A South-Sea Siren
Is it not the province of friendship, as generally understood, to communicate to a friend, with the least possible delay, all the spiteful and most disagreeable things that are being said about him, and to open his eyes to any fond illusions he might cherish concerning his most intimate surroundings? It must be admitted, at any rate, that such is the usual practice.
Now, as Richard Raleigh possessed not a few friends of the ‘d——d good-natured’ sort, it may be taken for granted that he was soon informed of the scurrilous tattle in which he was so directly concerned, the report of his disgrace, and the public comments upon it, and the announcement of the approaching marriage of the lady of his heart to his distinguished rival.
A few of the most scandalous details may have been suppressed to avoid an unpleasant explosion, and the names of his traducers were wisely withheld to prevent a breach of the peace, but quite enough was told him to rouse his ire to a white heat, and to make him thoroughly miserable. This was, of course, precisely what his kind friends wished to bring about. They were keenly interested in witnessing how he would look with his ‘nose out of joint’. Raleigh knew perfectly well that much of this silly gossip was without foundation, that the invidious reflections on his conduct were only prompted by malice, and that Miss Seymour had never spoken, as she was reported to have done. It was all a ‘pack of lies’.
Still he felt much perturbed in spirit; there was just enough probability about some of the points to give them a semblance of truth, and to cause him serious uneasiness. Vague apprehensions flitted before him and destroyed the former serenity of his soul.
He might, indeed, have relieved his mind by applying at once for reliable information to headquarters. The worthy and amiable person most interested in the whole affair was one, as he well knew, who would not have hesitated a moment in giving him a candid answer. But he shrank rather fearfully from the ordeal of such an explanation. He could not bring himself seriously to entertain the matter. The very thought of losing his beloved Alice filled him with dismay, and upset all his equanimity. Without admitting to himself that she possessed his heart, yet he had come to look upon her as specially page 277 attached to him, identified with his hopes and interests, and necessary to his happiness.
She was his trusted counsellor, the inspirer of his new-born ambition; his kindly Mentor also, by whom he rather enjoyed being scolded; his genial comrade to whom he was bound by a subtle affinity transcending the ties of ordinary friendship.
Of course he had to admit that he had no rightful claim upon her; that there was not even an implied compact between them.
According to the judgment of the world there was nothing between them that could be construed into an ‘attachment’, and yet he felt that she had become a part of his life. The thought that she should be in the possession of another, and called by another's name, worked like madness on his brain. He considered that such conduct on her part would be a sin, an act of unfaithfulness, a sort of sacrilege, and the breaking of spiritual bonds. He resented the idea, he furiously denounced it in his own mind, then he rejected it as absurd, and laughed it to scorn. For he called to remembrance all that he had heard Miss Seymour say on the subject of matrimony; also her contempt for riches, her detestation of the system of mariage de convenance, her independent bearing, and lofty ideal in life.
‘Alice,’ he declaimed aloud, while excitedly pacing up and down his room, ‘Alice is not a marrying girl; she has had plenty of offers already and has refused them all; she despises conventional rules of conduct, and is not likely to be influenced by worldly considerations. She would never give her hand unless at the bidding of a true and devoted love. At present, what she loves best is her liberty. She would not sacrifice that for a title or the grandest sheep-run in the colony, or for the most fashionable connection. The Honourable Mr Brindsley is no doubt a great swell, a popular personage, and a splendid parti, and not a bad looking fellow either, but he won't carry off Miss Alice Seymour.’
But then he would reflect that most people, and certainly not excepting young ladies, were given to changing their minds, more especially on the subject of matrimony.
It occurred to him that his fair friend, although so good and sound on most points, was yet human, and liable to the frailties of her weak sex. Also that the wishes of her father would weigh very strongly with her. Then there was a real fascination about the Honourable Gerald that made him a great favourite with the ladies, and it would hardly be a matter of wonder if Alice had fallen in love with her handsome and distingué admirer. Raleigh felt keenly his own insignificance by the side of a man of such grand style and such excellent page 278 parts; a man who was universally admired and courted, and who was achieving a leading position in society. Raleigh felt crushed at the comparison, and all his worst fears would crowd upon him. Then a sudden revulsion would take place, and he would bitterly reproach himself for his despicable egotism. He would be ashamed at the envious and utterly selfish attitude he had taken up. He had not proposed marrying Miss Seymour, and he asked himself why he should rave and gnash his teeth at the idea of her giving her hand to another. Was he her loyal friend and honest wellwisher to begrudge her the prospects of a splendid and happy union? Every one else pronounced it a most desirable match; her father approved, her relations were delighted at the prospect, and from all sides showers of congratulations were in readiness to be poured in; he alone stood aloof and bitterly resented the idea of his dear friend being thus favoured. He reviled his own heart, but that did not in the least alter his heart's inmost sensations. Then he would wax sentimental, and a new sorrow would wring his bosom, for he would perceive that Alice Seymour was a great deal more to him than he had at first imagined; at the prospect of losing her it was gradually revealed to him that he loved her.
So he gave himself up to moody grief and to hopeless apathy. He secluded himself as much as possible from all society, ceased visiting in the neighbourhood, and even absented himself from Glenmoor, notwithstanding the pressing invitations which he continued to receive to go there. Indeed, during the whole period of Mr Brindsley's visit, Miss Seymour had shown herself rather more than usually attentive to her dear ‘Cousin Richard’.
It was during these latter dark days, while brooding in solitude on the sudden eclipse of all his happiness, that one morning a little three-cornered note was delivered into his hands at the ‘Growlery’.
It was handed to him by a messenger on horseback, who had ridden in haste, but who did not wait for a reply, Raleigh recognised the handwriting at a glance, and his first impulse was to fling the billet into the fire, but he restrained himself, and upon second thoughts he decided to read it. Abandoned, as he fancied himself, by his dearest friend, scandalised by his neighbours, and neglected by the world, he felt an irresistible longing to welcome any kindly advances, even from his old flame and evil genius, the Siren. That seductive creature, notwithstanding her foibles and vanity, and her grievous sins against him, still exercised by some mysterious influence a certain hold upon him. Besides, as he thought to himself, she had page 279 done him so much harm in the past, robbed him of his patrimony, wrecked his prospects in life, and ruined his reputation, that she might just as well be permitted to play the miserable part out, and to finish him off. It was in this cynical and reckless state of mind that he tore open the letter and read as follows:
‘If you are still in the land of the living, and willing to return good for evil, and to stand by a friend in distress, come to me at once, for I am in great trouble.’
There was no heading to the note, no address, and no signature. The young man remained for half an hour absorbed in gloomy thought, then he made up his mind to respond to the invitation, if only to find out what the matter was, and to proffer his services in a case of emergency.
‘She cannot get any more money from me,’ he muttered bitterly to himself, ‘because I have nothing left, and as both sentiment and confidence have long since disappeared there cannot be much danger for me.’
So he went to the stable and saddled his horse, then riding forth on to the breezy downs, he took the well-known, but lately untrodden track, to Dovecot station.
Nearly a twelvemonth had elapsed since he had visited the old place, yet it seemed to him as familiar as when in former times he used so frequently to call there on his daily rounds.
The straggling, wide-roofed, and gabled wooden building peeped forth a silent welcome, through dense clumps of native trees, at his approach; there was a rustic charm about its shady coverts and dark corners, an air of mysterious allurement in its half-hidden recesses.
The courtyard was bordered with weeds and slippery with damp moss. The fences were crooked and dilapidated, while patches of flowering gorse grew between the posts and rails; tangled bushes and overhanging creepers obstructed the winding pathways that led to different parts of the premises, the shrubberies formed a darksome labyrinth, the flower-beds a brilliant maze.
It was a sort of place for children to play hide-and-seek in, and for their elders to glide about unnoticed into cosy little nooks.
Raleigh found nobody about on his arrival. The watchdog pricked up his ears, and gave forth an angry growl, but quickly recognising the once familiar figure, crawled lazily back into his kennel again. The stables were empty, with gaping doors and open gates, the men- page 280 servants were away, and the loud cackling of some hens was the only sound proceeding from the farmyard.
The visitor cast a wistful glance around. All the features of the scene appealed strongly to his memory, and he lingered fondly for a moment over them; then he dismounted, tied up his horse to a verandah post, and entered the premises.
He did so without knocking at the front door. He had accustomed himself in the old times to enter unannounced and to go up the outside stairs that led on to the balcony; by force of habit, and without reflection, he did as before.
He peered into the drawing-room, and found it empty, then he tapped gently at the door of Mrs Wylde's apartment.
A soft, insinuating voice called to him to come in. It was there, at the very spot, that he had first encountered his fair enemy in that memorable tussle, in the dim obscurity; it was there that he had first clasped her in his arms, and imprinted a burning kiss on her lips; it was there that he had yielded himself a prisoner in her hands, and succumbed to her malign influence. As he stood again on that spot, a thrill of the same magnetic influence that had formerly overcome him, shot through his being, he felt himself to tremble violently, and for the moment he seemed to lose the control of his senses.
The call was repeated, he opened the door. In the darkened room he dimly perceived two female figures. The one was reclining on a sofa in an attitude of pain and exhaustion, while her companion sat by her side and was evidently attending to her wants. The latter, who he recognised as the lady of the house, rose at his sight, and with a rapid sign to keep silent, came towards him and took his hand. At the rustling sound of her dress and the touch of her hand, he felt a thrill of the old mysterious dread, and a quick throbbing of the heart, followed by an icy coldness. For he made a desperate effort to subdue any show of emotion, and to assume a cool and distant manner. He recalled to mind, in a flash, all the harm she had done him, his wretched disillusions, and the bitterness of their final rupture, he felt with an agonising pang how he had been duped, humiliated, and discarded by her, and he steeled his breast against any revival of former tenderness. Mrs Wylde, with her quick glance, saw the change, but she did not appear to notice it. She was dressed very plainly in black, and she looked pale and sad, and more than usually delicate.
The expression of her face told of silent suffering, her eyes were red as if from weeping, but occasionally there shot from under the half-closed eyelids a gleam of the old fire. Her voice was plaintive page 281 and subdued, her whole manner depicted lassitude and dejection. He had seen her in all sorts of captivating moods, bright and frolicsome, languid and animating, but he had never seen her look so interesting before. Their meeting was somewhat embarrassing, as Raleigh stood aloof, adopted a frigid tone, and persistently kept his glance averted from hers.
She led him gently out on to the balcony, motioned to him a chair, and sat down quietly by his side.
‘I thought you would come,’ she said to him, ‘I felt sure you would not fail me at such a moment. My poor sister, Mrs Muster, has just gone off into a doze after a dreadful night, and I was in mortal fear that your coming would wake her—You did well not to knock, Richard.’
The last words were uttered in a low tone, and with a peculiar side glance, that vividly recalled the old times to him.
‘What is the matter, then?’ he inquired indifferently.
‘We have had a dreadful time with my brother Tom,’ answered the other, in a hushed voice. ‘We have all been terribly upset; poor Susan is half dead with fright and fatigue—while I am quite unnerved and knocked up with looking after them both. Susan is very anxious to go to her mother's, but the poor thing is really not in a fit state to travel. She is utterly broken down. It is an awful trouble to me, and a dreadful pity, for Tom had been keeping quite straight for a long time, and we began to entertain hopes that he had reformed, and was seattling down to steady work. Latterly he had been in luck; he had made a large sum on the last mob of horses he brought down from the north. Susan was quite taking heart again. Lonely and deserted as I have been of late,’ here she gave him a pathetic and slightly reproachful look, ‘I have been much with them, and I cherished a fond hope that things had really taken a turn for the better. You know I have always been very partial—foolishly fond perhaps—of my poor scapegrace of a brother—he is a good fellow at heart, and at one time we used to be inseparable—but he has been an awful trial to me. It is only this one shocking failing which has dragged him down and blasted his life. It was so pleasant and hopeful to see him once again like his dear old self, when all at once, about a week ago, he had a relapse. He fell in with some dissipated companions, and they all went on a drunken spree together. He stayed away several days, and came back in a state that I shudder to think of. We poor women were quite terrified, and yet we dared not leave him, and no one but myself seems to have the slightest influence over him when he is in this violent state. At last he went into page 282 wild delirium, and we had to fly from the house. The doctor called this morning, and he says that Tom is in a very critical condition, and that he must on no account be left alone. The station hands are all too frightened to stay with him alone, and Malcolm, the shepherd, has positively refused to remain in the hut. None of the neighbours will lend a hand. Old Tapley, and Jones the black fellow, are at the hut just now, but they will not stay another hour. I am nearly distracted. I would go myself and brave it out, but I am quite done up, and I dare not leave poor Susan in her present state—Jim is away in town and cannot be back till to-morrow. In my despair I turned to you. I know that I do not deserve any consideration from you; I know that you have ceased to … care for me; I know that I cannot make you any return, I know … but in a case like this, a case of life and death, I thought, Mr Raleigh, that for old friendship's sake, and prompted by your own good heart, you might, perhaps——’ Here she quite broke down, and hid her face in her hands.
Raleigh felt much affected, for he could see that her grief was genuine, but he managed to control any show of emotion.
‘Well, I have come,’ he replied simply. ‘I will go down to the hut at once, and see what can be done. If necessary I will stay with him all night, but to-morrow we have art important meeting of the District Council at which, of course, I must be present. And I have much to do in the meanwhile. If I go it must be on the express condition that I am to be relieved very early in the morning. You must make some other arrangements for to-morrow without fail. Is he then so very bad?’
‘He is in a dangerous state, I tell you. I must have your word of honour not to leave him alone on any consideration, otherwise I will go myself if it costs me my life. Oh, Richard! it is so good, so kind of you to have come, may I rely upon you to see us through this dreadful trial?’ and she gave him a wistful, beseeching look through her tears.
‘I will promise, but only till to-morrow morning. I will go at once. I have brought nothing with me, but I suppose I can find a shakedown on the premises?’
‘Oh, I will see to that,’ she replied with animation. ‘I will send Maggie down to make up a bed and prepare your tea. Maggie, your former little milkmaid, you know, she is with me now, and I often hear her speak of you, If I feel able I will ride there myself before dark, when the doctor is expected to call, and I will see that Malcolm and the boy are at the hut the first thing in the morning. The man is far away on the hills just now, after the sheep, but I will see him page 283 when he comes home. Oh, you have taken such a load off my mind. It is so very kind of you, Mister Raleigh, but then you, at least, were always a true friend.’
‘Don't mention it,’ he replied hurriedly.
Their hands just met for a moment, and then he ran down the steps, mounted his horse and rode off, without once looking behind him.
So the dreaded interview was over; he congratulated himself on having got through the ordeal so well, and on having been able to maintain such a frigid demeanour, for in his heart he had quaked a little, and he felt a great sense of relief at escaping from that lurking spell, which, as he well knew, could at times exercise such an irresistible influence over him. And yet he had some prickings of conscience at his churlish behaviour; he regretted that he had not shown himself a little more sympathetic and considerate to a lady in distress; he might surely, he thought, have proffered his services with better grace.
His meeting with Mrs Wylde had been a mere formality, he had carefully kept his distance, and not once had he even looked into her eyes; but he had noticed that she was pale and suffering, and gentle and subdued, and he could not help pitying her; in fact, in his inmost heart, he felt as if he had half forgiven her also.
Raleigh rode hard, and he was not long in reaching the shepherd's hut where the Musters resided. It was only a rough cabin comprising two rooms, and situated near the creek, and under the lee of a high riverbank. He let his horse run loose in a small enclosure that was used as a paddock, and carrying his saddle on his arm, he entered the premises.
The sight that met him at the door was a most shocking one. Tied down on a bed, and in frantic convulsions, lay a half-naked man, whose face seemed on fire, and was scarcely human in appearance. The countenance was truly appalling; flushed crimson, and bloated to an unnatural size, the eye-balls starting out of their sockets and rolling about in a frightful way, the veins of the forehead distended almost to bursting, teeth gnashing, mouth foaming, and the whole body writhing in furious contortions, he looked like a wild beast caught in a trap and making desperate efforts to escape from the toils. In this grovelling, roaring, and struggling human monster Raleigh had difficulty in recognising the features of his old acquaintance Tom Muster, who, on his part, seemed quite unconscious of the other's presence.
The men who had been sent to the hut had taken fright at the antics of their violent patient, and had secured him to the bed with page 284 ropes. These fastenings had hurt and exasperated him to such an extent that he now raved like a madman, and was in serious danger of succumbing to his frenzy. Raleigh at once advanced, and notwithstanding the warnings from the other men, he cut the bonds loose. Feeling himself suddenly relieved from the maddening restraint, Tom Muster became immediately much calmer, he ceased struggling and writhing on the bed, but lay in a state of collapse horrible to behold, with profuse perspiration rolling down his face, and the breath from his heaving lungs like a blast from a furnace. He regained consciousness also, and was able to recognise his deliverer, and to speak a few piteous words to him, but the sight of his former warders, who stood apart near the doorway, seemed to rouse him to renewed fury, especially the coloured man who he persistently took for the devil, and raved and spat at with the utmost virulence. These men, who were arrant cowards, soon became alarmed for their own safety; they beat a hasty retreat, and forsook their posts, leaving Raleigh to manage as best he could with his dangerous charge.
After a short while, however, the violent fit subsided, and the crazy wretch became more amenable to reason. Then he went to sleep. Towards evening the doctor called and pronounced the patient to be in a very critical state, the fever was unabated, and unless a profound sleep could be produced, he said, the case might end fatally during the night. He prescribed a strong opiate, and left a box of morphia pills to be administered every few hours until relief could be obtained. Raleigh felt aghast at being left all alone under such alarming circumstances, cooped up with a dangerous madman who might expire under his care, and beyond call of any assistance.
But there was no way out of it. He had good-naturedly undertaken the charge, and he would have to keep his word and fulfil his duty however unpleasant or risky it might prove. The doctor could not help him, for he had an urgent call elsewhere, but as he went off hurriedly he promised to look up some neighbours on his way, and endeavour to send some help.
Night was falling fast. On the higher ground a faint light was still reflected, but deepening shadows crept over the plains, and a thick mist had settled down in the gully where the hut was situated. As Raleigh looked out upon the sombre and desolate scene a creeping sensation came over him; he felt chilled and somewhat scared. The large trees loomed darkly in the fog, all else was shrouded in gloom, a weird silence reigned around, broken only by the shrill cry of the wood-hens as they scuttled about in the surrounding scrub, and the page 285 hoarse murmur of the river as it flowed over its boulder bed in the bottom of the ravine.
He then went to have another look at the patient who was stretched out full length on the bed, quiet, but wide awake, breathing heavily, and with his great rolling eyes gleaming cat-like in the half obscurity of the room. He seemed unconscious, but crouched under the blankets, with the ferocious look of a wild beast, ready to spring forth and rend his attendant.
Raleigh shuddered; then he withdrew quickly into the adjoining room, where he lit a fire and prepared himself a couch as best he could with some stray rugs and blankets he found scattered about the disordered premises. He filled the kettle—always the bushman's first care—and placed it on the hearth for the invariable pannikin of tea; he lit a tallow candle, and then drawing his seat near to the glowing embers, he resigned himself to the prospect of a miserable and sleepless night. But previous to settling down to any sort of rest, he was careful to place a heavy kitchen poker within reach of his hand, so that in the event of any sudden intrusion on his meditations he might be in a position to defend himself.
Raleigh felt oppressed with a sense of melancholy; at heart he was sad and anxious. His meeting with Mrs Wylde had disconcerted him, and brought back a host of painful memories.
Then he thought of Alice Seymour; the object of so many flattering attentions, which could not fail to divert her mind from him; courted by the great, asked for in marriage, and possibly soon to be wedded and lost to him for ever. He groaned in spirit. Was life worth living under such circumstances? he asked himself, gloomily. All his former misgivings as to the future came back upon him; the futility of his endeavours, his misguided course in life, the loss of his small capital, the coldness of friends, the loneliness of existence, and the heartlessness of the world; all these things tortured and oppressed him.
Then a feeling of dreary languor came over him, and while leaning forward on his chair, his chin resting on his open hand, and the warm glow of the fire in his face, he closed his eyes and felt himself gently gliding off into slumber, when he was suddenly startled by a light tapping at the door.
The next moment he found himself face to face with rosy-cheeked little Maggie, who, with a long mantle hanging from her shoulders and a basket under her arm, stood irresolutely and with a scared expression at the threshold.
She dropped him her usual bob-curtsy.
‘Why, Maggie dear! You here at this hour, and in the dark? You page 286 look just like Little Red Riding Hood, in the pantomime; only you needn't be frightened, I'm not the wolf. Hush! step in, but don't make a noise. Mr Muster is just dozing off. I am having an awful time of it. Why didn't you come earlier?’
‘Oh! don't scold me, Mr Richard. I lost my way on the flat, took the wrong track, and struck the gully a mile away. Then the fog set in, and I got quite confused and frightened, and I have been wandering about for the past hour or more, when I just got a glimpse of the light. I am so tired!’
‘They should have sent some one with you.’
‘There was no one to send, Mr Richard. Things are in a dreadful way at the station. Mrs Wylde talked of riding down, and said she would meet me here, but I suppose Mrs Muster took worse, so she couldn't come. I have brought you something for your tea, sir!’
‘Well, put it down, there's a good girl, and don't talk quite so loud. I can make myself a cup of tea. Don't trouble about me. You must hurry back home as quick as possible before it gets quite dark. Sorry I can't escort you, my dear, but I daren't leave the hut. One doesn't know at any moment what might happen. I will put you on the track.’
But Maggie had no idea of allowing herself to be packed off in that peremptory manner, besides she complained of fatigue, and she insisted on preparing his evening meal. So she laid aside her cloak, took off her straw hat, and tripped about on tiptoe, very silently and demurely, laying a cover on the table, emptying the contents of the basket and making the tea.
Raleigh watched her complacently, and was thankful for the break in his solitude. He felt weary and anxious, with an undefined dread hanging over him, and therefore glad of her company, but at the same time he was concerned about the girl. The difficulty was to get her away. The night had set in cold and dismal, and a thick fog added to the obscurity. She could not be allowed to remain all night with him in the hut, he could not send her away alone in the dark, and he dared not leave his charge. What was to be done? Richard did not know, and Maggie did not seem to care.
She looked very nice. Her bright complexion was flushed with excitement and the exertion of her walk. Her chubby little cheeks were as plump and glossy as a pair of sweet apples. They looked so appetising that the young man felt quite a longing to have a bite at them. Her hair was all dishevelled, and hung in auburn curls about her pretty neck, her eyes sparkled with animation, and her rosy lips were slightly parted with a provoking smile. When the repast was pre- page 287 pared and decently spread in the digny apartment, Maggie tripped forward, made a curtsy with mock humility, and informed him that tea was ready.
Raleigh, although in a sad mood, was amused at her antics, and he recognised that her respectful attentions were deserving of some slight acknowledgment. So he drew her towards him, and kissed her. Then he made her sit down beside him, and partake of the tasty meal she had so nicely prepared.
After this he became livelier, and more amicably disposed; he peeped into the adjoining room, and saw that the patient was lying motionless, and to all appearances fast asleep. So he closed the door, stirred up the fire, which he made to blaze brightly, lit his pipe, and then throwing himself upon a wooden stretcher he began to enjoy a few moments of relaxation. His principal concern was now about Maggie, who was busy washing up the tea-things, and he beckoned to the girl to come near him. This she did in her usual obedient manner. Then they started to converse in whispers for fear of awaking the sleeper in the next room, and Maggie brought a stool and sat down very close to him, so that her curly head rested near his shoulder, and that he could pull at her tangled hair, or pat her blushing cheek without in any way upsetting his own equilibrium.
The position was getting to be rather critical and compromising, for while, with the best intentions in the world, he reminded her that it was quite time she departed home and urged her to go; she held back, afraid of the lonely walk in the dark, and when, a little later, she proposed starting off, he had unconsciously put his arm round her waist, and would not let her go. It was then Maggie's turn to become alarmed; she would no longer return his kisses, and she tried hard to free herself from his embrace, when all at once, in the tussle that ensued, the heavy kitchen poker, which Raleigh had cautiously placed by his side, toppled over and fell with a loud crash on the stone hearth. There was a momentary silence, then another fearful crash followed, as a door was violently burst open, and Tom Muster, like some appalling apparition from the nether regions, half naked, foaming at the mouth, his face hideously contorted, his eyes wildly glaring, and with the shriek of a maniac, bounded on the scene.
Poor little Maggie gave a terrified scream, and rushed across the room; Raleigh struggled to his feet to confront the intruder, but before he could put himself in an attitude of defence, the other was upon him, and a desperate struggle followed.
Raleigh was soon overpowered, and the madman's grip was on his throat. Maggie ran outside and called loudly for help; a hulloo was page 288 heard in return, and two men came suddenly forward to her assistance; they had been sent there by the doctor, and had been looking for the house in close proximity, but misled by the fog, when the outcry attracted their notice and led them to the spot. They rushed in to the rescue, and quickly dragged the infuriated Muster from off his victim, who he had nearly succeeded in throttling.
Soon the violent fit subsided, the patient came to his senses, and expressed deep concern at his outrageous conduct; but he explained that in his disordered sleep he had heard what he took for the cries of a female in distress, and fancying himself a knight-errant, he had dashed forward to do battle on her behalf. This proved him to be, according to Raleigh, nothing better than a dangerous madman. Accordingly he was put to bed again, properly secured, and heavily dosed with morphia pills. The opiate soon took effect, and after a while he went off into a heavy sleep.
The newcomers offered to remain at the hut, but Raleigh expressed himself as feeling quite secure, and he sent them off to escort little Maggie to the home station.
Left alone he prepared to sit up through the night, but towards the small hours, his weariness overcame him; he lay down on a pile of rugs, and slumbered by the fireside.