As soon as it became dark, the journey was renewed.
"Now, Jim, you must keep your eyes well open," Reuben said. "There is n_aying when we may come upon them, now."
"I tink dey not berry far off, sah. Dose sheep too tired to go far. Blac_ellow glad to stop and rest, when he see no one coming after him.
"De ground more up and down here. Must no make noise. May come upon de_udden."
It was nearly midnight when Jim suddenly halted.
"What is it, Jim?" Reuben asked, in a low voice.
Jim stood sniffing the air.
"Me smell fire, captain."
Reuben sniffed the air, but shook his head.
"I don't smell anything, Jim."
"I smell him, sah, sure enough; not very close, perhaps, but in de air."
"What is it, Captain Whitney?" Mr. Blount asked, as he came forward and joine_hem.
"Jim says he smells fire, but I can't smell it."
"Oh, you can trust Jim's nose," the settler said. "It is wonderful how keen i_he scent of these natives. They are like dogs in that respect; and ca_erceive the smell of a fire, when the wind brings it down to them, mile_way."
"Dis way now, sah," Jim said, turning off to the left, at right angles to th_ourse which they had been pursuing. "Smell come down the wind, dat's sartin.
We follow him far enough, we sure to catch dem."
For fully two miles, Reuben followed the black without speaking. Then he said:
"I don't smell any smoke, Jim. Are you quite sure you are right about it?"
"Quite sure, sah. De smoke much stronger than he was. Some of dese bushes mak_ery sharp smell; can smell him very far away."
"That's all right, Jim, on we go then. I must take your word for it."
After another half-an-hour's walking, Reuben thought that he too could smel_n odour of burning wood and, soon afterwards, he became convinced that it wa_o. The ground on which they were crossing was slightly undulated and, o_earing the crest of one of the slight rises, Jim said:
"De smoke am getting strong now, sah; and Jim can hear de bleating of d_heep. If de captain will wait here, Jim will go on ahead, and find out wher_ey lie."
"But perhaps you won't be able to find us again."
"Der no fear of dat, sah. But if I not come straight back, I give a littl_histle-like this—when I get on to a rise; and if the captain answer in jus_he same way, then I come straight back to him."
So saying, Jim glided away in the darkness; while Reuben gave the word for th_en to halt, and lie down till his return. There was, however, no occasion fo_ signal for, in little over half an hour from the time of Jim's leaving, h_ejoined them again; his coming being unnoticed until he stood among them, s_oiseless were his footsteps.
"We hab dem dis time, sure enough, captain."
"Why, is that you, Jim? You quite startled me. Well, what is your news?"
"De black fellows and de sheep are a little over a mile away, sah. Dey got _ig fire down in a bottom. Some of dem eating still, but most of dem fas_sleep round de fire."
"How many are there of them?"
"About fifty, sah—at least, dat about the number Jim saw. I expect I was righ_hen I tell you dat there was well nigh a hundred, at fust. Some ob them g_ff wid de sheep, de odder way, and we kill over twenty in dat fight."
"Do you think we killed so many as that, Jim?"
"I went round, sah, and counted sixteen of dem; and some sure to have craw_way and die in de bush. Dere were over twenty killed altogether, for sure; and I specks dat some more hab left de party today, and gone off wid der_hare of de sheep to der people."
"Well, what do you think, Mr. Blount—shall we attack them tonight, or wai_ill morning?"
"I should say wait till morning, certainly," the settler said. "We might shoo_ few if we attack them now, but the rest would be all off, at the first flas_f our gun; and we should never get another shot. I think our best plan woul_e to remain where we are, for another couple of hours—it is two o'cloc_ow—then Jim will guide us to the place, and we can take up our position a_lose as we can get, and wait for daylight."
"There is no fear of their making a move before it is light, Jim?"
"No, sah. Dey tink dey am safe now, and eat one big feast. Dey not move til_ight, sartain."
"Very well, Mr. Blount, then we will do as you say. When we get near them w_ill divide into four parties. You, with four men, shall move up close to th_heep, Sergeant O'Connor, with four others, shall work up from the other en_f the bottom. Five others shall make a detour, and get right on the othe_ide of their fire; and I, with the other three and Jim, who you see has go_ne of the constables' rifles and ammunition, will come down on them from thi_ide.
"Jim will place all the parties, taking them by turns, as near the fire as h_hinks safe; and will then return to me. Only, as we shall attack them fro_our sides, let everyone be careful about his shooting; otherwise we shal_ave casualties from our own shots.
"All will remain quiet until I fire. Then a general volley must be poured in, with bullet and buckshot; and when the rifles and guns are empty, go right a_hem with pistol and sword."
The plan was carried out as arranged and, before daybreak, the four partie_ere lying in the positions allotted to them, within forty yards of th_lacks. A few of these were seen sitting by the fire, the rest were al_sleep.
Gradually the light began to creep over the sky and, as it became lighter, there was a movement among the blacks. As soon as he could see perfectly, Reuben was about to fire in the air; for he did not like to fire a_nsuspecting men, in spite of the deeds of blood and rapine they had performe_n the settlement.
Presently, however, his eye fell upon one of the treacherous trackers, who ha_o nearly brought destruction upon them. He levelled his rifle and fired, an_he man fell dead in his tracks.
As the rest of the blacks leapt to their feet, a volley from nineteen guns wa_oured into them—followed by seven or eight more, as most of the settlers wer_rmed with double-barrelled guns; a few buckshot being dropped into eac_arrel, over the bullets. Then came the sharp cracks of the pistols, as th_hites rushed down to the assault.
The natives attempted no resistance. Panic stricken at the sudden appearanc_f the foe, whom they imagined by this time far back on their way to th_ettlements; and paralysed by the slaughter made by the first volley, the_hought only of flight. A few caught up their spears and waddies, as they mad_ dash for the bushes, and strove to effect their escape between the partie_dvancing on each side of them; but the latter were now close at hand and, fo_ minute or two, a fight took place between the whites, with their clubbe_uskets, and the natives with their spears and waddies. But it was soon over, for the natives only fought to escape and, as soon as they saw an opening, bounded away into the bushes.
Only one of the assailants was killed, but several were more or less severel_ounded by the spears; while no less than thirty-four of the blacks wer_illed. The victors made no attempt at pursuit but, as soon as the last of th_atives had escaped, they gathered to ascertain what loss had taken place, o_heir side.
"Poor Phillips is killed," Mr. Blount said, as he examined the body. "Th_pear has gone right through his throat. Fortunately he was a single man. H_as only been out here a few months, and was staying down at Dick Caister's."
"Poor Tom," Dick said, in feeling tones. "He was a capital young fellow, and _m deeply sorry. Fortunately he has left no one behind to grieve more than _o for him, for he lost his father and mother shortly before he came out, an_as alone in the world."
"I am thankful it's no worse," Mr. Blount said. "We have given the blacks _errible lesson. I think, as far as they are concerned, we can sleep in peac_or a long time. Of course we have not done with them, for they are ver_evengeful; but a blow like this will render them careful, for a long time, how they attack us.
"How many of them have fallen?"
"Thirty-four," Reuben said. "Jim has just been counting them up.
"Now, Mr. Blount, we will have another of your sheep for breakfast, and the_e'll be off."
The sheep had scattered somewhat, at the alarm of the fire, but were soo_riven together again. One was caught and killed, and slices of the meat wer_tuck up on ramrods, and were soon frizzling before the fire.
"Well, Mr. Blount, how many sheep do you think there are here?"
"I have just been looking them over," the settler replied, "and I should sa_here must be nearly twelve hundred; so that, allowing for two hundred drive_ff in the other direction, and a hundred dropped by the way, the whole floc_re accounted for. I am indeed obliged to you, and to my friends here. I neve_xpected to see a tail of them again, when I found they were off."
"I am very glad you have recovered so many of them," Reuben said, "and stil_ore, that we have given the blacks such a lesson. We will, as soon as we hav_inished, be on the march. Jim will go on ahead at once, as we agreed; and h_ells me will get to the stream where the horses are before night, and wil_tart out with them at once, so that we may be able to meet them tomorrow, early. I fancy our water bottles are all getting very low, but we can hold o_or today."
As soon as he had finished eating, Jim started off at a run, which Reuben kne_e would keep up for hours. The body of young Phillips was buried; and then, collecting the flock and driving it before them, the rest started upon thei_eturn. The sheep could not travel fast, for many of them were footsore wit_heir hurried journey; but they had found plenty of nourishment in the gras_t the bottoms, and in the foliage of the bushes and, being so supplied, ha_uffered little from thirst.
Jim, before starting, had pointed out the exact line they were to follow, an_his they kept by compass. With only one or two short halts, they kept o_ntil nightfall and, leaving the sheep in a grassy bottom, lit their fire o_he crest above it, in order that its flame might serve as a guide to Jim, should he get back with the horses before daylight.
There was but little talking, before each stretched himself at length befor_he fire. They had been twenty-four hours without sleep, and all were no_uffering severely from thirst. The last drops in the water bottles had bee_mptied, early in the day; and they were parched not only by the heat of th_un, but by the stifling dust raised by the flock as they travelled.
There had been but little supper eaten. Indeed, most of them contente_hemselves with chewing pieces of raw meat, to satisfy their thirst rathe_han their hunger. Although they had no fear of the return of the natives, Reuben thought it only prudent to keep watch, and each of the party had hal_n hour on sentry duty.
The day was just beginning to break, when the man on guard exclaimed:
"I can hear the trampling of horses!"
The news brought everyone to their feet, and in a few minutes the tw_onstables and Jim rode up, driving before them the horses of the rest of th_arty.
"Well done, Jim!" Reuben exclaimed. "Now, the first thing, get one of th_ater skins off."
One of the skins was unfastened in a minute and, after copious draughts, everyone felt refreshed and ready for work again.
"We cannot start for a few hours," Reuben said. "The horses must have com_ver forty miles, and won't be fit to travel till the afternoon; fortunatel_here is plenty of grass for them in the bottom. And now that my thirst i_llayed, I begin to discover that I am hungry."
There was a general chorus of assent. The fire was made up again. The men wen_own to the bottom, and killed and brought up a sheep; and all were soo_ngaged in making up for their twenty-four hours' fast.
In the afternoon a start was made; but although they travelled all night, the_id not reach the stream until the following afternoon, as they were oblige_o accommodate their pace to that of the sheep. The following morning Reube_ode forward to the settlements, leaving Mr. Blount, with two of his friends, to come on with the flock at his leisure.
At the first farm he reached Reuben heard that, as he feared, the bush ranger_ad taken advantage of so many of the settlers being away to recommence thei_ttacks. At the first two houses they visited, they had found the inmates o_he watch, and had moved off without making any attack. At the third they ha_urprised and killed a settler, his wife, and two hired men, and had sacke_nd burned the house. Reuben learned that some of the police had gone off i_ursuit.
Leaving his horse to the care of the settler, Reuben borrowed a fresh anima_nd rode off to the scene of the outrage, which was some thirty miles distant.
Just as he arrived there he met the party of eight police, who had been i_ursuit of the bush rangers, and they reported that they had lost all trace o_hem.
For the next two or three weeks Reuben did not return to his headquarters, spending the time in riding from station to station, with a small party o_olice, and urging upon the settlers the necessity not only of strongl_arricading their houses, but of keeping a watch by turns; as the bush ranger_eldom attack a place, unless they can gain the advantage of a surprise.
As nothing had been heard of the bush rangers, Reuben determined to return t_is barrack. He was spending the last night at Dick Caister's when, just a_hey were about to turn in, the sound of a horse's hoofs, at full gallop, wa_eard.
"Something is the matter," Dick said. "Men don't ride like that, at night, fo_othing."
He went to the door and opened it, just as the horseman stopped in front.
"Quick, Caister!" the man said as he leaped down, "the bush rangers are no_ifty yards behind."
And indeed, the sound of the trampling of other horses sounded close behind.
"Come in, come in!" Dick cried. "Ah! Is it you, Shillito? Never mind th_orse, he must look after himself. Luckily the captain's here, and we wil_ive it them hot. Just run round and see that all the shutters are fastened."
As Dick spoke he was barring the door, and he now shouted at the top of hi_oice to the two hired men, who were in bed upstairs; but before any answe_ould be returned, there was a thundering knocking at the door.
"What is it?" Dick shouted.
"Open the door, and be quick about it, or it will be worse for you. We wan_hat chap that's just ridden up, and we mean to have him, so he had best com_ut at once. If you don't open the door at once, we will cut the throats o_very soul in the house."
"You have got to get at our throats first, my fine fellow," Dick sai_eeringly.
The knocking was at once renewed, but with greater violence.
"The door's a strong one," Dick said to Reuben, "and it will stand a good dea_f that sort of thing; but we may as well move the table and benches u_gainst it, then we can see how things stand."
Reuben had been busy taking down the guns, which hung over the fireplace; dropping a ramrod into them to see that they were charged, and putting fres_aps on to the nipples. His own rifle stood in the corner; and was, he knew, ready for service.
"What arms have you altogether, Caister?"
"I have that rifle and double-barrel gun. Both my hands have got muskets; _ot them up from Sydney, a few months back."
The two men now came running down from above, each with his musket.
"Where is Jim?" Reuben said, looking round.
"He went out about ten minutes ago," Dick said. "I fancy he went to look afte_our horse. He takes as much care of that animal as if it were a child."
"I hope they won't find him in the stable, and cut his throat," Reuben said.
"He is wonderfully faithful and attached to me. I would not have harm come t_im, for anything.
"Now, I will go upstairs and reconnoitre. Now those fellows have left of_nocking at the door, they are a good deal more dangerous than when they wer_icking up all the row."
"Mind how you show yourself, captain, as likely enough one of them is on th_atch, expecting that we should be sure, sooner or later, to take a look ou_f that window. So keep well back. The night is pretty light, so I expect yo_ill be able to make them out."
"Can we get a view of the stable from that window?"
"Yes," Dick replied, "I rather had that in my mind's eye, when I put th_table up. It's always a good thing, men knowing that their master can have a_ye upon them, when they least expect it. Why do you ask?"
"Because if the window commands the stable door, we can prevent them gettin_he horses out."
"Yes," Dick said, "after losing two in that last affair, it would be a seriou_atter to have the rest of them carried off."
Reuben went up the stairs and made his way towards the window, standing _hort distance back. He could see no one moving about in the yard, and he wa_bout to move close to it, when a tremendous crash took place below, followe_y loud shouts. He ran downstairs again.
The bush rangers had moved round to the back of the house and, there pickin_p a young tree which had been brought in, to saw up into billets fo_irewood, they used it as a battering ram against one of the shutters; and a_he very first blow broke it off its hinges, and then made a rush at th_indow. Two shots rang out almost together; and then, firing a hasty volle_nto the window, the bush rangers began to climb in. But by this time Reube_ad arrived, and the sharp cracks of his pistols rang out.
"They have got the police here!" one of the men exclaimed, as he caught _ight of Reuben's uniform.
"Draw off, lads, I expect it's that accursed captain," another voic_xclaimed. "He's always riding about, with nobody but that black fellow wit_im. He has got to go down, that fellow has, or he will give us no end o_rouble; but draw off from that window, for a moment."
"What will they do next, I wonder?" Dick Caister said as, leaving the tw_ands to guard the window, he returned into the other room with Reuben.
"I rather expect they are going to try to burn us out. We must keep them fro_hat, if we can.
"Mr. Shillito, will you go up to the upper room, and keep an eye on th_tables? Shoot down anyone who may pass your line of sight.
"Haven't you got any loopholes, Caister?"
"Yes, of course I have," Dick replied. "I had forgotten all about them. Yes, there are two loopholes in the logs in each side of the house, upstairs. The_ave been shut up by wisps of straw, ever since the house was built."
Giving strict orders, to the two men, to shout instantly if anyone moved nea_he window, the two young men went upstairs.
"Have you seen anything, Shillito?"
"Not a thing. One would almost think that they have bolted."
"They will hardly do that, I fancy," Reuben said. "There are ten or twelve o_hem, but I think one or two must have got a bullet in them."
"I wish they would come on," Dick said, as he pulled out the straw from th_oopholes.
Reuben went to them all in succession, and looked out, but nothing could b_een of their assailants. Presently, however, a number of dark figure_ppeared, each bearing a burden.
"They have been cutting brush wood!" Reuben exclaimed. "I was right, you see.
They are going to try to smoke or burn us out. Now I think it's time to giv_hem a lesson."
The exclamation was excited by a sudden glare of light, on the other side o_he stables.
"The scoundrels have set fire to the stables!" Shillito said.
"What shall we do—make a sally?" Caister asked. "I am ready for it, if yo_hink right."
"No," Reuben said, "they would only shoot us down as we come out. They mus_uess that some of us are up at this window, or they would try to carry th_orses off, instead of destroying them.
"I only wish we were on the poor beasts' backs. We would go for them, thoug_hey were twice as many.
"I don't see the others now—they must have gone round to the other side of th_ouse."
Scarcely had Reuben taken up his station, at one of the loopholes behind, tha_e again saw the dark figures. He took steady aim and fired. There was a shar_ry, and one of the fellows fell to the ground. The others at once threw dow_heir burdens, and fled. Three minutes later there was a shout.
"Look here, you policeman, and you, Caister, you shall pay dearly for thi_ight's work. I swear it, and Bill Fothergill never forgets his word in tha_ay. It's your turn, this time. It will be mine the next, and when it is, tak_are."
The only reply was a shot from Reuben, aimed in the direction from which th_oice came. A minute later there was a trampling of horses.
"They are gone!" Shillito exclaimed.
"Perhaps it is only a trick, to draw us out," Dick suggested.
"No, I don't think it's that," Reuben said. "They are not strong enough t_end a party off, and to attack us with the rest. No, I think they have gone.
They know that we can't follow them.
"They have taken good care of that," he added bitterly, as he glanced at th_tables, which were now a sheet of flame. "However, we will look round an_ee."
The three men descended to the room below and, being joined by the two hands, removed the furniture piled against the door, and threw it open.
"We mustn't go round to that side of the house, so as to get into the glare o_he fire, till we have looked round," Reuben said. "I believe they are al_one; but they may have left a couple of them lurking, somewhere about, t_ick us off when we show in the light.
"I will take one of your hands, Caister, and scout round on one side. Do yo_hree go the other side."
A quarter of an hour later the two parties met near the stables, where th_ire was now burning low. The roof had fallen in, and only some of th_prights were erect, with flicking flames licking them as they stood glowin_bove the mass of still blazing debris.
"I wonder whether that poor fellow is under that?" Reuben said.
"I hope not, indeed. I fancy he must have got away. He might have slipped of_hen they first rode up. He may be hiding somewhere round, afraid to come nea_ill he knows how matters have turned out."
So saying, he gave a loud cooey. They stood silent for a minute, but no answe_ame back.
"There is nothing to be done, till morning," Dick said, "and it's no us_anging about here. Before it gets light I will start for Watson's. There ar_wo of your men there; and they, with the two Watsons and ourselves, can se_ut after these fellows, if you are agreeable. That is, as soon as we get hol_f some horses."
"I hardly think I shall be justified in taking you," Reuben said, as he walke_ack towards the house. "These scoundrels are all armed to the teeth, and the_re first-rate shots. They know every foot of the country, and agains_nything like equal numbers they would make a desperate fight of it, even i_hey did not thrash us. Of course, in anything like an equal number of my ow_en I should not hesitate, but I don't think it will be fair for you settler_o undertake such a service as that."
"Listen!" Shillito exclaimed, "they are coming back again."
Surely enough, on the night air the sound of horses, galloping at full speed, could be heard.
"I don't think it can be them," Reuben said. "They would have no motive i_oming back, after they once rode off. They would know we should be ready fo_hem."
"I don't see who else it can be. At any rate, all our guns are loaded; and i_t is them, all the better."
Suddenly a loud cooey was heard.
"That's Jim!" Reuben exclaimed. "I should know his call among a thousand. H_ust have made off to get help at once, but I don't know how he can have don_t in time."
"Why, it's the Watsons and my men!" he exclaimed, as the party rode up int_he light.
"All safe?" one of the settlers cried, as he jumped from his horse.
"All safe, thank God," Reuben replied. "Did Jim bring you news that we wer_ttacked?"
"Yes; fortunately we were sitting up late, talking, when he rode up; so ther_as not a minute lost."
"Rode up!" Reuben repeated, in surprise; "why, where did you get a horse, Jim?"
"Rode master's horse," Jim said.
"What!" Reuben exclaimed in delight, "what, is Tartar safe? I was afraid hi_ody was under those ruins. Why, how did you get him out?"
"Jim was in de stable, sah, when bush ranger ride up. De horses was stamping, and I not hear dem till dey come quite close, den it was too late to run out.
"De moment dat dey began to make bobbery at door, I opened stable door an_ring out de three horses."
"What! Did you get mine out, too?" Dick shouted. "Jim, you are a trump, and n_istake."
"Den," Jim went on, paying no attention to the interruption, "me led de othe_wo hosses little way, and let them go loose, sure not go far from home; and _ump on Tartar, and ride like de debel to Watson's for de police."
"Well done, Jim. You have done capitally. Now let us talk over what we ha_etter do."
The party re-entered the house. Fresh wood was thrown on to the fire, and on_f Dick's hands proceeded to put food on the table, and prepare tea, while th_thers consulted what course should be pursued.
It was agreed, at once, that more aid would be necessary, before they coul_hink of attacking the bush rangers; but all were ready to join in the hun_or them. Therefore it was decided that Dick Shillito and the two Watson_hould each ride, at once, to neighbouring stations to bring aid. At one o_he stations two more policemen would be found, and as in the pursuit the_hould probably pass near other stations, their numbers would swell as the_ent. When this was settled, the party sat down to the meal.
"How did you come upon them, Shillito?" Caister asked.
"I had been spending the day with the Wilkinsons. I did not start to ride hom_ill it was rather late, and I was riding fast when, about a quarter of a mil_efore I got to my place, I rode right into the middle of a lot of men o_orseback. They evidently hadn't heard me coming, and were as much surprise_s I was.
"There was a general shout of 'Bail up!' and I saw at once what sort of gentr_hey were. However, I didn't stop, but in the confusion dashed through.
"A few shots were fired at me. I suppose they were too surprised to ai_traight. Then they started off after me. I knew it was no use making fo_ome, for there was only one man there; so I swept round and made for you_lace. My horse is a good one, you know, and I gained on them all except on_an, who must have been capitally mounted, for he gradually crept up to me. H_asn't twenty yards behind me when he shouted:
"'Stop, or I fire!'
"I pulled straight up and, as he came up to me, let fly at him. He tumbled of_is horse, and I galloped off till I got here."
"What has become of your horse, I wonder?"
"I gave him a cut with my whip, as I jumped off. He cantered away. Of cours_hey may have caught him, but I don't think it's likely."
"You will find him somewhere about at daylight, I expect. I will rid_aister's spare horse, now."
For Jim, with one of the hands, had gone out to fetch in the two horses fro_he spot where they had been turned loose.