We Four, and the Stories We Told
A Member of the Force
A Member of the Force.
“Come now, Archie, it's your turn for a story?” said Jack Conliffe.
Archie only turned his big form in closer proximity to the fire and, laughingly, replied:
“Well, you see, boys, I know nothing of babies either from practice or precept, and as all your yarns to-night have been about youngsters, and I can't follow suit, and it is too late to play a new lead—so I'll shout.”
“That you won't,” said Harry Clare, “I've told my story, and now I'm going to stand treat; you've shouted for us already, so now you tell a yarn.”
“Weren't you with that Sergeant who was drowned in the Waikaia over on Switzers side?” asked Jack. “Tell us about that. What was his name to begin with?”
“His name was Michael Brennan, and he was as fine a fellow as ever walked, although he was ‘a bobby.’ He used to have to visit Nokomai, so may be some of you boys have seen him.” “No!” “Well, he was a bigger man than me, and taller, with black hair and whiskers, and big dark eyes, a real jolly fellow as ever I came across. There was never a dance or a spree but Brennan was sure to be in it. Of course he had to take his fun quietly because of his billet, but he did have lots of jollity for all that. But there was one good thing about him, he did not drink. I don't mean that he was teetotal, you know—he would have his nip like any other man—but he only got real tight twice in all the time I knew him. Once was the first night he came to Switzers, and of course no one took any notice of that. The other time you will hear about before I've finished my yarn. I don't think any of you boys were at Switzers when Frenchman's Hill was going a-head. What, you have never been in Switzers at all! Well, it's not much of a place to look at now, for the gold has pretty well run out; but, page 21 my word, it was a rare rowdy quarter in '66 or thereabouts. The township is planted right on the top of a steep spur; you must climb a hill to get at it on any side. And then it is almost an island, the Winding Creek being on one side, and the Waikaia River a little further off on the other. When I first saw it there must have been close on 2,000 men working about, and the whole top of the hill was covered with houses just as close as they could stick, most of them of canvass and roofed with zinc, and nearly every second house was a ‘shanty’ or a store. There was drinking and dancing, shouting and billiard-playing every night from dark till daylight. Everybody was making money and every body spent it. I often sold my gold for £50 on Saturday, and on Monday had not a five pound note. Ah! those were rare old times! I don't think though that any of the boys made much out of it, though the ‘shanties’ cleared their hundreds a week. I don't know how old Brennan stood it, for he was always in the thick of the fun, and I suppose he only had his fixed wages to go upon. Well, at this time I was mates with a young fellow called Jim Smith, a good enough lad as a mate, and would do just as big a day's labour as any man, but an awful chap for a rowdy spree, and when he was drunk he was an out-and-out scoundrel. Poor lad, he was my mate, but what I've said is only the truth about him. The Crown Hotel in Switzers had a bar-maid at the time—a regular plum, the boys were all just mad about her. A little thing she was, but with the prettiest of round faces and brown hair, and the most bewitching eyes, and she used to throw a glance of them at a fellow and it was all over with him. What do you say, Jack? ‘You suppose I was smitten too.’ Of course I was, I never could resist a pretty woman, and no man living could withstand one arch look from Lily's brown eyes. But she had completely captivated the Sergeant and my mate. I don't believe she cared a bit for Jim, only she liked to flirt with him when no one else was handy; but with the Sergeant it was different. She would be as demure as possible when he was near her and you couldn't get a word of fun or chaff from her. Old Brennan just worshipped her, but he was a fool, for he thought Lily only cared for him, while everyone else knew she never was happy without half-a-dozen followers, and would string men on with page 22 mischievous glances and pretty words, and squeezings of her warm little hands, just for the fun of laughing at them. Well, one Saturday evening, Jim and I went down to the township. At this time we were working at a place called ‘Gow's Creek,’ over the river up among the hills, but we generally went to Switzers every fortnight or so to sell our gold and get stores. Of course we could not dream of going home without calling on Lily. So, going to the Crown Hotel we made at once for the little back parlour, sacred to Lily and her special friends. There was the little girl looking as neat and as pretty as a flower. I think that was Lily's greatest charm; she was always neat—her dress seemed better made than those of the other women, and the colours always blended nicely and tastefully. But here too we found the Sergeant, seemingly quite at home. I was glad to see him, but Jim looked as black as thunder, and was for going away. However, Lily would not have that; she came to him with both hands out, and her big eyes looking so pleadingly into his face.’ ‘Ah, Jim, don't go away. I've been wondering so that you haven't been to see me. I was beginning to think you didn't care to come. There, now, I will give you my own arm chair, and that I wouldn't do for any one else’—‘Except you,’ she whispered to the Sergeant, who was handing her a chair. I heard the aside, although it was spoken low. The Sergeant and I now were together, and trying to make conversation, but I could scarcely help smiling to see him glancing every minute at Lily, who sat with her little feet up on the hob talking away merrily to Jim.
“‘Really, Jim, I was quite angry to think you never came to see me when last you were down. You didn't know how much I missed you.’
“‘I don't think you can miss any one much,’ said Jim, moodily, ‘you seem to have plenty of friends always about.’
“‘I don't know what you mean. I have not nearly enough friends. What do you mean? tell me, Jim?’
“Jim chose to whisper his reply, a most convenient way, I thought, as he drew her pretty face so close to his own. Then Jim must needs admire her bracelet, and of course, had to hold her hand in his while examining the trinket. Perhaps the Sergeant thought the examination was lasting page 23 too long, for he called for ‘drinks,’ which necessitated Lily's rising to give the message to the barman. Then the Sergeant quietly slipped into her place and engaged Jim in some discussion about the price of gold.
“When Lily came back she took the vacant seat. Jim tried to right affairs by reminding the Sergeant of the change, but Lily merely said, ‘Oh, never mind, Sergeant, I would just as soon sit here,’ and forthwith began to talk to me, but every now and then darting a smiling, loving glance at Jim. However, the evening passed away very fairly; the Sergeant told Irish stories with a brogue and a wittiness that even Jim had to laugh in spite of himself, and he sung jovial songs in which we all joined in chorus whether we knew the tune or not. But at last, as bad luck would have it, Brennan pitched on ‘Molly Asthore,’ and put his whole heart into the song, singing at and for Lily alone, as every one could see, while that young lady made eyes at him and blushed and simpered just as conscious and as pleased as could be. Now, I don't wonder poor Jim was angry; it is hard lines to have to sit and listen to a big handsome fellow singing soft songs to the girl you like best, and that too with a voice that would charm the heart of a nun. But for all that, Jim need not have been such a fool as to sneer and mutter something about ‘a blathering Irish idiot.’ Brennan's face grew as black as thunder, but Lily patted his shoulder and said, ‘O thank you, Sergeant, such a lovely song. Now there's no use in any one trying to sing again after that, so we'll have a game of whist, and you must be my partner, Jim.’ Then she drew a chair quite close, settled herself down cosily, and said, smiling up into Jim's face—‘Do you know, Jim, you are the only good partner I ever get—I wish I had you always.’
‘Upon my word!’ laughed the Sergeant, ‘I wonder is this leap year?’ Then Lily got quite confused, and said she did not mean anything at all, and did not know how she could have been so stupid, and it was hard to tell whose face was the reddest, hers or Jim's. But in spite of his pretty partner Jim managed to lose every game. Perhaps it was her fault, for she wouldn't attend to what was going on, but must needs be giving sly glances at the Sergeant, and making little singns to him. At last, when she was pretending to show him all her cards, Jim flung down his page 24 ‘hand,’ and with a thump of his fist on the table, swore he wouldn't play any longer with a couple of——cheats. Up jumped Brennan, seized Jim by the collar, and dragged him into the middle of the room. I tried to interfere, but one push of the Sergeant's strong arm sent me flying. Then he said, speaking quite coolly and deliberately, ‘Now, my friend Mr. Smith, that last remark of yours could only be meant either for me or the lady I was talking to; if it was for me, I'll punch your head; if it was for her, I'll break your——ugly neck: now, speak out.’ Jim could not do more than struggle in the Sergeant's grasp, but if ever a man's thoughts were told in a look, Jim's face spoke ‘murder’ as plain as words. However, to our great surprise, my mate suddenly turned quite polite and said ‘I beg your pardon, Mr. Brennan, and I am very sorry for the remark. I was angry, and did not mean it for anyone. Come, forget it, and let us have a drink.’
“‘It's a good thing for your hide you have apologised,’ said the Sergeant, ‘but as for the rest, I drink with honest men, and not with a liar and a coward.’
“Jim's face turned white at the words, but he only said, ‘Oh, well, please yourself, I'm off to bed.’ Of course that put an end to our pleasant evening. Lily had run away at the first symptoms of a row, and after a good-night ‘nip,’ the Sergeant left for the camp.
“Of course I thought Jim would clear out early next morning, but he didn't show up until after breakfast, and then went straight off to the Camp, of all places in the world. I suppose he and the Sergeant made the quarrel up in some way, for he told us Brennan had promised to come up in the evening. Well, I never did think much of my mate as a man, but before I'd go and eat humble pie to the Sergeant or any other man he might break my neck, if I wasn't able first to settle him. Well, the Sergeant did not come until late, after ten o'clock, and we all, that is, he, Jim, Lily, and I, gathered in the little parlour. But it wasn't comfortable. Lily was as quiet as a mouse, keeping an anxious eye on Brennan and Jim, and of course, after what had happened the night before, one daren't even mention cards. So we talked a little, and had several drinks, till Lily said she was tired and must go to bed. Then the landlord closed the house and came to join us by page 25 the fire. After a little he asked us what we were going to have, and the Sergeant, I remember, took some cordial—cloves, I think.
“‘Don't disturb yourself, boss,’ said Jim, as the landlord was about to get up, ‘Ill get the drinks.’
“Jim knew the bar well, and as the boss was stout and not very active, he was ready enough to sit still in his easy chair. Jim was so long over his work that when he did come back the landlord said:
“‘Well, I began to think as you must have been brewing fresh beer for us, Jim?’
“‘Oh, dash it all?’ said Jim, ‘you've altered the bar since I was down last, and I couldn't put my hand on a thing.’
“When we had finished our drinks, Brennan exclaimed—
“‘I say, boss, that's infernally bad stuff of yours, it is making me quite sick.”
“‘Right you are, Brennan,’ put in Jim, ‘it is bad stuff, I had a nip of it this morning and it nearly killed me. You'd better take a drop of something strong to keep off bad effects.’
“‘Faith, I think you're right, Jim, I'll have a nip of whisky.’
“‘Oh, by jove! Sergeant, the whisky is worse than the other—try some rum.’
“‘All right, Jim, please yourself’
“This last supply of drinks had a very queer effect on Brennan. When he first came in he had been very gloomy and cross, but suddenly became quite jolly, laughing at nothing at all, singing song after song and telling all sorts of funny yarns. Of course there were two or three more ‘shouts,’ and at last I thought old Brennan was fairly going mad. The landlord tried to get us to bed, but the Sergeant would not hear of it, and Jim kept backing him up. At last Jim found a Jew's harp lying on the mantelpiece and began to tinkle out an Irish jig tune. Up got the Sergeant, and though he could not stand straight, he must try to dance. Of course he fell, right across the little table and smashed it down. But he was on his feet in a minute, seized a leg of the table that was hanging loose, and commenced to flourish it round his head with a wild ‘Hurroo!’page 26
“‘Go it, your sowl,’ shouted Jim. The Sergeant let fly at the mantelpiece, and crash went the vases and the big looking-glass on the wall above it. Then he rushed out into the bar, and in a very few minutes the place was strewn with broken glass, and pools of liquor flooded the floor. Next he went off into the passage, where, fortunately, the front door was locked. Jim followed him close, there was a slight scuffle, then a heavy fall, and when we got out, Brennan lay insensible, bleeding from a severe scalp wound. Jim said he had struck against the door handle in his fall. We got him to bed, where he slept motionless till late next day. Then he awoke to find his head all bandaged up, and the unpleasant memory of the last night's row. But when he knew all the damage he had done, he was in an awful state of mind. He sent for the landlord, and, of course, had to pay all breakages, and one way or another that spree couldn't have cost less than £25. But it was not so much the money he minded as the fear that some report would get to the ears of the Inspector of Police. Fortunately, there were only few persons present; the boss was glad to be quiet for the credit of his house, and I thought I might safely promise both for Jim and myself. Jim cleared out for home early next morning, and Brennan did not see him again.
“Just before I left for home, Lily said she wanted to speak to me particularly, so we went into her private parlour and she locked the door.
“‘Wasn't it a strange thing the way the poor sergeant got on the other evening?’ she asked.
“I said it was the strangest thing I had ever seen. He had taken only three or four glasses when he was mad drunk.
“‘Oh! it couldn't have been the quantity!’ said the girl, ‘I have known him to take a dozen ‘nips’ in an evening without being the least the worse of it. No, Archie, it wasn't the quantity.’
“‘Well, but what was it then?’ asked I.
“‘Will you promise not to be offended if I tell you something strange about your mate?’
“I told her she might say what she pleased about Jim so far as I was concerned.
“‘Well, Archie, after I left you that evening I went to my bedroom; but I had some sewing to do, and as there was a page 27 good fire in the kitchen I went in there. By-and-bye I wanted my scissors, and remembered they were lying in the parlour just opposite to this. I had a pair of old slippers on and came very quietly along the passage, but on opening the door of the parlour, to my surprise there was Jim. He had a tray of glasses, and was bending over them, but I could not see that he was doing anything more, only he put his hand into his pocket all of a sudden.’
“‘Well, Lily, and what more? Do you think Jim was doing anything with the drink?’
“‘Yes, I do, there, that's plain enough. I think he was putting some doctor's stuff in them to make Brennan tight.’
“‘Lily, my girl,’ said I, ‘that is a very serious thing to say against a man. I never did think Jim an extra good fellow, but I doubt if he is blackguard enough for that.’
“‘Oh! isn't he? Well, he is blackguard enough to go about the place whispering nasty stories about me and the Sergeant, and a man that is mean enough for that will do anything, I think.’
“‘Yes, you are right enough there, Lil, but I don't like this poisoning idea.’
“‘Why should not a man murder another with poison as well as any other way?’
“‘But you surely do not think Jim would murder Brennan?’
“‘Yes, I do, if only he could do it safely.’
“‘Lily, Lily, I wonder if you would say this if any other man than the Sergeant was hurt?’
“‘Yes, of course I would. Oh, I know what you mean, Archie, and at any rate I will say I like the Sergeant fifty thousand times better than a sneaking, murdering villain like Jim Smith.’
“‘That's right, Lily, don't spare him.’
“‘Wait till you hear the rest that I have to tell before you know if he deserves to be spared. You know the Sergeant says now that when he fell in the passage, he did not hit his head against the door, but that some one struck him with a stick.’
“‘Ah, but, poor old fellow, he was too far gone to be certain of anything that happened that night.’
“‘Perhaps so, but wait a little. Yesterday morning, one of the girls was sick, and I had to help to do up the rooms. page 28 I got the room that Jim had slept in—perhaps I took it on purpose, but never mind. At any rate, I took the chance to examine it well. I thought he might forget and leave some bottles of his poisons about. I didn't have the luck to find one of them, but I'll show you what I did get.’
“She produced from behind her table, a walking stick with a white bone handle, on which there was an ugly dark stain. It was a weapon that could be made to give a very nasty blow.’—‘And,’ Lily continued, ‘he had it so cunningly thrust away underneath the chest of drawers. It is the boss's walking stick, and always used to hang in the passage, just a handy place for Jim to get it that night. And look at that stain; what did that, do you think? No, of course it never was there before, nor would be now, only Jim thought he could knock the Sergeant's life out with it. What do you think of your mate now, Archie?’
“‘I think he's a low, bad scoundrel, Lily; but what are you going to do with the stick?’
“‘Why, I am going to show it to the boss, and see if I can't get that brute punished as he ought to be.’
“‘Well, you will be foolish if you do, Lil. You see there is no proof that Jim either ‘hocussed’ the Sergeant's drink, or used the stick to hurt him.’
“‘Why, what proof more is wanted?’ said Lily, indignantly, “doesn't everyone know that Jim hates poor Brennan like poison. See the way he looks at him with murder in his eyes? I don't want any more proof; I'm sure that Jim tried to murder the poor man; I'm sure of it.’
“‘But how can you prove it, Lil? Jim might say that the stick was in the bedroom before he came there at all, and as for the poor old Sergeant's assertion, about not striking his head, I'm afraid his word would go for very little, considering the state he was in that night.’
“‘Oh,’ rejoined Lily, with a toss of her pretty head, ‘of course you stick up for your mate, but I'm sure he did it on purpose.’
“‘But why are you sure?’
“‘Oh because—because, well, just because I am.’
“It is hard to reason with a woman, you know, boys; once let them get a thing into their heads and they'll stick to it right or wrong. So I said:page 29
“‘Well, perhaps you are right, Lily; but look here, supposing you go and speak to the boss about your suspicions, there will sure to be an enquiry into the affair, and what will become of poor Brennan? It will be hard enough for him to clear himself as it is, and if all the facts of the case came out he would lose his billet to a certainty.’
“This idea seemed to frighten the girl. She stood awhile, taping her pretty foot impatiently on the ground, then went off saying—
“‘Well, I don't care what anyone thinks, I'm sure Jim Smith tried to murder the Sergeant that night. I'm sure of it, so there now.’
“Still, I thought she would keep quiet for fear of injuring the man she was so fond of, and I was right. I cleared out for home next day, and found Jim very sulky, but not one word passed between us as to the ‘set to’ in the town. There was one thing good about Jim (and even this was not of his own nature) he had received an excellent schooling. He could write like copper-plate and spell like a dictionary. Every evening, for the first few days after our return, he was writing letters, or, rather, writing one letter over and over again, and then seeing something wrong about it and tearing it up. This went on till at last I said:
“‘That must be a mighty particular letter of yours, Jim, for you've wrote it over a dozen times. Is it a gushing love-letter?’
“He looked, and laughing unpleasantly, said:
“‘Yes, you're right, Archie, it is a love-letter.’
“He seemed to be satisfied with the epistle he concocted that night, and took it to the post next day. Well, it might have been a fortnight after this when I happened to be alone in the hut one afternoon, and to my surprise who should ride up but the Inspector of Police. I had seen him before once or twice in the township. He soon began asking me questions about the Sergeant, whether I was well acquainted with him, and what sort of a character he bore in the town; whether he was a general favourite there or not. I said I thought not, as he was too severe to be much liked. Then a few more ‘hums-and-haws,’ for the fellow was a mighty ‘haw-haw’ individual, but not one word about the particular row in the Hotel. By-and-bye, he asked for my mate. I said he was away from home—and so he was, a couple of page 30 hundred yards away, “working in the claim, but that I not think necessary to explain. So very soon, my gentleman rode off, and I blest my stars that he was gone before Jim put in an appearance. Jim had not seen him come or go. I did not tell him, for somehow I had a misgiving that if he knew, he would be off to the town and then would tell enough to ruin the poor old Sergeant. As it was poor Brennan came in for it, for in some way the Inspector had got hold of a mild account of the affair, but what he did hear was enough to get the Sergeant a severe lecturing, as well as to be reduced to the rank of constable, and lose his stripes. It was hard lines on him, poor fellow, but bless you, those that were fond of him liked him just as well with stripes or without. Somehow the notion arose in the town that Jim Smith had sent in the report which caused old Brennan to be disgraced—none of us had any proof of it, but, Lily like, we were sure for all that.
“Well,” said Archie, resuming his story, “things went on very quietly after this till Christmas time drew near. Jim and I were working steadily, intending to wash up just before the holidays, and then go into the township for a spree. The winter had been a severe one, and the spring unusually late and cold, so that even in the beginning of December the higher ranges were still covered with snow. But summer came at last with a rush. Days so hot that one could scarcely live after the bracing cold weather we had been having, and warm soft winds blowing that sent the rivers and creeks up and kept them high. Jim and I were rejoicing over such plenty of water, and thinking what a good washing up we would have, when our proceedings came to a sudden stop in a way we little looked for. We went to work as usual one morning; I was down in the tail-race, and Jim working just under the face. We had been there perhaps a couple of hours, when all of a sudden I was startled by a loud sharp yell from him. I knew that something bad had happened, but, good Lord, boys, it was a terrible sight I saw when I reached page 31 him. A big. boulder had slipped from the face, and striking right him right between the shoulders, had pinned him to the ground No, the wasn't dead, better for the poor chap if he had bee for I'll never forget to my dying day the awful look; of his white face, half turned round from under the big stone, and one hand tearing in agony at the grass by his side. It took all my strength with the help of a lever to shift away the stone, and his moaning and crying made me as weak as water and then how to get him home I didn't know, for there wasn't a soul to get help from nearer than the town. At last some way or another I put him into the barrow, wheeled him home as gently as I could, and got him on to his bunk. I made him as comfortable as possible with pillows and blankets doubled up, and then there was nothing for it but to ride away to the township for the doctor. It did seem cruel to leave the poor fellow there, all smashed and hurt so badly, but what could I do? There wasn't even so much as a drop of brandy in the hut to give him, so I caught my moke, and, though I never rode so fast before, it was late when I reached “The Hill,” and the rain that had been threatening all day was then falling steadily, and after all my hurry I was sold, for the doctor had been called away to a bad case at some of the stations, and no one knew when he would be back. Of course it wouldn't do to wait and let poor Jim die meantime, so I went to a chemist fellow that had a bit of a shop, and told him all that had happened. He said there was little he could do, but he gave me a lotion, and then says he, ‘If your mate has any of that drug left he got here a few weeks ago it might be as well to give him a grain or two to make him sleep, but be careful, for it is very powerful.’ Said I, ‘I won't go meddling with no drugs, just you make up the right amount yourself, and I'll give it to him;’ but I began then to fear that Lily's suspicions were only too true. When the medicine was ready and I came out of the Shop, first thing I saw in the street was the Sergeant's big chesnut horse, tied to the post in front of the Crown Hotel. So I thought I would go in and tell him about the accident. He had just come home from a long ride, having been to bring the escort down from Nokomai. He was sitting in Lily's room, comfortably ensconced blazing fire, and that young lady on the hearth-rug at his feet. And she did look killing, I tell page 32 you, with her black silk dress with crimson bow at the neck, and crimson velvet in her shiny hair, and the firelight dancing on her upturned face, with its big brown eyes, and her slender fingers clasped upon her lap. Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! I'm growing quiet poetical as I think of it, so boss, hurry up and bring us some more ‘nips.’
“The ‘nips’ satisfactorily dispatched, Archie went on with his tale.
“Well, I found the sergeant had heard of the accident, and he said to me,
“‘When do you start back, Archie?’
“‘Now, at once,’ says I.
“‘Well just wait till I get a nip and a handful of biscuits, and I'll go with you. I'm afraid no one can do much for him, but it won't do to let him die there alone.’
“‘Ah! now, Sergeant,’ cried Lily, with a pout that made her look prettier than ever, ‘Here you've been away three days, and now you are off again, and for a man that would—well, never mind, he is no friend of yours, to say the least of it.’
“‘Lily, my girl,’ said he gravely, ‘friend or not has nothing to do with it. I must go, and will, so you'll get me a handful of biscuits and fill this flask with P.B., and be quick, my dear. I do wish I could get a feed for the old moke, but he must just make the best of it.’
“Lily got the things, and just as we were starting she called me back, and shutting the door, says in a soft voice, ‘Archie, do you think Jim is very badly hurt?’
“‘I do, indeed, as bad as can be almost.’
“‘Oh, poor fellow, poor fellow,’ she said, with her sweet voice all a tremble and her eyes quite dim; ‘you'll tell him, Archie, I am so very sorry, please,’ and she looked so tender and kind and pitiful, that I just felt like taking her in my arms and giving her a good kiss there and then.
“‘And may be you didn't do it, too?’ said one of the listeners in a suggestive voice.
“‘Never you mind,’ retorted Achie, ‘that's got nothing to do with the yarn.’
“The Sergeant was already on his horse, a regular brute, that plunged and reared, and at last tried a bit of bucking before he would be turned away from home.page 33
“‘Now mind, sergeant,’ cried Lily as we started, ‘you've promised that you will be here for the Christmas dinner the lay after to-morrow, and nothing is to present you.’
“‘All right Lily, sweetheart, nothing shall prevent me; but if you, don't give me plenty of goose and apple sauce I'll never kiss you again.’
“‘Well, I'm sure!’ exclaimed the lady, blushing all over her pretty face, ‘the impudence of you men! I think, indeed, you are goose enough already.’
“‘So I am, my dear, and you are my apple sauce,’ called out the jolly Sergeant as we rode away.
“It was a terrible evening to be out. For all it was summer time, sharp breezes came sweeping off the lofty hills which we were nearing every half-hour, and a soft, steady rain was falling, that soaked us to the skin. Neither of our horses was very fresh, and this made the ride more tiresome. We did not reach the hut till after ten o'clock. Taking the saddles from our horses, we let them go. The sergeant said he could trust the chestnut, while my horse of coarse was at home. A cold shiver came over me as we got close to the dark, silent hut, for I could not help wondering whether we should find Jim stiff and cold or still alive, and it was a queer thing, but it was the dead Jim that I was frightened of. But when we pushed open the door we heard a low moan, and knew that he was able to suffer still. We soon had a light, and there lay poor Jim, just as I had left him, but with his eyes shut and his senses gone with the pain. We had first to try and strip him, and, do you know, it was wonderful to see how tenderly Brennan handled him. When I tried, my awkward touch made him yell and cry, but the big Sergeant moved him as gently as a woman could, and he never made more than a moan. I soon had a good fire alight, and in less than no time Brennan had some of our beef cut lip and stewing for beef tea, and had given Jim a nip and then the draught, and he was fast asleep.
“The Sergeant said, ‘I don't think he's dangerously hurt, Archie, but I'm afraid he will have to suffer a lot yet. I wish to Heaven the doctor was here.’
“By and by Brennan turned in to my bunk, for he was fairly tired out, and I was to watch the patient.
“Jim slept quietly till nearly morning, when he began to moan and stir uneasily, and by and by woke with a terrible page 34 shriek that roused Brennan, who said, ‘Ah! this was what I feared; he's delirious.’
“All that day he raved and cried like a madman, and didn't know who either of us was. All of a sudden he seemed to take me for the chemist, and said he wanted to buy so drug; then he lay still awhile, muttering to himself very low. But at last he whispers, ‘Ah! this is the d——d brute's glass—there—that will make him tight enough, the——Irish fool, and you will know him, Lily, my girl.’
“Then for a little while he lay quiet, then called out, ‘Sergeant! Sergeant!” in a voice so natural that I was certain he knew Brennan, who was seated behind him and holding him up. But Jim was only raving, for he went on, ‘I say, Sergeant, I nearly finished you that night. The drink nearly cooked you, and if your head hadn't been as hard as granite that rap would have settled you. The stick—where is it? Ah! take it away, Archie—burn it! burn it! See I it has blood upon it—the Sergeant's blood! Burn it, Archie! Quick—here's Lily coming—quick, quick.”
“And so he raved on half the day, confessing all his villainy, while poor Brennan had to listen, but his face was as red as if he were overhearing something he ought not to. But he never left Jim, bathing his forehead with vinegar and giving him nips of brandy, while Jim mistook him sometimes for me, sometimes for a stranger, and at last for his own father, and begged him to pray God to save him from being hanged, with cries and wild words pitiful to hear. We gave him his sleeping draught, but it seemed rather to make him worse than better, till at last, in despair, the Sergeant began to sing. I suppose it was thinking of the sad state the poor fellow was in, and the near approach of Christmas-time, but it was a hymn he chose, one that I have heard my mother sing a score of times, about the ‘shepherds that were watching their flocks by night, all seated on the ground.’ The Sergeant sang very low and sweetly, with a curious tremble in his voice I never noticed before. The song quieted and soothed Jim wonderfully, and as for me I just sat looking out through the open door, till the dreary grey flat, with the heavy sky raining over it, faded quite away, and I was back again in the old home place, and could see the cosy old red brick farm-house, with its shingled roof, the big gum trees beside the gate, the honeysuckle round the windows, and my old mother a-sitting page 35 at the door in the twilight singing to us youngsters before we went to bed. Well, well, anyhow before the hymn was done poor Jim was sleeping like a child, and holding the Sergeant's hand fast in his own. He slept for hours, and the Sergeant managed to slip away, while I took his place. When Jim awoke he was quite sensible, but in terrible agony. It was dreadful to listen to the poor fellow's low constant moaning. He recognized Brennan as soon as he saw him, but seemed to grow restless and nervous all the time he was in the hut, and when he went out Jim said, ‘Archie, for God's sake get the doctor!’
“I told him I was afraid the river was no w so high as to be impassable. When Brennan came in again Jim begged him to go for medical aid. The Sergeant hesitated, and said he did not like the look of the river.
“‘What!’ asked Jim, ‘are you so much of a coward to be afraid to swim a river to get help for a dying man?’
“Brennan's face got quite red at the thought of being called a coward, and he said, ‘I'll go, Jim, at once. Come and give me a hand with the moke, Archie.’
“When the horse was ready I told Jim I was going to see the Sergeant cross the river, and would be back soon, so Brennan and I went down the flat. The river was an ugly sight to see. Flooded far beyond its banks, muddy and thick it came pouring down in a yellow swirling stream. About ten yards below the usual ford is a steep bank, and beneath it a deep pool; and in order to avoid this by landing above it Brennan selected a place about twenty yards higher to go in. The current would sweep the horse down, but he thought he could guide the animal so as to land on a spit upon the other side. The chestnut did not like the idea of going into the water; I suppose the poor brute's instinct told him there was danger. In he would not go. He plunged, reared, bucked, and shied till Brennan got fairly mad.
“‘Archie’ said he, ‘go and break a big branch off one of the manukas, and if this devil don't go in next time let him hav it hot and heavy.’
“I got the branch, and the chestnut was tried again, but without success. Brennan sang out, and I came down with the manuka. on the horse's back. He went in then. He gave such a jump that expected to see the Sergeant off into the river. But Brennan sat firm, keeping page 36 the horse well in hand, and now the chestnut finding himself fairly in for it, struck out gamely. The yellow bubbling water was above the saddle, round the Sergeant's waist, and he leant a little forward clapping the horse's neck and encouraging him They had got perhaps a quarter of the way across when I caught sight of something that made me sick with fear. It was a big tree being swept down, and I saw that if the Sergeant did not keep a little farther down the river it would be borne right against him. I shouted, and Brennan tried to look round, but either he mistook my meaning or got confused, for he turned the horse's head straight across the river. On came the tree, rolling over and over with a fearful strength and speed. In one minute more it was bang! against the chestnut's ribs. The horse gave a shrill neigh, a wild struggle, and the next thing I knew, Brennan was off; and then I remembered that he could not swim a stroke. The house plunged, gasped, and turned over on his side. His ribs were broken by that terrible collision. Poor Brennan only struggled a minute, then the current swept him off, his arms waved wildly once or twice, and once I saw his face; and, boys, never till my dying day will I forget that awful last look. I went away back to the station as hard as I could, and all the men there, the boss and all, turned out to search for poor old Mick. I must have been cranky at the time, for I forgot all about Jim, and only when we were on the point of starting did I remember. Then a lad from the station offered to go and look after him till we came back. We did not find Brennan for. two days, and then a long way down the river. He was washed upon a sand bank, not bruised or discoloured. His one hand was under his head and his eyes closed, lying quite peaceable as if asleep; there was even something like a shadowy smile on his brave old face. When the terrible news was told to Jim Smith, he said nothing, but only lay without speaking all day. Lily, they said, was heart-broken, and cried her pretty face very red. Jim didn't die. The doctor said he had better be brought down to the township, and there were plenty of volunteers for bearers. He was carried to ‘The Crown,’ for there was then no hospital in Switzers. Lily seemed afraid of him at first, but gradually came to nurse him and attend to him more than any one. When Jim got able to move he went to Dunedin. Lily also went to town a page 37 short time after. But they came back together, and Lily Mrs. Jim Smith. I wasn't much surprised. A woman can weep always for a first love when the second is young, Wood-looting, and well-to-do. She is a good little woman, and makes Jim Smith just as loving a wife as if she had never heard of such a person as Sergeant Michael Brennan.”