Mates at Billabong
Mary Grant Bruce (1878-1958).
Part 4 out of 4
storm's coming, and if we don't want wet jackets we'd better travel."
They tore homewards through the hot night. Presently Wally started a
chorus, and both boys were relieved when Norah joined in. They nodded
at each other cheerfully behind her back. So, singing very lustily, if
not in the most artistic fashion, they reached the Billagong stables
just as the first heavy drops were falling.
Within, Cecil met them, a little nervously.
"I thought you were lost," he said.
"H'm," said Jim, passing him, and struggling with his promise. "Sorry
you and Norah had any difference of opinion."
"Possibly I was--ah--hasty," he said. "I did not consider I asked Norah
much of a favour."
"That's a matter of opinion. At any rate, Cecil, I may as well tell you
straight out that I don't consider it would be at all wise for you to
"I'm not likely to hurt him."
"He might very likely hurt you. He's not an easy pony to ride."
Cecil's little laugh was irritating.
"What?" he said. "I don't profess to be a jockey, but--a child's pony?"
Jim very nearly lost his temper.
"You won't be convinced," he said, "and I've no desire to convince you
with Bobs. But take my advice and let Norah alone about her pony.
You've a very good mare to ride."
"That old crock!" said Cecil, scornfully.
"Crock!" he said. "Well, you won't find many hacks to beat old Betty,
even if in your mighty judgment she is a crock. And, anyhow, Bobs is
Norah's, and no one else has any say about him. There's the bell;
The meal was scarcely lively. Cecil maintained an offended silence, and
Jim was too angry to talk, while Norah was silent and a little pale.
However, Cecil retired to his room immediately he had finished; and the
boys set themselves to the task of diverting Norah, fearful lest the
evening's adventure should have any bad effect on her. They succeeded
so well that by bedtime Norah had forgotten all her troubles, and was
weak with laughter. When Wally set out "to blither," as he said, he did
not do things by halves.
Jim came into Norah's room and switched on her light.
"Sure you're all right, kiddie?"
"Rather!" said Norah. "I've laughed too much to be anything else."
"Then go to sleep laughing," said Jim, practically. "I'm quite close if
you want anything."
"Oh, I won't want anything, thanks," Norah answered. "Good-night,
"Good-night, little chap."
Norah tumbled hastily into bed and slept dreamlessly. She did not know
that Jim dragged a sofa and some rugs along the corridor, and slept
close to her door.
"Kid might dream and wake up scared," he said to Wally, a little
apologetically, before mounting guard. It was Jim's way.
A CHILD'S PONY
With the spirit of fire and of dew
To show the road home to them all.
It was quite early next morning when Cecil awoke. One of his grievances
against the country was the way in which the birds acted as alarum
clocks every day, rousing him from his well-earned slumbers fully an
hour before even the earliest milk cart rattling along the suburban
street fulfilled a similar purpose at home. Generally, he managed to
turn over and go to sleep again. This morning, however, he was
He lay turning in his mind his anger against his cousins. Little causes
for annoyance, simple enough in themselves, had been brooded over until
they made up a very substantial total; and now, last night's happenings
capped everything. In his own heart of hearts he knew that he had small
justification for his childish outbursts of anger; only it was not
Cecil's nature to admit any such thing, and if justification were not
evident, his mind was quite equal to manufacturing it. At the end of
half an hour's gloomy pondering he had worked himself up into a fine
state of ill usage, and into the firm belief that Norah and the boys
had no intention but to insult and humiliate him.
To some natures there is a certain comfort in nursing a grievance, and
reasoning themselves into a plaintive state of martyrdom. When Cecil
finally rolled angrily out of bed, he was almost cheerful in the
contemplation of his own unhappiness. They were determined to sneer at
him and lessen his pride, were they? Well, they should see.
Just what they were likely to see, Cecil did not know himself, but the
reflection was soothing. Meanwhile, the birds were maddeningly active,
and an unusual restlessness was upon him. He dressed slowly, putting on
flannels, for the day promised heat, and went downstairs.
Sarah and Mary were busy in the hall, and lifted astonished eyebrows at
seeing the boy down before the others; as a rule Cecil strolled into
the dining-room barely in time for breakfast, or was late altogether.
He took no notice of them, but wandered out to the back, where Brownie
was found instructing a new kitchen assistant in the gentle art of
cleaning a stove. She, too, showed amazement at the apparition, but
recovered sufficiently to offer him tea and scones, to which Cecil did
"Be you all going out early?" Brownie asked.
"Not that I know of." Cecil's tone did not encourage conversation.
"Seein' you so unusual early, I thought there was some plan on," said
Brownie. "Master Jim's great on makin' plans, ain't he? (Meriar, elbow
grease is one of the necessariest things in gettin' a shine on a
stove--don't let me catch you merely strokin' it again!) An' Miss
Norah's always ready to back him up--wunnerfull mates them two has alwuz
been, an' Master Jim has ever and alwuz looked after her, from the
d'rekly-minute he could walk!"
"Ah?" said Cecil.
"Well may you say so," said Brownie, inspired by her subject. "As
loving-kind a pair as could be, have them two been; and as proud of
each other--! Well, any one who reads may run! An', Master Jim never
mindin' her being on'y a girl; not that that has 'ampered Miss Norah
much, I will say, seein' how she rides an' all. I'm sure it's a picture
to see her on that there Bobs, an' the dumb beast knows every single
word she says to him. They'll fret for each other cruel, Bobs an' her,
when she goes to school."
Brownie's enthusiasm was ill-timed, as far as Cecil was concerned;
indeed, she could scarcely have hit upon a subject less palatable to
him. Still, it was useless to interfere with the old woman; so he
gulped down his tea hastily, listening with ill-concealed impatience to
her talk of Norah and Bobs, and then escaped abruptly.
"H'm!" said Brownie, looking after him. "Not a word out of me noble--not
even a thank you! Too much of a fine gentleman for Billabong, like his
ma before him!"
"Young gent don't seem to cotton to Miss Norah," remarked the astute,
if new, Maria, who had been listening with all her ears.
"When you're asked for your opinion about your betters, Meriar, it may
be time to shove in your oar; but until then let me advise you to keep
it in your own head," said Brownie severely. "At present your work is
rubbin' that stove, and if it ain't done in remarkable quick time it'll
have to be blackleaded all over again, bein' as how it'll have got too
dry!" Appalled by which awful possibility, Maria fell to work with
wonderful vigour, dismissing all lesser matters from her mind.
Meanwhile, Cecil strolled across the yard, and thence towards the
stockyards, where a trampling of feet and a light cloud of dust showed
that the men had got in the horses for the day. He selected a clean
place on the top rail carefully, and cast his eye over the little mob
standing in groups about the enclosure--a dozen stock horses; the big
pair of greys that were used in the covered buggy or the express wagon;
the brown ponies that Norah drove; his own mount Betty, and Wally's
mare Nan; and then the aristocrats, Garryowen and, last of all, Bobs.
Norah's pony was standing near an old black horse for which he had a
great affection. They were nearly always to be found together in the
yards or paddocks. Even unbrushed as he was, the sunlight rippled on
his bay coat when he moved, showing the hard masses of muscle in his
"Beauty, ain't he?" It was Mick Shanahan, on his way to another paddock
to bring in some colts. He pulled up beside Cecil, the youngster he was
riding sidling impatiently.
"Yes, he's a nice pony," said Cecil, without enthusiasm.
"Well, I've seen a few, but he beats 'em all," said the horsebreaker.
"A ringer from the time he was a foal--and he's only improved since I
first handled him, four year ago. Worth a pot of money that pony is!"
He laughed. "Not as his particular owner'd sell him, I reckon. Miss
Norah acts more by that chap than by anything else she's got!"
"I suppose so," Cecil said, seeing that he waited for a reply.
"Yes, my word! Take 'em all round, they'd be hard to beat as a pair,"
said Mick, lighting his pipe in apparent ignorance that his horse was
indulging in caracoles that appeared likely to end in a bucking
demonstration. He threw the match away after carefully extinguishing
it, and puffed out a cloud of smoke. "Quiet, y' image, can't y'? Who's
hurtin' y'? Well, I must be goin'--so long." Cecil nodded casually, and
the impatient pupil went off in a series of bounds that struck the city
boy as alarming, although Mick did not appear to notice that his mount
was not walking demurely.
Several other men came to the stockyard, selected each a horse, and
saddled it, and disappeared in various directions. The old black horse,
Bob's mate, was taken by Joe Burton, who harnessed him into a dray that
stood near, loaded up a number of fence rails, and drove off over the
paddock, evidently to a job of repairing some boundary. Cecil watched
them crawl across the plain, until they were only a speck on the grass.
Then he turned his sullen eyes on Bobs, who, left alone, had come
nearer to the fence where he sat, and was sleepily flicking with his
tail at an intrusive fly, which insisted on walking round his hip.
Cecil stared at him for some minutes before his idea came to him.
Then he flushed a little, his hand clenching on the post beside him. At
first the idea was fascinating, but preposterous; he tried to put it
from him, but it came back persistently, and his mind held it with a
kind of half-fearful excitement. They had said he could not ride him--a
child's pony! Would he show them?
Once he entertained the idea at all he could not let it go. It would be
such an easy way of "coming out on top"--of showing them that in one
thing at least their opinion was worthless. That Jim's words were true,
and that he could not master Bobs, he ridiculed loftily. It was
impossible for him to believe that what a child of fourteen did so
easily he might not be able to do. He had never seen Bobs other than
quiet; and though big and well bred and spirited, he was still only a
pony--a child's pony. Visions floated before him of increased respect
paid him by the men, and even by his uncle, when he should have
demonstrated his ability to manage something better than old Brown
Betty, flicking at the flies in her corner of the yard, with
down-drooped head, and then--he wanted to ride Bobs; and all his life
Cecil Linton had done what he wanted.
He slipped down from the fence and went across to the stables for a
saddle and bridle, entering the harness room a little nervously, but
relieved on finding no men about. Returning, he caught Bobs--who stood
like the gentleman he was--and brought him outside, where his
unaccustomed fingers bungled a little with the saddle. The one he had
chosen in his haste had a breastplate, but this he could not manage at
all; and at last he managed to get the bewildering array of straps off,
and hang it over the fence. He buckled on a pair of spurs he had found
in the harness room. Then he gathered up the reins and clambered into
the saddle. Possibly, had he let Bobs feel the spur, his ride would
have ended there and then, and there would have been no further
developments in Cecil's excursion; and it is certain that he would have
spurred him cheerfully, had not the pony moved off at once. As it was
he sat back and felt exceedingly independent and pleased with himself.
He turned him down the home paddock.
"Phwat are y' doin' on that pony?"
Murty O'Toole had come out of the men's quarters, and was gazing
open-mouthed at the unfamiliar figure on Bobs--"the city feller," for
once not apparelled in exaggerated riding clothes, but in loose
flannels; already the legs of the trousers had worked up from his low
shoes, disclosing a vision of brilliant sock. Cecil took no notice.
"Hallo, there! Shtop a minnit! Who put y' on Bobs?"
"Mind your own business," said Cecil, between his teeth, looking round.
"My business, is it? Sure, 'tis my business, if 'tis anny man's on
Billabong! Did Miss Norah say y' could ride her pony?"
"What's that to you?"
"Be gob!" said Murty, "'tis more to me than it is to you, seein' 'tis
meself knows Miss Norah's feelin's an' disposition about Bobs! Did she
give y' leave? Tell me, or I'll pull y' off, if y' was the Boss' nevvy
ten times over!"
"WILL you?" Cecil spat the words at him bitterly. He shook the reins,
and Bobs, impatient enough already, broke into a canter that carried
him away from the good friend who had intervened on his behalf. They
shot across the paddock.
Murty, left helpless, said a few strong things as he looked after the
"It's a guinea to a gooseberry he's taken Frinch lave wid him," he
said, "bitther tongued little whipper-snapper that he is! Sure if Bobs
gets rid av him it'll serve him sorry, so 'twill. But phwat'll I do
about it, at all?" He scratched his head reflectively. "If I go over
'twill only worry Miss Norah to hear--an' it's most likely he'll have
enough av it pretty soon, an' the pony'll come home--an I do not care if
he comes home widout him! I'll lave it be f'r awhile." He went slowly
over to the stockyards.
Cecil, cantering over the grass with Bobs' perfect stride beneath him,
was, for the moment, completely satisfied with himself. He had routed
the enemy in the first engagement, and, if he had not left him
speechless, at least he had had the last word. Murty and he had been at
daggers drawn from the very first day, when the grinning Irishman had
pulled him out of the wild raspberry clump in the cutting-out paddock;
and the cheerful friendliness with which Jim and Norah treated the
stockman had always irritated him. He was exceedingly pleased that on
this occasion he had scored at his expense.
Where should he go? There were three gates leading out of the home
paddock--one to the Cunjee road; another to a similar well-cleared plain
to that on which the house stood; and a third into a smaller paddock,
which in its turn led into part of the rougher and steeper part of the
run. Cecil wanted to get out of sight quickly. In his mind there was a
half-formed idea that Murty might saddle a horse and come out in
pursuit; and a hand-to-hand encounter with the justly indignant
Irishman was just at that moment the last thing that the boy wanted. So
he decided upon the bush paddock, and headed in that direction.
Now, a horse that is always ridden by one person is apt to develop
ideas of his own--possibly through acquiring habits insensibly from his
usual rider. Also, he becomes accustomed to that one rider, and is
quite likely to be annoyed by a change--not alone in weight and in style
of riding, but in the absence of the sympathy that always exists
between a horse so managed and the one who cares for him and
understands him. The alien hand on his mouth had irritated Bobs from
the first; it was heavy, and jerky, where Norah's touch was as a
feather; and the light, firm seat in the saddle was changed for a
weight that bumped and shifted continuously. Further, it was not very
usual for Norah to ride in this direction--he had headed naturally for
the second gate before his tender mouth was suddenly wrenched aside
towards the third. Bobs arrived at the gate in something considerably
removed from his usual contented state of mind.
The gate was awkward, and Cecil clumsy at shutting it; he hauled the
pony's mouth roughly in his efforts to bring him into position where he
could send home the catch. The same performance was repeated at the
next gate--the one leading into the bush paddock; and when at length
they turned from it Bobs' mouth was feeling the bit in a manner that
was quite new to him, and as unpleasant as new. He sidled off in a
rough, jerky walk, betraying irritation in every movement, had Cecil
been wise enough to know it.
Cecil, however, was still perfectly content. He was out of sight of the
house, which was comforting in itself; while as for the idea that he
was not completely master of his mount, he would have been highly
amused at it. It was pleasant to be out, in the morning freshness; and
there was no need to hurry home, since the scones and tea in the
kitchen had made him independent of breakfast. The paddock he was in
looked interesting, too; the plain ended in a line of rough,
scrub-grown hills which it occurred to him would be a good place to
explore. He headed towards them.
Bobs walked on, inwardly seething; jerking his head impatiently at the
unceasing pressure on his bit, and now and then giving a little half
kick that at length attracted Cecil's attention, making him wonder
vaguely what was wrong. Possibly something in the saddle; it had
occurred to him when cantering that his girth was loose. So he
dismounted and tightened it, bringing it up with a jerk that pinched
the pony suddenly, and made him back away. This time Cecil did not find
it so easy to mount. He was a little nervous as he rode on--and there is
nothing that more quickly communicates itself to a horse than
nervousness in the rider. Bobs began to dance as be went, and Cecil,
hauling at his mouth, broke out into a mild perspiration. He decided
that he was not altogether an easy pony to ride.
A hare jumped up abruptly in the grass just ahead. Bobs shied and
plunged--and missing the hand that always understood and steadied such
mistaken energy, gave a couple of rough "pig-jumps." It was more than
enough for Cecil; mild as they were, he shot on to the pony's neck,
only regaining the saddle by a great effort. The reins flopped, and the
indignant Bobs plunged forward, while his rider clawed for support, his
feet and hands alike flying. As he dropped back into the saddle, the
spurs went home; and Bobs bolted.
He had never in his life felt the spur; light and free in every pace,
Norah's boot heel was the utmost correction that ever came to him. This
sudden cruel stab on either side was more than painful--it was a sudden
shock of amazement that was sharper than pain. Coming on top of all his
grievances, it was too much for Bobs. Possibly, a mad race would rid
him of this creature on his back, who was so unlike his mistress. His
heels went up with a little squeal as he bounded forward before
settling into his stride.
Cecil gave himself up for lost from the first. He tugged frantically at
the rein, realizing soon that the pony was in full command, and that
his soft muscles might as well pull at the side of a house as try to
stop him. He lost one stirrup, and clung desperately to the pommel
while he felt for it, and by great good luck managed to get his foot in
again--a piece of good fortune which his own efforts would never have
secured. The pommel was too comforting to be released; he still clung
to it while he tried to steady himself and to see where he was going.
The plain ended abruptly just before him, and the rough hills sloped
away to the south. Perhaps, if he put Bobs at the steepest it might
calm him a little, and he might be able to pull him up. So he wrenched
the pony's mouth round, and presently they were racing up the face of
the hill, which apparently made no difference whatever to Bobs. Cecil
had not the slightest idea that his heels were spurring the pony at
every stride. He wondered angrily in his fear why he seemed to become
momentarily more maddened, and sawed at the bleeding mouth in vain.
They were at the top of the hill now. The crest was sharp and
immediately over it a sharp drop went down to a gully at the bottom. It
was steep, rough-going, boulder-strewn and undermined with wombat
holes. Perhaps in his calmer moments Bobs might have hesitated, but
just now he knew nothing but a frantic desire to escape from that cruel
agony in his sides. He flung down the side of the hill blindly, making
great bounds over the sparse bracken fern that hid the ground. Cecil
was nearly on his shoulder now--a moment more would set him free.
Then he put his foot on a loose boulder that gave with him and went
down the slope in a flurry of shifting stones. He made a gallant effort
to recover himself, stumbling to his knees as Cecil left the saddle and
landed in the ferns--but just as he struck out for firmer footing his
forefoot sank into a wombat hole, and he turned a complete somersault,
rolling over and over. He brought up against a big boulder, struggled
to rise and then lay still.
* * * * *
Presently Cecil came limping to him, white and angry.
"Get up, you brute!" he said, kicking him. When there was no response,
he took the bridle, jerking it. Bobs' head gave a little at every jerk,
but that was all.
Between rage and fear, Cecil lost his head. He kicked the pony
savagely; and finding that useless, sought a stick and thrashed him as
he lay. Once Bobs struggled, but only his head and shoulders came up,
and presently they fell back again. Cecil gave it up at last, and left
him alone, limping down to the gully and out of sight. He sat down on a
log for a long while, until the sun grew hot. Then he pulled his hat
over his eyes and set off towards home.
Bobs did not know he had gone. He lay quite still.
ON THE HILLSIDE
Never again, when the soft winds blow,
We shall ride by the river.
G. ESSEX EVANS.
Wally came into breakfast with a rush and a scramble, bearing traces of
a hasty toilet. At the table Norah and Jim were eating solemnly, with
expressions of deep disapproval. They did not raise their eyes as Wally
"Awfully sorry!" said he. "You've no idea of the difficulties I've had
to overcome, Norah, and all along of him!" indicating Jim with a jerk
of his head. "Oh, Norah, do be sympathetic, and forget that he's your
brother. I assure you I'd be a far better brother to you than ever he
could, and you can have me cheap! Look up at me, Norah, and smile--one
perfect grin is all I ask! He took my towel and dressed Tait in it, and
for all he cared I would be swimming in that beastly lagoon yet, and
dying of cramp, and nervous prostration, and housemaid's knee. And she
goes on gnawing a chop!"
He sat down, and buried his face in his hands tragically, and began to
sob, whereat Norah and Jim laughed, and the victim of circumstances
recovered with promptitude.
"Cream, please," he said, attacking his porridge. "Oh, he's a beast,
Norah. I'm blessed if I know why you keep him in the family--it can't be
for either his manners or his looks! I have a hectic cough coming on
rapidly. My uncle by marriage three times removed died of consumption,
and it's a thing I've always been nervous about. When I occupy the
family urn with my ashes you'll be sorry!"
"I should be more than sorry if it were this urn," Jim put in,
grinning. "It might be an honour, of course; but we've other homely
uses for the urn. How long did you swim, Wal.?"
"Never you mind," returned Wally wrathfully. "I don't see why I should
satisfy any part of your fiendish curiosity--only when Brownie finds
Tait wearing one of the best bath towels as a toga, and makes remarks
about it, I shall certainly refer her to you!"
"I never saw a dog look so miserable as he did," Norah said, laughing.
"He came straight up to me, with a truly hang-dog air, and folds of
towel ever so far behind him in the grass, and didn't get back his
self-respect until I took it off. Poor old Tait! You really ought to be
ashamed of yourself, Jimmy."
"I am," said Jim cheerfully. "Toast, please."
"When I saw Tait last he was disappearing into the landscape with all
his blushing honours thick upon him!" Wally said. "I don't see why you
waste all your sympathy on the brute, and give me none. It's the
greatest wonder I'm here at all!"
"Where's Cecil, anyhow?" asked Jim, suddenly.
"Haven't an idea--how should I? He wasn't in the lagoon, which is the
only place I could give an expert opinion on this morning."
"Oh, he's late as usual," Norah said. "I suppose he's still cross about
last night. Really, Jim, I'm sorry we've managed to rub him up the
"Why, the difficulty would be to find the right way," Jim retorted.
"He's such a cross-grained beggar--you never know when you're going to
offend him; and of course he's perfectly idiotic about the horses.
Wonder if he thinks we LIKE horses with sore backs and mouths! He'll
have to give poor old Betty a spell, anyhow, for she's a patch on her
back the size of half a crown, thanks to him."
"Oh, dear!" said Norah, with a little shiver. "That's awfully bad
news--'cause I'd about made up my mind to offer him Bobs!"
"Offer--him--Bobs!" said Jim slowly. Wally gasped.
"Just for a ride, Jimmy. He's a guest, you know, and I don't like him
to feel ill-used. And you let him on Garryowen."
"Only for a moment--and then with my heart in my boots!" said Jim.
"Norah, I think you're utterly mad if you lend him Bobs--after last
night, too! Why, you know jolly well I'VE never asked you for your
"Well, you could have had him," Norah answered, "you know that, Jimmy.
I don't want to lend him to Cecil--I simply hate it; but I don't like
the idea of his thinking we treated him at all badly."
"He's the sort of chap that would find a grievance if you gave
everything you had in the world," Jim said. "It's all rot--and I tell
you straight, Nor., I don't think it's safe, either. Bobs is all right
with you, of course, but he's a fiery little beggar, and there's no
knowing what he'd do with a sack of flour like that on his back. I wish
"What do you think, Wally?"
"Me? Oh, I'm with Jim," Wally answered. "Personally, I think a
velocipede is about Cecil's form, and it's absolute insult to a pony
like Bobs to ask him to carry him! And you'd hate it so, Nor.'!"
"Oh, I know I would," Norah said. "He's such a dear--"
"No, you donkey--Bobs," Norah continued, laughing. "I'd feel like
begging his pardon all the time. But--"
"Murty wants to see you, Master Jim," said Mary, entering. "Says he'd
be glad if you could spare him a minute."
"All right, Mary--thank you," said Jim, getting up lazily and strolling
out. "Back in a minute, you two."
"What happens to-day, Norah? Marmalade, please," said Wally, in a
"The marmalade happens on the spot," laughed Norah, handing it to him.
"Otherwise--oh, I don't know, unless we ride out somewhere and fish. We
haven't been out to Angler's Bend this time, have we?"
"No, but that's fifteen miles. You'd never let Cecil ride Bobs that
"Oh, I couldn't!" said Norah, hastily. "I don't think I possibly could
ride anything except Bobs out there. Cecil might have him another day,
if Jim doesn't think me quite mad. Perhaps I won't be sorry if he does,
'cause I'd hate to go against Jim! And Bobs is--"
"Bobs," said Wally gravely; and Norah smiled at him. "Hallo,
Jamesy--what passion hangs these weights upon thy brow?"
Jim had entered quickly.
"It's that beauty Cecil," he said, angrily. "My word, Norah, I'll let
that young man know what I think about him! He's taken Bobs!"
"Gone out on Bobs before breakfast. Must have got him in the yard, and
saddled him himself. Murty saw him just as he was riding off, and tried
to stop him. Here's Murty--he'll tell you."
"Sure, I towld him to stop, Miss Norah," said the stock-man. "Axed him,
I did, if he'd y'r lave, and he gev me back-answers as free as y'
please. I was perfickly calm, an never losht me timper, an' towld him
I'd pull him off av the little harse if he'd not the lave to take him;
an' he put the comether on me by cantherin' off. So I waited, thinkin'
not to worry y', an' that he'd be comin' back; or more be token Bobs
widout him, an' small loss. But he's elsewhere yit, so I kem in f'r
"Well, I'm blessed!" said Norah, weakly.
"The mean little toad!" Wally's voice was full of scorn. "I'd like five
quiet minutes with him with coats off when he comes back!"
"I guess he'll get that--or its equivalent," said Jim, grimly. "Which
way did he go, Murty?"
"To the bush paddock, Masther Jim. He's that stupid, tin to one he's
bushed in one av thim gullies."
"Or else Bobs has slung him; but in that case Bobs would be back at the
gate," Jim said. "Perhaps he is."
"No, he ain't, Masther Jim, I wint over a bit an' had a look. There's
no sign av either av thim."
"Well, I suppose we'd better go after them," Jim said. "What'll you
ride, Nor? Would you care for Garryowen?"
Norah smiled at him.
"No, thanks, old man. I'll have Cirdar," she said. "Can you get him,
"In two twos, Miss Norah," said the stockman, departing hastily.
"You're not worried, Norah, old girl?" Jim said.
"Why, not exactly; he can't hurt Bobs, of course, beyond a sore back,"
Norah answered. "I'm more cross than worried--it is such cheek, Jim,
isn't it? All the same, I hope Cecil's all right."
"Him!" said Jim, with fine scorn. "That sort never comes to any harm.
Well, hurry up, and get your habit on, old chap."
There was no need to tell Norah to hurry. She flew upstairs, Brownie
plodding after; the news had flown round the house in a few moments,
and there was a storm of indignation against the absent Cecil.
"If I'd knowed!" said Brownie, darkly, bringing Norah's linen coat out
from the wardrobe, and seeking with vigour for a felt hat that already
was on her head. "Me, givin' him tea and scones, an' talkin' about the
pony, too, no less; little I guessed at the depths of him. Never mind,
my dearie, Master Jim'll deal with him!"
"Oh, it'll be all right, if Bobs hasn't hurt him. Only there'll be an
awful row when Jim gets him. I never saw Jim so angry," Norah said.
"A good thing, too!" said the warlike Mrs. Brown. "There you are,
dearie, an' there's your 'unting-crop. Off you go!" and Norah ran
downstairs, finding Jim and Wally waiting, boots and leggings on. They
set off, Murty muttering dark threats against Cecil as he shut the gate
of the stable yard after them.
Wally had recovered his cheerfulness, never long absent from him, and
was, besides, not unpleasantly excited at the thought of war ahead. He
chattered gaily as they rode through the first two paddocks. But Jim
remained quiet. As Norah said, she had never seen him so angry. Anxiety
in his mind warred with hot anger against the insult to Norah and to
them all. He swept the bush paddock with his eye as they came up to it,
seeing nothing but the scattered bullocks here and there.
"Wonder which way he'd go," he said. "Suppose you and Wally cut over to
the right, Norah, and see if you can find any trace. I'll go over this
way. We'll coo-ee to each other if we come across him." They separated,
and Jim put Garryowen at a canter across the plain. Here and there he
could see a track--and something made him wish to go on alone.
He was nearly at the foot of the hills when a figure came out from
their shadow. Jim gave a sudden little sound in his throat as he saw
that it was Cecil--and alone. He was limping a little, and had evidently
been down. Relief that he was safe was the first thought; then, anxiety
being done with, there was no room for anything but anger. Jim rode
towards him. At the sight of his approach Cecil started a little, and
cast a glance round as if looking for a hiding place; then he came on
doggedly, his head down.
"I've been looking for you," Jim said, controlling his voice with
difficulty. "Where's Bobs?"
"Over there." Cecil jerked his hand backwards.
"What do you mean? did he get away from you?"
"He bolted," Cecil said.
"And threw you?"
Cecil nodded. "Yes--can't you see I'm limping?"
"Well, did he clear out again?"
"No--he's over there."
Jim's face went grim. "Do you mean--you don't mean the pony's HURT?"
"He won't get up," said Cecil, sullenly. "I've tried my best."
For a moment they faced each other, and then Cecil quailed under the
younger boy's look. His eyes fell.
Jim jumped off. "Go on."
"Back to Bobs, of course. Hurry up!"
"I can't go back there," Cecil said, angrily. "I'm limping, and--"
"Do you think your limp matters an atom just now?" Jim said, through
his teeth. "Hurry up."
He followed Cecil, not trusting himself to speak. A dull despair lay on
his heart, and above everything a great wave of pity for the little
sister across the paddock. If he could spare Norah--!
Then they were in the gully, and he saw Bobs above him, and knew in
that instant that he could spare her nothing. The bay pony lay where he
had fallen, his head flung outwards; helplessness in every line of the
frame that had been a model of strength and beauty an hour ago. As Jim
looked Bobs beat his head three times against the ground, and then lay
still. The boy flung round, sick with horror.
"Why, you vile little wretch--you've killed him!"
He had Cecil in a grip of iron, shaking him as a dog shakes a rat--not
knowing what he did in the sick fury that possessed him. Then suddenly
he stopped and hurled him from him into the bracken. He ran down the
"Go back, Norah dear--don't come."
Norah and Wally had come cantering quickly round the shoulder of the
hill. She was laughing at something Wally had said as they rode into
the gully, and the laugh was still on her lips as she looked at Jim.
Then she saw his face, and it died away.
"What is it, Jim?"
"Don't come, kiddie," the boy said, wretchedly. "Wally, you take her
"Why?" said Norah. "We saw Cecil--where's Bobs?" Her eyes were wandering
round the gully. They passed Cecil, lying on his face in the bracken,
and travelled further up the hill. Then she turned suddenly white, and
flung herself off Sirdar.
Jim caught her as she came blindly past him.
"Kiddie--it's no good--you mustn't!"
"I must," she said, and broke from him, running up the hillside. Jim
followed her with a long stride, his arm round her as she stumbled
through the ferns and boulders. When they came to Bobs he held her back
for a moment.
The pony was nearly done. As they looked his head beat the ground again
unavailingly, and at the piteous sight a dry sob broke from Norah, and
she went on her knees by him.
"Norah--dear little chap--you mustn't." Jim's voice was choking. "He
doesn't know what he's doing, poor old boy--it isn't safe."
"He wants me," she said. "Bobs--dear Bobs!"
At the voice he knew the pony quivered and struggled to rise. It was no
use--he fell back, though the beautiful head lifted itself, and the
brown eyes tried to find her. She sat down and took his head on her
knee, stroking his neck and speaking to him... broken, pitiful words.
Presently she put her cheek down to him, and crouched there above him.
Something of his agony died out of Bobs' eyes. He did not struggle any
more. After a little he gave a long shiver, straightening out; and so
* * * * *
"Come on home, old kiddie."
It seemed a long time after, Norah could not think of a time when she
had done anything but sit with that quiet head on her knee. She
shuddered all over.
"I can't leave him."
"You must come, dear." Jim's hands were lifting Bobs' head as tenderly
as she herself could have done it. He picked her up and held her as
though she had been a baby, and she clung to him, shaking.
"If I could help you!" he said, and there were tears in his eyes. "Oh,
Nor.--you know, don't you?"
He felt her hand tighten on his arm. Then he carried her down the hill,
where Garryowen stood waiting.
"The others have gone," he said. "I sent them home--Wally and--that
brute! I've told him to go--I'll kill him if I see him again!" He lifted
her into his saddle, and keeping his arms round her, walked beside the
bay horse down the gully and out upon the plain.
"Jim," she whispered--somewhere her voice had gone away--"you can't go
home like that. Let me walk." His arm tightened.
"I'm all right," he said--"poor little mate!"
They did not speak again until they were nearly home--where, ahead,
Brownie waited, her kind eyes red; while every man about the homestead
was near the gate, a stern-faced, angry group that talked in savage
undertones. Murty came forward as Jim lifted Norah down.
"Miss Norah," he said. "Miss Norah, dear--sure I'd sooner--"
The tall fellow's voice broke as he looked at the white, childish face.
"Thanks, Murty," Norah said steadily.
"And--all of you." She turned from the pitying faces, and ran indoors.
"Oh, Brownie, don't let any one see me!"
Then came a dazed time, when she did not know anything clearly. Once,
lying on her bed, with her face pressed into the pillow, trying not to
see a lean head that beat on the ground, she heard a dull sound that
rose to an angry shout from the men; and immediately the buggy drove
away quickly, as Wally took Cecil away from Billabong. She only
shivered, pressing her face harder. Jim was always near at first; the
touch of his hand made her calm when dreadful, shuddering fits came
over her. All through the night he sat by her bed, watching
Then there was a longer time when she was alone, and there seemed much
going to and fro. But no sounds touched her nearly. She could only
think of Bobs, lying in the bracken, and calling silently to her with
his pain-filled eyes.
Then, late on, the second evening, Jim came back with a troubled face
and sat on the bed.
"Norah," he said, "I want you."
"I want you to be brave, old chap," he said slowly. Something in his
tone made her start and scan his tired face.
"What is it?" she asked.
"It may be all right," Jim said, "but--but I thought I'd better tell
you, Norah, they--we can't find Dad!"
BROTHER AND SISTER
We were mates together,
And I shall not forget.
W. H. OGILVIE.
Jim had not wanted to tell Norah. It had been Brownie who had
"I think she's got enough to bear," the boy had said, sitting on the
edge of the kitchen table, and flicking his boots mechanically with his
whip. He had been riding hard almost all day, but anxiety, not fatigue,
had put the lines into his face. "What's the good of giving her any
"I do believe it'd be best for her, the poor lamb!" Brownie had said.
"She's there all day, not speaking--it'll wear her out. An' you know,
Master Jim, dear, she'd never forgive us for keepin' anything back from
her about the master."
"No--but we've nothing definite. And it may make her really ill, coming
on top of the other."
"I don't think Miss Norah's the sort to let herself get ill when there
was need of her. It may take her poor mind off the other--she can't help
that now, an' he was only a pony--"
"Only a pony! By George, Brownie--!"
"Any horse is only a pony when compared to your Pa," said Brownie,
unconscious of anything peculiar in her remark. "I don't know that real
anxiety mayn't help her, Master Jim. And any'ow, it don't seem to me
we've the right to keep it from her, them bein', as it were, that
partickler much to each other. Take my tip, an' you tell her."
"What do you think, Wally?"
"I'm with Brownie," said Wally, unexpectedly. "It's awful to see Norah
lying there all day, never saying a word, and this'll rouse her up when
nothing else would." So Jim had yielded to the weight of advice, and
had gone slowly up to tell Norah they could not find David Linton.
"Can't find him?" she echoed. "but isn't he at Killybeg?"
"He left there yesterday morning," Jim answered. "A telegram came from
him last night, and it was important--something about cattle--so I sent
Burton into Cunjee with it--Killybeg's on the telephone now, you know,
and Burton could ring him up from the post office. But the Darrells
were astonished, and said he'd left there quite early, and meant to
come straight home."
"Well?" Norah was white enough now.
"Well, I got worried, and so did Murty; because you know there isn't
any stopping place between here and Killybeg when you come across the
ranges. And Monarch's pretty uncertain--in rough country, especially. So
I got Murty and Wally to go out at daylight this morning, taking the
straight line to the Darrells, and they picked up his tracks pointing
homewards about five miles from the Billabong boundary. Murty made
Monarch's shoes himself, and he could swear to them anywhere. They
followed them awhile, and they came to a place where the ground was
beaten down a lot, as if he'd had trouble with Monarch; I expect
something scared him, and he played the fool. But after that the tracks
led on to some stony rises, and they lost them; the ground was too
hard. They could only tell he'd gone right off the line to Billabong."
"Jim! Do you think--? Oh, he couldn't be hurt! Monarch would never get
rid of him."
"He'd stick to Monarch as long as the girth held and Monarch stood up,"
Jim said. "but it's rough country, and a young horse isn't handy on
those sidings. Of course it may be all right; but if so, why wasn't he
home twenty-four hours ago?"
"Have you done anything?"
"Been out all day," Jim said. "Murty sent Wal. straight home while he
went on looking, and we went back with three of the men. But you know
what that country is, all hills and gullies, and the scrub's so thick
you can scarcely get through it in places. We found one or two hoof
marks, but that was all. If he's not home to-night we're going out at
daybreak with every hand on the place."
"I knew you'd want to," Jim said, anxiety in his tone. "But I don't
think you're fit to, old girl."
"Jimmy, I'd go mad if I stayed behind."
"Oh, I know that, too. But you'll have to stay near me, Norah. and if
you're coming you've got to eat now; Brownie says you've touched
nothing all day."
Norah shivered a little. "I'm not hungry."
"No, but you've sense, old chap. You'd be the first to say one of us
couldn't go out without proper food. Try, won't you?"
"I'll try," Norah said, obediently.
"Brownie's got dinner for Wally and me in the breakfast-room," Jim
said. "Wouldn't you come down, old girl? It's only old Wal., you know,
and--and he's so awfully sorry for you, Nor. He's been such a brick. I
think it would cheer him up a bit if you came down."
"All right," Norah said, hesitating a moment. "But I'm bad company,
"We're none of us lively," said the boy. "But we've got to help each
other." And Norah looked at him gently, and came.
Dinner was quiet, for the shadow hung upon them all. Wally tried to
talk cheerfully, checked by a lump that would rise in his throat
whenever he looked at Norah, who was "playing the game" manfully,
trying hard to eat and to be, as she would have said, "ordinary." They
talked of the plans for the next day, when a systematic search was to
be made through the scrub near where the tracks had been found.
"Each of us is to take a revolver," Jim said; "there are five
altogether, and the men who haven't got them will have to use their
stockwhips as signals if they find anything. Three shots to be fired in
the air if help is wanted. And Brownie has flasks ready for every one,
and little packets of food with some chocolate; if he's come to grief
it'll be nearly forty-eight hours since he had anything to eat. Two of
the men are to take the express wagon out as far as it can go, with
everything to make him comfortable, if--if he's hurt. Then they can ride
the horses on to help us search." Jim forced a sorry smile. "Won't he
grin at us if he turns up all right? We'll never hear the end of it!"
Then he got up abruptly and walked to the window, looking out across
the moonlit flats; and they were all silent.
"I keep thinking all the time I hear him coming," Jim said, turning
back into the room. "If you keep still, you can almost swear you can
hear old Monarch's hoofs coming up the track--and half a dozen times
I've been certain I caught the crack of his stockwhip. Of course,
it's--it's all imagination. My word! it's hard to loaf about here and go
to bed comfortably when you want to be hunting out there."
"You couldn't do any good, though?" asked Wally.
"No--it would be madness to go straying round those gullies in the
moonlight; it's not even full moon, and there the timber's so thick
that very little light can get through. There's nothing for it but to
wait until daylight."
"It's hard waiting," Norah said.
"Yes, it is. But you ought to go to bed, old woman; you had precious
little sleep last night, and the big bell is to ring at daylight."
"Then won't you boys go, too?"
"Yes, I guess we'd better," Jim said. "I'll come in and say good-night
to you, Norah." A look passed between them; the boy knew his father
never failed to pay a good-night visit to Norah's room. She smiled at
It was very lonely and quiet up there, undressing, with her heart like
lead within her. She hurried over her preparations, so that she might
not keep Jim waiting when he came; she knew he needed sleep--"a big boy
outgrowing his strength like that," thought Norah, with the quaint
little touch of motherliness that she always felt towards Jim. Once she
caught sight of something on the end of the couch; the white rug that
had been Jim's Christmas present, with the scarlet B standing out
sharply in the corner--the rug Bobs would never use. Shivering a little,
she put it away in her wardrobe. Just now she could only think of that
most dear one--perhaps lying out there in the cold shadows of the bush
night. She crept into bed.
Jim came in in his shirt sleeves.
"Comfy, little chap?"
"Yes, thanks, old man. Jim--shall I ride Sirdar tomorrow?"
"You needn't have asked," the boy said--"he's yours. And, Norah--I know
Dad wouldn't mind. I'd like you to have Garryowen. He's a bit big, but
he'll suit you quite well. I know he won't make up, but you'd get fond
of him in time, dear."
"Jim!" she said--knowing all that the carelessly spoken words
meant--"Jimmy, boy." And then Jim was frightened, for Norah, who had not
cried at all, broke into a passion of crying. He held her tightly,
stroking her, not knowing what to say; murmuring broken, awkward words
of affection, while she sobbed against him. After a while she grew
quiet, and was desperately ashamed.
"I didn't mean to make an ass of myself," she said, contritely. "I'm
awfully sorry, and you were such a brick to me, Jimmy. I won't ever
forget it; only I couldn't take your horse. I love you for it. But
Sirdar will do for me quite well." And no arguments could shake her
from that decision.
Jim put the light out after some time. Then he came back and sat down
on the bed.
"I wanted to tell you, dear little chap," he said, gently. "I sent Mick
out with Boone to-day, and--and they buried him under that big tree
where he fell, and heaped up stones so that nothing could get at him."
He stopped, his voice uncertain as Norah's hand tightened in his.
"Mick said there couldn't have been any hope for him, kiddie," he went
on, presently. "His back was broken; no one could have done anything."
He would not tell her of other things Mick had seen--the spur wounds
from hip to shoulder and the marks of the stick that Cecil had thrown
down beside the pony he had ridden to his death. "They carved his name
on the tree in great big letters. Some time--whenever you feel you
can--I'll take you out there. At least"--his hand gripped hers almost
painfully--"Dad and I will take you."
Norah put her face against him, not speaking. They stayed so, her
breath coming and going unevenly, while Jim stroked her shoulder.
Presently he slipped to his knees by the bed, one arm across her, not
moving until her head nestled closer, and he knew she was asleep. Then
the big, tired fellow put his own head down and went to sleep as he
knelt, waking, stiff and sore, in the grey half light that just
precedes the dawn. He crept away noiselessly, going out on the balcony
for a breath of the chill air.
Below him, against the stockyard fence, a black shadow stood and
whinnied faintly. Jim's heart came into his throat, and he swung
himself over the edge of the balcony, using his old "fire escape" to
slide to the gravel below. He ran wildly across to the yard.
A moment later the big bell of the station clanged out furiously.
Norah, fastening her habit with swift fingers, ran to open the door in
answer to Jim's voice.
"Hurry all you know, little chap," he said. "I'm off in a few
minutes--breakfast's ready. Wally's going into Cunjee with a telegram to
Melbourne for the black trackers, as hard as he can ride."
"Jim--there's something you know!"
"I'd better tell you," he said. "Monarch's come home alone, Norah!"
THE LONG QUEST
The creek went down with a broken song,
'Neath the she oaks high;
The waters carried the song along,
And the oaks a sigh.
The big black thoroughbred still stood by the rails as they rode away.
He had got rid of the saddle, and the broken bridle trailed from his
head. No one had time to see to him.
Billabong was humming with activity. Men were running down to the
yards, bridle in hand; others leading their horses up to be saddled;
while those who were ready had raced over to the quarters for a
snatched breakfast. Sirdar and the boys' horses had been stabled all
night, so that they were quickly saddled. Jim was riding Nan; Wally, on
Garryowen, was already a speck in the distance.
"You'll be quicker if you take him," Jim had said. Then he and Norah
had cantered away together.
"Monarch wasn't hurt, Jim?"
"He'd been down, I think," Jim said; "His knees look like it. But he's
all right--why, he must have jumped three fences?"
After that for a long time they did not speak. Grim fear was knocking
at both their hearts, for with the return of the black horse without
his rider, their worst dread was practically confirmed. It was fairly
certain that Mr. Linton was helpless, somewhere in the bush, and that
meant that he had been so for nearly two days, since it was almost that
time since he had ridden away from Killybeg.
Two days! They had been days of steady, relentless heat, untempered by
any breeze--when the cattle had sought the shade of the gum trees, and
the dogs about the homestead had crept close in under the tree
lucernes, with open mouths and tongues lolling. The men working on the
run had left their tasks often to go down to the creek or the river for
a drink; in the house, closely shuttered windows and lowered blinds on
the verandahs had only served to make the heat bearable. And he had
been out in it, somewhere, helpless, and perhaps in pain; with nothing
to ease for him the hot hours or to save him from the chill of a
Victorian night, which, even in midsummer, may be sharply cold before
the dawn. The thought gnawed at his children's hearts.
They passed through the billabong boundary and out into the rough
country beyond, sharply undulating until it rose into the ranges David
Linton had crossed on his way to and from Killybeg. They had been
fairly certain that he had come through them safely on his way home,
and the thought had been a comfort--for to seek a man in those hills was
a hopeless task. But suddenly a sick fear came over Norah.
"Jim," she said, "we don't know where Monarch got rid of Dad, of
"No; but I expect it was near where they picked up his tracks."
"You don't think it might have been in the ranges?"
Jim looked suddenly aghast; but his face cleared.
"No," he said, decidedly; "I don't. That place where Monarch had been
playing up shows Dad must have been on him--a horse alone doesn't go to
market as he seems to have done there. I guess you can put that notion
out of your head, mate." He smiled at Norah, who answered him with a
Five miles from the boundary they came upon the tracks--to see them gave
Norah a queer sense of comfort, since in a way they brought her in
touch with Dad. Then they separated, beating into the scrub that hemmed
them round everywhere, except when low, stony hills rose naked out of
the green undergrowth.
"We must shout to each other every few minutes to make sure we're not
getting too far apart," Jim said. "Of course, it's not so risky when
you're riding--if you gave old Sirdar his head anywhere I know he'd take
you home. Still, you don't gain anything by going far apart. A
systematic search is what's necessary in a place like this, where you
might ride half a dozen yards from him and not see him. Keep Tait with
"All right," Norah nodded. "What about coo-eeing, Jim? He might hear a
shout and answer it, even if he couldn't see us."
"Yes, but you can't keep coo-eeing all the time," said Jim,
practically. "I'll tell you what--sing or whistle. You can do that
easily, and it doesn't tire you. And of course, if you find him, fire
the revolver--you're sure you've got it carefully?"
"Yes, it's all right," Norah replied, showing the revolver in its neat
leather case. Jim and her father had taught her its use long ago, and
she understood it quite well. Mr. Linton held the view that all women
in the bush should know how to handle fire arms, since the bush is a
place where no one ever knows exactly what may turn up, from burglars
to tiger snakes. "Fire three times in the air, isn't it, Jim?"
"Yes, that's right. Go on then, kiddie, and do take care!" Jim's voice
was strained with anxiety and wretchedness. While Norah was full of
hope, and, indeed, could scarcely realize that they might not find Dad
soon, the boy had the memory of the fruitless search all the previous
day to dispirit him. As he looked at the forbidding wall of green
scrub, his feeling was almost one of despair.
It did not take long for Norah to realize the difficulty of their task.
She beat up and down among the trees, striving to keep an eye in every
direction, since any one of the big stumps, any clump of brushwood, any
old log or little knoll or grassy hollow might hide the one she
sought--unable, perhaps, to see her or call to her even should she pass
in his sight. She remembered Jim's advice, and began to sing; but the
words died in her throat, and ended in something more like a sob.
Whistling was more possible, and mechanically she took up a tune that
Wally used to sing, and whistled it up and down the scrub as she went.
Soon she did not know that she was doing so; but years after she used
to shudder within herself if she heard that foolish little tune.
The men came out a little later, and soon the scrub was alive with
voices and the noise of the searching. It was weary work, with many a
flutter at the heart when a sudden call would bring Norah to attention,
rigid and listening--forgetting for the moment that only the three
signals agreed upon were to give evidence of success. Hour after hour
They had settled a certain signal to meet for lunch, and when it
finally summoned them the searchers struggled out of the bush one by
one. Jim's heart smote him as he saw Norah's white face, and he begged
her to cease; to stay resting during the hot afternoon, even if she
would not go home. Norah shook her head dully. She could not do it; and
Jim, knowing how he would have felt were he in her place, did not press
her, although he was miserably anxious. They sat down together on an
old log, finding a shred of comfort in each other's nearness.
It was a silent party that gathered round when black Billy had the big
quart pots of tea ready. No one seemed to have anything to say. Norah
thought, with a catch at her heart, of the last time they had picnicked
in the scrub; the happy talk and laughter, the dear foolish jokes and
merriment. This was indeed a strange picnic--each man eating rapidly and
in silence, and everywhere stern preoccupied faces. There was no
waiting afterwards for the usual "smoke oh"; the men sprang up as soon
as the hurried meal was over, and lit their pipes as they strode away.
Soon the temporary camp was deserted--black Billy, the last to leave,
muttering miserably to himself, hurrying back into the bush. The search
There was no riding in the afternoon; they were in country where the
tangle of dogwood and undergrowth was so thick that to take a horse
through it meant only lost time, and hindered the thoroughness of the
quest. Norah fought her way through, keeping her line just as the men
kept theirs; her white coat stained and torn now, her riding skirt
showing a hundred rents, her boots cut through in many places. She did
not know it; there was only room in her heart for one thought. When,
while waiting for lunch, she had heard Dave Boone say something in an
angry undertone about Bobs, she had wondered dully for a moment what he
meant. She had forgotten even Bobs.
The hours went by, and the sun drooped towards evening. In the dark
heart of the scrub the gloom came early, making each shadow a place of
mystery that gave false hope to the searchers a hundred times.
Gradually it was too dark to look any more; for that day also they must
give it up--the third since Monarch had broken free from his master and
left him lying somewhere in the green fastness about them. There
scarcely seemed a yard of it left unsearched. Despair was written on
most of the faces as the men came one by one to their horses and rode
home, picking up on their way those who were still beating the bush as
far as the Billabong boundary.
Jim and Norah were the last to leave. They came back to the horses
together, Tait at their heels, his head and tail down. Norah was
stumbling blindly as she walked, and Jim's arm was round her. He put
her up, and turned silently to unfasten his own bridle.
"Jim," she said, and stopped. "Jim, do you think we'll find him in--in
Jim hesitated, trying to bring himself to say what he dared no longer
think. Then he gave way suddenly.
"No," he said, hoarsely, "I don't; I don't believe we ever will!" He
put his head down on the saddle and sobbed terribly--dry, hard sobs that
came from the bottom of his big heart. And Norah had no word of
comfort. She sat still on Sirdar, staring in front of her.
Presently Jim stood up and climbed into the saddle, and the impatient
horses moved off quickly towards home, Tait jogging at their heels.
Once Jim turned towards his sister, saying, "Are you quite knocked up,
old girl?" Norah only shook her head--she did not know that she was
tired. Neither spoke again.
It was perhaps a mile further on that Norah pulled up sharply, and
whistled to Tait. The collie had slipped off into the undergrowth--she
could hear him moving on dry sticks that crackled beneath him. He
whined a little, but did not come.
"Don't wait," Jim said. "He'll catch us up in a minute."
"He always comes if I whistle," Norah answered, her brow puckering. "I
don't understand. Wait a moment, Jim." She had slid off her pony and
followed Tait almost before Jim realized that she was gone.
The dog was nosing along a big log, the ruff on his neck bristling. As
Norah saw him he leaped upon it, and down on the other side. Then she
heard him bark sharply, and flung herself over the log after him. He
was licking something that lay in the shadows, almost invisible at
first, until the dim light showed a white glimmer. It was instinct more
than sight that told Norah it was her father's face.
The wild cry turned Jim to stone for a moment--then he was off his horse
and through the scrub like a madman to where Norah knelt beside the
still form, sobbing and talking incoherently, and screwing blindly at
the cap of the flask she carried. They forced a little of the stimulant
between the set teeth, once a terrified examination had told them that
he still breathed; then Jim struck match after match, trying to see the
extent of his injuries--a hopeless task by the flickering light that
lasted only an instant. He put the box in his pocket at last.
"It's no good," he said, "we can't see. Wonder if the men are out of
hearing." Running to the horses, standing patiently with trailing
bridles, he fired off all his revolver shots in quick succession, and
coo-ed again and again. Then he went back to where Norah sat in the
darkness and held her father's hand.
"Don't wait," she said. "I'm sure they're out of hearing, Jim, darling.
And we couldn't dare to move him by ourselves. Tear in and bring the
men--and send for the doctor."
"I don't like to leave you here alone," he said, anxiously.
"Alone!" Norah said, in amazement. "But I've got Dad!"
"Yes," he said, "but--"
"Oh, do fly, Jimmy!" she said. "Leave me the matches. I'm all right."
She heard him crash back to the horses, and then the swift thud of
Nan's hoofs grew fainter and fainter as he spurred her madly over the
rough ground, galloping off for help. The darkness seemed all at once
to be more complete, and the scrub to come closer, like a curtain round
them--round her and Dad, who was found again. She put her ear close to
his mouth--the breathing was a little more distinct, and so far as she
could tell his head was uninjured. One leg was doubled up beneath him
in an ugly manner. Norah knew she must not try to move it; but even in
the darkness she was sure that it was badly hurt, and the tears were
falling on David Linton's face as Norah crept back after her
examination. It was horrible to see Dad, of all people, helpless and
Perhaps it was the tears that woke him from his stupor. He stirred a
little, and groaned. At the sound, Norah, on her knees beside him,
trembled very exceedingly, with a mixture of joy and fear that almost
took her breath. She spoke softly.
"Is it--you?" said David Linton, weakly. The darkness hid his face, but
to hear his voice again was wonderful; and Norah's hands shook as she
wrestled with the flask.
"Yes, it's me," she said. "Oh, Dad, dear old Dad, are you much hurt?"
"I don't know." The voice was very faint. Her fears surged back.
"Try to drink some of this--it's weak, and you won't choke," she said.
"Is your head hurt, Daddy? Could I lift it a little?"
"Not hurt," he managed to say. So she groped in the darkness to lift
the heavy head, and together they made a sorry business of the flask,
spilling far more than he drank. Still, some went the right way; and
presently he spoke again, his voice stronger.
"I knew you'd come... mate."
"Tait found you," she said. "And Jim was here, but he's gone for the
men. We'll take care of you, Daddy. Could I move you any way to help?"
"Better not," he said. "Just--be there." His hand closed on hers, and he
seemed to slip off into unconsciousness again, for when she spoke to
him he did not answer. So Norah sat and held his hand; and the night
"Coo-ee!" Far off a shout. She slipped her hand away gently, and ran a
little way before answering, lest the cry should startle him. Then she
shouted with all her strength; and soon the beat of hoofs came nearer
and out of the darkness Jim came back, Murty galloping with him.
"He's spoken," said Norah; "but he's gone off again. And he's had some
"Did he know you?"
"Yes; but he's terribly weak." They were all beside Mr. Linton now, and
Murty struck a match, and carefully shading it, scanned the fallen
man's face by its glimmer. Norah saw his own change as he looked. Then
the match went out, and for a moment it was darker than ever.
"They're bringing things," Jim said. He took off his coat and spread it
over his father, and Murty did the same. "And the doctor's coming--it's
wonderful luck--he came out from Cunjee with Wally." Jim put his hand on
Norah's. "Were you all right, old kiddie?"
"Quite right," said she. Then they waited silently until a rattle of
wheels came as the express wagon clattered up. Murty went out to the
track to bring the doctor in.
Dr. Anderson cast a glance at Norah by the light of the lanterns they
had brought, and spoke to Jim.
"Take her away," he said. "I don't want you, either. Murty and Boone
will help me." So the two who were only children wandered off into the
scrub together, sitting on a log, silently, in sick anxiety, while the
doctor was busy. A groan came to them once, and Norah shuddered and put
her face into her hands, while Jim, who had himself shivered at the
sound, put his arm round her, and tried to whisper something, only his
voice would not come. Then--ages later, it seemed--the doctor's voice:
"Are you two there?"
They hurried to him.
"We'll get him home," the doctor said. "A risk, moving him; but it's
worse to leave him lying under that log. The men are getting some of
the dogwood down, so that we can carry him out better. He's badly
knocked about, but his head's all right. The leg is the worst; it's
fractured in two places. You'll have a patient for a good while,
"Then--then he won't die?"
"Die?" said the doctor. "Not a bit of it! He'll--ah, you poor child!"
For Norah had turned and clung to Jim, and was sobbing, while the big
fellow who bent over her and patted her was himself unable to speak.
Little Dr. Anderson patted them both, and choked himself, though he hid
it professionally with a cough. He remarked afterwards that he had not
known that young Norah Linton could cry.
It was only for a minute, though. The men came back carrying a
stretcher, and Norah and Jim sprang to help. Very gently they lifted
David Linton's unconscious form, and the four bore him slowly to the
wagon, Norah backing in front with two lanterns to light every step.
"Chancy work through them dorgwood spikes," said Dave Boone. But they
came out safely, and got him into the wagon, where a mattress was in
readiness. The doctor heaved a sigh of relief when the business was
done. So they took him home, the grey horses pulled into a slow walk,
while Jim and Norah rode ahead to find the smoothest track.
It was past midnight when the lights of the homestead came into view;
but everywhere Billabong was up. The men were round the open gate of
the yard, from Andy Ferguson, the tears running unheeded down his old
face, to Lee Wing, for once without his wide benevolent smile, and in
the background Lal Chunder's dark face. Beyond them was Mrs. Brown,
with the pale-faced girls behind her. There were a score of willing
hands to bring David Linton into his home.
A little later Jim came out to where Norah waited in the hall, a little
huddled figure in one corner of a leather armchair.
"He's quite comfortable," he said; "hasn't spoken, but the doctor says
it's a natural sleep, and Brownie and he are going to sit with him. Old
kiddie, are you awfully tired?"
"I'm not tired one bit!" said Norah, with no idea that she was not
speaking the exact truth.
"H'm!" said Jim, looking at her. He went into the dining-room,
returning a minute later with a glass of wine.
"You're to have this," he said authoritatively, "and then I'm going to
put you to--"
He broke off, looking at her with a little smile on his tired face.
Norah had put her head down on the arm of the big chair, and was fast
The sleepy river murmurs low,
And far away one dimly sees,
Beyond the stretch of forest trees,
Beyond the foothills dusk and dun,
The ranges sleeping in the sun.
A. B. PATERSON.
Autumn was late that year at Billabong, and the orchard trees were
still green, though a yellow leaf showed here and there in the Virginia
creeper, as David Linton lay on the verandah and looked out over the
garden. From his couch he could see the paddock beyond, and here and
there the roan hides of some of his Shorthorns. They did not generally
graze there; but Jim had brought some into the paddock the day before,
remarking that he was certain his father would recover much more
quickly if he could see a bullock now and then. So they grazed, and lay
about in the yellow grass, and David Linton watched them contentedly.
From time to time Mrs. Brown's comfortable face peeped out from door or
window, with an inquiry as to her master's needs; but he was not an
exacting patient, and usually met her with a smile and "Nothing,
Brownie, thanks--don't trouble about me." Lee Wing came along,
shouldering a great coil of rubber hose like an immense grey snake, and
stopped for a cheerful conversation in his picturesque English; and
Billy, arriving from some remote corner of the run, left his horse at
the gate and came up to the verandah, standing a black statue in shirt,
moleskins and leggings, his stockwhip over his arm, while Mr. Linton
asked questions about the cattle he had been to see. Afterwards Mrs.
Brown brought out tea, having met and routed with great slaughter
Sarah, who was anxious to have the honour that up to to-day had been
"It's dull for you, sir," she said. "No mistake, it do make a
difference when that child's not in the house!"
"No doubt of that," Mr. Linton said. "But I'm getting on very well,
Brownie, although I certainly miss my nurses."
"Oh, we can make you comferable an' all that," Brownie said,
disparagingly. "But when it comes to a mate, we all know there ain't
any one for you like Miss Norah--though I do say Master Jim's as handy
in a sick-room as that high-flown nurse from Melbourne ever was--I'm
glad to me bones she's gone!" said Brownie, in pious relief.
"So am I," agreed the squatter hastily. "Afraid I don't take kindly to
the imported article--and I'm perfectly certain Norah and she nearly
came to blows many times."
"An' small wonder," said Brownie, her nose uplifted. "Keepin' her out
of your room, if you please--or tryin' to--till Miss Norah heard you
callin' her, an' simply came in at the winder! An' callin' her 'ducksy
bird.' I ask you, sir," said Brownie, indignantly, "is 'ducksy bird'
the thing anybody with sense'd be likely to call Miss Norah?"
"Poor Norah!" said Mr. Linton, laughing. "She didn't tell me of that
"Many a trile Miss Norah had with that nurse as I'll dare be sworn,
she'd never menshin to you, sir," Brownie answered. "She wouldn't let a
breath of anything get near you that'd worry you. Why, it was three
weeks and more before she'd let you be told about Bobs!"
David Linton's brow darkened.
"I couldn't have done any good, of course," he said. "But I'm sorry I
couldn't have helped her at all over that bad business. Well, I hope
Providence will keep that young man out of my path in future!"
"An' out of Billabong," said Brownie with fervour. "Mr. Cecil's safer
away. I guess even now he'd have a rough time if the men caught him--an'
serve him right!"
"He seems penitent," Mr. Linton said, "and even his mother wrote about
him more in sorrow than in anger. The atmosphere of admiration in which
he has always lived seems to have cooled, which should be an uncommonly
good thing for Cecil. But I don't want to see him."
"Nor more don't any of us," Brownie said, wrathfully. "Billabong had
enough of Mr. Cecil. Dear sakes!--when I think of him clearin' away from
Miss Norah that night, an' what might have 'appened but for that
blessed 'eathen, Lal Chunder, I don't feel 'ardly Christian, that I
don't! Not as she ever made much of it--but--poor little lamb!"
Mr. Linton's face contracted, and Brownie left the topic hastily. It
always agitated the invalid, who had indeed only been told of Norah's
night adventure because of the risk of his hearing of it suddenly from
outsiders or a newspaper. The district had seethed over the child's
peril, and Lal Chunder had found himself in the embarrassing position
of a hero--which by no means suited that usually mild-mannered Asiatic.
He had developed a habit of paying Billabong frequent, if fleeting,
calls; apparently for the sole purpose of looking at Norah, for he
rarely spoke. There was no guest more welcome.
Presently Murty O'Toole and Dave Boone came round the corner of the
"Masther Jim gev special insthructions not to be later'n half-past four
in takin' y' in, sir," said the Irishman. "The chill do be comin' in
the air afther that, says he. An' Miss Norah towld me to be stern wid
"Oh, did she?" said Norah's father, laughing. "Well, I suppose I'd
better be meek, Murty, if the orders are so strict--though it's warm
enough out here still."
"The cowld creeps up from thim flats," Murty said, judicially. "An'
whin y' are takin' things aisy--well, y' are apt to take a cowld aisy as
"I'm certainly taking things far too easy for my taste," Mr. Linton
said, smiling ruefully. "Five weeks on my back, Murty!--and goodness
knows how much ahead. It doesn't suit me."
"I will admit there's some on the station 'twould suit betther," Murty
answered. "Dave here, now--sure, he shines best whin he's on his back!
an' I can do a bit av that same meself. ("You can that!" from the
outraged Mr. Boone.) But y' had the drawback to be born widout a lazy
bone in y'r body, so 'tis a hardship on y'. There is but wan thing
that's good in it, as far as th' station sees."
"What's that, Murty?"
"Mrs. Brown here do be tellin' me Miss Norah's not to go away--an'
there's not a man on the place but slung up his hat!" said the
Irishman. "Billabong wouldn't be the same at all widout the little
misthress--we had a grudge agin that foine school in Melbourne, so we
had. However, it's all right now." He beamed on his master.
"Only a postponement, I'm afraid, Murty," said that gentleman, who
beamed himself, quite unconsciously.
"Yerra, it's no good lookin' ahead--time enough to jump over the bridge
when y' come to it," said Murty, cheerfully. "Annyhow, she'll not be
lavin' on us yit. Well, if y' are ready, sir?" He nodded to Boone and
took up his position at the head of Mr. Linton's couch.
"I'll go into the dining-room," the squatter said, as they carried him
gently into the hall. "Put me near the window, boys--no, the one looking
down the track. That's all right," as his couch came to anchor in the
bay of a window that gave a clear view of the homestead paddock. He
chatted to them awhile longer before wishing them good-night.
The stockmen tramped out, making violent efforts to be noiseless.
"Whisht, can't y'?" said Murty, indignantly, as Dave cannoned into a
chair in the hall. "Have y' not got anny manners at all, thin, Davy?
wid' him lyin' there, an' good luck to him! Did y' see how he made us
put his sofy in that square little winder?"
"Why?" asked the slower Mr. Boone.
"An' what but to see the first glimpse av them kids comin' home? Y' do
be an ass, Davy!" said Murty, pleasantly. "Begob, 'tis somethin' f'r a
man's eyes to see how Miss Norah handles that bay horse!"
Left to himself, David Linton made a pretence at reading a paper, but
his eyes were weary, and presently the sheet crackled to the floor, and
lay unheeded. Brownie, coming in softly, thought he had fallen asleep,
and tiptoed to the couch with a light rug, which she drew over him.
They handled him very carefully; although his clean, hard life had
helped him to make a wonderful recovery, his injuries had been severe;
and it would be many weeks yet before he could use his leg, even with
crutches. The trained nurse from Melbourne, who had been more or less a
necessary evil, or, as Jim put it, "an evil necessary," had been
dispensed with a week before; and now he had as many attendants as
there were inhabitants of Billabong, with Norah as head nurse and
Brownie as superintendent, and Jim as right-hand man. Once there had
been a plan that Jim should go North, for other experience, after
leaving school. But it was never talked of now.
This was the first day, since they had brought her father home, that
Norah had been induced to leave him; and then it had taken a command on
his part to make her go. She was growing pale and hollow-eyed with the
Dr. Anderson, whose visits were becoming rarer, had prescribed a tonic,
which Norah had taken meekly, and without apparent results.
"The tonic she wants is her own old life," Brownie had said. "Stickin'
inside the house all day! it's no wonder she's peakin' and pinin'. Make
her go out, sir." So David Linton had asserted himself from his couch;
and Jim had taken Norah for a ride over the paddocks, and to call for
the mail at the Cross Roads, where the Billabong loose bag was left by
the coach three times a week.
He was lying with his eyes fixed on the track when they came out of the
trees; both horses at a hand gallop and pulling double. Norah was on
Garryowen, her face flushed and laughing, her head thrown back a little
as the beautiful bay reefed and plunged forward, enjoying the speed as
much as his rider. Jim was a length or so behind on Monarch, whose one
ambition at that moment was, in Murty's words, "to get away on him." It
was plain that the boy was exulting in the tussle. The sunlight gleamed
on the black horse's splendid side as they dashed up the track.
As yet there had been no talk openly of a successor to Bobs--that wound
was still too sore. For the present Norah was to ride Garryowen, since
Monarch was far too frivolous to stand a long spell; Jim would handle
him for the months that must elapse before his father was in the saddle
again. Later on, Jim and Mr. Linton had great plans for something very
special--a new pony that would not disgrace Bobs' memory, and that would
fit the unused rug with the scarlet B that lay locked away in Norah's
wardrobe. Other things were locked away in her heart; she never spoke
of Bobs. But the two who were her mates knew.
The swift hoofs came thudding up the track and scattered the gravel by
the gate; then there was silence for a moment, voices and laughter, and
quick footsteps, and Jim and Norah came in together, their faces
"How did you get on, Dad? Were we long?"
"Long!" said David Linton, whose face had grown suddenly contented.
"The conceit of some people! Why, I had so much attention paid me that
I scarcely noticed you had gone." He put up one hand and took Norah's
as she sat on the arm of his couch. "But I'm glad you're back," he
added. They smiled at each other.
"Conceit's bad enough," said Jim, grinning, "but insanity's worse. Had
the maddest ride of my life, Dad--my poor old Garryowen's absolutely
cowed, and has no tail left to speak of!" He ducked to avoid a cushion
from his sister. "It's a most disastrous experiment to keep Norah off a
horse for five weeks!"
"We won't repeat it," said her father, "not that Garryowen seemed to be
suffering from nervous prostration as he came up the paddock--or Monarch
either! Any letters?"
"One from Wally," Norah cried, "poor old boy. He says school is horrid
without Jim, and he's collar-proud, and they lost the match last
Saturday--he carried out his bat for thirty-seven, though!--and he misses
Billabong, and he sends his love and all sorts of messages to you, Dad.
I guess Brownie and I will fix up a hamper for him," concluded Norah,
pensively, weighing in her mind the attractions of plum or seed cake,
and deciding on both. "And mice pies," she added, aloud.
"What?" said her father, staring. "Oh, I see. Any other mail?"
"Oh, the usual pile for you, Dad. Agents' letters and bills and things.
Jim has them. We didn't bring the papers."
"I should think not!" returned her father. "If I catch either of you
carrying loose papers on those horses--well, one broken leg is enough in
a family of this size!"
"Too much respect for Monarch, to say nothing of my legs," said Jim,
laconically, producing a handful of letters. "There you are, Dad;
that's all. Do you want anything? I'm going down to the little paddock
for a lesson in bullock driving from Burton."
"How are you getting on in the art?" asked his father, smiling.
"Oh, slowly. My command of language doesn't seem to be sufficient, for
so far the team looks on me with mild scorn." Jim grinned. "It's
nervous work for Joe, too. I got him with the tail of the whip
yesterday, when I'd every intention of correcting old Ranger! However,
I plod on, and Joe keeps well out of the way now. He yells instructions
at me from some way back in the landscape!"
"Prudent man, Burton," laughed his father. "A good tutor, too. I don't
know that I ever saw a man handle bullocks better. Most people don't
credit bullocks with souls, but I think Joe gets nearer to finding that
attribute in his beasts than the average driver, and with less
expenditure of energy and eloquence! He's like the man we were reading
"As to a team, over gully and hill,
He can travel with twelve on the breadth of a quill!"
"Oh, COULD he?" asked Jim, with much interest. "Well, the width of the
paddock doesn't seem more than enough for me, so far. We wobble
magnificently, the team and I! However, I keep hoping! I'd better be
going. Sure you don't want me, Dad?"
"Not just now, old chap."
"Well, I'll be back before long." He smiled at his father and Norah,
swinging out over the window ledge, and whistling cheerily until his
long legs had carried him out of sight.
"He'll be a good man on the place, Norah."
"Why, of course," said Norah, a little surprised that statement should
be made of so evident a fact. "Murty says he's 'takin' howld wid' both
hands, an' 'tis the ould man over agin,' though it's like Murty's cheek
to call you that. You won't be able to let him go away, I believe,
"I don't see myself sparing him to any other place now," said Mr.
Linton. "Nor the head nurse either!"
Norah slipped down beside him.
"I've been thinking," she said, a little anxiously. "It's been so
lovely to think of no old school until midwinter--but I'd go sooner--when
you're quite well--if you're worried really, Dad. I don't want to be a
duffer--and of course I don't know half that other girls know."
"Jim will be able to keep you from going back, I expect," her father
said, watching the troubled face. "He won't be exactly a stern tutor,
and possibly lessons may be free and easy; still, after all, Jim was a
prefect, and the handling of unruly subjects is probably not unknown to
"If Jim attempts to be a prefect with me," said Norah, "things will be
mixed!" She laughed, but the line came back into her forehead. "It's
not the lessons I was thinking of, Dad."
"Then what is it?"
"Oh, all the other things I don't know that other girls do. Do you
think it really matters, Dad? I know perfectly well I don't do my hair
"I seem to like it."
"And I can't talk prettily--you know, like Cecil did; and I don't know a
single blessed thing about fancywork! I'd--I'd hate you to be ashamed of
me, Dad, dear!"
"Ashamed?" He held her close; and when he spoke again there was
something in his voice that made Norah suddenly content.
"Little mate!" was all he said.
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