Mates at Billabong
Mary Grant Bruce (1878-1958).

Part 3 out of 4

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

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
little impatiently.

"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.

"You ask-a."

"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 nearer.

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 fervour.

"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

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, painstakingly:

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 was

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 meesis."

"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
present--come on."

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, smiling

"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.



A man would soon wonder how it's done,
The stock so soon decreases!

"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 look

"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 Cecil?"

"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, doesn't

"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 playing

"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 your

"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 orator.

"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 another

"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 the

"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--?"

"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


"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 tone.

"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."

"Why 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 then--"

"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 yourself."

"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 elaborately.

"And died?"

"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 puzzled.

"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 climb

"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' breakfast.

"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

"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 before?"

"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 death."

"So was I," said Wally, grinning. "I was always as timid as a rabbit."

"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 breakfast."

"I'd have given him rag for it, anyway," said Norah, still troubled.

"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



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.

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
the--ah--poultry, Norah?"

"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 them--"

"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 ago,

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 play?"

"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
everybody laughed.

"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

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 the Bush.

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 awfully

"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 horse."

"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?"

Norah laughed.

"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 the calves.

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 direction.

"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 Miss

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 dignity.

"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!'

That's me!"

"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
beggars ran?"

"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, my

"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 drink?"

"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 come

"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!"



I remember
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 of taste.

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

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

"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 in!"

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

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
over games.

"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

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, ruminating.

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.



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 manner.

"I needn't bother Cecil, Jim," she said, "I can quite easily ride on by

"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

Thus directly questioned, Cecil could do nothing but express his entire

"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 on,

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 final.

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

"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 herself together.

"My people are coming--you'd better let go. If my brother gets hold of

"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

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 about

"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 him

"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 keenly.

"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
dangerously calm.

"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

"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 little.

"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 him."

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


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