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- Harry Heathcote of Gangoil - 10/23 -
been submissive, there would have been an end of the matter. Heathcote would have said no word about it to any one, and would not have stopped a farthing from the week's unearned wages. That he had to encounter a certain amount of ill usage from the rough men about him, and to forgive it, he could understand; but it could not be his duty, either as a man or a master, to pass over dishonesty without noticing it. No; that he would not do, though Gangoil should burn from end to end. He did not much mind being robbed. He knew that to a certain extent he must endure to be cheated. He would endure it. But he would never teach his men to think that he passed over such matters because he was afraid of them, or that dishonesty on their part was indifferent to him.
But now he had made another enemy--an enemy of a man who had declared to him that he knew the movements of "that chap," meaning Nokes! How hard the world was! It seemed that all around were trouble to him. He turned his horse back, and made again for the spot which was his original destination. As he cantered on among the trees, twisting here and there, and regulating his way by the stars, he asked himself whether it would not be better for him to go home and lay himself down by his wife and sleep, and await the worst that these men could do to him. This idea was so strong upon him that at one spot he made his horse stop till he had thought it all out. No one encouraged him in his work. Every one about the place, friend or foe, Bates, his wife, Medlicot, and this Boscobel, spoke to him as though he were fussy and fidgety in his anxiety. "If fires must come, they will come; and if they are not to come, you are simply losing your labor." This was the upshot of all they said to him. Why should he be wiser than they? If the ruin came, let it come. Old Bates had been ruined, but still had enough to eat and drink, and clothes to wear, and did not work half as hard as his employer. He thought that if he could only find some one person who would sympathize with him and support him, he would not mind. But the mental loneliness of his position almost broke his heart.
Then there came across his mind the dim remembrance of certain old school words, and he touched his horse with his spur and hurried onward: "Let there be no steps backward." A thought as to the manliness of persevering, of the want of manliness in yielding to depression, came to his rescue. Let him, at any rate, have the comfort of thinking that he had done his best according to his lights. After some dim fashion, he did come to recognize it as a fact that nothing could really support him but self-approbation. Though he fell from his horse in utter weariness, he would persevere.
As the night wore on he came to the German's hut, and finding it empty, as he expected, rode on to the outside fence of his run. When he reached this he got off his horse, and taking a key out of his pocket, whistled upon it loudly. A few minutes afterward the German came up to him.
"There's been no one about, I suppose?" he asked.
"Not a one," said the man.
"You've been across on Brownbie's run?"
"We're on it now, Mr. 'Eathcote." They were both on the side of the fence away from Gangoil station.
"I don't know how that is, Karl. I think Gangoil goes a quarter of a mile beyond this. But we did not quite strike the boundary when we put up the fence."
"Brownbie's cattle is allays here, Mr. 'Eathcote, and is knocking down the fence every day. Brownbie is a rascal, and 'is cattle as bad as 'isself."
"Never mind that, Karl, now. When we've got through the heats, we'll put a mile or two of better fencing along here. You know Boscobel?"
"In course I know Bos."
"What sort of a fellow is he?" Then Harry told his German dependent exactly what had taken place between him and the other man.
"He's in and in wid all them young Brownbies," said Karl.
"The Brownbies are a bad lot, but I don't think they'd do any thing of this kind," said Harry, whose mind was still dwelling on the dangers of fire.
"They likes muttons, Mr. 'Eathcote."
"I suppose they do take a sheep or two now and then. They wouldn't do worse than that, would they?"
"Not'ing too 'ot for 'em; not'ing too 'eavy," said Karl, smoking his pipe. "The vind, vat there is, comes just here, Mr. 'Eathcote." And the man lifted up his arm, and pointed across in the direction of Brownbie's run.
"And you don't think much of Boscobel?"
Karl Bender shook his head.
"He was always well treated here," said Harry, "and has had plenty of work, and earned large wages. The man will be a fool to quarrel with me."
Karl again shook his head. With Karl Bender, Harry was quite sure of his man, but not on that account need he be quite sure of the correctness of the man's opinion.
Thence he went on till he met his other lieutenant, O'Dowd, and so, having completed his work, he made his way home, reaching the station at sunrise.
"Did Bates tell you he'd met me?" he asked his wife.
"Yes, Harry; kiss me, Harry. I was so glad you sent a word. Promise me, Harry, not to think that I don't agree with you in every thing."
THE BROWNBIES OF BOOLABONG.
Old Brownbie, as he was usually called, was a squatter also, but a squatter of a class very different from that to which Heathcote belonged. He had begun his life in the colonies a little under a cloud, having been sent out from home after the perpetration of some peccadillo of which the law had disapproved.
In colonial phrase, he was a "lag"--having been transported; but this was many years ago, when he was quite young; and he had now been a free man for more than thirty years. It must be owned on his behalf that he had worked hard, had endeavored to rise, and had risen. But there still stuck to him the savor of his old life. Every one knew that he had been a convict; and even had he become a man of high principle--a condition which he certainly never achieved--he could hardly have escaped altogether from the thralldom of his degradation. He had been a butcher, a drover, part owner of stock, and had at last become possessed of a share of a cattle-run, and then of the entire property, such as it was. He had four or five sons, uneducated, ill- conditioned, drunken fellows, who had all their father's faults without his energy, some of whom had been in prison, and all of whom were known as pests to the colony. Their place was called Boolabong, and was a cattle-run, as distinguished from a sheep-run; but it was a poor place, was sometimes altogether unstocked, and was supposed to be not unfrequently used as a receptable for stolen cattle.
The tricks which the Brownbies played with cattle were notorious throughout Queensland and New South Wales, and by a certain class of men were much admired. They would drive a few head of cattle, perhaps forty or fifty, for miles around the country, across one station and another, traveling many hundreds of miles, and here and there, as they passed along, they would sweep into their own herd the bullocks of the victims whose lands they passed. If detected on the spot, they gave up their prey. They were in the right in moving their own cattle, and were not responsible for the erratic tendencies of other animals. If successful, they either sold their stolen beasts to butchers on the road, or got them home to Boolabong. There were dangers, of course, and occasional penalties. But there was much success. It was supposed, also, that though they did not own sheep, they preferred mutton for their daily uses, and that they supplied themselves at a very cheap rate.
It may be imagined how such a family would be hated by the respectable squatters on whom they preyed. Still there were men, old stagers, who had know Moreton Bay before it was a colony--in the old days when convicts were common--who almost regarded the Brownbies as a part of the common order of things, and who were indisposed to persecute them. Men must live; and what were a few sheep? Of some such it might be said, that though they were above the arts by which the Brownbies lived, they were not very scrupulous themselves; and it perhaps served them to have within their ken neighbours whose morality was lower even than their own. But to such a one as Harry Heathcote the Brownbies were utterly abominable. He was for the law and justice at any cost. To his thinking, the Colonial Government was grossly at fault, because it did not weed out and extirpate not only the identical Brownbies, but all Brownbieism wherever it might be found. A dishonest workman was a great evil, but, to his thinking, a dishonest man in the position of master was the incarnation of evil. As to the difficulties of evidence, and obstacles of that nature, Harry Heathcote knew nothing. The Brownbies were rascals, and should therefore be exterminated.
And the Brownbies knew well the estimation in which their neighbour held them. Harry had made himself altogether disagreeable to them. They were squatters as well as he--or at least so they termed themselves; and though they would not have expected to be admitted to home intimacies, they thought that when they were met out-of-doors or in public places, they should be treated with some respect. On such occasions Harry treated them as though they were dirt beneath his feet. The Brownbies would be found, whenever a little money came among them, at the public billiard-rooms and race-courses within one hundred and fifty miles of Boolabong. At such places Harry Heathcote was never seen. It would have been as easy to seduce the Bishop of Brisbane into a bet as Harry Heathcote. He had never even drank a nobbler with one of the Brownbies. To their thinking, he was a proud, stuck-up, unsocial young cub, whom to rob was a pleasure, and to ruin would be a delight.
The old man at Boolabong was now almost obsolete. Property, that he could keep in his grasp, there was in truth none. He was the tenant of the run under the Crown, and his sons would not turn him out of
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