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Philosopher Dick

Chapter X

page 257

Chapter X.

A few days later, as announced by Rainon, Malcolm M'Kay and his family, with pack and baggage, arrived in state. Mr. Cadet Norman conducted the caravan, and mounted on old Darkey, he shouted and cracked his stock-whip with much emphasis; but as no amount of persuasion would get the old horse out of a walk, the conductor was unable to bring up his troop with the éclat he would have liked.

The ancient Highlander, with staff in hand and dogs at his heels, marched in front; "his guid-wife"—a plump and buxom bright-eyed woman—was perched on a pack-horse, aloft on numerous rolls of blankets; two rosy-faced children bestrode the next animal, and the remainder of his belongings followed, piled up on a couple more station hacks. Altogether it was rather an imposing procession for those days. Raleigh watched it approaching on the opposite hill, as it wound its way in single file along the steep and tortuous track, bobbing in and out of sight across the broken ground, and finally plunging into the river-page 258bed, from whence a loud clattering of horses' feet on the rolling shingle announced its near arrival.

He advanced to meet the travellers with much cordiality, helped Mrs. M'Kay from off her elevated seat, and lifted the little ones to the ground.

The sight of the children's laughing eyes and chubby faces, in these unfrequented parts, was so fresh and pleasing, that he could hardly refrain, as he took them down in his arms, from hugging them to his breast.

"Well, how did you get on?" he inquired of Malcolm.

"Hech, mon! we just had an awfu' time o't. The wife had nae been used wi' sic ways; she wadna trust hersel' on yon beastie to gang doon thae hills. Ane o' our pack-saddles slipped off, an' we had to drop it by the way. After that yon daft brute Ginger skelpit off on the track to Grey's, an' went twa miles till I stopped her. I just thought we'd hae to lie out the night—a puir lodging for the wife an' bairns."

"Yes, and I couldn't do a stroke to help," complacently remarked Norman; "for that darned old Darkey wouldn't stir out of a walk, nor budge a yard off the beaten track; so that all I could do was to sit still and crack my whip. However, I don't mind page 259taking a run back on Ginger with Malcolm to pick up the pack, and the sooner we start the better."

"Tut, tut," replied the Highlander, "we mun bide a wee!"

"Aye! but I canna manage to mak shift without thae articles yonder," put in the guid-wife with emphasis. "It's weel enoo' for ye menfolk to mak sae licht wi' a body's wee bit things. Ye ken weel there's a' yon bairns' claithing, an' Johnny's siller spoon an' mug the Laird o' Lochness gie'd him; an' my mither's Bible; your best glengarry an' plaidie; my silken gownd, an' the cake tins an' girdle; my tartan petticoat, an' linen sheets wi' na a brak in 'em; the tea caddy an' brown teapot, an' heaps o' ither things."

Raleigh endeavoured to quieten her apprehensions, and he assured her that the abandoned treasure was in no immediate danger of being plundered.

"There is no thieving done here," he remarked with a laugh. "In the first place, there is nothing to steal; secondly, there is nobody to do the robbing; thirdly—but it is unnecessary to proceed further. The colonist is above all things a practical man, and he only believes in productive work; now, in a country like this there is no opening for a thief's profession—it simply wouldn't pay. The consequence page 260is that there is not a house-door within twenty miles that has a lock and key to it, and even in town you might leave your trunk by the roadside for a month; no one would touch it."

The "guid-wife" thought the philosopher a very pleasant gentleman, and she expressed herself much relieved in mind; nevertheless she kept urging her Malcolm to hasten back for the valuable baggage he had so ruthlessly "planted."

"We shall never get a moment's peace," exclaimed the cadet peevishly, "until we go back for that precious bundle."

"You are bundled off," said Raleigh. "Suppose we exchange places? I'll accompany Malcolm, and you can stay here and do the honours to the lady," he added; for in truth he was rather alarmed at the prospect of being left alone in the hut with an unprotected female.

"Not for Joseph," cried the other. "It's hard on a fellow, but I'd sooner brave the elements than be cooped up with a woman any day."

The philosopher did not like it either. He was naturally of a bashful disposition, rather frightened of the sex, and the life of deep seclusion he had been leading had increased this natural reserve to such an extent that he positively shrank from intercourse with page 261his fellow-creatures. "My first impulse," he used to say, "at the sight of a stranger approaching, is to run away and hide myself in the bush;" and if such was his timidity towards his own sex, what might it not be expected to be in an encounter with a lonely female?

However, there was no help for it, for the two men, after partaking of "a bite" and a pannikin of tea, scampered off and left the bashful philosopher to entertain the good woman and her two children as best he could. He put a bold face upon it, showed her round the premises, expatiated on the beauties of the situation, the improvements effected, his humble attempts at gardening, the contents of the store-room, the glories of his cat, and everything else that might be considered of interest to the new - comer. Mrs. M'Kay was very affable; she smiled and nodded at all he said, and soon she became so communicative that he was spared any further distressing efforts at keeping up the conversation—she did all the talking herself. The woman had fine eyes, but Raleigh felt decidedly uneasy at the manner in which these bright orbs were bracketed upon himself; they seemed to look him through and through. He also noticed a good-natured smile playing on her bonny features that further increased his discomfort, and ended by putting page 262him quite out of countenance. He began to examine his dress, to take a sly look in the glass en passant, to consider his general appearance with a view of ascertaining the cause of this amiable but astonishing stare. Had he then become ridiculous in the sight of woman? Was there any peculiarity about him to excite wonder or commiseration in a female breast?

His "bonny" guest soon put him out of his misery, for with a hearty laugh she let the secret out. "I canna think," she said, "why thae lads at the hame station tell'd me sic stories anent yoursel'. I niver thought to meet wi' sic a pleasant gentleman. They tell'd me you wouldna look at a woman, or mak' friends at all. It was too bad o' them. An' I find ye're real guid an' hamely like. So I am just that took to, that I canna but look at ye, an' am sair an' sorry that we mun part sae soon."

The ice having thus been broken, and the philosopher somewhat restored to equanimity, the good woman proceeded to make herself "quite at home."

She partially disrobed in his presence, for the purpose of putting on a working-dress, before he had time to beat a hasty retreat outside; and when he returned with considerable trepidation after she had completed her toilet, and stammered forth some sort of excuse, she fairly laughed in his face. Darkness page 263then set in, and the children had to be undressed, with a few other preliminary attentions, and put to bed. This was another frightful ordeal for the bashful bachelor, and it was only at the mother's earnest entreaty that he refrained from a second precipitate exit.

Then came the difficult question to be debated in his anxious mind as to the arrangements to be made for the night. There was only one sleeping apartment, with two beds, for the accommodation of a married couple, their children, and the two young men. There appeared to be insuperable difficulties in whatever plan of distribution it might be proposed to adopt. Raleigh fretted and fumed over the matter until he worked himself into a state of nervous distraction. The interminable evening drew on; it was pitchy dark outside, and the pattering of rain was heard on the roof, but still there was no sign of Malcolm or the cadet. The lady, however, did not seem to worry herself much over the non-arrival of her "guid-man;" she had settled herself comfortably before the fire, with her feet on the warm hearth and her petticoats drawn up above her ankles; with one eye she watched the camp oven, in which preparations for supper were gently cooking, while with the other she cast an insinuating look upon the philo-page 264sopher, which brought on that unfortunate man a fresh attack of palpitation of the heart. At every rumbling sound, at every loud clatter of the wind, he would nervously rise from his seat and go to the door to peer anxiously out into the darkness and listen for approaching footsteps, but they came not.

"The cakes will soon be done," he thought to himself, as vague apprehensions filled his mind; "she will then be proposing supper, and after that it will be bedtime." This last presentiment was too much for his overstrained feelings; he fled once more to the door.

They came at last, all in good time, and with a formidable account of the difficulties and delays they had met with on the way.

The precious deposit was discovered exactly where it had been left, and when the inventory of all the valuables was called over there were none found to be missing. That business satisfactorily concluded, and the horses tethered out for the night, they all sat down to supper with a right good-will, and finished up the evening's entertainment with a bowl of whisky toddy. The anticipated terrors of the sleeping arrangements, which had occasioned to Raleigh so much mental distress, turned out to be purely imaginary The whole affair was got through with ease and dis-page 265patch. The gentlemen left the room for a few moments to get a breath of fresh air before "turning in," while the lady undressed and ensconced herself under the blankets with her two children.

She then turned her face to the wall while the gentlemen went through the stripping operation. The Highlander had to take a "shake-down" on the floor, while the two young men occupied the second bed together, and everything would have gone off quietly had a difference not arisen as to who should extinguish the candle.

The rule of the bush on this important matter is universally acknowledged to be "that the last in bed shall put out the light," but in the present instance the question was somewhat complicated by the intervening position of the shake-down, and the exact moment of the respective parties "turning in" was in doubt. Mrs. M'Kay, hearing the discussion become loud and animated, turned round on her side, and facing the disputants, tried to throw oil on the troubled waters, and was willing to decide the point as an independent witness.

She was jocosely taken to task by her husband, and reminded that as she had only presented her back, in all its fulness, to the actors in the scene, she could hardly set up to be a judge on the merits page 266of the case; but she retorted sharply that, although not a direct eye-witness of the proceedings, yet that she had been able to take in a great deal from the clear outlines of the shadows on the wall. This unexpected admission caused some consternation among the male parties, and by introducing a new element into the dispute, threatened further complications, when the philosopher put an end to the whole affair by shying his Tam-o'-Shanter at the candle. The well-directed shot was a total extinguisher.

They all slept soundly, and there was some loud snoring, to which, however, no one would afterwards plead guilty. They were up betimes; the process of getting up and dressing being conducted on similar lines to the inverse performance, with due regard to appearances.

"There is only one thing I am concerned about," said Raleigh to his young friend the cadet, "and that's the bed. It's my own make, you know, and I had as much trouble in fixing it together as Robinson Crusoe with the legs of his chairs. It is decidedly groggy about the joints, and was never intended to carry double."

"The bed's all right," replied young Norman; "you page 267and I have often slept in it together—look at the scantling of it."

"Oh! that's not it," replied the other testily; "it's not a question of scantling, or of steady pressure either. Don't you know that a structure has to be designed to carry both a dead weight and a live load. The stresses vary accordingly. You have evidently never studied applied mechanics"

"I don't see it," remarked Norman. "What is your stress, then?"

"The rolling load, of course."

"What should they roll for?" replied the other vacantly.

"Norman, you are an ass. Don't you understand that when to any steady weight you add a sudden impact, any strong vibration"—— The philosopher was fast losing his temper in disgust at the other's stupidity, when Malcolm who had overheard the discussion, advanced, and tapping him soothingly on the shoulder, exclaimed with a grin—

"Hoot, mon! we're nae that savage."

It did not take long to roll up all Raleigh's baggage. The only bulky packages were his books, which were a load for a couple of pack-horses.

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When everything was ready, Norman proposed to make an immediate start, as he did not like the look of the clouds that were hanging about Mount Vulcan. The young man, who was not particularly bright in most things, had gained the reputation of being "weather wise;" it is supposed from some intuitive perception not given to ordinary people. His prognostications generally came out correct, and he was looked upon as a sort of walking barometer. On the present occasion he predicted "a buster," and the alacrity he displayed in hurrying on the preparations for departure was altogether opposed to his usual style of action.

Raleigh was a sad unbeliever in prophecies of every description; he ruthlessly discarded presentiments, and shook his head at dreams and inspirations, but he was open to argument. Norman, on his part, disdainfully refused to argue on a matter that was essentially occult; he had predicted a storm because he did not like the look of the clouds about Mount Vulcan; that was his reason, and he intended to act upon it, and that promptly. If the philosopher chose to lag behind he would have to take the consequences.

Raleigh, who was neither convinced or frightened, and who moreover did not relish the prospect of a long ride on a pack-saddle, at a slow walking pace, page 269told the cadet to be off with his charge, and that he should probably overtake him on the way.

Accordingly he lingered behind some time; he partook of a parting cup of tea and had quite a little flirtation with Mrs. M'Kay, and a good romp with the children. So soon does a little familiarity overcome the bashfulness arising from the savagery of nature.

Had Raleigh been informed some twenty-four hours previously that he would be called upon to share his hut with a married couple and "bairnies twa," he would have revolted at the idea. Indeed, he would have fled in dismay from such a prospect. Now, after the experience of only one night, he felt that he could easily become reconciled to such an altered state of things. He even regretted that these good people had not arrived before. He perceived that he could easily have transformed the store into a second bedroom, and have made himself quite comfortable there; that he would have been relieved from the drudgery of cooking, and the awful botheration of having to "wash up." He reflected on the pleasant change there would have been from a dark and empty cabin to a bright fireside, with smiling faces for a welcome, and the savoury smell of well-cooked victuals for an appetiser.

Decidedly Mrs. M'Kay was a good-looking woman, page 270and good-tempered withal, and Raleigh thought that the idle terrors he had felt at passing a few hours alone with her on the previous night would speedily vanish if the occasion were to be repeated.

When at last he had to take his leave it was not without a pang of regret; he frequently paused on his first steps from the hut to look back, and when he reached the farthest ridge in view, he made a lengthy halt, for one parting glance at the old house he was abandoning for ever.

Unmindful of the lowering clouds that darkened the horizon, and the sound of distant thunder in the air, he threw himself down on a mossy bank and, resting his elbow on the ground and his face against his open hand, he gazed languidly at the familiar scene, while a crowd of reminiscences passed in review before him. How every distinctive feature of the distant prospect brightened in his sight; how they all shone forth again in their local colouring, as they had appeared to him under varying lights and impressed themselves on his memory. There, peeping out from among crags and bushes, stands the log-hut he knows so well, and which for several years—and to him the period seems to extend back into the remote past—had been his solitary retreat. The shingly creek bed that serpentines at the base of page 271the hillock glitters in the sunshine, and the streamlet that ripples over the glossy boulders shines like a streak of silver. A tiny speck indicates the limpid pool from which he drew his supply, and that little broken line against the dark shade of the fern-clad bank is the winding path up which he had so often toiled with a watery load. Yonder clump of trees, that stands out in black relief upon a yellow flat, is the shady spot where he had cut his firewood, and where so often the ring of his axe had startled the morning echoes. Over those high downs, that reflect the sunlight in golden hues, you can trace the faint outline of many a tortuous track; the beaten impressions of his incessant footsteps. Each one has its well-known destination, each its incidental record in the history of his daily rounds. That distant gap indicates the course of the Stony River, at times a foaming torrent, that tossed and tumbled its dark waters in a headlong flow, sending forth a loud, dull roar through the mountain solitudes, at other times a rocky waste, a wide bed of rolling shingle, and chain of ponds, where he had often wandered in search of sport, pursuing flocks of wild ducks in their watery resort. The great snow-capped mountains form an imposing background. Old friends and familiar faces those.

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He had watched them in all their moods, and studied their ever-varying complexion; when dazzling in the morning sunlight, when veiled in sombre and mysterious grandeur, when resplendent with ethereal glories; he knew them by heart.

He lingered long over the farewell glance; much too long, and oblivious of the gathering storm that was hanging over his path. A cold, piercing wind had set in from the south; heavy clouds already obscured the sky, and Mount Vulcan in the distance was enveloped in a murky fog. For a while the tempest hung like a sable pall overhead, and Raleigh hurried on in momentary expectation that it would burst upon him; but no rain fell. Then the gale subsided, the atmosphere became thick and oppressive, the track increased in blackness, and big flakes of snow began to fall. The traveller had not accomplished more than half the distance to the home-stead when he was overtaken by the snowstorm, and the dreaded Mount Vulcan was still before him. He pressed hotly on, hoping to overcome the obstacle before the close of day, and he succeeded in reaching the summit of the mountain in good time.

At that point he found himself completely enveloped in a dense fog, and, as the track was thickly covered with snow, it became extremely embarrassing page 273to steer the right course. Raleigh did not appear to realise sufficiently the difficulties and dangers of the position in which he was placed. He was dubious concerning the direct road, but he had a general knowledge of the lay of the country, and he relied upon being able to reach the low-lying ground to the north of the range, and thence following the course of the Stony Creek into inhabited regions. In order to accomplish this it only needed for him to watch his steps very carefully and keep steadily to the right. Unfortunately, he made no allowance for the deceptive effect of the fog, which, by distorting the relative aspect of all objects, has a constant tendency to divert from a straight direction, so that even experienced pedestrians have frequently been misled, under such circumstances, into travelling in a circle. In his anxiety to get over the mountain top he hurried onwards, heated and somewhat confused, and more intent on avoiding the numerous gaps and pitfalls under his feet than in cautiously pursuing the right way.

Raleigh was also lamentably deficient in the gift of observation, at any rate as applied to outward objects. He saw too much with "the mind's eye," and too little with his natural optic; and any phrenologist who understood his business would certainly have pronounced him lacking in the "bump of locality."

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He had traversed the mountain summit, and made a rapid descent of the steep and rocky declivity on the other side, when he reached a dark recess from which the murmur of running waters arose. There he noticed with some astonishment that the stream at his feet, instead of flowing from right to left as he expected, was leading in a contrary direction. He was puzzled for the moment, but it never entered his mind that, completely misled by the fog, he had found his way to the wrong side of the mountain. Tired and bewildered, he felt that it was too late and much too cold for any calm deliberation, and he shrank from the prospect of retracing his steps; so, notwithstanding some anxious misgivings at heart, he decided to follow the course of the stream, trusting that it might lead him into open ground. He had not proceeded far, however, before that hopeful prospect gradually disappeared and made place for the most gloomy forebodings.

The river bed, instead of widening out, became more and more contracted, the high banks gradually closed upon him in lowering masses that seemed to tower high up into space. The river became a murky torrent, that roared and spluttered over its uneven bed, rolling in black whirls and spouting forth jets of foaming spray that gleamed for a moment on the page 275turbid current and then vanished in darkness. The fog, transformed into a cold drizzling rain, swept the mountain sides, and a high wind rose and rumbled overhead.

Night was falling fast, but Raleigh struggled on, wet and footsore, benumbed with cold, but urged onwards by the energy of despair. He found himself clambering over high boulders, splashing across black pools, and forcing a passage through dripping ferns and dense masses of entangled undergrowth. Once he missed his footing on the slippery bank, and falling into the river, with difficulty escaped being drawn into the swift current. At last he arrived at the mouth of a rocky gorge, hemmed in on either side by precipitous cliffs, and where the torrent, rushing in dark eddies, disappeared into impenetrable gloom.

Then he stopped, dismayed and disheartened, further progress being impossible. Nothing remained to be done but to seek some sort of shelter against the driving rain and freezing sky. To light a fire in such a night seemed impracticable, and yet he felt that his life would depend upon it—a last resource against the approaching terrors of this awful night.

By the faint glimmer of the fading twilight he perceived a little copse of Manuka scrub in a hollow close by, and towards this spot he turned his steps; page 276when suddenly—almost from under his feet—a monstrous form seemed to rise out of the earth and loom upon his startled gaze like a ghostly apparition. He fell back with an exclamation of horror. In the dim refraction of the mist and gathering gloom, the phantasm was magnified into the size of a bullock; the next moment it darted out of sight with an unmistakeable grunt, which proved it to be nothing more than a pig. Raleigh, in all his pain and anxiety, could hardly refrain from a laugh at his ludicrous fright; then he cautiously approached the thicket, and having broken off a few twigs from the dead bushes, and cleared the snow away with his feet from a patch of ground, he started the almost hopeless attempt of lighting a fire. He carried a little tin box of matches in the breast pocket of his coat, and this had fortunately kept dry. But at the outset he met with an unexpected difficulty. His fingers were so benumbed with cold that he could not use them to open the box. The horrors of his position now broke upon him with overwhelming force, and he felt crushed under a dreadful sense of misery and despair. Then, by a great effort, he roused himself to further action; he stamped his feet frantically about, beat his arms wildly together, rubbed his frozen hands against his naked breast, and put his fingers into his mouth. page 277After a while, by violent exertion, the circulation was somewhat restored, and he was enabled to strike a match. It only flickered for an instant and then blew out. By this time the rain had ceased and the fog cleared off, revealing a cloudless sky. A hard frost set in. The wind also had lulled, and beyond the hoarse roar of the swollen torrent below a chilling stillness prevailed.

Through the calm transparent air the bright constellations of heaven shone forth in all their glory, and as the shivering wanderer knelt on the frozen ground and looked up into space, the great vault of heaven seemed to open before him, to grow wider, darker, to recede into infinity, while the stars flashed like glowing embers, and the vast firmament kindled as if on fire.

He looked up in solemn awe, in rapt despair; his eyes filled with tears, his lips murmured a prayer. Was light and life then to pass away? Was this the fulfilment of the dread presentiments which had haunted him, this the relentless doom that dogged his misguided steps? Already he saw in his darkened imagination the approaching termination of his sufferings, his stiffened limbs laid out on the damp ground, the sleep of death. The storm had passed away, and the sun would rise again in the glowing east, but his page 278eyes would not behold it. Nature would revive in the genial glow, the wild flowers would expand their blossoms, the birds would twitter gaily, the balmy air would resound with the hum of insects, but he would heed it no more.

Then in his mind's eye he sees figures approaching, he can recognise their voices in the distance, they are following on his track, and are searching high and low. Now one of the party has caught sight of the prostrate form. He halloos loudly to his mates. See how they answer to his call, and come trooping up! Now they surround the body, they bend over it, and lift it gently from amidst the drooping ferns. Their leader shakes his head in reply to the inquiring glances of his companions. One has turned away his face to hide his emotion, another weeps. They discuss with bated breath how they are to remove the body. Carry it hence up these inaccessible cliffs to its last resting-place, or shall they bury it here?—and then all grows dark again, quite dark.

Raleigh felt a fatal numbness gaining upon him, but the acute pain of the biting cold aroused him for a moment from the overpowering lethargy. He struggled to his feet once more, made a desperate effort to restore his energies, and determined on another attempt to light a fire.

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Having gathered some handfuls of the bushy ends from the dead scrub, he set to work deliberately, piling up the little sticks in the form of a hollow cone, then inserting lighted matches underneath. But the draught up the gully was too strong for the feeble flame. Then he dragged out from the tangled mass of brushwood some large branches, and throwing his coat over them, formed a screen against the wind. Thus protected he once more crouched down over the tiny pile and renewed his anxious endeavours. He had only a couple of lucifers left. The first one would not strike, but the next one blazed forth brightly, and as he inserted it under the heap of twigs a faint crackling sound was heard, and a streak of blue flame, a trembling, wavering little flash, struggled into life.

'Twas but a spark, but it told him that he was saved! Still bending lowly over the flickering blaze, he continued breaking up in small pieces the dead branches he could lay his hands upon, and carefully placing them on end in a little heap. The crackling sound increased; soon some bright flashes would dart forth, and a thin column of smoke streamed upwards in the cold still air. On removing the screen the draught played upon the fire and fanned it into glowing combustion. Then large bundles of brushwood page 280were piled on, and the flames rose fierce and high. By the light of the kindling bonfire he was now enabled to gather up quantities of dead wood, which he dragged forth from under the snow, or tore up by the roots and flung upon the burning mass. At every addition the flames sprang higher and higher, until they leaped forth ten feet above the ground with a mighty roar, illuminating even the distant cliffs and distributing showers of sparks around. Raleigh was now thoroughly restored to animation; from being cramped with the cold he became suddenly scorched by the heat. He found himself dazzled by the intense glare, and alternately roasted on each side that he turned to the blaze. He had to retire to some distance back, and having made himself a dry couch of brushwood, and removed some of his dripping clothes, he was able to recline in light and warmth, and even to doze off occasionally, although frequently roused from rest by the necessity of supplying fresh fuel to the fire. His acute sufferings were over for the time, the harrowing misery had fled, a sense of relief and repose filled his heart with thankfulness. He slumbered no longer in the arms of a deadly foe, but under the protecting mantle of the blessed element of life.

When morning dawned the benighted young man page 281was soon able to discover his whereabouts. Deceived by the fog, he had wandered far from the right direction into wild and broken country to the westward of the home station.

The first beaten track he came across filled him with dismay, for he found himself on the road to a neighbouring sheep-station, and from well-known landmarks he knew that he was fully ten miles distant from his destination. He was suffering intensely in his feet. He had not removed his boots during the night, fearing that if once they were taken off he might not be able to put them on again, and as a consequence of toasting his wet toes before the fire he had reaped a crop of chilblains, which rendered the act of walking a prolonged agony.

Ten miles, on a desolate mountain track, faint from hunger and exposure, and with feet so crippled that every step on the ground felt like a prod of a knife into his quivering flesh! But it had to be done. The unfortunate philosopher was compelled to realise the truism that "necessity knows no law," and to experience in his own person the astonishing amount of suffering and endurance which the human frame is capable of supporting. Slowly and feebly he dragged along, resting often by the way, and keeping up his spirits with the reflection that he had got over the page 282worst of his trials. It was late in the afternoon when he reached the homestead, and as he approached wearily to the term of his journey and looked about for some friendly greeting at the threshold, he was suddenly accosted by no less a personage than the mistress of the house. The fat and blooming Mrs. Dale stood before him, and her shrill voice gave him his first welcome.

"Dear me! cousin Richard, is it you? Well, I declare; what an object—he, he! Oh, you should see what a sight you are. Well, I cannot say that you look as if you had fallen from the clouds, but rather as if you had sprung up out of the earth. What have you been about?"

"Lost in a snowstorm, missed my way, and wandered for miles down the Rapid Creek—had to lie out all night on the run—that's all," replied the traveller indifferently.

"Is that it?" exclaimed the fair speaker, opening wide her big eyes. "What! spent the night out in the snow; why, it's quite an adventure. You must tell us all about it. You who can write so well, if you were to give a graphic account of such a thrilling incident, why, it would be quite sensational. How very interesting!"

"Interesting to read about, perhaps," said the page 283other drily, as he hobbled on. "It nearly cost me my life, though."

"That's what Mr. Dale said last night," continued the lady, in a most affable and condescending manner. "We had quite a long chat about you, when Mr. Norman announced the unfortunate news to us that you had not arrived. Mr. Dale remarked at once that if you had not tumbled into one of those horrid pitfalls on Mount Vulcan, you had probably lost your way in the snowstorm—in which case he said it might go hard with you. We were quite concerned about it. I said to Mr. Dale that it was a pity we had none of those good-natured monks about, as at St. Bernard, you know, with those wonderful dogs that go out looking for misguided travellers, with little kegs fastened round their necks—you've seen the pictures, I suppose, so romantic and touching. Mr. Dale said that unless you turned up to-night, or to-morrow at latest, he would have to make up a search party to send after you—so very inconvenient, just now too, when we are preparing for shearing, and every hand on the station wanted. It would have been such a contretemps. I am so glad you have come to life again."

"Oh, thank you," said Raleigh, with a grimace; "how considerate!"

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"Well, you see, my dear boy, we have to consider ourselves a little also. I suppose you must be hungry."

"Yes, rather. I have tasted no food since yesterday morning."

"So long? why, you must be starving! Just too late for dinner too. What a pity! And I had been exerting myself to cook something nice—something really recherché. A ham and veal pie. Well, there! it was simply de-li-cious. There may be a little left if the servants have not finished it—they are so greedy, you know; I have to lock things up from them, as a rule. You may tell the maid to give you what there is. I suppose you know that I have a maid now; Susey is her name—brought her all the way from town last week—quite a genteel young person, and under my special protection. I must really ask you, cousin Richard, not to make eyes at her, as the other young gentlemen are always doing. But I forget—you are a woman-hater."

"At this moment that I certainly am!" muttered the philosopher savagely, as he turned on his heel and made for the kitchen door.

"When you have changed your dress, and had a page 285little refreshment," continued Mrs. Dale, elevating her voice, "if you care to make yourself useful, I have such a nice little job——or perhaps you are going"——

"I am going," shouted the exasperated man, as he kicked open the door, "I am going to bed!"