Puslapio vaizdai

whose back I had just alighted, she turned her commenced, in a mechanical sort of way, to head sideways, with a suspicious twist that I rinse out some glasses, and to polish them in well knew, and gave a sniff at the man's back, the same mechanical sort of a manner, without pretty much as a dog might do, when he hap- lifting her eyes, that I could observe, from her pened to come in contact with a person who employment. My seat commanded a view of his instinct told him was not to be trusted. both her and the bullock-driver, it is true, but

This was quite enough for me, and as I threw my thoughts were engaged 80 entirely with the the bridle over the hook, I took a close survey latter that I paid but little attention to the bar. of the bullock driver. He was a young, fair- maid, and she was not one of those obtrusive haired, and soft-featured man, certainly not ones, who, for “the good of the house,” will inmore than twenty-seven years of age, dressed sist upon making themselves conspicuous. in the usual careless dress of a teamster ; and My man, however, appeared so completely the expression in his face was of listless dreami- absorbed in his ale and himself, and manifested ness-in short, just such an expression as one so little inclination to move, that at length I might expect to see in the face of a man of little turned my regards towards the woman. At the intelligence, who passed most of his time on the moment I did so, she listed ber eyes carelessly monotonous roads of a bush country.

toward the door, and something she saw there As I entered the bar he asked for a pint of tended them with some feeling of terror, ale, and, receiving it, sat down on a bench that while her cheeks grew ashy pale and her lips ran along the wall, and seemed absorbed in ag rigid as stone; the glass in her hand, too, imbibing it, and in gazing listlessly out at his had almost escaped her fingers, but, with a bullocks. Casting but a glance at him as I strong effort she replaced it upon the tray, and passed, I informed the landlord of my intention caught hold of the counter as if to support her. of passing the night there, and requested that self, while she turned a quick, piercing glance my horse might be carefully attended to. I first toward me, then toward the bullock-driver have already spoken of my tweed coat. I was —there her eyes rested. dressed in a suit of tweed, and to all appear. Naturally I looked at the door to see what ance might have been a comfortable farmer, or had occasioned the strange change in this quiet a country storekeeper on my way to, or from woman's face. I saw nothing that could possitransacting some business connected with my bly have affected her, turn it any way I would. livelihood, at the not very distant large town. The patient-looking bullocks were standing ship.

drowsily under their heavy yokes directly in " It's been a terrible hot day, landlord," I front of the entrance, and nothing else was in observed, as I availed myself of the drink I had view, save a grassy patch of land over their ordered.

backs, and farther away the green bush, now “Frightful, sir,” he replied, glancing at the beginning to look dimmer, that the sun had thermometer that hung in the bar behind nearly set, and was throwing long shadows behim. “At two o'clock the glass stood at 112 neath the trees. and I say that's too hot for any

white man.” I own to being completely puzzled, but was “ Or a black one either," I answered, care- beginning to be quite in my element. I like to lessly. Well, will you see about my animal, be puzzied ; and the detective instinct has grown if you please? By-and-bye, when I get a bit so strong with habit, that to perceive there is a cool, I'll go and see that she's all right myself.” secret, is to give me an insatiable craving to find

The landlord left to see after Vino, and I re- it out. mained sipping my brandy-and-water, and slily I could not fancy the bar-maid was' acwatching the bullock driver, who still kept si- quainted with the man, for the gaze she fixed lence opposite. His eyes seemed to be tixed upon on him was not one in which was the anxiety the belt of the forest, which skirted the grass to find some trace of an old acquaintance, it was at a little distance; and bad it not been for the a look with which you might regard a person entire absence of any intellectual appearance of in some way notorious to find out what constiface or expression, one might have fancied he tuted his peculiar difference from others of his was engaged in trying to solve some knotty fellow men. And yet the woman's eyes still problem, to the entire forgetfulness of every- retained thut strange terror with which she had thing around him.

seen the unknown something in her look out At this moment a woman entered the bar. through the doorway. I am not one to forget faces readily; it is my All this, you will understand, scarcely occutrade to remember, and I recollected having pied a moment of time; and, after her straight seen the very same face when I visited the quick survey of the bullock-driver, the woman "Wallaby” some eighteen months before. This sauntered idly as it were round the counter and woman was a quiet, staid-looking person of stood in the doorway. She looked first up the about thirty years of age, precise in her move- road and then down it, and then she looked ments, and rather slow. She was quite respect directly before her. Of course, I could but able looking, but had not a single jota of the judge from the movement of her head, as I was too common 'flashiness" of a colonial bar- now behind her, but whatever she looked maid.

at, she remained but for a moment and then Very possibly the landlady had sent her in to returned to the bar. attend to the bar just then; at any rate she My friend the driver now hegan to show


[ocr errors]

symptoms of a move. He lifted the long- | country public-houses, viz., of weather-board bandled whip which he had leaned against the with iron roof, and almost detached from the seat and went to look out of the door likewise, main building. Each room was provided with and then he returned to the bar, and called for a door of its own that opened into the yard-a a nobbler of spirits. Tossing it off at a mouth- rather unpleasant arrangement, especially during ful, as it were, he appeared to have reached wet weather, when you require an umbrella to some determination, for, as soon as he had reach the dining-room, but one which exactly swallowed it, he walked outside, and commenced suited my plans at that moment. rapidly to unyoke his bullocks. There was a My room was the very last of the row, and it veranda in front of the public-house, and, was within a few feet of the stable that lay befinishing my glass, I strolled out, with my tween me and the road where the teamster was hands in my pockets, to watch my friend the camped. No sooner had I gained it than I driver in his arrangements.

took an opportunity, in the now gathering " They are a fine team, mate,” I observed, darkness, of passing out again, locking the " and in good condition. I wouldn't care if door, putting the key in my pocket, and enterI bad such another. Horses are no good in ing the stable, where Vino and another horse rough bush-land where mine lies. You're were contentedly munching their feed. In the going to camp here to-night ?"

stable was an aperture, constructed, as is usual, “Yes,” he answered, quietly: “I did think for throwing out the manure, and this opening of pusbing on to Cole's Creek, but it's later was almost close to the dray in which I was inthan I thought, and the day's been so terrible terested. Placing myself in as easy a position hot the cattle's regular baked.”

as I could I commenced a watch-for what, I “I think you're right. There's plenty of feed should have been puzzled to tell. I was cerhere, and water too, I think," and I moved in- tainly determined to watch the bullock-driver, side to order supper.

but what I expected to discover was, at that There was no business doing to distract my time, as much a mystery to me as what I did attention from my chief present interest—the discover is to you at this moment. bullock-driver. In that quiet bush inn, de- The darkness, as I have said, was gathering pendent upon stray travellers, or perhaps the -indeed, it had gathered, and now there was occasional wasted cheques of a shepherd or a nothing but a host of clear, bright stars to illushearer, there was scarcely a movement upon minate it, but not a cloud

the whole magthat particular evening; and, my supper and nificent firmament. I waited there quietly until Vino attended to, I sat down in the bar, every sound of life had died out at the hotel, and, while indulging in a “colonial yarn” with and every light was extinguished, and my pathe landlord, watched the man outside as he tience was beginning to be almost exhausted, made all his arrangements for passing the night. when a rustle of the tarpaulin attracted my He had taken the dray a little farther on hefore quick ear. In the starlit obscurity I could be unyoked his cattle, and it now stood close perceive the teamster cautiously emerge from to the stable of the horse. I saw him drive the his lair, and peer carefully around before he bullocks to water, and then fasten on their bells, raised himself to his full height from under the and then turn them out. I watched him re- dray. Once satisfied, however, that everything turn and unfold the tarpaulin that lay upon the was quiet, he started off quickly in the direction dray and spread it over it, while his blankets of the bush, and I, bounding through the openwere spread beneath to form a primitive but \ing of the stable, was on his track as rapidly. accustomed couch. In all this I was as yet at It might bave been his bullocks he was lookfault; but I never believed that Vino's sagacity ing after, for all I knew, for he was proceeding was, or doubted for a single moment, that my directly toward the sound of their tinkling watch would be rewarded.

bells; but if so, why all that caution as he left During the time the man was so einployed I the dray, and why his anxiety to steal under often spared a curious glance at the movements the shadow of every tree and bush he met ? It of the bar-woman. Her demeanour seemed as was to solve this question that I followed his calm and unruffled as ever; but I observed that example, and kept as much in the shadow as I her whole thoughts were occupied with the could: and it was fortunate I did so, for the same object that formed the subject of my man's haste did not prevent him from stopping watch. She made many excuses to visit the occasionally and casting a quick glance behind bar; and once, with a glass in her hand, which him, although, strange to say, he seemed to she still kept polishing with that circular move- hesitate more as he neared the forest than he ment that' barmen and maids affect, she went had done as he left his dray. It was but a few to the door and stood a considerable time, look- moments ere he reached the darker bush, and ing intently over the now grazing cattle, with there he paused out of breath, as I could hear an occasional glance at the teamster as he pre- him panting as I stood within fifty feet of him, pared bis bed for the night.

bebind the huge trunk of some tree, the genus At length he retired under his tarpaulin, and of which I did not trouble myself to note. As I, too, expressed a wish to be shown my room. he stood there, irresolutely it seemed to me, I It ws one of a row of small bedchambers was glad to perceive that the moon had risen, built in a style frequently to be met with in and was beginning to pour long, slant rays of brightness through the branches, that lay like that strange fatality that makes guilt hover lances of silver upon the shaded grass, and round the very spot it ought to avoid, until the made the darkness of the bush less obscure. avenger's band is stretched forth, and justice is

Slowly, at the lapse of a few minutes, he went at length appeased? But in the middle of such on, cautiously creeping, and, as it appeared to thoughts as these I arrested myself angrily. me, starting at every crack of a stick under his You are a fool!” I mentally apostrophized foot, or every rustle of a branch that he dis- myself, “a fool and a detective! Can't a man turbed as he passed.

go into the bush for any purpose but to commit I followed him as carefully, and once, as I a murder ? Suppose he has a 'plant' here? was obliged to hide hurriedly behind a bush, as Nothing more likely, and everyone knows it the teamster suddenly stopped, I fancied I saw isn't safe to carry money about the country another shadowy form stop likewise, and like- nowadays; his own hard earnings, perhaps, and wisa hide behind the trunk of a tree, at the here you are dogging his steps, without any other side of the man I followed. This rather cause whatever save the sniff of a horse !" startled me, and I felt to see that my revolvers This reasoning did not satisfy me, however. were all right; but a moment served to convince I am afraid I must confess that I wanted to find me that it must have been all fancy, or the out this man a criminal—that I would have shadow of some branch that the evening breeze been disappointed to see bim go and dig up a had moved.

chamois bag, with a few coins of gold in it, and The teamster moved onward again, and in a that I would have much preferred clapping a few more steps reached a small open glade in pair of steel bracelets upon his wrists to seeing the bush, where the trees were further apart, him go happily on his harmless way, driving and the moonlight, penetrating through the his patient cattle, and smoking his short, black more open distance, lay brilliantly upon a small pipe, to keep him company upon a lonely bushclear space, near which he stopped suddenly. track. I am afraid I must confess that it was I was not more than ten yards from him now, so; it is the force of habit, you see, and I do but remained in the dim shade of some under believe I was born to be a detective, as it is so wood while he stood directly in the slant rays of entirely my “vocation.” the moon, and I could see every feature of his As I was thus arguing with and against myface, that looked white and wan as that of a self, the teamster seemed to make a strong ghost in the weird light, contrasted as it was by effort, and raised himself from his leaning posideep shadows of overhanging heavy branches. tion to his feet. Pressing his hat firmly down

He stood like one fearful, staring directly be upon his head, he strode determinedly to within fore him; and directly before him lay a fallen a few feet of my hiding-place, and, kneeling tree, that seemed to have lain there for years. down upon the ground, began to rapidly remove The patches of grass looked white, like snow the soil with his knife, or some small instruin the moonlight, and so did parts of the log ; ment he had brought for the purpose. As he but directly before the man a broad spot seemed did so, a rustle behind me caused me to look to have been burnt, and the fire had blackened hurriedly around, and again I distinctly saw and scorched the centre portion of the log, so that dark shadow I had fancied before ; but this that it contrasted vividly with the two extremi- time I kept my eye upon it, and distinctly saw ties, and with the surrounding lighted grass it flit past me, and creep cautiously to within spots.

ten feet or so of the busy teamster, and there, I had but barely time to notice these facts, and behind a bush, it rested, and leaned eagerly to wonder what interest they possessed for this over to watch the man's movements, as if life man, when he retreated backwards as if in fear, and death depended upon sight and silence. and fell rather than leaned against the rough I will confess to you that at this moment I trunk of an ironbark, that must have been any- was so entirely paralyzed with astonishment thing but comfortable as a support, and there that, if there had been occasion for sudden action, he stopped, with an expression upon his face II could not have used it. The figure that I had shall never forget, and which the momentarily- watched, and fancied was a creation of my own increasing moonlight rendered almost as visible imagination, now distinctly showed itself to be to me as if it were day. His face, that had a woman in dark attire, and in the white anxious seemed so expressionless as I first remarked it, face that leaned over to watch the teamster, was full of terror ; every muscle was rigid, and who rooted and scraped out the mould so his distended eyes turned in every direction hurriedly I recognised the barmaid at the Walalternately, as if in dreadful expectation. From laby. my first glimpse of that face in the lonely bush, In the face of all creation, what was she doing I was as sure of the correctness of Vino's in- here? What connection was there between this stinctive suspicion as if I had seen the crime man, who evidently knew nothing of her, and the man had committed, and if I had been this woman, who left her room to steal into the asked to name the crime, I should have answered fearful dark hush, to watch a man who was an “Murder !Murder! and where? Was it utter stranger to her ? here on this spot where the man shook like a It was all dark to me, and I was glad when leaf, and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the bullock driver, quickly gathering something a hand that trembled as if it would scarce hold out of the hole, and throwing or rather pushing the handkerchief? Had he come, drawn by the mould in again with his feet, hastily co

yered up all traces of it, and prepared to de- | But that there was still some more powerful part.

feeling than mere animal courage at work in It seemed to me to be a small parcel tied in her breast to make her keep silent, I had no a bit of calico, that he carefully stowed in his doubt. When I arrested her arm so suddenly shirt, but I was not near enough to notice dis- she did not, as I have said speak, but she tinctly, and my attention was distracted by the shook in every limb like one who had been woman, who still remained leaning over and stricken with the ague. watching, and so close that I almost fancied I “You need not be afraid," I repeated, quietly; could hear her breathing, although I was care- “there is nothing wrong, only I want some fal to keep closely hidden in the thick bush I information from you. Go in there," and, as occupied.

I spoke, I opened the door of my room and Much more rapidly than he had entered it, pushed her gently in. Even then she did not and with his hand firmly grasping the treasure speak; and when I had locked the door, and, hidden in his breast, the man left the bush, as there was no window, lighted a candle, I saw closely followed by the woman, who fitted her leaning against the wall with a face white from shadow to shadow like a spirit. In the with terror, and her hands hanging by her side wake of both I myself proceeded cautiously, helplessly, much more occupied now, however, with the “Sit down," I whispered, placing a chair for movements of the singular barmaid than I was her. “Is there anyone in the next room?" with those of the teamster ; him I was sure of, “No," she answered ; "there is no one outhe was not at all likely to run away and leave side the big house but yourself.” his bullocks and dray behind him; and I was "Well, now," I continued, calmly but firmly, at least certain of knowing when he left; with “I want to know what you have been watching her it was different. As a clue to the conduct that bullock driver in the bush for?" of the man, I was determined to have an ex- “Are you watching him?" she whisperingly planation of her own that very night, nothing questioned. "Do you know anything? Ob, doubting but there was some strange mystery tell me, for mercy's sake!” attaching to it, which it would be to my advan- “ It would not do for me to tell everyone my tage to know.

business, you know," I replied ; " but I tell When he had reached the edge of the more you I am a detective, and I followed you both dense wood, my man emerged into the open to-night, and now I want to know for what grassy plain, and made straight for his cattle, reason you watched that man, who seems a that were scattered at a little distance, grazing stranger to you? Is he a stranger to you?” I in the bright moonlight, and ringing their bells added, as she hesitated and wrung her hands. with every mouthful they cropped. Quite cer- I never saw him in my life before." tain that, his great object, whatever it was, ac- Explain, then--you must do so, mind." complished, he would return to bis camp under * If you are a detective," she whispered, the dray, I paid no further attention to him, suddenly, lifting up her face and looking keenly bat followed the woman, who stood a moment into mine, "you will remember James Parin the shade and looked whistfully after him. sons." Then she quickly skirted the bush until she “James Parsons ? A man who disappeared reached the nearest point to the inn, when she about two years ago, and was supposed to be ran with the speed of terror across the short, murdered ?" open distance, and disappeared behind the house. She nodded.

I followed now cautiously, but, as the driver “ He left home with a team of bullocks," I was out of sight, I lost no time in gaining the went on, “and a heavy purse to bring a load yard into which my bedroom opened; then, in from F-, but never returned.” the shade of the wall, I stood and listened, She nodded again. and watched for some sign of the woman gain- “Why, 'twas about two miles from this very ing an entrance to the main building. I did house,” 'I continued, a light all at once breaknot know in what portion of the premises she ing in upon my bewildered brain, “ that we slept, or I should have devoted my attention lost all trace of him. Some one had met him to that particular quarter ; but I was like a upon the road, and after that he was never more watch-dog, all eyes and ears.

heard of!" In a few seconds the darkly clad figure 1 I was looking keenly and anxiously at the was in search of emerged from around the woman as I spoke these words rapidly; when very abutting building against which I leaned; concluded, she said, faintly, “I was James and so close to me that, before she had time to Parsons' wife.” take one step after I had first caught sight of If I had not been accustomed to control all the moving form, I had a firm grip of her outward semblance of feeling, I should cer. wrist, and stopped her.

tainly have uttered an exclamation at this mo"Don't be frightened," I said; “I am an ment. It was as if the corner of a mysterious officer in the detective force, and I want to have curtain had been lifted, and I was beginning to a few words with you.”

see a dim but partially illuminated vista beyond, She did not scream or speak ; she was not a which included a lonely bush track, upon timid woman, I knew, or she would not have which jogged along a team of bullocks, driven dared that midnight watch alone in the bush. I by James Parsons, and terminated in that



scorched and blackened log, near which I had to let him perceive that I was about to return so lately seen that strangely moved teamster by alınost the same track I had arrived on the digging up some hidden thing.

previous evening. I was most anxious, of "I was James Parsons' wife, and this course, to avoid exciting his suspicions. Halfevening, when that man came to the door, I an-hour saw Vino and myself on the road, knew my husband's bullocks. I could swear to upon which, however, I proceeded scarcely halfevery one of them. We reared them ourselves ; a-mile, when I diverged into the bush and rode and I ain sure as I stand here, that every one leisurely along, keeping within an easy distance of them, this moment, would eat out of my of the road, so as to be able at any moment hand.”

to near my friend the driver. I could hear the I was silent, as much from admiration of this crack of the whip in the distance, and even the poor woman's noble courage in the attempt to rattle of the wheels, and, satisfied that he was discover her husband's murderer, as from any still proceeding, I proceeded also. It seemed a other feeling, and she went on calmly :

long fore-noon, going at the slow pace of the “When the police gave up all hopes of find. cattle, but everything has an end, and at last the ing James, or any trace of him, I came and hour of noon arrived, and, from the vicinity of took a situation here, in hopes that some day the only water within miles, I felt that my man I might see or hear something of the man that would camp soon. killed him. Killed, I'm sure he was, and I arr. I was right. As I neared the road cautiously sure that the man I followed to-night did it, I saw that he had selected a shady spot near a and did it on the very spot where the hand of waterhole, and was about unyoking his cattle God seemed to strike him to-night, and freeze once more. Alighting, I left Vino to graze up his marrow with fear.”

quietly—she was too well trained to stray far "Well, give yourself no further anxiety, my away—and then stole cautiously nearer, and poor girl,"" I said. “I will dog this man's seated myself under a close bush to resume steps like a shadow until I prove his guilt, if my watch. I was anxious about that little he is guilty. Meanwhile, say not one word parcel he had exhumed, and fearful he might about the events of this night, and as soon as I make a fire and burn it. He made no fire, gain any information I shall see you again.” however. As soon as his cattle were turned

Mind,” she said, emphatically, as I opened out, he commenced to examine one of his yokes the door to let her out, “ if you play me false —and a most unusual step it was for a carter in this I will find this man out though he died. who had two good hours' spell before him to Now that I have seen the hand that spilled my set to work mending a yoke before he had poor James's warm blood, I will track him until made the slightest preparation for his noon-day Í die myself, or he is hanged," and she softly meal. Taat, however, was what he appeared closed the door and went away.

to be doing ; and he chose an old stout log that I sat down upon the edge of the bed to think, lay upon the bank of the creek, and, leaning and, you will perhaps laugh at me when I say, the yoke across it, went down on bis knees that my first thought was the proved sagacity and commenced his repairing. This was how of my faithful mare Vino. Well, you may it looked to me, I say, for I was at some little laugh if you like, but she never did deceive me distance, you know, but bis occasional fearful and never will; I feel as sure of it as I feel looks around him aroused my suspicion, and I Heaven's aid is around me at this moment. kept a closer eye upon the movements of his

Satisfied that all was well with the teamster, body. Mending the yoke ? Bah! he was digas I could hear the tinkle, tinkle of the cattle ging a hole under the log, and simply using the bells still, I lay down in my clothes to snatch a yoke as a screen in case of watch. few hours of as sound a sleep as I ever enjoyed. “Ah, my man !" said I, to myself. “I have We are used to it, you see. And the certainty you now; you are simply replanting your par. that I had fairly got hold of the right end of a cel, and with a bad conscience, too, or you would chain that would give me credit with my supe- not use so much caution.” rior, caused me to sleep well. The sun was but A few moments aster and his task was ended, barely up, however, when I arose and bas- his fast broken upon some cold provisions, and tened to look at the things outside.

he was lying in the shade, to all appearance fast The bar was open, and the woman, as quiet asleep. I followed his example, in that matter seeming as ever, was attending to her various at least, after having consulted a pocket pistol, arrangements in it. The teamster was busily and some sandwiches with which I had proyoking up his cattle with the same quiet and vided myself at the Wallaby. listless manner I had observed the night before, The first crack of the teamster's whip aroused and, hastily giving the bar-woman a hint to let me, and I watched bis departure with impame have my breakfast immediately, I went to tience. It appeared an hour ere he had fairly look after Vino.

disappeared, and I had liberty to pounce upon While I was eating my breakfast I heard his plant and to unearth it. 'I found soune diffithe loud cracking of a driver's whip, and the culty in doing so, but at length the parcel was rumbling of the rough conveyance convinced in my hands, which appeared to be of so much me that he was off. This, however, gave me value to the bullock-driver. It was tied up with no concerp; for it was far from my intention strong cord in a piece of tarpaulin, and, had it

« AnkstesnisTęsti »