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MISTRESSI BETTY CAIIEW: BEING…

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MISTRESS I BETTY CAIIEW: BEING SOME PASSAGES IN THE LIFE OF MR. GEORGE BASS, SURGEON OF H.M.S. "RELIANCE." By Mary Gaunt. BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR: "Da.ve's Sweet- heart Kirkham's Pind"; The Moving Finger"; Deadman's," &c. CHAPTER XVIII.-(Contintted.) I She stood still a moment, and her heart sank, tor she wondered what next. Then a hand was laid on her arm, and a voice said, not at all unkindly— "Now, madam, this way. You won't have much of a dossing place to-night; by and by you'll be better off." For a moment Betty considered should she try and break away, and Orleans seemed to divine her thoughts, for he held her firmly, and led her round to Eunice's little room off the mud flbuilding that did duty as a stable. There was not another man visible, and she felt that her theory was right. In all probability these two Convicts were playing a game of bluff. Perhaps ieven Crane had gone off to the woods in search of Simon Burton to tell him the game had begun. But she was wrong there. As the first man held her in the darkness, Crane came bearing a rush- light, guarding it from the wind with his other hand. They looked so peaceable and common- place by its dim light that Betty, sitting on Eunice's rough stretcher, could hardly believe they were meditating rapine and violence. She iknew, too, that the house must be unguarded, and that if he wished Williams might have got away easily enough. "Jacky Bluecoat sit down alonga door," said jCrane, as if he guessed her thoughts, ne'll make things lively one time quick if the lootenant tries to make a bolt for it." "It seems to llee he ought to be a match for 'all three of you," said Betty, for Jacky Bluecoat ,was only a lad. Still, he had the ears and the yes of the savage, and his aid was by no means ffco be despised. "But you see, ma'am, he ain't. Now, ma'am, We must just be lockin' you up, fear you'd give as leg-bail and off to Parramatta to get help. It's this cove's belief as you'd help him if you could get through; you had oughter to be jumpin' mad for joy at the chanst to get rid of him." "For God's sake," pleaded Betty, "don't kill him, for your own sakes don't do murder. You haven't done much wrong yet; go away, and don't do murder." Both men looked at her and shook their heads, and their faces looked hard and cruel. "How often have we been triced up just acos he lost his temper. You've sent out ointment and rags, and that's why you're here, and we .ain't agoin' to do you no harm, nor let any other cove so much as look at you, but we're agoin' to fasten you in here so as you shan't do us any harm," and sticking the rushlight, which was in a piece of wet mud, against the wall, Crane backed to the door, and Orleans followed him. .The door was shut, and then Betty heard bars of wood being nailed across, because there was no proper fastening. She went to the window, but that had already been nailed up on the out- side, and now there was nothing to do but to lie on the truckle bed and gaze up at the -thatched roof, and wonder what next. It was a narrow slip of a room, bare mud walls, with nothing to break the monotony save the rush- light and1 one small mirror, and a dress or two Eunice's. Once the wall between it and the stable had reached a man's height only from the ground, but Eunice had complained that the horses kept her awake, and so Simon Burton had built it up right into the roof. There vas no escape that way, and if they forgot her, a :more than probable thing, her doom was sealed. She lay down on the bed with a sigh. She thoug-ic. of every possible plan of, escape, and rejected them one by one. She wondered wearily what her future would be like suppos- ing they did not forget her, and she almost envied Eunice her sudden death, and the candle seemed to go further and further away, the horse in the stable the other side of the wall was moving restlessly, and she felt her eyes closing, though it seemed strange to her that sleep should claim her at such a crisis. Surely so many lives hanging in the balance, and she was sleeping, why, black Tulip, the mare next door, had more human kindliness than that. She could hear her moving hestlessly, something had frightened her, she was kicking against the wall, and Betty eat up, rubbing her eyes. She actually had dozed, then, for though she could hear Tulip, she was not very restless, and she certainly had not kicked against the wall. If she had, would she kick a hole ? Betty rose to her feet as the thought over- powered her. There was only a mud wall betwen her and Tulip, and Tulip would carry her to Elizabeth Farm in half an hour. Did she want to be saved? Did she want to begin the weary round of life again? She had promised Williams to save him if she could, and, after all, she was not yet twenty, surely life must hold some good thing in it for her yet. She thought of George Bass's dark eyes. Williams had freed her surely when he put her up for sale this after- noon, and the longing for life and action came back to her. She felt in her bundle for her little work bag, and drawing out a pair of scissors began to pick at the wall. A flake or two of 'brown mud fell off, and the desire for freedom grew hot in the girl's breast. She would escape if she could. But what if they should come in suddenly upon her? It would never do. She began to fear eyes at all the cracks and crannies, and she chose a spot to begin her work just behind one of Eunice's dresses, hastily noted that tinder and steel were on a box in the corner, and blew out the light. Then she listened till the night seemed to cry out, a wind came sighing round the eves, and the straw in the thatch made a rustling sound. It might almost be on fire, it might be someone peering down. The scrape, scrape of her scissors rang out dangerously loud, and she tried to do her work more quietly. Then she brought all her common-sense to her aid, and remembered that the scissors could hardly make more noise than a gnawing mouse, and she would hear footsteps long before they would hear her. The powdered clay was cover- ing the front of her gown, but she could wrap herself in the bedclothes at the first alarm, and he took off her shoes to facilitate the movement. As for the clay on the floor, she, every now and a again, swept it under the bed with her hands. Once she did hear footsteps stealthily crossing the yard, and a voice almost whispered- "Are you all right?" "Yes," she said, and then she added for effect, etDo let me out. I am afraid you will forget me and burn the stable." "You bet your life, no," said the voice, and the footsteps went quietly back again. She wondered why they came so quietly, did they -suspect her of. anything, or did they wish to keep Williams in ignorance of their actions. She wondered what time it was, but she could not guess, and the room was in pitchy darkness. It seemed to her she had worked hours and hours, her fingers and her arms ached, and one blade of the scissors was broken before the other slipped into open space beyond the wall, and she knew the first step was accomplished. It was so easy, so very easy to scrape round that hole. Then again she heard the stealthy footsteps, she called out to know the time. Three or four nights might have passed, she thought, if she was to judge by her own feelings. "I dunno," said Crane's voice, cwell, maybe, it mQut be three hours to the dawn. "And what time-" Youll know soon enough," and the footsteps retreated. She was working with feverish haste now. The mud was hard, but the sharp blade of the scissors cut round the hole easily enough, and though her nails were broken, her hands sore, and her arms aching, the hole was growing momentarily larger and larger. She could get •tier head through now, and H was only three hours to the dawning. And now she could get 1"(\ua entirely; she nushed her bundle through, and her cloak and hood, and taking tinder and steel and rushlight, was in the stable alongside Black Tulip. She put her hand up, and stroked her neck. Tulip was quiet enough, that was not where her difficulty lay. The half-door was open, and she could see the dark sky and the brilliant stars. It was a wonderful night, and the sky was powdered with them, clear, and bright, and silvery, if she could have chosen she would rather it had been darker. She did not dare use her light, and how was she to find saddle and bridle without a light. How, indeed, was she to get a horse out of the yard without calling attention to her presence. She leaned against the door lintel a moment and considered, while her eyes looked out into the magnificent Australian night. "Impossible, impossible," a cricket in the ground was shrieking out. the very rustle in the eves said, "impossible, impossible." And yet how otherwise get help. She would not have i, dared face the dangers of the way alone and on foot in daylight. But now Well, there was no greater danger in going than in staying where she was. They had promised her life, but in the heat of the fight the chance was they might forget that promise, and assuredly if she did not go Mr. Williams would be killed. And then she sighed. Because she felt such hatred and loathing for him she must save him. And Jacky Bluecoat was with them, and Jacky Bluecoat had ears like a hare. She could not hope to get a horse out of the stable. She might just as well try to get Williams o.ut of the house unseen and otTer him a mount. No, if she would be sure of saving him, then she must walk the seven miles to Elizabeth Farm. Seven miles through the woods, and it was only three hours to the dawning. What she had to do she must do quickly. She put on her shoes, they were thin soled light little things, quite unfitted for a tramp along a bush track, but ladies at the end of the eighteenth century were not supposed to go for long walks, and then she gathered her things together, and with her heart beating to suffocation, slipped the bolt and opened the stable door. The horse behind her turned at the sound, and she slipped outside, and shot the bolt again quickly. And Jacky Bluecoat had the ears of a hare! She stood a moment leaning up against the stable wall, and her knees trembled, and the beating of her heart made her ache in all her limbs. Then, very softly and quickly, because there was no time to waste, she crept round the stable wall. She turned the corner, and her courage grew. Yet if they caught her, they would assuredly kill her. She trembled when she thought what these men would do to her if they caught her betraying them. And for all she knew the little farm might be surrounded. There was a bush fence made up of stumps and logs behind the stable, it ran right round the ten acres of cleared land, and the ground sloped a little towards it. Behind stood up the forest looming dark against the starry sky. So often had she looked out on it, gum-trees and feathery wattle, and black currajong, that she called "may." Now thev were all one dark blurr, and the cleared space between the stable and the log fence looked light as day in comparison. There came the mournful cry of a black swan out of the sky above, and it made her start painfully. Was this the forerunner of the dawn? She had no time to waste, if death lay behind that pile of logs she must face it, and she darted over the rough ground that hurt her feet through her thin shoes, and climbed the fence. Another moment she was crouching on the dewy grass on the other side, hidden, she felt, in the darkness of the forest. She looked back at the farm. The buildings loomed up in the darkness, still and silent. There was not a light, not a sound anywhere. Who could tell it was the scene of a tragedy, so commonplace it all seemed. A dead woman lay within those walls, a man awaiting death stood there on watch, and two others watched that he did not escape his fate. Betty gave a little sob, for the weary pass her life had come to, and then stowing away her bundle, which she felt it was impossible for her to carry, began with free hands to move slowly round the fence on her way to the track that led down to Parramatta and Elizabeth Farm. CHAPTER XIX. I ON THE WAY TO ELIZABETH FARM. I Our dangers and delights are dear allies From the same steni the rose and prickle rise. And when Bass left Betty, he went straight to Elizabeth Farm as fast as a good stout horse could carry him. The autumn day was glorious, the heavens were blue and cloudless, and the earth was clothed in green. A flight of white cockatoos flew scream- ing over his head, and a great kingfisher, a bird the settlers called the laughing jackass, shrieked and sobbed with laughter. Bass was a man who noticed, and in spite of his own trouble his ears and eyes were open. The town was growing, and the beautiful bush was receding. The huts of the convicts were UIl- beautiful things, with thatched roofs and piles of rubbish at their doors, but the Governor's Farm at the end of the long street was already like a bit of England, and the leaves of the peach and apricot trees were yellow and red with the autumn tints. Up and down the streets strolled the soldiers in red, and a team of men in brown frocks were harnessed to a log which they were straining to bring down to the water's edge. The log was stuck right across the roadwa' and the men pulled in vain while a convict overseer brought down his whip heavily on their ragged backs. Bass laid hands on the end of the log. "One or two of you lift with me and get it straight. Why, man," he said to the overseer, "there's no need to haul all New Holland. That's what thev're doing at present." The man looked at him rather sullenly. These beasts of burden should haul as he willed, but on second thoughts he did not like to cross a man wearing his Majesty's uniform, and in five minutes the log was pointing down the road, and the men were hauling with a "Hilly haully, hilly haully" that founded utterly hopeless and dreary. In the stocks sat a man, and the cramp had got into his legs and he was moaning with pain, but Bass could not interfere here. He could only pass on. He was not so shocked as we in this twentieth century might be, but he did not won- der there were so many bolters. At least, there was freedom in the woods. And at Elizabeth Farm, Mistress MacArthur sat on a low chair in the shade of the overhanging thatched roof that made a verandah, with her white-faced little daughter in her arms. She held out her hand when she saw Bass walking up through her zinnias and Cape gera- niUmS. 1 ~HT J 1 He bowed low over her hand. Now that he was here, he wondered how he had best put the case. You are very welcome, Mr. Bass. Do you see my little daughter. She has been sick. A catarrh or a fever? I know not which." The mother looked anxious and Bass touched the little white cheek with a kindly hand. "It has left her now, I think, whatever it was. Plenty of milk and this good country air will set her all right." "Do you think so?" "I am sure of it," said the surgeon. "You are so busy finding out new tracks to the mountains and new harbours, one wonders whether you remember how a, child should be treated," said the mother, wistfully. "It was part of my training, and I shall not. forget, even though I find a way through the mountains to the country beyond," smiled Bass. "You must see for yourself she is on the mend." She looked down reassured. "Ah, Mr. Bass, I have been so anxious. I thought I should lose my baby, and my heart was like to break. "Ah, madam, I sympathise, I understand." She looked at him with a quick little smile, his voice was tender and sympathetic. "And how comes it that a ship's surgeon accus- tomed to tending rough sailors can understand and sympathise with a mother's anxiety." "Because, after all, love spells the same thing, madam, does it not, whether it be the love of a mother for her babe, or the love of a man for a woman," and Bass looked away down the gar- den at the distant blue hills. She looked at him thoughtfully. "Tell me," she said, "tell me," and leaning up against the verandah post there he told her the whole story. His eyes glowed and he clenched his hands. "I would have killed him," he said, "I ought to have killed him. If she had not been his wife I swear I would have. Mistress MacArthur, you will help her." "Indeed, indeed, I will. Shame on him, he is not fit to live. Why did you not bring her to me." "She would not come," said Bass, "not with me alone. She is mine, mine," he said, "no power shall part us, but she—she thought if you heard the whole story you would-you would- "What can I do?" asked Mistress MacArthur, sadly. "She is his wife, fast as Church and State can make her. and even offering her for sale will not-Mr. Bass, Mr. Bass, don't look like that. "I thought," said Bass, savagely, "that you, a tender woman, would understand. She is mine. If you will countenance our union the whole settlement will follow suit." "I can't," she said in distress, "I can't, I can't. God knows I would help poor Betty to the best of my power, but I cannot say wrong is right even for you whom I respect and her whom I love." "Then what is to become of her?" asked Bass, grinding his heel into the ground. "Become of whom? asked Captain MacArthur coming up, and then the whole story had to be gone over again. Bass listened impatiently while Mistress MacArthur told it to her husband, with many exclamations of pity and sympathy. The older man listened in silence, then he swore an oath condemning Williams to the bot- tomless pit, and putting his hand on Bass's shoulder drew him away into the garden. "It's out of the question, old man, quite out of the question. If she is to keep her good name among the women she can't go to you while her husband is alive. The men would be all right, it is the women who will point scorn at her long after the provocation is forgot. Let it alone, Bass, my man. Williams can't last long at this rate. He will drink himself to death in six months if one of his assigned servants don't save him the trouble. Bass groaned. "I can't leave her there, he said. "You shan't," said the other. "My wife will go down to-morrow and she shall be welcome as a daughter in our house." Bass made an impatient movement. "No, man, it is too late to go to-night. Look at the shadows. See how long they are. The sun will be down before we could get the horses ready. Leave it till to-morrow and my wife shall go herself and tell her how welcome she is. And then when you have seen her safe, you may go away in the "Reliance" and come you not here till I tell you Williams has run his course." Bass stood moodily silent, his back to the speaker. He was debating whether he in his turn should not carry Betty off and let the world do and say its worst. Perhaps MacArthur under- stood his thoughts. He put a kindly hand on his shoulder. "Think how bad you would feel, man, if you took her away with you and heard next month that Williams was dead and you could have mar- ried her openly. Here, come into supper, man, and my wife shall talk to you." And so she did, kindly and tenderly, while Bass gazed moodily on the ground and thought of Betty-Betty, who was slowly creeping round that fence, for she could not but remember that Jacky Bluecoat was on the look out. She did not crouch, for she rightly judged that it would be impossible to distinguish her from the house against the background of forest. What she feared was that they should hear her, or that she should meet someone hidden in the bush. It would not have surprised her if Simon Burton, or one of the bolters, or even one of his savage allies should be on the look out here. It would have been simpler to cut straight across the bush meeting the road further down, but she was by no means sure of her bushcraft, and she felt the first wasted time would be the best. It would be very easy to lose herself in the thirty acres of uncleared ground that lay between Williams' farm and McNeil's, and so she chose the longer and more dangerous route round by the log fence. She tore her dress on a thorny shrub, she bruised her feet against a stone, and she trod on a sharp stick that made her feel sick with pain, but still she pushed on, and after what seemed to her hours she found herself on the track that led down to Parramatta. She had been so long feeling her way through the forest that once she was on fairly smooth ground she began to run, and she ran till she was opposite the slip panels on McNeil's farm, panting and breathless. Then she sat down and the rush of blood in her ears made her fancy she heard footsteps pursuing her. She stepped back into the shade of the forest that came up to the track on one hand and lay flat down on the ground. She had a horror of snakes, but she had to risk them as she listened for the footsteps. Certainly, certainly, there were footsteps, and her heart stood still as a man came up the track, the way she bad come, and climbed the panels into McNeil's. How narrow had been her es- cape she dared not think. If he had been five minutes earlier or she five minutes later, she trembled as to what would have been her fate. Whether the man was Crane or Orleans, or even one of McNeil's servants she could not say, only it confirmed her in her determination not to ask help at any of the farms. McNeil, she knew was not there, the chances were not one of the others were, and it would be worse than useless to trust any of the convicts. They would not give their own class away, and even if they did her no harm they would contrive to detain and delay her. She listened to the man's footsteps dying away, and then she rose to her feet, but she dared not trust herself in the middle of the track now. She crept along close against the fringe of forest, and when it was thinner she slipped in among the tree trunks. And the time went on remorselessly. Surely it must be at least an hour since she had climbed through the hole into the stable, and she looked up into the starry sky in dread of the fading stars and the dawning. But they were bright as dia- monds still, and their faint light showed her the track winding down among the trees. It was down hill now, down, down, down, and she ran a portion of the way again till her foot slipped, she twisted her ankle, and she sat down, involun- tarily rocking herself backwards and forwards with the pain. If she had sprained her ankle now indeed was she undone. She rose up and it hurt her to put her foot to the ground, still she could walk a little with a. limp, with a pain that made her laugh and cry aloud, and there was a stream at the bottom of the hilL Perhaps if she bathed it it would be better. Her own voice sounded so weird and unearthly in this desolate place she hardly dared sigh above her breath. And yet the night was full of sound, the wind sighed through the trees, everv now and again she heard the sound of breaking twigs as if something were 9 in forcing a way through the trees and bushes. It might be the oppossums, but she could not be sure, and the cry of the curlews, weird, mourn- ful, hopeless, like a soul in pain, denominated everything. There was a quavering whimper of dingoes, too, now loud and clear, as if the pack were in full hunt, now dying away, and she re- membered ghastly tales of human skeletons found with the bones picked clean. But before she reached the foot of the hill, she felt her ankle was better, it was only a twist after all. Still she paused to lave her hot feet in the water of the creek. She grudged the time, but they were so hot and swollen she had to do something. There was no bridge, only a ford, muddy now after the long summer, and she took off her shoes and stockings and waded a little further up, where the water was clear and cool to her hot feet. Out on the grass again she lay down a moment to re- cruit her strength and to put on her shoes and stockings, for though they were torn now they were at least some protection from the roughness of the way. She rested as long as her impatience woud allow, every moment she stayed it seemed she was giving away a life, a life she hated, a life that stood in the way of her happiness, and therefore a life she must strain every nerve to save unless she would have blood on her soul. (To be continued.)

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I HOME HINTS.

I THE NV, OMAN',S WORLD. I

I ART AXD LITERATURE.

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