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MISTRESS .BETTY CAEEW: BEING…

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MISTRESS BETTY CAEEW: BEING SOME PASSAGES IN THE LIFE F MR. GEORGE BASS, SURGEON OF H.M.S. "RELIANCE." By Mary Gaunt. JBOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR Dave's Sweet. heart"; "Kirkhairts Find"; "The Moving Finger Deadmagt's," &e. CHAPTER XIX.-(Continued.) I She was so weary now, so utterly weary that had it been only her own life that was in question, she would have lain down and awaited death. George Bass seemed far far away, the events oi the afternoon farther away still. It was pain tc put one foot before the other, it cost her a mighty effort and yet she struggled on, for it was grow- ing no lighter and the dawning had not come yet. And now the land began to be cleared a little. Here and there were fallen trees and stumps where the trees themselves had been cleared away and patches of cultivated land where the wheat had been reaped and the stubble burned, and where the weeds and grass were already springing after the recent rains. There were houses, too, convict shacks roofed with thatch, but she dared not ask help of them. There was no light in any of them, but once or twice she saw a man moving quietly about, and she shrank down for protection among the trees. She had heard that the convict population, being often short of rations, went about at night and stole from the gardens, and now she believed it. But no one saw her, or if they did they gave no alarm. Surely, now she must look as unkempt as the worst convict woman among the lot. But she knew her bearings now. She shivered as she thought she could see the waters of the river, for surely that must mean daylight; but no, the stars were as bright as ever, and she turned off the track that led to Elizabeth Farm. And now she walked in the middle of the track. For one thing, she was too weary to fear any- thing, all her senses seemed longing for rest, but she must not die till she had arranged for her husband's rescue. Seven miles; she would have walked it surely in an hour and three-quar- ters, and that would give time for mounted men to ride to the rescue. Mounted men. But where would they get mounted men. One or two, perhaps, would have horses, but for the rest, they must walk, and then she felt it was no con- cern of hers, she had done her best, her very best, and again the thought of how she had grown to hate her husband, how dearly she loved 13ass spurred on her weariness and quickened her pace even as love itself might have done. Up hill now, up hill, and her breath came in laboured pants and her feet were bleeding, but she was at the sliprails that led to the Farm, the stars were bright points of silver still, diamonds almost in their brilliancy, and her task was nearly done. She crept through the slip panels, und the merino sheep that MacArthur had brought from the Cape ros,e up and scuttled away at her ap- proach, and then a cock in the farmyard Crew and set her heart beating wildly. The herald of the dawn. But the stars were bright yet, bright and clear-cut as ever. She opened the wicket gate that led into Mrs. MacArthur's garden and let it shut behind her with a clang. She herself .was safe at last, she need fear no one now, not on her own account at least. But her head was swimming, and another fear grew upon her, would her senses last till she could make them understand. She must be brief, the thought, as she walked u-, between the zinnias und geraniums as her lover had walked only yes- terday. The scent of the geranium leaf was strong in the dewy night air, and never after -Could she smell it without remembering the over- powering weariness that had laid hold on her that eventful night. But at last she was on the verandah and she leaned up against the first door that she came to with the feeling that not for any gift that heaven could offer could she move .pne step further. "Help, help," she cried, beating with both liands against the door, and for a moment there lwas no answer. "Help, help." If the MacArthurs were not there, if some evil fate had taken them either to Parramatta or the settlement at the Cove then, indeed, was she un- done, and all her toil had been in vain, for she could walk not a step further. But surely Bass jtfould be here. He had left her to come here, And the thought gave her comfort. "Help help!" There was a stirring in the room. She could liear someone leap out of bed and hastily huddle on some clothes. It was barely a second, but it -aeemed to the girl like long hours. Then the iioor was pulled open, and she fell forward and ,was caught in someone's arms. "Help help It seemed to her her voice wa3 only a whisper, but the arms that held her were strong and kind. She knew those arms and let her head drop gladly with a sense of utter rest on George Bass's shoulder. "The convicts and the Indians attack the farm -at daybreak," she sobbed. "Only Mr. Williams is there, and they will kill him if you cannot help him, and oh, it is close upon the dawning." There was only a faint night light in the room, but Bass required no light to tell him Betty's condition. She lay trustfully in his arms, and he held her close and covered her face with kisses. "Oh, my God," he muttered, "it is surely the ibest thing that could happen." Who was he to interfere with the intentions of Providence. Was he to cut himself off from tha woman he loved? "Quick, quick," she gasped, "I hate him and I will not have his blood on my hands." "No, no, my sweetheart, no. Then, still with his arms round her, he knocked at the MacArthur's door. "MacArthur, MacArthur, up man, up. Here its a rising at Williams' farm and Williams in danger of his life." There came the cry of a startled child, a woman's voice soothing it, and a man's sleepy sresponse. "What the deuce-" "Up, man, quick, it is a matter of life and ,(leath Then the door opened, and MacArthur in his -nightcap, a candle in his hand, stood blinking sleepily at them on the threshold. CHAPTER XX. 1 GEORGE BASS INTERFERES WITH THE INTENTIONS OF PROVIDENCE AND SIMON BURTON IS REVENGED. But God has wisely hid from human sight The dark decrees of future fate, And sewn their seeds in depths of night. He laughs at all the giddy turns of state, When mortals search too soon and fear too late. He was soon roused to the seriousness of the Situation. Betty was almost incapable of speech now, but Bass understood, and he made the matter plain. Williams' unpopularity was well known, no one wondered that he should be the Victim, but still the thing must be nipped in the bud. "Elizabeth," he called sharply to his wife. ie You take care of the poor girl. Faith, it will he a happy release to her; but the rascals will have to swing for it, nevertheless. Bass, get on your things, man. I can raise six men I can trust, and we'll call in the soldiers from Parra- toatta. I'll send little Ned down for them at once." Mrs. MacArthur had put on a wrapper, and Bass gave Betty very reluctantly into her care. "She is mine," he said J'she is mine. What- ever happens, she is mine." "Never fear, Mr. Bass," she said, tenderly, t'1 will care for her as if she were my own {laughter." MacArthur was getting into his clothes, and looking to his pistols in all haste, and his little son was rousing out the men. His wife put Betty down on the sofa in the sitting room, and was standing over her, candle in hand. Bass stood beside her, looking down on the tired, white face, and closed eyes. She was not insen- sible, but she was too weary even to open her He stooped, and took her hand, and then dropped on his knees, unmindful of the woman beside him. He put his hot cheek against her hand, and then laid his lips upon it. He said no word, what could he say? Only Betty opened her dark eyes, and there was a world of love in them. So had she dreamed of him many a time, and her other hand touched softly his bowed head. "You will do your duty, Mr. Bass, whatever happens, you will do your duty," said Mrs. MacArthur, and Betty's eyes closed again, and he rose to his feet. The men were coming in to the room, and MacArthur addressed them. H S-even miles, it's not a step less, and it does not want an hour to the dawn. We must start at once, and even then I fear we shall only be in time to avenge his death." There were six men in the room besides Bass and MacArthur, they had been convicts once, but their time was expired, or closo on expiring, and it was to their interest to keep the colony peaceful. Men who had expiated the very slight sins that sent them out in those days, and were anxious to live a new and clean life. Mac- Arthur knew they could be trusted to serve him rvell and faithfully. "Round by the road," said one man, "'tis seven good miles, but there's a way ac:ost through the woods. As the crows flies 'tis baldly three." And then Bass knew he should have gone straight back to the "Reliance." He set his teeth, and his face grew white in the yellow candle light. "Through the woods," said MacArthur, "I daresay, and once we get in, likely as not we may spend a week there. Is there anyone of you have bush-craft enough to get through?" Bass sent his mouth firmly. Why not let him die ? He was a sailor, what did he know of bush- craft ? Why, in God's name, should he interfere ? And then came another thought, would he have any slur on his love, since she had toiled so hard to save this man, would he be less generous? But his voice sounded harsh and hollow in his own ears, and the men looked at him in surprise. "I know the way," he said. "I will get you through by the dawn, though I doubt if we can do it before." MacArthur looked at him curiously. "We all know," he said, stepping to his side, "you have good reason for hating this man." "Don't be afraid," he made answer, "I will do my best to save his life but remember she's mine now, surely, by the laws of God and man." Outside, Bass, at the head of his little band, armed with muskets, looked up at the bright points of the stars as Betty had looked at them, ) but he looked at them with knowledge. The dawning was not yet, and he had that unerring bushman's instinct that many a man since his day has possessed, that instinct that leads a man straight through the pathless bush to the point he wants to reach. And the bush was very dense. Wherever land had been cleared and allowed to relapse into the original wilderness again the thicket was almost impenetrable, and even in the untouched bush, the creeper and the fern, the currajong and the gum-trees growing in this semi-tropical climate, were in places so close that the men must needs march in single file. But their leader looked up at the stars whenever he got the chance, and walked on without a falter. "If we are too late," breathed MacArthur behind him, "you gain a wife, George Bass." "She is mine, I tell you, whether I am in time or no," answered Bass, savagely. It will make no difference. I am taking you as straight as I can, John MacArthur." "I believe you," said the other man; "but I could have wished for your sake that you were on board the 'Reliance. "I wish it with all my heart," said Bass, and strode on in silence. And now the dawn was at hand. The stars that had been watched so the long night through were paling before the coming day, the little birds were twittering, there was a sound of insects in the air, a magpie whistled half his song, paused, made sure it was the morning, and finished clear and musical, then the great king- fisher took it up, and filled the air with his mocking laughter, and his mate answered from across the gully. The parrakeets in the gum- trees overhead began their chatter, and the light that was not of the stars was growing, growing. There came another sound, and the sharp report of a gun broke in on the forest welcome to the returning day. "I have led you straight," cried Bass, dropping back, "I will have naught to do with this man. Now, you lead, MacArthur. I will have naught to do with the saving of the man I hate." "Nevertheless," said Captain MacArthur, "you have saved him," and there was a note of respect in his voice as he sprang forward. Another report of a gun rang out on the morning air, and the sound of men's voices shouting- there was need of a guide no longer.. But the voices carried in the still air, and it was at least five minutes before they were clear of the forest, and on the track that led to Williams' farm. The east was rosy red, and the first gleams of golden sunshine were touching the trees with light. The farm buildings were clear before them, and the garden that Betty had taken such pride in. There were three or four men in brown duck frocks, ragged and torn, on one side of the house, and on the other about a dozen stark naked savages. They were all shouting at once, and their only care was evidently to keep clear of Williams' gun, that done, they had little to fear, and there was nothing to prevent them firing the thatch. The stacks were already in flames, but Bass noted that the stables were safe, and remembered the convicts' promise to Betty. They had kept it, then. The little compact body of men rushing out of the forest was plainly visible to the attacking party, and for a moment they stood stockstill, and looked at them. It almost seemed as if some supernatural power had sent aid to Williams in his extremity. "Fire," cried MacArthur, and a volley poured harmlessly across Betty's garden, for probably the only man there who wished to kill was MacArthur himself. The black fellows had thrown themselves down with the swiftness of their race, and were all under cover a second after they had seen the rescue party, and only the convicts seemed dazed. Then they, too, with a shout rushed for the fence, and were over into the bush before the men could reload. "After them," cried MacArthur, "we must teach them a lesson." „ It is you they will teach a lesson to," cried Bass, "if you follow them into the bush. They are your masters there." Nevertheless they all ran on till the great log fence stopped them, and there was not a man, black fellow or convict, to be seen. Bass sat down on the fence, though he knew he risked his life, if one of them had a musket, or possibly there might be a savage throw a spear, But what matter? He had interfered with fate, he had stood between the man he hated and death, and he felt he was ready to die himself. Betty was his. Certainly she should be his but it would have been so much simpler if they had only come on the scene half an hour later. MacArthur wiped his hot forehead, for he had come at a good pace. "He owes his life to you, Bass." "Better let the men put out the fire," growled Bass. "There will be no fighting, worse luck" If he could only have worked off some of his anger and mad passion in a hot fight for life it would have been something. "It would be worse than folly to follow them into the bush." "Yes, yes," acquiesced MacArthur, who some- how felt as if he had had all his hard work for nothing. So tame a conclusion was not to his liking. "Jackson, that stack's doomed, but take the men and see that the fire don't spread. Why the devil doesn't Williams show himself. There's no danger now." As if he had heard him, the door opened, and Williams came towards them, holding his gun in his hand, and looking fearfully around him, for he had spent a night to try any man. "I am sure," he said, advancing towards MacArthur and Bass, "gentlemen, I am deeply obliged to you. It seems a miracle your coming, -gruffly. "You have your wife to thank, and Mr. Bass, here," said MacArthur, gruffly. "I can never find words" but Bass turned away, sick at heart. How he hated this man! Even the long night had brought no pallor into the drink-reddened face, but there were great blue circles round his eyes, and he was trembling still. He 'had stood on the veiy brink of the grave, and it had shaken his nerves. It all seemed tame and stale, and flat and un- profitable. The men might get some excitement over putting out the fire; Williams might be thankful for his narrow escape but MacArthur was simply bad-tempered and tired, and Bass was sick of the whole thing. They stood in the garden close by the door, and looked at one another in the broadening daylight, and Williams made no movement to ask them inside, because he was thinking of that woman's corpse that must be explained away. He had not thought of it all night, so great had been his fear of impending death, but now he reflected that Captain MacArthur was no friend of his, Mr. Bass was his open enemy, and there was that body of his woman servant lying with the sheet over it, just as Betty had left it in the only sitting-room. No wonder he hesitated. The sun had risen now, and the whole bush was full of the joy of the bird-life at the new-born day. "Really, Mr. Williams," said MacArthur, testily, "I'm afraid we must trespass on your hospitality. The men have put out the fire, I see, and we are all of us hungry, not to say thirsty, for the last hour we have been forcing our way through the dense woods, and you have some notion of what that means." "I am only too proud," began Williams, and he broke off short, and pointed to the log fence. The other two men turned quickly at the look of horror and terror on his face, and there stood Simon Burton—Bass recognised him in a moment, though MacArthur knew him only for a runaway convict, with a musket at his shoulder. "He ought to swing for it," he said, in a loud voice, "but I doubt it, so I'll make sure he dies," and the next second the report rang out, and Williams had fallen backwards, crushing the sweet-scented Cape geraniums. Burton disappeared at the shot, and MacArthur sprang on to the fence, calling to his men to follow. Bass was at his side in a moment, though he protested all the while. "It is madness, it is madness, MacArthur. We are no match for them in the woods." There was a crashing sound among the branches a little ahead, the birds seemed to have hushed their song at the presence of angry men, and then there was a silence. The eight men all clustered together just outside the log fence, and there was no sign of any other human being ever having been there. They all looked at MacArthur. "We must catch him for our honour's sake," said he, angrily. "Get on, men." "Not altogether, surely," protested Bass. "It's inviting them to pot us." "Separately, then," said MacArthur; "as Englishmen we must try. We can't see a man murdered in cold blood." Bass turned a little to the left. He could hear MacArthur and his men beating the woods as they would beat for game, and he knew the game would fly before them. With the excep- tion of MacArthur neither party was anxious to meet. For himself he walked on quietly, looking to right and left, for though he had no intention of either fighting or taking a prisoner, still he had no mind to be killed from behind a tree. The sunlight was filtering down between the pointed gum leaves, now making patterns on the ground, soft and yielding, untrodden by the foot of man or hoof of cattle. His head was in a whirl, and he told himself it would be a cruel fate if he should die aveng- ing the death of the man he hated, and had wished dead many a time. The sounds of the hunt went further and further away, and sud- denly some slight sound different from the ordinary sounds of the bush made him start. He turned round the trunk of a gum-tree, and there stood Simon Burton, holding back a spear poised in the hand" of a long, lithe, stark-naked savage. The man looked at Burton, questioningly, and Bass, as he saw the convict shake his head, knew I that he was at his mercy. "Mr. Bass, you gave me my life once. I give you yours in return. But you had better keep clear of the woods a little." "But, Burton—Burton, why didn't you get quietly away?" "I shall, now that man is dead," said Burton quietly. "He will trouble me no more, and mind you, Mr. Bass, he deserved his fate. Good- bye, sir, and good luck go with you." Then Bass turned round and walked straight back to the farm, wondering if he was compound- ing a felony. He climbed the fence, and laid himself down among the sweet scented geraniums, resting his head in his arm,, like a man who has borne up to the breaking point. And in an hour's time back came MacArthur and his following, one mary complaining loudly because he had got a spear wound through his arm,, a.nd yet they had seen no assailant. "You got off cheap," said Bass, rising to his feet. "We must bring the murderer to juatice," spluttered MacArthur. We can't," said Bass, with a certain forced calmness, for he felt he should not rejoice in any man's death, even though it was that of the man who had wronged him so deeply, "there is not one, of your following but considers Simon Burton a deeply-wronged man, even I-well, I don't know that I'm not with them. We may go into the woods as often as you like,, but we will find nobody, and I cannot be so sure that somebody will not find us. See to it,, perhaps the man is not dead." MacArthur walked towards the íaJln man unwillingly enough. George Bass plainly turned his back. He would not look on his enemy's face, dead or alive, if he could help it.. "He is dead enough," said MacArthur, as if it had been a personal injury. "We might have 'n spared ouselves that scramble through the woods. I declare I'm as full of thorns and gress seeds as a hedgehog. But Bass said nothing. He had done his best, his very best, he had toiled to save his enemy, and fate had foiled him. A little of this possibly MacArthur under- stood. He gave one glance at his, friend, then lie called Jackson. "Three or four of you fellows carry Mr. Williams inside." They came up smiling. They were veil enough pleased at the turn events had taken, and they lifted up the dead man and carried him in, and laid him on his own bed. Then MacArthur saw that other body on the floor, and called aloud to Bass. "Come here, doctor, come here. There is another needs your skill." And Bass came, and for the first time his hand trembled a little. "Eunice Burton," he said. "Ay, but is she dead?" "She is most certainly dead, and she has been dead possibly ten or twelve hours." "But how? Why?" Bass looked a little more carefully. "A blow on the head. A shrewd blow, too. She must have died at once," and he covered her face. "The place smells of blood," said MacArthur. "Nevertheless, we must have something to eat." "I will not eat here," said Bass, going out of the door. "You do not want me any longer. I shall go back to Elizabeth Farm and Mistress Betty Carew." And in the spring-time they had a great wedding at Elizabeth Farm. Mistress MacArthur tired the bride in her own wedding gown that had been laid away in lavender for little Maria in the far future. Captain MacArthur gave her away, and the officers of the New South Wales corps toasted her loudly. "Sweet Mistress Betty, the prettiest bride in the southern hemisphere, or any other hemi- sphere for that matter," proclaimed Devereux. "Sweet Mistress Betty Bass, and we wish her and her husband all good luck." And they drank the toast with a chorus of cheers. Bass and his wife stole away. The moon was high in the heaven, the river was like a silver shield beneath them, and the shadows were deep and dark. "Sweetheart, sweetheart, at last." He held her so close in his strong arms it was almost pain. Her head drooped on his shoulder, and her lips met his in a very abandon of love, woman's love, such love as she had not dreamea of when first she loved him, eighteen months ago. Her arm went up round his neck, he held her so close she couW hardly breathe, and she felt that heaven itself could hold no such rapture, life was worth living because of the gladness of it. Come weal, come woe, those moments of bliss could never be undone. He held her a little away from him, and looked into the soft dark eyes that drooped a little before the passion in his. "Dost love me, Betty?" "I love thee, I love thee. Thou art all the world to me," and he kissed her again, her eyes, her lips, her dark hair, with the golden gleam in it. "I am so happy, so happy," she sighed. "Shall we always be happy? "If it rest with me, sweet life, always, always. The worst has passed, surely we shall never be unhappy now." THE END.

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