Tagged (None yet)

Add Tags

Comments (None yet)

Add New Comment

2 corrections, most recently by peter-macinnis - Show corrections

One of the Best.

By EDWARD COULTER.

I'l liis .story was awarded th«; first prize of Hi in the "Western .Mail" Christmas

st «irv com pet it ion.  

THE young, strong-lookinij; juan, in  

nmg!) miner's garb, bent over a nuki uiiup stretcher. His rug- gedly handsome face wore* ¡ni expression el' anxious sympathy as he looked down on tin» preist rato ligure, and lie spoke

:IIIIK;S( 1 enderly.

"How are yo» feeling now, Tom?"

The reply eame slowly ; it was uttered with apparent effort. "Pretty bad.

thanks."

A low moan escaped his lips as he once more closed his eyes against the cruel glare of the sun on the flimsy wall beside which he lay.

Bending closer, and lowering his voice u little, tlie young man put another question. "Feel any easier at all?"

"Not just yet. old man," his mate re- plied. He spoke without opening his eyes. A niomeiit later he looked up into his mate's serious face, and said, with a half-apologetic little laugh, "I'm afraid I've boon a bit seedy. Sorry to be such a bother. Dick." He paused a moment, and then added. "By jove, Dick, you've stuck to me great ! You're

a -real Briton !"

Again bis eyes flickered weariedly.

"That's ail right. Tom," Dick answer- ed, hurriedly. "Don't say anything

about that. You'll do as much for inc some of these days."

A faint smile, accompanied by a feeble shake of the head, was the only reply. Dick was left in siler.ee again to his nursing.

The two men were in a little hessian camp on a way-back goldfield of West- ern Australia. The field was known-by the few who knew «f it at all-as Streaky Cam]). Two days ago Tom had com- plained that he was "feeling a bit off colour," and. before the day was out. he had to stop work. During the night ho had grown rapidly worse and sine: then he had had to keep to his bed. To- day as Dick Morris sat watching Iiis mate, lie ki:ew that typhoid had laid its malignant hand upon bini. The knowledge, as it grew upon Dick, filled

him with alarm and dread.

Outside it was a scorching October day. a id Streaky Camp was just begin- ning to be turned into a place of tor- ment by the Lord of Summer. Like a conqueror i:i his might, the sun had gone forth, and, with power she was helpless to resist beat the earth to submission. To-day. as far as one could see lroni Streaky Camp, his conquest was complete and final The earth lay blistering and desolate beneath her re- lentless conqueror : an oppressive, heat Iaden wind belched itself, in fitful gusts, across the glaring plain. It was a bad day foi- a. sick man.

St n'a ky Camp was an exceedingly bad place. The paying claims in Streaky woie not numerous. In consequence, the community was »ot a large one. Nor was it eminently select. Streaky boast- ed little about respectability-and cared less. Though small, the camp contain- ed a bigger percentage of thorough-going blackguards than many larger coinniuni. ties could hold, unconfined, with any de- gree of comfort. Tho Police Depart- ment had not, yet. officially discovered Streaky Camp. When this important discovery was made, the department gave Streaky a fairly lively time, and vice versa. So far, Streaky had little

lo boast of in the way of Jaw anti order. On occasions-not as rare as tbey might have bee:i --either of these much-vaunt- ed ingredients of society would have been somewhat difficult to find. Morality and temperance were almost unknown quantit ies in Streaky-only irrepressible optimism could let that "almost" pass

undeleted !

No: no one evrr argued that Streaky ( amp was not a tough corner. lt was generally felt, by those who were in a position to know, that Streaky stood to gain little by the discussion of the ques- tion. Besides, Streaky saw no reason to dispute the point. Streaky was ra- ther proud of its reputation. But. in spite of-or because of-its proud repu- tation. Streaky was a bad place for a sick man. When a man took bad in Streaky, the odds were heavily agai .st him.

With the prosperous exception of the . shanty"-where murderous liquid re freshmeits were dispensed at scarcely less criminal prices-the Camp boasted no.ie of the luxuries of civilisation. In

those days there was not a hospital with- in two hundred odd miles. The nearest doctor was ti good forty-three miles across villainous country. Then lie was

rarely .?ver at Iionie. His practice iiad no limits. Or. if it liad any. Dr. Treas didn't lc.low where they were, which brought it to about the same thing. A Dick stood gazing into his mate's fever flushed face, these thoughts were haras- sing him. The longer he pondered o»-er the difficulties of the s.tuation. the more serious did they become.

Sii:ce Tom Simpson had fallen sick., the citizens of Streaky Camp had left him and his mate severely alone. From them Dick had already learned to ex- pect no assistance. Streaky** heart, like its conscience, was not remarkably tender. Like many of their kind, they had been ready to drink and shout with them in their palmy days : but. when disaster came they had proceeded straightway to make themselves scare?.

Alone and unassisted. Dick had wait- ed night and day. on his comrade. For about ten months past Tom and Dick had bee;i working together in a joint1 claim. They had done extremely well, and in spite of the hard living that was cnaracterist.c of Streaky, they h:;d ma- naged to save a considerable amount. Time had e'eepened their partnership into a warm and cordial friendship, which, it is needless to say. is not in- variably the case. .

Tn his rough, inexperienced way. Dick was now doing all he knew to pull Tom round. But his knowledge of ty- phoid treatment was cruelly limited. For some years now he had been knock- ing about the fields, but never before liad he had to try his hand at nursing. Consequently, he was able to do little for his mate : worse still, he was never quite sure of the wisdom of the little

he did.

What was lie to do? How was he to get assistance? These were the questions that made Dick's face so serious. fie knew it was impassible for him to go after the doctor himself: there was no one in tho Camp with whom he could leave his mate. He knew of no one either who would be likely to make the trip for him. except, perhaps,

Sammy Griggs, «ho might bc pei suuded to go. But lu1 know thilt Sammy was not a very reliable man lie had lived on whisky too long. Dick was wonder- ing if he could trust Griggs. Of course, oven if he went at once the chuncos wore strongly against Dr. Treas getting over in time to do a.iy good. Still, it was better than doing nothing. So be maje up lu's mind to try Sammy.

Suddenly Dick's reflections were rude. ly interrupted. -\ rough voice called iront the door, "'Yere "ere. Dicky"

Dick looked sharply round. He was surprised to see the u comely face of Pug Joyce, the "shanty" keeper, looking

into the room.

Seeing Dick's surprise, Joye indulged in an unpleasant guffaw. "Dyer think it was a bloomin' ghost 'olleriii' r"' he ask- ed, sweetly, as Dick caine to the door

to meet him.

"Oh. no ;I didn't expect anyone, that's all." Dick's answer was not over cor- dial, lie liad guessed why Joyce had come for he knew he thought he was something of a doctor.

Pug Joyce, a villainous-looking gent le iiuui. who held his licence and appeared in law courts as Samuel MacNaughton

Joyce, was tile only resident of the Camp who pretended to any medical skill. When he was not present, some of his detractors were in the habit of referring to Mr. Joyce's .excursions into medicine in rather discourteous terms. This may have been the outcome cf envy: also, the excessive charges on li- quid refreshment in Streaky may have made some only too ready to cast asper- sions on tlie sole vendor thereof. But, undeterred by carping critics. Mr. Joyce went serenely along the path of duty, ile was inclined to think that Streaky was fortunate in having such a citizen. Streaky, on the other hand, did not al- ways feel quite so sure about the matter.

Mr. Joyce's almost invariable -ecom j ne.'.dation.af ter examining anyone wi ose cast- he was taking in hand, was to the effect that a "drop of whisky" would prove beneficial. Whisky stood high in Air. Joyce's estimation. A little more variety in his prescriptions would pro- bably hs vc added to Mr, Joyce's refuta- tion as a man of medicine: but really, patients had no reasonable cause for complaint. Mr. Joyce did not use the word ''drop'' in a strictly literal sense it generally meant, at least, half a pan nikiiifui. Mr. Joyce liked to humour his patients as much as possible. Be- sides. Mr. Joyce was the sole verdor of whisky in Streaky Camp. It was true that a great ninny of Mr. Joyce's cai'e f«!ly watched patients had unfortunate- ly died. But. argued Mr. Joyce's friends. eve:i the best doctors can't save all their patients. The very choicest of Mr. Joyce's circle were cf opinion that a man whose complaint was beyond th:j remediad powers of their trie.ni's favourite medicine, had some-

thing very serious the matter with him, a id could hardiv expect a better fate. Mr. Joyce was wont to declare loudly to his assembled host of friends that he did his best for them all. And we all kaow that no man can do more.

Mr. Joyce, like the rest of us. had his enemies. Some of these enemies went so far as lo say. maliciously that Mr.

.Joyce's liest wa* not too good. Al^o, collie ol' tho baser spirits ¡nno;ig them darkly hinted thal, when he poked him- self into sick men's camps. .Vr. Joyce had some dirty game in hand. But then everybody knows that eiiem.es are i.ever magnanimous in their criticisms.

Dick Morris did not happen to be one ol Mr. Joyce's ardent admirers. He had not much faith in the man--none whatever in his doctoring. Dick was not over-pleased to soe him. He was 1111 e?rta.n about the man's object in coming. Mr. Joyce did not look much like a guileless philanthropist. Joyce, how- ever, did not pretend to notice his cool- ness. Stepping into the room, he nodded in the direction of the stretcher.

"'Ow's 'er1" he asked, bluntly.

"Dad. I'm afraid it's typhoid."

Hy this tans Joyce was by the side of the stretcher. Tom's eyes wore closed, n.d he was breathing heavily. He did i ot seem to have noticed Joyce's arrival. J «ye« looked at him critically for a mo-

ment.

"'Ow's his pulse?"

He mit back the covering, and took Tom's wrist. Dick noticed that he cast a furtive glance round the room as he spoke. Mr. Joyce as a doctor, was not making a very good impression.

At that moment Dick had another vi- sitor. Someone outside called him. Re- lucía t to leave Joyce alone in the room, Dick wailed till he was called again. On the second call he went to the door and looked out.

Hill Kay, ono of tho men of the Camp, \\<is standing a few paces from the door. Dick noticed ho had a dish in his hand, it flashed across his mind that Streaky was beginning to cultivate an interest

in Tom.

"Moriiin'. Dick. How's Tom?" asked Kay. without coming any nearer to the

door.

"No e too well, thanks. lie had a bad night," Dick answered from where

he stood.

"Me and me mate, heard 'e was bad, and we mixed up a few things for 'un." With that he put the dish down.

As he came no nearer the door. Dick had to go out to him. He looked quick- ly over his shoulder before stepping out. Joyce was sta iding whore he had left

him.

"It's very good of you fellows. Bill." Dick said, as he took up the dish, which contained a custard and a couple of jel- lies. 'Thanks. They look very nice; I'm sure Tom'll like 'em. I'm not much of a dabster at this sort of thing my- self. \Vo:.'t you come in ?"

"Not just row thanks.'" Then Kay

lowered his voice, "Old Pug's there, ain't

' ^ c" e r

Dick nodded.

i'm dodging 'im. lie's got 'is knife

into nie."

Dick afterwards remembered that, ir» spite of his eagerness to avoid Jjyce, Kay seemed to be in no particular hurry, lie sitood a moment or two longer before he said. "Well. I'll get. So long. Dick."

"So lo ig. Bill, and thanks for the things."

"That's all right," he said, as he slow- ly turned to go. 'if there's anything we cun do. yer know where we are."

"Thanks Bill : it's very good of you. Good day." Dick turned quickly to the door : he was congratulating himself that his visitor had not kept him long from Joyce.

At the door he met Joyce coining out . "Were the dickens d'yer get to ? I thought yer muster sneaked from this camp." said Joyce, in his soothing way, as he passed out.

This made Dick feel savage.

"I was called out," he said, hotly. ''Didn't you hoar someone call?"

But Joyce did not heed the question.

"Tom's not too good, any 'ow.'' he pur- sued. "Never opened his bloomin' 'ead all tho iimc. Seems a bit silly-like. He'll want lookin' after. I'll bring yer

some stuff."

"Thank you," said Dick, a little more     graciously. Then he added, "I'm going to send for Treas." But Joyce did not appear to be listening.

"G'-day. Dick."

Joyce strode off. For a moment Dick stood watching his retreating figure. He was wondering what Joyce was really up to. Something in the man's manner made him have doubts about his in- terest in Tom.

As he stood thinking the matter over, Dick was startled to hoar Toni cabing him. Tliere was a sharp, eager ring in his mate's voice that made Dick's heart lieut fast. Quickly entering the room, he saw Toni sitting up on his stretcher, looking wildly about him.

''What's the matter. Toni?" he asked, anxiously.

'Has he gone?"' Tom asked the ques- tion excitedly.

"Yes Who?" answered Dick, incon- sequentially.

"Joyce' Dick, he's a rogue' Don't let him come in here again." He spoke eagerly. "He's up to no good. As soon'syou went out he dropped my hand. Put his hand under my pillow-pretend- ed to lift nie a bit. He thought Ï was asleep-but I saw what he was doing.

31 le's after our 6tuff ! He knows where it is now. He went over to your bed. You'll want to watch him. Dick !"

"The villain !" exclaimed Dick, who bad been listening eagerly. Then he added quickly, in quiet tones, "Now lie down, old man. Don't worry about this We'll keep a sharp eye on Joyce for the

f utrre."

HARNESSING THE PLOUGH TEAM

REAPERS AND BINDERS AT WORK.

With a sigh, Tom lay back quietly on his pillow.

"What's that stuff of ours worth, Dick?"

He referred to the savings from their claim, which lay in a bag under Dick's pillow

"A little over five hundred, I reckon. But don't worry about it, old chap. I'll ^ee it doesn't stay under there any long- er. Old Pug won't see it again, if I can stop him. Bill Kay brought some

GATHERING THE SH KA YES.

LOADING HAT.

things for you-that's why I went out. This jelly looks good-you'd better try a little. I didn't know Bill went in for this sort of thing. Jolly good of him, though; isn't it?"

An hour or two later Dick was getting Bill Kay's dish ready to return, when he saw something which considerably surprised him. On the bottom of the dish-a tin one-in stencilled black paint were the letters "S.M.J."-Joyce's ini- tials- What was Kay doing with Joyce's

dish? It certainly was Joyce's ; every- thing at the "shanty" bore these ini- tials. Was Kay in Joyce's little plot? Perhaps this was the explanation of Kay's suddenly developed benevolence. Dick began to suspect Kay had come to get him out of Joyce's way.

Soon after making this discovery. Dick dug a hole in the centre of the camp

floor. Into this he put the bag of gold he had formerly kept under his pillow.

"There, Tom," he said, as he care- fully tamped the floor ; "I don't think Joyce'll find it now."

That afternoon Dick also managed to see Sammy Griggs, and induced him to go after the doctor. He promised him £50 if he went at once ; the money to be paid on his return. Sammy, who was in low water financially, jumped at the offer but wanted some money at once.

This Dick refused : he knew if Sammy had money he would immediately and helplessly get drunk. Finally, Griggs agreed to start next morning. Dick went back, well pleased with his bar- gain. He hoped devoutly that Griggs would catch Treas at home.

Early next morning Kay called and inquired after Tom again. He inquired in kindly fashion, and did not offer to come inside. Dick began to think he had misjudged the man. Was he gen

uinely interested in Tom's welfare, or was he in Joyce's plot?

Dick determined to seo if he could find out hy taking a pot-shot. When Kay was about to go, Dick picked up the dish he had brought the day before. .'Here's Pu<r Joyce's dish," he said, with deliberate emphasis. "You may as well take it back.''

The shot went right home. Watching Kay's face closely as he spoke, Dick had noted its sudden flush, and the quick, suspicious glance that was shot at him at the mention of Joyce's name.

"You'd better get now-quick."

Kay took him at his word. Snatch- ing the dish, he turned and walked quickly away without a word. There was no longer any doubt about his guilt. Dick chuckled as he thought how clean- ly Kay had been bowled. He felt quite

pleased with himself. It's always in- teresting to know who are our enemies.

A little later the same morning Joyce again appeared at the camp. He was met outside the door by Dick, who had been expecting him. Mr. Joyce ap- peared to be in rather an amiable mood.

"G'-day," he said, affably. "I've brought some stuff for Tom."

' Tliank you."

Dick took the bottle Joyce handed him. He was wondering what the

"stuff" was, but did not feel over-an- xious to try it.

"That'll set 'im up, I think." continued Mr. Joyce, who seemed to be anxious to sustain a conversation.

"Yes," murmured Dick, as he let the bottle slip deliberately through his fin- gers, and fall with a crash on a stone at his feet. "But it's safer there."

He spoke quietly-too quietly ; ai<d the light of battle was in his eye.

"You needn't bother coming in, Joyce," he went on, coolly, as the man glared at him in speechless amazement. "And-if it's all the same to you-I won't mind you not coming again. In fact I'd rather prefer it."

As he grasped the meaning of the si- tuation, Joyce's face turned a shade red- der than usual. For a moment he posi- tively gasped with fury. The moment

later, having regained his breath, the full soul of Mr. Joyce found utterance. He resorted, in his distress, to language which came strong and lurid. For some minutes Mr. Joyce succeeded in making himself perfectly audible. Several blas- phemous, and a good many uncompli- mentary things were said, special refer- ence being made to those who despite- ful ly use their benefactors In its way, it was quite a rhetorical triumph.

When he stopped for breath, Dick

stepped close to him. and looked him in the eyes.

"That's all right, Joyce," he said, with dangerous calm. "You'd better go home now I"

Haring said which, he turned his back pointedly on his visito-r, and walked slowly into the camp. The expression on Mr. Joyce's face, a-,

lie turned away, was not gaod to

see.

"It's war to the knife now. Tom, old boy," Dick remarked cheerfully, as he got out a revolver, and began to exa- mine it with some care. "Joyce has gone home very angry. He'll probably

come back."

Shortly after Joyce reached his "shan- ty," feeling very hot and angry, he saw an opportunity to taste the sweets of revenge. He was feeling very much

that way just then. The opportunity came in the person of Sammy Griggs, who wa? coming along the road, fitted up for a trip. Joyce guessed where he was going,

"Yer lookin' quite spruce, Sammy," he hailed. "I see yer goin' to bleach yer bones in the desert,

chasin' Treas."

Sammy, who had stopped, admitted that he was going across for the doctor, but humbly trusted his bones would be

A CHAFFCTJTTER AT WORK.

LUNCH TIME.

¿\ illili A' llJAi XXX tlV-i-Vi».. - -

OUR PRIZE FARM VIEWS. HY MK. E. T. HAMERSLEY, WOODSIDE, YORK.

left unbleached a little longer than friend Joyce anticipated.

"Don't see 'ow yer goin* to do it," said Joyce, dolefully. 'Owever, that's your business. Sammy, not mine. But yer'd better 'ave a drink 'fore yer go. Yer mightn't 'ave many more, jer know," he concluded, in that pleasant way of his.

Sammy thought he would have one. Mr. Joyce made him very welcome, After the first drink had vanished, a second, and then a third followed in quick suc- cession.

Sammy had never known Mr. Joyce to he so generous before. It would be a pity to check such a fine flow of generos- ity. Sammy decided he could not think of doing such a thing. Somewhere about the tenth drink he began to have a hazy notion that that was a record for Mr. Joyce's generosity. Bu^, discreetly, he said nothing and dramk steadily.

At heart, Sammy Griggs was not a bad fellow. Had he not been fond of get- ting drunk, he would have been a decent .sort. But, unfortunately, of the two «ourses open to him, Sammy decidedly

preferred get ing drunk. Before long, he had forgotten all about his journey and the fifty pounds. Like many who think themselves very much wiser than he. Sammy preferred present gratifica- tion to future reward. The worst of it is that duty is generally sacrificed in the

process.

An hour later, when Sammy Griggs was bundled into a back room, dead drunk, Mr. Joyce chuckled very wick- edly.

A week had passed when Dick Morris,

with haggard anxious face, staggered in- to his camp and stood again by his mate's side. He had a letter in hiß hand. It was addressed "Tom Simpson." He had just got it from the store. The month- ly mail had arrived in Streaky that day.

As he came in Dick looked worn and dejected. For many nights past he had had only little broken snatches of rest; to-day his heart was very heavy. Tom's condition was becoming more critical ev- ery day ; all he had been able to do seem- ed vain. To make his dejection more com- plete, he had learned to-day, when he

was hoping against hope that the doc- tor might yet come in time, that Griggs had never left Streaky Camp. He hat- ed to have to do it, but though'; it only fair to tell Tom what he had found out.

"Toni," he said, with an effort, "the doctor wonjt be able to get here. Griggs' trip was no go."

"Never mind about that, Dick. It wouldn't be much use him coming. You're doing all that can be done."

Tom spoke slowly, pausing between the words for breath. He was feel- ing desperately low ; he knew that the

unequal struggle could not last much longer.

"D'you get a letter, Dick?"

"Yes. It's for you-of course."

Dick smiled faintly on the last words ; he never got any letters, because, like many other people we all know, he ne- ver wrote any. But Tom wrote home regularly, and got a letter every month.

'Tm glad it's come," he said, with a smile. "I wanted to get one more. I'm sure it's from the ma.er."

It was. As he took the envelope from Dick he recognised the writing, and his

outstretched hand trembled with excite- ment. When he thought Dick was not looking, he raised the envelope to his parched lips and kissed it passionately, while tears stood in his eyes. He was a lonely man, and dying-and the coming of this letter had moved him strangely. Be it remembered, it was from his mo- ther- ;he last he would receive.

For a few minutes he tried to read, bu . had to give up.

"Dick," he said plaintively, "I don't seem to see properly. Will you read it

for me?"

"Certainly, old man." And Dick sat down by his side and took the letter with a kindly smile. In his heart, Dick knew that reading that letter aloud was going to be one of the hardest jobs he had ever taken on. There are a good many things harder than carrying bricks. Dick knew this was one of them. But of this he said nothing, as he cleared his throat and began to read.

The letter, written in a jerky angular hand which revealed the fact that the writer's ringers were getting stiff, was not long. But it was full of motherly

solicitation and love. Tho opening pages contained many little items ol news about the old home; a little sister uas mentioned frequently ; the regards of many friends were conveyed. Towards the close, the writer seemed to have been filled with yearnings for her son's return. She had missed him terribly of late, and daily prayed forhisreturn. Sometimes she wondered strangely if she would ever see him again. It was foolish, wasn't it? But when did he think he would be able to ccme hom-3 again ? It was lonely w.th out him she said as she closed her letter

with, many expressions of love, "and the days seemed very long."

Parts of the letter Dick could scarcely read. Several times his voice grew hus- ky and indistinct ; towards the close he lost the place twice and had to stop. But Tom had not noticed anything. Eagerly he liste..ed to the words that seemed to come like healing balm to his lonely heart. Tears filled his eyes, and his lips were silently moving when Dick's "oiee died away.

For a long time neither of them spoke. Their minds just then were a long v ay

from Streaky ; they were at home again, and each man was thinking of his mo- tlier. At last tlie long silence was bro- ken by thc sick man.

"You'll write. Dick-and tell lier? Tell her'"-his voice broke-"I couldn't come. But, Dick! Say I'll see her there." He pointed feebly towards the dust-laden battered roof of the camp above and beyond which stretched the great blue dome of heaven.

GERALDTON, PROM THE END OF THE JETTY.

For a time Dick did not speak. A man's words do not come easily at such times.

'Til tell her, Tom," he said very ear- nestly. "I'll tell her-everything 1"

A radiant smile of satisfaction, like that of a happy child, rewarded his words. A few moments later Tom looked up again into his mate's face with wistful plead- ing earnestness ns be- spoke.

"And. Dick-you'd better go home!" For a long time there was no reply. Dick, with his head bowed in his hands,

FREMANTLE HARBOUR ON A SLACK DAY.

could not trust himself to speak ; his thoughts were full of deep remorse. Several years ago he had left his home, and his people, and come to the West. Fie was young and wild then ; he had played the fool. Since Tom had joined him in Streaky he had been better, for Tom was a quieter sort. But he was not proud of his record, as he now recall- ed it. For some time past, especially since Streaky had deserted him, and left Tom unassisted, he had been tasting the prodigal's husks. To-day he saw his

BUNBURY, THE PORT OF THE SOUTH-WEST.

cruelty to those who loved him, as he had never seen it before.

Tom's letter had spoken deep to him. It might have been written by his own mother. He had not intended to ne- glect the old people when he left them, but, except for a couple of letters after he first left home, he had never written. At first he had been down on his luck, a d had nothing gofa to report. Then, »hen his luck improved, his living had not ; and, again, there was nothing good

to report. And so the days, and the months had passed.

This sort of thing is wonderfully easily done-and done, too, by many people who don't mean to be heartless and cruel. "To-morrow," they say. or "next week. I will write." But "to-morrow" comes, and "next week" passes, and no letter is written-and a heart somewhere slowly turns sick and heavy because of hope deferred. Our cruelty to those

who love us-it is a great mystery ! Dick had heard of his parents' move to Perth, where they had come after him, and had been able to guess the reason for it ; but, even then, he had not written. First, shame stayed him ; then, he thought he could wait till he could say he was com- ing to them. And thus the silence con- tinued unbroken.

At last, the prodigal had come to him- self. As he sat by his dying mate's side pondering the last words he had spoken, his unworthiness overwhelmed him and

the strong man was humbled to tears. Dick Morris resolved to go home.

« * *

Dick Morris stood in the middle of his camp in the dark straining his ears to hear the sound repeated. The room v as pitch dark ; the silence was intense. It was a little after mid-night, and as he stood in the darkness straining his eyes and ears for sight or sound, the whole of Streaky Camp seemed wrapped in ghostly silence.

In spite of the silence, Dick feared

someone was abroad. A moment or two before he had been lying-awake, by a lucky chance-in his bunk when he heard, as he thought, someone stealthily approaching the wall against which he lay. There had been only the faintest possible sound ; but it alarmed him. Quickly, but with extreme care, and noiselessly, he had jumped out on to the floor, and grasping his revolver, stood ready for whatever might come. He stood for what seemed an interminably

long time without anything further hap- pening He began to think he had been needlessly ready to take alarm.

A week had gone by since Tom Simp- son had been laid to rest a little way from where Dick stood. To-night, Dick's swag, containing all he could take of his belongings, had been packed. He stood in his day clothes ; he had been sleeping in them. Although no one in the place knew it, he meant, early in the morning.

to reduce the population of Streaky Camp by one.

Since the day of his outburst in front of the camp, more than a fortnight ago. Joyce had managed to keep out of Dick's way. Of Kay he had seen nothing. They both appeared to be ryin«j very low. Bat Dick knew enough of Joyce to know that this meant danger rather than security. That was why he paid so much attention just now to midnight

noises.

He had just concluded that he had bet

ter get back to bed when another sound roused Dick to alert, eager attention. A short quick scratch, as of a knife stab- bed into cloth, came from the wall near the head of his bunk. Dick could hear his heart thumping violently ; he strain- ed to catch any further sound. But none came. Again for some seconds an intense oppressive silence fell upon the room. Perhaps it was only a mouse of- ter all. He began to think he was los- ing his nerve and developing a vivid im- agination. The strain of the last few

weeks was telling on him. He had bet- ter go to bed. But presently, he heard something again. This time a longer, swishing sound broke the intense si- lence. Now he guessed what it was ; someone was cutting the hessian wall. Silently Dick stepped close to the place the sound came from. Then he stood stock still-waiting.

Another moment and he could hear something being gently pushed through the wall into the room. Peering eager.

ly into the dark he felt, rather than saw, something move slowly along the top of his stretcher. It was too dark to tell what it was. The suspense was terrible. A vague uncanny fear ran through him as he stared into the impenetrable dark.

Soon a soft, almost inaudible sound, like something rubbing against cloth, smote his ear. He fancied his pillow moved slightly. Trembling with ex- citement he grasped his revolver tightly

in his right hand and held it before him ; with the left he reached out before him through the darkness. It seemed an hour before he touched anything. He seemed to be groping through untenant- ed space. Then, suddenly, something stomped his advancing hand ; a cold shiv- er ran through him. His outstretched fingers touched-naked flesh.

"Shoot !" he heard someone hurriedly whisper. Instantly, from beyond the wall, a revolver shot rang out. A bul- let tore through the stretcher and

dug itself viciously into the floor beneath.

Then Dick fired twice in succession, aiming straight in front of him. After the first shot he heard a a.uick sharply uttered oath ; he recognised Joyce's voice. When the second report died away, he heard the heavy footfalls of someone running quickly towards Streaky. He rushed out and fired again in the direction of the sound. Evident lv he nrssed.

Coming back into the room Dick lit a

candle and exam i ned the track of the bul- let which had been fired from outside. The thing had gone right into the middle of the bunk about a foot from the pillow.

"I'd have a bad chest now," he mut- tered grimly, "if I'd been in bed."

As he spoke he heard a low stifled groan beyond the wall, which made him suddenly start. Going out he held the candle high and peered into the night. In the dim light he was amazed to see the body of Joyce wedged against the

wall. Swiftly he ducked back, fearing another shot, but the man made no move. Peeping cautiously round, Dick saw that the man's eyes were closed ; he had evi- dently fainted. The man's leg was badly wounded, and his body pressed heavily against the wall, while his right arni, bared to the shoulder, protruded through a hole that had been cut in the

wall.

Joyce had thrust his arm through the

hole to reach the bag be thought Dick kept under his pillow. On being disturb- ed, his companion, who evidently stood over him ready to fire, had puta bullet through the wall into the stretcher. The whole thing had been carefully planned and had failed just at one point ; Dick should have been asleep in bed.

Having taken in the situation, Dick dragged Joyce into the room and lurched him heavily into his bunk. He then tied an old towel around the man's Meeding leg and was washing his hands whe:>

Joyce opened his eyes. When he saw where he was and Avho was with him he started with fear.

"Yes you noble swine," said Dick, cheerfully. "It's more than you de- serve ! Oh." he added with pretended wistfulness, "I'd love to put a bullet into you : but I haven't the heart-you look

such a coward !"

Hot anger flushed Joyce's pale face.

"Oh. by the way, Joyce, that stuff you wanted so badly is here." And Dick kicked his swag before swinging it 0.1 to

his shoulders. "Fm taking it with me. And I say. Joyce, as one who is interested in your career, do let me advise you to stick to your own line of business. These side lir.es you've been going in for are dangerous, and you know"-he snvlcd pleasantly as if he saw a joke somewhere

-"you might get hurt. So long! I'm

off!"

At 2 a.m.-a little earlier than he had intended-Dick Morris swung out of tho door and began his journey home.

Zoom

plus
thumb
minus
left
thumb
right
up
thumb
down