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The Story of a New Zealand River


page 275


shivering with emotional excitement, Asia lifted her hands from the piano, after the final bar of the Kreutzer Sonata, and looked up into Bruce's face.

“Jove! You played that wonderfully.” He smiled down at her. “You always do play well in a storm, you queer mortal. What's the matter?”

For she had turned her head suddenly to the window, which rattled viciously as blasts from the river drove against it.

“Oh, I don't know. But I feel as if there was somebody about.”

Getting up, she went to the window, and pressed her face against the panes, peering into the blackness.

“Uncle David,” she swung around, “did you hear some one call?”

“Why, no.” He moved towards her. “Did you?”

“I thought I did. But I always do hear voices on nights like these. I hear the people who are being wrecked and the people who are being lost. And there are always some when a storm comes up as quickly as this one. I guess the pater stayed in the bush.”

They moved back into the room. Asia closed the piano and put away the music. Then, abstractedly, she dropped into a chair by the fire.

Bruce noticed how unusually restless she was as he sat down opposite her and began to smoke.

“Oh, dear,” she began, after a few minutes' silence, “Uncle David, I hate to disturb you, but would you go out and tie up that gate? I don't know what is the matter with me, but I can't stand that squeaking to-night. Do you mind?”

page 276

“Even if I did, I should go out and fix it. It is damned irritating.”

She flashed a brilliant smile at him as he got up.

He went to the kitchen, took down his oilskin, found a piece of rope, and walked out by way of the back door to the front. Asia held the lamp for him at the sitting-room window.

As he wound the rope round the post, Bruce saw something dark on the ground a few yards away from the paling fence.

“What the devil!” he muttered.

But he pretended to finish the job before returning to the kitchen.

“Asia, come here,” he called.

Asia closed as she passed it the door of the dining-room, where Betty and Mabel sat over their books.

“What is it?” she whispered. “Is there somebody out there?”

“You are uncanny to-night,” he answered, looking at her curiously. “There is. I couldn't see who it was. But he lay in a helpless sort of heap.”

“Bring him in,” she said promptly.

As she held the lamp at the window again she tried vainly to catch a glimpse of the unknown man's face as Bruce carried him through the gate and round the veranda. As she hurried to the back door she travelled on the wings of a strange excitement.

But the minute she saw the thin face and the wet black hair she became curiously calm.

Bruce did not see who it was till he laid him on the floor. Then he raised his eyes to Asia.

“Well, I'll be damned!” he exclaimed.

She had told him before who Ross was, and of her interest in him in Sydney, and of her meeting with the two men that morning.

“And there be those who say that life is dull,” he mused as he undid the sick man's collar.

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Asia anxiously pointed out clots of blood in the thick hair.

“What has happened to him? Get him into my bed at once,” she cried.

It was not until Bruce had got him undressed, washed and bandaged, that he could form any accurate opinion as to what had happened to him. Allen Ross was badly stunned and bruised, and for some time he resisted all their efforts to restore him to consciousness.

“Looks like a fall from a horse,” said Bruce, as they sat over him. “And the bruises are an hour or two old. He's been struggling in the storm for some time, and I'm afraid he's got a beastly chill. He's getting darned feverish. I see where your room becomes a hospital. Blow the horn for Bob Hargraves. We'll have to let the other chap know.”