In the Shadow of the Bush
When the light which Davie had followed was put out, he was at a loss what to do. Under the shadow of the tree-tops, the place where he now stood was as dark as pitch; and if he proceeded in the direction in which he had been going, he might stumble upon, or at least be heard by, the others whom he was most anxious to avoid. On the other hand, as he could hear the noise of falling water, he was inclined to think that O'Byrne and his companion might probably have reached the steep banks of a stream, and descended into it, taking the light with them. He could hear no voices, and after a little consideration he decided to creep forward with extreme caution and reconnoitre. His progress wss necessarily very slow, and as it appeared as he advanced that he was getting nearer and nearer to the stream, and must now be close upon it, and still no light visible, he stopped, apprehensive lest in the darkness he might fall over some cliff; and, as he judged that the two whom he was following would be sure to return by the way in which they went, he thought it best to wait where he then was for some time at least. He had scarcely resolved on this course when he was startled by the noise of someone moving quite near to him, and the voice of old Dan calling out:
"Streck a light, Dinnis, or I'll niver foind ye. It's as black as the divil himself down here."
A light was struck and the lantern lit, a chain or two farther page 58up; and Davie, afraid of discovery, darted to the side of the nearest tree, which happened to be a large rimu, behind which he found room to screen himself. But in moving he made some noise, which reached the ears of Old Dan.
"What the——'s that?" he hissed, savagely; "there's somethin' stirrin' here, Dinnis."
"Och, sure, an' it'll only be a bat or an owl, or maybe an owld sow out for a sthroll," replied Dennis. "Come along and let's get back. Ye'll moind I've to git into the township before the moon rises, an' that'll be betune twilve an' wan."
"Kape yer eye open, thin, whin ye get there," Dan replied, as he clambered up to join the other. "I'm thinkin' that b——loafin' Scotchman's up to no good, or what brings him sniffin' up in this quarter, where he knows there's no work?"
"Faith, an' it isn't work he's afther, at all at all—divil a matther what road he travels. It's aise an' a full belly suits him best."
Through a break in the undergrowth, Davie saw each of them shoulder a keg and prepare to start homewards. He chuckled to himself, when he saw what they carried: "Ecod, I was richt, after a'. Davie Dunlop's no' sic a fule as some folk may think. But, deil tak' them, if they're no' comin' richt doon on tap o' me here!"
He grasped the cudgel which he carried, and pressed closely against the trunk of the tree, while Dan and O'Byrne passed by only a few feet from the other side of it.
Davie followed the light at a safe distance, as before; and though, as he proceeded, he was left still farther behind through his not having the same knowledge of the ground as those in front, and being particularly careful lest a sudden trip or plunge on his part should betray his presence, he yet reached the clearing shortly after they did; found his swag after a short search, struck down to the road line, and stepped out at a brisk pace along it towards Bloomsbury.
It was after midnight when O'Byrne reached the township. page 59The night was still dark, but already a faint gleam of light was just discernible in the eastern sky, showing that the moon would soon rise. The Cosmopolitan was quiet and in darkness.
It was not so on every other night at this time, for even at this late hour lights might often be seen in the bar, and loud voices heard in angry altercation; or drunken tones taking up the burden of a song, much to the annoyance of those who, less hilariously inclined, had sought their beds and sleep at an earlier hour. Business may have been less brisk on this night, or Jacob may have closed the bar sharp at eleven o'clock, and refused to sell another drop of liquor, as he sometimes did when in the expectation of receiving a visit from O'Byrne.
Dennis led the horse round by the back way to the door of a small outhouse, and then tapped lightly at the window of the landlord's bedroom, which was on the ground-floor. Shortly afterwards the back door of the hotel was quietly opened, and Jacob came out.
"Vas dat you, Dennis?" he whispered, as he came near.
"It's meself it is," replied Dennis, in a low voice. "Ye'll put the mate in th' same ould place, I suppose?—now thin, stiddy, an' aff it comes—as foine a bit av beef as iver ye tasted"
They carried the sacks into the small store-house, and were preparing to open them.
"Ve vill hang up dat meat here, und ven dat ish done I vill carry der lush inside, mineself, vhile you turn out der horse," Jacob said.
"Could I no' gie ye a han', ma freends?" whispered a voice in the doorway, and, looking up, they could there dimly distinguish the headpiece of Davie.
"Hullo!" exclaimed Brasch, "it surely vas not mine dear friend Davie come back vonst more to see me? Und ver haf you sprung from? No help, danks; ve haf finish now. It is only mine friend, Dennis, bringèn me some beef—likes to bringen it down in der cool, like you know."page 60
"And what micht be in the twa wee kegs?" queried Davie, still in a low voice, as he struck a match. "It's nae use, mates," he went on, "I ken the hale business. I saw thae same kegs brocht oot o' the bush no' mony hours ago; an' I could tak' ye to the spot whaur the stuff was made."
"You—— ——! I'll be afther breakin' yer head for ye, for a snakin', skulkin' son of a say cook," O'Byrne exclaimed.
"Hoot, mon, dinna fash yersel'," answered Davie. "Ye hae had a nice wee bit game on here on the sly for this while, I'm thinkin'; an' if I hae got to the bottom o' it, wha's to blame me? But yer secret's safe wi' me. Ye'll be wantin' anither pairtner, I'm thinkin', an' ye'll find a gye usefu' ane in me."
"Not anoder vord, mine friends," whispered Brasch; "ve vill haf more partners dan ish good, if ve goes on mit our talk und quarrellings here. Ve vill go insides; I vill let you in on de quiet dis night, like you know, Dennis, und not haf you knock me up mit noise und clatters, like you do sometimes vhen ve haf fixed up everytings outsides."
And so it was that Davie was taken into partnership. The matter was settled when they met inside, over a few glasses of the "special blend."
"Mine Gott!" said Jacob, slapping his thigh, as if a thought had just struck him; "vat vill Old Dan say? How vill he like dis new partner, I vonders?"
Old Dan certainly did not take at all kindly to the new arrangement. His evil-looking face became more evil-looking still, and deep and terrible were the curses that he uttered when he first heard of it.
Davie, however, was found useful. Being broad-backed and sturdy of limb, and used to the road, he could carry down a couple of good-sized jars comfortably in his swag; and on the return journey sometimes a bag of sugar or forty or fifty pounds of grain might be wrapped up in it. His coming and going, too, at intervals, was not likely to excite suspicion, as he was known to be a rambler.page 61
He would talk in a vague way, at times, about going back to his old life among the stations, but the life that he was leading suited his inclinations too well to admit of there being any presentl ikeihood of his doing so.