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- Harry Heathcote of Gangoil - 20/23 -


making up to Kate."

Mrs. Heathcote, with some little inward chuckle at her husband's assumed quickness of apprehension, reminded herself that the same idea had occurred to her some time ago. Mrs. Heathcote gave her husband full credit for more than ordinary intelligence in reference to affairs appertaining to the breeding of sheep and the growing of wool, but she did not think highly of his discernment in such an affair as this. She herself had been much quicker. When she first saw Mr. Medlicot, she had felt it a godsend that such a man, with the look of a gentleman, and unmarried, should come into the neighborhood; and, in so feeling, her heart had been entirely with her sister. For herself it mattered nothing who came or did not come, or whether a man were a bachelor, or possessed of a wife and a dozen children. All that a girl had a right to want was a good husband. She was quite satisfied with her own lot in that respect, but she was anxious enough on behalf of Kate. And when a young man did come, who might make matters so pleasant for them, Harry quarreled with him because he was a free-selector. "A free fiddle-stick!" she had once said to Kate--not, however, communicating to her innocent sister the ambition which was already filling her own bosom. "Harry does take things up so--as though people weren't to live, some in one way and some in another! As far as I can see, Mr. Medlicot is a very nice fellow." Kate had remarked that he was "all very well," and nothing more had been said.

But Mrs. Heathcote, in spite of Harry's aversion, had formed her little project--a project which, if then declared, would have filled Harry with dismay. And now the young aristocrat, as he turned himself in his bed, made the suggestion to his wife as though it were all his own!

"I never like to think much of these things beforehand," she said, innocently.

"I don't know about thinking," said Harry; "but a girl might do worse. If it should come up, don't set yourself against it."

"Kate, of course, will please herself," said Mrs. Heathcote. "Now do lie down and rest yourself."

His rest, however, was not of long duration. As he had himself suggested, two policemen reached Gangoil at about three in the afternoon, on their way from Maryborough to Boolabong, in order that they might take Mr. Medlicot's deposition. After Heathcote's departure it had occurred to Sergeant Forrest of the police--and the suggestion, having been transferred from the sergeant to the stipendiary magistrate, was now produced with magisterial sanction-- that, after all, there was no evidence against the Brownbies. They had simply interfered to prevent the burning of the grass on their own run, and who could say that they had committed any crime by doing so? If Medlicot had seen Nokes with a lighted branch in his hand, the matter might be different with him; and therefore Medlicot's deposition was taken. He had sworn that he had seen Nokes drag his lighted torch along the ground; he had also seen other horsemen--two or three, as he thought--but could not identify them. Jacko's deposition was also taken as to the man who had been heard and seen in the wool-shed at night. Jacko was ready to swear point-blank that the man was Nokes. The policemen suggested that, as the night was dark, Jacko might as well allow a shade of doubt to appear, thinking that the shade of doubt would add strength to the evidence. But Jacko was not going to be taught what sort of oath he should swear.

"My word!" he said. "Didn't I see his leg move? You go away."

Armed with these depositions, the two constables went on to Boolabong in search of Nokes, and of Nokes only, much to the chagrin of Harry, who declared that the police would never really bestir themselves in a squatter's cause. "As for Nokes, he'll be out of Queensland by this time to-morrow."

CHAPTER XI.

SERGEANT FORREST.

The Brownbie party returned, after their midnight raid, in great discomfiture to Boolabong. Their leader, Jerry, was burned about his hands and face in a disagreeable and unsightly manner. Joe had hardly made good that character for "fighting it out to the end" for which he was apt to claim credit. Boscobel was altogether disconcerted by his fall. And Nokes, who had certainly shown no aptitude for the fray, was abused by them all as having caused their retreat by his cowardice; while Sing Sing, the runaway cook, who knew that he had forfeited his wages at Gangoil, was forced to turn over in his heathenish mind the ill effects of joining the losing side. "You big fool, Bos," he said more than once to his friend the woodsman, who had lured him away from the comforts of Gangoil. "I'll punch your head, John, if you don't hold your row," Boscobel would reply. But Sing Sing went on with his reproaches, and, before they had reached Boolabong, Boscobel had punched the Chinaman's head.

"You're not coming in here," Jerry said to Nokes, when they reached the yard gate.

"Who wants to come in? I suppose you're not going to send a fellow on without a bit of grub after such a night's work?"

"Give him some bread and meat, Jack, and let him go on. There'll be somebody here after him before long. He can't hurt us; but I don't want people to think that we are so fond of him that we can't do without harboring him here. Georgie, you'll go too, if you take my advice. That young cur will send the police here as sure as my name is Brownbie, and, if they once get hold of you, they'll have a great many things to talk to you about."

Georgie grumbled when he heard this, but he knew that the advice given him was good, and he did not attempt to enter the house. So Nokes and he vanished, away into the bush together--as such men do vanish--wandering forth to live as the wild beasts live. It was still a dark night when they went, and the remainder of the party took themselves to their beds.

On the following afternoon they were lying about the house, sometimes sleeping, and sometimes waking up to smoke, when the two policemen, who had already been at Gangoil, appeared in the yard. These men were dressed in flat caps, with short blue jackets, hunting breeches, and long black boots--very unlike any policemen in the old country, and much more picturesque. They leisurely tied their horses up, as though they had been in the habit of making weekly visits to the place, and walked round to the veranda.

"Well, Mr. Brownbie, and how are you?" said the sergeant to the old man.

The head of the family was gracious, and declared himself to be pretty well, considering all things. He called the sergeant by his name, and asked the men whether they'd take a bit of something to eat. Joe also was courteous, and, after a little delay in getting a key from his brother, brought out the jar of spirits, which, in the bush, is regarded as the best sign known of thorough good-breeding. The sergeant said that he didn't mind if he did; and the other man, of course, followed his officer's example.

So far every thing was comfortable, and the constables seemed in no hurry to allude to disagreeable subjects. They condescended to eat a bit of cold meat before they proceeded to business. And at last the matter to be discussed was first introduced by one of the Brownbie family.

"I suppose you've heard that there was a scrimmage here last night," said Joe. The Brownbie party present consisted of the old man, Joe and Jack Brownbie, and Boscobel, Jerry keeping himself in the background because of his disfigurement. The sergeant, as he swallowed his food, acknowledged that he had heard something about it. "And that's what brings you here," continued Joe.

"There ain't nothing wrong here," said old Brownbie.

"I hope not, Mr. Brownbie," said the sergeant. "I hope not. We haven't got any thing against you, at any rate." Sergeant Forrest was a graduate of Oxford, the son of an English clergyman, who, having his way to make in the world, had thought that an early fortune would be found in the colonies. He had come out, had failed, had suffered some very hard things, and now, at the age of thirty-five, enjoyed life thoroughly as a sergeant of the colonial police.

"You haven't got any thing against anybody here, I should think?" said Joe.

"If you want to get them as begun it," said Jack, "and them as ought to be took up, you'll go to Gangoil."

"Hold your tongue, Jack," said his brother. "Sergeant Forrest knows where to go better than you can tell him."

Then the sergeant asked a string of questions as to the nature of the fight; who had been hurt; and how badly had any body been hurt; and what other harm had been done. The answers to all these questions were given with a fair amount of truth, except that the little circumstance of the origin of the fire was not explained. Both Boscobel and Joe had seen the torch put down, but it could hardly have been expected that they should have been explicit as to such a detail as that. Nor did they mention the names of either their brother George or Nokes.

"And who was there in the matter?" asked the sergeant.

"There was young Heathcote, and a boy he has got there, and the two chaps as he calls boundary rulers, and Medlicot, the sugar fellow from the mill, and a chap of Medlicot's I never set eyes on before. They must have expected something to be up, or Heathcote would not have been going about at night with a tribe of men like that."

"And who were your party?"

"Well, there were just ourselves, four of us, for Georgie was here, and this fellow Boscobel. Georgie never stays long, and he wouldn't be welcome if he did. He turned up just by chance like, and now he's off again."

"That was all, eh?"

Of course they all knew that the sergeant knew that Nokes had been with them. "Well, then, that wasn't all," said old Brownbie. "Bill Nokes was here, whom Heathcote dismissed ever so long ago, and that Chinese cook of his. He dismissed him too, I suppose. And he


Harry Heathcote of Gangoil - 20/23

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