second rush by the calf, which, on seeing his enemy on
the ground, promptly ceased to meditate. Cecil rocked with laughter.
"Oh, get off that fence and try and block these brutes, Cecil!"
sang out Jim, angrily. "Another hand would make all the difference, if
you'd exert yourself!"
Cecil's laughter came to a sudden stop. He looked indignantly at
his grey suit, and with pain at his patent leather shoes; then,
apparently coming to the conclusion that there was no help for it,
descended gingerly, and came into the line of defenders. A sturdy
little Shorthorn singled him out for attention, and charged in his
"Block him! Block him, I say!"
Jim's voice rang out. Cecil uttered a feeble yelp as the calf came
racing past, waved his arms, and executed a few mild steps towards
him——attentions which but served to accelerate the Shorthorn's flight.
He went by the city lad like a meteor, rendering useless a wild run by
Wally, who was just too late to head him. Murty O'Toole uttered a
shout of wrath.
"Howly Ann! He's lost him! The blitherin'——yerra, glory be, there's
The change from indignation to relief was comical. Norah and Bobs
came like a bolt from the blue upon the vision of the astonished
Shorthorn, which made one last gallant effort for freedom, dodging and
twisting, while gallant effort for freedom, dodging and twisting,
while Bobs made every movement, propping and swinging to cut him off
in a manner that would have disturbed any rider not used to the
intricate ways of a stock horse. Finally the calf gave it up abruptly,
and raced back towards the yard, the pony at his heels. He bolted in
at the open gate, promptly followed by his companions, and Murty cut
off their exit with a grunt of relief.
"Wisha, it's hot!" he said, mopping his brow. "Sure, Miss Norah, y'
kem in the nick av time——'twas run clane off our legs, we was."
"They CAN run, can't they?" said Norah, who was laughing. "Did you
hurt yourself, Murty?"
"Only me timper," said the Irishman, grinning. "But 'twas enough to
make a man angry to see that little omadhaun dancin' an' flapping his
arrums f'r all the world loike a monkey on a stick——an' pardon to ye,
Miss Norah, but I do be forgettin' he's y'r cousin."
"Oh, he's not used to stock; you mustn't be hard on him, Murty,"
Norah laughed. "Are you very hot, you poor boys?"——as Wally and Jim
came up, panting. Cecil had withdrawn towards the house, in offended
"Hot!" said Wally, casting himself on the ground——
"'Far better in the sod to lie, With pasturing pig above, Than
broil beneath a copper sky, In sight of all I love!'
"Don't know how you've energy to spout Dr. Watts at that rate,"
said Jim, following his example.
"I don't think it is Dr. Watts; I fancy it's Kendall," said Wally,
uncertainly. "Not that it matters, anyhow; I'm not likely to meet
either of them! Did you ever see anything like the way those little
"Hope I never will again——with the thermometer at this height," Jim
answered. "Norah, no words can say how glad I was to see you return,
"I can imagine how much of your gladness concerned me, and how much
was due to that Shorthorn calf!" said Norah, laughing.
"Well, he'd have been fleeing yet into the offing if it hadn't been
for you," said Wally. "Will any one take my hand and lead me for a
"We'll go up to the house——it's cool there," Jim said. "I want a
lemon squash three feet long. There'll be one for you, Murty, if you
"I will that same," said Mr. O'Toole, promptly. "There's no
vegetable loike the limon on a day loike this!" So they let Bobs go,
and all trooped inside, where Cecil was found, well brushed, and
wearing a martyred expression——which, however, was not proof against
refreshments. He even went so far as to express mild regret for his
slowness to render assistance, remarking that it was against his
doctor's advice for him to run; which remarks were received with
fitting demeanour by his hearers, though, as Wally remarked later, it
was difficult to see how any one who knew Cecil at all could ever have
contemplated the possibility of his running!
"Well, I must go back and help Murty brand those youngsters," Jim
said, at length, bringing his long form in stages off the sofa.
"Coming, Wal.? And, Norah, just you take things quietly. It's uncommon
hot, and you'll have a long day to-morrow."
Norah assented with surprising meekness, and the day passed calmly,
enlivened by an enthusiastic cricket practice in the evening; after
which she was called into requisition at the piano, and played to an
audience stretched on basket chairs and lounges on the verandah
outside. Finally the performer protested, coming out through one of
the long windows for a breath of cooler air.
"Well, then, it's bed," said Jim, yawning prodigiously. "Norah, the
men are going to drive in, with our playing togs, to-morrow; would you
rather go in the buggy?"
"I'd rather drive, thanks, Jim."
"Thought so. Then hurry off to bed, for we're going to make an
early start." Jim paused, looking up at the star-filled sky. "And I
give you all warning, it's going to be a caution for heat!"
CHAPTER XIV. CUNJEE v. MULGOA
What it was to be young, and glad, and strong,
By a creek that rippled the whole day long.
There was no doubt whatever that the heat was, as Jim had
prophesied, "a caution." Pretty little Mrs. Anderson, walking down to
the cricket ground at Cunjee, between Jim and Cecil, inwardly wondered
what had made her come out of her cool, shaded house to encounter so
scorching a sun——with nothing ahead but a bush cricket match. However,
Cunjee was no more lively than other townships of its class, and even
a match was something. Besides, her husband was playing, and the
Billabong contingent, who did not seem to mind the heat at all, had
arrived full of most infectious high spirits, filling her house with a
cheerful atmosphere of youth and jollity. Norah had at once succumbed
to the charms of the baby, and as the baby seemed similarly impressed
with Norah, it had been hard to remove him from her arms even for
purposes of nourishment for either. She had quite seriously proposed
to take him to the match, and had been a little grieved when his
mother hastily vetoed the proposition. As mother of three babies, Mrs.
Anderson knew precisely their worth at an entertainment——particularly
on a hot day.
Even Cecil was more than usually inclined to be——if not happy, at
least less bored; although he had begun the day badly, and considered
himself scarcely on speaking terms with Jim. This attitude was
somewhat difficult to sustain, because Jim himself ignored it
cheerfully, and addressed to his cousin whatever remarks came into his
head——which Cecil privately considered a demeanour showing the worst
Bobs had been the "unhappy cause of all this discord." The bay pony
was always an object of envy to Cecil, and in his heart he was
determined to ride him before leaving Billabong. Particularly he
coveted him for the ride into Cunjee. It was bad enough, he
considered, to be condemned to Brown Betty in the paddocks, but she
was certainly not stylish enough to please him when it came to a
township expedition. So he had sauntered out when the horses were
being saddled, and delicately hinted to Jim that he might ride Bobs.
Jim, wrestling with Garryowen's girth, had found it the easiest way
out of the difficulty to avoid hearing the hint——which he considered
"like Cecil's cheek," and as nothing short of Norah's own command
would have induced him to accede to it, silence seemed the better
plan. Cecil had waited a moment until his head came up from under the
saddle flap, and repeated his remark.
"Afraid not," said Jim, driven to bay, and speaking shortly to
cover his annoyance. "Norah's going to ride him herself." He led
Garryowen off to tie him under the shade of the pepper trees, and did
not return to saddle Bobs until Cecil had retreated to the house,
looking very black.
This little incident——which Jim had not thought is necessary to
report to Norah——had slightly marred the harmony of the early morning.
But Jim's unfailing good humour make it hard to keep up a grievance,
and if Betty were not exactly stylish, her paces were good enough to
make her rider enjoy the trip into Cunjee, especially as Wally and
Norah were in the best of spirits and kept things going with a will.
Then had come lunch at the Andersons', an occasion which called all
Cecil's reserve powers into play. Mrs. Anderson was pretty and smart,
and he assumed his best society manner in talking to her, monopolized
most of the conversation and flattered himself on making a distinct
impression on his country hostess. Possibly he would have been pained
had he heard Mrs. Anderson's remark to her husband while putting on
her hat after lunch.
"Did you ever see such a contrast, Jack?" she asked——"that
conceited boy, and those nice Grammar School youngsters——they're so
jolly and unaffected!" To which the doctor had responded that if he
had his way he'd boil Cecil, and it was time she had that veil
fixed——and had led her forth, protesting that "half the pins weren't
Cecil, however, knew nothing of these comments, and was very well
satisfied with himself as they walked slowly along the lane leading to
the cricket ground. Jim, on the other side of Mrs. Anderson, tall and
handsome in his flannels, with his white hat pulled over his eyes,
discoursed cheerfully of school matches, and promised them something
worth seeing if young Wally got going with the bat——conversation which
did not interest Cecil, who turned it as speedily as might be to
matters more to his taste, whereat Jim grew silent, listening with a
smile hovering on his well-cut mouth to society doing in the city,
told with a view to impressing his hearers with a sense of the
narrator's own important share therein. Once Mrs. Anderson met Jim's
eye in a brief glance, and reflected the smile momentarily. Behind
them, Norah, Wally, and the little doctor kept up a flow of chatter
which Wally described as "quite idiotic and awfully comfortable!" The
party arrived at the cricket ground on very good terms with itself.
The ground boasted no pavilion save a shed used for the preparation
of afternoon tea——a building of which the extreme heat made it almost
possible to boil the kettle without lighting a fire! Naturally, no one
used it for purposes of watching the play, but there was a row of
wattle trees along one side of the ground, and seats placed in their
shade made an excellent natural grand stand. Here the non-players
betook themselves, while the doctor and the two boys went off to the
spot where already most of the other players were gathered——a lean-to
under a huge gum-tree, used as a dressing-room by most of the
combatants, a number of whom arrived on horseback from long distances.
The Billabong boys had changed at the hotel, after putting up their
horses, and before repairing to the Andersons', so that they had no
dressing to do——which was more than fortunate for them, since the
lean-to was so thick with men, boys, valises, discarded garments,
leggings and boots, that it resembled a hive in a strong state of
Finally, the men were ready; a somewhat motley crowd——not more than
seven or eight in flannels, while the remainder were in ordinary
dress, with occasionally riding breeches and leggings to be seen, and
not a few football jerseys. The Mulgoa men, on being mustered, were
found to be a man short, while Cunjee had one to the good. So Murty
O'Toole, to his intense disgust, was solemnly handed over to Mulgoa.
Then Dr. Anderson, who captained Cunjee, won the toss, and Murty took
the field along with his new allies, amid heartless jeers from Mr.
Boone, smoking comfortably under a tree, who desired to know should he
fetch Mr. O'Toole an umbrella?
The story in detail of a cricket match is generally of particular
interest to those who have been there; and as, unfortunately, the
number of spectators of the famous battle between Cunjee and Mulgoa
was limited, little would be served by an exhaustive description of
each over bowled on that day of relentless heat. Cunjee shaped badly
from the start. Their two most noted batsmen, a young blacksmith and
the post-master, fell victims, without getting into double figures, to
the crafty bowling of the Mulgoa captain, Dan Billings——who drove a
coach in his spare moments, and had as nice an understanding of how to
make a ball break on a fast wicket as of flicking the off leader on
the ear with the cracker of his four-in-hand whip. Dr. Anderson scored
a couple of fours, and then went out "leg before." He remarked,
returning to the "pavilion" sorrowfully, that when one was as round
and fat as he, it was difficult to keep out of the way of three little
sticks! Then Dave Boone and Wally made a stand that roused the
perspiring spectators to something like enthusiasm, for Mr. Boone was
a mighty "slogger," and Wally had a neat and graceful style that sent
the Cunjee supporters into the seventh heaven. Between them the score
mounted rapidly, and the men of Mulgoa breathed a sigh of relief when
at length Dave skied a ball from Billings, which descended into the
ample hands of Murty O'Toole, who was quite undecided whether to treat
his catch as a triumph or a calamity. There was no doubt, however, on
the part of his colleagues for the day, who thumped him wildly on the
back and yelled again with joy. Mr. Boone retired with a score of
forty-five and a wide grin.
Then Jim joined Wally, and kept his end up while his chum put on
the runs. Nothing came amiss to Wally that day——slow balls, fast
balls, "yorkers," "googlies"——the science of Mulgoa went to earth
before the thin brown schoolboy with the merry face. Jim, however, was
never at ease, though he managed to remain in a good while; and
eventually Dickenson, a wiry little Mulgoa man, found his middle stump
with a swift ball——to the intense dismay of Norah, to whom it seemed
that the sky had fallen. Cecil smiled serenely
"I had an idea Jim fancied himself as a bat!" said he.
"Jim never fancies himself at anything!" said Jim's sister,
indignantly. "Anyway, he's a bowler far more than a bat."
"Ah, it's possibly not his 'day out.' What a pity!" Cecil murmured.
"Well, we can't always be on our best form, I suppose," said Mrs.
Anderson, pacifically. "And, at any rate, Norah, your friend is doing
splendidly. Wasn't that a lovely stroke?"
Alas! it soon was apparent that Cunjee was not going to support its
ally. One after another the wickets went down, and the batsmen
returned from the field "with mournful steps and slow." Wally, seeing
his chances diminishing, took liberties with the bowling, and hit
wildly, with amazing luck in having catches missed. At last, however,
he snicked a ball into cover-point's hands, and retired, amid great
applause, having made forty-three. The remaining Cunjee wickets went
as chaff before the wind, and the innings closed for 119.
Then there was a rush for the refreshment shed, and monumental
quantities of tea were consumed by the teams and their supporters,
administered by the admiring maidens of Cunjee. Wally and Jim, prone
on the grass in the shade, were cheerful, but by no means enthusiastic
regarding their chances. Norah had half expected to find Jim cast down
over his batting failure, and was much relieved that he exhibited all
his usual serenity. Jim's training had been against showing feeling
"Absolutely fiery out there," said he, accepting a cup gratefully.
"Thanks, awfully, Mrs. Anderson; you people are no end good. Didn't we
make a beautiful exhibition of ourselves?——all except Dave and this
kid, that is."
"Kid yourself," said Wally, who was sucking a lemon slowly and
luxuriously. "No tea, thanks, Norah. I'm boiling already, and if I
took tea I don't know what might happen, but certainly heat apoplexy
would be part of it. Have half my lemon?"
"I don't think so, thanks," said Norah, unmoved by this magnificent
offer. "You seem to be getting used to that one, and I'd hate to
deprive you of it. Do you boys think we've any chance?"
"It's highly doubtful," Jim answered. "The general opinion is that
Mulgoa's good for 150 at the very least——they've got a few rather
superior men, I believe, and of course that Billings chap is a terror.
And the wicket, such as it is, is all in favour for the bat——which
doesn't say much for us And one of our men has gone down with the heat
and can't field——fellow from the hotel with red hair, who made
five——remember him, Wal.? He's out of training, like most hotel chaps,
and as soft as possible, So we're playing a man short."
"I wish they'd give you Murty back!" said Norah, with feminine
"Much hope!" returned her brother. "Anyway, Murty's not over good
in the field; he's too much in the saddle to be a quick man on his
feet. I wouldn't mind you as substitute, Nor."——which remark, though
futile, pleased Norah exceedingly.
She was rather more hopeful when the Cunjee team at length took the
field, with Boone and the blacksmith bowling against Billings and
another noted Mulgoa warrior. But her hopes were rapidly put to
flight, and the spirits of the Cunjee "barrackers" went down to zero
as it became distressingly apparent that Mr. Billings and his partner
were there to stay. Alike they treated the bowling with indifference,
hitting the Billabong stockman with especial success——which soon
demoralized Dave, who appealed to be taken off, and devoted his
energies to short slip fielding. Here he had his revenge presently,
for the second Mulgoa man hit a ball almost into his hands, and Dave
clung to it as a drowning man to a straw——one wicket for thirty-five.
Then the score mounted with alarming steadiness, and the wickets
fell all too slowly for the home team. Dan Billings appeared as
comfortable at the wickets as though on the box of his couch, and
smote the bowling all round the ground with impartiality. The heat
became more and more oppressive, and several of the Cunjee men were
tiring, including plump little Dr. Anderson, who stuck to his work as
wicket-keeper pluckily——to the unconcealed anxiety of his wife. His
reward came when a hot return from the field by Wally gave him a
chance of stumping one of the Mulgoa cracks. But the enthusiasm was
only momentary; the game was considered, even by the most sanguine
small boy of Cunjee, to be "all over bar shouting."
Jim had been bowling for some time from one end with fair results.
The batsmen certainly took fewer liberties with him, and he managed to
account for three of them for a comparatively low average. He had
allowed himself to become anxious, which is a bad thing for a bowler
when the score is creeping up and the batsmen are well set. Wally
watched his chum with some anxiety——there was none of the fire in his
bowling that had so often brought down the ground in a School match.
"Wish he's wake up," said Wally to himself. "I'd like a chance to
talk to him."
The chance came when the field crossed over, disposed anew to harry
a left-handed batsman. Jim came over with his long, swinging walk, his
head a little bent. He started a little at his friend's voice.
"You'll snore soon!" said Wally, incisively. "What on earth's the
matter with you? Play up, School!"
Jim stopped short a moment——and burst out laughing, Wally's
indignant face glanced back over his shoulder as he ran off. There was
a new spring in the bowler's walk as he went to his crease, and the
smile still lingered.
The left-handed man faced him confidently——not many local bowlers
could trouble him much, and being a large and well-whiskered
gentleman, the tall schoolboy opposite to him sent no thrill of fear
through his soul. But Jim had learned a thing or two at school about
left-handed bats. He took a short run.
On returning to the pavilion the whiskered one admitted that he
knew really nothing about the ball. It seemed to come from nowhere,
and curl about his bat as he lifted it to strike. How the bails came
off was a mystery to him, though it was unfortunately beyond question
that they had not remained on. The left-hander removed his pads,
Cunjee, meanwhile, had cheered frantically, and Wally sent a School
yell ringing down the field. Jim's eye lit up anew as he heard it.
"I do believe I've been asleep," he muttered.
The new man was waiting for him, and he treated his first two balls
with respect. Then he grew bolder; hit him for a single, and snicked
him to the fence for four. There was a perceptible droop in the Cunjee
spirits at the boundary hit. Then Jim bowled the last ball of the
over, and there was a composite yell from Cunjee as the Mulgoa man
pushed the ball gently into the air just over Dr. Anderson's head. The
little doctor was pitifully hot, but he did not fail. The Mulgoa
batsman returned to his friends.
Dan Billings was a little worried. Much, he felt, depended on him,
and he had never been more comfortably set; but his men——would they be
as reliable? He decided to hit out, and Mulgoa roared as the hundred
went up for a beautiful boundary hit. Six wickets were down, and
Mulgoa was 107 at the end of the over. It seemed safe enough.
Jim took the ball again, his fingers pressing the red surface
almost lovingly. He had quite waked up; his head was buzzing with
"theories," and his old power seemed to have come back to his fingers.
The first ball came with a beautiful leg-break, and the Mulgoan bat
swiped at it wildly, and vainly. Seven for 107.
Cunjee was getting excited as the eighth man came in——a wiry and
long youth with a stolid face. He contented himself with blocking
Jim's bowling, snatching a single presently so that Billings would
have the responsibility——to which that gentleman promptly responded by
smiting Jim for three. That brought the stolid youth back to power——an
honour he did not wish. He hit the next ball softly back to the
bowler. Eight for 111; and Cunjee howling steadily, with all its
youth, and some of its beauty, battering with sticks on tins. A dog
ran across the ground, and was greeted with a yell that made it scurry
away in terror, its tail concealed between its legs. Just then Cunjee
had no time for dogs.
But it was Mr. Billings' turn, and Mr. Billings was busy. He made
good use of the over——the score mounted, and the Cunjee hopes swung
lower. It was still eight——for 115——when a single brought his
companion to face little Harry Blake, the other Cunjee bowler, who was
plainly feeling the weight of his position. He sent the ball down
nervously——it slipped as it left his hand, and the Mulgoan stepped out
to meet it, while Harry gasped with horror. Up, up, it soared——a
boundary surely! Then there was a roar as Wally Meadows gathered
himself together, raced, and sprang for the red disc, spinning over
his head just at the fence. It seemed to hover above him——then his
hands closed, and, unable to stop himself, Wally somersaulted, rolling
over and over in the long grass of the outfield. He sat up, his brown
face lit by a wide smile, the ball still clutched, held above his
head. Nine for 115!
The tension was on bowlers and batsmen alike now——all save Dan
Billings, whose calmness was unimpaired. He greeted the tenth man
cheerfully——and the tenth man was Murty O'Toole, very hot and nervous,
and certainly the most miserable man on the ground as he faced
"Masther Jim's" bowling, and knew that the alien hopes of Mulgoa
depended on him. Out in the open a Mulgoa man shrugged his shoulders,
remarking, "He won't try!" and was promptly attacked furiously by
three small boys of Cunjee, who pelted him with clods and abuse from a
safe distance. Murty looked at Jim with a little half-apologetic
gesture, and Jim grinned.
"Play up, Murty, old chap!" he said.
It was not in vain that he had schooled the stockman in the paddock
at Billabong. He sent down a treacherous ball, and Murty met it and
played it boldly for two, amid Mulgoan shrieks. Two to tie and three
to win——no, one fewer now, for the Irishman had turned a swift ball to
leg, and only quick fielding had prevented a boundary. A hundred and
seventeen! Murty heaved a sigh of relief as he leaned on his bat at
the bowler's end and glanced across at Jim.
"Praises be, 'twill be Billings to hit it, an' not O'Toole!" he
muttered. "I have put me fut in it sufficient f'r wance!"
The ball left Jim's hand with a whizz, and Billings stepped out to
meet it. Just what happened no one saw clearly for a moment, it all
came to pass so quickly. Then an Irish yell from Murty O'Toole woke
the echoes, even as the bowler's hand flashed up above his head——and
the big stockman flung up his bat in an ecstasy of delight. Billings
bit off a sharp word and left his crease; and Cunjee woke to the fact
that the Mulgoan captain was caught and bowled. The match was
theirs——by one run!
When Cunjee woke it became very thoroughly awake. They rushed the
ground, cheering, shouting and hurling hats and caps into the air,
irrespective of their owners' wishes. There was a demonstration to
carry Jim in, which that hero promptly quenched by taking to his heels
and leaving his too affectionate friends far in the rear. Behind him
Cunjee and Mulgoa seethed together, and the air was rent with cheers.
Free fights were in active progress in at least five places on the
ground. It was clearly Cunjee's day out.
Jim met Wally with a grin that was distinctly sheepish.
"Knew you could!" said the Mentor, patting him happily on the back.
"Good old School! But what an ass you were, Jimmy!"
"I was," said Jim, meekly.
CHAPTER XV. THE RIDE HOME
In the gathering of night-gloom o'erhead in
The still, silent change.
"Well, old girl?"
Norah laughed up at the big fellow delightedly.
"Oh, wasn't it lovely, Jimmy?" she said. "I was so excited——and you
were grand! And wasn't Wally's catch a beauty? It's been a lovely
match, hasn't it, Jim?"
"H'm——in spots," said Jim, a little doubtfully, but laughing back
at her. "Rather like the fellow who said his egg was 'excellent——in
parts,' don't you think? Anyhow, we won, and that's the main
thing——and I never DID see a catch to beat that of Wal's."
"We're all immensely proud of you, Jim," Mrs. Anderson said. "And
didn't my old man do well?"
"He did, indeed," Jim agreed heartily. "But I'm not a bit proud of
myself——I think I was asleep most of the time, till old Wal., here,
woke me up with a few well-chosen words. However, it's over now——and
Norah, I want you to get along home."
"Aren't you coming?" Norah asked, a little blankly.
"We'll have to catch you up. I don't quite like the look of the
weather; we're in for a storm, that's certain, and you may possibly
escape it if you get away now. I can't start just yet; the Mulgoa
fellows are insisting on 'shouting' for all hands, and we can't very
well refuse; besides"——he dropped his voice——"you know what Boone
is——I must see that he and Murty leave Cunjee. Cecil will look after
you, won't you, Cecil?"
That gentleman assented without any pleasure. He did not feel
impressed with the prospect of acting as escort to a small girl when
he might have remained in Cunjee. Norah was quick to notice his
"I needn't bother Cecil, Jim," she said, "I can quite easily ride
on by myself."
"Indeed you won't," her brother responded. "Why, it'll be dark
before long——let alone the state of the weather. You don't mind,
Cecil, do you?"
Thus directly questioned, Cecil could do nothing but express his
"That's all right, then," Jim said. "Hurry on down to the hotel and
get the saddles on, there's a good chap. Goodness knows whether you'll
find any one there, but I fancy that pretty well the whole township is
up at the match. You'll only escape that storm if you're lucky——don't
lose a minute." He made his farewells to Mrs. Anderson, and turned to
Norah again. "Better look after your own girth," he told her——"run
after Cecil and lend him a hand if he wants it."
Cecil had already started; his slim, correctly attired figure was
hastening along the dusty lane. He hated rain, and the hint of the
coming storm had made him hurry when no other consideration would have
done so. There was no one visible about the hotel yard, as he entered,
and he called in vain; then, seeing no help for it, he entered the
stables, where the Billabong horses occupied the stalls at one end.
Bobs whinnied sharply as the door opened, and Cecil looked at the
inquiring head; and then, sourly, towards Brown Betty, standing
peacefully, half asleep, in her stall.
"Wonder if she'd mind?" Cecil muttered, pondering. "Let her,
anyhow!" With which cryptic remarks he moved towards the saddles.
Norah arrived on the scene a few minutes later, coming straight to
the stables. For a moment she could not see Cecil, then, peering into
Betty's stall, she made him out, busily girthing up. Bobs was already
saddled, and Norah went up to him.
"Why, you have been quick, Cecil," she said, cheerfully. "I thought
I was going to help you, but there doesn't seem anything for me to do.
Thanks very much for saddling Bobs." She led the pony out, and then
stopped. "Oh, what a pity," she said. "You've got the wrong saddles
Cecil came out, leading the brown mare, and a little flushed.
"I did it on——ah——purpose," he said. "You don't mind, I suppose if
I ride Bobs home?"
Norah looked at him a moment, and then flushed in her turn. To let
her cousin ride Bobs seventeen miles was unthinkable. She had the
profoundest regard for her pony's back; and she knew that even Brown
Betty's seasoned hide was giving way under the unskilled horsemanship
of the city boy. It was very doubtful, moreover, that it would be safe
to mount him on Bobs, who was already excited with the coming storm
and the prospect of home. She knew every turn, and thought of the
high-spirited pony——he went quietly for her, but with a new-chum it
might be a different matter.
Moreover, Norah was distinctly annoyed. She was a sweet-tempered
maiden, but she did not like being treated lightly; and in assuming
that he might coolly appropriate her special property, it seemed to
her that Cecil was treating her very lightly indeed. She had a
moment's swift wish that Jim were there to take her part. It was not
quite easy to oppose any one nearly grown up like Cecil——who in
addition was a guest, and had a special claim on courtesy. She flushed
deeply as she answered him in a low voice.
"I can't let you ride Bobs, I'm afraid, Cecil."
"Oh, can't you?" said Cecil, staring. "Why not?"
"Well, no one rides him but me," said Norah unhappily. "And he's a
queer pony, Cecil. I'm not a bit sure that he'd go nicely with you.
You see, I understand him."
"You evidently think no one can ride but yourself," Cecil said
disagreeably. "I really think I can manage the famous Bobs."
"If you knew him it might be all right," Norah answered. "But I'd
really rather not, Cecil. He's eager and impatient, and quite
unaccustomed to strangers. Dad would be awfully annoyed if you had any
trouble with him."
"I don't fancy Uncle David would be given any need for annoyance,"
Cecil replied. "I'm a bit sick of this old mare, and I don't think it
would hurt you to lend me Bobs. It's uncommonly selfish of you to want
to keep him always."
Norah's flush deepened.
"I'm awfully sorry you think that," she said. "And I'll speak to
Dad about your riding him, if you like——another time."
"Another time? Then what's the matter with my riding him now? I
suppose," said Cecil with a sneer, "you want to show off in Cunjee."
Norah stared at him blankly for a moment. Rudeness had been always
so far from her that she did not for a moment comprehend that this boy
was being deliberately rude. Then she walked round Bobs without
replying, and unbuckled the girth.
"Please let me have my saddle," she said. Her voice was quite
Cecil was pale with anger. He flung round without a word, tugging
at the buckle until Betty, who was patient but girth-galled, pulled
away in protest. As it yielded Norah laid his saddle on the mare's
withers, and slipped her own away. Their eyes met for a moment as she
did so——the child's steady and a little scornful, the young man's
shifty. Then Norah lifted her saddle across to Bobs, and girthed him
up in silence.
The pony was restless and excited, and objected to the second
saddling out in the space of the yard, when he was keen to get away.
It seemed unreasonable to Bobs, and he ran round and generally behaved
in a frivolous manner, while Norah struggled with the girth. When it
was done, she took her head, somewhat dishevelled, from under the
saddle flap. She laughed a little.
Cecil, every line of his back showing offended dignity, was riding
out of the yard. As he came to the gate he dug his heel into Betty,
who broke into a canter at once. Norah's escort disappeared round a
turn in the street without looking back.
"Well, if he isn't a donkey!" was her comment. "He's awfully
unpleasant——I wish he wouldn't make things so uncomfortable." She
mounted Bobs, and subdued that excitable steed's impatience while she
settled her habit. "Jim will be so angry if he finds out. I must get
away before he comes."
She rode into the street. Some distance away a crowd was moving
slowly in her direction. Cheers and snatches of triumphant choruses
were wafted to her. In the midst she could see some figures in white
flannels. Norah rounded the corner of the street, seeing ahead of her
a fast-receding speck——Brown Betty and her rider. It was evident that
she was not to have the benefit of Cecil's presence on the ride home;
and Norah could not help laughing again, although she was annoyed at
the whole occurrence. For all his airs, he was such a baby, this
cousin of hers.
"I'll tell Dad all about it," she reflected. "The he can say
whether he thinks Cecil can ride Bobs. Only I won't tell him he
cleared out and left me, 'cause there would be a row straight away."
Thus pondering in the Australian manner, she took the road home.
Jim's storm was coming up slowly, and though the sun had not yet
set, already it was growing dusk; and still it was very hot. She let
Bobs canter slowly, not wishing to appear to be hurrying after Cecil.
Norah never bore malice, but she had her pride! Often she glanced back
over her shoulder, hoping to see the boys. She knew they would not let
the grass grow under their horses' hoofs, once they were able to take
the road home. But the track lay bare behind her, and ahead Cecil had
quite disappeared. By the time she was five miles out of Cunjee she
seemed the only person in the whole landscape, and the only sound that
met her ear was the steady beat of the cantering hoofs, mingled with
the creak of the saddle leather.
The metalled road ended, and she struck into the bush track. It was
very lonely now; trees overhung the path, and the eerie light of the
coming storm threw strange shadows, at which Bobs shied constantly.
Once or twice there was a distant roll of thunder. There was just
light enough left to see the way. The road wound in and out among the
trees. By day it was Norah's favourite part of the journey; but now
she could not help wishing that it were possible to look further
ahead, or to watch the road over which she had passed, to catch the
first glimpse of Jim and Wally. There was a pleasant security in
feeling that they were coming. Norah was not a nervous girl; but she
had rarely been allowed to ride any but short distances alone. If Dad
and Jim were not available, it was an understood thing that Billy must
act as her escort. Certainly she had never been in the dark alone, and
so far from home. She was not afraid——she would have laughed at the
very notion. Still, it was a little queer. She knew she would be glad
when she was out of the timber.
There came a bend in the track, and Bobs swung round it sharply.
Then a dark figure loomed up suddenly in the gloom, and the pony shied
violently, and propped. Norah struck her heel into him, her heart
giving a great bound. He struggled and plunged. A hand was on his
bridle, and a rough voice threatened him savagely. In the gloom Norah
could just make out a brutal-looking man, young, but with something in
his face that made her shudder. Her heart stood still for a moment,
after that first wild leap. Then she realized that he was asking her
for money, and she commanded her voice to answer.
"I haven't any."
It was true. When she rode with her father or brother it never
occurred to Norah to carry money, and she wore nothing of value at all
to tempt any thief. Her hunting-crop was silver mounted; she
remembered it suddenly, glad that it was dark and that the man would
not be likely to notice the gift that had been Jim's.
"I don't believe y'," he said.
"Well, you can, then," Norah answered. She was beginning to recover
herself, a little ashamed of that first moment of unreasoning terror.
If she had no money he would surely let her go. She scarcely knew the
meaning of fear——how should she, in the free, simple life that had
always been guarded, yet had left her only a little child in mind? "I
haven't so much as a penny," she went on. "Let go my bridle."
"What are y' doin' here alone?" The slow voice was crafty;
something in it brought back that stupid first fear. She pulled
"My people are coming——you'd better let go. If my brother gets hold
"Oh, your brother's comin', is he?"
"Yes; let go my bridle."
"Shut up about your bridle!" said the man, and Norah shrank back as
if she had been stung. He began to lead Bobs off the track.
"What are you doing?" she asked angrily. She kicked Bobs again, and
the pony tried to rear, caught between the sudden blow and that
compelling hand on his rein. The man pulled him down savagely, jerking
at his bit and flinging threats at him and at Norah.
"Y' might as well stop playin' the fool," he told her. "I want that
pony, an' I'm goin' to have it."
TO HAVE BOBS! She tried to speak, but the words died before she
could utter them. Bobs! In her bewildered terror she scarcely realized
for a moment what he meant; then she raised her whip and cut with all
her strength at the hand that held the rein. He gave a sharp yell of
pain as the stinging whalebone caught him, but he did not relinquish
his grasp, and Norah struck at him again and again, half blindly in
the darkness, but always with the strength of desperation. It could
not last long——the struggle was too pitifully unequal. It was only a
minute before he had wrested the whip from her and held her wrists in
one vice-like hand. His voice was thick with rage.
"I'll teach y'," he said, "y' little spitfire! Get off that pony."
He began to drag her off. She clung to the saddle wildly, knowing
how hopeless it was, but somehow feeling that she must not leave that
one poor haven of safety. Then she felt herself going, and in that
sickening moment screamed for help——a child's piteous cry:
"Jim! Jim! Jim!"
There was no Jim to aid her——she knew it, even as she cried. The
rough grasp tightened; she could feel his breath as he dragged her
from the saddle.
Then from the darkness came a tall, stealthy shadow, and suddenly
her wrists were free, as her assailant staggered back in the grip of
the newcomer. She made a violent effort and found herself back in the
saddle; and Bobs was plunging wildly, his bridle free. The necessity
of steadying him in the timber helped her to calm herself. Before her
the men were swaying backwards and forwards, blocking the way to the
track; her enemy's savage voice mingling with a lower one that was
somehow familiar, though she could not tell what he said. Then she saw
that the struggle was ending——the tall man had the other pinned
against a tree, and turned to her. His dark face was close, and she
cried out to him, knowing him for a friend.
"Oh, Lal Chunder, it's you!"
"Him beat," said Lal Chunder, breathlessly. "L'il meesis orright?"
"I'm all right," she said, struggling with——for Norah——an
unaccountable desire to cry. "Oh, don't let him go!"
"No," said the Hindu, decidedly. "Him hurt you? Me kill him."
The last remark was uttered conversationally, and the man against
the tree cried out in fear. Lal Chunder flung at him a flood of rapid
Hindustani, and he collapsed into shivering silence. Probably it was
rather awe-inspiring——the great black-bearded Indian, with his keen,
enraged face and the voice that seemed to cut. But to Norah he was a
very haven of refuge.
"Oh, you mustn't kill him," she said. "The boys will be here——men
coming——quick! Can you hold him?"
"Hold him——yes——tight," said Lal Chunder, tightening his grip as he
spoke, to the manifest discomfort of the man against the tree. Then
came distant voices, and a snatch of a School song, mingled with quick
hoofs; and Norah caught her breath in the sharpness of the relief. She
rode out on the track, calling to Jim.
The boys pulled up, the horses plunging.
"Norah! What on earth——"
Norah explained rapidly, and Jim flung himself off, tossing
Garryowen's rein to Wally, and ran to her.
"Kiddie——you're all right? He didn't hurt you?" The boy's voice was
"Only my wrists," said Norah, and then began to shudder as the
memory of the struggle in the trees came back to her. Jim put his arm
"Thank heaven for that blessed Indian!" said he. "Steady, old
girl——you're all right," and Norah recovered herself.
"Yes, I'm all right, Jimmy," she said, a little shakily. "What
about Lal Chunder?"
"Here's the buggy," said Wally, and in a moment Murty and Boone
were on the scene, when it was the work of a few minutes to tie the
prisoner with halters and hoist him into the buggy, where he lay very
uncomfortable, with his head close to the splashboard. There was much
explanation, and it would probably have gone hard with the prisoner
but for Jim, as Murty and Boone wanted to deal out instant justice.
"Not good enough," Jim said. He was rather white, in the glow of
the buggy lamps. "He'll be better safe in gaol." He turned to Lal
Chunder, who had drawn close to Norah, and was contemplating his right
hand, which had been nearly shaken off by the four from Billabong. The
Hindu's English was not equal to his sense of friendship, and
conversation with him lacked fluency. It was some time before Jim
could make him understand that they wanted him to return to the
station——and indeed, it was Norah who made it clear at last.
"Me want you," she said, taking the dusky hand in hers. "Come back
to my home." She pointed towards the direction of Billabong. Lal
Chunder capitulated immediately.
"It is an order," he said, gravely; and forthwith climbed into the
buggy, a weird figure between the two stockmen, their faces still
flushed with anger as they looked at the man lying between their feet.
"We'll put him away in the lock-up, an' be out agin in no time,
Masther Jim," said Murty. "Take care of her me boy." And the stockman,
who had known Norah since her babyhood, choked suddenly as he looked
at her pale face. Norah was herself again, however, and she smiled at
"I'm right as rain, Murty!" she said, in the Bush idiom. "Don't you
worry about me."
"'Tis pluck y' have," said the Irishman. He turned the buggy with
some difficulty, for the track was narrow, and they spun off on the
return journey to Cunjee, while Norah, between the two boys, was once
more on the way to Billabong.
"You're sure you're all right, Nor.?" Jim said, looking at her
"Yes——truly, Jim." Norah had made up her mind not to say too much.
There was nothing to be gained by harrowing them with unnecessary
details——and, child-like, the memory of her terror was already fading,
now that care and safety had again wrapped her about. "I was a bit
scared, but that's all over."
"Then," said Jim, "can you tell me where is Cecil?" His voice was
"Oh, he——he went on," Norah said. "We had a dispute, and he was a
bit put out."
"A dispute? What about?"
"He wanted to ride Bobs."
"DID he?" Jim said. "And because you wouldn't let him, he cleared
out and left you?"
"Well, he was offended," Norah replied slowly, "and I dare say he
thought I would catch him up——instead of which I hung back, hoping you
boys would catch ME up. So it wasn't really his fault."
"He must have known you would be coming through that timber by
yourself in the dark."
"Oh, most likely he reckoned I'd have you with me by that time. He
doesn't understand very well, does he? He didn't mean any harm, Jim."
"I don't know what he meant," Jim said, angrily. "But I know what
he did——and what he'd have been responsible for if Lal Chunder hadn't
happened along in the nick of time. Great overgrown calf! Upon my
word, when I see him——"
"Oh, don't have a row, Jim," Norah pleaded. "He's a guest."
"Guest be hanged! Do you mean to say that's excuse for behaving
like a cad?"
"Ah, he wouldn't mean to. Don't tell him about——about Lal
Chunder——and the man."
"Not tell him?" Jim exclaimed.
"Well, not to-night, anyhow. Promise me you won't have a row
to-night——and if you tackle him when you get home there will be a row.
Wait until Dad comes home." finished Norah, a little wearily.
Behind her, Wally leaned across to his chum. They pulled back a
"I say——don't worry her, old man," Wally said. "I guess she's had a
bit of a shock——let's try and keep her mind off it. Do what she asks."
And Jim nodded.
"All right, old woman," he said, coming alongside again. "I won't
slay him to-night——don't bother your little head. We'll let Dad fix
Norah's grateful look rewarded him.
"Thanks, Jimmy," she said. "I——I'm feeling like having a little
peace. And he'd never understand, no matter what you said."
"I suppose he wouldn't," Jim agreed. "But he's a worm! However——the
storm's coming, and if we don't want wet jackets we'd better travel."
They tore homewards through the hot night. Presently Wally started a
chorus, and both boys were relieved when Norah joined in. They nodded
at each other cheerfully behind her back. So, singing very lustily, if
not in the most artistic fashion, they reached the Billagong stables
just as the first heavy drops were falling.
Within, Cecil met them, a little nervously.
"I thought you were lost," he said.
"H'm," said Jim, passing him, and struggling with his promise.
"Sorry you and Norah had any difference of opinion."
"Possibly I was——ah——hasty," he said. "I did not consider I asked
Norah much of a favour."
"That's a matter of opinion. At any rate, Cecil, I may as well tell
you straight out that I don't consider it would be at all wise for you
to ride Bobs."
"I'm not likely to hurt him."
"He might very likely hurt you. He's not an easy pony to ride."
Cecil's little laugh was irritating.
"What?" he said. "I don't profess to be a jockey, but——a child's
Jim very nearly lost his temper.
"You won't be convinced," he said, "and I've no desire to convince
you with Bobs. But take my advice and let Norah alone about her pony.
You've a very good mare to ride."
"That old crock!" said Cecil, scornfully.
"Crock!" he said. "Well, you won't find many hacks to beat old
Betty, even if in your mighty judgment she is a crock. And, anyhow,
Bobs is Norah's, and no one else has any say about him. There's the
bell; ready, chaps?"
The meal was scarcely lively. Cecil maintained an offended silence,
and Jim was too angry to talk, while Norah was silent and a little
pale. However, Cecil retired to his room immediately he had finished;
and the boys set themselves to the task of diverting Norah, fearful
lest the evening's adventure should have any bad effect on her. They
succeeded so well that by bedtime Norah had forgotten all her
troubles, and was weak with laughter. When Wally set out "to blither,"
as he said, he did not do things by halves.
Jim came into Norah's room and switched on her light.
"Sure you're all right, kiddie?"
"Rather!" said Norah. "I've laughed too much to be anything else."
"Then go to sleep laughing," said Jim, practically. "I'm quite
close if you want anything."
"Oh, I won't want anything, thanks," Norah answered. "Good-night,
"Good-night, little chap."
Norah tumbled hastily into bed and slept dreamlessly. She did not
know that Jim dragged a sofa and some rugs along the corridor, and
slept close to her door.
"Kid might dream and wake up scared," he said to Wally, a little
apologetically, before mounting guard. It was Jim's way.
CHAPTER XVI. A CHILD'S PONY
With the spirit of fire and of dew
To show the road home to them all.
It was quite early next morning when Cecil awoke. One of his
grievances against the country was the way in which the birds acted as
alarum clocks every day, rousing him from his well-earned slumbers
fully an hour before even the earliest milk cart rattling along the
suburban street fulfilled a similar purpose at home. Generally, he
managed to turn over and go to sleep again. This morning, however, he
was unusually wakeful.
He lay turning in his mind his anger against his cousins. Little
causes for annoyance, simple enough in themselves, had been brooded
over until they made up a very substantial total; and now, last
night's happenings capped everything. In his own heart of hearts he
knew that he had small justification for his childish outbursts of
anger; only it was not Cecil's nature to admit any such thing, and if
justification were not evident, his mind was quite equal to
manufacturing it. At the end of half an hour's gloomy pondering he had
worked himself up into a fine state of ill usage, and into the firm
belief that Norah and the boys had no intention but to insult and
To some natures there is a certain comfort in nursing a grievance,
and reasoning themselves into a plaintive state of martyrdom. When
Cecil finally rolled angrily out of bed, he was almost cheerful in the
contemplation of his own unhappiness. They were determined to sneer at
him and lessen his pride, were they? Well, they should see.
Just what they were likely to see, Cecil did not know himself, but
the reflection was soothing. Meanwhile, the birds were maddeningly
active, and an unusual restlessness was upon him. He dressed slowly,
putting on flannels, for the day promised heat, and went downstairs.
Sarah and Mary were busy in the hall, and lifted astonished
eyebrows at seeing the boy down before the others; as a rule Cecil
strolled into the dining-room barely in time for breakfast, or was
late altogether. He took no notice of them, but wandered out to the
back, where Brownie was found instructing a new kitchen assistant in
the gentle art of cleaning a stove. She, too, showed amazement at the
apparition, but recovered sufficiently to offer him tea and scones, to
which Cecil did justice.
"Be you all going out early?" Brownie asked.
"Not that I know of." Cecil's tone did not encourage conversation.
"Seein' you so unusual early, I thought there was some plan on,"
said Brownie. "Master Jim's great on makin' plans, ain't he? (Meriar,
elbow grease is one of the necessariest things in gettin' a shine on a
stove——don't let me catch you merely strokin' it again!) An' Miss
Norah's always ready to back him up——wunnerfull mates them two has
alwuz been, an' Master Jim has ever and alwuz looked after her, from
the d'rekly-minute he could walk!"
"Ah?" said Cecil.
"Well may you say so," said Brownie, inspired by her subject. "As
loving-kind a pair as could be, have them two been; and as proud of
each other——! Well, any one who reads may run! An', Master Jim never
mindin' her being on'y a girl; not that that has 'ampered Miss Norah
much, I will say, seein' how she rides an' all. I'm sure it's a
picture to see her on that there Bobs, an' the dumb beast knows every
single word she says to him. They'll fret for each other cruel, Bobs
an' her, when she goes to school."
Brownie's enthusiasm was ill-timed, as far as Cecil was concerned;
indeed, she could scarcely have hit upon a subject less palatable to
him. Still, it was useless to interfere with the old woman; so he
gulped down his tea hastily, listening with ill-concealed impatience
to her talk of Norah and Bobs, and then escaped abruptly.
"H'm!" said Brownie, looking after him. "Not a word out of me
noble——not even a thank you! Too much of a fine gentleman for
Billabong, like his ma before him!"
"Young gent don't seem to cotton to Miss Norah," remarked the
astute, if new, Maria, who had been listening with all her ears.
"When you're asked for your opinion about your betters, Meriar, it
may be time to shove in your oar; but until then let me advise you to
keep it in your own head," said Brownie severely. "At present your
work is rubbin' that stove, and if it ain't done in remarkable quick
time it'll have to be blackleaded all over again, bein' as how it'll
have got too dry!" Appalled by which awful possibility, Maria fell to
work with wonderful vigour, dismissing all lesser matters from her
Meanwhile, Cecil strolled across the yard, and thence towards the
stockyards, where a trampling of feet and a light cloud of dust showed
that the men had got in the horses for the day. He selected a clean
place on the top rail carefully, and cast his eye over the little mob
standing in groups about the enclosure——a dozen stock horses; the big
pair of greys that were used in the covered buggy or the express
wagon; the brown ponies that Norah drove; his own mount Betty, and
Wally's mare Nan; and then the aristocrats, Garryowen and, last of
all, Bobs. Norah's pony was standing near an old black horse for which
he had a great affection. They were nearly always to be found together
in the yards or paddocks. Even unbrushed as he was, the sunlight
rippled on his bay coat when he moved, showing the hard masses of
muscle in his arched neck.
"Beauty, ain't he?" It was Mick Shanahan, on his way to another
paddock to bring in some colts. He pulled up beside Cecil, the
youngster he was riding sidling impatiently.
"Yes, he's a nice pony," said Cecil, without enthusiasm.
"Well, I've seen a few, but he beats 'em all," said the
horsebreaker. "A ringer from the time he was a foal——and he's only
improved since I first handled him, four year ago. Worth a pot of
money that pony is!" He laughed. "Not as his particular owner'd sell
him, I reckon. Miss Norah acts more by that chap than by anything else
"I suppose so," Cecil said, seeing that he waited for a reply.
"Yes, my word! Take 'em all round, they'd be hard to beat as a
pair," said Mick, lighting his pipe in apparent ignorance that his
horse was indulging in caracoles that appeared likely to end in a
bucking demonstration. He threw the match away after carefully
extinguishing it, and puffed out a cloud of smoke. "Quiet, y' image,
can't y'? Who's hurtin' y'? Well, I must be goin'——so long." Cecil
nodded casually, and the impatient pupil went off in a series of
bounds that struck the city boy as alarming, although Mick did not
appear to notice that his mount was not walking demurely.
Several other men came to the stockyard, selected each a horse, and
saddled it, and disappeared in various directions. The old black
horse, Bob's mate, was taken by Joe Burton, who harnessed him into a
dray that stood near, loaded up a number of fence rails, and drove off
over the paddock, evidently to a job of repairing some boundary. Cecil
watched them crawl across the plain, until they were only a speck on
the grass. Then he turned his sullen eyes on Bobs, who, left alone,
had come nearer to the fence where he sat, and was sleepily flicking
with his tail at an intrusive fly, which insisted on walking round his
hip. Cecil stared at him for some minutes before his idea came to him.
Then he flushed a little, his hand clenching on the post beside
him. At first the idea was fascinating, but preposterous; he tried to
put it from him, but it came back persistently, and his mind held it
with a kind of half-fearful excitement. They had said he could not
ride him——a child's pony! Would he show them?
Once he entertained the idea at all he could not let it go. It
would be such an easy way of "coming out on top"——of showing them that
in one thing at least their opinion was worthless. That Jim's words
were true, and that he could not master Bobs, he ridiculed loftily. It
was impossible for him to believe that what a child of fourteen did so
easily he might not be able to do. He had never seen Bobs other than
quiet; and though big and well bred and spirited, he was still only a
pony——a child's pony. Visions floated before him of increased respect
paid him by the men, and even by his uncle, when he should have
demonstrated his ability to manage something better than old Brown
Betty, flicking at the flies in her corner of the yard, with
down-drooped head, and then——he wanted to ride Bobs; and all his life
Cecil Linton had done what he wanted.
He slipped down from the fence and went across to the stables for a
saddle and bridle, entering the harness room a little nervously, but
relieved on finding no men about. Returning, he caught Bobs——who stood
like the gentleman he was——and brought him outside, where his
unaccustomed fingers bungled a little with the saddle. The one he had
chosen in his haste had a breastplate, but this he could not manage at
all; and at last he managed to get the bewildering array of straps
off, and hang it over the fence. He buckled on a pair of spurs he had
found in the harness room. Then he gathered up the reins and clambered
into the saddle. Possibly, had he let Bobs feel the spur, his ride
would have ended there and then, and there would have been no further
developments in Cecil's excursion; and it is certain that he would
have spurred him cheerfully, had not the pony moved off at once. As it
was he sat back and felt exceedingly independent and pleased with
himself. He turned him down the home paddock.
"Phwat are y' doin' on that pony?"
Murty O'Toole had come out of the men's quarters, and was gazing
open-mouthed at the unfamiliar figure on Bobs——"the city feller," for
once not apparelled in exaggerated riding clothes, but in loose
flannels; already the legs of the trousers had worked up from his low
shoes, disclosing a vision of brilliant sock. Cecil took no notice.
"Hallo, there! Shtop a minnit! Who put y' on Bobs?"
"Mind your own business," said Cecil, between his teeth, looking
"My business, is it? Sure, 'tis my business, if 'tis anny man's on
Billabong! Did Miss Norah say y' could ride her pony?"
"What's that to you?"
"Be gob!" said Murty, "'tis more to me than it is to you, seein'
'tis meself knows Miss Norah's feelin's an' disposition about Bobs!
Did she give y' leave? Tell me, or I'll pull y' off, if y' was the
Boss' nevvy ten times over!"
"WILL you?" Cecil spat the words at him bitterly. He shook the
reins, and Bobs, impatient enough already, broke into a canter that
carried him away from the good friend who had intervened on his
behalf. They shot across the paddock.
Murty, left helpless, said a few strong things as he looked after
the retreating pair.
"It's a guinea to a gooseberry he's taken Frinch lave wid him," he
said, "bitther tongued little whipper-snapper that he is! Sure if Bobs
gets rid av him it'll serve him sorry, so 'twill. But phwat'll I do
about it, at all?" He scratched his head reflectively. "If I go over
'twill only worry Miss Norah to hear——an' it's most likely he'll have
enough av it pretty soon, an' the pony'll come home——an I do not care
if he comes home widout him! I'll lave it be f'r awhile." He went
slowly over to the stockyards.
Cecil, cantering over the grass with Bobs' perfect stride beneath
him, was, for the moment, completely satisfied with himself. He had
routed the enemy in the first engagement, and, if he had not left him
speechless, at least he had had the last word. Murty and he had been
at daggers drawn from the very first day, when the grinning Irishman
had pulled him out of the wild raspberry clump in the cutting-out
paddock; and the cheerful friendliness with which Jim and Norah
treated the stockman had always irritated him. He was exceedingly
pleased that on this occasion he had scored at his expense.
Where should he go? There were three gates leading out of the home
paddock——one to the Cunjee road; another to a similar well-cleared
plain to that on which the house stood; and a third into a smaller
paddock, which in its turn led into part of the rougher and steeper
part of the run. Cecil wanted to get out of sight quickly. In his mind
there was a half-formed idea that Murty might saddle a horse and come
out in pursuit; and a hand-to-hand encounter with the justly indignant
Irishman was just at that moment the last thing that the boy wanted.
So he decided upon the bush paddock, and headed in that direction.
Now, a horse that is always ridden by one person is apt to develop
ideas of his own——possibly through acquiring habits insensibly from
his usual rider. Also, he becomes accustomed to that one rider, and is
quite likely to be annoyed by a change——not alone in weight and in
style of riding, but in the absence of the sympathy that always exists
between a horse so managed and the one who cares for him and
understands him. The alien hand on his mouth had irritated Bobs from
the first; it was heavy, and jerky, where Norah's touch was as a
feather; and the light, firm seat in the saddle was changed for a
weight that bumped and shifted continuously. Further, it was not very
usual for Norah to ride in this direction——he had headed naturally for
the second gate before his tender mouth was suddenly wrenched aside
towards the third. Bobs arrived at the gate in something considerably
removed from his usual contented state of mind.
The gate was awkward, and Cecil clumsy at shutting it; he hauled
the pony's mouth roughly in his efforts to bring him into position
where he could send home the catch. The same performance was repeated
at the next gate——the one leading into the bush paddock; and when at
length they turned from it Bobs' mouth was feeling the bit in a manner
that was quite new to him, and as unpleasant as new. He sidled off in
a rough, jerky walk, betraying irritation in every movement, had Cecil
been wise enough to know it.
Cecil, however, was still perfectly content. He was out of sight of
the house, which was comforting in itself; while as for the idea that
he was not completely master of his mount, he would have been highly
amused at it. It was pleasant to be out, in the morning freshness; and
there was no need to hurry home, since the scones and tea in the
kitchen had made him independent of breakfast. The paddock he was in
looked interesting, too; the plain ended in a line of rough,
scrub-grown hills which it occurred to him would be a good place to
explore. He headed towards them.
Bobs walked on, inwardly seething; jerking his head impatiently at
the unceasing pressure on his bit, and now and then giving a little
half kick that at length attracted Cecil's attention, making him
wonder vaguely what was wrong. Possibly something in the saddle; it
had occurred to him when cantering that his girth was loose. So he
dismounted and tightened it, bringing it up with a jerk that pinched
the pony suddenly, and made him back away. This time Cecil did not
find it so easy to mount. He was a little nervous as he rode on——and
there is nothing that more quickly communicates itself to a horse than
nervousness in the rider. Bobs began to dance as be went, and Cecil,
hauling at his mouth, broke out into a mild perspiration. He decided
that he was not altogether an easy pony to ride.
A hare jumped up abruptly in the grass just ahead. Bobs shied and
plunged——and missing the hand that always understood and steadied such
mistaken energy, gave a couple of rough "pig-jumps." It was more than
enough for Cecil; mild as they were, he shot on to the pony's neck,
only regaining the saddle by a great effort. The reins flopped, and
the indignant Bobs plunged forward, while his rider clawed for
support, his feet and hands alike flying. As he dropped back into the
saddle, the spurs went home; and Bobs bolted.
He had never in his life felt the spur; light and free in every
pace, Norah's boot heel was the utmost correction that ever came to
him. This sudden cruel stab on either side was more than painful——it
was a sudden shock of amazement that was sharper than pain. Coming on
top of all his grievances, it was too much for Bobs. Possibly, a mad
race would rid him of this creature on his back, who was so unlike his
mistress. His heels went up with a little squeal as he bounded forward
before settling into his stride.
Cecil gave himself up for lost from the first. He tugged
frantically at the rein, realizing soon that the pony was in full
command, and that his soft muscles might as well pull at the side of a
house as try to stop him. He lost one stirrup, and clung desperately
to the pommel while he felt for it, and by great good luck managed to
get his foot in again——a piece of good fortune which his own efforts
would never have secured. The pommel was too comforting to be
released; he still clung to it while he tried to steady himself and to
see where he was going.
The plain ended abruptly just before him, and the rough hills
sloped away to the south. Perhaps, if he put Bobs at the steepest it
might calm him a little, and he might be able to pull him up. So he
wrenched the pony's mouth round, and presently they were racing up the
face of the hill, which apparently made no difference whatever to
Bobs. Cecil had not the slightest idea that his heels were spurring
the pony at every stride. He wondered angrily in his fear why he
seemed to become momentarily more maddened, and sawed at the bleeding
mouth in vain. They were at the top of the hill now. The crest was
sharp and immediately over it a sharp drop went down to a gully at the
bottom. It was steep, rough-going, boulder-strewn and undermined with
wombat holes. Perhaps in his calmer moments Bobs might have hesitated,
but just now he knew nothing but a frantic desire to escape from that
cruel agony in his sides. He flung down the side of the hill blindly,
making great bounds over the sparse bracken fern that hid the ground.
Cecil was nearly on his shoulder now——a moment more would set him
Then he put his foot on a loose boulder that gave with him and went
down the slope in a flurry of shifting stones. He made a gallant
effort to recover himself, stumbling to his knees as Cecil left the
saddle and landed in the ferns——but just as he struck out for firmer
footing his forefoot sank into a wombat hole, and he turned a complete
somersault, rolling over and over. He brought up against a big
boulder, struggled to rise and then lay still.
* * * * *
Presently Cecil came limping to him, white and angry.
"Get up, you brute!" he said, kicking him. When there was no
response, he took the bridle, jerking it. Bobs' head gave a little at
every jerk, but that was all.
Between rage and fear, Cecil lost his head. He kicked the pony
savagely; and finding that useless, sought a stick and thrashed him as
he lay. Once Bobs struggled, but only his head and shoulders came up,
and presently they fell back again. Cecil gave it up at last, and left
him alone, limping down to the gully and out of sight. He sat down on
a log for a long while, until the sun grew hot. Then he pulled his hat
over his eyes and set off towards home.
Bobs did not know he had gone. He lay quite still.
CHAPTER XVII. ON THE HILLSIDE
Never again, when the soft winds blow,
We shall ride by the river.
G. ESSEX EVANS.
Wally came into breakfast with a rush and a scramble, bearing
traces of a hasty toilet. At the table Norah and Jim were eating
solemnly, with expressions of deep disapproval. They did not raise
their eyes as Wally entered.
"Awfully sorry!" said he. "You've no idea of the difficulties I've
had to overcome, Norah, and all along of him!" indicating Jim with a
jerk of his head. "Oh, Norah, do be sympathetic, and forget that he's
your brother. I assure you I'd be a far better brother to you than
ever he could, and you can have me cheap! Look up at me, Norah, and
smile——one perfect grin is all I ask! He took my towel and dressed
Tait in it, and for all he cared I would be swimming in that beastly
lagoon yet, and dying of cramp, and nervous prostration, and
housemaid's knee. And she goes on gnawing a chop!"
He sat down, and buried his face in his hands tragically, and began
to sob, whereat Norah and Jim laughed, and the victim of circumstances
recovered with promptitude.
"Cream, please," he said, attacking his porridge. "Oh, he's a
beast, Norah. I'm blessed if I know why you keep him in the family——it
can't be for either his manners or his looks! I have a hectic cough
coming on rapidly. My uncle by marriage three times removed died of
consumption, and it's a thing I've always been nervous about. When I
occupy the family urn with my ashes you'll be sorry!"
"I should be more than sorry if it were this urn," Jim put in,
grinning. "It might be an honour, of course; but we've other homely
uses for the urn. How long did you swim, Wal.?"
"Never you mind," returned Wally wrathfully. "I don't see why I
should satisfy any part of your fiendish curiosity——only when Brownie
finds Tait wearing one of the best bath towels as a toga, and makes
remarks about it, I shall certainly refer her to you!"
"I never saw a dog look so miserable as he did," Norah said,
laughing. "He came straight up to me, with a truly hang-dog air, and
folds of towel ever so far behind him in the grass, and didn't get
back his self-respect until I took it off. Poor old Tait! You really
ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jimmy."
"I am," said Jim cheerfully. "Toast, please."
"When I saw Tait last he was disappearing into the landscape with
all his blushing honours thick upon him!" Wally said. "I don't see why
you waste all your sympathy on the brute, and give me none. It's the
greatest wonder I'm here at all!"
"Where's Cecil, anyhow?" asked Jim, suddenly.
"Haven't an idea——how should I? He wasn't in the lagoon, which is
the only place I could give an expert opinion on this morning."
"Oh, he's late as usual," Norah said. "I suppose he's still cross
about last night. Really, Jim, I'm sorry we've managed to rub him up
the wrong way."
"Why, the difficulty would be to find the right way," Jim retorted.
"He's such a cross-grained beggar——you never know when you're going to
offend him; and of course he's perfectly idiotic about the horses.
Wonder if he thinks we LIKE horses with sore backs and mouths! He'll
have to give poor old Betty a spell, anyhow, for she's a patch on her
back the size of half a crown, thanks to him."
"Oh, dear!" said Norah, with a little shiver. "That's awfully bad
news——'cause I'd about made up my mind to offer him Bobs!"
"Offer——him——Bobs!" said Jim slowly. Wally gasped.
"Just for a ride, Jimmy. He's a guest, you know, and I don't like
him to feel ill-used. And you let him on Garryowen."
"Only for a moment——and then with my heart in my boots!" said Jim.
"Norah, I think you're utterly mad if you lend him Bobs——after last
night, too! Why, you know jolly well I'VE never asked you for your
"Well, you could have had him," Norah answered, "you know that,
Jimmy. I don't want to lend him to Cecil——I simply hate it; but I
don't like the idea of his thinking we treated him at all badly."
"He's the sort of chap that would find a grievance if you gave
everything you had in the world," Jim said. "It's all rot——and I tell
you straight, Nor., I don't think it's safe, either. Bobs is all right
with you, of course, but he's a fiery little beggar, and there's no
knowing what he'd do with a sack of flour like that on his back. I
wish you wouldn't."
"What do you think, Wally?"
"Me? Oh, I'm with Jim," Wally answered. "Personally, I think a
velocipede is about Cecil's form, and it's absolute insult to a pony
like Bobs to ask him to carry him! And you'd hate it so, Nor.'!"
"Oh, I know I would," Norah said. "He's such a dear——"
"No, you donkey——Bobs," Norah continued, laughing. "I'd feel like
begging his pardon all the time. But——"
"Murty wants to see you, Master Jim," said Mary, entering. "Says
he'd be glad if you could spare him a minute."
"All right, Mary——thank you," said Jim, getting up lazily and
strolling out. "Back in a minute, you two."
"What happens to-day, Norah? Marmalade, please," said Wally, in a
"The marmalade happens on the spot," laughed Norah, handing it to
him. "Otherwise——oh, I don't know, unless we ride out somewhere and
fish. We haven't been out to Angler's Bend this time, have we?"
"No, but that's fifteen miles. You'd never let Cecil ride Bobs that
"Oh, I couldn't!" said Norah, hastily. "I don't think I possibly
could ride anything except Bobs out there. Cecil might have him
another day, if Jim doesn't think me quite mad. Perhaps I won't be
sorry if he does, 'cause I'd hate to go against Jim! And Bobs is——"
"Bobs," said Wally gravely; and Norah smiled at him. "Hallo,
Jamesy——what passion hangs these weights upon thy brow?"
Jim had entered quickly.
"It's that beauty Cecil," he said, angrily. "My word, Norah, I'll
let that young man know what I think about him! He's taken Bobs!"
"Gone out on Bobs before breakfast. Must have got him in the yard,
and saddled him himself. Murty saw him just as he was riding off, and
tried to stop him. Here's Murty——he'll tell you."
"Sure, I towld him to stop, Miss Norah," said the stock-man. "Axed
him, I did, if he'd y'r lave, and he gev me back-answers as free as y'
please. I was perfickly calm, an never losht me timper, an' towld him
I'd pull him off av the little harse if he'd not the lave to take him;
an' he put the comether on me by cantherin' off. So I waited, thinkin'
not to worry y', an' that he'd be comin' back; or more be token Bobs
widout him, an' small loss. But he's elsewhere yit, so I kem in f'r
"Well, I'm blessed!" said Norah, weakly.
"The mean little toad!" Wally's voice was full of scorn. "I'd like
five quiet minutes with him with coats off when he comes back!"
"I guess he'll get that——or its equivalent," said Jim, grimly.
"Which way did he go, Murty?"
"To the bush paddock, Masther Jim. He's that stupid, tin to one
he's bushed in one av thim gullies."
"Or else Bobs has slung him; but in that case Bobs would be back at
the gate," Jim said. "Perhaps he is."
"No, he ain't, Masther Jim, I wint over a bit an' had a look.
There's no sign av either av thim."
"Well, I suppose we'd better go after them," Jim said. "What'll you
ride, Nor? Would you care for Garryowen?"
Norah smiled at him.
"No, thanks, old man. I'll have Cirdar," she said. "Can you get
"In two twos, Miss Norah," said the stockman, departing hastily.
"You're not worried, Norah, old girl?" Jim said.
"Why, not exactly; he can't hurt Bobs, of course, beyond a sore
back," Norah answered. "I'm more cross than worried——it is such cheek,
Jim, isn't it? All the same, I hope Cecil's all right."
"Him!" said Jim, with fine scorn. "That sort never comes to any
harm. Well, hurry up, and get your habit on, old chap."
There was no need to tell Norah to hurry. She flew upstairs,
Brownie plodding after; the news had flown round the house in a few
moments, and there was a storm of indignation against the absent
"If I'd knowed!" said Brownie, darkly, bringing Norah's linen coat
out from the wardrobe, and seeking with vigour for a felt hat that
already was on her head. "Me, givin' him tea and scones, an' talkin'
about the pony, too, no less; little I guessed at the depths of him.
Never mind, my dearie, Master Jim'll deal with him!"
"Oh, it'll be all right, if Bobs hasn't hurt him. Only there'll be
an awful row when Jim gets him. I never saw Jim so angry," Norah said.
"A good thing, too!" said the warlike Mrs. Brown. "There you are,
dearie, an' there's your 'unting-crop. Off you go!" and Norah ran
downstairs, finding Jim and Wally waiting, boots and leggings on. They
set off, Murty muttering dark threats against Cecil as he shut the
gate of the stable yard after them.
Wally had recovered his cheerfulness, never long absent from him,
and was, besides, not unpleasantly excited at the thought of war
ahead. He chattered gaily as they rode through the first two paddocks.
But Jim remained quiet. As Norah said, she had never seen him so
angry. Anxiety in his mind warred with hot anger against the insult to
Norah and to them all. He swept the bush paddock with his eye as they
came up to it, seeing nothing but the scattered bullocks here and
"Wonder which way he'd go," he said. "Suppose you and Wally cut
over to the right, Norah, and see if you can find any trace. I'll go
over this way. We'll coo-ee to each other if we come across him." They
separated, and Jim put Garryowen at a canter across the plain. Here
and there he could see a track——and something made him wish to go on
He was nearly at the foot of the hills when a figure came out from
their shadow. Jim gave a sudden little sound in his throat as he saw
that it was Cecil——and alone. He was limping a little, and had
evidently been down. Relief that he was safe was the first thought;
then, anxiety being done with, there was no room for anything but
anger. Jim rode towards him. At the sight of his approach Cecil
started a little, and cast a glance round as if looking for a hiding
place; then he came on doggedly, his head down.
"I've been looking for you," Jim said, controlling his voice with
difficulty. "Where's Bobs?"
"Over there." Cecil jerked his hand backwards.
"What do you mean? did he get away from you?"
"He bolted," Cecil said.
"And threw you?"
Cecil nodded. "Yes——can't you see I'm limping?"
"Well, did he clear out again?"
"No——he's over there."
Jim's face went grim. "Do you mean——you don't mean the pony's
"He won't get up," said Cecil, sullenly. "I've tried my best."
For a moment they faced each other, and then Cecil quailed under
the younger boy's look. His eyes fell.
Jim jumped off. "Go on."
"Back to Bobs, of course. Hurry up!"
"I can't go back there," Cecil said, angrily. "I'm limping, and——"
"Do you think your limp matters an atom just now?" Jim said,
through his teeth. "Hurry up."
He followed Cecil, not trusting himself to speak. A dull despair
lay on his heart, and above everything a great wave of pity for the
little sister across the paddock. If he could spare Norah——!
Then they were in the gully, and he saw Bobs above him, and knew in
that instant that he could spare her nothing. The bay pony lay where
he had fallen, his head flung outwards; helplessness in every line of
the frame that had been a model of strength and beauty an hour ago. As
Jim looked Bobs beat his head three times against the ground, and then
lay still. The boy flung round, sick with horror.
"Why, you vile little wretch——you've killed him!"
He had Cecil in a grip of iron, shaking him as a dog shakes a
rat——not knowing what he did in the sick fury that possessed him. Then
suddenly he stopped and hurled him from him into the bracken. He ran
down the gully.
"Go back, Norah dear——don't come."
Norah and Wally had come cantering quickly round the shoulder of
the hill. She was laughing at something Wally had said as they rode
into the gully, and the laugh was still on her lips as she looked at
Jim. Then she saw his face, and it died away.
"What is it, Jim?"
"Don't come, kiddie," the boy said, wretchedly. "Wally, you take
"Why?" said Norah. "We saw Cecil——where's Bobs?" Her eyes were
wandering round the gully. They passed Cecil, lying on his face in the
bracken, and travelled further up the hill. Then she turned suddenly
white, and flung herself off Sirdar.
Jim caught her as she came blindly past him.
"Kiddie——it's no good——you mustn't!"
"I must," she said, and broke from him, running up the hillside.
Jim followed her with a long stride, his arm round her as she stumbled
through the ferns and boulders. When they came to Bobs he held her
back for a moment.
The pony was nearly done. As they looked his head beat the ground
again unavailingly, and at the piteous sight a dry sob broke from
Norah, and she went on her knees by him.
"Norah——dear little chap——you mustn't." Jim's voice was choking.
"He doesn't know what he's doing, poor old boy——it isn't safe."
"He wants me," she said. "Bobs——dear Bobs!"
At the voice he knew the pony quivered and struggled to rise. It
was no use——he fell back, though the beautiful head lifted itself, and
the brown eyes tried to find her. She sat down and took his head on
her knee, stroking his neck and speaking to him... broken, pitiful
words. Presently she put her cheek down to him, and crouched there
above him. Something of his agony died out of Bobs' eyes. He did not
struggle any more. After a little he gave a long shiver, straightening
out; and so died, gently.
* * * * *
"Come on home, old kiddie."
It seemed a long time after, Norah could not think of a time when
she had done anything but sit with that quiet head on her knee. She
shuddered all over.
"I can't leave him."
"You must come, dear." Jim's hands were lifting Bobs' head as
tenderly as she herself could have done it. He picked her up and held
her as though she had been a baby, and she clung to him, shaking.
"If I could help you!" he said, and there were tears in his eyes.
"Oh, Nor.——you know, don't you?"
He felt her hand tighten on his arm. Then he carried her down the
hill, where Garryowen stood waiting.
"The others have gone," he said. "I sent them home——Wally and——that
brute! I've told him to go——I'll kill him if I see him again!" He
lifted her into his saddle, and keeping his arms round her, walked
beside the bay horse down the gully and out upon the plain.
"Jim," she whispered——somewhere her voice had gone away——"you can't
go home like that. Let me walk." His arm tightened.
"I'm all right," he said——"poor little mate!"
They did not speak again until they were nearly home——where, ahead,
Brownie waited, her kind eyes red; while every man about the homestead
was near the gate, a stern-faced, angry group that talked in savage
undertones. Murty came forward as Jim lifted Norah down.
"Miss Norah," he said. "Miss Norah, dear——sure I'd sooner——"
The tall fellow's voice broke as he looked at the white, childish
"Thanks, Murty," Norah said steadily.
"And——all of you." She turned from the pitying faces, and ran
"Oh, Brownie, don't let any one see me!"
Then came a dazed time, when she did not know anything clearly.
Once, lying on her bed, with her face pressed into the pillow, trying
not to see a lean head that beat on the ground, she heard a dull sound
that rose to an angry shout from the men; and immediately the buggy
drove away quickly, as Wally took Cecil away from Billabong. She only
shivered, pressing her face harder. Jim was always near at first; the
touch of his hand made her calm when dreadful, shuddering fits came
over her. All through the night he sat by her bed, watching
Then there was a longer time when she was alone, and there seemed
much going to and fro. But no sounds touched her nearly. She could
only think of Bobs, lying in the bracken, and calling silently to her
with his pain-filled eyes.
Then, late on, the second evening, Jim came back with a troubled
face and sat on the bed.
"Norah," he said, "I want you."
"I want you to be brave, old chap," he said slowly. Something in
his tone made her start and scan his tired face.
"What is it?" she asked.
"It may be all right," Jim said, "but——but I thought I'd better
tell you, Norah, they——we can't find Dad!"
CHAPTER XVIII. BROTHER AND SISTER
We were mates together,
And I shall not forget.
W. H. OGILVIE.
Jim had not wanted to tell Norah. It had been Brownie who had
"I think she's got enough to bear," the boy had said, sitting on
the edge of the kitchen table, and flicking his boots mechanically
with his whip. He had been riding hard almost all day, but anxiety,
not fatigue, had put the lines into his face. "What's the good of
giving her any more?"
"I do believe it'd be best for her, the poor lamb!" Brownie had
said. "She's there all day, not speaking——it'll wear her out. An' you
know, Master Jim, dear, she'd never forgive us for keepin' anything
back from her about the master."
"No——but we've nothing definite. And it may make her really ill,
coming on top of the other."
"I don't think Miss Norah's the sort to let herself get ill when
there was need of her. It may take her poor mind off the other——she
can't help that now, an' he was only a pony——"
"Only a pony! By George, Brownie——!"
"Any horse is only a pony when compared to your Pa," said Brownie,
unconscious of anything peculiar in her remark. "I don't know that
real anxiety mayn't help her, Master Jim. And any'ow, it don't seem to
me we've the right to keep it from her, them bein', as it were, that
partickler much to each other. Take my tip, an' you tell her."
"What do you think, Wally?"
"I'm with Brownie," said Wally, unexpectedly. "It's awful to see
Norah lying there all day, never saying a word, and this'll rouse her
up when nothing else would." So Jim had yielded to the weight of
advice, and had gone slowly up to tell Norah they could not find David
"Can't find him?" she echoed. "but isn't he at Killybeg?"
"He left there yesterday morning," Jim answered. "A telegram came
from him last night, and it was important——something about cattle——so
I sent Burton into Cunjee with it——Killybeg's on the telephone now,
you know, and Burton could ring him up from the post office. But the
Darrells were astonished, and said he'd left there quite early, and
meant to come straight home."
"Well?" Norah was white enough now.
"Well, I got worried, and so did Murty; because you know there
isn't any stopping place between here and Killybeg when you come
across the ranges. And Monarch's pretty uncertain——in rough country,
especially. So I got Murty and Wally to go out at daylight this
morning, taking the straight line to the Darrells, and they picked up
his tracks pointing homewards about five miles from the Billabong
boundary. Murty made Monarch's shoes himself, and he could swear to
them anywhere. They followed them awhile, and they came to a place
where the ground was beaten down a lot, as if he'd had trouble with
Monarch; I expect something scared him, and he played the fool. But
after that the tracks led on to some stony rises, and they lost them;
the ground was too hard. They could only tell he'd gone right off the
line to Billabong."
"Jim! Do you think——? Oh, he couldn't be hurt! Monarch would never
get rid of him."
"He'd stick to Monarch as long as the girth held and Monarch stood
up," Jim said. "but it's rough country, and a young horse isn't handy
on those sidings. Of course it may be all right; but if so, why wasn't
he home twenty-four hours ago?"
"Have you done anything?"
"Been out all day," Jim said. "Murty sent Wal. straight home while
he went on looking, and we went back with three of the men. But you
know what that country is, all hills and gullies, and the scrub's so
thick you can scarcely get through it in places. We found one or two
hoof marks, but that was all. If he's not home to-night we're going
out at daybreak with every hand on the place."
"I knew you'd want to," Jim said, anxiety in his tone. "But I don't
think you're fit to, old girl."
"Jimmy, I'd go mad if I stayed behind."
"Oh, I know that, too. But you'll have to stay near me, Norah. and
if you're coming you've got to eat now; Brownie says you've touched
nothing all day."
Norah shivered a little. "I'm not hungry."
"No, but you've sense, old chap. You'd be the first to say one of
us couldn't go out without proper food. Try, won't you?"
"I'll try," Norah said, obediently.
"Brownie's got dinner for Wally and me in the breakfast-room," Jim
said. "Wouldn't you come down, old girl? It's only old Wal., you know,
and——and he's so awfully sorry for you, Nor. He's been such a brick. I
think it would cheer him up a bit if you came down."
"All right," Norah said, hesitating a moment. "But I'm bad company,
"We're none of us lively," said the boy. "But we've got to help
each other." And Norah looked at him gently, and came.
Dinner was quiet, for the shadow hung upon them all. Wally tried to
talk cheerfully, checked by a lump that would rise in his throat
whenever he looked at Norah, who was "playing the game" manfully,
trying hard to eat and to be, as she would have said, "ordinary." They
talked of the plans for the next day, when a systematic search was to
be made through the scrub near where the tracks had been found.
"Each of us is to take a revolver," Jim said; "there are five
altogether, and the men who haven't got them will have to use their
stockwhips as signals if they find anything. Three shots to be fired
in the air if help is wanted. And Brownie has flasks ready for every
one, and little packets of food with some chocolate; if he's come to
grief it'll be nearly forty-eight hours since he had anything to eat.
Two of the men are to take the express wagon out as far as it can go,
with everything to make him comfortable, if——if he's hurt. Then they
can ride the horses on to help us search." Jim forced a sorry smile.
"Won't he grin at us if he turns up all right? We'll never hear the
end of it!" Then he got up abruptly and walked to the window, looking
out across the moonlit flats; and they were all silent.
"I keep thinking all the time I hear him coming," Jim said, turning
back into the room. "If you keep still, you can almost swear you can
hear old Monarch's hoofs coming up the track——and half a dozen times
I've been certain I caught the crack of his stockwhip. Of course,
it's——it's all imagination. My word! it's hard to loaf about here and
go to bed comfortably when you want to be hunting out there."
"You couldn't do any good, though?" asked Wally.
"No——it would be madness to go straying round those gullies in the
moonlight; it's not even full moon, and there the timber's so thick
that very little light can get through. There's nothing for it but to
wait until daylight."
"It's hard waiting," Norah said.
"Yes, it is. But you ought to go to bed, old woman; you had
precious little sleep last night, and the big bell is to ring at
"Then won't you boys go, too?"
"Yes, I guess we'd better," Jim said. "I'll come in and say
good-night to you, Norah." A look passed between them; the boy knew
his father never failed to pay a good-night visit to Norah's room. She
smiled at him gratefully.
It was very lonely and quiet up there, undressing, with her heart
like lead within her. She hurried over her preparations, so that she
might not keep Jim waiting when he came; she knew he needed sleep——"a
big boy outgrowing his strength like that," thought Norah, with the
quaint little touch of motherliness that she always felt towards Jim.
Once she caught sight of something on the end of the couch; the white
rug that had been Jim's Christmas present, with the scarlet B standing
out sharply in the corner——the rug Bobs would never use. Shivering a
little, she put it away in her wardrobe. Just now she could only think
of that most dear one——perhaps lying out there in the cold shadows of
the bush night. She crept into bed.
Jim came in in his shirt sleeves.
"Comfy, little chap?"
"Yes, thanks, old man. Jim——shall I ride Sirdar tomorrow?"
"You needn't have asked," the boy said——"he's yours. And, Norah——I
know Dad wouldn't mind. I'd like you to have Garryowen. He's a bit
big, but he'll suit you quite well. I know he won't make up, but you'd
get fond of him in time, dear."
"Jim!" she said——knowing all that the carelessly spoken words
meant——"Jimmy, boy." And then Jim was frightened, for Norah, who had
not cried at all, broke into a passion of crying. He held her tightly,
stroking her, not knowing what to say; murmuring broken, awkward words
of affection, while she sobbed against him. After a while she grew
quiet, and was desperately ashamed.
"I didn't mean to make an ass of myself," she said, contritely.
"I'm awfully sorry, and you were such a brick to me, Jimmy. I won't
ever forget it; only I couldn't take your horse. I love you for it.
But Sirdar will do for me quite well." And no arguments could shake
her from that decision.
Jim put the light out after some time. Then he came back and sat
down on the bed.
"I wanted to tell you, dear little chap," he said, gently. "I sent
Mick out with Boone to-day, and——and they buried him under that big
tree where he fell, and heaped up stones so that nothing could get at
him." He stopped, his voice uncertain as Norah's hand tightened in
"Mick said there couldn't have been any hope for him, kiddie," he
went on, presently. "His back was broken; no one could have done
anything." He would not tell her of other things Mick had seen——the
spur wounds from hip to shoulder and the marks of the stick that Cecil
had thrown down beside the pony he had ridden to his death. "They
carved his name on the tree in great big letters. Some time——whenever
you feel you can——I'll take you out there. At least"——his hand gripped
hers almost painfully——"Dad and I will take you."
Norah put her face against him, not speaking. They stayed so, her
breath coming and going unevenly, while Jim stroked her shoulder.
Presently he slipped to his knees by the bed, one arm across her, not
moving until her head nestled closer, and he knew she was asleep. Then
the big, tired fellow put his own head down and went to sleep as he
knelt, waking, stiff and sore, in the grey half light that just
precedes the dawn. He crept away noiselessly, going out on the balcony
for a breath of the chill air.
Below him, against the stockyard fence, a black shadow stood and
whinnied faintly. Jim's heart came into his throat, and he swung
himself over the edge of the balcony, using his old "fire escape" to
slide to the gravel below. He ran wildly across to the yard.
A moment later the big bell of the station clanged out furiously.
Norah, fastening her habit with swift fingers, ran to open the door
in answer to Jim's voice.
"Hurry all you know, little chap," he said. "I'm off in a few
minutes——breakfast's ready. Wally's going into Cunjee with a telegram
to Melbourne for the black trackers, as hard as he can ride."
"Jim——there's something you know!"
"I'd better tell you," he said. "Monarch's come home alone, Norah!"
CHAPTER XIX. THE LONG QUEST
The creek went down with a broken song,
'Neath the she oaks high;
The waters carried the song along,
And the oaks a sigh.
The big black thoroughbred still stood by the rails as they rode
away. He had got rid of the saddle, and the broken bridle trailed from
his head. No one had time to see to him.
Billabong was humming with activity. Men were running down to the
yards, bridle in hand; others leading their horses up to be saddled;
while those who were ready had raced over to the quarters for a
snatched breakfast. Sirdar and the boys' horses had been stabled all
night, so that they were quickly saddled. Jim was riding Nan; Wally,
on Garryowen, was already a speck in the distance.
"You'll be quicker if you take him," Jim had said. Then he and
Norah had cantered away together.
"Monarch wasn't hurt, Jim?"
"He'd been down, I think," Jim said; "His knees look like it. But
he's all right——why, he must have jumped three fences?"
After that for a long time they did not speak. Grim fear was
knocking at both their hearts, for with the return of the black horse
without his rider, their worst dread was practically confirmed. It was
fairly certain that Mr. Linton was helpless, somewhere in the bush,
and that meant that he had been so for nearly two days, since it was
almost that time since he had ridden away from Killybeg.
Two days! They had been days of steady, relentless heat, untempered
by any breeze——when the cattle had sought the shade of the gum trees,
and the dogs about the homestead had crept close in under the tree
lucernes, with open mouths and tongues lolling. The men working on the
run had left their tasks often to go down to the creek or the river
for a drink; in the house, closely shuttered windows and lowered
blinds on the verandahs had only served to make the heat bearable. And
he had been out in it, somewhere, helpless, and perhaps in pain; with
nothing to ease for him the hot hours or to save him from the chill of
a Victorian night, which, even in midsummer, may be sharply cold
before the dawn. The thought gnawed at his children's hearts.
They passed through the billabong boundary and out into the rough
country beyond, sharply undulating until it rose into the ranges David
Linton had crossed on his way to and from Killybeg. They had been
fairly certain that he had come through them safely on his way home,
and the thought had been a comfort——for to seek a man in those hills
was a hopeless task. But suddenly a sick fear came over Norah.
"Jim," she said, "we don't know where Monarch got rid of Dad, of
"No; but I expect it was near where they picked up his tracks."
"You don't think it might have been in the ranges?"
Jim looked suddenly aghast; but his face cleared.
"No," he said, decidedly; "I don't. That place where Monarch had
been playing up shows Dad must have been on him——a horse alone doesn't
go to market as he seems to have done there. I guess you can put that
notion out of your head, mate." He smiled at Norah, who answered him
with a grateful look.
Five miles from the boundary they came upon the tracks——to see them
gave Norah a queer sense of comfort, since in a way they brought her
in touch with Dad. Then they separated, beating into the scrub that
hemmed them round everywhere, except when low, stony hills rose naked
out of the green undergrowth.
"We must shout to each other every few minutes to make sure we're
not getting too far apart," Jim said. "Of course, it's not so risky
when you're riding——if you gave old Sirdar his head anywhere I know
he'd take you home. Still, you don't gain anything by going far apart.
A systematic search is what's necessary in a place like this, where
you might ride half a dozen yards from him and not see him. Keep Tait
with you, Norah."
"All right," Norah nodded. "What about coo-eeing, Jim? He might
hear a shout and answer it, even if he couldn't see us."
"Yes, but you can't keep coo-eeing all the time," said Jim,
practically. "I'll tell you what——sing or whistle. You can do that
easily, and it doesn't tire you. And of course, if you find him, fire
the revolver——you're sure you've got it carefully?"
"Yes, it's all right," Norah replied, showing the revolver in its
neat leather case. Jim and her father had taught her its use long ago,
and she understood it quite well. Mr. Linton held the view that all
women in the bush should know how to handle fire arms, since the bush
is a place where no one ever knows exactly what may turn up, from
burglars to tiger snakes. "Fire three times in the air, isn't it,
"Yes, that's right. Go on then, kiddie, and do take care!" Jim's
voice was strained with anxiety and wretchedness. While Norah was full
of hope, and, indeed, could scarcely realize that they might not find
Dad soon, the boy had the memory of the fruitless search all the
previous day to dispirit him. As he looked at the forbidding wall of
green scrub, his feeling was almost one of despair.
It did not take long for Norah to realize the difficulty of their
task. She beat up and down among the trees, striving to keep an eye in
every direction, since any one of the big stumps, any clump of
brushwood, any old log or little knoll or grassy hollow might hide the
one she sought——unable, perhaps, to see her or call to her even should
she pass in his sight. She remembered Jim's advice, and began to sing;
but the words died in her throat, and ended in something more like a
sob. Whistling was more possible, and mechanically she took up a tune
that Wally used to sing, and whistled it up and down the scrub as she
went. Soon she did not know that she was doing so; but years after she
used to shudder within herself if she heard that foolish little tune.
The men came out a little later, and soon the scrub was alive with
voices and the noise of the searching. It was weary work, with many a
flutter at the heart when a sudden call would bring Norah to
attention, rigid and listening——forgetting for the moment that only
the three signals agreed upon were to give evidence of success. Hour
after hour went by.
They had settled a certain signal to meet for lunch, and when it
finally summoned them the searchers struggled out of the bush one by
one. Jim's heart smote him as he saw Norah's white face, and he begged
her to cease; to stay resting during the hot afternoon, even if she
would not go home. Norah shook her head dully. She could not do it;
and Jim, knowing how he would have felt were he in her place, did not
press her, although he was miserably anxious. They sat down together
on an old log, finding a shred of comfort in each other's nearness.
It was a silent party that gathered round when black Billy had the
big quart pots of tea ready. No one seemed to have anything to say.
Norah thought, with a catch at her heart, of the last time they had
picnicked in the scrub; the happy talk and laughter, the dear foolish
jokes and merriment. This was indeed a strange picnic——each man eating
rapidly and in silence, and everywhere stern preoccupied faces. There
was no waiting afterwards for the usual "smoke oh"; the men sprang up
as soon as the hurried meal was over, and lit their pipes as they
strode away. Soon the temporary camp was deserted——black Billy, the
last to leave, muttering miserably to himself, hurrying back into the
bush. The search went on.
There was no riding in the afternoon; they were in country where
the tangle of dogwood and undergrowth was so thick that to take a
horse through it meant only lost time, and hindered the thoroughness
of the quest. Norah fought her way through, keeping her line just as
the men kept theirs; her white coat stained and torn now, her riding
skirt showing a hundred rents, her boots cut through in many places.
She did not know it; there was only room in her heart for one thought.
When, while waiting for lunch, she had heard Dave Boone say something
in an angry undertone about Bobs, she had wondered dully for a moment
what he meant. She had forgotten even Bobs.
The hours went by, and the sun drooped towards evening. In the dark
heart of the scrub the gloom came early, making each shadow a place of
mystery that gave false hope to the searchers a hundred times.
Gradually it was too dark to look any more; for that day also they
must give it up——the third since Monarch had broken free from his
master and left him lying somewhere in the green fastness about them.
There scarcely seemed a yard of it left unsearched. Despair was
written on most of the faces as the men came one by one to their
horses and rode home, picking up on their way those who were still
beating the bush as far as the Billabong boundary.
Jim and Norah were the last to leave. They came back to the horses
together, Tait at their heels, his head and tail down. Norah was
stumbling blindly as she walked, and Jim's arm was round her. He put
her up, and turned silently to unfasten his own bridle.
"Jim," she said, and stopped. "Jim, do you think we'll find him
Jim hesitated, trying to bring himself to say what he dared no
longer think. Then he gave way suddenly.
"No," he said, hoarsely, "I don't; I don't believe we ever will!"
He put his head down on the saddle and sobbed terribly——dry, hard sobs
that came from the bottom of his big heart. And Norah had no word of
comfort. She sat still on Sirdar, staring in front of her.
Presently Jim stood up and climbed into the saddle, and the
impatient horses moved off quickly towards home, Tait jogging at their
heels. Once Jim turned towards his sister, saying, "Are you quite
knocked up, old girl?" Norah only shook her head——she did not know
that she was tired. Neither spoke again.
It was perhaps a mile further on that Norah pulled up sharply, and
whistled to Tait. The collie had slipped off into the undergrowth——she
could hear him moving on dry sticks that crackled beneath him. He
whined a little, but did not come.
"Don't wait," Jim said. "He'll catch us up in a minute."
"He always comes if I whistle," Norah answered, her brow puckering.
"I don't understand. Wait a moment, Jim." She had slid off her pony
and followed Tait almost before Jim realized that she was gone.
The dog was nosing along a big log, the ruff on his neck bristling.
As Norah saw him he leaped upon it, and down on the other side. Then
she heard him bark sharply, and flung herself over the log after him.
He was licking something that lay in the shadows, almost invisible at
first, until the dim light showed a white glimmer. It was instinct
more than sight that told Norah it was her father's face.
The wild cry turned Jim to stone for a moment——then he was off his
horse and through the scrub like a madman to where Norah knelt beside
the still form, sobbing and talking incoherently, and screwing blindly
at the cap of the flask she carried. They forced a little of the
stimulant between the set teeth, once a terrified examination had told
them that he still breathed; then Jim struck match after match, trying
to see the extent of his injuries——a hopeless task by the flickering
light that lasted only an instant. He put the box in his pocket at
"It's no good," he said, "we can't see. Wonder if the men are out
of hearing." Running to the horses, standing patiently with trailing
bridles, he fired off all his revolver shots in quick succession, and
coo-ed again and again. Then he went back to where Norah sat in the
darkness and held her father's hand.
"Don't wait," she said. "I'm sure they're out of hearing, Jim,
darling. And we couldn't dare to move him by ourselves. Tear in and
bring the men——and send for the doctor."
"I don't like to leave you here alone," he said, anxiously.
"Alone!" Norah said, in amazement. "But I've got Dad!"
"Yes," he said, "but——"
"Oh, do fly, Jimmy!" she said. "Leave me the matches. I'm all
She heard him crash back to the horses, and then the swift thud of
Nan's hoofs grew fainter and fainter as he spurred her madly over the
rough ground, galloping off for help. The darkness seemed all at once
to be more complete, and the scrub to come closer, like a curtain
round them——round her and Dad, who was found again. She put her ear
close to his mouth——the breathing was a little more distinct, and so
far as she could tell his head was uninjured. One leg was doubled up
beneath him in an ugly manner. Norah knew she must not try to move it;
but even in the darkness she was sure that it was badly hurt, and the
tears were falling on David Linton's face as Norah crept back after
her examination. It was horrible to see Dad, of all people, helpless
Perhaps it was the tears that woke him from his stupor. He stirred
a little, and groaned. At the sound, Norah, on her knees beside him,
trembled very exceedingly, with a mixture of joy and fear that almost
took her breath. She spoke softly.
"Is it——you?" said David Linton, weakly. The darkness hid his face,
but to hear his voice again was wonderful; and Norah's hands shook as
she wrestled with the flask.
"Yes, it's me," she said. "Oh, Dad, dear old Dad, are you much
"I don't know." The voice was very faint. Her fears surged back.
"Try to drink some of this——it's weak, and you won't choke," she
said. "Is your head hurt, Daddy? Could I lift it a little?"
"Not hurt," he managed to say. So she groped in the darkness to
lift the heavy head, and together they made a sorry business of the
flask, spilling far more than he drank. Still, some went the right
way; and presently he spoke again, his voice stronger.
"I knew you'd come... mate."
"Tait found you," she said. "And Jim was here, but he's gone for
the men. We'll take care of you, Daddy. Could I move you any way to
"Better not," he said. "Just——be there." His hand closed on hers,
and he seemed to slip off into unconsciousness again, for when she
spoke to him he did not answer. So Norah sat and held his hand; and
the night crept on.
"Coo-ee!" Far off a shout. She slipped her hand away gently, and
ran a little way before answering, lest the cry should startle him.
Then she shouted with all her strength; and soon the beat of hoofs
came nearer and out of the darkness Jim came back, Murty galloping
"He's spoken," said Norah; "but he's gone off again. And he's had
"Did he know you?"
"Yes; but he's terribly weak." They were all beside Mr. Linton now,
and Murty struck a match, and carefully shading it, scanned the fallen
man's face by its glimmer. Norah saw his own change as he looked. Then
the match went out, and for a moment it was darker than ever.
"They're bringing things," Jim said. He took off his coat and
spread it over his father, and Murty did the same. "And the doctor's
coming——it's wonderful luck——he came out from Cunjee with Wally." Jim
put his hand on Norah's. "Were you all right, old kiddie?"
"Quite right," said she. Then they waited silently until a rattle
of wheels came as the express wagon clattered up. Murty went out to
the track to bring the doctor in.
Dr. Anderson cast a glance at Norah by the light of the lanterns
they had brought, and spoke to Jim.
"Take her away," he said. "I don't want you, either. Murty and
Boone will help me." So the two who were only children wandered off
into the scrub together, sitting on a log, silently, in sick anxiety,
while the doctor was busy. A groan came to them once, and Norah
shuddered and put her face into her hands, while Jim, who had himself
shivered at the sound, put his arm round her, and tried to whisper
something, only his voice would not come. Then——ages later, it
seemed——the doctor's voice:
"Are you two there?"
They hurried to him.
"We'll get him home," the doctor said. "A risk, moving him; but
it's worse to leave him lying under that log. The men are getting some
of the dogwood down, so that we can carry him out better. He's badly
knocked about, but his head's all right. The leg is the worst; it's
fractured in two places. You'll have a patient for a good while,
"Then——then he won't die?"
"Die?" said the doctor. "Not a bit of it! He'll——ah, you poor
child!" For Norah had turned and clung to Jim, and was sobbing, while
the big fellow who bent over her and patted her was himself unable to
speak. Little Dr. Anderson patted them both, and choked himself,
though he hid it professionally with a cough. He remarked afterwards
that he had not known that young Norah Linton could cry.
It was only for a minute, though. The men came back carrying a
stretcher, and Norah and Jim sprang to help. Very gently they lifted
David Linton's unconscious form, and the four bore him slowly to the
wagon, Norah backing in front with two lanterns to light every step.
"Chancy work through them dorgwood spikes," said Dave Boone. But
they came out safely, and got him into the wagon, where a mattress was
in readiness. The doctor heaved a sigh of relief when the business was
done. So they took him home, the grey horses pulled into a slow walk,
while Jim and Norah rode ahead to find the smoothest track.
It was past midnight when the lights of the homestead came into
view; but everywhere Billabong was up. The men were round the open
gate of the yard, from Andy Ferguson, the tears running unheeded down
his old face, to Lee Wing, for once without his wide benevolent smile,
and in the background Lal Chunder's dark face. Beyond them was Mrs.
Brown, with the pale-faced girls behind her. There were a score of
willing hands to bring David Linton into his home.
A little later Jim came out to where Norah waited in the hall, a
little huddled figure in one corner of a leather armchair.
"He's quite comfortable," he said; "hasn't spoken, but the doctor
says it's a natural sleep, and Brownie and he are going to sit with
him. Old kiddie, are you awfully tired?"
"I'm not tired one bit!" said Norah, with no idea that she was not
speaking the exact truth.
"H'm!" said Jim, looking at her. He went into the dining-room,
returning a minute later with a glass of wine.
"You're to have this," he said authoritatively, "and then I'm going
to put you to——"
He broke off, looking at her with a little smile on his tired face.
Norah had put her head down on the arm of the big chair, and was fast
CHAPTER XX. MATES
The sleepy river murmurs low,
And far away one dimly sees,
Beyond the stretch of forest trees,
Beyond the foothills dusk and dun,
The ranges sleeping in the sun.
A. B. PATERSON.
Autumn was late that year at Billabong, and the orchard trees were
still green, though a yellow leaf showed here and there in the
Virginia creeper, as David Linton lay on the verandah and looked out
over the garden. From his couch he could see the paddock beyond, and
here and there the roan hides of some of his Shorthorns. They did not
generally graze there; but Jim had brought some into the paddock the
day before, remarking that he was certain his father would recover
much more quickly if he could see a bullock now and then. So they
grazed, and lay about in the yellow grass, and David Linton watched
From time to time Mrs. Brown's comfortable face peeped out from
door or window, with an inquiry as to her master's needs; but he was
not an exacting patient, and usually met her with a smile and
"Nothing, Brownie, thanks——don't trouble about me." Lee Wing came
along, shouldering a great coil of rubber hose like an immense grey
snake, and stopped for a cheerful conversation in his picturesque
English; and Billy, arriving from some remote corner of the run, left
his horse at the gate and came up to the verandah, standing a black
statue in shirt, moleskins and leggings, his stockwhip over his arm,
while Mr. Linton asked questions about the cattle he had been to see.
Afterwards Mrs. Brown brought out tea, having met and routed with
great slaughter Sarah, who was anxious to have the honour that up to
to-day had been Norah's alone.
"It's dull for you, sir," she said. "No mistake, it do make a
difference when that child's not in the house!"
"No doubt of that," Mr. Linton said. "But I'm getting on very well,
Brownie, although I certainly miss my nurses."
"Oh, we can make you comferable an' all that," Brownie said,
disparagingly. "But when it comes to a mate, we all know there ain't
any one for you like Miss Norah——though I do say Master Jim's as handy
in a sick-room as that high-flown nurse from Melbourne ever was——I'm
glad to me bones she's gone!" said Brownie, in pious relief.
"So am I," agreed the squatter hastily. "Afraid I don't take kindly
to the imported article——and I'm perfectly certain Norah and she
nearly came to blows many times."
"An' small wonder," said Brownie, her nose uplifted. "Keepin' her
out of your room, if you please——or tryin' to——till Miss Norah heard
you callin' her, an' simply came in at the winder! An' callin' her
'ducksy bird.' I ask you, sir," said Brownie, indignantly, "is 'ducksy
bird' the thing anybody with sense'd be likely to call Miss Norah?"
"Poor Norah!" said Mr. Linton, laughing. "She didn't tell me of
"Many a trile Miss Norah had with that nurse as I'll dare be sworn,
she'd never menshin to you, sir," Brownie answered. "She wouldn't let
a breath of anything get near you that'd worry you. Why, it was three
weeks and more before she'd let you be told about Bobs!"
David Linton's brow darkened.
"I couldn't have done any good, of course," he said. "But I'm sorry
I couldn't have helped her at all over that bad business. Well, I hope
Providence will keep that young man out of my path in future!"
"An' out of Billabong," said Brownie with fervour. "Mr. Cecil's
safer away. I guess even now he'd have a rough time if the men caught
him——an' serve him right!"
"He seems penitent," Mr. Linton said, "and even his mother wrote
about him more in sorrow than in anger. The atmosphere of admiration
in which he has always lived seems to have cooled, which should be an
uncommonly good thing for Cecil. But I don't want to see him."
"Nor more don't any of us," Brownie said, wrathfully. "Billabong
had enough of Mr. Cecil. Dear sakes!——when I think of him clearin'
away from Miss Norah that night, an' what might have 'appened but for
that blessed 'eathen, Lal Chunder, I don't feel 'ardly Christian, that
I don't! Not as she ever made much of it——but——poor little lamb!"
Mr. Linton's face contracted, and Brownie left the topic hastily.
It always agitated the invalid, who had indeed only been told of
Norah's night adventure because of the risk of his hearing of it
suddenly from outsiders or a newspaper. The district had seethed over
the child's peril, and Lal Chunder had found himself in the
embarrassing position of a hero——which by no means suited that usually
mild-mannered Asiatic. He had developed a habit of paying Billabong
frequent, if fleeting, calls; apparently for the sole purpose of
looking at Norah, for he rarely spoke. There was no guest more
Presently Murty O'Toole and Dave Boone came round the corner of the
"Masther Jim gev special insthructions not to be later'n half-past
four in takin' y' in, sir," said the Irishman. "The chill do be comin'
in the air afther that, says he. An' Miss Norah towld me to be stern
"Oh, did she?" said Norah's father, laughing. "Well, I suppose I'd
better be meek, Murty, if the orders are so strict——though it's warm
enough out here still."
"The cowld creeps up from thim flats," Murty said, judicially. "An'
whin y' are takin' things aisy——well, y' are apt to take a cowld aisy
"I'm certainly taking things far too easy for my taste," Mr. Linton
said, smiling ruefully. "Five weeks on my back, Murty!——and goodness
knows how much ahead. It doesn't suit me."
"I will admit there's some on the station 'twould suit betther,"
Murty answered. "Dave here, now——sure, he shines best whin he's on his
back! an' I can do a bit av that same meself. ("You can that!" from
the outraged Mr. Boone.) But y' had the drawback to be born widout a
lazy bone in y'r body, so 'tis a hardship on y'. There is but wan
thing that's good in it, as far as th' station sees."
"What's that, Murty?"
"Mrs. Brown here do be tellin' me Miss Norah's not to go away——an'
there's not a man on the place but slung up his hat!" said the
Irishman. "Billabong wouldn't be the same at all widout the little
misthress——we had a grudge agin that foine school in Melbourne, so we
had. However, it's all right now." He beamed on his master.
"Only a postponement, I'm afraid, Murty," said that gentleman, who
beamed himself, quite unconsciously.
"Yerra, it's no good lookin' ahead——time enough to jump over the
bridge when y' come to it," said Murty, cheerfully. "Annyhow, she'll
not be lavin' on us yit. Well, if y' are ready, sir?" He nodded to
Boone and took up his position at the head of Mr. Linton's couch.
"I'll go into the dining-room," the squatter said, as they carried
him gently into the hall. "Put me near the window, boys——no, the one
looking down the track. That's all right," as his couch came to anchor
in the bay of a window that gave a clear view of the homestead
paddock. He chatted to them awhile longer before wishing them
The stockmen tramped out, making violent efforts to be noiseless.
"Whisht, can't y'?" said Murty, indignantly, as Dave cannoned into
a chair in the hall. "Have y' not got anny manners at all, thin, Davy?
wid' him lyin' there, an' good luck to him! Did y' see how he made us
put his sofy in that square little winder?"
"Why?" asked the slower Mr. Boone.
"An' what but to see the first glimpse av them kids comin' home? Y'
do be an ass, Davy!" said Murty, pleasantly. "Begob, 'tis somethin'
f'r a man's eyes to see how Miss Norah handles that bay horse!"
Left to himself, David Linton made a pretence at reading a paper,
but his eyes were weary, and presently the sheet crackled to the
floor, and lay unheeded. Brownie, coming in softly, thought he had
fallen asleep, and tiptoed to the couch with a light rug, which she
drew over him. They handled him very carefully; although his clean,
hard life had helped him to make a wonderful recovery, his injuries
had been severe; and it would be many weeks yet before he could use
his leg, even with crutches. The trained nurse from Melbourne, who had
been more or less a necessary evil, or, as Jim put it, "an evil
necessary," had been dispensed with a week before; and now he had as
many attendants as there were inhabitants of Billabong, with Norah as
head nurse and Brownie as superintendent, and Jim as right-hand man.
Once there had been a plan that Jim should go North, for other
experience, after leaving school. But it was never talked of now.
This was the first day, since they had brought her father home,
that Norah had been induced to leave him; and then it had taken a
command on his part to make her go. She was growing pale and
hollow-eyed with the long watching.
Dr. Anderson, whose visits were becoming rarer, had prescribed a
tonic, which Norah had taken meekly, and without apparent results.
"The tonic she wants is her own old life," Brownie had said.
"Stickin' inside the house all day! it's no wonder she's peakin' and
pinin'. Make her go out, sir." So David Linton had asserted himself
from his couch; and Jim had taken Norah for a ride over the paddocks,
and to call for the mail at the Cross Roads, where the Billabong loose
bag was left by the coach three times a week.
He was lying with his eyes fixed on the track when they came out of
the trees; both horses at a hand gallop and pulling double. Norah was
on Garryowen, her face flushed and laughing, her head thrown back a
little as the beautiful bay reefed and plunged forward, enjoying the
speed as much as his rider. Jim was a length or so behind on Monarch,
whose one ambition at that moment was, in Murty's words, "to get away
on him." It was plain that the boy was exulting in the tussle. The
sunlight gleamed on the black horse's splendid side as they dashed up
As yet there had been no talk openly of a successor to Bobs——that
wound was still too sore. For the present Norah was to ride Garryowen,
since Monarch was far too frivolous to stand a long spell; Jim would
handle him for the months that must elapse before his father was in
the saddle again. Later on, Jim and Mr. Linton had great plans for
something very special——a new pony that would not disgrace Bobs'
memory, and that would fit the unused rug with the scarlet B that lay
locked away in Norah's wardrobe. Other things were locked away in her
heart; she never spoke of Bobs. But the two who were her mates knew.
The swift hoofs came thudding up the track and scattered the gravel
by the gate; then there was silence for a moment, voices and laughter,
and quick footsteps, and Jim and Norah came in together, their faces
"How did you get on, Dad? Were we long?"
"Long!" said David Linton, whose face had grown suddenly contented.
"The conceit of some people! Why, I had so much attention paid me that
I scarcely noticed you had gone." He put up one hand and took Norah's
as she sat on the arm of his couch. "But I'm glad you're back," he
added. They smiled at each other.
"Conceit's bad enough," said Jim, grinning, "but insanity's worse.
Had the maddest ride of my life, Dad——my poor old Garryowen's
absolutely cowed, and has no tail left to speak of!" He ducked to
avoid a cushion from his sister. "It's a most disastrous experiment to
keep Norah off a horse for five weeks!"
"We won't repeat it," said her father, "not that Garryowen seemed
to be suffering from nervous prostration as he came up the paddock——or
Monarch either! Any letters?"
"One from Wally," Norah cried, "poor old boy. He says school is
horrid without Jim, and he's collar-proud, and they lost the match
last Saturday——he carried out his bat for thirty-seven, though!——and
he misses Billabong, and he sends his love and all sorts of messages
to you, Dad. I guess Brownie and I will fix up a hamper for him,"
concluded Norah, pensively, weighing in her mind the attractions of
plum or seed cake, and deciding on both. "And mice pies," she added,
"What?" said her father, staring. "Oh, I see. Any other mail?"
"Oh, the usual pile for you, Dad. Agents' letters and bills and
things. Jim has them. We didn't bring the papers."
"I should think not!" returned her father. "If I catch either of
you carrying loose papers on those horses——well, one broken leg is
enough in a family of this size!"
"Too much respect for Monarch, to say nothing of my legs," said
Jim, laconically, producing a handful of letters. "There you are, Dad;
that's all. Do you want anything? I'm going down to the little paddock
for a lesson in bullock driving from Burton."
"How are you getting on in the art?" asked his father, smiling.
"Oh, slowly. My command of language doesn't seem to be sufficient,
for so far the team looks on me with mild scorn." Jim grinned. "It's
nervous work for Joe, too. I got him with the tail of the whip
yesterday, when I'd every intention of correcting old Ranger! However,
I plod on, and Joe keeps well out of the way now. He yells
instructions at me from some way back in the landscape!"
"Prudent man, Burton," laughed his father. "A good tutor, too. I
don't know that I ever saw a man handle bullocks better. Most people
don't credit bullocks with souls, but I think Joe gets nearer to
finding that attribute in his beasts than the average driver, and with
less expenditure of energy and eloquence! He's like the man we were
reading about, North:
"As to a team, over gully and hill, He can travel with twelve on
the breadth of a quill!"
"Oh, COULD he?" asked Jim, with much interest. "Well, the width of
the paddock doesn't seem more than enough for me, so far. We wobble
magnificently, the team and I! However, I keep hoping! I'd better be
going. Sure you don't want me, Dad?"
"Not just now, old chap."
"Well, I'll be back before long." He smiled at his father and
Norah, swinging out over the window ledge, and whistling cheerily
until his long legs had carried him out of sight.
"He'll be a good man on the place, Norah."
"Why, of course," said Norah, a little surprised that statement
should be made of so evident a fact. "Murty says he's 'takin' howld
wid' both hands, an' 'tis the ould man over agin,' though it's like
Murty's cheek to call you that. You won't be able to let him go away,
I believe, Dad."
"I don't see myself sparing him to any other place now," said Mr.
Linton. "Nor the head nurse either!"
Norah slipped down beside him.
"I've been thinking," she said, a little anxiously. "It's been so
lovely to think of no old school until midwinter——but I'd go
sooner——when you're quite well——if you're worried really, Dad. I don't
want to be a duffer——and of course I don't know half that other girls
"Jim will be able to keep you from going back, I expect," her
father said, watching the troubled face. "He won't be exactly a stern
tutor, and possibly lessons may be free and easy; still, after all,
Jim was a prefect, and the handling of unruly subjects is probably not
unknown to him."
"If Jim attempts to be a prefect with me," said Norah, "things will
be mixed!" She laughed, but the line came back into her forehead.
"It's not the lessons I was thinking of, Dad."
"Then what is it?"
"Oh, all the other things I don't know that other girls do. Do you
think it really matters, Dad? I know perfectly well I don't do my hair
"I seem to like it."
"And I can't talk prettily——you know, like Cecil did; and I don't
know a single blessed thing about fancywork! I'd——I'd hate you to be
ashamed of me, Dad, dear!"
"Ashamed?" He held her close; and when he spoke again there was
something in his voice that made Norah suddenly content.
"Little mate!" was all he said.