Chapter XXIV - Nevermore - Rolf Boldrewood, Book, etext

 

Nevermore

Chapter XXIV

Rolf Boldrewood


ACCUSTOMED from earliest years to hasty departures, the nomadic Australian housewife was not long in making her simple preparation for a hundred mile journey.

The roan mare was carefully saddled and tied up to a tree. A leather valise was strapped on. Finally the child, dressed for the road, was brought out and placed upon the side-saddle, where with inbred sagacity he sat steadily and looked around with a pleased expression. Then Kate Trevenna, leading the mare to a log, lifted the child, mounted without assistance, and gathered up the loose bridle-rein.

‘We’re going different ways, Billy,’ she said to her visitor. ‘You’re bound for Monaro, and I’m going to be in Omeo to-morrow, if Wallaroo here stands up. I’ll stop with Mrs. Rooney to-night at the Running Creek, and leave the boy there till I come back. She’s awfully fond of children, and will do for him if it’s a month. I’m going to find out the rights of this business before I come back. I don’t know what to think of it, and so I tell you. If Larry’s left me, it’s the worst day’s work he ever did in his life. I’ve got a horrid thought in my head. I can’t hardly bear to think of it. If it hadn’t been for you seeing old Bredbo there I’d have known it was Trevanion. I seen him nigh hand there one day last month. But only one of ’em at Omeo, and him off to Melbourne after that girl! There’s something that wants taking out of winding. God send it ain’t as black as I fear it is. Well, so ’long.’

Thus they parted. The bushman filled his pipe mechanically while she was talking, and rode meditatively adown the well-worn track which ran towards the east; while the woman, giving her bridle-rein an impatient shake, started off at a fast amble, which her spirited hackney seemed only awaiting the signal to change into a stretching canter. She held her boy upon her knee, resting and partly supported against her right arm. Like bush children generally, he had a natural love for all sorts and conditions of horse-flesh, and as his baby fingers closed upon the rein, he seemed contented, even exhilarated by the motion, crowing and laughing with infantine delight. As for his mother, she appeared to take little heed of his childish ways, gazing straight before her with a far-off look in her eyes and an occasional shudder, as some darker imagining crossed her brooding brain. Occasionally she varied the fast amble at which her mare slipped along the forest track by a smart canter not far removed from a hand-gallop, but which, thanks to the easy gliding stride of the gallant little animal which carried her, did not render her living burden one whit less safe or easy to carry.

The sun was low when she sighted the paddock fence of the humble homestead where she proposed to pass the night.

The fence ran across a broad green flat or meadow, which had gradually widened from the upper portion of the gurgling mountain stream which traversed it. There were no gates. They were of infrequent occurrence in those days. But the slip-rails—three in number, and fairly substantial—showed where means of ingress had been provided.

Scarce half a mile from the primitive entrance, which necessitated her dismounting, was the hut, or homestead cottage, standing upon a sort of forest cape high above the rippling creek.

As she rode up to the door of the unpretending building, walled with slabs and roofed with bark, Kate gave a sigh of relief and stopped her horse. No one appeared for a minute or two. Then she raised her voice, in the high-pitched Australian call—originally borrowed from the blacks, but since heard (unless modern novelists lie) in the streets of London—ay, even in the ‘Eternal City’ itself.

Before she had finished the second call, a young woman came running out from some building at the rear, and with many exclamations made haste to welcome her.

‘The saints presarve us, and sure ’tis Mrs. Trevenna and her darlin’ boy wid ye. ’Tis yourself is the moral of a good neighbor to be coming over to see me. And yees will stay the night—the Lord be good to us. It’s no time to be travelling after dark. We’ll have to take the saddle off ourselves. Sure we haven’t half a man about the place, or as much as a dog. It’s himself is away, and thim all afther him.’

‘I’m come to stay the night,’ Kate made answer, ‘and I want to leave my boy with you for a day or two while I go to Omeo on business. Now you have the whole story, Mrs. Booney How does that suit you?’

‘’Tis what I do be praying for,’ replied the handsome young Irishwoman, who lifted down the child without more ado and fondled him effusively. ‘Here’s my beauty-boy; sure I’ll look after him as if he was a young governor waiting to grow up. It’s the darlin’ of the world he is; the finest boy betwane here and Monaro. Come in and tell us your news, alanna. And the saints be good to us, whatever are ye doing wid the horse. Are yez going to hobble him, and the paddock the best grass between here and Gipp Land?’

‘I don’t doubt that, Mrs. Rooney, but I must be off while the stars are in the sky, and so I must make sure of Wallaroo. She can spell afterwards, but she must travel to-morrow, if she never does again. I’ll tell you all about it as soon as I’ve put Harry to bed.’

‘Come in; arrah, don’t be standing talkin’ there; come in, for the sake of all the blessed saints. And you looking pale and tired like! Wait till I get you a cup of hot tay.’

‘All right, Mrs. Rooney; I’ll be glad to have one. I feel thirsty enough, though the evening’s chilly. But while the kettle’s boiling, I’ll take the mare down to the creek for a drink, and then she won’t be rambling about half the night looking for water. I want to be able to lay my hand on her at daylight, or before. There’s a long day before us to-morrow, and perhaps Omeo won’t be the end of it.’

‘Saints above!’ exclaimed Mrs. Rooney, who, an emigrant not long out from the Green Isle, and newly married to an ‘Irish native,’ was filled with daily wonder at the manners and customs of the bush,—‘sure and ye does be taking terrible rides in Australia. And do ye be telling me ye’ll be at Omeo by this time to-morrow? But hurry now, and I’ll have a cup of tay and an egg and a buttered scone ready for ye whin ye come back.’

The saddle had been taken off and placed on a wooden stool in the verandah. Kate led her palfrey down to the clear, fast-flowing streamlet and watched her drink her fill. She then plucked a few handfuls of the strong tussac grass which lined the little flat and rubbed dry the marks on back and girth. This, with a slight general application of the improvised currycomb, completed in her eyes all necessary grooming. Slowly, and with eyes on the ground, she retraced her steps, coming close up to the house before she unloosed the throat-strap of the bridle.

‘Have you got a bell, Mrs. Rooney?’ she said. ‘I shall know where to look for her if it’s dark.’

‘To think of your wanting that now! ’Tis clivir of ye, so it is. Sure Mick left one here before he went away. Here it is now, and a good strong strap.’

The bell was fastened round the docile animal’s neck, and then only was she suffered to depart, short-hobbled and quietly munching the tall gray-green grass, and looking as if no thought of wandering could ever enter her head. None the less was it probable, as her mistress well knew, that if slip-rail or panel was down she would be at her old home by morning light

The two women sat long over the fire, talking about things new and old, the baby boy sleeping peacefully the while. Nor did Kate Trevenna find rest when at length she sought her pillow. An hour before daylight she dressed and prepared for the road, caught and saddled her horse, which she fastened to the fence in front of the hut. Taking a cup of tea and a crust of buttered bread from her warm-hearted hostess, and kissing her child again and again, she rode away in the darkness ere the first streak of dawn-light illumined the eastern sky.

‘Sure and she’s the fine woman,’ soliloquised Mrs. Rooney, as she listened to the sharp hoof-strokes which rang clearly on the rocky track; ‘she has some great sorrow on her entirely, or she’d never leave the darlin’ babe this way. Anyhow, I’ll be the mother he’s lost, and maybe more, till she comes back. The saints be between us and harm,’ with which pious utterance the kind, simple soul betook herself back to bed.

No grass grew under the roan mare’s feet. Mile after mile she threw behind her; now striking out freely at half speed, now pulling up for a down-hill mile or so, over which she went at her fast, clever amble. Ere the sun was well up Kate was miles away from her resting-place of the night. A long day lay before her, for the journey would need every hour and every minute of the time. Long and tedious was the ride to Omeo. But the good mare had ere now known many a journey when the saddle had not been off her back between dawn and dark—far into the night, indeed. The Kate Lawless of old days was tireless as a forest doe. Some change in nerve and constitution had doubtless taken place since then. None the less was she still a woman of exceptional energy and courage. And with bitter wrongs ceaselessly corroding in her heart, and the haunting fear of a dark and bloody deed uprearing itself before her in that lonely ride, she defied alike fatigue and womanly weakness with passionate disdain.

Mile after mile, over rough track and smooth, as the narrow winding but still plainly marked bridle-path led, with but rare and momentary halts, the brave roan mare, with her stretching, gliding pace, at times a hand-gallop, at times even faster still, swept on. An occasional drink in a mountain runlet—a half trot up or down the steeper hills—yet all unflinching, unswerving, the pair held onward their rapid way.

The day was far spent when the straggling tents and red-streaked mullock-heaps around the Tin Pot Reef came in view.

‘Here it was,’ she thought, ‘where I saw poor Lance last. It isn’t far to his claim—near the old dead urabba log. There it is! I’ll go over and have a look.’

She rode to the spot. The reef was not abandoned. The claim was in work. The raw-hide bucket was ascending and descending with its gold-besprinkled load, as so many a time at Ballarat and other places she had watched it before.

‘Curse the gold,’ she said aloud, ‘and all that belongs to it! It was a bad day for the country when the first speck was found.’

‘Halloo! mate,’ she said to the miner above ground who was pensively turning out the broken quartz on the ‘paddock’ side of the shaft. ‘How are you doing? Ground pretty good?‘

‘Might be better—might be worse, missus. Can’t complain,’ said the man civilly.

‘Wasn’t this Ballarat Harry’s claim?’ she inquired, with an assumption of carelessness, though her voice trembled and her cheek paled. ‘You bought him out?’

‘That’s so. Sold it to Yorkey Dickson and me. Yorkey’s below. We very nigh had to fight for it, after that. Some of the “Tips” tried to bluff us out of it Harry was a-comin’ to see us through. Leastways he told a young man as we sent to him. But he never turned up. That was queer, wasn’t it?’

‘And you never seen him after?’

‘Not a sign of him. Yorkey was for goin’ into Omeo after him. Only we heard he was off for Melbourne. So we didn’t bother, and the jumpers gave us best next day.’

‘It was strange!’ she said musingly. ‘He was never the man to say he’d do a thing and then change his mind. No; good or bad, he’d stick to it, poor Lance! Well, I must be going. So ’long.’

Slowly the woman rode forward—rode along lost in thought, while the mare, keeping to the track instinctively, like most bush hackneys, shuffled along at her fast amble till they came to the Mountain Ash Flat, which lay between this reef and Omeo.

Here the mare made as if to follow an old cattle track, at right angles to the road, of which she possibly had previous knowledge.

‘Won’t do, old woman,’ said Kate, aroused from her reverie by the slight change of direction; ‘what road’s this, I wonder? More tracks than one along it—one would think it led somewhere.’ She stooped low from her horse, scanning with keen and practised vision the footmarks upon the pathway. ‘God in heaven!’ she suddenly exclaimed, ‘how did that come there?’

In an instant she was off her horse and eagerly grasping at a glittering speck amid the grass. It was a chain a gold watchchain with a curious coin attached, which she knew well. She had often playfully noticed the female face upon it. Here it was. She held it to the light. A part was dimmed and mud-encrusted. It had been trodden into the earth, but since washed by the rain. And what was the stain, dark red across the gold?’ His chain—Lance Trevanion’s chain!’ she murmured to herself. ‘How did it come here? Of course he may have dropped it. I’ll run these tracks a bit. It looks as if—as if—but no! surely, it can’t—can’t have been. Oh, my God! they never could have murdered him!‘As she muttered to herself, in disjointed and broken sentences, she led her horse along the narrow track, searching eagerly for the signs of passage or conflict tokens that lie clearer than the printed page to the vision of the Children of the Waste. Yes! there were footmarks, deeply indented in places, as of men that bore a burden. Here was a fragment of a check shirt of the pattern the bush labourer mostly wears, there a scrap of paper; and at a turn in the thicket-bordered path a long-abandoned shaft came into view. Lower she bent, and lower still, scanned yet more earnestly the slight mark of impress, invisible save to eyesight keen as those of the wild tribes which had been wont to roam these lonely wastes.

‘The grass is longer here,’ she whispered to herself in low and ghastly tones. ‘Something’s been dragged this way; the edge of the shaft looks broken down. Oh, my God! poor Lance, poor fellow, is this what you’ve come to after all?’

With stern set lips and eyes dry yet burning with deep unsparing hate, she secured her horse to a sapling. Then lying flat upon the earth, leaned over the edge of the dark unfathomed pit, and gazed into its depths, half dreading what her boding fears had shaped. She called too, at first brokenly, then loudly on him by name—‘but none answered.’ The tree limbs they had cast down had been lately dragged a few paces. The recent mark did not escape her watchful eye. As she looked heavenward in her despair she caught sight of a soaring eagle. On an adjacent tree sat a detachment of crows; she knew too well what their presence portended.

She drew herself upward, then walked slowly, almost totteringly, toward the patient mare. But before reaching her she dropped suddenly on her knees, and raising her clasped hands cried aloud, ‘As God Almighty hears me this day, I swear that I will take neither rest nor food until I’ve got the tracks of the murdering dogs that killed the man I loved. Oh, Lance, Lance! It was a bad day for you when we met first. But I’ll have revenge on your murderers—revenge—blood for blood—cowards and thieves that they are. They had him crooked, I’ll take my oath. And now, Lawrence Trevenna,’ she said, rising from her knees, ‘it’s you or I for it—my life against yours to the bitter end,’ she continued, in the same broken, muttering monologue which she had half unconsciously used since she had commenced to follow the trail of blood. Half mechanically she loosed the mare and remounted. Then, giving the reins a shake, the tireless animal dashed off at half speed—a pace from which her rider never slackened until she reined up, after the darkening eve had dimmed the outlines of forest and mountain, within sight of the lights of Omeo.

She had covered nearly seventy miles since daylight. Yet the fast gliding pace at which she rode up the main street indicated no trace of fatigue on the part of her hackney. For herself, every nerve seemed at fullest tension; she felt as if she could have ridden day and night for a week.

Attaching the bridle-rein to one of the iron staples with which the verandah of the chief hostelry was supplied, she went at once to the principal store, never very far from the hotel in country townships.

‘Mr. Barker in?’ she inquired of a tall slouching youth who was gravely engaged in selling matches to a Chinaman. Economical of speech, like most of his countrymen, he silently pointed to a stout man in a check shirt standing before a desk. To him Kate walked.

‘You’re Mr. Barker?’ He nodded. ‘Well, I’m Mrs. Trevennai Has my husband, Lawrence Trevenna, been here lately?’

‘I don’t know as I remember,’ said the trader cautiously; ‘what sort of looking man is he, missus?’

‘Tall and dark; what most men and all fools of women call handsome. He said he was going to Monaro, but he’s working a “cross,” it seems to me. I shouldn’t wonder if he’s gone to Melbourne.’

‘There’s no one left here for Melbourne, or indeed for anywheres, lately, except Ballarat Harry,’ answered Barker. ‘We know him well enough, and your description fits him to a hair. There’s been a young lady as come from England all the way to marry him. It was quite pretty to see ’em together.’

‘So he’s gone to Melbourne—Ballarat Harry, I mean?’ she asked. ‘Did he talk of being back soon?’

‘Well, didn’t say much one way or t’other. Rather short and grumpy he was lately, was Harry. I hardly knowed him, he seemed so different. He’d had a row with some chap too, and got his face pasted a bit. P’raps that made him cut up rough like.’

‘Was he badly cut, then,’ asked the woman, gazing earnestly in the trader’s face, ‘or just a bit of a rally like—half in joke, half in earnest?’

‘Not it. A regular hard-fought battle. A fight to a finish, if ever there was one. First time I didn’t notice it so much. Next time I saw he’d had a fearful pounding. But I expect he’s all right now.’

‘All right—very likely,’ assented the woman absently. ‘Can you tell me where the police barracks are?’

‘There’s the place, near that big fallen tree, but there’s no one in it. Tracy went away home to White Rock yesterday. The other chap went away with the gold escort.’

‘How far to White Rock?’

‘A good thirty mile. There’s a straight road; you can’t miss it. It starts south as soon as you cross the bridge over the creek.

‘All right,’ she answered, ‘there’s no turn off?’

‘No; half-way you come to a shepherd’s hut. There’s no one living there now. Keep it on your left, and the track gets plain again.’

‘Thanks; good-night. I must see Tracy on business. I shall be there by bedtime, I expect.’

Then fared she forth into the night. No rest, no food for steed or rider till her errand should be done. The game, bright-eyed mountain mare, as much refreshed by the halt as a less high-caste steed would have been by a feed of corn, started away as if just mounted. Kate patted the smooth arching neck. ‘Carry me well to-night, Wallaroo, and you’ll never have another hard day’s work as long as you live. Not if I own you, anyhow. And it’ll have to be bad times when we’re parted.’

.     .     .     .     .

Away through the darksome close-ranked forest groves—away through the rocky defiles where the mare’s bare hoofs rang from time to time as on metal—away through sedgy morass and water-laden plain—away through the long gray tussac grass, which rustled wiry and dry in the hoar-frost. The stars burned and scintillated in the dark blue cloudless sky. The low moon rose and stared—redly, weird, and witch-like—upon the solitary woman threading alone the dim desolate waste. All silently, yet surely, the slow hours sped. Still wound the forest path, serpent-like, amid untouched primeval giants. Still clattered the fleet mare’s hoofs along the uneven trail. The great constellation of the southern heavens had changed the aspect of its cross when a chorus of barking dogs disclosed the outpost of law and order. A couple of huts, a slab stable, a small but securely fenced paddock, made up the establishment. She rode up to the gate of the little garden, and throwing down her reins as she slipped from the saddle, walked stiffly to the door of the cottage. She rapped sharply with the end of her riding-whip.

‘Who’s there?’ a man called out.

‘It’s me—Kate Trevenna. Police work. Look alive.’

‘All right, Mrs. Trevenna,’ replied a cheery voice. ‘Wait till I strike a light. Here we are. Walk in and sit down.’

‘Oh, it’s you, Tracy; I’m glad of that. Look here, is your horse in the stable and fit?’

‘Fit as a fiddle; what’s up?’

‘Hell’s up—murder—robbery—the devil’s turned out, or something like it. You’ll have to ride, I tell you. Where’s Dayrell?’

‘At Warrandorf, fifty miles off.’

‘That’s all right,’ she answered; ‘he’ll do it yet, if he’s sharp. Can you start in half an hour and take a letter to him?’

‘Yes; in a quarter. Where’s your letter?’

‘You go and saddle your horse. You’ll have to ride harder than ever you did since you were in the force, and I’ll tell you what to write. Is your paddock all right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then I’ll turn my mare out while you’re saddling and make the fire up a bit. I see there’s a back log. I must have a cup of tea and a bite before I go to bed.’

In ten minutes the trooper was back, whistling to himself and apparently as cheerful as if a fifty mile night ride over a bad road was an adventure calculated to raise any man’s spirits.

‘Now, Mrs. Trevenna, where’s your letter? You’d better turn in with the wife when I’m gone and you’ve made yourself a cup of tea. There’s bread and meat in the safe.’

‘How far is it to where Dayrell is? Fifty odd—nearly sixty miles. I can do it in seven hours—perhaps less. I’ll be there soon after daylight, so as he can start at once.’

‘That will do. Get your pen and a sheet of paper and write down what I tell you. Are you ready? Begin like this—

‘This is from Mrs. Trevenna—Kate Lawless that was; every word is God’s truth. Lawrence Trevenna and Coke have murdered Lance Trevanion and hid his body in a shaft near the Tin Pot Reef. I tracked them down, and to-day can show the place. Trevenna went to Omeo and passed himself off as Lance to the young lady that came out from England to marry him. He’s off to Melbourne, where they are to be married and start for England, he taking Lance’s name, money, and wife. Ride like hell if you want to block the villain’s game. Only left here a few days. That’s all.’

‘By Jove,’ quoth the trooper, folding up the paper and putting it carefully in his pocket, ‘that’s something like a letter! I knew he was an infernal scoundrel, but I didn’t think he was quite so bad as that. I do pity you, Mrs. Trevenna; but there’s no time, is there? So I’ll say good-bye to my old woman and clear. You chum in with her till tomorrow. I’ll go back with you, and we’ll see further about that shaft.’

Three minutes afterwards the trooper’s horse-hoofs clattered along the stony track. Kate sat long over the fire, from time to time mechanically addressing herself to the simple meal which she had made ready. Then she arose, and slowly, with uncertain steps, betook herself to the goodwife’s inner chamber.

.     .     .     .     .

Thus, and by such means, was Lawrence Trevenna tracked—followed up—run to earth. From what trivial neglect and want of caution in ‘blinding his trail’ had the sleuthhounds of the law been loosed upon his flying steps; and from what apparently savoured of the merest chance had the avenger of blood been enabled to seize him in the hour of his triumph. Had but the ceremony been completed, had but the ship which sailed for Callao on the nextday taken ‘Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’ among her passengers, what woe, limitless and irrevocable, would have been wrought! In that day no ocean telegraph was available to intercept the criminal, to ensure his arrest ere his foot touched the alien shore. Had but the trooper at White Rock been ‘absent on duty,’ had Dayrell been from home when he arrived at Warrandorf, the precious, indispensable time would have been lost—that day—that night during which a desperate trooper, careless of life and limb, rode on relays of horses to Melbourne, and, haggard, sleepless, travelworn, but cool and resolute as ever, arrived before the fatal vow was sworn.

Little remains to be told. The once brave, stalwart, gladsome presentment of him who was Lance Trevanion was recovered from the shaft and identified beyond dispute. For his murder, as well as for that of the gold-buyer Gray, Trevenna, Coke, and a confederate named Fogarty were tried. All difficulties of legal proof and identification were removed by the consistent conduct of Mr. Caleb Coke. True to his unvarying principles, he turned Queen’s evidence. His life was spared. Trevenna and Fogarty were hanged. Unaffected by the curses of his comrades in crime and the execrations of the crowd, Coke retired to Mount Gibbo, and there lived out to extreme old age an unblest and solitary life. His secrets died with him, and were only told sub sigillo confessionis.

He retained possession of the hut under Mount Gibbo to the last. But the wandering bush tramp turned aside with a curse when he marked the sinister elder standing at his door, or sitting on the rude bank surrounded by his dogs. It was popularly asserted that he abstained from the use of ardent spirits, being fearful of betraying the crimes with the memory of which his soul was laden. But the stock-riders averred that more than once, when passing the lonely hut after midnight, they had heard shouts and curses, mingled with screams and laughter even more dreadful. These were popularly believed to proceed from the Enemy of Mankind, or some one of his lieutenants engaged in spending the evening with his sworn liegeman, Caleb Coke.

After such brief interval as sufficed for her recovery from the shock her feelings had sustained, Estelle Chaloner naturally decided to return to England. The recurring horror with which she recalled her providential escape from a fate too dreadful to conceive needed the anodyne of complete change of surroundings, of which a long voyage only could supply the requisite conditions. She therefore, to the unaffected grief of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon, caused her passage to be taken in the good ship Candia, in which the luxurious nature of her cabin fittings, duly provided by Mr. Vernon, caused much wonder and admiration among the other passengers. Mr. Charles Stirling, who had been so considerate as to delay his voyage, ‘went home’ by the same boat. It did not surprise her Australian friends to hear that he made such use of the exceptional opportunities enjoyed by a fellow-passenger, that Miss Chaloner consented to merge her future existence in that of Mr. Charles Stirling. This arrangement was completed at St George’s, Hanover Square, after the shortest interval allowed for the trousseau of a young lady of position. Mrs. Vernon’s remark was something to the effect, that though she had striven to be true to her plighted faith, she really believed that Estelle liked Charlie Stirling better all the time.

Number Six, Growlers’, was worked out in due course, but not before Jack Polwarth found himself one of the richest men ‘on Ballarat,’ as he would have phrased it. This was what the world calls the height of good fortune. But there was an even rarer possession which John Polwarth .and his good wife had been gifted with, even before the advent of the gold so plentifully showered upon them. This was such a proportion of sense and shrewdness as sudden wealth and its destructive flatteries had no power to assail.

In accordance with Mrs. Polwarth’s aspiration, Tottie had been sent to one of the best ladies’ schools in Melbourne. Here she had received careful instruction, and enjoyed the privilege of association with girls of the higher colonial families. Acknowledged to be ‘sweetly pretty’ in her maiden prime, as well as amiable, popular, and an undoubted heiress, no difficulties were placed in the way of her invitation to vice-regal entertainments. Her father’s mansion in St. Kilda was noted for its princely yet unostentatious hospitality. Small wonder then that Tottie—beautiful, cultured, a lady in mind and manner, such as her mother had fondly hoped to behold her, and withal credited with ‘pots of money’—should marry a distinguished globe-trotter, a man of rank and ancient birth, be presented to her gracious Majesty on her arrival in England, and gain golden opinions in every sense of the word.

The after-life of Tessie Lawless was that of the woman who, partly from a natural tendency to self-sacrifice, partly from despair and hopeless sorrow, remained in the hospital to which she had devoted her life. Her course henceforth was the onward path of duty. During an epidemic of fever several of the nurses fell victims to their labours. A modest inscription in the Melbourne cemetery bears testimony to the anxious care and continued watchfulness of Nurse Esther Lawless, the best loved and most deeply respected of all the hospital attendants.

Charles Stirling returned to Australia, but only to settle his affairs, and so that he might take up his abode in England ‘for good.’ His wife, naturally, could never be induced to return to Australia, even for a short sojourn. In spite of occasional twinges of regret which assail him when the continued absence of the northern sun tends to lower his spirits and suggest the ‘golden summer eves’ of his native land, Charlie Stirling finds the old country very fairly habitable. His wife’s fortune, added to his own, provides an extremely comfortable, not to say luxurious existence, as well as an assured provision for the olive branches. The Honourable Mrs. Delamere (née Polwarth) and her husband—who will be a peer some day—are frequent and welcome guests. Mrs. Stirling takes great pride in introducing her beautiful Australian friend, whose fairy godmother, while endowing her with fortune and fashion, added the rarer gifts of unselfish kindliness.

The estate and revenues of Wychwood went to the younger son—a devolution which afforded to all the country people unfeigned satisfaction, as removing the curse under which they devoutly believed the family to exist.

One mystery was unravelled, in the closer search made after his succession among the Squire’s papers. In a secret receptacle was discovered a collection of letters which proved incontestably that Lawrence Trevenna was his natural son, born two years before his marriage to the mother of Lance Trevanion. The girl’s father was a disreputable horse-and-turf-tout and betting man in a small way in a distant county; the girl herself the worthy offspring of such a father—handsome, bold, unprincipled. The Squire discovered that a deliberate plot had been laid for him. Hence his previous inexplicable hatred to all and every form of horse-racing and the gambling therewith concomitant. Attempts at blackmail were referred to as having been resisted by legal advice, but finally compromised by the payment of a comparatively large sum—only a part of which had helped to provide passage-money and outfit for Lawrence Trevenna. Some fragmentary addenda to the faded writing and curiously worded letters told of deep and bitter regret even of repentance. But the sin had been sinned. The guilt lightly incurred in the riot of youthful passion had grown dark and menacing of aspect with the slow gathering years. And ‘the vengeance due of all our wrongs’ had haltingly, but with sleuthhound deadliness, tracked down his happiness and shortened the wrongdoer’s life. But for the fatal resemblance, the mysterious heritage of unbridled passion bequeathed to the Ishmaelite offspring, the heir of his ancient house had doubtless escaped injustice, imprisonment, and death. And now, ‘Conrad, Lara, Ezzelia are gone.’ A youthful scion—fair, blue-eyed, mirthful—makes merry in the old halls of his race. But of the wandering heir—he who defiantly quitted home, and friends, and native land in search of gold; who vowed to conquer fortune with the aid of the strong arm and tameless heart; to return successful, rich, honoured of all men; to claim his bride in his own ancient hall—of him the oaks in the Druids’ Grove of Wychwood murmur to the midnight stars, ‘Nevermore.’


THE END


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