The Project Gutenberg eBook of Tom Pagdin, Pirate

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Title: Tom Pagdin, Pirate

Author: E. J. Brady

Illustrator: Sir Lionel Lindsay

Release date: October 18, 2018 [eBook #58132]

Language: English



E-text prepared by the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
the National Library of Australia


Note: Images of the original pages are available through the National Library of Australia. See







Chapter. Page.
I.— Pirates All 1
II.— Under the Tamarind Tree 17
III.— The Pirates’ First Cruise 32
IV.— Waiting in the Dark 43
V.— The Escape 52
VI.— They Take an Oath 62
VII.— Tom Conducts a Raid 73
VIII.— George of the “Greenwich” Goes Fishing 88
IX.— George Declines a Task 95
X.— The Story of Jean Petit 106
XI.— The Sea is Merciful 115
XII.— Jean Petit Pays a Visit 122
XIII.— Captured 128
XIV.— The Genesis of a Love Story 134
XV.— The Robbery is Discovered 142
XVI.— An Inquest 153
XVII.— The Rush for the Boat 164
XVIII.— Tom Pagdin Goes Gunning 176
XIX.— The Pirate’s Last Cruise 189
XX.— The Ultimatum 200


The Pirate in Purgatory Frontispiece
The Murder 56
The Death of the German 124
Trapped at Last 179

The Pirate in Purgatory.

Tom Pagdin, Pirate. Page 8.

Tom Pagdin


With four full-page illustrations by Lionel Lindsay.


Copyrighted by Alfred Cecil Rowlandson,
476 George Street, Sydney.

Printed by Simmons-Bloxham Ltd., Sydney.


Chapter I.

The Broadstream punt was grating gently on the pebbles at the South Side. Morning, gowned in silver grey, with trimmings of gold, still slept voluptuously on her divan in the Orient East. The mists were slowly lifting from the river, but hung yet lovingly along the creeks and upon the reedy lagoons.

Tom Pagdin, with his bare legs hanging over the rails of the punt, watched the cork floater of his fishing line sleepily. His bamboo rod cast a clear shadow in the water of the deep Broadstream. It was a new rod, cut some days before from the lower boundary of Henry Dobie’s garden. Old Tom Pagdin was not on speaking terms with Dobie, hence young Tom had taken that rod; at dusk, knowing that the particular commandment relating to the case was temporarily suspended.

Old Tom (cheerfully so-called by roystering fishermen) rented the Broadstream punt from the Government, which he regarded as his natural enemy. It was[2] only at election times that Pagdin, senior, got anything like even with the Government, exercising the right of secret ballot against the sitting member behind his back, while pretending absolute fealty to his face. On these occasions the puntman invariably came home to the little shanty by the riverside glorious, and next day young Tom was usually too sore to sit down with any degree of comfort.

But the life of a boy on the Broadstream could not possibly be dull for long, and the thrashings which Tom Pagdin so regularly received at the hands of the ‘old man’ possibly gave greater relish to his pleasures.

In the Northern streams the perch bite best in the early morning, but it happened that the fish were dainty, or shy, and even the black cricket still kicking on the hook did not draw them.

So, when a waterhen came out on the broad green leaves of the lilies, which were just opening their purple flowers to the rising sun, Tom Pagdin let his rod drop gently in the water, drew his catapult from the pocket of his frayed trousers, fitted a carefully-chosen pebble in the sling, and let fly.

“Hit ’m!” he shouted, triumphantly, flicked the line out of the water, sprang to the handle of the windlass, and commenced to work the punt with all speed to the opposite side.

He was about midway across when the wheels of a milk-cart, en route to the creamery with full cans, grated down the edge, to an accompaniment of complaining brake echoes.

A red-headed boy, with a heavy cartwhip in his hand,[3] was standing up in front throwing as much style into the driving as he knew.

“Ere!” he shouted, indignantly, “where y’ goin’ with that punt?”

Tom heard the hail, and looked back over his shoulder.

“Hold on a minute, can’t yer,” he howled. “I just peppered a coot; I’m goin’ acrost for him.”

The red-headed boy was interested immediately.

“Where is ’e, Tom?” he cried. “I can’t see ’im.”

“Can’t y’ see ’im kickin’?” shouted Tom, working vigorously at the handle; “’e’s in the lilies over ’ere.”

“Which side?” demanded the red-headed boy, excitedly. “Which side of the punt is he on?”

“Right-hand side. I’ve wounded him bad.”

“I spot ’im,” cried the boy in the cart. “I spot ’im. Hurry up, Tom; he’s goin’ to dive.”

“No he ain’t. He’s wounded too bad.”

“Yes he is. He’s going to dive. He’ll get away from yer.”

“’E can’t get away,” shouted Tom, perspiring violently.

The banks of the Broadstream at the crossing were not far apart, but the punt was heavy and slow.

“He will get away!” cried the red-headed boy in a pained voice. “You’ve only broke his leg.”

Whereat he jumped out of the cart, picked up a handful of pebbles, and began shying them across stream.

“Let up!” yelled Tom Pagdin. “Let ’im alone; ’e’s my coot!”


A hunter who has mortally wounded an old man lion with his last cartridge could not have claimed possession with greater emphasis.

“He’ll get away,” pleaded the red-headed boy in extenuation. “You’ve only broke his leg.”

“’E won’t get away,” shouted Tom. “’E’s mortal wounded. You let up, Dave Gibson, or I’ll punch yer ’ead when I get acrost.”

The punt swung in close to the bank. Tom Pagdin let go the handle, stripped off pants and shirt, and plunged in after his quarry.

Now this was a dangerous thing to do, inasmuch as the water was not only deep enough to drown a boat’s crew, but the long brown stalks of the giant lilies growing up from the bottom in netted confusion might tangle the stoutest swimmer. Many a good swimmer, in sooth, has lost his life in that fashion by the banks of the Northern rivers.

But young Tom Pagdin thought not of depth nor danger; the wounded coot was a prize of as great importance at the moment as a kingdom to Alexander. All the primal instincts of the chase were aroused in him. He floundered and kicked and splashed among the flat leaves, turning up their red undersides, making many bubbles, and frightening the perch and eels from their feed. At last, puffing and almost exhausted he got within reach of his game, grabbed it triumphantly by the neck, and turned about to swim back. And just then old Tom Pagdin, with his pipe in his mouth, stepped on to the punt. The old man had been thrice wakened out of his sleep the previous night to go across[5] stream and bring late travellers over and even the solace of the extra sixpences over and above his legitimate toll had not soothed his anger.

The animosity of Pagdin, senior, to men and things was chronic. His grievance was general. The world was against him, as it is against all puntmen, and, like all puntmen, he was against the world.

In the first place he proclaimed loudly that the Government gave him no chance—the yearly rent exacted by the Department for the right of the crossing was too high; it was an imposition, an outrage, a robbery. The victim wailed cursefully at the windlass from morn to eve. The Member for the district had promised him that the yearly charge should be reduced. He was convinced in some indefinite way that the Member was in the conspiracy against him—that he personally pocketed some of the plunder. Then the tolls which the Department allowed him to exact from travellers were too low. Threepence a head for foot travellers, sixpence for horsemen, and ninepence for vehicles did not pay. Then he never got his proper night’s rest, mainly because the public house was on the North Side, and the fellows who went across in the evening never thought about him. They hardly ever thought about bringing him a toothful, either. They could come and hail angrily across the water at one and two o’clock in the morning for the punt, but they seldom remembered when they were leaving the Rising Sun that the puntman had a mouth on him.

The fishermen who came down to the Broadstream on Saturdays and Sundays were no better. The picnic[6] crowds were worse, and, as for the swagmen and fellows looking for work along the river, they were an utter abomination—a poor, struggling cove—to take them over for nothing, and sometimes even swimming the Broadstream to avoid paying toll—taking the bread directly out of a poor cove’s mouth.

When old Tom reached this climax he usually spat in the water and looked up and down the bank with a smouldering eye to see if young Tom was doing anything that merited punishment.

And as young Tom usually was, his dad would entertain the passing fare for the rest of the passage with a detailed account of the unregenerateness and general cussedness of that youth, to whom he was trying to be both father and mother, and bring up in the way he ought to go. The old man would explain wrathfully that whereas his only son and heir ought to be a blessing and a comfort to him, he was nothing but a trial, and generally before the fare had got to the top of the long, steep bank the yells of young Tom resounding through the bush indicated that the way of the evil-doer, if sometimes pleasurable, was also hard.

So Tom would rather have seen the devil step on the punt that morning than his father.

The latter seized the situation with angry gratitude. The Lord had set him a pleasant duty to perform. He set about it with the air of a Roman dictator who had been called upon to pass judgment on a conspirator after a bad night.

The old man looked in the water and saw Tom. Tom had already seen the old man, and was “treading[7] water”—and thinking. He still held the coot firmly by the neck.

“What you doin’ there, you whelp?” thundered the old man. “Come out ’ere at onct!”

He stooped and picked up the trousers and shirt which had been shed by his son and heir.

Young Tom realised that he was unarmoured, and that the full and unmitigated wrath of his parent would descend upon him as soon as he landed.

He took several quick strokes out into the clear deep stream, and trod water again, watching the old man.

“What you doin’ in there?” shouted the latter, with rising wrath. “Come out when I tell ye.”

“Are you goin’ to whale me?” demanded Tom.

For answer the swarthy captain of the punt unbuckled his belt. A despotic grin wrinkled his shrivelled countenance, and died out in ominous ripples among his scraggy beard. The red-headed boy got up on the seat of the milk-cart, and assumed an innocent air, an air of studied unconcern, an air which was intended to express complete and absolute neutrality in respect to impending hostilities.

“You are goin’ to whale me!” said Tom, still holding the coot and treading water.

“You never spoke a truer word in your life, my son,” replied the old man, in apparent calm. “It ain’t often you tells the truth, Tom, but you’ve hit it this onct—accidental like.”

There was a pause—embarrassing to both.

“Come out!” cried the old man.


“I won’t,” replied Tom, firmly; “I’ll be hanged if I do.”

“What!” yelled the old man. “What’s this—You’re a-goin’ to defy me, are you?”

“I ain’t defying you, but I ain’t goin’ to be wolloped with the buckle of that there strap, bare, I ain’t, I’d rather be drowned.”

Pagdin, senior, drew a long breath.

“No, you won’t be drowned,” he said, “you won’t I’m convinced o’ that, but (leaning over the rail and glowing at his progeny in the water) you’ll be ’ung!”

“I’d rather be hung than whaled with that strap, bare.”

“If you don’t come out,” explained the father, in a tone intended to express sorrow rather than anger, “you’ll get a double allowance, an’ I’ll stop yer grub for a whole day!”

“You lemme off this time!” pleaded young Tom, “an’ I won’t do it any more.”

“You’ve said that afore,” retorted old Tom; “you ain’t to be trusted. It’s a ’orrible thing to think,” he added, “that a man’s only son should be a liar an’ a vagabond—a most owdacious an’ ’orrible thing!”

“Dave Gibson wants to come acrost,” said Tom, in the hope of creating a diversion.

“Are you coming out or are you not?” thundered the old man.

“No,” replied Tom, treading the water with greater resolution. “I’ll be hanged if I am!”

“All right,” cried old Tom, seizing the handle and[9] starting the punt; “you’ll get it double an’ treble for this.”

“Gimme me clothes,” shouted the youth in the water.

“You don’t want no clothes,” said the old man, in studied sarcasm; “you’re goin’ to live in the water. You don’t want no more clothes,” he added over his shoulder with fine irony, “no more clothes nor a conger eel.”

Tom waited until the punt was well over to the opposite side, and then he went hand-over-hand for shore, landing with the coot in record time.

He shook himself like a spaniel, and darted into the neighbouring scrub.

Old Tom Pagdin brought the milk-cart over in studied silence. Dave made one futile effort to open up a conversation, leading off with a honeyed remark about the weather, but the puntman took no more notice of him than the Suffete of ancient Carthage might have taken of a crippled slave.

As soon as the punt touched shore and the captain took the chain down, Dave gathered up his reins, and got away quickly, and the old man went up the bank to the house with his son’s raiment firmly gripped in one hand and the strap in the other.

“I’ll wait for ye,” he remarked loudly to the adjacent scenery; “I’ll wait for ye if I ’ave to wait till the Day of Jiniral Jidgmint!”

Meanwhile Tom had cut through the scrub and was waiting for Dave down the road, naked and unashamed.

The red-headed boy pulled up.

“My gosh!” he said, cheeringly, “the old man ’as[10] got his rag out. He’ll flay yer alive, he will, when he gets you.”

“He ain’t going to get me,” replied Tom.

“But he’s got yer clothes.”

“I don’t care,” cried the other boy, “if ’e ’as—’e ain’t got me.”

“But y’ can’t go about like that all day.”

“Yes I can,” said Tom. “I kin go about like this for a week—I kin go about like it altogether. I’d rather.”

“But you’ll get run in.”

“I don’t care,” cried Tom. “I’d rather be run in than whaled with the buckle end of that strap on me bare ’ide.”

“You’d better go back an’ ’ave it over,” urged Dave.

“No,” replied Tom; “I’ll be sawed in ’alf with a rusty cross-cut saw furst. I’m full of him. ’E’s always on to me. I got to get up furst thing in the mornin’ an’ work the punt. I got to fetch wood and water, an’ bile the beef, an’ wash the clothes, an’ milk the cow, an’ feed the hens, an’ go to school, an’ then in the evenin’s I got to read the noospaper for ’im. I got to work the garden an’ hoe the damn corn, and get whaled reg’lar. Flesh an’ blood,” he concluded, solemnly, “is flesh an’ blood, an’ it can’t be any more. I’m chock full up of it.”

“So am I,” said the red-headed boy, developing a grievance also. “I’m chock full o’ mine, too. He’s worse nor yours, because he’s only a stepfather. I got to get up in the mornin’ afore daylight an’ round up the cows, an’ help milk, an’ fetch the cans into the[11] factory, an’ I get whaled if I ain’t back in time. Then I got to go and cut sorghum an’ pull pumpkins. Then I got to get the cows up again in the evenin’s and milk an’ ’ump cans, an’ round up the calves, an’ light fires to keep the mosquitoes off ’em, an’ the ole man ’e whales me, an’ the ole woman she’s worse, an’,” he concluded, emphatically, “there ain’t nothin’ in it, hanged if there is.”

“I’m goin’ to run away,” said Tom Pagdin.

“Where’ll y’ run to?” asked the other boy, curiously.

“Somewhere,” replied Tom, mysteriously, “I know a place.”

“Where is it?” asked Dave, with interest. “What sort of a place—a job?”

“No” retorted Tom, with scorn. “Work be ’anged! No job fer me; I’m goin’ to take a ’oliday—I’ve urned it.”

The red-headed boy thought awhile.

“He’ll put the police on ter yer,” he said.

“Let ’im,” replied Tom, with great contempt; “the p’leese won’t find me where I’m goin’.”

“Where are y’ goin’ then?”

“Down the river a piece,” said Tom. “I know a place.”

“Down on the main river?” asked Dave.

“That’s my business. I ain’t goin’ to tell you—you might put a cove away.”

“Me!” replied Dave; “not me. I ain’t built that way.”

“Say,” cried Tom, suddenly, “let us both run away.[12] We’ll go mates. We’ll have an all right time, I promise yer.”

The red-headed boy’s face lit up. It was a strong temptation.

“Look ’ere,” cried Tom, leaning his bare arm on the muddy wheel of the milk-cart; “look ’ere, Dave, if you promise not to put me away I’ll let you into it.”

“I promise,” gasped Dave.

“On your oath?”

“Yes, on me oath.”

Tom glanced up and down the road.

“Look,” he said in a hushed, important voice, “I’ve got a boat.”

“A boat?”


“Where did you get her?” asked Dave, leaning over the wheel.

“She came up with the tide one mornin’ lately—about a week ago.”

“What is she—a flat-bottom?” queried the other boy, leaning over still further.

“No, she’s a keel boat—a spanker.”

“Je-rusalem,” gasped Dave. “I wonder where she came from?”

“I reckon,” replied Tom, in a portentious whisper, “that she came off a wreck. She’s a ship’s boat.”

“Where is she, Tom?” demanded Dave. “Kin I have a look at her?”

“I’ve got her planted,” said Tom, swelling with importance.

“Where—where did you plant ’er, Tom?”


“I ain’t goin’ to tell you,” replied Tom, firmly.

“Ah, Tom, don’t be mean.”

“I ain’t goin’ to tell you—not yet,” repeated Tom.

“Are you goin’ to run away in ’er?” asked Dave.

“I might, an’ I might not.”

“But are you?”

“You never can tell,” replied Tom, “until the numbers go up. I say, give us that bag you’re sittin’ on.”

“What do you want the bag for?”

“I want to make a pair o’ trousers out of it,” said Tom.

“It ain’t mine to give,” said Dave, with sudden honesty; “it belongs to the old man.”

“Couldn’t you say you dropped it outer the cart?” asked Tom. “A nice sorter mate you are.”

“I’ll give it to yer,” said Dave, “if you tell me where the boat is.”

“Gimme the bag first.”

“All right, here you are.”

Tom took the bag, and, after spreading it out on the buffalo grass by the roadside, regarded it with a quizzical air from one unclosed eye.

“It won’t fit like a tailor-made suit,” he said, “but it’ll do.”

“Are you going to wear that sugar bag?” asked Dave, with something like admiration on his face. “How are you goin’ to wear it?”

“You’ll see,” answered Tom. “Lend me yer knife.”

“Don’t blunt it,” admonished the youth in the cart; “it’s got a razor edge on.”


Tom felt the alleged razor edge critically with his thumb.

“It’s more like the back of a axe,” he said, kneeling down and stabbing the blade into the right-hand corner of the bag. He split about six inches there, then performed a similar operation on the left-hand corner, and holding the mouth of the bag up inserted his legs into the splits.

“Gimme a bit of string for the waistband,” he said. “How does she fit be’ind?”

“She fits like ole Harry,” said Dave. “By gosh! she fits you all over and don’t touch you nowhere.”

Tom twisted his neck over his shoulder and caught sight of the bulge behind.

Then the humour of the thing seized both boys, and they laughed. Dave sprawled all over the seat of the cart laughing, and Tom rolled on the buffalo grass kicking his heels in the air and laughing. Then he got up and capered round like a clown in a circus to make Dave laugh more. Next he stood on his head against a bean tree and gave Dave still another lease of joy.

They were as happy and as merry as any two boys of thirteen summers on the face of the Australian continent. But the sun was getting high, and presently Dave remembered.

“By gosh!” he cried, seizing the reins, “I’ll get into it.”

“Never mind,” said Tom, improvising a war dance round the milk-cart; “you might as well be hung for a cow as a calf.”


“Say,” demanded Dave, “where is the boat planted—I got to go. I’ll get into an awful row, I will!”

“I’m in a wuss row,” observed Tom, “an’ I don’t care.”

“Where’s the boat, Tom?” pleaded Dave. “You promised to tell.”

“I can’t tell you now,” explained Tom, ceasing his dance, and coming close enough to unbuckle the horse’s girth on the sly, “I’ll tell you to-night.”

“To-night?” queried Dave.

“Yes; you meet me down under that big tamarind tree just inside Dobie’s fence in the scrub, an’ I’ll tell you.”

“But,” said Dave, with arising qualms, “I ain’t goin’ to run away with you.”

“Well, you are a cur,” retorted Tom with magnificent contempt.

“But I never said I would,” hesitated Dave.

“Oh, didn’t you.”

“Leastwise I don’t remember——”

“Don’t do it if you don’t want to. Don’t do it if yer afraid, you know. Oh, I wouldn’t like you to come if yer afraid—fact, you’d only be in the road and spile the fun.”

“I ain’t afraid,” cried Dave, indignantly.

No Australian bush boy likes to have his courage called into question.

“Well, if you ain’t afraid, why don’t you come?” demanded Tom with Jesuitical cunning.

“All right,” said Dave, throwing prudence to the winds, “I’ll come.”


“Be there at dark, then,” ordered Tom, “an’ bring yer clothes an’ as much tucker as you can git an’ we’ll fix things.”

“But what are we goin’ to do?” asked Dave.

“We’re going,” said Tom, “to be pirates.”


“Yes. You leave me alone; I’ve a plan in my head, Dave—I’ve got a dead, all right plan. You’ll see.”

“But,” hesitated Dave, “we can’t really be pirates and rob ships and all that sort of thing. You can’t do that now, the time’s gone by.”

“You leave me alone,” said Tom, importantly; “I’ll fix that. If anybody’s got to be killed or made to walk a plank, I’ll attend to that. I’ll be captain and you’ll be first mate. The captain takes all the responsibility, and the first mate does what he’s told. You get some bread and beef, an’ a blanket an’ any little odds and ends you can lay hands on. I’ve got a tommyhawk an’ a billy can an’ a lot of things I’ve been gettin’ ready for a week—ever since that boat drifted up the Broadstream at daylight that mornin’.”

“I’ll be there,” cried Dave, with new resolution.

“On your oath?” demanded Tom.

“On me oath.”


Chapter II.

It was very dark in the scrub, and the new moon had set. The flying foxes squealed in the wild fig trees, and Tom Pagdin, sitting under the tamarind heard a night owl complaining mournfully.

The hollow hoot of the owl sent a shudder down Tom’s spine, because it was unlucky to hear an owl in the dark of the moon.

Away off on the flats the curlew called, wild pathos in his cry.

The scrub, close-matted and tied by many vines, was cool and pleasant in the daytime; but at night its overhanging canopy of vegetation shut out the stars, and one walked beneath in an eerie gloom that was wearing on the strongest nerves.

Tom waited and waited until it was almost eight o’clock.

He was restless and uneasy. Half the joy of his proposed expedition would be gone if Dave did not turn up. There is no fun in the pirating business without a mate; it becomes lonesome and monotonous.[18] Tom had just decided to take it out of Dave for breaking his promise, when he heard a noise somewhere off at the other side of the scrub.

He put his ear to the ground, bushman fashion, and listened.

It was Dave whistling loudly. Dave had no more idea of tune than a milch cow; he made up what he whistled as he went along.

It was weird, but he kept himself brave in that way, and overcame the temptation to drop the bundle he was carrying and cut back home as fast as his legs could carry him.

Tom sneaked through the scrub with the stealthiness of an Apachee, and hid behind a bean tree, which he knew his mate must pass. As the scrub drew denser and darker Dave gave over whistling and started talking to himself.

Once he caught his toe in a vine, stumbled, and swore.

Presently he came to the bean tree. Tom was holding his breath.

As Dave passed he jumped out and caught him round the neck.

The red-headed boy let out a continuation of blood-curdling yells, which woke wild echoes in the forest, and frightened the night owl from his perch on Dobie’s fence.

“Shut up,” cried Tom, trying to smother Dave’s outcry by putting his hand over his mouth. “Shut up, you speckled idiot; you’ll have them down on us.”

But Dave was so thoroughly frightened that for the[19] moment he did not recognise the aggressor. He concluded that a dastardly attempt had been made to smother him, and determined to die hard, anyhow. So he bit the hand.

“Let up!” yelled Tom. “It’s me, I tell yer!”

But Dave, sobbing with fright, held on like a bulldog.

“By gosh!” cried Tom, “I’ll stouch yer.”

He suited the action to the word by punching the other boy in the ribs.

In retaliation Dave kicked Tom’s shins viciously.

It was a rather lively rough-and-tumble for about a minute and a half; then Dave recovered sense enough to realise that he was not in the grip of an unknown assassin, and Tom, with a contused eye and badly-bitten hand, sat on the leaves and reproached him.

“What yer mean by bitin’ my ’and?” he demanded, angrily.

“Well, what did you mean by comin’ be’ind me and thumpin’ me in the dark?”

“I never; I only just held yer.”

“What did you hold me for, then?”

“Why, I wanted to frighten yer, that’s all.”

“What did you do it for, then?”

“I wanted to see how you’d act if we was caught by the police, or stuck up by a gang of bushrangers, or something.”

“Well, you didn’t get no good of it, anyhow. It wasn’t a fair thing to do, neither.”

“My word, you was frightened, Dave!”

“Me frightened! No blooming fear! You couldn’t frighten me like that.”


“Gerrout! Why, you yelled louder ’n ole Dobie’s bull!”

“Gerrout; I knowed it was you all the time.”

“Well, if yer did,” demanded Tom, indignantly, “What right did yer ’ave to bite me ’and? If yer knew, what did you ’it me in the eye for with yer shut fist?”

“Because you punched me. I don’t want to have nothing more to do with you, Tom Pagdin; I’m goin’ home.”

“No!” said Tom magnanimously. “Don’t go ’ome; we’ll cry quits; we was both in the wrong.”

I wasn’t in the wrong,” persisted Dave. “You started it; I only hit when you did.”

“Of course, you was frightened,” said Tom. “That’s why you did it.”

“I was not frightened,” protested Dave, vigorously; “I was no more frightened—nor—nor—nor anything. You can’t frighten me as easy as that!”

“All right,” cried Tom, “don’t let us say any more about it. Shake hands, and we’ll make it up.”

“I won’t try to frighten you any more,” said Tom, generously, rubbing his shin where Dave had kicked him. “We better get down to the Tamarind. I left a lot of things there.”

It was growing darker and darker.

The two adventurers sneaked stealthily through the scrub in the direction of Dobie’s fence, following as nearly as they could a track which led across from Pagdin’s.

“Don’t make no more noise than you can help,”[21] admonished Tom. “There might be somebody about. They might ’ave ’eard that row we kicked up.”

The lads stumbled along in the darkness, and every time one of them trod on a dry stick or on the crisp leaves, they would both stop and breathe hard. There was a fearsome mystery about the whole thing which lent it an additional charm. It is probably the danger attached to crime which renders evil-doing most attractive to the criminal.

They came at last to the tamarind tree, and stopped. Tom sat on the butt of a big hollow bluegum, which had been blown down by some tornado, and wiped his forehead.

“It’s a hot night,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a storm.”

“Suppose we do, Tom?” asked Dave, anxiously.

“Well, suppose we do!” repeated Tom, with scorn in his voice.

“We’ll get wet,” replied Dave, diffidently. “Won’t we?”

“No,” said Tom, “not a wet! I got a tent.”

“A tent! Where did you get her, Tom?”

“Never you mind. Pirates ain’t supposed to answer questions like that. I got her, that’s good enough.”

“Where is she, Tom?”

“I got her planted not ten yards from here,” replied the elder conspirator, proudly.

Dave’s admiration for Tom was growing.

“Your a wonner,” he said.

“Bet your life,” replied Tom. “I wasn’t goin’ out in the bush without a tent. It’s one some coves that[22] was down fishin’ last summer left with the old man to take care of. Don’t you split!”

“No blime fear,” said Dave. “We’re mates.”

“Let us put these things in the boat first,” said Tom, “an’ we’ll come back and get the tent.”

“Where is the boat, Tom?” asked Dave. “I ain’t seen her yet.”

“Foller me!” cried Tom. “We got to be quick. The tide’s on the turn, an’ we’ll go down with it. Did you pinch a pair of pants for me?”

“Yes; and I hooked one of the old man’s shirts, too.”

“Good egg!” exclaimed Tom, gleefully. “I couldn’t have gone another night without a shirt. The mosquitoes ’as nearly ’et me raw. Gimme the shirt now.”

“It’s in the bag.”

“Is it near the top? Give us it, anyhow. They’ve sucked all the blood out of me back an’ legs. I’d a lit a fire to keep ’em off only I was afraid of somebody seein’ it.”

“My crumbs,” he added, presently, “this shirt comes all over me.”

“Tuck it down in your sugar-bag, fer now,” said Dave; “we’ll cut a bit off it in the mornin’. I got an ole pair of trousers fer you, too, but they’re in the bottom of the bag.”

“Your a all-right first mate, Dave,” said Tom. “You want a bit o’ trainin’ yet, an’ you want a bit more pursonal courage; but you’ll do. I reckon we’ll surprise ’em before we’re done.”

“My oath we will,” said Dave. “We’ll make ’istry.”

“Hist!” exclaimed Tom. “Didn’t you ’ear a noise?”


“No,” said Dave, crouching down behind the log, “did you?”

“Ssh!” whispered Tom. “I ’eard something along there be Dobie’s fence.”

“Might be a cow!”

“Cow’s don’t cough!”

“I’ve heard cows cough.”

“Well, they don’t whistle softly to theirselves. Leastwise, I never ’eard a cow do it. You might.”

“No, I never did. What did she whistle?”

“I don’t know the tune,” replied Tom, “but it was a whistle all right. Lie low, there’s some people comin’.”

“Don’t breathe!” said Dave, in Tom’s ear. “I can ’ear ’em. It’s somebody talking.”

“They’re comin’ this way,” muttered Tom. “Keep quiet, can’t yer! Yer rootin’ in them dry leaves like a wild pig.”

“I’m not; it’s you,” protested Dave.

“It ain’t me,” denied Tom, sotto voce; “it’s you. You’re makin’ enough row to wake the dead, blarst yer!”

“I ain’t!” said Dave, indignantly. “I ain’t.”

“Shut up!” hissed Tom in his pal’s ear. “They’re comin’ right this way.”

“Who is it, Tom?” asked Dave, in a faint whisper. The strain was heavy on him.

“’Ow the devil do I know?” replied Tom; “shut up!”

The boys laid behind the fallen tree as still as mice.


“Get down,” whispered Tom presently. “Get right down.”

He spread himself out on the flat of his stomach, with his chin to the ground.

Dave followed suit.

“They’ll think we’re two logs,” he explained to his comrade.

The sound of voices became more distinct. The footsteps of the approaching unknown fell audibly on the crisp leaves, and when one of them trod on a dry bangalow leaf it cracked sharply.

Tom and Dave could hear their hearts beat.

Either boy was temped to jump up and run for his life, but the thought of what the other might say restrained him. It is even thus with whole regiments in action.

It was plain that two men had come up to the log and were talking.

A smell of strong tobacco told that one of them was smoking a pipe.

And with the powerful odour of bush weed was blended the milder perfume of a cigarette.

Tom and Dave watched the flame of the cigarette like a glowworm not twenty yards away, and once, when the smoker drew in a long whiff, they saw the outline of a dark, bearded face.

Scraps of conversation came down to the two trembling youths cowering among the leaves. It had anything but a re-assuring effect on them.

One man, he of the cigarette, spoke with an accent.

“Tell to me,” he said, “vat you sink ze best time?”


“About eleven o’clock at night,” replied the other. “He goes to bed early.”

“Ah! zen vere shall ve meet—you an’ I, eh?”

“Look ’ere, Frenchy,” came the second voice, “I don’t see what you want me for at all.”

“Ah! ah!” exclaimed the first speaker in a louder tone, “zen you air friten now! You have vot you call concoct ze plan, you leave ze ozzer to open ze door! You air coward, ees eet not so?”

“No,” came the response, “it ain’t that; but I’m getting known round here, and you ain’t. If anything happened I might be recognised, an’ that would be bad for both of us.”


“So I reckon it ’ud be better I didn’t go right down with you to-morrow night. I’ve put you up to everything. You know the lay of the land as well as I do meself. I’ve giv you the plan of the place, I’ve giv you the impression of the key. You don’t have to make no noise with the safe. All you got to do is to open it an’ shift the stuff. It’s as easy as fallin’ off a log. I’ll be waitin’ down under the bank with the boat. We’ll bring the stuff off together and plant it in a safe place. After the row is all over we can slip away quietly down the country with the spile. It’s a dead cert. It’s the deadest cert that ever was in this world.”

Tres bien,” replied the black-headed man, “It shall be as you say. Remembaire zat I vill not be made fool of. Non! Eet ees so?”

“Who wants to make a fool of you?” demanded[26] the other man. “We’re halves in this job. We’re both takin’ our equal risk, an’ we stand in equal. That’s fair, ain’t it?”

Oui; that ees so! About ze boat! Vat zen? Hav’ you made ze preparation?”

“That’s all as right as rain. You leave that to me. I struck a bit o’ luck to-day.”

“Ah! so?”

“I found a boat!”

The spark of the cigarette described a parabola in the darkness.


“What’s the matter, Frenchy?”

“I think I hear someone. Ah! Vat! Ssh!”

There was a silence. It seemed about a hundred and twenty years to Tom and Dave.

Neither dared to speak, but Dave could feel Tom tremble, and it comforted him in his own quivering anguish.

After a time one of the men—he who spoke without an accent—laughed softly.

“There’s nobody about,” he said in a quiet voice, “nor likely to be; an’ if there was it’s too dark for them to see us, an’ if they did see us, that don’t prove nothing.”

“Ah!” said the Frenchman, drawing a long breath; “so; but ze boad, vere ees it?”

“I found her tied up among the reeds in a little branch off the creek here.”

“Tied up! Fastened, eh?”

“Oh, you needn’t be afraid. She’s a stray boat.[27] One of these farmer coves has found her. He’s just run her in there and hitched her to a log. By-an’-bye he thinks to himself he’ll take her out and paint her up quietly, an’ let on he bought her new down the river.”

“Vell, vat you think to do?”

“Borrow the boat for to-morrow night.”

“So, and——”

“Yes; we’ll come down here, get her, pull down quietly to the town. I’ll wait at the place I told you. When you come along with the stuff we’ll pull back an’ tie her up again to the log an’ nobody won’t ever be any the wiser. The cove that’s thinking to hook that boat for himself won’t say anything. It won’t be his game. See?”

Oui! it is reasonable. Ef so, he ees accuse, an accomplice, eh?”

“Frenchy you got sense. You’ll do.”

The foreigner laughed—a saturnine laugh. “I haf,” he said, “ze advantage of moch experience.”

“Don’t doubt it,” replied the other. “You’re an older hand than me. Now, listen. We got to meet here to-morrow night at half-past seven. It’s a good three hours’ pull even with a falling tide.”

“I shall be here,” replied the foreigner, grimly. “Ah, most certainly shall I be here. Eet ees a bargain, zen, eh?”

“That’s settled,” said the other, “and, remember, no violence. I got no wish to see you ’ung, Frenchy.”

“Nor I you,” replied the Frenchman, politely. “Eet will surely break my heart zat my dear friend terminate[28] hees career—sacre bleu!—upon ze sgaffold. Non, non!”

“No, but no funny business,” pleaded the other man, earnestly. “I ain’t used to that sort o’ thing, if you are. Besides, the thing can be done without any trouble if you go quietly. It’s the safest job was ever put up in this world.”

“You can depend zat eet will be done, mon ami. Yes, eet will be done. Already I am tired of zis countree. I would get back to France—to Paris—vere zere ees vat you call ze scope for mine ability. Eet is not here zat should remain ze man of parts—non!”

“That’s right,” agreed the other; “I want to get down to Melbourne meself. Damn the country! Since I cleared out o’ Trial Bay last June I ain’t ad a decent spree or met a pal, as was a pal, exceptin’ that little cove down the river wot laid me on to this. An’ then ’e’s turned respectable, and won’t take no active part in it. Sez ’e’s only puttin’ me on to this fer the sake of old times.”

“Ah! but he has done us ze great service.”

“Yes, and that puts ’im in it—so ’e’s safe. I wouldn’t trust no converted bloke unless I ’ad a pull over ’im like that. Goin’ with those Salvation coves ’as sent ’im ratty. But that’s only temporary. ’E’ll work it off. ’E’ll come out all right again, will Joe. ’E’s too good a cove to be spiled with religion for long.”

“Zen ve meet here at zis place to-morrow?”

“Yes; to-morrow night at half-past seven.”

The two strangers went away quietly by the road they had come.


Tom and Dave might have been dead, they lay so still. At length—long after the last sound of receding footsteps had died out—Tom spoke in a hollow whisper:

“Do you know what they was takin’ about, Dave?”

“No,” replied Dave; “do you?”

“Some of it,” said Tom, “most of it, I think.”

“Do you think they’re gone?” asked the younger boy.

“Yes; they’re gone for now.”

“They won’t come back again?”

“Not to-night they won’t, but,” added Tom, vehemently, “they’ll be back to-morrow night sure, an’ they’ll want the loan of our boat!”

“The loan of it! But you ain’t goin’——”

“Dave Gibson,” cried Tom, sitting up, “you leave this business to me. I reckon we’ve struck a big thing. I reckon we’ve struck the biggest thing any two young coves in Australia ever struck in their lives.”

“What is it, Tom?” asked Dave, curiously.

“You’ll know later on,” replied Tom; “you’ll ’ave a hand in it. Are you fit?”

“My oath!” said Dave, bravely, forgetting his recent fears in the prospect of adventure. “I’m fit!”

“You’re an all-right mate,” said Tom. “You’ll do.”

“Who were they?” asked Dave, after a pause.

“I don’t know neither of ’em, but I reckon they must be coves workin’ about here somewhere. They’ve got a game on.”

“Them coves,” said Tom, “is going to do a robbery down the river. I reckon they’re goin’ to rob a bank somewhere not far from here.”


“Je-rusalem!” said Dave; “What was that cove that smoked the cigarette?”

“Some kind o’ German,” replied Tom, sagaciously. “He’s a bad egg whoever he is. Did you hear them plannin’ it all out?”

“Yes,” said Dave, “but I didn’t know what they meant, a lot of it.”

“I did,” remarked Tom. “I follered ’em every word. I say, Dave, we’ve got to take a hand in this game!”

“What!” exclaimed Dave, “in the robbing of the bank!”

“No, not in the robbin’ exactly, but we’ll be the detectives, an’, look here, we’ll get the reward!”

“What reward, Tom?”

“Why the reward for the recovery of the money.”

“But the money ain’t stole yet.”

“No, but it will be—to-morrow night.”

Dave thought awhile.

“Wouldn’t it be better,” he asked, “to go an’ tell somebody beforehand?”

“What!” exclaimed Tom, in unutterable scorn, “go an’ tell somebody now and spile the whole thing. You ain’t got no sense, Dave Gibson—no sense whatever. You’re a nice sort o’ detective an’ pirate, you are.”

“Well, I didn’t know,” protested Dave.

“No, an’ you’ve got everything to learn. But you leave this business to me. I’ll fix it.”

“What’ll we do, then?”

“Do? Why we’ll let ’em take the boat.”

“What for?”

“To row down the river and do the robbery with.”


“But that ain’t right, is it?”

“Why ain’t it right? They’ll bring the boat back, won’t they?”

“I suppose——”

“Of course! Didn’t they say so? Then we’ll see where they hide the money. Then we’ll take the swag an’ go down the river an’ hide it in a place of our own an’ wait for the reward. See?”

“I see, but where are we goin’ to camp till to-morrow night?”

“I’ve got a place,” said Tom.


Chapter III.

“Go and put your hand in the holler of that log, Dave,” ordered Tom Pagdin.

“What you got planted there?” demanded Dave, suspiciously.

“Never you mind,” replied Tom, in a tone of overwhelming mystery, “You jist do it.”

“It ain’t a tree snake or a jumper ant’s nest, is it? You ain’t playin’ a lark on me?”

“Pirates don’t play larks on one another,” replied Tom. “If one pirate plays any larks on the other, the other pirates what the lark is played on challenge him to a duel.”

“What’s a duel?”

“A duel is like this!” explained Tom. “You take your pistol and I take my pistol, and we stand about ten yards away from one another, with our backs turned, and the referee sings out ‘Fire!’ and we both turn round and fire, and I kill you, and you wound me very bad in the sword arm, so’s I can’t use my sword for about a month. Then I get in the boat with the[33] seconds, and leave you on the sand of the island dead—an’——”

“Tom Pagdin,” interrupted Dave, indignantly, “if you’re goin’ to play at any of them silly games, I’m not on. I don’t want to be left dead on the sand of no island with a pistol ’ole in me. I’d rather be whaled by the old man with a greenhide, I would!”

“Well, you are a cur,” exclaimed Tom. “I didn’t say I was goin’ to; I only said that’s what they did. Put your hand down the log and see what God’ll send you!”

Dave obeyed reluctantly.

“What’s this?” he cried. “It’s a swag!”

“Yes,” said Tom; “that’s my swag. It’s a bit more heavy nor yours. I bet you I got more things than you did!”

“I got a good lot,” replied Dave, “considerin’ the ole woman was pokin’ round!”

“Pooh! that’s nothin’; I got all these things while the old man wuz on the punt comin’ back with the milk carts ’bout dusk. I made seven trips. I’d go in an’ get one thing, and come back and hide in the lantana bushes; then somebody else would hail, and as soon as he started the punt across for the other side, I’d slip in an’ nick somethin’ else. By gosh, it wuz a heavy swag when I did it all up.”

“Wonder where they’ll think we are?” asked Dave.

“The ole man, he’ll think I’ll try to sneak back,” chuckled Tom, “I looked through a crack in the slabs last thing to-night an’ I see him settin’ with his face to the door an’ the buckle strap in his hand. He kin set. I’m not going back no more.”


“Neither am I,” avowed Dave.

“We’ll take the swags and go down the river a piece in the boat, and plant ’em for to-night,” said Tom.

“Where’ll we plant ’em?” inquired Dave.

“On that little island jest below the bend,” replied Tom. “It’s not more than a mile. We’ll pull down quiet, leave ’em there, bring the boat back here, go down along the bank again, and swim across to our camp. That’ll put ’em off the scent if they’re after us.”

“Do you think they’ll foller us?” asked Dave.

“They’re bound to after we don’t turn up to-morrow. They won’t let us go without lookin’ for us, you kin bet. We’re a bit too useful for ’em for that. But you leave this business to me. They kin get a detective from Scotland Yard, wherever that is, if they want to. They won’t ketch us!”

“Where’s the boat, Tom?” inquired Dave.

“Pick up yor swag an’ foller me,” ordered Tom. “I’ll take yer right away.”

Dave did as he was told.

The elder conspirator, staggering under a heavy load, led the way.

They skirted a weedy swamp, disturbing the wild duck and ibis at their feed, and came out upon a short creek, which emptied its shallow tide into the Broadstream.

The banks of the creek were covered by a dense scrub of tangled lantana bush.

“We can’t get through this,” said Dave, as they paused at the edge of the scrub.

Tom chuckled.


“I can,” he said; “stoop down, an’ foller me.”

He went on his hands and knees, and started crawling along a track made probably by paddymelons or wallabies.

The boys wormed their way through the lantana a foot at a time, dragging their swags after them, until they arrived at the edge. Here the tall water reeds rustled their leaves softly in the night wind.

“What do you think of this fer a hiding place?” ask Tom. “Kin you see the boat?”

“No,” replied Dave, peering into the darkness. “I’ll be hanged if I can. Where is she, Tom?”

For answer Tom felt with his hands along a small log, half hidden in the mud, found a rope, and began to pull it gently towards him.

“Give as a pull,” he said.

The two boys bore on the painter. The reeds swayed and parted, and out of the darkness came the bow of a boat.

“By gosh!” cried Dave, “she’s a beaut. I wonder where she came from?”

“That’s got nothing to do with us,” responded Tom. “Git the swags in. She’s our boat, anyhow; I found ’er.”

“Where’s the paddles?” asked Dave. “Did she have any paddles when you found ’er?”

“Only a broken one,” replied Tom, “but I got two since. Git in!”

Tom cast loose with the air of the commander of a man-o’-war.


“I’ll pole ’er out of the creek,” he said, “and then I’ll let you pull one oar. Sit still, and don’t make no row.”

“We got to go as quiet as mice,” he explained, digging the blade of an oar in the soft black mud, and pushing the boat out gently through the high reeds into the stream. “Ere’s your oar, an’ don’t make no more nise with that rollick than you kin ’elp.”

They sculled down stream in silence, taking care to dip the oars into the water as noiselessly as they could, and keeping in under the shadow of the banks.

It was all splendidly mysterious, and exciting, and brave, and good. Overhead the skies were powdered with stars, and when they drew in their paddles and drifted, the two adventurers could see the reflections of a myriad of scintillating worlds mirrored in the dark waters of the Broadstream.

The island for which the boys were bound was about three or four acres in area. On one side of it the Broadstream ran deep and narrow. The other arm was wider and shallow and gradually choking up with lilies and water weeds.

On the island, primeval scrub grew in almost impenetrable thickness, and as the place had the reputation of being alive with snakes, it was seldom visited.

Tom Pagdin had swum across on the deep side one day and made a few investigations.

The centre of the island was occupied by an immense fig tree, a patriarch of unknown age, whose roots were a study in floral architecture. To the butt of this fig clung immense vines, which made a natural covering. The sky was only visible in patches here and there.


Tom had found a track through the jungle to this tree—a track which was apparently possible only to bandicoots or paddymelons—a track which wound in and out of lawyer vines, rattans, and the thousand and one spiked and clinging growths of the Northern scrubs.

The roots of the fig formed an excellent hiding-place. It was there that the runaways had decided to make a temporary camp.

The boys landed their bundles, pulled the boat up again to their original starting-place, tied her to the log, left her hidden among the reeds and started to trudge back.

They headed the creek, crossed out through the grass paddocks, where the dairy cows were grazing, skirted the maize and sugar-cane patches until they arrived at the last farm opposite the island. Then Tom stopped.

“Whose place is this?” asked Dave.

“Ole M’Dermid’s,” replied Tom. “I say, can you see any light in the house?”

“No,” replied Dave. “I reckon they must ’a’ turned in.”

“Dave,” mused Tom, pulling little splinters off the top rail of the fence on which he was leaning, “I wonder if any of them watermelons of M’Dermid’s is ripe?”

“I dunno,” responded Dave. “I wonder if they are?”

“Suppose we go into the maize patch and see?” suggested Tom.

“It ain’t right,” began Dave doubtfully, “is it?”

“Not under or’nery circumstances,” replied Tom, “but when a cove’s chucked out of house and home an’[38] druv to turn pirate, he’s got to look out and get tucker wherever he can. I reckon it ain’t right for a cove to thieve when he’s got a good home and plenty of tucker, but when a cove’s druv an’ he’s piratin’ round on a dark night on his own, I reckon it ain’t no harm to take a bloomin’ melon from a stingy ole Scotchman that’s got more’n he can use, do you?”

“I dunno,” said Dave. “I don’t reckon it ought to be.”

“Well, we’ll chance it,” said Tom, putting one leg through the fence. “You stay there and keep ‘nit.’”

Dave waited patiently at the fence until Tom came back with a huge melon on his shoulder.

“We’ll take it acrost to our island,” he explained. “It ain’t safe to do it in here. You don’t want never when you’re out on a pirate cruise to leave no more evidence be’ind you than you can help.”

“Is it ripe?” queried Dave.

“Ripe!” replied Tom. “You bet it’s ripe. I put my knee on it ’an squoze, and you could ’ear it go kerrack inside.”

The bank opposite the island on that side was steep and high, so Tom went first and Dave lowered the melon down to him, and he put it in the water and showed Dave how it would float.

“You tie my clothes on your back along with yours, an’ I’ll shove her ahead of me,” he explained.

It was a warm tropic night, and they found the short swim across freshening and pleasant; so much so that, when they landed the melon and their clothes, they slid into the water again and stayed a while floating and[39] kicking about. Tom said it was no use trying to work their way through the scrub until daylight, so they found a little clear grassy place after a lot of trouble, and Dave got out his pocket knife.

They dug into the red heart of the melon and ate as much as they could, carefully hurling the rind into the water as it occurred, because, as Tom said, solemnly, “Dead melons tell no tales.”

At last, tired out, they unrolled their tent, spread it on the grass, and lay down with a ragged blanket over them which Dave had “borrowed” from home.

Tom went to sleep at once and snored; but Dave, who was younger and less hardened, lay there thinking.

The more Tom snored the more restless and lonesome Dave got.

There is nothing so trying as hearing another person snoring when you cannot get to sleep yourself.

Two or three times Dave asked his companion softly if he was asleep, and got no definite reply.

A dog howled away up on the flat somewhere, and another dog answered him from across the river. Then they organised a sort of mournful canine conversation at long range, and woke a third dog, who took up the thread of the discourse. Now and again the sharp sound of a Texas bell was carried across from the hills, where some timber getters were camped.

Some unknown danger caused a mob of wild ducks, which had come in from the lagoons at nightfall, to get up quacking loudly.

Dave heard the burr of their wings as they flew over his head.


He could not stand it any longer. He reached down and pinched Tom on the calf of the leg.

Tom jumped clean out of the blanket.

“What’s up?” asked Dave, pretending to wake out of a sound sleep. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Light a match!” yelled Tom. “I’m bit!”

“Bit!” cried the other boy. “What bit yer?”

“A snake!” shouted Tom. “A black snake! I felt him!”

“Where did he bite you?” demanded Dave, apparently much concerned.

“He’s bit me on the leg,” groaned Tom, in a voice of awful apprehension. “Strike a match, quick!”

“It couldn’t a been a snake,” cried Dave, trying hard to keep solemn.

“It was, I tell you,” insisted Tom. “This island is crowded with snakes. I felt ’im cold again me leg; gimme the match; gimme the match, quick!”

“It wuz a black snake,” he mourned, “an’ I’ll die, I know I will.”

“There’s no teeth marks on yours leg,” said Dave, holding a lighted match while Tom made a fevered examination. “You must a been dreamin’.”

“I wasn’t dreamin’,” protested Tom. “I felt something bite me. See,” he said in a voice of hollow despair, “here’s a mark on me leg—a red mark!”

“That ain’t mo snake bite,” said Dave. “It’s a moskiteer.”

“It’s a snake bite!” insisted Tom. “You’ll have to cut the bit outer me leg and tie a string round, and swim across an’ get a doctor!!”


Dave exploded in ribald laughter.

“You’re a dam scoundrel, Dave Gibson!” shouted Tom, hysterically. “I tell you I am bit by a snake!”

“No you ain’t,” chortled Dave, “No you ain’t.”

“I am!” cried Tom. “I tell you I am, an’ if I die I’ll come and haunt you, you brute!”

“Oh! oh!” roared Dave. “Oh—ow—oh!”

“Get up,” shouted Tom, kicking his mate furiously in the ribs. “Get up an’ tie some string round me! Get up an’ cut the bit out, I tell you! Good God, Dave Gibson, ain’t you got any sense or feeling or understandin’?”

“Ah, Oh!” cried Dave. “Let up, you fool! You ain’t bit; I only pinched yer!”

Tom rubbed his leg.

“Pinched me!” he said, in a suppressed voice. “What did you do that for?”

Dave noticed the threat in Tom’s voice.

“I thought I heard a noise in the bush,” he explained.

“You thought you heard a nise!” repeated Tom, with great scorn. “I thought you wuz asleep!”

“So I was; but I woke up. Don’t you hit me, Tom Pagdin, or I’ll swim back and go home.”

“Hit you!” replied Tom; “I ain’t going to hit you. I wouldn’t be bothered hittin’ you. If you don’t know no better than to act the goat wakin’ your mate up in the middle of the night with a monkey trick like that, I got nothin’ to say.”

“Well,” said Dave, apologetically, “I thought it wuz the best way to. I did hear a nise.”

“There wasn’t no nise,” replied Tom, “an’ if there[42] had a been, you went the right way to put the whole thing away.”

Dave said nothing.

“Gimme some blanket,” remarked Tom, disgustedly, “and lemme go to sleep. I’m sorry I let you come now!”

Tom rolled himself up sulkily, and Dave lay and thought a while longer, and then fell asleep.

The sun was just rising when Tom woke again, rather cold and stiff.

He sat up and dug his elbow into Dave’s ribs.

“It’s daylight,” he said; “we’ll have to get into the scrub before anybody sees us.”

They rolled up the tent and blanket hurriedly, lifted their swags, and made for cover, Tom leading the way, stooping every now and then beneath the brambles, or pausing to disentangle himself from the insidious clutch of the lawyer vines, which reached out their long tentacles armed with strong, curved teeth to stay him.

Very often the boys had to crawl on their hands and knees under the dense, scrubby growths for yards.

At length they reached the centre of the island.

They were almost under the fig-tree when Tom Pagdin stopped suddenly and caught Dave by the arm.


Chapter IV.

Dave stepped back.

“What’s the matter?” he whispered. “What do you see?”

“Ssh!” hissed Tom. “Look through the clearin’ there to the right!”

“I can’t see nothin’,” began Dave. “Yes I do; it’s a man!”

“Nick into the scrub here!” commanded Tom. “Quick! Lie down.”

The two lads crouched in the tangled growth.

“Ouch!” exclaimed Dave, as a lawyer vine caught him. “Me ear is tore off!”

“Shut up you howlin’ idiot,” murmured Tom, angrily. “You’ll get us found out afore you’re done.”

“What is it?” queried Dave, carefully hitching his lacerated ear from the persistent grip of the lawyer.

“How do I know?” queried Tom sotto voce. “I ain’t a clairvoyant; it might be a opposition pirate for all I know.”

“Tom,” asked Dave, after a pause, “do you think there is any pirates now—real pirates, I mean?”


“Of course,” replied Tom, “and if there ain’t there ought to be. We’re going to be pirates, anyhow!”

“But,” persisted Dave, “didn’t pirates used to get hung?”

“Sometimes,” returned the other boy, “when they wuz ketched; but they mostly got killed after they’d had an all right rippin’ round an’ plunderin’ an’ buryin’ great piles of sovereigns an’ bars of gold in caves on desert islands. Any pirate that thought anything of ’imself as a pirate would go down into the powder magazine when he found it was all up an’ fire ’is pistol into the powder, an’ blow ’imself up with ’is pirate crew.”

“Was the first mute blowed up too?” asked Dave, anxiously.

“Of course!” replied Tom, “if he wasn’t killed on the fore-’atch furst.”

“What’s the fore-’atch?”

“Why, the front part of the ship, Dave Gibson; you don’t know anything. I say, what is that cove doin’?”

“He’s buryin’ something,” replied Dave.

“Buryin’ somethin’!” murmured Tom, raising himself on his elbows to get a better view. “By gosh it must be treasure out of a plundered ship. It is too, a whole barrel of it! No, he ain’t buryin’ it; he’s just throwin’ bushes an’ leaves over it. By gosh!” he continued, breathlessly, “we’ve struck it rich.”

“How?” asked Dave. “How have we struck it?”

“Never mind,” replied Tom; “you leave that to me. You’ve got no more sense nor a coot!”

The man’s movements were certainly mysterious.[45] He had apparently selected the island for the concealment of something; that the cask which he was covering with leaves and branches contained doubloons Tom Pagdin was hardly justified in concluding in the circumstances.

After he had made his plant the stranger looked round the vicinity carefully, as if taking a mental note of the position, and went away noiselessly towards the upper end of the island.

The boys kept quiet for fully half an hour; then enjoining Dave to stay where he was, Tom crept out stealthily and followed in the direction the stranger had taken. Dave lay flattened out among the dry leaves and waited. His mate re-appeared at the edge of the clearing and beckoned him across.

“Who was it?” he asked, in a suppressed voice. “What’s in the cask?”

Tom was on his knees before the barrel smelling it.

“It’s whisky!” he said, disgustedly. “I thought it was gold out of a captured galleon!”

“Whisky!” ejaculated Dave.

“Yes; somebody’s runnin’ a still round here, an’ this is the plantin’ place. I bet ’arf-a-crown somebody else will come along to-night and take it off!”

“Where’ll they take it?”

“Down the river, I suppose, to some public house. If we put ’em away to the pleece they’d be fined a hundred quid, an’ their still took an’ broke up. We’d get a reward, too!”

“Why don’t we, then?”

“Because,” said Tom, emphatically, “we ain’t informers,[46] we’re pirates! If a poor cove is makin’ a drop of grog out of his maize on the quiet, let ’im. It ain’t no business of ours. Besides, we’d be putting ourselves away. An’, besides, if we did a thing like that we wouldn’t get no credit for it neither. They’re all in the same boat about here.”

“What’s became of the cove that hid it?” asked Dave.

“I followed his trail, all right,” replied Tom. “I never knowed about this track, either. They ain’t bin usin’ the island for a plant long, I reckon. The cove went off in a boat quiet. There’s a regular pathway wore where they been rollin’ in the casks; but it don’t take long to make a road like that.”

“He might come back?” said Dave.

“Not to-day, he won’t,” observed Tom Pagdin, sagaciously. “He just brings the stuff acrost ’ere an’ leaves it. Somebody else knows where to come, and they take it away at night. It’s a moral they don’t come in the daytime.”

“I’m as hungry as old Nick,” remarked Dave, rubbing his stomach.

“So’m I,” said Tom; “I’m as hungry as ole Nick’s mother. Let’s go an’ get a feed.”

They went back, and carried their swags in under the fig tree, and Tom, after due consideration, pronounced it safe to light a small fire to boil the billy, providing they didn’t use brushwood, because brushwood makes too much smoke, and providing, also, that they put the fire out as soon as the water was boiled.

So Dave gathered the wood, and Tom went down[47] and filled the billy, and they made tea and brought out some cold corned meat and bread, which Dave had abstracted from the paternal safe, the paternal safe being a flour-bag split at one end and fastened up with a strip of greenhide to exclude flies, with a piece of bark in the bottom to stand the plates on.

It seemed to both youths that it was the sweetest meal they had ever had in all their lives, and after it was through they lay on the ground feeling good and brave, and Tom unfolded a plan of campaign.

“We can’t stay here no longer than to-day,” he explained. “One thing, it’s too close to home, an’ another thing, we can’t make a camp, because these fellars that has the still would be sure to see it. We got to get right down the river to-night after those other coves come back with out boat. We got to get right down far as we can before daylight. There’s lots of islands in the river where we can make a headquarters camp, an’ if we don’t get an island we kin get in the bush on the mainland. There’s all sorts o’ bays an’ creeks an’ lagoons, an’ we’ll explore ’em all. We’ll go digging for buried treasure, an’ lookin’ fer gold, an’ we’ll have an all-right time. But, first of all, we got to organise things. You got to organise things if you want to make this piratin’ game pay.”

“How are we goin’ to do it?” queried Dave, who was developing a strong taste for pirating.

“Well,” said Tom, “I’ll look after the tucker. I’ll fossick for the grub an’ you’ll cook it.

“You got to learn to bake damper,” continued Tom, “and to bile fowls an’ fry eggs. That’s about the most[48] of the cookin’ there’s goin’ to be, for a while, anyway. I reckon if we get an island we’ll borry a couple of settin’ hens an’ two or three clutches of eggs, an’ raise chickens of our own.”

Meanwhile they went and turned over logs to get black crickets for bait. Then with the crickets in an empty tin, with a perforated lid, which formed part of Tom’s kit, they tried their luck for perch, and were rewarded.

As Dave was only a green hand, Tom showed him how to cook the perch by digging a hole and filling it with hot ashes, covering them in whole and unsealed. When the fish were cooked they “peeled” them, and took the insides out, and they went well. The pigeon had been duly plucked and roasted on a very small fire, because it was not safe to light a big fire on account of the smoke; and the two boys ate their meal with an additional relish—a relish which is known only to the true hunter, and they lay down and slept.

Dusk came down quickly, and our two juvenile adventurers awoke in the warm stillness of evening wondering where they were.

“By gosh!” exclaimed Tom Pagdin, sitting up, “it’s comin’ night an’ it smells like a storm.”

“We’ve slept too long,” remarked Dave, anxiously examining the small patch of red-looking sky visible through the trees. “We oughter set our watches.”

“It don’t matter for this time,” returned Tom, “because we ain’t likely to get too much sleep to-night. We got a lot of adventures to go through. I reckon our real adventures is only just beginnin’.”


“I’m as hungry as old Nick,” remarked Dave.

“So am I,” replied Tom. “We’ll have a feed of cold meat an’ bread an’ go.”

They refilled themselves, and then, before it was quite dark, rolled up their bundles and took them across to the edge of the island.

“Now,” said Tom, “we got to swim across and go back and plant in the scrub an’ watch for them fellars that are going to borry our boat to-night.”

The water was dark and felt colder. Both boys shivered at the brink. They had taken off their clothes and tied them carefully on their shoulders to keep dry; but when they got over the river their clothes were more or less wet, and they shivered again getting into them. Just as they were dressed the first flash of lightning lit the sky, bringing out the ice palaces and snow battlements in vivid detail.

“Hist!” exclaimed Tom. “Count!”

“One, two, three,”—he went up to sixty.

Then a low muffled sound of thunder and the leaves of the trees rustled at a passing breath of wind.

“It’s a long way off yet,” said the elder lad, “an’ it mightn’t come this way either. I ain’t frightened of thunder, are you?”

“No,” replied Dave, “thunder can’t do you no harm unless there’s lookin’ glasses about, but it’s gettin’ awful dark.”

“Come on,” cried Tom, “we’ll go up an’ hide in the lantana. We won’t get wet there, even if it does rain.”

By the time they reached the creek where the boat was moored it was pitch dark, excepting now and then[50] when a great flash of lightning lit up the whole jungle in weird bluish light, and made everything visible for a short second, even to the water shadows of overhanging trees.

Tom and Dave crept in under the thicket and hid waiting.

It seemed hours and hours.

The lightning flashes became more frequent and wicked; the thunder grew louder.

“They won’t come to-night, I don’t think,” whispered Tom in Dave’s ear. “We’ll wait a while longer an’ then cut across to old Dobie’s barn an’ shelter till the storm goes over.”

But even as he spoke, in the lull between two thunder growls, they heard a low whistle, followed by the noise of someone forcing a way through the scrub.

A voice, which sounded hollow and unearthly in the dense gloom, called out:

“This way; keep to your right a bit.”

“God-dam!” came the response, followed by some choice curses in French.

“Keep to your right,” repeated the first voice. “The boat’s just about here.”

“Ze devil,” replied the other voice, “I am torn wis my clothes! Oui and wis also ze arm an’ ze leg!”

“You’re all right now,” said the first man speaking from the water side. “Hold on till it lightens again. I can’t see the log, it’s that dark.”

The foreigner stumbled down alongside his companion, copiously swearing.

It seemed to the two boys that the sound of that[51] unknown tongue added a further mysterious terror to the drama which was enacting.

Tom was clutching Dave feverishly by the arm, and Dave was trying hard not to breathe. A great flash of lightning suddenly lit up the whole scene, and they saw the faces of both men distinctly. Then before the thunder came they heard one announce to the other that the boat was all right.

Tom and Dave, listening and watching from their cover, heard the sound of feet on the thwarts, heard the shipping of oars in the rowlocks, and the murmur of voices dying out in the stream as the paddles dipped further and further away in the night.

“They’ve gone!” said Tom, in a hollow whisper.

“My leg’s asleep,” remarked Dave, sitting up and rubbing it.

“So’s both mine,” observed Tom, following suit. “I’ve got cramps all over me.”

“What are we going to do now?” asked Dave. “The storm’s comin’!”

“Can’t be helped,” exclaimed Tom. “When you’re out piratin’ you’ve got to put up with storms. Pirates ain’t supposed to take any notice of ’em. We’ll wait till them two fellars come back, storm or no storm.”


Chapter V.

It was lonesome and dark. An impressive, significant stillness hung over all Nature. The night animals and birds, which ordinarily filled the bush with noises, seemed to have retired to their lairs and nests. No morepoke called, and no scrub-wallaby hopped through the undergrowth.

After each lightning flash a shudder ran through the forest, the branches murmured softly, and the leaves sighed.

Tom thought the matter over, and calculated.

“It’ll take them an hour and-a-half,” he said, “to get down where they want to go. They won’t be more than half-an-hour breakin’ into the bank and openin’ the safe. Then they’ll come up with the tide in an hour. They’ll be in a bigger hurry to get away than they were to go down. That will fetch ’em home some time before twelve o’clock. Je-rusalem!”

“I say,” asked Dave, as the storm began to abate, “do you believe in ghosts?”

“I dunno,” said Tom, peering round the barn; “did you see anything?”


“No,” replied Dave, looking round also; “did you?”

“No; I thought you did. I’ve heard a good deal about ghosts, though. There used to be a ghost of a woman up at Mackenzie’s Crossing. She used to stand just by the fence goin’ down to the punt. I heard the old man and Jock Mackenzie talking about it. Lots o’ people seen her. Jock Mackenzie he seen her ’imself one night comin’ home from the pub, an’ he swore off the liquor, an’ never teched a drop; an’ twelve months to the day he seen the woman’s ghost he died.”

Dave shuddered.

“That woman must a’ been murdered,” he said.

“Yes,” replied Tom, “I never heard of a ghost that hadn’t been murdered. They never ketched the man that did it yet, but he will be ketched, because murder’s got to come out.”

“I say,” queried Dave, presently, “suppose these coves that’s goin’ down the river to-night murders somebody?”

“Well, suppose they do?” repeated Tom.

“It ’ud be awful wouldn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Tom, “it would; but it ’ud be a throw-in for us.”

“I don’t see how it would.”

“No, you don’t, because you got no sense, but I do. I reckon there’d be a big reward, and we’d git the money.”

“But,” asked Dave, after consideration, “they might say we oughter gone an’ told about it when we heard ’em plannin’ to do it.”

“Who’s to know we ’eard ’em plannin’?” asked Tom.[54] “Look ’ere, Dave Gibson, it strikes me you better leave things to me, an’ keep your mouth shut, or you’ll put the whole game away. You know as much about this detective an’ pirate business as a dog knows about Sunday.”

“Well,” retorted Dave, “I ain’t frightened, or I wouldn’t be ’ere.”

“No,” replied Tom, magnanimously. “I give you credit for what you deserve, but an ounce o’ discretion’s worth a pound o’ taller, as I heard the old schoolmaster say, an’ you got no discretion to speak of.”

“Anyhow,” replied Dave, in self-defence, “you’re older than me twelve months; but I ain’t funked any more than you ’ave.”

“Ain’t I givin’ you credit for it?” said Tom. “I say, the storm’s breakin.’ It’s gettin’ quite bright out under.”

The rain fell less heavily, the thunder was not so loud and frequent. Gradually the heavy pall of black cloud lifted, and the stars shone out brightly beneath.

As soon as it cleared up and the drip was finished, the lads shinned down the pole, and went back and hid in the lantana again.

Tom said they’d go watches. Dave could have first watch.

It might have been near midnight when Dave woke out of a doze to hear the sound of oars coming up stream.

He put his hand over Tom’s mouth and pinched him.

Tom let out a muffled roar.

He had been fast asleep and dreaming.


“Hist!” exclaimed Dave. “They’re comin’.”

“I wasn’t frightened,” whispered Tom, in explanation, “but I thought you was the devil. Yes, that’s them. They’re close in too.”

The boat came in quietly.

The men landed. One of them struck a match and lit a lantern. The light flickered round the bushes, and Tom and Dave by a spontaneous impulse tried to make themselves invisible.

“Give us the lantern. Frenchy,” said the man who was holding the match, “and let us have a look at the spoil.”

The other man lifted a heavy bag out of the boat.

“Sovereigns!” cried the first speaker; “must be four or five hundred of ’em.”

Tom’s heart thumped against his ribs.

“Vere shall ve cache our riches?” asked the foreigner. “Eet ees not for long, but ve must get ze place of safety. Oui.

“That’s so,” replied the other. “Along the bank in the scrub ’ere’s as good as anywhere. We don’t want to go too far in. We’ll leave the boat just as we found her.”

They stumbled along the edge.

The foreigner carried the bag, and the other man went ahead with the lantern.

“It ain’t good to hang round any longer than we can help,” he said, presently. “Somebody might see the light. There’s a myrtle with a hollow butt about here somewhere. Let’s see! Yes, here it is. This is good enough for now.”


Oui, zat vill do,” agreed the Frenchman.

Tom and Dave, looking through the bushes, saw two shadowy figures apparently scraping at the foot of a tree!

“They’re hidin’ the money there,” whispered Tom in Dave’s ear.

He could hardly speak for excitement.

Dave was trembling like a top-heavy jelly in the hands of a hurrying waiter.

“What will we do if they see us?” he asked.

“Run,” replied Tom. “Them coves wouldn’t think twice about cuttin’ our throats. The German cove’s got a knife in ’is belt. Keep quiet!”

The admonition was unnecessary. Dave was devoting all his energies to keeping quiet. His whole soul was in it.

The robbers took some time to hide their booty. Tom and Dave could see that the foreigner was holding the lantern against the trunk of the tree, shading it with his body on one side and concentrating the light as much as possible on his companion, who knelt down, and was carefully covering the bag over with loose soil and leaves.

The faces of both men were towards them.

Suddenly they saw the Frenchman, acting, perhaps, on some swift murderous impulse, draw his knife and plunge it to the hilt in his accomplice’s back!

The latter, uttering a choking cry, fell forward. The light went out. The bush was in darkness. The boys clung to each other in a convulsion of fear and horror!

The Murder.

Tom Pagdin, Pirate. Page 56.


A murder had been committed right before their eyes! A human being had been stricken down, knifed, killed, almost at their feet.

Either boy felt that he could have screamed aloud, but the icy hand of fear was on the heart of each.

They dared not utter a word, but held one another, trembling, palpitating, sick with dread.

Then they heard other sounds. A groan, as if a dying man in agony, a muffled voice—which Tom described after as if someone had thrust a knife into cold meat—the noise of somebody dragging a heavy body along the ground, and then an ominous splash in the water, which sent their blood cold.

After this came an interval seemingly centuries in length. The murderer was groping for the lantern. He found and lit it, and holding it close to the ground, began scraping over the loose soil about the tree with his foot hurriedly—as Tom told Dave afterwards to cover up the blood.

Something, a wild animal, stirred in the bush. The assassin blew out the light again quickly. The stillness which followed was almost beyond their endurance.

They were impulsed to get up and run for their lives, but their fears held them chained, glued to the spot.

Having waited long enough to assure himself that there was nobody about, the murderer crept to the water’s edge. They could hear him softly washing his hands, and then at last he sneaked away in the thick darkness.

The younger boy, overwrought and almost crazed with fear, commenced sobbing bitterly.


Tom held him in his arms and tried to soothe him in hollow whispers.

His own voice was broken and hysterical.

“Let us go home and tell them,” sobbed Dave. “I wish I hadn’t come. Oh! I wish I hadn’t ever gone piratin’, I do! It’s awful!”

Tom thought a while.

“No,” he muttered. “We better not do that; not yet.”

“Why?” asked Dave. “Why not? I will if you don’t!”

“You’d better not,” said Tom.

“I will!” protested Dave. “I will!”

“If we do,” said Tom, grimly, “that cove will kill us both. Besides we mightn’t be believed. An’ besides they might say we did it ourselves.”

“Us?” said Dave, a new horror overtaking him.

“Yes,” replied Tom; “an’ it’s ten to one we’d both get ’ung.”

“But we never did it,” cried Dave.

“No,” responded Tom; “but there’s many an innocent cove gets ’ung.”

“What’ll we do?” sobbed Dave. “It’s too horrible for anything. What will we do?”

“I dunno,” replied Tom, in a shaky voice. “I never reckoned on anything like this. I wouldn’t a’ come either if I had. I’d rather be larruped!”

“So would I,” moaned Dave, “I’d rather be whaled every day an’ twice on Sunday all me life. I would.”

“Lemme think a minute,” said Tom. “I’m all froze.”


“I’m sick and froze,” groaned Dave.

“So’m I. I saw the knife. Did you?”

“Yes,” sobbed Dave. “I saw him draw it out an’ stick it into ’im.”

“Yes,” shuddered Tom, “an’ I saw him fall on his face.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Dave. “Did you ’ear ’im?”

“Don’t!” said Tom, “I can ’ear ’im now. Hist! what’s that?”

Dave lay still and shivering.

He was too terrified to speak.

“It’s only a paddymelon,” remarked Tom, presently.

“Do you think he’s gone?” whispered Dave.

“Yes,” replied Tom. “I heard him go. He wouldn’t stay round after doin’ a thing like that.”

“Do you think the other cove’s dead?”

“Yes,” replied Tom. “He must be. He killed him first and drowned him afterwards.”

“Good Gawd!” said Dave.

“Look ’ere,” observed the elder lad, after a pause. “The best thing we kin do is to get in the boat and pull down the river an’ get our swags, an’ go an’ hide for a while, anyhow.”

“But,” argued Dave, ruefully, “if we’re ketched we might get ’ung just the same.”

“We musn’t get ketched,” said Tom, sententiously.

“It’s this way,” he went on, after further consideration. “Murder will out. That German must be found out sooner or later. Suppose you an’ me went up an’ told on ’im now. He might a’ got away before we told. Or even if ’e didn’t, ’e might be arrested an’[60] break out of gaol. Then he’d lay for us sure. He’d know he wuz goin’ to get ’ung any’ow, an’ it wouldn’t matter to ’im killin’ a couple more. He wouldn’t think twice about stickin’ ’is knife into you and me. He’d lay for you when you were roundin’ up the cows one night and out your throat—like a bull calf——”

“Don’t!” interrupted Dave, “Don’t!”

“Well, ’e would,” persisted Tom. “An’ he’d cut mine too. I don’t want to be round with my throat cut, Dave Gibson, if you do.”

“I don’t,” protested Dave, “I don’t.”

“Vary well,” continued Tom. “The only thing to do is to go down the river and ’ide till we see what turns up. Let us go an’ get the boat.”

Tom stood up shakily, and Dave trembling in every limb, followed suit.

They crawled rather than walked to the edge of the creek. Tom drew the boat up to the log as noiselessly as possible and helped his mate in.

Poor Dave was likely to faint at any moment.

“I wish I never came piratin’,” he sobbed.

“Piratin’s right enough,” muttered Tom, sticking an oar in the mud and pushing out, “but these Germans is ruinin’ the country. I’ve heard the old man say that often when he wuz talkin’ politics on the punt, but I never see the meanin’ of it afore—not the true meanin’.”

They slipped out into the middle of the stream and breathed a trifle easier.

The sky was clear, and white with stars. They could hardly realize what had happened. It seemed like[61] a dream—a horrible nightmare, or some tragedy that had been played on the stage.

The boys pulled hard until they got abreast of the island. Each stroke which took them further away from the scene of that sudden horror lifted a weight off their minds.

It was almost daylight when they got there. But a thick fog came up with the dawn, and hidden under its friendly canopy they rowed round until they struck a little reedy bay, where they could not be seen from the opposite bank or noticed by chance steamers. Tired out, they ran in here, and, getting their tent unrolled, spread it over them in the boat, and stretching themselves out on the bottom, with a seat for a pillow, fell fast asleep.


Chapter VI.

The dreams of the adventurers were troubled. Their minds went over the recent tragedy, of which they had been the unwilling and unexpected witnesses.

They heard again the low groaning of the departing storm, saw the wicked glare of the sheet lightning, the darkness, and the deed.

At times either lad would start up and murmur in his sleep; but they were young and healthy, and it was not till the sun rose high overhead that they awoke.

The morning was cool, bright, and lovely.

Tom suggested a swim before breakfast.

They stripped and dived out of the boat, and paddled round, and then they went ashore and boiled their billy in the scrub, and had breakfast.

Dave had commandeered two or three bottles of home-made jam from the farm cupboard, and they had enough bread to do for the meal.

After breakfast, Tom called a council.

“Look ’ere,” he began, “I reckon we better go an’[63] explore this island for a start. If she turns out all right we’ll stay on, and make it our headquarters till we see what happens.”

Tom, on a good sleep and a well-filled stomach, was already forgetting the tragic event of the night before. Not so Dave, who was younger, and probably less hardened.

“But,” he argued, “what about the people that’ll be goin’ up an’ down the river lookin’ for the cove that did the murder?”

“Nobody knows he did a murder except you an’ me,” responded Tom, “an’ we ain’t goin’ to tell till the trial. Then we’ll come up in court an’ be put in the box, an’ swore.”

“What box?” asked Dave. “Do they put you in a box?”

“Of course; the witness-box, you coot.”

“I don’t want to go in no box,” replied Dave. “What’s it like?”

“Something like a hen-coop,” exclaimed Tom, cheerfully inventing. “You got to put your tongue out through a hole and kiss the book.”

“What book?” asked Dave, innocently.

“Why, the Bible, you fool.”

“What do they make you kiss it for?”

“Why, to take an oath, you ass.”

“What is an oath?” asked Dave.

“Callin’ God to strike you dead if you tell a lie,” exclaimed Tom reverently. “You don’t want to tell no lies when you’re on your oath. There was a cove in Bourke who was struck dead in the witness-box.”


“Where’s Bourke?” queried Dave, who happened to be in a more than usually inquiring mood that morning.

“Bourke,” replied Tom, scratching his head; “Bourke! Oh, Bourke’s away up in Northern Queensland somewhere. It’s so ’ot all you’ve got to do is to put your eggs in a pan, and lay the pan out in the sun to fry ’em.”

Both boys were silent for a while thinking. Then Dave spoke.

“Don’t you think we better give up piratin’?” he asked.

“What for?” queried Tom.

“Well it don’t look lucky!”

“Of course, it ain’t lucky. It never is lucky; not at first; but after you get properly goin’ it’s all right. When we get a proper pirate ship an’ a crew——”

“Crew!” exclaimed Dave, “where we goin’ to get ’em?”.

“You leave that to me. Dave Gibson; I’m runnin’ this show; you just got to do what you’re told, and don’t you talk no more about goin’ an’ giving’ evidence in this murder case. When the time’s ripe I’ll be there, and you kin come along an’ back me up.”

“I’ll back you up,” replied Dave, promptly. “I’ll say anything you say; I’ll swear it, too.”

“Y’see, it’s this way,” Tom explained confidentially, “we might get into a bit o’ trouble ourselves about the boat an’ one thing an’ another, an’ if we was to come forward jist at the right time an’ tell the true story about the murder, we’d be let off, an’ maybe get a[65] reward, too, or get a billet in the Government, or somethin’.”

“What’ll they do to the cove?” asked Dave.

“Hang ’im!” replied Tom, emphatically. “By gosh, if I thought they wouldn’t, you wouldn’t catch me goin’ an puttin’ ’im away!”


“Why, ain’t you got no sense at all? Suppose he got off. D’you think it ’ud be safe for you an’ me to stay round anywhere?”

“No,” said Dave, candidly, “I’ll be hanged if I do!”

“Look ’ere,” said Tom, “we better not talk about this any more till we got to.”

“How’s that?” asked the junior pirate. “Why bettern’t we?”

“Because,” replied Tom, looking into the scrub, “trees ’as got ears. We’ll have to take a oath not to do it.”

“We ain’t got no Bible,” ventured Dave.

“Pirates don’t always take a oath on the Bible,” explained Tom. “They take some oaths, ’specially oaths like this, on a knife.”

Dave turned a trifle pale.

“It sounds horrid,” he said.

“So it is,” observed Tom, “but it’s got to be done. ’Ere, you take the knife an’ ’old the pint towards me an’ swear.”

Dave did as he was told, repeating an elaborate formula, which Tom made up specially for the occasion.

Then Tom held the point of the knife to Dave, pressed it against where he judged his mate’s heart to be, and swore in the same way.


“Now,” he resumed, when the vow of secrecy had been thus solemnly taken, “that’s done, an’ it can’t be undone, an’ we better go now an’ have a look round the island.”

“We better look out an’ get some tucker for dinner, too,” ventured Dave. “There’s nothing left except about three inches of crust an’ an inch an’ a half o’ jam.”

“Well, we’ll whack that now, an’ start fair,” suggested Tom. “I’m as ’ungry as ole Nick.”

“So am I,” agreed Dave. “I’m ’ungry all the time.”

It was true. The free, open-air, healthy life, the exercise and the freshness acted like a tonic. They ate like cormorants, and felt like trained pugilists.

Care cannot dwell long at the door of youth and health, and the wild and gloomy impressions of the previous night faded rapidly from their minds, especially as each was under a vow to his fellow not to mention the subject.

They took their tomahawk and bows and arrows and set out.

The island was nearly a quarter of a mile wide, and perhaps something more than half a mile long. Neither Dave nor Tom had ever been ashore there before, so they proceeded cautiously, arranging as they went along that in case they were surprised by any casual resident or visitor they should separate and make back to camp by different routes.

This scheme, Tom Pagdin announced, would be sure to put possible pursuers off the track.

“If anybody’s lookin’ for us,” he answered, “they’ll[67] reckon on findin’ us both together, an’ if they come acrost only one set o’ tracks they’ll reckon it’s somebody else.”

Dave did not question the logic of this argument. He had confidence in his senior.

They might have gone about five hundred yards when both boys stopped.

Before them, plainly visible through the scrub, was a clearing, in the centre of which stood a deserted hut.

To make sure that there was nobody hiding there, Tom made a detour and crawled up through the long “bladey” grass till he got quite close.

After a careful survey he stood up and beckoned Dave to come on.

“Some cove’s been doin’ a bit of cultivating an’ give it up,” he explained.

“It’s an all-right slab house,” cried Dave, exploring round. “Got a chimney in the kitchen an’ a old Colonial oven, set on bricks. It’s an all-right oven only the bottom’s burned out of it.”

“Yes,” said Tom, “an’ there’s two good rooms; they’ve left a table an’ a couple of stools. I say, we’ll take possession of this place.”

“Hooray!” cried Dave, capering round the earthen floor. “I’m on.”

“I reckon it’s all right,” said Tom, enthusiastically. “We’ll call it the Pirates’ Camp. I reckon we could stay ’ere twelve months an’ nobody would find us.”

“There ought to be a well round somewhere,” remarked Dave, “that we can get fresh water out of.”

“Let’s go an’ see,” shouted Tom. “This is all-right.[68] I reckon if we ’ad a gun we could use the cracks in the slabs for loop holes and stand a siege.”

“What’s a siege?” asked Dave, whose education had been neglected.

“It’s this way,” explained Tom, sitting on the kitchen table (which consisted of the top of a packing case nailed at the corners to four stakes driven into the ground), “a siege is like this. When one side takes up a position—”

Just here the stakes,—which had rotted in the ground, gave out, and Tom and the top of the table came down together.

Dave laughed. Not just ordinary laughter, either. He sat down on the floor on his hams holding his sides and laughing, and then he laid on his back and kicked his heels over his head and laughed, until Tom, discovering that he had broken no bones, got up and kicked him.

And even then, every time he thought about Tom clawing the air, and the comical look of surprise on face, he laughed again.

They went round the site of the deserted homestead exploring. There was a well about twenty yards from the back of the kitchen, and they got a tin and attached it to a piece of rusty fence wire and dipped up some of the water, and it looked clear and tasted good.

“There’s plenty of wood an’ water,” said Dave, “an’ them’s the main things.”

“Yes,” said Tom, “an’ I spot a lemon tree with a lot of lemons on it.”


Dave spotted it at the same time, and they had a race for it.

There were plenty of lemons and they filled their pockets and chewed.

Anything in the shape of fruit is edible to the Australian bush boy. Tom and Dave thought the lemons sweet until they discovered an orange tree soon afterwards.

They sat under the orange, and filled themselves.

The original resident had evidently gone in for planting an orchard. There were guavas and ripe mangoes, which had run wild, some banana trees, and a lot of pineapple plants in bearing.

They found a charm about the exploration which kept them pleasured all the afternoon.

Their delight was complete when they discovered that they could bring the boat right up a little creek nearly abreast of the hut, and within less than a hundred yards of it.

Tom declared that the place had been just made for a pirates’ camp. He said he had no doubt that it was really occupied by pirates in days gone by. It was pirates who had planted the orchard and dug the well, and when he came to think of it, it stood to reason that they had left those cracks in the slabs purposely, so they could stick their muskets out through them and shoot when they were attacked. He even found traces of gunpowder on the walls and outside, where the whitewash had fallen off, he discovered the marks of bullets.

“Them fellars had a all right time,” said Tom; “they must ’a’ had lashin’s o’ fights.”


“I say,” Dave asked, “was there ever any wimmen pirates?”

“No,” replied Tom, scornfully; “it wuz only men.”

“Well,” went on Dave, “there must ’a’ bin some women pirates here, because here’s a piece of a woman’s dress an’ the busk of a woman’s stays!”

“Where?” asked Tom, incredulously.

“Here,” replied Dave, rooting out the articles which had no doubt appertained to the late resident’s wife or one of his grown-up daughters.

Tom examined them with the air of a detective.

“They’re women’s things,” he admitted; “but how did they get here?”

He thought a while.

“I know,” he resumed: “it was one of the beautiful captives they took out of an Indiaman. She fell in love with the captain of the pirates an’ followed ’im through thick an’ thin. All the most beautiful captives did. Then, when he was hard put, she saved the ship. Then the ship got wrecked, an’ ’e swum ashore with ’is arm round ’er neck. Half of the crew wuz drowned an’ the other half wuz saved, and they got in ’ere and built this place an’ fortified it while they wuz buildin’ a new ship outer the timber that wuz washed ashore. That’s how them things come to be ’ere.”

“But,” said Dave, “’ere’s a ole washin’ tub an’ a piece of washin’ board.”

“Well, couldn’t they ’ave come ashore out of the pirate’s ship?” asked Tom.


“I didn’t know they had washtubs an’ things like that on pirate ships,” pleaded Dave.

“Of course you don’t know—you don’t know nothin’ about these things. You ain’t read nothin’ about ’em, but I ’ave; I’ve read stacks of books about pirates. The ole man ’e uster make me read out of ’em, too, at nights.”

“I say!” exclaimed Dave, “we better get our swags up and bring the boat round.”

“Yes, we better,” agreed Tom, “we got to hook round an’ pirate some tucker, too, as soon as it grows dark.”

They went back to the landing-place and brought the boat up the creek.

Then Tom said they’d have to bake a damper with some of the flour he had borrowed from the old man.

So he stripped a short sheet of bark off a tree with his tomahawk, measured out about a pound of flour, wetted it, and began to roll the damper. The paste was too thin first, and seemed to be trying to get away from him. Dave received orders to stand by and pour on more flour gently. And Dave let the bag slip and lost half the flour in the grass, and Tom said, wrathfully, that he was the biggest fool of a pirate on the river, and it seemed that he was never going to get any sense either.

At length the pirate captain evolved a sticky, stringy sheet of paste, which looked more like variegated marble than anything else, and he raked out the ashes and dropped it in and covered it over.

For about an hour the pirates kept raking the ashes off and covering the damper up again, and then Tom[72] pronounced the dish cooked. It was afternoon, and they proceeded to have some four o’clock damper and tea.

“It’s all right damper,” said the chief architect; “only a bit burned on the bottom. If you scrape the charcoal off the bottom, though, it’ll be good.”

Dave absent-mindedly chipped the chunks of charcoal and cinders off the lower side, and then he cut into the daily loaf and it cut queer. There were streaks of dry flour, and streaks of wet dough, and what wasn’t powder or paste was old Silurian rock.

“It don’t look none too good,” ventured Dave, doubtfully.

“It’s all right,” insisted the elder boy, “only a bit underdone in spot.”

Dave took a slice and toyed with it.

“It don’t taste like it was properly mixed up,” he said.

“Oh, it’s all right,” replied Tom. “It’s real good, I reckon, for the first try. Shake the dry flour out, an’ cut the sticky part off and scrape the black off the crust.”

“But it’s all dry flour an’ sticky part an’ crust,” argued Dave.

“Oh, dammit, then, throw it away!” exclaimed Tom, who had gotten a piece in his hollow tooth. “You’re too soft for this piratin’ game, an’ the way you whine an’ go on puts me off me feed, too.”

“Well, I’m dashed hungry,” persisted Dave.

“So’m I,” replied Tom. “We’ll take the boat an’ go acrost to the mainland.”


Chapter VII.

Creeping out of the creek in their boat, Tom and Dave caught sight of the new moon hung like a silver horn in the dusky western sky.

“Hold on,” said Tom, “till I turn me money.”

“I’ve got fourpence,” replied Dave, drawing in his oar also; “I reckon I’ll turn it, too.”

And just at that moment a thought struck Tom.

“Good Lord!” he cried, “we’ve forgot all about them bags o’ sovereigns that was stole and hid.”

“I didn’t,” replied Dave; “I thought about ’em this mornin’, an’ I been thinkin’ about ’em all day, but we took a oath not to talk about it, didn’t we?”

“That wuz only about the—the—you know what wuz done,” replied Tom; “the money’s different; we kin talk about that.”

“Well, it’s hid,” said Dave.

“Yes; it’s hid again the myrtle tree.”

“I clean forgot till this mornin’, and then when you wuz talkin’ about pirate hoards I thought of it.”

“I never thought of it till now,” said Tom, passing his hand across his forehead in an anguished way.[74] “Seein’ that—that—you know the thing we ain’t got to talk about must a sent me ratty.”

“What are you goin’ to do about it?” asked Dave.

“I dunno,” replied Tom, doubtfully; “onless we go back there by night an’ dig it up.”

Dave shuddered.

“I wouldn’t go near that place at night,” he said; “not for all the money in Australia.”

“Neither would I,” said Tom, “but I’d go an’ get it in the daylight.”

“We can’t go nosing round there in the daytime,” remarked Dave; “we might get ketched.”

“Well, if we don’t go an’ get it soon,” pronounced Tom, “it won’t be there long. That cove won’t leave it there. Soon as he’s ready to git away, he’ll go an’ dig it up. An’ he won’t stay round no longer than he kin help, you take yor oath.”

“It’s a bit rough,” said Dave, “after all we’ve went through.”

“Pirate’s luck,” sighed Tom. “It wuz always that way. Jist when a pirate wuz gettin’ up to a ship loaded chokker-block with gold-dust an’ dubloons an’ things, a gale of wind u’d come an’ she’d get away. Or supposin’ they’d bin firin’ their cannons an’ fightin’ ’er fer a whole day, she’d sink an’ take all er’ cargo down with ’er jist as they got alongside. It’s pirates’ luck, an’ you got to put up with it.”

“I dunno,” mused Dave; “we mightn’t get ketched if we was careful. Suppose we did go there in the daytime? We could sneak up near in the night, and camp in the scrub, an’ go acrost an’ get the sovereigns, and[75] wait till the next night to come down the river again.”

“You leave it to me,” said Tom, after some thought; “I’ll fix up a scheme. You can’t organise a piratin’ expedition like that in ten minutes. It wants thinkin’ out.”

The boat’s nose ran into the mud on the opposite side, and the boys landed.

Having climbed the bank they found themselves in a field of maize.

Presently Dave stooped down and felt something with an affectionate touch.

“Melons!” he said in a glad, soft voice.

“Good shot!” ejaculated Tom; “we’ll load some into the boat, and take ’em acrost to the pirate’s camp. We’ll gammon they’re chests of gold and plate and ingots of silver.”

They loaded half a dozen large water melons into their pirate barque on this principle, and it added to their joy.

“That’ll do for the ballast,” said Tom, when the cargo was aboard. “Now, we’re got to go and make a raid for provisions.”

“How will we?” queried Dave.

“We’ll sneak up through this corn patch, and storm the fowlhouse,” said the older pirate grimly. “We got to get meat to eat.”

They approached the farmhouse cautiously, sneaking round between the tall rows of rustling maize till they located the chicken roost at the rear.

“You stay on watch,” whispered Tom, “an’ I’ll nick in an’ cop a couple o’ young hens. I’ll ketch ’em by[76] the necks so they can’t sing out. If you hear any noise, whistle three times loud an’ cut to the boat.”

The first mate hid behind the fence, and the pirate captain crept softly upon his prey.

It was pretty dark inside the fowl-shed and the feathered occupants stirred uneasily, and made some enquiring remarks, when Tom fell over a box which had been left for the hens to lay in. The chief pirate waited for the row to subside, and then put out his hand quietly and grabbed a likely-looking rooster tightly by the neck.

The bird uttered a gutteral cry, which the adventurer stilled by revolving his quarry round on its own axis several times with great rapidity.

He was just preparing to commandeer further poultry when three shrill whistles echoed through the night, followed by the sound of voices and a noise of somebody running through the maize.

A second later, Tom, beating a retreat through the fowlhouse door, ran right into the arms of a burly figure.

A strong hand grabbed him by the collar, and a strong voice remarked, with vengeful satisfaction:

“I’ve ketched ye, ye varmint.”

Tom dropped the birds and endeavoured to wriggle out of his captor’s clutch.

“Lemme go,” he whined; “I ain’t done nothink to you.”

“Ain’t you,” cried the enraged farmer; “ain’t done nothink, eh?”


“No,” replied Tom, endeavouring to kick the captor’s shins. “I wuz just comin’ up to the house to ask you about somethink.”

“An’ you thought you’d wring a couple of my fowls’ necks an’ bring ’em with ye, to make you welcome.”

“I never wrung ’em,” replied the Pirate Captain.

“Well, I’m struck!” exclaimed the farmer; “after I ketched ye with a fowl in each hand.”

“I heard a noise in the fowlhouse,” said Tom, speciously, “jist as I wuz comin’ along. I knowed it wuz a native cat after the fowls. So I went in——”

“An’ you found the cat ’ad killed two of ’em,” interrupted the farmer.

“Yes,” said Tom; “I did.”

“An’ you thought you’d bring ’em along an’ show ’em to me.”

“That’s jist what I did think.”

“So you picked ’em up, an’ wuz goin’ out when I stopped yer?”

“Yes, I wuz goin’ straight up to your house with ’em.”

“Maria!” cried the farmer, loudly; “fetch a lantern; I’ve ketched somethink!”

“What have you ketched, Jacob?” called back a woman’s voice from the kitchen of the farmhouse; “a tiger cat?”

“No!” hollered the farmer; “I’ve ketched the infernallest liar thet ever wuz on the Clarence River! I doubt if there’s sich another infernal liar in the world.”

The farmer’s wife, shading a candle with her hand, peered out into the dark.


“Where is it?” asked the woman, who was hard of hearing.

“It’s here! You needn’t be frightened, Maria; he can’t get away.”

“What is it, Jacob?” asked Maria, bringing the light carefully.

“I dunno rightly,” replied Jacob, “what breed it is; but I kin see it’s death on fowls.”

“How many has he took?”

“Two. One of ’em’s your best Spanish rooster!”

“Why didn’t you shoot the thing?” asked Maria.

“Fetch the light an’ I’ll show you,” cried Jacob, who was pleased with his catch. “This is where our laying hens an’ pullets has been goin’ lately.”

“Why,” exclaimed the woman, “it’s a man! No, it’s a boy!”

“Yes,” agreed the farmer, screwing Tom round to the light; “it’s a boy all right.”

“Ow!” yelled Tom. “Leggo, yer ’urtin’ me.”

“I’ll ’urt ye a dashed sight more afore I’m done with ye,” observed the farmer; “ye thievin’ young varmint.”

“I ain’t,” whined the chief pirate; “I ain’t a thief!”

“Poor child!” said the farmer’s wife. “Don’t hurt him, Jacob!—ah, don’t hurt him!”

“The varmint’s done his best to hurt me!” cried Jacob. “He kicked a few inches of bark off my shins!”

“Well,” howled Tom, “you nearly choked me!”

“Whose boy is he?” asked the farmer’s wife.

“He’s got a ugly face,” replied the burly farmer, holding Tom up to the candle light; “a ugly face that[79] a cove ought to know anywhere; but I don’t recognise ’im.”

“Do you think he really was at the fowls, Jacob?”

“I dunno,” replied Jacob, “what kinder evidence you’d want to prove it; but I ketched him with a Leghorn hen in one hand an’ yer Spanish rooster in the other, coming’ outer the fowlhouse, an’ I reckon that’s strong enough for me; I reckon it’s strong enough to ’ang the varmint on.”

“Whose boy are you?” asked the farmer’s wife. “Where do you come from?”

“I can’t speak,” growled Tom, “he’s chokin’ me.”

“Don’t hurt him, Jacob!” pleaded the good wife, in a sympathetic voice. “He’s only a child.”

“He’s a derned old-fashioned child,” observed the farmer, taking a fresh grip of his prize. “There, now, let’s hear what you got to say for yourself. Who are you? What is your name?”

“Robinson,” replied Tom, tearfully, “Will Robinson.”

“Robinson!” repeated the man. “There ain’t any Robinsons round here. Where did you come from?”

“I came from the Richmond,” replied Tom, readily.

“What were you doin’ up there?”

“Workin’ on a farm.”

“Has your people got a farm?”

“No; me father and mother’s dead.”

“You was with your relations, eh?”

“No; I got no relatives; I’m a orphan.”

“Poor child!” cried the farmer’s wife softly. “Remember, Jacob, the Lord hasn’t blessed us.”

“Yes, I’m a orphan,” cried Tom, tearfully. “I got[80] no father an’ no mother, an’ nobody in the world. I wuz put to work for a cove up there milkin’ cows an’ pullin’ maize an’ ploughin’——”

“Ploughin’!” interrupted the farmer. “Mean to say he put you ploughin’?”

“Yes,” sobbed Tom; “an’ he treated me bad, too—uster knock me about an’ larrup me with a cartwhip. I never hardly got enough to eat—never—so I couldn’t stand it no longer, an’ I run away.”

“What was the cove’s name you was workin’ with?” asked the farmer.

“Smith,” said Tom, “Mr. Smith.”

“What Smith?”

“I dunno his other name,” replied the captured pirate, suspecting a trap; “I never heard ’im called anythink except Mister Smith.”

“Hum,” said the farmer. “An’ how long is it since you run away?”

“’Bout two weeks,” replied Tom. “I bin hidin’ in the bush so’s they wouldn’t ketch me. I didn’t want to be ketched an’ took back an’ knocked about. I’d a rather died. I nearly did die, too! I got starved—I’m starved now. I ain’t ’ad nothink to eat all day, nor yesterday ’ardly. I wouldn’t ’a come ’ere to take them fowls only I wuz ’ungry, an’ that’s the truth. I never stole nothink in me life before.”

“Poor child!” murmured the woman; “perhaps he couldn’t help it, Jacob.”

“Um,” said Jacob. “I thought you said it wuz a native cat arter the fowls?”

“Yes,” replied Tom; “I did say it.”


“An’ now you admit you did it?”

“Well, I wuz frightened, an’ I thought you wuz goin’ to whale me.”

“How were you goin’ to cook them chickens?”

“I wusn’t goin’ to cook ’em.”

“You wasn’t! What, then, goin’ to sell ’em?”

“No, I wuz goin’ to eat ’em raw!”

“My God, Jacob,” exclaimed the farmer’s wife, “the poor boy’s starving! Can’t you see the wolfish look in his eye?”

Tom glared and looked as famished as he could.

“Look ’ere,” cried the farmer, “where is this cove Smith’s place on the Richmond?”

“It’s about Lismore,” said Tom, readily, “at the beginning of the Big Scrub. Ain’t you ever been there?”

“No,” said the farmer, still keeping a firm grip of the pirate’s coat collar, “an’ I doubt if you ’ave either. How did you get down to Lismore?”

“Tramped it,” said Tom.

“How long did it take you?”

“’Bout two days.”

“Two days? What did you have to eat?”

“I got lilly-pillys outer the bush, an’ berries, an’ I uster pull corn cobs an’ roast ’em over a fire an’ uster get a drink of milk at the dairy farms in the mornin’.”

“Ah! Weren’t the police looking for you in Lismore?”

“I dunno. I never went into the town. I stayed in the scrub till it was dark an’ then I got acrost the bridge an’ sneaked on to a boat that wuz goin’ out to Sydney. I meant to go right down in ’er, but they found me out[82] an’ put me off at Woodburn, an’ I walked acrost an’ sneaked on the punt at Chatsworth, an’ kem on this side of the Clarence. I been prowlin’ about the bush ever since.”

“Why didn’t you go into the towns and look for work or something?”

“Because I wuz waitin’ for it to blow over. I thought my boss up there above Lismore might put an advertisement in the paper or set the police onter me.”

“Hum,” said the farmer. “It’s either a true bill, or your the cleverest voting liar outer gaol at the present moment.”

“I ain’t no liar,” protested the pirate: “I ain’t. An’ its true, every word.”

“Hum,” said the farmer; “We’ll see.”

“You ain’t goin’ to give me up?” asked Tom, anxiously. “I say, mister, don’t give a cove up.”

“We’ll see; we’ll see.”

“Don’t!” pleaded Tom; “please don’t. Look, I won’t never shake any more fowls, I won’t. Only I don’t want to ’ave to go back to that Smith up there above Lismore, an’ get knocked about.”

The farmer’s wife was regarding the culprit with pity.

“Are you hungry now?” she asked.

Tom rubbed his stomach.

“I’m nearly dead,” he murmured woefully; “I’m empty as a ’oller log.”

“Let him come inside, Jacob,” pleaded the wife. “Let me give him a feed first before you do anything with him.”

The man relaxed his grip on Tom’s collar.


“Look ’ere,” he said, “if what you say turns out to be true, I won’t give you in charge to the police, like I meant to do.”

“It is true, every word,” said Tom solemnly. “Every bloomin’ word of it.”

“What did you say your name was again?” asked the farmer’s wife.

“Stevenson,” replied Tom; “Joe Stevenson.”

“Why you said Robinson first,” exclaimed the farmer.

“No, I never,” protested Tom; “I said Stevenson.”

“I think it was Stevenson, Jacob,” said the wife.

“I’ll swear he said Robinson,” muttered the farmer. “Anyway Stevenson or Robinson, it don’t matter which, for now, you go straight up to the house there in front o’ me. If you try to get away, I’ll give you a good hidin’ first an’ give you in charge to the police afterwards. D’yer hear?”

“Yes,” replied Tom, meekly. “I hear. I won’t try to run away. I wish I could get a good home,” he added on a second inspiration.

“If yer honest about that, meybe I’ll find a home for you,” said the man. “I want a good lad about the place.”

“You give me a show, an’ don’t whale me like that man Smith did, an’ I’ll work,” said Tom, throwing as much eagerness into his voice as he could.

“I’ll make some enquiries about you in the mornin’,” said the farmer as they entered the kitchen door; “an’ the missus’ll give you a feed for now.”


The good-hearted woman set down a loaf of bread and the best part of a leg of mutton before Tom.

Then she asked him if he would have tea or milk, and he said he’d take milk so as not to put her to any trouble and he was so polite and softspoken, and looked so penitent, that her heart went out to him still more.

Tom rolled his eyes about when he saw the food, and put out his hand and seized a piece of bread and wolfed at it.

Then he grabbed the piece of meat which she had just cut off the joint and tore it as if he were famished.

“Poor thing, poor thing!” said the woman. “Don’t eat so quickly. You’ll be ill. There now, take your time; don’t gulp it. There’s plenty more. You can have as much as you want.”

The pirate chief slowed down, and went steadily to work on the bread and meat. It was not much trouble to him to act the part, because his appetite was good, and the fruit he had eaten on the island that day had not proved too staying. All the time he was eating, he thought and thought.

He ate on in a sort of reverie, taking slice after slice of bread and meat as the farmer’s wife cut them off.

The woman watched him with tears in her eyes. “Poor boy” she murmured from time to time. “Poor boy; he must have been starving!”

The loaf of bread disappeared. The last of the leg of mutton disappeared. The good wife went to the cupboard and got a great piece of seed cake and cut it in slices.


Tom dealt with it slice by slice. The woman’s face became soft and more pitiful. She went to the cupboard again and brought out half a roly-poly.

Tom put his hand secretly down under the table cloth and let go the top button of his trousers.

“Poor boy,” reiterated the farmer’s wife; “poor boy.”

Two great womanly tears gathered in her eyes and slowly overflowed.

Tom, conscious that he was playing a star part, choked down a few more morsels of food; then he laid aside his knife and fork, wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and sat staring into vacancy with bulging eyes.

“Could you eat a piece of pineapple?” asked the woman.

Her intentions were kind, but she did not know.

Tom Pagdin groaned. He felt that any refusal of food might be a weakening of the evidence in his favour. He tried to display as much appetite as possible, and furtively letting go another trouser button, replied that he could.

The woman went to a case in the corner, and selected a fair-sized pineapple from it.

It was freshly cut from the pineapple patch in the garden in front, but its fragrance failed to awake any enthusiasm in Tom. He stowed away a couple of slices as a matter of form, and then he pleaded, in a thick voice, that he couldn’t eat any more.

“Well,” said the farmer, “I reckon if ye did, you’d be like that cow o’ mine that got into the lucerne patch yisterday.”


“Why,” asked Tom, in an anxious voice. He was not feeling well within.

“Good enough reason why,” said Jacob Cayley; “the blamed animal’s dead as a dern door-nail.”

“What happened to ’er?” queried the inflated pirate.

“Busted!” replied Jacob, grimly.

Tom turned pale.

“I ain’t feeling none too well,” he murmured, placing a band on his lower deck. “Do you think a cove ’ud bust like—like a cow?”

“I dunno,” replied the farmer. “If ’e’d et too much he might.”

“Ob, Lord!” groaned Tom.

“How do you feel?” asked Mrs. Cayley.

“I got a pain,” he said, “’ere, an’ ’ere—all over me stummick.”

“’E’s over-et ’imself, Maria,” remarked Cayley. “’E’d better go to bed.”

“I’ll put him in the spare room,” said Maria, regarding Tom with a motherly eye.

“Yes,” replied Jacob, “an’ I’ll lock the door an’ padlock the winder on the outside till we find out whether his yarn is true or not.”

Tom’s face fell. He forgot everything—even the untimely end of Cayley’s cow. While he had been feeding he had thought over a plan of escape. It was simple enough. As soon as the farmer and his wife had gone to bed he would slip out, get quietly down to the river bank, and if Dave had taken the boat across to the Pirate’s Camp, swim over and rejoin him.

But now this scheme was baulked. He was to be[87] locked up for the night like a prisoner in a cell, perhaps only liberated on the morrow under strict surveillance, and his chance of escape reduced to a minimum. Meanwhile enquiries were to be made about him. He was not far away from home. Somebody would know of him, and he would be found out and ignominiously dragged back.

Then again, if he did not succeed in escaping quickly, Dave would probably find solitary pirating too lonesome, and give it up.

The farmer marched Tom off to bunk while he was reflecting over these things, and having seen him undress, gave him good-night, and told him to make himself comfortable. He turned the key as he went, taking the candle and Tom’s clothes with him. A few minutes after the prisoner heard the wooden shutters, with which the window, as in old-fashioned country houses, was provided, bang together, and the sounds which followed told him that they were being secured from the outside.

Tom sat on the bed-side in his shirt, the only garment which the farmer had left him, and pondered. It was an awkward fix.


Chapter VIII.

The little river-boat Greenwich was loading freight and passengers at one of the Grafton wharves.

Across the Clarence, on the south side, winches rattled bales of wool and bags of potatoes and maize into the coastal steamer, which traded weekly between Sydney and the fertile North Coast.

On the river bank above, blocking the roadway, were yet standing some of the teams which had brought the wool down from the New England tableland.

The dusty whips of the carriers cracked no longer, and their tired horses dozed contentedly in the sunlight.

Some of the carriers were at the water-side pub, beerily quarrelling over the merits of rival “leaders.” One was in the backyard of the hotel conducting amorous negotiations with a black gin, and another, who did not drink, had gone down to see about back loading.

It was three in the afternoon, and Donald Mac., the skipper of the Greenwich, took his place at the wheel.

On the river, up and down, there was no boat more popular than the Greenwich. The crew of the little[89] steamer consisted of Sam, the fat engineer, George and Bill, and the skipper. George and Bill were the deck hands, who put the cargo and passengers ashore at the various landings.

There was a general air of courtesy and good humour about the Greenwich. Nothing seemed a trouble to little Donald Macpherson, but the fact of the matter was that Donald’s troubles had made him lean, and somewhat sad.

He had all the responsibilities of a deep-sea skipper, with less than the pay of a third mate. It had taken him his life to learn the river, its depths and bars, its shallows and reefs, and banks, and currents, and as the river had a habit of changing its geographical features after each flood, Donald was always at school.

Then there was ever the possibility that some day, as he brought the Greenwich round the Devil’s Elbow, between the reef and the bar at the mouth in a swamping southerly, despite all his knowledge of the game, the Greenwich would stand on her head and kick her propeller at the Milky Way.

It was three in the afternoon, and the skipper swung the nose of his ship out from the wharf.

Sam, the engineer, with his ear at the gong, and his hand on the lever, stood to his post. George, the senior deck hand, who ranked as first mate, ran his eye down the cargo list. Bill stood by. There were coils of fencing wire to drop here and there, boxes of groceries, tins of kerosene, all sorts of sundries, mails, and newspapers.

Where the local newspapers had regular subscribers[90] along the banks, it was George’s custom to tie the paper round a stone (he kept a small pile of ballast for’ard for the purpose), and threw it ashore as the steamer slid by. He had become so expert at this practice that he could generally land a newspaper or a small package right at the farmer’s door.

Most of the farm houses were built on the river’s brink. Cool, comfortable-looking weatherboard cottages, surrounded by shade and fruit trees with maize paddocks, banana groves, or cane fields behind them. As the Greenwich steered past she would give a blast of her whistle, and the farmer, or his wife, or his boy, or often his pretty daughter, would come out and pick up the package and wave pleasantly to the skipper and his crew.

The skipper, with one hand to the wheel and one eye on the river, would wave back, and George and Bill and Sam mostly kissed their hands, in the case of a lady, and smiled cheerfully.

The skipper’s eye caught the waving of a handkerchief at the edge of a cane field on the opposite bank, and crossed to pick up a passenger and a consignment of produce. So they worked down the river. It was almost dark when the steamer tied up at the wharf, where she stayed for the night.

Donald, his duties over for the day, took his tucker basket and went ashore. His fancy went ahead of him, along the street of the little river town. He saw the wife standing at the front door, and in the lamplight behind her a white cloth laid for two, and a child’s chair drawn up to the table.


And Donald forgot that he was tired.

Sam and Bill went ashore also, and left George to mind the ship.

George, being a bachelor, slept in the after-cabin on the transoms, and tuckered for himself aboard.

His chief amusement was fishing; mostly with heavy lines for dog sharks and “jews.”

So when he had had his tea he took his shark line, and baiting it with half a mullet, threw out astern.

Having passed a loop of the line round an empty kerosene tin, and placed it so that a tug at the bait would upset it and make a row, George filled his pipe and went for’ard to smoke.

After an hour’s lounge the first mate thought he would stroll aft and look at the line.

“I’ll bet,” he said to himself, “that the cursed bream have eaten my bait off.”

He drew in the slack of the line and commenced to haul up. The line tautened.

“Hullo!” cried George, “I’m snagged!”

He pulled steadily.

“No,” he added, “I’ve hooked something. It’s coming up,” he resumed, peering over into the water, “Whatever it is it’s dashed heavy; must be a log, I reckon.”

There was a kerosene lamp on the wharf which threw a dim yellow light over the water astern.

George dragged the line around over the rail so that he would be enabled to see what he was bringing up.

“By gosh, it’s heavy,” he soliloquised. “Dashed good thing this line is strong.”


The line was strong; it had held an eight foot grey-nurse shark.

Foot by foot the first mate hauled in.

“Here it comes!” he ejaculated, “what the devil is it, though!”

“Why, my God!” screamed the horrified deck-hand, “IT’S A MAN!!”

George had leaned over the rail to examine his haul, and at the last pull a human head, ghastly and horrible, with livid face, and dank, dripping, matted hair, had risen to the surface. His horrified gaze met the open staring eyes of a corpse!

For one moment he was petrified, fascinated, frozen with horror!

Then he let the line run through his fingers, leaped on to the wharf with a mighty bound and coatless, hatless, charged up the street in the direction of the police station.

The Sergeant had gone to bed, but he rose in his pyjamas and came out on to the verandah in answer to a loud, insistent knocking.

“What’s up?” he cried. “Who’s there?”

“Me!” cried George. “Get up, quick!”

“Who’s me?” demanded the officer.

“George!” said the first mate, still hanging on to the knocker.

“What George?”

Greenwich; come quick, for God’s sake!”

“What’s up? What do you want?”

“Come down to the wharf quick. I’ve hooked a man.”


“Killed a man?” said the Sergeant. “Has there been a row; I didn’t hear anything?”

“No, no!” exclaimed George, “there hasn’t been any row. I was shark fishing, and I caught a man—a dead man.”

“Hum!” said the Sergeant, doubtfully, “have you been drinking?”

“No!” shouted the excited deck hand, “I don’t touch it; but I swear to God it’s true I did catch a man!”

“Where is he now?”

“On the line; I hooked something and pulled it up. I couldn’t make out what it was; it came so dead and heavy. When I got it to the top I leaned over the stern and looked. My God, I never got such a fright in my life!”

“What did you do then?” asked the Sergeant.

“I let go the line and run up here!” said George.

“All right,” said the officer, in a grieved voice—he hated inquests—“some fellow’s gone and drowned himself in the river, I suppose.”

“I dunno,” replied George. “He’s dead, anyway, and by the look of it, I reckon he’s been dead some time.”

“You ought to have made the line fast,” said the Sergeant; “he might have got off the hook. Hope to Heaven he has,” he added, “and that he gets down to Palmer’s Island, or somewhere; I don’t want him. Wait, till I get my trousers on, I’ll go down and see. It might have been fancy with you. Sure you weren’t asleep, George?”

“No!” exclaimed George, emphatically, “I wasn’t asleep; I hadn’t even made my bunk up.”


The Sergeant re-appeared in a few minutes with his boots and pants on, and the two men wended their way to the riverside where the Greenwich lay rocking gently on the night tide.

On the way down George went over the details two or three times.

“Where’s the line?” asked the Sergeant, as they stepped aboard.

“Here,” replied George, leading the way aft.

“I thought so,” he said, as yard after yard came aboard without resistance. “You fell asleep and had a nightmare; nice thing to come and call a man out of his bed like this. I’ve ridden over thirty miles to-day.”

George vowed and protested that he had not been the victim of a delusion.

“I saw him as plain as I see you,” he answered, mentally assuring himself.

“There!” as the last yard of the line was drawn in, “what’s that! What’s that on the hook?”

The Sergeant threw something on deck wet and slopping.

“Fetch a light,” he cried, “till we see what it is.”


Chapter IX.

“There!” exclaimed George. “I knew I had something at the end of my line.”

“Knew you had something?” ejaculated the Sergeant. “You knew you had something! Why, hang it, man, do you think I am going to be dragged out of my bed after a thirty miles ride because a blamed fool with the horrors or something hooks a handkerchief off the bottom of the Clarence?”

“It was more than that!” cried George, firmly. “I’ll swear I had a dead man on the hook.”

“I’ve a mind to put you on your oath about it,” said the Sergeant, tartly.

“I’d swear it in Court,” averred George.

“Nice Crown witness you’d make, wouldn’t you.”

“There!” cried George, suddenly stepping back and pointing tragically at the lamp-lit water.

“What!” ejaculated the Sergeant, gazing intently over the stern of the Greenwich.

“There!” repeated George, in the attitude of Macbeth locating Banquo’s ghost—“there! I told you so.”


“By gad!” cried the Sergeant, with a start. “A floating corpse!”

“The same one I hooked,” said George, in a hollow voice.

“You’ll get a name as a fisherman if you keep on,” observed the officer.

“I suppose it’s an inquest.”

“What’ll we do?” asked the first mate, excitedly.

“Hook him again!” replied the Sergeant, in a matter-of-fact voice. “You must have had him by the neck and the cloth gave way. The disturbance floated him.”

“Ugh!” cried George; “I’ll never throw out a blamed line in this river again as long as I live.”

“Well I will!” said the Sergeant. “I’ll throw one now. Lend me that shark hook a minute.”

The officer who was paid, not too liberally, by Government, to act either as assistant pathologist or undertaker, as occasion required, jumped upon the after grating with the end of George’s shark line in his hand.

A human head could be seen bobbing gently up and down with the swell and fall of the tide. It drifted neither to right nor left, but in a sort of ghastly oscillation waited—waited. There was a sardonic smile on the parted lips. The smile that is seen on the face of the murdered dead who come up again from under the earth, from the depths of the waters, anywhere. The dead who come for justice.

Livid and ghastly, and utterly unreal and horrible was the face of the corpse floating steadily in that pool of yellow lamplight. And when the Sergeant, after several throws with the line, succeeded in hooking on,[97] it came towards the stern without resistance. The man of law leaned over the low rail to make an examination.

“Fetch the lantern!” he called to the deck-hand, “and a rope.”

The tide lapped by softly, the little town lay wrapped in darkness, broken only by an occasional lantern in the main street, and the dim lamp at the hotel.

“Hold the light over till I see, can’t you?”

“Ugh!” cried the deck-hand.

“Well, turn your head away if you don’t want to look, or shut your eyes.”

“It’s horrible!” murmured George, whose face was deadly pale. “I don’t want to look at it.”

“Well, don’t!” exclaimed the officer.

“I can’t help it——”

“Great Scott!” ejaculated the Sergeant, taking another pull on the line.

“What!” cried George, his heart in his mouth.

“Murder!” exclaimed the officer, with a new interest in his voice.

“Murder!” cried George, hoarsely.

“Look! Yes, by Gad! the man’s been stabbed.”

“Stabbed! Oh, Lord!”

“Hold the light, can’t you?”

“No,” said George, sitting down suddenly; “I can’t. I’m hanged if I can!”

The Sergeant was busy with the rope. Notwithstanding his ride of thirty miles, he had become active and alert. He passed a slip-noose over the stern presently, drew it tight, and tied the end securely to a stanchion.

“Now,” he said, his mind already full of business;[98] “You’ll have to stay here and keep an eye on this while I go up town and make arrangements!”

“Me?” exclaimed George.

“Yes you! I’ll send the constable down by-and-bye.”

“How long will he be before he comes?” asked George, anxiously.

“Couple of hours at the outside; I’ve something I want him to do first——”

“Two hours!” cried George. “Here by myself, at night, with that—that—that thing tied up to the Greenwich! I wouldn’t do it for ten pounds!”

“But,” argued the Sergeant, “you must. I don’t want the town to know anything about it. I want to keep everything dark till I make a few inquiries. This is a very serious matter. There is a big case hanging to it—a big case for me!”

“I don’t care,” cried George doggedly, “What’s hanging to it or who! I won’t stay here by myself—that’s straight!”

“Oh, confound you!” exclaimed the Sergeant. “All right if you’re such a coward as that I’ll send someone down as soon as I go up to the barracks!”

“I ain’t a coward,” said George; “but I haven’t engaged with the owners of this boat to mind floating corpses. It ain’t part of my duty, and I won’t do it.”

“Remember you are to be a witness—an important witness—in this case,” said the Sergeant, severely.

“All right,” replied George; “but I’ll wait ashore up under the lamp, till somebody comes, I wouldn’t stop on the boat—and another thing, I’m hanged if I think I’ll sleep aboard of her after this!”


Whereat George stepped on to the gangplank and got ashore, so placing himself when he landed that various opaque objects would come between his line of vision and the stern of the steamer.

Tom Pagdin sat on the edge of the bed in Jacob Cayley’s farmhouse and thought hard.

Once he got up and tried the door very gently.

It was firmly locked.

He went to the window and pressed against it.

“There’s an iron bar or a chain across the outside,” he muttered to himself, “and the shutters is an inch thick. It’s no go!”

He felt the boards along the wall with his feet carefully; one of them seemed a little loose.

“If I could raise a bit of the floor and burrow out, like they do in some of those detective yarns, it would be O.K.,” he reflected; “but I got nothin’ to burrow with—unless I break the handle of the washin’ jug,” he added as an after-thought, “an’ sharpen one end.”

But another minute’s consideration convinced him of the futility of this idea.

“It’s all up,” he cried at last in despair. “I’ll be found out an’ took back or sent to gaol! I wonder where Dave is, anyhow.”

Just at this moment Tom heard a bird calling off somewhere towards the river bank.

“Morepoke,” he said listening. “I misremember ever hearin’ a morepoke callin’ so late at night.”

The cries of the night bird were repeated at regular intervals; they seemed to come nearer.


“A morepoke don’t walk about whoopin’ like that,” muttered Tom, “’specially this hour of the night. ’Sides he’s down in the corn. I never heard a morepoke in the corn before.”

A thought struck the elder pirate.

He slipped to the window, and putting his mouth to the shutter, called: “Mo’poke! Mo’poke!” softly.

“Mo’poke! Mo’poke!” came the answer.

“Mo’poke! Mo’poke! Mo’-o-poke!” repeated Tom.

This time he varied the call, putting in an emphasis where no night owl was ever known to place it.

“Mo’-poke! Mo’-poke! Mo’-o-poke!” came the reply.

“By gosh, it’s Dave!” cried Tom, excitedly.

He put his mouth to a crack in the wall and repeated the cry.

Dave answered, drawing nearer and nearer.

He was trying to locate Tom’s exact whereabouts.

The people of the house were sound asleep.

Dave, guided by the sounds uttered sotto voce by his commander, came as Blondin to the call of Richard.

“Where are you?” he whispered at last, outside the wall.

“In ’ere,” responded Tom. “Come round ’ere close; there’s an opening in the weatherboards. I’m locked in,” he explained. “See, if you can get the fastenin’ off the winder-shutter.”

“It’s a padlock an’ chain,” explained Dave from outside. “What will we do?”

“Do!” muttered Tom. “There’s only one thing to do—I got to get out somehow! Have a look at the door.”


“It’s locked,” whispered Dave through the keyhole.

“Ain’t the key outside?”

“No; there’s no key ’ere.”

“He’s took it to bed with him,” muttered Tom in an injured tone. “It’s outrageous!”

“Can’t you get out through the roof?” asked Dave.

“No, I can’t,” replied Tom; “it’s a lined ceilin’. If it wuz calico or bags I’d cut through ’em an’ find a ’ole somewhere; but it ain’t.”

“What about the floor?” asked Dave; “ain’t there no boards loose? The house is built up on piles ’ere at the back——”

“Is it?” asked Tom, eagerly. “Make sure.”

“Yes,” responded the lieutenant pirate. “If you could lift a couple o’ boards you could crawl out under easy enough.”

“They’re all nailed down,” mourned Tom; “I been tryin’ ’em. Say,” he went on—“how thick is the chain on the winder?”

“It’s only a dawg chain,” said Dave through the crack; “but it’s too strong to break.”

“You won’t have to break it,” responded Tom, “if you can get a file.”

“A file!”

“Yes; there’s sure to be a tool-shed round the back there somewhere. All these cockies does a bit o’ tinkerin’. You go round and see if you kin pinch one.”

Tom waited anxiously for his mate to return, and when at last Dave announced that he had got a file, the prisoner’s heart leaped.

“Git to it!” he urged in an excited whisper. “Git[102] to it as quick as you can! Pick the thinnest link, an’ git to it! Don’t make any more row than a dead snake, but ’urry up!”

Dave got to it.

He worked away as rapidly and noiselessly as possible encouraged by frequent whispered inquiries and admonitions from inside.

The report that one side of the link was filed through caused Tom to remark emphatically, in a subdued voice, that Dave had the makings of a true pirate in him.

He also implied that his mate was destined to do great things in the business.

Thus encouraged, Dave worked on till the other side of the link gave way.

The chain was removed, the shutter opened, and Tom climbed out of the window in his shirt.

“Where’s yer clothes?” asked the exhausted first lieutenant.

“He’s took ’em,” replied Tom, resentfully. “’E ’adn’t no right whatever. I could summons ’im if I wanted to. But I don’t want to. We’ve got to get out of this.”

“Yes,” agreed Dave; “I reckon the sooner we get out of it the better. It ain’t lucky.”

“I wouldn’t wonder if that holey sixpence had something to do with it,” observed Tom. “But the bad luck oughter to run itself out now. I wish I ’ad a pair o’ pants though. Let’s go round to the washshed an’ see if we can nick a pair o’ the old man’s. This is the[103] second time since we bin piratin’ I’ve been done in for clothes.”

They found some of the farmer’s working clothes in the shed and appropriated them.

Tom rolled them into a bundle and tucked them under his arms.

They fossicked round for a few minutes longer, and picked up some eatables, including the commandeered fowls which had caused the trouble.

They were hanging up by the feet in the stock-shed, and Tom reached them down with a grunt of satisfaction.

“These’ll pay for my togs,” he said; “that makes ’im an’ me square. ’E’s got my trousers, an’ I got ’is fowls.”

The pirates chuckled over this joke as they took their way to the boat.

As they went Dave explained that after the skirmish in the fowl-shed he had fled back to the boat and waited for his chief. When the latter failed to turn up he came to the conclusion that he had been captured, and was perhaps held as a prisoner of war.

“Then,” said Dave, “I sneaked round by the corn an’ give that mo’-poke call. My word I was glad when I ’eard you answerin’.”

“I reckon,” said Tom, “that we’re gettin’ adventures all right; but it ain’t nothin’ to what we will get when we’re right down the river.”

Dave was silent.

The fact was that the second pirate felt very tired and sleepy.


They got back to the Pirates’ Camp safely, hid the boat in the creek, and lay down, thoroughly worn out, and slept the sleep of youth and health.

Next day they lay close in case Jacob Cayley should have tracked them to the water’s edge and started to look for them along the river. It was unlikely that he should discover that they had come up to the raiding of his poultry in a whale boat like true buccaneers, but their experiences were making them cautious.

So they kept under cover, fed largely on stewed chicken, and laid in a stock of strength for the work which was before them.

They regretted leaving the camp, but a pirate’s life, like a policeman’s, is not all roses; so when evening came they pulled out softly, and started paddling down stream with the falling tide.

The breeze came fresh and cool across the river. They kept their boat in the middle of the stream, and in most places there was a wide stretch of open water between them and either bank.

It was nearly daylight before they reached the island which the chief pirate had in view as a new basis of operations, and they made a bad landing.

They ran in among some young mangroves and grounded.

It took pushing and hauling to get the heavy boat clear of the clinging mud—there is always mud where the mangroves grow—and they were very tired.

At length they found a place where they could get ashore and secure and hide their craft.

Day had broken. The east was reddening with the[105] sun as they staggered along with their traps through a track in the lantana which seemed to lead towards a shady jungle closely covering the centre of the island.

Dave was in front.

He stepped back suddenly, white to the lips, stumbling over Tom, who was close to his heels.

“What’s up?” cried the latter. “What is it—a snake?”

“No,” choked Dave. “No—him!”


“Him!” said Dave, who seemed about to faint.

Tom elbowed him aside and peered ahead through the bushes.

“Oh, cripes!” he muttered, and dropping his load turned about to run.


Chapter X.

To get a better conception of one of our characters we must change the scene.

It is a long harkening from an island in the Clarence to the Faubourg St. Antoine of Paris. But the threads in the wool of Life run far and wide.

In the Faubourg St. Antoine, twenty years before, dwelt one Jean Petit.

Petit’s mother had belonged to the lowest class of French criminals; his father was a person understood.

Bred in the gutters of that City by the Seine, where sit the seven devils of Christendom, with the collected devils of Heathendom to keep the watches when they go below—Jean Petit developed in crime.

Let it be said that the criminals of Paris are at once the most degraded and the cleverest in the world. London, New York, and Melbourne produce ruffians and rogues, but these be as little children to the sons of the sewers by the Seine.

The French criminal has all the cunning and the cruelty of the wild beast in addition to his own. In[107] fact, he is more often than not a human tiger, preying not as tigers do upon the outside world, but upon his own kind.

He is steeped to the lips in the vices of his breed, a wild biped prowling the mazes of a great city; an obscene devil-worshipper who cracks indecent jokes at the very steps of the guillotine; a midnight murderer, who does not hesitate to redden his hands for a few sous.

Such was Jean Petit.

He had existed by thieving since he was little more than seven years of age. At twelve he was apprenticed to one of the worst house-breaking gangs in Paris; at seventeen he had taken his diploma, and at twenty-two he was a master of arts in the College of Crime.

For three years Petit reigned in his native city as an Emperor of Thieves. He was the most daring of the Black Confraternity, the hero of a thousand nefarious escapades; the pivot on which the world of ruffianism revolved. Again and again he eluded capture. His robberies were so cleverly organised and carried out that he appeared to be more than a match for the detectives, even to those astute officers who devote their lives to the study of Jean Petits and their methods.

But at last, as must happen, the perpetrator of a catalogue of crimes, in which arson and murder found a place, fell a victim to a slight personal miscalculation.

In escaping from a window by means of a rope ladder, he dropped into the arms of four gendarmes, and, despite a stubborn resistance, was overpowered.

Various offences were proven against Jean Petit at his trial, and the upshot of the matter was that he took[108] a voyage to the island of New Caledonia in company with some other citizens for whom the French Republic had no use.

Petit escaped the guillotine, but he was transported to Noumea for life.

It had happened that in the struggle with the gendarmes the robber received a heavy blow on the base of the skull. The consequence of this was that he lost much of the pantherine vivacity which had been a part of his character, and became of a more morose, hyæna-like nature.

He was feared by the prisoners with whom he was associated, and always regarded as a possible source of danger by the authorities.

Unlike those well-bred ruffians whose money or antecendents make them the pets of Convict New Caledonia, and a source of revenue in lower official quarters, Petit was compelled to undergo all the rigours of his sentence.

The man who had ever scorned the idea of labour, who had lived for twenty five years by the labours of others, was set to the quarrying of stone!

So the thoughts of Jean Petit,—who had everything to gain and nothing to lose by the attempt—shaped themselves time after time towards escape.

Petit had heard that Australia was a good country, and he longed to go there.

One difficulty, and one only, stood in his way—opportunity.

Twice in ten years he had endeavoured to escape, and each time the attempt had proved a failure.

He had been pronounced an incurable criminal. The[109] Republic had experimented on him in vain. He was beyond hope, outside the pale. It was only necessary, therefore, to see that he secured no opportunities to commit crime. Like the wild beast in its cage, it was no longer a question of what would happen if he got out.

But Jean Petit, to whom liberty was as much as to the imprisoned tiger, watched and waited.

It is said that everything comes to him who waits, and after many years, in which the morose criminal-lunatic had grown grizzled, hard of flesh, and still harder of heart, time brought him his opportunity.

Petit, watching Fate from the corner of a red eye, saw the road open.

“At the most,” he explained to the three comrades, “we can but die, and be damned into hell. From the hell here to the hell there—it is but a passage.”

The comrades being each desperate criminals like himself, were agreed.

So they succeeded in stealing a whaleboat, and having matured their schemes, they fled one night for liberty, leaving fresh blood-stains behind them.

At sunrise in the morning Jean Petit and his three friends found themselves, with a scanty supply of provisions and water, afloat on the Pacific without either chart or compass.

Petit assumed the leadership without formality of election. He was captain and commander. His word, supported by the sharp knife in his belt, became law.

He sat sullenly at the tiller, and as the sun rose at the sea margin, headed the boat south by west.


Thus commenced one of the strangest voyages in history.

All that day, and the next, and the next, and the next, the boat, with its crew of four, headed south, south and south by west.

They had taken count of food and water, and to each was apportioned his share.

Each morning Jean Petit, at whose feet lay the provisions, grimly doled out the scanty portions.

At the end of the week a change had come over the four.

They were lean and weatherbeaten; their hands and faces were blistered by the sun. Their cheeks were sunken. There was an anxious look in their hollow eyes.

At the end of fourteen days the change was still more remarkable. Their hair and beards had grown strangely long; their hands had taken the appearance of claws, tipped with long sharp, carnivorous-looking fingernails. Their lips were dry and broken, and their skins had turned from bronze to an ugly yellow.

For ten days there had fallen not a drop of rain; they had left but a pint and a half of impure water.

On the morning of the fifteenth day Jean Petit divided this, together with the remnant of the food, into four even portions!

Never had the grim red-eyed man at the stern been more exact and precise.

“It is well, comrades,” said he, weighing the last crumb of bread, “that we pronounce a benediction.[111] ‘Eat, drink, and be merry!’” he cried solemnly, “‘for to-morrow we die.’”

The morrow fell and the next morrow.

Upon the rim of the Lower Immensity the rim of the Upper Immensity rested, without break in either of sail or cloud.

The next day Jean Petit leaned forward towards the gaunt, motionless, skeletons which gazed with fixed, burning eyes towards the south.

Jean Petit leaned forward, with his hand upon the haft of his knife, and spake.

His words sounded dull and hollow—coming as it were, from the depths of a vault in the awful underworld where lie the mysterious dead.

“There is no reason,” said he, “that all should die.”

The human spectres answered not. Perhaps they had not heard. Perhaps their thoughts were away by cool mountain springs, by spread banquets.

Jean Petit, with strange feverish insistence, repeated his assertion, which was also a question:

“There is no reason that all should die.”

The spectres turned their hollow eyes to him.

Petit read the faces of his three comrades slowly.

The waves, intensely blue and sparkling, rose and fell with awful monotony.

Again, and for the third time, the carnivorous face was thrust forward and the swollen lips framed its sentence:

“For what reason should all die?”

In the ears of the others the words sounded like the tolling of that bell which heralds criminals to execution.[112] They looked not at the waters, not at the sky, not upon each other, but at Jean Petit.

And on the faces of the three was the same questioning, anxious stare.

The red eye grew redder and more devilish.

The man at the tiller tongued his lips and went on in a harsh croak, like the croaking of some foul bird of prey which had scented a carcase:

“Unless we eat soon there is an end!”

The spectres nodded.

“We cannot live another day!”

The spectres passively assented.

The mouth of one of them was marked with a dark stain, where he had been endeavouring to masticate the leather of his shoe.

Jean Petit, not looking from one to the other, but holding all three with his eyes, continued:

“Others have been as we.”

There was a long pause. The whale boat rose slowly upon a wave crest and slid silently into the hollow.

The sun poured out his fires upon the ocean in intense silence.

“Others,” murmured Jean Petit, finishing his sentence, “have done it.”

A shudder of repulsion passed from one wretched frame to the other.

Petit alone did not shudder. He appeared calm—eager, but calm.

“To-morrow,” he said, “it will be too late!”

“To-morrow,” muttered the three, “we will be dead; what matters.”


“To-morrow,” said Jean Petit, forming his meaning more precisely, “one will be dead. The others will live.”

There was a long, long silence.

The boat rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell.

It was fully a quarter of an hour before the convict spoke again.

Scanning closely the faces of his companions, he asked:

“Is it agreed?”

They answered not, “yes,” nor “no.”

“It—is—agreed!” said Jean Petit, slowly.

His voice was the voice of command, of authority, of organisation.

The slave had become a master. The subject was at last a king. The man loomed up in the cold bulk of Power!

It was a case of survival, if not of the fittest, at least of the strongest.

With a deep-drawn sigh of satisfaction the leader drew his knife—which his hand had never left—from its sheath, and stooping forward split out four splinters of uneven length from the timbers of the boat.

He closed his left hand upon them, clutching the hilt of the naked knife in his right.

The ends of the splinters alone were visible.

“Come forward!” he ordered.

The three men—their gaze riveted on Petit’s left hand as if fascinated—crawled towards him. It was a terrible picture, all the more terrible for the glory[114] and beauty of its setting, for the sparkle and colour and sunshine which were the picture’s frame.

More terrible, too, in its tragic, portentous silence.

“Draw!” he commanded.

The man under whose face the clutched fist was thrust sucked in a deep breath which was almost a moan.

He extended a trembling hand and drew forth a single splinter.

“Draw!” repeated Jean Petit, offering to each in turn.

The lots were drawn. The spectres waited, sitting silently, their eyes upon the face of their commander.

“The shortest!” snarled the man with the knife.

Their sallow features were full of anguish. Four men knew that it was the mission of one to die. To die—at once.

For man born of woman death is at all times terrible. But with these death had also a sequel!

Already one was doomed.


The voice of Jean Petit rang grim and unearthly. At the word each man unclosed his hand. The open palms lay side by side.

“Thou!” said the helmsman.

The head of the victim fell forward. A shudder, followed by a sob, convulsed him.

Against a background of blue sky and water rose the hand of Jean Petit, clasping a knife!

Two men turned away their heads!


Chapter XI.

By the winds and currents, and mayhap, in nautical phrase, by the “act of God” also, the boat in which Jean Petit and his three convict companions had escaped from New Caledonia was carried south.

She drifted down outside the Great Barrier, was blown off the land to the eastward of Sandy Cape, and blown back again towards Point Danger.

Jean Petit, alone, and grown strangely like a wild beast, looked out and across with bloodshot eyes one morning and saw a hazy blue line at the far western verge. A fair wind filled the tattered sail. Hour by hour the line grew up and up like a bank of cloud, with uneven summits—up and up out of the desolate, silent ocean.

The solitary convict gazed at this bank of cloud with eager, fascinated eyes.

Often enough during the awful past weeks he had watched in the same way, only to see the bank change shape and disappear as the sun grew stronger.

But this time the vision became every hour more[116] definite and real. At last he uttered a deep growl of satisfaction, which was his nearest approach to a prayer, and a shudder of relief, of thanksgiving passed through his lean frame.

Petit presented an illustration of the possibilities which underlie the smooth, well-fed exterior of civilised humanity.

His hair fell down in matted skeins about his bony shoulders; his beard almost covered his chest, and below its ragged edges his ribs stood out one by one like the ribs of a corpse which has dried in the sun until the tightened skin shows the outline of the skeleton beneath. His lips fell back, and showed his yellow fangs.

The nails of his hands and feet were as long as eagles’ claws. He was burnt copper-colour by the sun, and against the dark background of his skin stood numerous significant sores.

The land which this horrid corpse-like figure regarded out of hollow eyes was that portion of New South Wales which lies to the north’ard of Woogoolga—a land alternating along the immediate coast, between hardwood forests and scrubby sand-hills.

All day long the emaciated convict watched eagerly. Before nightfall he was close enough to discern steep beaches on which the rollers broke in white anger, and dark spray-wet headlands glistening under their bath of seas.

The sun, with banners of scarlet and gold, sailed out through the gates of the west, lending the white rollers a faint pink blush—the sea answering to the wooing of her departing lover.


Snipe called along the edge of the sands, littered with brown sea-weed, shells, pumice, and sponges.

Across a bank of thin fleecy cloud went a moving line of black swans, going inland to the fresh water lagoons. They flew with their long necks stretched forward, and as they passed over his head the man in the boat could see the white on their wings and the scarlet of their beaks. The swans were followed by a mob of black duck and teal.

Petit noticed that all these birds followed a certain direction, and studying closely he observed a break in the surf where a narrow channel ran inland, to broaden out again in a great spread of creeks and lagoons.

A red rock showed conspicuously at the mouth of the channel, and keeping this to the port side of the boat, he came about and let the insetting tide take him through.

The keel grated on the sand, and Petit rose up gaunt and unsteady in the starlight and crawled ashore.

The escaped convict discovered that the rocks on the foreshore were covered with oysters, and he fed. Refreshed, he crossed the beach in search of fresh water. After walking some time he found it trickling from a rock—clear and cold.

And again Jean Petit growled in thanksgiving, and throwing himself full length on his back like a drought-stricken beast, he let the little rill trickle into his mouth, overflow his lips, and moisten his chest.

At last, with a deep-heaved sigh, he rolled away[118] from the spring and with his head resting on the green damp moss, fell asleep.

In the morning Petit woke with the young sun on his face.

He rose, and with his hand shading his eyes, looked up and down. As far as his eye could reach there were no signs of human habitation; no evidences of life. He had landed upon a lonely and unsettled part of the North Coast.

Hunger was still strong in him. He moved his cramped limbs in the direction of the beach.

When he reached his landing place of the previous night he found the boat gone! The tide had carried it out. He could see it drifting on the swell of the deep Pacific, just beyond the edge of the breakers.

It was as well, he told himself, inasmuch as he had intended to stave her in and sink her. The boat was a piece of evidence which he was not anxious to leave behind him.

In a few hours no doubt it would be washed by the incoming tide against the rocks and smashed to pieces.

As a matter of fact, the boat was, by a little series of coincidences, in which the ocean sometimes indulges, carried round into the mouth of the Clarence River to fall at last into the hands of Tom Pagdin. She was first picked up by a fisherman near the Heads. He sold her to a dealer, who had a little trade steamer running up one of the creeks. She had broken adrift one night from the stern of the steamer, and the tide brought her into the Broadstream, where a farmer found her with her nose stuck in the mud next morning.


The farmer, in hope of a reward, in turn, had hidden her in the reeds, and it was there Tom Pagdin found her. He surmised that she was a stray boat, unhitched her, took her further up the stream one evening, and planted her again in the reeds of the opposite bank.

Jean Petit presented a peculiar appearance as he slunk across the sand in his rags, and disappeared in the bush.

The bush has seen many strange characters, of comedy and tragedy; has witnessed in her solitudes many ludicrous and awful things, but none, perhaps, more ludicrously awful than the hairy figure in streaming rags, which stalked slowly along, like a bedraggled bird of prey, beneath the shade of honeysuckle and gum.

For three days this beast-man, whom the clean sea had spewed up on the land, went northward.

He made himself a lair under the rocks, or in the thick bushes at night, and fed upon roots and berries, now and then descending the sandy hills to the sea for shellfish and oysters.

Gradually those livid sores which had corroded his flesh as verdigris corrodes copper, began to disappear.

Hans Holterman had run away from his ship in Hobson’s Bay to the goldfields in the time of the gold fever. He had, like many more, followed the Yellow Butterfly for years across mountain and gully and plain, till at last the growing stiffness in his joints told him that it was time to think of old age.

So Hans, who had never been a practical man, went prospecting for a selection as he went prospecting[120] for gold—in the further places,—and at last pegged out his land.

It was not particularly good land, although heavily timbered; but Hans believed it would grow vines, and he remembered the days, before he ran away to sea, when, with his German brothers and sisters, he had worked amidst his father’s grape vines by the banks of beloved Rhine.

So Hans set to the growing of vines, without thought of market.

It was not till the fourth or fifth year, when all his capital was gone, that he realised he was thirty miles from a town.

But a vigneron he had decided to become, and a vigneron he must remain.

He had cleared and fenced and planted a twelve-acre block with Isabella vines, which, being phylloxera-and-odium-proof, are certain to crop. But the Isabella was not yet a popular grape in this country, and Holterman’s Isabella proved a drug even on the local market, which was not fastidious. After five years the grapes flourished, and bore marvelously—soil, climate, and position being all eminently favourable. Each latter vintage Hans added fresh barrels to the row of stained casks in the outroom which served as a cellar.

His wine-press was a home-made box, tin-lined, with a long sapling for a lever. He tied bags of stone to the sapling to get pressure, and drained off the purple juice in a kerosene-tin bucket.

Hans Holterman soon discovered that his wine was[121] practically unsaleable, and this took the heart out of him.

He retired within himself, living in solitude, and worst of all—consuming his own stock.

He drank a jug of wine when he rose, a jug at breakfast, a jug before going to work, and thereafter throughout the day and night jugs at frequent intervals.

Sometimes on Sunday afternoons would ride up to Holterman’s door bushmen from the neighbourhood, and these in return for unlimited quantities of new wine, supplied in opposition to the Licensing Act, they would leave him a little silver.

This was practically Hans Holterman’s sole medium of existence. The few shillings which he received from casual drinkers bought him flour, and occasionally meat. The man who can buy flour and meat can live on the land.

One evening at dusk, a ragged figure crept out of the shadow of the forest and listened.


Chapter XII.

The eyes of Jean Petit, like those of a glittering tiger cat, peered intently through a crack in the slabs of Holterman’s wine-room.

The escapee saw in the twilight a stout figure mounted upon an empty soap-box.

This figure held in one hand a jug. As the hand moved in response to the man’s words, a dark liquid, looking like blood, splashed from the jug. It was the blood of Holterman’s vines.

Holterman was holding forth to an imaginary audience on the corrupt state of the Government.

The speech was given in English and German. A marvellous speech, full of strange thoughts, but lost for lack of an audience.

Excepting an opossum, which came down the chimney, and sat gravely on the kitchen mantlepiece, opposite the wine-room door each evening, Hans the orator was usually without listeners.

While he babbled, Jean Petit—eye and ear alternately to the crack in the slabs—listened attentively. It was weeks since he had heard the speech of man,[123] and the sounds seemed to throw him into a grim reverie.

The speech within the hut was strangely like the last talk of the men who had been with him in the boat.

Petit, wise in experience, smiled fiendishly as he realised how matters stood with the man inside. The lower stars began to appear like live diamonds set in the dark leaves of the gums. The skeletons of ring-barked trees stood up in spectral silence against a background of darkened sky.

Hans talked on and on. Much of his madness was about his treasure, the money he had hidden in the tea tin in the kitchen chimney.

At last Petit drew his knife from its sheath, and looked at the edge in the starlight. Then he slipped off his shoes and began to creep stealthily round to the kitchen door. When the man in the wine-room stopped to take breath or to refresh himself, Petit would stop also, his eye to a crack in the wall. His breath came and went noiselessly like an animal of the bush. He created no more disturbance than a panther creeping through the forest on the trail of a prey.

The door creaked a little, but Holterman took no notice. A dark figure skulked across the doorway, and, hidden in the cover of the wall, moved towards the open fireplace. But Holterman observed it not.

The shadow of the escapee drifted darkly across the uneven floor. Once, through an opening in the slabs, the light of a star flashed brightly for a second upon a naked blade, as if a fire-fly had gone by.

The hand of the prowler went up, and began to feel[124] upon the adzed-slab which formed the chimney shelf.

It crept along inch by inch until suddenly it encountered fur and claws.

The ’possum jumped frantically from the shelf. Jean Petit, taken by surprise, swore aloud as the tea tin fell upon the floor with a clattering noise, and the German leaped from the soap-box into the middle of the kitchen floor.

Hans was a powerful man, and the madness which worked in him with the wine gave him additional strength. He clutched the invader by the throat with both hands. Petit was thrown backwards upon the floor, partially stunned. But the next moment, feeling the tightening grip of strong hands on his neck, his strength and savagery came back to him in a wild, combative rush. The knife had fallen from his grasp. He put out his hands instinctively, and grasped his opponent also by the throat.

He stuck his knees into the German’s ribs and squeezed with all the strength of his lower limbs, at the same time using the power of his backbone and thighs in an endeavour to turn over upon his adversary.

They writhed and struggled like pythons close-locked in a combat to the death.

It was a question merely of time and endurance—one maniac against another; fighting to kill in silence—a duel with the hands.

Which would be choked first?

Jean Petit’s fingers were embedded in the German’s neck like talons.

The Death of the German.

Tom Pagdin, Pirate. Page 124.


Holterman’s hands clasped Petit’s throat like a compressing band of steel.

The Frenchman gasped. He had not the staying powers of the Teuton. In a few seconds more he would be overcome. They had overturned a stool in the struggle. The legs were broken out, and rolled under Holterman’s elbow as they fought. Holterman, feeling the resistance of his foe lessening, and being not too clear of thought, released his hold and picked up one of these to beat out the other’s brains.

But before he could deal the blow, Petit was on his feet again, knife in hand.

As the German lifted his arm to strike, the blade went home to the hilt in his neck.

He fell like a beast at the stroke of an axe, and with a horrid growl of satisfaction Petit finished the business by cutting his victim’s throat.

There was silence.… Presently the murderer crept to the door and looked out cautiously.

He heard no sound except the night noises of the bush, and already the escapee was familiar with many of these.

He found water for his hands—and the knife. Upon the latter he bestowed great attention. Before replacing it in its sheath he lifted it to his lips and reverently kissed the blade! The soul of Jean Petit was not absolutely without gratitude.

Petit moved quickly, silently back to the hut. The figure, lying face down upon the floor, had not stirred in the least.

A pool, which would in daylight have glowed angrily[126] red, was slowly spreading around it, darkening the slabs of the floor as if someone had overturned a bottle of ink.

Jean Petit studied the position narrowly. He first of all picked up the tin and removed the lid.

There was certainly some money inside rolled up in a rag. Petit undid the rag, using his teeth to loosen the knots, and turned out a handful of pence. Again a curse of disappointment escaped him.

He glared angrily at the figure on the floor.

Hans Holterman had deceived him!

He had gone to the trouble of killing a man for less than three shillings in coppers!

For this he had nearly lost his own life. From which it may be seen that it is unwise to place credence in words of those who have dwelt too long in the bush—alone.

The convict moved about the house searching and thinking as he went. Near the dead man’s bunk, on the packing case which had served him as a dressing-table, lay a razor. Petit put this in his pocket; but a second later an idea came to him, and, going out, he stooped down by the body, with the razor open in his hand, dabbling the blade.

The reason of this was not made apparent until may days later, when the body of Hans Holterman was found with a blood stained razor in its hand, and the coronial inquiry resulted in a verdict of suicide whilst of unsound mind.

Petit cold-bloodedly lit a match and found a candle-end, and surveyed the scene without a shudder.


The light danced up and down the walls, throwing fantastic shadows as the murderer set to work.

Having emptied the pence into his pocket, he replaced the tea-tin on the mantel-shelf, mended the broken stool, and removed all trace of the struggle.

He neglected no detail, even to sweeping of the floor, lest any evidence of trampling feet should remain in the dust.

It was nearly midnight before Petit loped off into the bush with a bundle over his shoulder.

He strode forward without once looking back. As he turned northward, heavy drops of rain began to pelter down from a passing thundercloud, which had suddenly obscured the stars, and a ghastly grin of appreciation crossed his face when a livid flash of lightning reddened his path.

The elements were with him.

Before an hour a violent rainstorm had washed out all tracks, and the Tiger of Paris curled up in the shelter of an overhanging rock, slept as calmly untroubled by remorse as any other beast of prey.


Chapter XIII.

Tom Pagdin admitted afterwards that when he looked through the lantana on the island, he wished he had borne with paternal corrections, and never gone pirating.

Dave, who was in front, actuated by kindred sentiments, tried to push past Tom; but the latter was ahead of him, and broke for the boat first.

They raced through the lantana, scratching their hands and faces and tearing their clothes as they went.

Their craft was aground in the black mud among the mangroves, and when they tried to shove her off they found the task beyond their strength.

Tom hurriedly led the way into a thick patch of jungle, and they crawled under a low clump of young stinging trees, where it would be almost impossible for a full-grown man to reach them, and held a whispered consultation.

“It’s him,” said Dave.

“Yes,” agreed Tom, “there ain’t no doubt of it.”


“Do you think he seen us?” asked the second pirate.

“No;” replied Tom, “I don’t think so; he had his ugly mouth open like he waz asleep.”

“What’s to do?” asked Dave.

“Dunno, ’less we leave everything an’ swim ashore. Then we might get ketched with sharks, and if we wasn’t ketched with sharks, we’d most likely be ketched be the traps.”

“I wouldn’t sleep ’ere a night,” cried Dave, “with that cove on the island, not for anything.”

“I’d rather sleep on a jumper ant’s nest,” agreed Tom. “The only thing we got to do is keep quiet, an’ wait till the tide rises. Then we’ll shove the boat off quietly and go further down the river.”

Having decided on this plan, they felt more comfortable. After a while Tom even got courage enough to sneak back to where he had dropped his swag.

He returned to report that the black-bearded man was still sleeping. Tom said he looked more awful and wicked than ever.

They munched some food quietly, and feeling almost secure in the heart of the thicket wherein they had crawled, Nature asserted herself, and they both fell asleep.

It was past noon when Tom started up and woke his mate.

“The tide’s up,” he whispered. “We better run the risk of bein’ seen from the shore in the boat than stay ’ere and be killed by a cold-blooded murderer like that.”


They crept through the scrub and lantana as quietly as they could.

Tom took a good look round, and announced that the coast was clear. The water was well up astern, and they began to push at the bow of the boat to launch her.

“Give ’er one more shove!” cried Tom, in a glad voice, “an’ we’re clear.”

Just then each boy felt a strong hand on his shoulder.

The convict had crept up behind them.

Slowly, dreading what they knew they were going to see, each turned his head.

They met the inquiring gaze of Jean Petit. His face was adorned by a grin which was intended to be amiable, but Tom and Dave felt that they had never witnessed anything more hideous.

“Ah, ha!” cried Jean Petit, in his own peculiar English, “what are you doing here, my children?”

“N—n—nothink, s—ir.” spluttered Tom, vainly trying to wriggle out of his captor’s clutch.

Now, when an Australian boy uses the word “sir” he is certainly afraid.

“Aha!” cried Petit, in a rasping voice.

“N—n—nothink!” repeated Dave, wriggling in such a way as to create the impression that he really did not mean to. “No, sir, n—nothink. We only just landed ’ere.”

Tom gave his mate a look of gratitude.

“Yes,” he cried, “we only jist landed. You let—let us go an’ we’ll go right away at once.”


But Petit was thoughtfully studying the boat.

“Does zat boat belong wiz you?” he asked.

“N—no,” replied Tom, in anguished tones, “we jist borryed ’er to come acrost to the island after wild figs.”

“Borree,” repeated the escapee, “borree? I not understand.”

“Yes,” repeated Tom, “we jist borryed—took the loan of ’er, like—meanin’ to give her back again.”

“Ah!” said Petit, “you vat he call shake, steal it, eh?”

“No,” cried Tom; “we’re honest, we are! Dead honest. Neither of us never shook nothink in our lives—leastwise, not that we knowed of.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Petit, “vat is your name?”

“My name’s Jack Stevenson. This cove’s name is Bill Stevenson. He’s my cousin.”

Tom gave Dave another look to impress this fact on his memory.

“I’ll tell you how it is, without any lies,” he volunteered, in a tone of utter confidence. “We borryed this boat off Bill’s father yesterday to come up the river a piece fishin,’ an’ we stayed out too late, an’ was caught in a fog. This mornin’ we started back, an’ we jist pulled in ’ere to look for figs—that’s a solemn fact. We ain’t been ’ere more than a half a hour at the outside. You kin ask ’im!”

Petit examined the boys, the boat, and the surroundings. He saw that they were telling lies.

His natural instinct told him also that they were terribly frightened, and his criminal method of reasoning[132] put it down to the fact that they had committed some offence against the law.

It occurred to Petit’s mind that the boys might be useful to him. His grasp tightened on their shoulders till Tom winced with pain and Dave cried out.

Then, holding them firmly in front of him, he put his face up to them and said, in a terrible voice: “Eet is so; you have stolen zis boat!”

They were silent.

“For which,” he continued, “you air both liable to be put in ze prison!”

Jean Petit hissed the word “prison.”

“Suppose,” he continued, “I gif word to ze po-lice—”

When the escapee came to “police” he snarled viciously. “Vat zen?”

Neither youth ventured to speak.

“I tell to you—you go to chail!”

Petit put dreadful emphasis on the gaol.

“Oui—to chail. Zere you will be treat mos’ ill; you vill rot an’ starve an’ die! You will starve an’ rot an’ die.”

“But, non,” resumed Petit, after allowing the picture time to soak in, “I vill not gif you to chail. You air too young, too tendaire; I vill keep you viz ME! Sacre!” he ejaculated, shaking them both violently, “I shall be fazzair and mozzair vis you.”

This prospective parentage did not seem to fill either Tom or Dave with gratitude and joy. Two more wretched-looking children of adoption it would be difficult to see anywhere.


“Bud,” concluded Petit, “if you do not obey me vis all thinks——”

He threw them from him and drew his knife.

“Oh,” sobbed Tom, “No, don’t! Don’t kill us. I’ll do anythink you want me to. Anythink as long as you don’t stick that knife into me.”

Dave shut his eyes and shuddered. Speech was beyond him.


Chapter XIV.

George Chard had been transferred from the red desert of Gilgargery to the Rivers. The bank for which he laboured was one of the institutions of the country. Its clients lay chiefly among the Western pastoralists. The bulk of its business was done on mortgages.

When George entered the service of the bank, through the influence of his uncle, Tobias Chard, his prospects had appeared in the colours of the dawn; now they were set in more of a winter-grey perspective.

Tobias Chard was the proprietor of an immense run in the nor’-west. His younger brother, George’s father, having no business instinct, and a depraved taste for water-colour, was a clerk in the Crown Lands Office. He was blessed with a family of five girls and a boy. Tobias, the bachelor, declared that his brother had been improvident in all things.

It was impossible to give young George a profession, so the uncle was persuaded to use his[135] influence—ungraciously—with the Bulk and Bullion, Limited, to secure his nephew a junior appointment.

As the balance of Tobias Chard was great, and his herd and flocks numerous, this was a mere matter of an interview with the directors.

Next week Chard, junior, received a note from the Board to say that his application for service had been favourably considered.

He entered upon his duties at the copying press with a strong determination to work himself up to the position of city manager.

His chances were not too remote, inasmuch as that he had Uncle Tobias’s big account behind him.

Nothing in this world will help an ambitious young man along in a bank like the influence of a solid banking account.

But three consecutive droughts struck Uncle Tobias, and he mortgaged.

That was the beginning of a rapid end. The Lord sent him a rot among his sheep. The devil followed with a law suit. The homestead was burnt out. Misfortune followed misfortune, and Tobias, being no Job, lost patience, and died of a sudden stroke of paralysis.

Everything remained in the hands of the bank. The stoop-shouldered brother in the Lands Office got nothing. The patient little, white haired old-young woman, for whom George would have laid down his life at any moment, got nothing. None of the five girls, nor George, received a shilling.

And the property turned out to be one of the worst speculations in which the bank had put money.


If George had had any station experience he might have been sent up to look after things, and having some sort of personal or family interest in the matter he might have recovered on the bank’s bad investment; but as he had no experience on the run, the B. and B., Ltd., transferred a man from one of their foreclosures on the South Australian Border to act as manager. This man had no organising faculties; he was, moreover, out of his latitude, and the property began to rapidly represent a dead yearly loss to the B. and B. These things did not improve the prospects of George Chard.

In some indefinite way he was connected in responsibility with Uncle Tobias, who it was felt at headquarters, had deceived the Board of Directors.

The Directors did not know that Tobias’s run, with proper handling, might be made to pay twenty or thirty per cent. But the lesson had been pretty clearly taught in New South Wales and Queensland during past years that financial institutions cannot conduct stations from a metropolitan head office. Nor is it good for either institution or the country that they should make the attempt.

As George Chard grew in years and knowledge, he learned that merit is most frequently its own reward. He saw his juniors the sons of rich men or of men who had rich relatives, promoted over his head. He was sent out relieving in the far back country in summer time.

His father died, leaving the mother and five girls mainly dependent on him. The girls were good girls,[137] and they wanted to sell up the home, representing all the Chard assets, and to leave the country town, where they had spent so many tranquil years, and go to Sydney and earn a living.

But George had been in the head office in Sydney for six months before the demise of Uncle Tobias, and he knew what making a living in Sydney meant for girls like his sisters.

So he existed cheaply, and sent the balance of his cheque home every month—to keep the house going. He applied for a removal to the country town where his people were, but there was no vacancy. The chief grocer’s son was in the bank and as he showed decided proclivities to the waste and loose-living of cities, his people wanted to keep him under personal surveillance. The grocer had an account in the bank. The transfer of his son against the family wishes meant a transfer of the family accounts, which were large. The manager stated these facts to the Board, and the Board intimated to George Chard that his application for removal had been taken into consideration, and the Board could not see its way clear to comply with his request.

George allowed a decent interval of two years to elapse, and respectfully applied for a rise in salary.

The Board was pleased to graciously consider his request, added £10 a year to his salary, and sent him up north to a small branch under an acting-manager who was known throughout the B. and B., Limited, as a “pig.”

George Chard, leaning over a ledger in his box of[138] an office by the river bank, the galvanised roof above him crackling under the awful heat, considered the general injustice of things with a sore heart.

But when the pig was more hoggish than usual, he forced up before his mind a picture. It was a homely enough picture of a cottage with a pepper-tree growing in front and a grapevine trailing over the porch, and it was a long way off, but it steadied him.

Now the average bank clerk in the average country town is an insipid animal who plays tennis and says “Haw!”

As a rule he belongs to the “inner set,” in which revolve a dozen or so of social suns, very much dazzled by their own individual and mutual splendour.

The bank clerk is regarded as a catch by country young ladies, and as his commercial training stands him in good stead, he frequently manages to matrimonially annex a good banking account.

The minor bank official, whose wife can transfer a big account at pleasure, is a greater man than the major bank official whose wife like the little pig in the nursery rhyme, “got none.” The Pig’s wife under whom George had been sent to serve was lean and yellow and rich, in her own right, and in the right and light of a tribe of money makers with whom she was related and connected by marriage, which comes to the same thing.

The Pig’s wife’s people were the people of the place; in fact, the place pretty well belonged to the people of the wife of the Pig.

Hence the Pig, in spite of his delinquencies, was a[139] desirable manager for that branch on the Bulk and Bullion.

Now, the Pig’s wife had several lean, yellow sisters, and a host of yellow-lean cousins of the feminine gender, and George Chard, who accepted social evenings as a painful duty, and loathed tennis, found himself tangled in the meshes of a family cobweb, wherein the spider in the multiplex personality of the Pig’s people by marriage threatened to extract the substance from him.

In such a situation, to succeed, a man must be either a born diplomatist or a born fool—George Chard was neither. For preference he ought to have been a fool. A fool who could ape city fashions, talk idiocies, and affect the manners of a cheesemonger who has unexpectedly won a Tattersall’s Sweep (which is the manner of the little shoddy aristocrats of country villages), would have been accepted as a social Pygmalion, before whom the plaster Galateas might decently become flesh and blood at the first invocation. Nineteen out of every twenty bank clerks would have fitted such a position naturally, but George belonged to the twentieth section, which is rare and unpopular—unpopular because rare.

Inside the office the Pig, of his general nature, made life bitter, and outside, the Pig’s people did their best in the same direction.

It was a negative relief when Number One set of Wharfdale Society finally decided that George Chard should be “cut” altogether.

Number Two Set would have accepted him with open arms, but as Number Two Set was only a shade less[140] objectionable and vulgar than Number One Set, George elected to spend his Saturday afternoons fishing.

So he chummed with the Postmaster, who was unmarried, and reported to be an Athiest, or something equally awful, and they grew wise together on the matter of dragon flies and crickets and cockroaches, and other occult bait.

In the intellectual desert of Wharfdale, Dan Creyton, the Postmaster, was to George Chard the only oasis—Dan Creyton and his sister Nora.

Dan Creyton represented three generations of native-born Australians.

His grandfather had grown corn on the Hawkesbury in the old convict days; his father had been a farmer on the Hunter, and had left Dan and his sister a little property equally divided.

With a hundred and fifty pounds a year each in rent and interest, and another hundred and twenty-five from the Government, Nora found no difficulty in keeping house for her brother, and saving money. The Creytons came of good stock, and because of the Breed, which can be transplanted to any climate without degeneration, and which carries its mark on the mouth and the hands, Dan was a gentleman and Nora a lady. And there will be ladies and gentlemen—of Nature and the Breed—just as there will be cads and she-snobs to the end of all time.

Dan Creyton was a reader. Poor George had found little time for the ennobling education of literature, but he recognised the superior intellect, and regarded Dan as his elder friend.


Creyton had watched the play of life in its local relation to George with an amused interest, and when the Meanness-of-Small-Things was sitting on the stool beside the young man one day at the bank, and George was regarding it out of hollow, hopeless eyes, Dan Creyton dropped in and shook hands with him without saying anything.

Thereafter George Chard was Dan Creyton’s friend for weal or for woe.

After all, life and death are small matters.

It is the other things which count—love and hate, and the sunlight down the water.

Nora Creyton, with the warm sympathetic blood of the Celt in her veins; Nora Creyton, with the high, white forehead and the red lips and lustrous eyes, soon became the sunlight of George Chard’s life.

Nora Creyton was a sensible girl. She knew that the prospects of George Chard, bank clerk, with a mother and five sisters dependent on him, were not worthy of serious consideration from a matrimonial point of view. She knew that and a lot more, but she could no more help her heart beating ridiculously fast on occasions, or her cheeks reddening or her eyes sparkling than she could help her breath.

George did not see these things, or, if he had, the last thought that would have entered his mind would be the presumption that his presence accounted for them.

And George and Nora might have gone on for ever caring for one another in secret but for an accident, which will be detailed in another chapter.


Chapter XV.

George Chard slept on the bank premises. The keys of the bank safes were kept by the manager during the day, but when he left the office for his private residence they remained in the custody of his junior. George made it a particular rule to see that his superior officer opened the safe in the morning.

The manager’s carelessness was a continual source of uneasiness to the young man, who had been brought up in the strict commercial school, where carelessness is down as the cardinal sin.

During banking hours the keys were sometimes left in the safe, sometimes hung upon the wall, and more often carried about loose in the manager’s pocket.

It happened one day, previous to the opening of the story, that while his assistant was absent from the office, a particular friend of the manager’s came in and invited him across the road for a drink.

The manager had been having a night, consequently the suggestion of a whisky and soda came at the right moment.


Without waiting to put on his coat, he stepped across the road with his friend.

As he passed into the bar parlour a little squat man, with a cast in his eye, entered the bank. He had not been long in the town, but he was full of religious zeal, and was always addressing the townspeople in order to save their souls.

He was standing with his back to the counter, devoutly whistling a hymn, when the manager re-entered.

The little man explained that the Lord had moved him to come and ask a small subscription towards his religious crusade. He was doing the Lord’s work, and the smallest remuneration from the Devil would be most thankfully received.

The manager donated a shilling, and the crusader, after piously promising that the shilling would be put to his dear brother’s credit in Heaven, picked up the hymn where he had left it and went out. His squint eye was elevated towards the insulators on the telegraph posts as he walked along the street, and a light of satisfaction gleamed therein. He might have been thanking Heaven for some fresh mercy or thinking out a scheme for wireless telegraphy.

Whatever his thoughts were, he carried in one hand a piece of wax, and on the wax was the newly-made impression of a key.

About a week later, George Chard in Assam silk and helmet paused at the door of the office. Although it had thundered and stormed up the river the night previously, it was a suffocating morning. The mercury[144] at Wharfdale stood already at ninety in the shade, and the vapoury atmosphere seemed to take all the energy out of one’s body.

George looked across to the islands in the river and hungered for the shade of their jungles, where the day might be worn through in comparative coolness.

A boat put out from the bank upstream, and he recognised Nora Creyton in a white frock and sun-bonnet rowing gently towards the point of the furthest island, whereon, as George knew well enough, she was used to spend many a hot forenoon under the fig trees with a book for company. George sighed drearily and entered the bank.

The manager came down and unlocked the safe.

Then occurred the crisis of the young man’s life.

Five hundred pounds in sovereigns laid upon the floor of the safe the night previously by the manager in the presence of his assistant, were no longer there!

The canvas bags containing the money had disappeared. Yet the door of the safe had certainly been locked.

The manager’s face expressed blank astonishment, anger, incredibility.

George Chard’s face was pale and anxious.

This was a serious matter. The manager’s influence might avert the anger of the directors from his own head, but would not it descend upon George?

Might he not be held responsible? He had slept upon the premises that night, as usual, and during that night the money must certainly have been removed.

These ideas flashed through his mind instantly, but[145] the thought that he might be directly accused of dishonesty had not yet occurred to him.

At first the two men had refused to credit their senses. They hurriedly unlocked the other safe, pulled out the ledgers, opened the drawers, counted their petty cash, which had not apparently been touched, and in a sort of forlorn hope checked their previous day’s figures.

The money was undoubtedly gone.

The manager sank into a chair and wiped his forehead with a trembling, nervous hand.

George went round the room, examined the fastenings of the windows, turned and re-turned the key in the lock of the outside door leading into the street.

“Whoever has done it,” he cried, “must have come in by the front way. They could not get through the back without me hearing them.”

“Let us see if there are any signs of footprints,” said the manager, going to the door.

The rain had obliterated Jean Petit’s tracks. He had come and gone like a cat in the darkness, opening both the outer doors and the safe noiselessly with his skeleton keys while George Chard slept soundly in the next room.

His accomplice had waited under the shadow of the river bank half a mile up stream, and the boat had taken them quietly away with the gold.

“If anybody came in,” mused the manager, presently, “they must have come in by the outside door.”

“If!” repeated George. “There can be no doubt about it!”


But the word had brought him a strange thrill of apprehension.

Good God! Was it possible?

He endeavoured to catch the manager’s eye.

“What do you mean by saying if?” he demanded suddenly.

The eye—it was always inclined to be shifty and uncertain under a direct look—remained averted.

“Nothing,” replied the manager, “only this is a very serious matter for——” he hesitated, and added, “for both of us?”

“Someone got in with a false key,” exclaimed George, positively, “unless——”

He stopped.

An idea had come to him.

“Unless what?” asked the manager.

It was his turn to look at George.

“Unless,” said George, injudiciously, “someone got in with the key of the door.”

“And opened the safe?” said the manager.

“With the key of the safe,” added George, meeting him square in the face.

The man was not guilty, as far as the direct robbery was concerned; but there were many little acts of carelessness which he would prefer should not come to the ears of the directors. He had the favour of the Inspector certainly, but a bank robbery is a bank robbery, and the fact remained that five hundred pounds had been removed from a safe of which he held the key, and the safe showed no signs of violence. But[147] George Chard had also had possession of the key at different times.

And the manager resolved inwardly that if suspicion fell on anyone, it would not be upon him. In his heart he probably believed that his subordinate was innocent, but in his heart he was also a coward.

“It is a deuce of a mess,” he observed presently, in a friendly tone, “but we must stick together.”

“Yes,” replied George, abstractedly.

“Our evidence,” the manager went on, watching the young man narrowly, “will have to tally.”

“What evidence?” asked poor George, whose mind was in a whirl.

“Any evidence we may have to give! There is bound to be an inquiry.”

“I will tell the truth,” cried the other. “I can do neither more nor less than that.”

The manager reflected. The telling of the truth meant possibly the telling of those certain acts of carelessness of which he was at that moment painfully conscious.

“That’s right!” he replied, amiably; “we must both tell the truth.”

So after some further thought, he went over to the telegraph office and wired:—

“Five hundred sovereigns unaccountably missing from bank safe. Locked safe yesterday afternoon before leaving. Found locked on opening bank this morning, but money gone. Chard says slept premises last night. Await instructions.”

The same afternoon came a reply wire bidding the[148] manager place the matter in the hands of the police, and the Northern Inspector of the Bulk and Bullion received instructions to proceed to Wharfdale at once and make full inquiries into the alleged robbery.

George Chard thought of his years of service that day, and of his mother and the girls.

Before midday all Wharfdale knew that the bank had been robbed, and the news had travelled up and down the river before sunset.

Business in the little riverside town was practically adjourned for that day. The citizens gathered in groups or sat on their heels under the shade of a tree opposite the bank door, formulating theories and discussing them.

The religious crank took advantage of the opportunity to address the assemblage upon the state of its immortal soul. Despite the great earnestness of his prayerful speech, little attention was paid to him.

It was old Dugald M’Donald who first whispered the theory that perhaps the coves in the bank knew more about where the money had gone to than anybody else.

Dugald put out this view of the matter with a mysterious wink which would have convinced any twelve men in the place.

The audience agreed that, after all, Dugald had no doubt hit the mark, and, thus encouraged, the astute M’Donald with many a “Mind, I’m no’ for sayin’ that it is so,” put forward enough arguments to shake the reputation of an archangel.

As people shouted for Dugald, he became less discreet[149] and choice in his hints, and before nightfall Wharfdale was evenly divided into three factions.

The first faction held that the manager had taken the money. The second faction was convinced that it was George Chard, basing their conclusions on the assumption that because the latter was quiet and reserved he must be deep and clever, and capable. The third party contended that the manager and George were in a conspiracy together. Some went so far as to say that the manager got £350, and George £150, the swag being divided according to seniority.

Everybody was convinced that there would be more sensational developments.

Consequently Wharfdale hung around the bank premises sympathising at every opportunity with its two officials, and offering its services generally to the bank and the police.

People who met at the post-office exchanged views on the bank robbery. It was the first that had ever occurred in Wharfdale, and the evil rumours probably arose from the fact that the inhabitants felt it as a general stigma on their own honesty, so that it was not long before Dan Creyton overheard a qualified hint which roused his Irish anger.

He took his hat and went down to the bank.

George was sitting on his stool with an open ledger before him, but the pen did not move upon its pages. Dan took his friend’s hand and held it as he had done once before in a day of trouble.

George listened to what Dan had to say to him, by way of sympathy. It seemed that there was a fire in[150] his throat, but it was only when he spoke that Dan knew how badly he was hurt. Then Dan Creyton shook hands with George again and went away.

“This has got to be cleared up,” Dan told himself in a resolute voice as he went up the street. “He can’t have any indefinite charge like that hanging over him. Neither can the other fellow!”

At that moment he came face to face with the “other fellow,” who had been taking more whisky than was good for him. Dan stopped him and unburdened his mind. He was perhaps the only man in Wharfdale who would have dared to do it, because he was the only man who was convinced that George Chard was innocent. Nor did he suspect the manager, whom he believed to be too great a coward to run risks. But Dan had not exchanged a dozen sentences with the man before he knew that he was quite prepared to sacrifice George to save himself. The knowledge brought him more anxiety than he cared to confess. But his anxiety reached a climax when Rumour, in a female tongue, sharp and bitter, told him that a warrant was to be issued for the arrest of his friend, George Chard!

Dan stood by the door of the office irresolute. He turned at his sister’s voice. She had just rowed over in the cool of the afternoon breeze to get their tea ready.

George Chard was to have sat to table with them. Dan, who guessed at many things, could not see his way clear for the moment; but when it occurred to him that if he were not the news-bearer another would be, and before long he called his sister in.


“I have something to tell you, Nora,” he said, simply; “better sit down.”

“What is it?” she asked. “You look worried; is anything wrong. The heat to-day has been awful!”

“I haven’t felt it,” said Dan. “It is not the heat; something else. The bank has been robbed!”

“Robbed! The bank! Tell me!” she cried, springing up. “Has anything happened? Is George Chard hurt?”

Nora’s hand grasped her bodice tightly. Her face was pale. A wild concern showed in her eyes.

Dan noticed these things, and his mouth tightened.

“No.” he said, “he is not hurt in body, but in mind. His character—”

“Character!” ejaculated the girl, wonderingly. “What! What do you mean, Dan; I don’t understand?”

“Five hundred pounds have been removed from the safe!” said Dan, tersely. “The money was put there yesterday. George had the keys in the afternoon. Bullen went away early, I believe. When he went to the safe this morning the money was gone!”

“Gone! But who could have taken it, Dan?”

He explained the circumstances of the robbery.

“Could not the doors have been opened with a skeleton key?” asked Nora.

There was a note of exaggerated anxiousness in the inquiry at which Dan would have smiled under more pleasant circumstances.

“No doubt,” he said, “they could, and were; but the trouble is that the keys are never out of the possession of one or other of them.”


“But I cannot see——” Nora began and stopped, looking closely into her brother’s face.

“No, nor I,” mused Dan. “But one thing is certain: George Chard never had anything to do with it!”

“George Chard!” cried Nora, all her woman’s feeling rising up in her soul, “Who says George Chard had anything to do with such a thing? Who dare say——”

“Hush, Nora!” interrupted Dan, gently. “They are already saying it!”

Nora was Irish, too, and a great wrath grew upon her.

“Do you mean to tell me that you stood by and listened to a cruel lie like that? It is a lie, a malicious, horrid lie, and I—I—I. Oh, I’ll tell them so! Tell them in their teeth!

“George Chard a thief! Good God! Who could be so wicked to dream of such a thing! The best, the bravest—and truest—why, Dan,” she blurted out, “Don’t you know I LOVE HIM! I love him more than anything or anybody on earth!”

And Nora, her face as red as fire, threw her arms round Dan’s neck and burst into a perfect maelstrom of thoroughly feminine sobs.


Chapter XVI.

George Chard felt it bitterly hard that after his years of service he should earn not only the reproof of the head office, but that suspicion should in some way indefinitely be attached to him.

There had been an inquiry into the robbery, and although there was nothing in the evidence to directly implicate either himself or his manager, the tone of head-office letters was by no means comforting.

George had done his best to clear his superior officer. Truth is good, but it is not always a matter of telling the whole truth in every-day life.

If people were to say all they knew about each other, society would fall to pieces rapidly—as rapidly as an iceberg might melt in a volcano.

George Chard knew this, and certain matters of carelessness on his manager’s part had not come out. It is one thing for a directorate or a department to frame an elaborate code of rules, and another thing for their servants to follow them to the letter.

No rules, natural or man-made, can ever be exactly adhered to.


In repayment for his subordinate’s fealty, the Pig had whispered certain private insinuations against George to the inspector.

Consequently he became a “marked man.”

In every branch of Government employment, in every big commercial organisation there are “marked men.” They remain in the employ, pending a valid excuse for their dismissal, perhaps for years, but they do not get on. They are never promoted; they never receive an increase in salary, and they are never placed in any position of responsibility.

George Chard knew this, and he saw, as soon as the inquiry had closed, that his career in the Bulk and Bullion was practically at an end.

The thought stung him like nettles. He was a proud man, and his pride had been humbled; he was a conscientious man also, and the thought of his responsibility—of the mother and the five girls dependent on him—alone prevented him writing at once to the head office and demanding either an honourable acquittal or an honourable discharge. But then, again, what charge was he to be acquitted of? None had been brought against him. No one had accused him. No one had dared insinuate to him openly that he had anything to do with the removal of the money from the bank safe, yet he felt that an unseen sword of Damocles hung over his head.

It is this anticipation of disaster—this hourly expectation of something going to happen—that wears out the strongest energy and shatters the strongest nervous system.


The town of Wharfdale, unknown to George, was still indefinitely divided into factions upon the question of the bank robbery, and it was not improbable that in a very little time someone would have accidentally given him evil news if the matter of the robbery had not sunk into insignificance before the discovery of the body of a murdered man down the river.

The news was brought up by the Greenwich the morning after George, the deck-hand, had had such remarkable fishing.

First came the outlines which Rumour filled in for herself, dwelling lovingly on the knife wounds.

Then gossiping tongues began to shape fancies into main facts. A body had certainly been discovered, and people who saw it were convinced that a foul and brutal murder had taken place.

The craving for sensation, like the craving for opium or chloral, is progressive—the patients must keep on increasing the dose. The newspaper down the river published an “extraordinary” on the morning following George’s discovery. The “extraordinary,” printed on a “galley-slip,” was sold all over the district at a penny.

As the day wore on a second edition of the “extraordinary” was issued containing two or three additional paragraphs of news, and the opinion which the “authorities” were supposed to entertain on the subject.

The publication of the paper proper was deferred a day to enable the particulars of the inquest to be inserted.

Then the little sheet put up a record circulation.


The editor congratulated himself on the headlines. Years afterwards, when strangers came into the office, he would take down the file and point them out with pride. The first word. “Murder,” was set in woodblock type an inch and a half deep: “And Inquest,” in the German decorative capitals usually used for illuminated texts by printers of religious literature.

The actual evidence adduced at the inquest was meagre.

George, the deck-hand, was examined by the Coroner at great length. The court went into the minutest details regarding the finding of the body, even bringing out the witness’s private opinions about the matter—what he thought and what he felt at the time and afterwards.

The Sergeant was sworn. He corroborated George in respect to the fishing; detailed the appearance of the corpse—to which the audience listened lovingly—told how he had left the body tied up by the wharf until daylight, removed same with the assistance of a constable to a shed, and summoned the doctor.

The doctor was an heroic figure at the inquest. It was with difficulty that the crowded court refrained from cheering when he stepped into the witness-box. With the greatest urbanity the presiding J.P., who was acting Coroner, requested him to explain the technical terms he used in his evidence. The doctor bowed—a perfectly splendid bow it was generally admitted—and courteously gave the common English of the thing to his audience.

A sigh of satisfaction went round when he swore[157] positively that it would be impossible for deceased to have inflicted upon himself the wounds as detailed.

The district had not had such a sensation for years. The identity of the deceased would have remained a matter of absolute doubt had it not been for an accident. A religious crank, whose name was casually “Joe,” happened to arrive in the place on the morning of the discovery.

Numbers of people had been taken to the shed by the police.

Some thought they might be able to say who it was, and others wanted to tell their friends in future years that they had seen an approved hall-marked murder in cold flesh.

None of those people had thrown the least light on the subject. The body remained unrecognised until the religious crank went in.

He kissed the book with a reverent smack, and stood awaiting the interrogations of the Sergeant and the J.P.

The audience, with bated breath, leaned eagerly forward to catch every word of the religious crank’s low replies.

“It happened quite accidentally,” he said, that he had gone into the shed where the body on which enquiry was being held had been conveyed, he believed, from the wharf. He could not swear that it was the same body which had been taken out of the river in the morning.

He knew Constable Flanagan. He was upon the[158] Lord’s work when he was requested to enter the shed. He had not heard the constable’s evidence.

It was not a fact that he had recognised the body. (Murmur of disappointment ran throughout the court). All he had said to Constable Flanagan was that he believed he had seen deceased before at a meeting in one of the river towns. He would not swear positively that it was deceased, but he believed it was. If he remembered rightly, the man’s name was Gooch-Peter. He could not say what occupation he followed. This happened about six or eight weeks before. That was all he knew about the matter. The name might have been Good; he was not sure.

The witness, instead of throwing light upon the case, seemed to have added to its mystery.

Nobody knew of a person named Good or Gooch along the river, not even the oldest residents, and oldest residents know everything. Still, the crank had given the police a clue. Up to that they had been hopelessly fogged. Now there was some sort of a trail to follow.

The Sergeant applied for an adjournment and wired up the river. He wired to various persons; none of them could positively swear that they knew a man answering to the description of deceased.

The crank held a great revival meeting opposite the courthouse that night. He spoke eloquently, and his testimonies drew a hat full of small change from the crowd. He preached mostly about the evils of murder and homicide, and strong drink.


The jury considered the evidence carefully, and then brought in a verdict to the effect that deceased, whose name was supposed to be either Good or Gooch, met his death at the hands of some person or persons unknown.

They added a rider to the effect that George, the deck-hand, the Sergeant, and the witnesses generally had behaved themselves with credit, and thanked the coroner and the doctor for their kindness and attention.

Altogether, it was a very successful affair, and the jury got more or less drunk, because everybody wanted to shout for them and be seen talking to them.

In Australia you cannot expect to talk very long to any distinguished person without shouting for him.

The excitement remained at fever heat for some days, during which the movements of the police were watched with absorbing interest.

The police did their best, but the mystery of the murder remained as it was at first. The people began to get impatient for developments. On the advice of the authorities, the Government issued a proclamation offering £500 reward for the conviction of the murderer, adding a free pardon to any accomplice who would turn Queen’s evidence.

Placards to this effect were posted up on the trees and cross roads, at the approaches to punts, on wharves, and other places.

Scores of amateur detectives were at work following out all sorts of impossible theories, and suspicions were cast on almost every doubtful character on the whole country side.


But day followed day, and the mysterious puzzle still remained without a key.

Jean Petit had formally adopted Tom and Dave.

So terrified were the lads of the convict and their secret knowledge of his crime that they obeyed him in fear and trembling.

It was not until the morning after the capture that they managed to get together and talk. Petit had forbidden them holding converse with one another, and any signs of communication had brought out the knife.

So Tom and Dave lived for twenty-four hours on that island in awful bad company, hardly daring to look at one another.

Petit had drawn the boat up in the scrub, hidden it, and so secured it that they could not launch it without his knowledge and aid.

They might have swum ashore, and each prisoner meditated it, but the opportunity had not offered, and they were, moreover, still too terrified to make the attempt.

But now Petit was asleep and snoring, and Tom motioned Dave to sneak after him into the lantana. They had almost reached the opposite edge of the island before they drew together and spoke in scared whispers.

Dave broke out first: “I’ll never go piratin’ no more,” he said, with a dry sob.

“Nor me!” said Tom. “Not without a gun, anyway.”


“Suppose he wakes up now,” said Dave, and shuddered.

Tom had taken the precaution to pick up the billy-can. There was a swamp in the centre of the island, which Petit had brought them to the evening before.

“We’ll say we went for a billy of water to bile tea for him,” replied the elder adventurer.

“What are we going to do?” asked Dave.

“Get away,” replied Tom, “as soon as we see a chance.”

“Why can’t we go now?” queried Dave, looking longingly across the bank of the river. “I ain’t never swum so far; but I’d as lief be drowned as stay here. What is he stayin’ here so quiet for?”

“He’s hidin’,” replied Tom, sagaciously. “He’s waitin’ here for a chance to escape. I say, did you notice the belt?”

“That canvas thing around his waist? I see the end of it stickin’ out when he stooped over the fire last night.”

“Hsh!” said Tom. “He’s got the money in that!”

“The money that he stole?”

“The money that him and the other cove stole. The money he killed his mate for!”

“Hush!” cried Dave, looking anxiously around. “Don’t get talkin’ about that; for God’s sake, Tom don’t.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Tom emphatically. “I wish I never see it, nor him either. We’d had a all-right time only for him. ’E keeps croppin’ up, croppin’ up just when things is goin’ straight, and[162] now ’e’s nailed us ’ere an’ took our boat an’ our tent, an’ our tucker, an’ everything!”

“Yes,” agreed Dave, feeling his neck fearfully; “an’ the next thing he’ll do is cut our throats an’ dig a hole an’ bury us, or throw us in the river. I’m dead full of the whole thing.”

“Shut up!” retorted Tom; “you’re a nice kind o’ cove to start yelping like this.”

“Well, so did you last night.”

“I never. It was the smoke got in me eyes.”

“Well, the sun’s got in mine now. What are we goin’ to do?”

“We’ll have to swim!” said Tom, sadly.

“An’ leave ’im the boat? We can’t do any more piratin’ then?”

“There was a note of gladness in Dave’s voice.

“Yes,” replied Tom, savagely; “an’ I’ll have to go back to the old man and get whaled. It’s his fault, and I’ll—I’ll——”

The boss pirate clenched his fist angrily.

“What’ll you do?” asked Dave, anxiously.

The first mate was not for taking any risks.

“You’ll see what I’ll do,” cried the chief, “an’ so will he!”

A vengeful light shone in Tom Pagdin’s eye.

Dave started.

“What’s that nise?” he whispered.

“Rollicks!” ejaculated Tom, peering through the bushes. “Hist! There’s a boat! Two men in it! They’re comin’ across the island! They got guns! They’re after flock pigeons! As soon as they get in[163] near enough we’ll make a bolt for the edge, an’ swim out to ’em an’ tell ’em!”

They were breathless with excitement and hope.

“Hide!” cried Dave. “Hide! He might a’ heard them coming!”

They heard a soft footstep close behind them, turned, and saw Jean Petit!


Chapter XVII.

The look in Petit’s eyes when he perceived the boat was not calculated to reassure Tom and Dave. Dave’s face showed gruesomely pale in contrast with his red hair, and no one would have recognised in Tom the high-spirited youth, who, garbed in nothing but a sense of injury, had defied his tyrannical parent only a few days before.

Dave, who had got into the habit of taking his cue from his superior officer, was ready to bolt, but Tom made no sign. After a visible effort to control his emotion, he began to gaze abstractedly round at the fig-trees.

Petit crept up to them.

“Hist!” he exclaimed, with a significant glance at the boat, which was making towards the point of the island.

“We just came acrost for a billy of water,” explained Tom, sotto voce, “we was goin’ to have the tea biled again you woke up.”

He was trying to catch Dave’s eye.


Petit had crouched down beside them; his knife between his teeth.

“Make ze leetle noise,” he hissed; “make ze evair so leetle an’ I will keel you both.”

“I ain’t goin’ to make no nise,” said Tom, emphatically.

“Neither am I,” pleaded Dave, in an earnest voice. “We never seen the boat till just when you came along.”

This attempt to allay Petit’s suspicions may have been successful or otherwise. The Frenchman made no sign.

Dave fully expected that his throat was to be cut at last.

He dared not look at the boat, but watched the face of the escapee as a condemned criminal might watch the face of his executioner.

The boat was within twenty yards of the shore, and not more than a hundred from where they lay in the scrub.

It happened that the day being a public holiday, Dan Creyton and George Chard had decided to go out shooting. On all the large islands in the river Moreton Bay figs grew profusely, and the pigeons and flying foxes came down from the hills to feed on the ripe fruit.

They had determined to try this particular island before breakfast. Hence all that followed.

The boat was certainly going to land. Petit, watching[166] with lynx eyes, scowled angrily. Conflicting emotions of hope and fear surged in Tom Pagdin’s breast.

The rowers turned the corner of the point, and were hidden from view, but they could hear the noise of the oars being drawn in; hear the voices of two strangers in conversation; hear them taking the gear out of the boat, and making her fast.

Again and again Tom tried to catch Dave’s eye.

At last he succeeded.

Dave saw that his mate meant to run.

It was only a lightning glance, but it said plainly enough, “chance it.”

Dave trembled all over.

He withdrew his eyes guiltily; they had only wandered for a second—and looked again in Petit’s face. He seemed fascinated, as a victim might be in watching the axe of a headsman waiting for its descent—were he permitted to see the axe. Petit was actually meditating killing the two boys, but he was also calculating the after chance. As far as the act was concerned he had no qualms once he made up his mind that it would be better for him to have them out of the way. The youth and presumed innocence of Tom and Dave would not deter a person of his gentle nature for a moment. He would have no more compunction about the matter than he would about the matter of drowning a couple of blind kittens. Had he the slightest inkling of the knowledge possessed by his hostages regarding the murder of his accomplice on the night of the bank robbery the career of the pirates would have ended abruptly the previous day.


But Petit was a true criminal—he only killed when he thought it necessary. It is the act of a lunatic, he had often explained to his fellows, to do otherwise. Why make evidence against oneself without reason. The career of the true professional was a game in which he played his life and liberty against Society and the Law. He could not, therefore, afford to throw away a chance. But if any of his crimes had been discovered—if these strangers in the boat were come to arrest him—of course there would no longer be any need for caution.

He questioned Tom with a threat.

“Zese men in ze boad,” he growled in a low guttural, “know you, eh? Spik me visout untruth,” he added, “else——”

The knife in his hand was sufficient termination for the sentence.

Tom understood.

“Yes,” said the latter, looking right into Petit’s eyes. “I know ’em both. One’s name’s Joe Saunders, an’ the other cove’s Dan Creed. They’re duck shooters.”

“Vat?” exclaimed Petit.

“Shooters,” interposed Dave, with a quivering lip and an exaggerated expression of veracity. “They go shooting ducks in the swamps for the market, and pigeons.”

“Yes,” observed Tom, “they come up the river a piece. That cove in the nose of the boat, he’s got a bit of a farm up there.”

He was looking at Dave.


Dave took up the story.

“Yes,” he went on; “that’s Dan Saunders.”

“Joe Saunders,” interrupted Tom.

“Joe Saunders, I mean,” replied Dave, correcting himself quickly; “an’ the other cove’s Dan MacCreedy.”

“Dan Creed,” said Tom.

It would have delighted him very much to punch Dave’s head.

“That’s what I said—Dan Creed,” resumed Dave. “We know ’em both.”

Petit silenced them by a motion.

The sportsmen were trooping along the track, gun in hand, with their eyes in the air looking up at the fig-trees, watching for pigeons.

It had been Dan Creyton’s idea, that expedition. He wanted to get George out in the open air, away from his troubles, to occupy his mind in some sport. There is no medicine like this for the mind and nerves, and already George was forgetting the black cloud which had recently lowered upon him. The primal instinct of the hunter can always be reverted to by a sane man, whom civilization has in one way or another made sick. An hour’s fishing, by some shady pool, under the open sky is worth more than a bottle of drugs.

They strode along in the cool morning air, making little noise on the jungle path, carpeted with leaves. Closer and closer they came to that group of three in the scrub.

Tom and Dave could hear their hearts beating in their heads. Petit lay upon the ground, flattened out like a panther, his knife ready to his hand. He had[169] put Tom on one side and Dave on the other, within reach of his arm, giving them to understand plainly enough that at the first attempt to communicate with the strangers he would choke the life out of them.

The boys knew well enough they would have little chance in the strong clutch of those vice-like fingers, because Petit had given their necks a sample squeeze with his huge forefinger and thumb.

So they lay still, fearing, hoping, despairing—both more or less hysterical, both experiencing great difficulty in restraining something which kept rising up in their throats—something choking and unpleasant which would otherwise have developed into a sob.

Dan Creyton and George passed them within a distance of ten yards, and they dared not cry out or give the slightest sign of warning. Tom said afterwards that he never felt like he did then except once, and that was when he crawled down a hollow log after a bandicoot and got stuck. It was just the same smothering, suffocating feeling.

The shooters went by and entered a clump of figs. They sat there a long time waiting for pigeons. The trio laying concealed in the bushes could hear the murmur of their voices occasionally. They talked in very low tones, because it is good not to make any noise when one is out hunting; but as they were not many yards little bits of conversation drifted down to Tom, whose ears were strained to catch it.

Presently they shifted their position to the butt of a big fig-tree not more than ten yards outside the scrub[170] in which the others were concealed. Tom almost cried out when Dan Creyton said suddenly:

“Do you know, George, I’ve got an idea that there were at least two men in that business.”

“I don’t know,” replied George. “God knows I have thought the thing over and over night and day, and it is still the greatest mystery on earth to me. What makes you think that, Dan?”

“I’ll tell you later,” said Dan, “when I work my theory out. I’m not going to let the matter rest, even if the police give it up. This murder case has put everything else out of their heads. It is my opinion that the murder and the robbery were carried out by the same man!”

Tom Pagdin started, and stole a glance at Jean Petit.

The look he saw on Petit’s face made his hair stand on end.

Dave was evidently engaged in trying to swallow something without making a noise. What Dave was trying to swallow is not quite certain, but it was probably a yell.

“I don’t know,” said George Chard, thoughtfully. “I cannot see anything at present to connect the two crimes.”

“Neither can the police,” resumed Dan. “But that is simply because the police, like everybody else along the river, have got a wrong theory about the robbery.”

He did not say that the theory was that either George or the manager, or both of them together, had removed the money.


“I believe,” resumed Dan, “that that body was the body of an accomplice. He was put out of the way, either because he knew too much, or because the other man wanted all the plunder for himself, and, what’s more, I’m convinced that whoever did it was a stranger.”

“It is a pity that religious crank could not properly identify the murdered man,” exclaimed George. “What is that jumping in the bushes?”

“A paddymelon,” said Dan; “these scrubs are full of them.”

It was Jean Petit. He had involuntarily half-jumped to his feet.

Tom and Dave thought the critical moment had come. But the convict sank softly to the ground again. His face was working horribly. Tom Pagdin said he looked more like a devil let loose out of hell than anything, and a boss devil, at that.

“Well,” said George Chard, with a sigh, “I wish you could clear it up, Dan, for my sake, if for nothing else. You’d be welcome to the £250 reward offered by the bank as well as the £500 the Government are giving!”

“I am trying my hand at a little amateur detective work,” said Dan, quietly; “but it is not the money I’m after.”

“And you wouldn’t have to apply for the pardon, either,” said George, smiling.

“No,” replied Dan; “the bitterest old woman in Wharfdale would hardly accuse me of being an accomplice[172] to a brutal murder. So the pardon would have to go to someone else who wanted it!”

Tom Pagdin started in turn, but checked himself. He dreaded Petit’s eyes.

But Petit, like a listening wolf who has caught the bay of pursuing hounds on his trail, thought of other things. His mind was so crowded with serious reflections that he did not notice the discrepancies between the boys’ account of the strangers and the latter’s conversation about themselves and their business.

Presently Dan and George shouldered their guns and continued their walk along the track which led directly to the convict’s camp.

Petit stirred uneasily, and sat up. His face betrayed conflicting emotions of fear, anger, and hate.

He was evidently looking for a way of speedy escape without attracting the notice of the strangers.

Suddenly he caught both boys and shook them.

“Come wis me!” he growled. “Make no noise!”

He made towards the boat in which the young men had rowed over.

He had made up his mind that there lay his best chance of getting away.

It would be some time before the young men returned from the other end of the island.

When they came back the boat would be gone.

They would probably discover the camp. Their suspicions might be aroused. One of them at least had a theory about the murder. The incident might be connected with the crime, and lead to a sure clue. The loss of their boat would, however, delay them.[173] Perhaps they would not discover the boat in which the boys had landed—his, Petit’s boat—which he had hidden very carefully.

Petit so argued, and arriving at his conclusion, acted without delay.

He strode along the jungle path, driving the boys noiselessly before him like a couple of sheep.

They were within ten yards of the point when the convict, putting his hand to his waist, uttered an imprecation.

The money which he had been carrying about with him in a canvas belt was gone.

He had left it at the camp whither the two strangers had directly gone.

With fearful oaths and threats he bade Dave and Tom stay where they were until he returned, and wheeling about, he went back quickly along the track.

Tom waited until the jungle hid him from view, and then he grabbed Dave by the hand.


They sprang to the boat together.

“Off with the painter!” he gasped, and stopped.

Standing against the seat aft was Dan Creyton’s Winchester rifle, and beside it was a box of cartridges!

At heart Tom Pagdin was not a coward.

Real cowardice is a thing few Australian bush lads have any use for.

Tom had been out kangaroo shooting, and he knew the mechanism of a Winchester.

In less time that it takes to write, the pirate had the[174] rifle out of the boat, twelve cartridges in the magazine, and the balance of the box loose in his pocket.

His hand shook with excitement but there was a fire in his eye that boded no good for Jean Petit.

“Let him come now!” sobbed Tom, pulling the hammer back to full cock. “Let the d——hound come!!”

“What are you goin’ to do?” asked Dave from behind.

Tom laid down behind the drifted log, and sighted the Winchester along the track.

“Keep down be’ind me,” he said excitedly, “and lay close!”

“Suppose you kill ’im, we might get ’ung,” ventured Dave.

“I don’t care.” replied Tom. “I’ll ’ang for ’im, the blood-thirsty hound. ’E’d a’ killed us afore ’e left the island most likely.”

“Are you goin’ to call on him to surrender first?”

“Not a call! ’E’s an outlaw. They can’t touch you for shootin’ outlaws.”

“Suppose you miss ’im.” whimpered Dave.

“I ain’t goin’ to miss ’im,” replied Tom, grimly.

“If you do he’ll kill us both.”

“’E won’t never get the chance!” said Tom. “I got her lined jest in front of that myrtle, in the clear. ’E’s got to come by there. It ain’t more’n sixty yards at the outside. If I don’t drop ’im first shot, there’s eleven more, an’ I got a pocketful o’ cartridges, an’ we’re between ’im an’ the boat.”

Tom shut his left eye and sighted. His forefinger[175] was crooked over the trigger. The barrel of his rifle rested steadily on the log.

Jean Petit broke into view, running. The canvas belt was in his hand.

“They’ve seen him,” whispered Dave. “Maybe they’re following him.”

Tom made no reply. He held his breath, as a kangaroo shooter does just before he squeezes the trigger gently to him.

Petit rounded the myrtle tree.


Chapter XVIII.

Tom Pagdin’s crooked forefinger closed on the trigger. The sharp cr-r-rack of the Winchester was answered by a howl of pain from Jean Petit.

The bullet had penetrated the fleshy part of his arm.

Tom wrenched back the lever, ejected the smoking shell, slid another cartridge out of the magazine into the barrel, and lifted the rifle to his shoulder again.

Petit, taken by surprise, had pulled up short.

The unexpected had happened!

“Shoot him in the stummick!” yelled Dave. “Shoot him in the stummick, Tom!”

The love of war is in our Australian youth. When first the Colonial troops rode on to the veldt, seasoned British veterans admitted this.

The first mate had armed himself with a paddle, and was standing behind his chief waving his clubbed oar above his head in a state of great excitement. He shouted defiance at Petit, and wildly urged Tom to kill the latter without benefit of clergy.

George Chard and Dan Creyton, hearing the shot[177] and the shouting, were running in the direction of the boat.

Tom covered Petit with the Winchester.

They were not twenty yards apart.

The expression on the convict’s face as he grasped the situation would under ordinary circumstances have turned the pirates cold.

But a bush boy of thirteen with a loaded Winchester at full cock and a grievance such as Tom Pagdin was labouring under, had to be reckoned with.

Bang! went the rifle.

Petit leaped into the air like a kangaroo which had been shot through the body by a Martini, and sprang into the scrub.

At the same moment Dan and George broke into sight through the jungle.

“After him!” yelled Tom.

He re-charged his rifle as he ran, with Dave close at his heels.

“Look out!” cried Dave, frantically waving and shouting to the two strangers. “Head him off!”

At that moment Petit, twice wounded, desperate, and murderous, hurled himself upon Dan and attempted to seize his shot gun.

Dan was an athlete, but this unexpected attack took him at a disadvantage. He stumbled, caught his foot in a vine, and fell backwards.

The gun was loaded with number six shot in both barrels.

Dan Creyton’s hand was on the triggers and as he went down the two charges exploded, tearing out the[178] twigs and scattering green perforated leaves in the air overhead.

As Dan Creyton fell, George threw himself upon Petit.

The frenzied convict fought and struggled like a mad lion.

He was more than a match for them both. Besides, this unexpected development of a morning’s peaceful sport had taken them completely by surprise.

They did not know whether their assailant was an escaped lunatic, a murderer, or a law-abiding citizen, who was labouring under an impression that he had struck an island of homicides. The question was, who was justified? They had heard the shots fired and the shouting, but they were absolutely ignorant of the meaning of it all.

However, the average Anglo-Saxon does not pause to reason about things when he is attacked—he hits out.

They struggled with the escapee, who knew his only chance of making things even was to get possession of a gun. Escape from the island, his instinct told him, had been cut off. He was in a tight place, wounded and must kill and smash a way out. One murder more or less did not matter to him. He fought for a little longer life, a few hours’ further liberty—that was all. He bled, but he did not feel his wounds. Tom’s bullets had not hit him in any vital part of the body.

Dan Creyton was stunned by the force of the fall, by the weight of the aggressor, and by Petit’s rapid blows.

Trapped at last.

Tom Pagdin, Pirate. Page 179.


The convict shook himself free from them as an infuriated boar will shake off a brace of dogs, seized the empty fowling piece by the muzzle, and swung it aloft to club out George Chard’s brains.

George, piecing rapid events together afterwards, remembered that a wild-eyed youth, armed with Dan’s rifle, suddenly appeared on the scene, followed by a red-headed youth waving an oar.

The boys sprang out of the scrub right behind Petit. George, whose head was in a whirl, declared that the red-headed boy brought the oar down with all the strength he was capable of on the convict’s neck, and that the gun flew out of the latter’s hands, and the stock struck him (George) on the side of the head.

The next minute the other boy was holding the muzzle of a smoking rifle to the prostrate convict’s ear, and inviting Dan and George to get up and bind that person, and making all sorts of statements and charges against the prostrate man’s history and character.

“Get the painter out of the boat!” cried Tom to Dave. “Move as much as an eye-lid,” he observed to Petit, “an’ I’ll shoot the top of your skull acrost the bloomin’ river!”

Petit was dazed. He did not offer to move.

“There’s ten shots in her yet,” Tom informed the prostrate foe, “an’ I’m too close to miss yer. I’ve got a little account with yer, any’ow. That knife ain’t no good to you no more,” he added sarcastically, “I got a better kind of knife to-day.”

He pressed the muzzle of the rifle closer against[180] Petit’s ear to assure him that he was stating facts.

The argument was convincing. Petit looked perfectly diabolical, but he did not offer to put Tom’s repeated promises of blowing his head off to the test.

Dave came running back from the boat, breathless, with the painter in his hand.

“Make a slip knot in it,” ordered Tom, who had assumed control of the proceedings. It was his hand, and he meant to see it played.

“Put his hands behind his back!” he ordered, “draw it tight!”

George found himself obeying, without further question, the orders of the strange wild-looking youth, who seemed to have good and valid reasons for all he was saying and doing.

“Tighter!” cried the pirate captain; “draw it as tight as it will go. Don’t be afraid of hurtin’ him!”

“No,” said Dave who was buzzing round; “don’t trouble about him, he didn’t trouble about us, nor anybody else.”

“Now, Sour Krout,” cried Tom, when he had seen the murderer’s hands securely bound behind his back, “I’m goin’ to walk be’ind yer with this Winchester till I see you into the lock-up.”

Dan Creyton, recovering from his stupor, sat up on the leaves. The whole thing looked like a dream to him. He was trying to collect events and identities. George was on his knees beside him, inquiring if he were hurt.

“No,” said Dan slowly; “not hurt much; I think[181] no bones broken. But what is it? What’s all this about? Somebody fell on me, didn’t they?”

“Yes,” said Tom, grimly; “somebody did. If you knew as much about him as we do you’d reckon you was lucky you ain’t got a knife in your neck.”

“He would, too,” corroborated Dave, “only I see ’im drop it when you fired the first shot.”

“I must ’a’ hit him then,” said Tom, in a glad voice. “I knowed I couldn’t ’a’ missed him clean at that distance. Why it wasn’t more’n fifty yards at the outside, an’ I killed a wallaby with a pea-rifle at fifty five.”

“Yes,” said Dave, “he’s hit on the arm; see the blood on his shirt.”

Petit scowled.

“What is the meaning of all this?” demanded Dan Creyton, rising painfully to his feet.

Petit broke into a torrent of words. He declared, in rapid, broken English, that he had been attacked by the two boys—they were his children by adoption. They had run away, he was following them; they had turned upon him, fired at him, and wounded him in two places. He had leaped upon the strangers not knowing where he was going or what he was doing, thinking, too, that they had joined the attack. He was innocent of all things. Let them release him at once; dreadful punishment would be meted out to them if they persisted. It was murder, outrage, against the law of the country. Would these gentlemen countenance such things? Compel that boy to remove the[182] firearm; it might go off—then they would all be hung for murder. Let them untie the bonds at once.

“Hold on!” interrupted Tom Pagdin, turning to George and Dan. “I got something to say, too. I got,” he began, stepping back three or four paces, but still aiming at Petit’s head, “that is, me an’ my mate, ’as got to turn Queen’s evidence. We got to do it some time, so we might as well do it at onct an’ have done with it.”

“Say,” he went on, “have either of you chaps got a Bible on you?”

George shook his head. Dan regarded Tom with an air of attention, almost of respect. With returning perception he saw that there was something important behind all this—that some mystery was going to be cleared up, and instinctively he connected the group before him with the bank robbery—the murder, perhaps.

“No,” said Dan, humouring the boy, “neither of us carry Testaments about with us when we go shooting. Couldn’t you swear on something else?”

“Yes,” said Tom, after a moment’s thought. “We might swear on a knife. Gimme that sheath knife.”

Tom took the knife in one hand and held the rifle towards Petit with the other.

“It’s a private oath,” he exclaimed. “Come here an’ swear on it Dave; we got to before we can break the other oath we took up the river.”

Tom solemnly turned the haft of the knife to Dave’s heart and swore him to tell the truth, and then Dave did the same thing to Tom, repeating the elaborate[183] oath which they had concocted on the island after the murder.

“Now,” said the pirate captain, aiming steadily at the convict all the time he was talking, “you begin at the beginning, Dave, and I’ll back you up.”

“It’s this way,” began Dave, keeping a wary eye on Petit, and looking now and then at his mate to see if he was going right. “Me an’ Tom run away from home because we got whaled. We reckoned to do a bit o’ piratin’ down the river—piratin’ and odd jobs that turned up. We found a boat, Tom, he was captain, an’ I was first mate.”

“I found ’er floating up the Broadstream one mornin’,” explained Tom. “She’s hid in the lantana now. He took her away from us and hid her. You kin go an’ see her if you don’t believe us.”

“Go on,” said Dan, picking up his gun and re-loading it. “We’ll see all about everything afterwards.”

“We was hid in the lantana,” resumed Dave, “the night we ran away from home, an’ we heard this German feller an’ another feller talkin’.”

Petit started.

“Keep still, Sour Krout!” admonished Tom. “I told you there was ten shots in this rifle, didn’t I.”

“You shoot ’im in the stummick, Tom,” enjoined Dave, stepping back, “if he tries to get at me.”

“Don’t you fret! He won’t never get within three yards of you!” replied Tom, “I’ll down him the first step he takes!”

“Well, we was hid in the scrub,” resumed Dave,[184] speaking quickly, “an’ we heard ’im an’ another cove plannin’ to rob a bank!”

Dave paused to consult Tom with his eye.

“Go on!” cried Dan and George, eagerly.

Tom nodded.

“Go on,” he said. “Tell the whole truth, an’ nothink but the truth, so-’elp-you. We’ve turned Queen’s evidence. They can’t tech us; besides, we had nothink to do with it. We only seen it.”

“We heerd ’em plannin’ to rob the bank,” resumed Dave, “an’ we was frightened. We hid on an island next day, intendin’ to come an’ get our boat an’ go down the river; but these coves knowed where the boat was, and they came next night and took it, and did the robbery.

“How do you know they did the robbery?” asked George Chard, eagerly.

“We was there when they came back with the boat,” replied Dave, watching Petit closely.

“Yes,” said Tom, taking up the story; “it was an awful rainy night first, but the storm cleared off before twelve o’clock, and they brought the money back with them, and——”

“How do you know?” cried George and Dan, in one breath.

“We see it. It was in a canvas bag. Keep cool, Sour Krout! There’s ten shots in ’er—ten lovely shots, an’——”

“Never mind him,” said Dan Creyton, cocking his gun, “it will be bad for him if he attempts anything.”

“That’s right,” said Tom, giving Dan a look of[185] gratitude and friendship, “an’ if you see what we see you wouldn’t ’esitate about it neither. We was layin’ in the scrub when they came back with the money what they robbed from the bank. They had a lantern—keep quiet Sour Krout; she’s got ten shots in ’er, yet I tell yer—an’ they went to bury the money. Leastwise, this cove gammoned they ought to do it. Then—keep quiet, Sour Krout; you’ll do that onct too often—then we seen——”

Tom paused to admonish the Frenchman once more.

“We seen him do it!!”

“Yes,” said Dave, solemnly; “we seen him do it! Both of us!”

“What?” asked Dan. “What was it he did?”

“Keep yer eye on him,” said Tom. “He’s a cold-blooded murderer an’ a robber, an’ worse! He killed his mate with a knife, that’s what he done!”

Petit’s face was a study in hate and rage.

“Keep cool, Sour Krout,” observed Tom, grimly. “You’ve had your innings. Yesterday we was your prisoners. You ’ad the upper hand, you did, and you treated me an’ Dave bad. That was your picnic, and me and Dave was invited. Now this is our picnic, an’ we’ve invited you!”

Dave proceeded to do a nervous war dance round the captive.

“Yah!” he cried. “Twice yesterday an’ once this mornin’ you offered to cut our throats didn’t yer?”

“After we see this cove murder his mate,” explained Tom and Dan, “we was frightened to go an’ tell. We thought he’d lay for us an’ kill us, too. So we came[186] down the river in our boat an’ landed here; but he’d got here before we did some how or another, an’ he ketched us and took the boat from us, an’ drawed it up in the scrub so’s we couldn’t get away. He said he’d cut our throats with his knife if we didn’t do what he told us to, and we was frightened. We never let on to him we knowed what he done. We was goin’ to swim for it when we see you come in the boat. He was just goin’ to collar that boat an’ get away when he remembered about the money he stole, an’ went back for it. It’s a lucky thing he did. Me an’ Dave might a been dead now only he forgot that money.”

“The money!” exclaimed George. “Where is it now?”

“I dunno,” said Tom; “unless he dropped it by the tree when I fired at him first.”

“I took your rifle out of the boat and fired at him,” he added, apologetically, “because if I hadn’t got the rifle he’d have bloomin’ well got it, an’ it’s my opinion he’d a cleared the whole camp out afore he’d a stopped!”

“See what you missed, Sour Krout!” cried Dave, using the paddle as a jumping pole, and leaping about in a delirium of derisive joy.

Petit ground his teeth savagely and glared at his captors.

“Wouldn’t you like to be loose!” yelled Dave, who was more or less hysterical. “Wouldn’t you like me to untie you! Yah!”

Dan turned to George:


“Let us go and see if the money is really there!” he said.

“It’s there!” cried Dave. “I see him drop it when Tom fired! You wait!”

The excited first mate made a bolt into the scrub, and returned in a few minutes heavily laden.

“There!” he cried, triumphantly, throwing the canvas bag containing the plunder of the Bulk and Bullion on the ground at Dan Creyton’s feet. “Now you’ll believe what we say is true!”

“There does not seem to be any reason for doubting it,” observed Dan, “in view of the evidence before us. George, you’d better take charge of the B. and B. property for the present. This looks like a providential coincidence for you!”

“It looks,” replied George, in a bewildered way, “like a story out of a book!”

“My young friend,” remarked Dan to Tom Pagdin, “you had better allow me to uncock that rifle; there is a danger of it going off at present.”

“No,” said Tom, positively, “I’m goin’ to keep this rifle to his hind ear; I ain’t goin’ to trust him, now, after we’ve put him away.”

“No,” said Dave, “we ain’t goin’ to trust him—not more’n six inches from the barrel, anyway.”

“Well,” said Dan with a dry smile, “as you seem to be the leader of the party, you will be good enough to say what we are going to do next?”

“Will he be hung?” asked Tom in an anxious voice.

“I am not prepared to pronounce judgment,” replied Dan; “but if the statements you have just made fit[188] with certain facts I have in my mind, the case will probably present important developments.”

“I don’t understand all that,” replied Tom; “but I reckon the best thing to do is to give this cove in charge!”

“A very reasonable suggestion, my young friend,” observed Dan. “How will you proceed to do it?”

“I’ll show you,” said Tom, with the air of a general. “You let your mate take his gun an’ go with Dave for our boat, and bring her round the Island ’longside yours.”


Chapter XIX.

“This,” said Tom Pagdin, “is the pirate’s hour!”

It was. If any disinterested chronicler of piratical life could have beheld Tom—that ragged buccaneer in miniature—holding the muzzle of Dan Creyton’s Winchester to the prisoner’s ear, and seen Dave’s red head bobbing about the jungle in the nervous restlessness of victory, he would have got to work on the picture without delay.

“Now, Sour Krout!” continued the victorious pirate, “I’m goin’ to give you sailin’ orders, an’ remember she’s got ten shots in her yet!”

He issued his commands. George and Dave were to launch and bring the pirates’ boat round the island, Dan was to walk in front with the shot gun, while he urged Petit on from behind with the loaded Winchester.

When Tom broke this news to the escapee the latter appealed to Dan with threats. Dan observed briefly that Tom was taking all the responsibility, and hinted that he had the best end of the argument. If the boy was wrong and Petit was right, the matter could be[190] adjusted afterwards. Meanwhile he advised him to do as he was told. Thereat Tom, perceiving that his new found friend was not going to interfere with him, pressed the cold muzzle of the rifle against the convict’s head, and convinced him that obedience was good.

It was an interesting procession, but Petit did not seem to appreciate it thoroughly. Every time he as much as looked round Tom would prod him in the back of the neck with his gun, and order “eyes front.”

When Petit growled he girded him with unpleasing remarks and uncomplimentary nicknames. As soon as they reached the boats Tom disposed his prisoner in the bow with due ceremony, and sat facing him, with the Winchester, while Dan rowed.

For further security he commanded the other boat to keep in close attendance, and ordered Dave for’ard, armed with Dan’s gun, giving him strict instructions to open fire at the first sign of hostilities. And Dave knelt down while George rowed, and took frequent aim at Petit to assure him that he was prepared to obey orders.

“All we want now,” observed Tom, as the boats pulled out slowly into the stream “is a band. It don’t seem quite right without a band, but I reckon they’ll fix that up afterwards.”

“Yes,” observed Dan, “I daresay you’ll get a reception in Wharfdale if that rifle don’t go off accidentally before we get there!”

“Pity we couldn’t send ’em word we was comin’,” mused the pirate chief. “They might make up a procession.”


“Very likely they would,” said Dan. “The Mayor would probably attend, and the aldermen and the principal citizens. You’ll be a hero, Tom, anyway.”

“That’s all right,” remarked Tom; “but we ain’t done half what we was goin’ to do, me an’ Dave. We ain’t made no raids, nor fought with any man-o’-war, nor had any duels with other pirates, nor anything.”

“Never mind,” said Dave, by way of consolation, “You’ve made a pretty valuable capture.”

Him!” said Tom, with contempt, flourishing the rifle at Petit. “Oh, he’s nothing—only a cold-blooded German. It’s the Germans that’s ruinin’ this country, and spoilin’ the pirate business. I’ve heard the old man talkin’ about the way them Germans was makin’ things hard for white folks, but I never understood it like I do now.”

When they came within hail of the shore Tom commanded Dan and George to cease rowing.

“We ought ter hold a consultation of war,” he said, “afore we give up the prisoner; we oughter get it in writin’ that the admiral will have him ’ung at the yard arm before six bells. That’s the way they uster do.”

“I am afraid,” replied Dan, “that we’ll have to leave out that part of the ceremony. Besides the admiral is out of town and has taken the fleet with him.”

By this time a small crowd of curious people had commenced to assemble on the bank. This was what Tom Pagdin wanted.

He lay off and waited, killing time with trifles of persiflage and badinage until the entire town turned out.[192] Then he stood up in the boat, and with one eye on the scowling face of Jean Petit, he gave the crowd a little of that gentleman’s history, and instructed them to get the strongest cell in the lock-up aired at once for his reception.

When the people got an inkling of what had happened, they howled questions at Dan and George.

But Dan simply referred them to Tom Pagdin. He said that Tom was the commander of a pirate fleet which happened to be in the offing, and that he had just dropped in at Wharfdale to clear up the mysteries of the bank robbery and murder which had been agitating their minds. He added dryly that it was mainly for the sake of giving his friend Chard an opportunity to bring libel actions against some prominent amateur detectives in Wharfdale that he had taken a temporary commission under Captain Thomas Pagdin.

“Why it’s that young Tom Pagdin that was lost up the river!” cried an excited citizen.

“An’ the red-headed kid’s Dave Gibson,” said another. “They’ve been dragging the Broadstream for ’em the last two weeks, everybody up there thought they was drounded!”

“Well I never!” ejaculated a woman in hearing. “Them two. You don’t tell me that they had anything to do with the robbery of the bank?”

And every youth in Wharfdale wished at that moment that he was Tom Pagdin or Dave Gibson.

“Hadn’t we better go ashore now,” suggested Dan.

“Hold on!” cried Tom. “They’ve got to give me[193] and Dan a free pardon first, I’m going to hold him as a ’ostage until we get it.”

“You have already turned Queen’s evidence,” said Dan, gravely, “and the free pardon comes as a matter of course. I am the Postmaster here, and I keep the free pardon forms in my office. I’ll see to that. All you have to do is to tell the truth, or as much of it as you can remember, and instruct Dave to do the same.”

The excitement at the landing of the prisoner was such as Wharfdale in all its history had never known.

The news was telegraphed from one to another, and from the very outskirts of the town breathless inhabitants, young and old, came running to the river bank. Even the town cripple was in attendance.

Dogs followed their owners, met enemies and fought, but for once a dog-fight went unnoticed.

The keel of the boat stuck in the mud at the edge.

Tom ordered the crowd off and they obeyed. Then he commanded Petit: “Right turn! March!” and Petit cursed and obeyed also.

The pirate captain was tasting the sweets of power.

The people fell back and made a lane. Dan went up to the policeman and spoke to him.

The constable stepped beside the prisoner.

He did not raise any objections when Tom and Dave, still armed, walked behind until they came up to the lock-up, with the crowd at their heels, talking excitedly, and jostling one another along the roadway.

When Tom and Dave passed inside the station with Dan and George Chard, the people lined along the[194] fence, theorising and arguing. It was nearly an hour before Dan re-appeared, and he had to get up on a stump and tell the people what had happened. The town would have signed a unanimous petition to the Postmaster-General to remove him at once if he had not done it.

So he got up and spoke all he knew about Petit, and about the way Tom had acted on the island. He said that he probably owed his life to Tom, who was a juvenile hero and a credit to the district. There had, he believed, been a lot of talk in Wharfdale about the bank robbery, and suspicion had fallen on an innocent man, but the recovery of the five hundred sovereigns (which he had just had the pleasure of handing over to the officer in charge, until such time as the whole matter was dealt with by a jury) showed that they had been wrong. It should be a lesson to them. The matter of the bank robbery was practically cleared up. The prisoner inside, on being questioned by the police, had admitted the robbery. He was a desperate man, an escapee from New Caledonia, and a charge of murder would be preferred against him at once.

The crowd cheered Dan. When George Chard came out of the station a prominent resident rushed and caught him by the hand. He was a J.P., and congratulated George fervently. When the people saw that the law as well as the evidence was with George, they all wanted to shake hands and congratulate him, too.

But George said simply that it was Tom Pagdin who deserved their congratulations and applause. Only[195] for Tom the affair might never have been cleared up, and he might have lived on for years under a vague cloud of suspicion. It was Tom’s pluck and promptness which had brought them all out of the mess, and probably saved more than one life.

The constable brought Tom and Dave to the door of the station, gave them a good friendly clap on the back each, and handed them over to Wharfdale. And Wharfdale made a rush and got hold of the boys and lifted them shoulder high and carried them up the street in the direction of the principal hotel.

They made Tom get on the table, and tell the whole story, and the Pirate proved equal to the occasion.

He spoke continuously for two hours, with frequent pauses for the absorption of soft drinks, and cakes and gingerbread. And Dave stood at his right hand, like the trusty Sancho Panza he was, and corroborated every word, and more.

He told them how he and Dave had been driven by parental tyranny from home. Of the adventures they had had pirating, and of others that they had not had, such as an encounter with a bunyip, and a midnight fight with wild blackfellows. How he was bitten with a snake, and Dave sucked the wound, and tied string round it and saved him, and when, after a preliminary flourish he came to the story of the murder, the men held their breaths and the women became more or less hysterical.

The dramatic instinct was strong in the pirate chief. He neglected none of the local colouring. Dave substantiated[196] everything, and threw in suggestions of his own.

Wharfdale mentally collected every word—cleaned him out, as a prospector might clean out a placer of diamonds—and when they had heard everything they went away to find somebody to astonish with the story.

Dan Creyton had gone up to the post-office to tell Nora, and send wires up and down the river, and by and-bye buggies and sulkies began to trot into town loaded with people who wanted to see and hear for themselves.

Tom had retold his yarn—with improvements, as they occurred—so many times that he was quite hoarse, and Dan took him and Dave away to his own place.

And when he presented his young guests to Nora, that young lady so far forgot conventionalities as to throw her arms round the pirates and hug them, in spite of their blushes and protests.

It was an hour of triumph, but its climax came when Dan asked Tom Pagdin if he would accept the Winchester as a gift!

The pirate chief was so overwhelmed with joy that he had to go out of the room, and turn catherine wheels in the yard.

Dave said, jealously, that Tom ought to have better manners, but when George promised him a single-barrelled shot gun as a memento, he went out and turned catherine wheels also.

Nora would not be satisfied until she heard Tom tell[197] her it all himself. The pirate was over-stuffed and weary, but he complied.

When he came to the part where Petit fought with Dan and George on the island, Nora turned red and pale, and had to go out of the room for a while, which fact Tom duly noticed.

It was late that night when the adventurers retired.

Tom sat on the bed unlacing his boots.

“That girl!” he remarked to Dave, solemnly, “ought to be the queen of a pirate island. She’s too good an’ too pretty not to be.”

“She give me a pound note,” said Dave. “I reckon when we go piratin’ again an’ capture a treasure-ship we ought to stand to her.”

“Stand to her!” exclaimed Tom. “My word we will! If ever that girl gets carried off by another pirate an’ marooned on a desert island, because she won’t become his wife, let her send for me!”

“An’ me!” said Dave.

“For both of us. But I ain’t goin’ to wait for that!”


Tom slowly drew off his sock. They had both been rigged out with new clothes by an admiring population.

“I’m going to do something now.”

“What?” asked Dave. “I don’t see what you can do.”

“Don’t you? That’s because you got no sense, Dave Gibson. Did yer see how her eyes opened when I was tellin’ her how Sour-krout was going to kill that cove Chard?”

“Yes, I see.”


“And did you notice how her face went red an’ pretty, like a peach when it’s ripening?”


“An’ did you see how she had to go out of the room to dry her eyes?”

“Yes, I see her go out of the room, but I——”

“Of course not. You don’t know nothing about these things. I tell you what it is, Dave Gibson, that girl’s dead in love with that George Chard!”

“Did she tell you that?” asked Dave.

“No,” replied Tom, loftily. “She did not, but I know it. And what’s more, if he don’t marry her she’ll get sick and die of a broken heart.”

“How do you know?”

How do I know? Ain’t I ever read anything? That’s what a girl does when she’s in love. But I’m goin’ to stop it. I’m goin’ to go to him and put it to him straight. If he’s anything of a man he’ll up and marry the girl, an’ if he don’t, well, I’ll challenge him!”

“Challenge him, how?” asked Dave, pausing, with his boot half off.

“Challenge him to fight a duel with Winchester rifles. You’ll have to be my second, an’ if I fall on the field of honour you’ve got to avenge me.”

“How am I going to do it, then?”

“If he shoots me you’ll have to challenge him next.”

“But suppose he shoots me?” asked Dave, doubtfully.

“You’ll have to get somebody to avenge you! That’s what they call a vendetta.”


“But how can I get anybody if I’m dead? I don’t want to fight any duel, anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter what you want. You leave it to me. I’ll fix somebody to carry on the vendetta if we’re both shot!”

Tom considered for a long time, sitting on the bed, half undressed, his chin on his hand.

“I’ll tell you what!” he cried, jumping up, “we’ll issue an ‘ultermaterm.’”

“A what?”

“A ultermaterm. Gimme some pencil an’ paper, quick.”


Chapter XX.

George Chard was somewhat taken back when a small boy, acting as emissary for the pirates, handed him an unclean scrawl next morning. It was written with blue pencil, on a sheet of brown paper. Deciphered, it read as follows:—


To Mister G. Chard. Whereas It is came to the nollege of us, Captain Thomas Pagdin an’ Captain David Gibson, pirates, that Miss Nora Creyton, which is the prettiest Girl along the River, an’ the best, is ded in luv with u, and you are not treating her fare an’ Onerable as a gentleman. In knott telling Her so without farther delay that u are ded in luv with her an’ Will marri her, Captain T. Pagdin an’ D. Gibson do herebye chalenge you to fight a duel with me, Captain T. Pagdin an’ D. Gibson, pirates, this day behind the post office, at one o’clok. P.s. I Captain Tom Pagdin will ave first shott, and Captain d Gibson will ave seckond shott.


N.B.—this is a vendetter, so be wair!

Sined captain thomas pagdin an’ Captain d gibson.

P.S.—if it is becawse u ain’t got any munney to Mary Miss Nora Creyton with me and Dave as got sum wich u can ave, wich she give us erself for savin ure life from the German cove.

George read and re-read this epistle several times, and then he despatched the emissary in search of the chief pirates.

Tom was closeted with George in his room at the bank for a good half hour, and then he came out with a satisfied and important air.

“What did he say? Is he going to fight us?” asked Dave, anxiously.

“No,” replied Tom, “worse luck. ’E caved in.”

“Is he going to marry er then?”

“I’m on a oath not to say anything about it,” replied Tom mysteriously. “But it’s goin’ to be all-right.”

And it was.

Jean Petit got his deserts in due time. The story of how Tom gave his evidence at the trial and had his name and a photograph of himself in the papers would make another book. The old man came down the river to claim his progeny and the latter’s share of the reward, but Tom had a strong friend in Dan Creyton. The latter took Pagdin, senior, in hand, and reasoned with him, ultimately effecting a compromise.

Dan said Tom was a clever boy, and had the making of a good man in him, and he bribed the old man to let his son stay down the river and go to school. Tom’s[202] share of the reward, minus the bribe, was invested in his own name in such a way that no one, not even Tom himself, could draw it out for a number of years.

Then the old man got drunk, and went round telling people that he had been done in by Tom and his friends. He stayed about constituting himself a general nuisance, until the constable went to him and advised him to get away back home. And as Pagdin, senior, had a wholesome respect for the law, and perceived that he had made himself unpopular in Wharfdale, he went back to the punt, and left his son down the river to carve out a career for himself.

Dave Gibson’s stepfather came down on the quiet after Pagdin, senior, had gone home and endeavoured to abduct Dave; but Dave escaped from parental custody and hid in a cave in the bush for three weeks, during which time Tom Pagdin, by various stratagems, secretly kept him in tucker and necessaries. It was a royal time. So the stepfather accepted a compromise also, and Dan Creyton was left free to carry out a scheme which he had formed in his mind for the civilising of Tom and Dave and turning them into useful and law-abiding citizens. Dan found that there was any amount of scope for his labour, but whenever he and George lost patience with the boys, Nora would remind her brother and her lover that through our Younger Quixote and his Sancho Panza one had retained his life and the other gained his happiness. Which was a good deal to say. So they continued to have a good time, and Tom Pagdin shot all the cats in Wharfdale with his Winchester.