Water! What melody breathed in that hitherto unheeded sound! What enchantment in the thing itself, its coolness, tastelessness, sweeter in imagination than the perfumed wines of Spain! The incomparable quality of it, the delicious flow, quenching the electric stammer of the fevered blood, allaying, satisfying. As a thing to be seen ; in diamond dews at rest in the pure cold bosoms of flowers, in leaping cascades, glancing with a

fearful magnificence in dusky glens, in the broad, full river, moving glassily,

without a murmur, As a thing to be heard ; the withdrawing roar of the breakers, the continuous thunder of the rolling bar, the ponderous tread of the cataract, the splash of a body plunging into the elastic depths.

He looked up suddenly from his reverie. In the division of the water he had found it possible to deceive her. Now in his suffering the terrible fear came over him that his abstinence might react to her injury. The thought whipped him to his feet. “Water is surely to be found some- where about here,” he said. Let us go a little way along the channel and explore.” And, as though the Bush sought to play with its victims, they came presently to the thing they sought. The water lay in a pool at the foot of an abrupt descent, where the winter cataract had worn deep

No. 551.—vou. xcu.

into the rocks. It was both abun- dant and pure, and when, an hour later, they quitted the brink of the pool they did so with strength and courage renewed.

By this time the sun had reached his highest altitude. The heat on the hillside was like that of a hot- house, and reaching the tree at length, they were glad to sit down and rest before the final stage of their journey was attempted.

Then again the struggle began. For hours it was impossible to esti- mate their progress, no opening, even of a hand’s-breadth, permitting them a view of the country they were trav- ersing. So far as was possible, where insuperable obstacles to a straight course were for ever occurring, they kept to one level, but after awhile, beyond an occasional slight undula- tion, the suggestion that they were on a hillside vanished, and thenceforward it was but a blind burrowing through the growths. Deeper and deeper they penetrated into the primeval solitudes, where no man had come perchance since the beginning of the world. Nothing they had yet seen equalled in grandeur and beauty the scene they now invaded. Everywhere huge trunks of hoary antiquity rose like ponderous pillars of masonry into the obscurity of the forest roof. Mon- strous plants of strange growth, and in unnumbered variety, choked the earth and wrestled with one another


322 The Toll of the Bush.

in a fierce battle for life. Overhead, mosses and epiphytes, vines and climb- ing ferns draped the branches, and lianas and the rugged cables of the vata bound the woods together in a grip of steel. Now and then they burst into a tiny glade sacred to some majestic tree, the record of whose years might serve for the lives not of men but of races. At other times, less fortunate, they came on tangles of bush-lawyer, against whose fero- cious claws no strength or agility might avail, and again and again they were driven away in search of easier country.

Thus in the hopeless struggle the day wore itself away, and again in the mysterious murmur of the leaves they read the signal of approaching darkness.

Late in the afternoon they had been seduced by easy stages into a country of unsurpassable difficulty and gloom. The vast trees still remained, blotting out the sky in a dense interlacing of foliage, but the place of the varied undergrowth had now been taken by one plant,—the supple-jack. Casting its black canes from tree to tree, scrambling across the ground, turning and twisting snake-like on itself, this hellish vine added the final touch of horror to the scene. The dead sooty blackness that had displaced the vivid green of fern- tree and palm, the distorted and suffocating saplings seeking to break upwards from that pit of terrors, the hideous fungoid growths like huge cancers on the trees, the chill air, the ominous rattling of the canes,—all formed together a scene in which the imagination of a Dante would have revelled.

Despite the care with which he had guarded it, Geoffrey’s knife had been dragged from its sheath and lost in the scramble, and this loss now added greatly to their difficulties. At every

step the canes had to be forced apart and the body adapted to the opening thus provided. Almost fainting with fatigue, the girl endured this final torment in heroic silence, while the man, his eyes dark with sullen rage at his powerlessness, spent himself in her service till every nerve in his body vibrated discordantly.

Once, frantic at the sight of her sufferings, he opened his clenched lips and railed at himself, cursing the day he was born, accusing himself of bringing this misery of torture upon her; but the touch of her hand stilled the evil mood, and for a grateful moment he held her fast in his arms.

We will try no more,” he said at last. ‘‘ When we get out of this hell, —if we ever do—we will stay still and wait. And if we wait for death, better so than that we should struggle forward to meet it.”

And as though there were a charm in the words to break momentarily the net that held them, presently the maze opened into a little fern-covered glade, set about with lofty trees, kahikatea and totara and rata, with at their feet the glancing foliage of palms and the tender green of clustered tree-ferns. Scattered about the centre were the last white decaying remnants of the foretime giant tenant of the opening, and a mound such as is raised by man to mark the resting-place of his mighty dead covered his immemorial dust. Whether it were merely the contrast with the Inferno from which they had emerged, or that there actually was something in the peace and loveliness of the scene to inspire delight, the two looked around them and at one another with smiling eyes.

But that water is probably want- ing, this is an ideal camping-ground,” Geoffrey said. “Surely the good

spirits of the forest must have spread it for us in the midst of the desert.”

“Tt looks like a cemetery,” Eve said suddenly. ‘“ Look at the white things like stones among the green fern.” Her eyes still retained their smiling expression.

“A cemetery it is. Here lies the dust of one who flourished probably in the days of Solomon, and whose resting-place is sacred even in the fight for existence which is being waged here.”

In the reaction from the severe labours of the day all thought of the terrors that awaited them passed from their minds, and, inspired with fresh energy, they set about their preparations for the night. From the palm-trees Geoffrey tore the leaves by brute force, and Eve, plaiting them together, a protection was soon formed against the heavy night-dews. The approaching dark- ness rendered it impossible that anything more elaborate should be attempted that night, and the remainder of the brief twilight was devoted to the collection of fuel and the building of a fire. The tree- ferns under which the shelter had been erected formed with their trunks, to which the spent fronds still clung, a species of rough hut, and by piling other fronds against these a certain amount of comfort was secured. Their water-bottle was more than half-full, and three sand- wiches remained from the store Lena had cut for Geoffrey. Thus the second night began.

The sky above the opening was of a perfect clear darkness, deep also with a depth that passed infinitely beyond the stars. Sirius blazed, the binary star in Orion darted his rich colours through the trembling leaves, the Pleiades emitted soft beams as of lamp-lighted pearl, the most ancient heavens,” were fresh and strong.”

The Toll of the Bush. 323

“Can you read the stars?” Eve asked at last. ‘Do they tell you anything of where we are?”

“T know the constellations,” he replied, following the direction of her gaze; “but where they should be at this time of the year, or at this moment of time, I have no idea.”

‘** But if we watched their motions, should we not be able to distinguish the points of the compass ?”

“Yes, within limits; but to make a further attempt to get out would be suicidal. Could you endure another day such as this has been? Our mistake was in ever leaving the spot where we camped last night.”

“Do you think they are searching for us?”

“That depends on how much is known of your movements.”

She reflected a moment. And what is our chance supposing a search party is out?”

“It was good yesterday, not so good to-day; to-morrow, if we move, it may vanish altogether.”

Eve looked thoughtfully into the fire. ‘“ What brought you to the place where we met?” she asked suddenly.

He checked the words that framed themselves on his lips. Fate,” he said briefly.

“To save me?”


“Why, then,—when it was too late?”

“Was there something before,— something from which you desired to be saved ?”


Yet you chose between us,—with your eyes open.”

“No!” she said passionately, no! He blindfolded me ; he lied away my reason. It seemed incredible that a man should love God and serve the Devil. Every instinct of righteousness y 2


urged and compelled me to believe him.”

“Could I have broken belief so founded ?”

“You could have tried.”

Did I not try?”

“You should have held me by force —you should have compelled me to listen,—to believe. If you had killed me for my obstinacy I should have died worshipping you.”


“T loved you,—I loved only you. Every hour which brought me nearer to him was an agony ; yet you stood b ae

Tu Bye | Eve! was the fault mine?

Could I guess at a love that went masked in hatred? What made you disbelieve in the end ?”

“T learnt that he knew the charge

down a

was false; that he had known it all the time. But then,—I was his wife.”

“God help us!” he said hoarsely.

“Has the law no mercy for us?”

** None.”

“Ts there any mercy in life?” He was silent. “In death?” He took her hand and raised it to his lips, but still no word escaped him. Geoffrey,” she said softly, “even now in the darkness, where no hope shows itself, and the shadows of eternity thicken around us, where life stands threaten- ing on one hand, and death on the other, I believe that God exists, and that He has not forgotten us. Was it a blind chance that led me without volition from that man to you, that fated we should meet at the one point on the road where no choice was left tous? Then take my promise, since God has brought us thus together, that though I may not now be yours, at least no law nor force shall make me his. And if that be so in life, much more will it be so in death, when evil shall no longer have power against


us. Still he kissed her hand in

The Toll of the Bush.

silence. “Speak to me,” she said. “Tell me what is in your mind.”

He raised himself slowly from the shadows at her feet, and in his eyes, as they caught the firelight, she saw only the dulness of despair.

“What shall I say?” he spoke at last. ‘‘ How clumsy a thing is life if death be needed to repair its mis- chiefs. Yet each of us must believe according to his nature, and only death can prove who is right. If all that tremendous to-morrow shall be for us a silence, even as the tremen- dous yesterday is a silence, where then shall be the recompense for what life denies us? Hope, faith,—what are they but shadows compared with the substance we shall have missed? Can I reconcile myself to die now, with the knowledge that you love me still beating in my blood? No, no; give me life with its chances, even though it part us for ever, rather than the risk of sleep and forgetfulness.”

Orion passed out of sight. The Southern Cross, slowly turning in the black sky, appeared at the edge of the opening, leading up the glittering lights of Argo, the stars of the Cen- taur thrown off from its points like spokes of a jewelled wheel. The night grew chill. Geoffrey rose sud- denly, and going out into the opening busied himself in replenishing the waning fire. When he returned, the girl had retired farther into the shelter, and after a moment he lay down in the fern at her feet.

The night passed for him, as had the last, in a strange mingling of dreams and waking anxieties, and at the first sign of daylight he rose stiff and unrefreshed.

During the darkness he had formed the idea of endeavouring to obtain a view of the country from one of the surrounding trees, and he now walked round the glade until he had found one suitable for the purpose. The

Vee we

ee ewe oO oO eS

or @

strong lianas in which it was draped rendered the ascent of the lofty barrel possible, though by no means easy, and in his exhausted condition he found it necessary to rest for awhile in the fork before proceeding farther. Then branch after branch was scaled, until at a giddy altitude he was able to rise to his feet and look around him. In all directions rolled the billows of that great ocean of verdure ; nowhere from horizon to horizon was a break or opening of any kind apparent. Beautiful was the scene, but terrible in its suggestion of lone- liness ; no bird sang, no breeze blew, no cloud was visible in all the expanse of sky. Black were the woods, save where at intervals a towering summit caught the beams of the rising sun and rayed them forth in sparkles of yellow fire.

He gazed awhile, then began a cautious descent to the ground. Far below him he could see Eve, standing motionless in the opening watching his passage from bough to bough. Her form drew his eyes like a magnet, till in his divided attention his foot slipped, and he was saved from falling oniy by a miracle. That warning was sufficient, and he looked at her no more till he reached the ground. Then he found her white and trembling.

“Why did you do that? she said passionately.

He endeavoured to smile away her fears. “It is a fact that I am a bit out of practice, but it was necessary that we should endeavour to find out where we were.”

“What does it matter where we are ?” she returned in the same tone. “What does anything matter now, if only—” She checked the words on her lips and turned away.

He was at her side in a moment and had taken her hand. “If only what?” he asked.

The Toll of the Bush.

“We are together.”

“To me—nothing,” he said.

After their frugal breakfast he turned to the shelter and suggested improvements with the object of more perfectly excluding the cold night air. “Some more palm-leaves and a few fern-fronds,” he said cheer- fully, ‘‘should render it quite habitable.”

“Ts it worth while?” the girl asked.

The question fell like a stone intoa still pool.

“Tt shall be,” he said, and went resolutely to the work.

In an hour’s time all the interstices between the stems had been plugged with stakes and rushes, and a large heap of dry bracken gathered for the floor of the hut. The collection of fuel was the next task, and when this had been sufficiently attended to, Geoffrey expressed his intention of making a search for water.

“T will not go beyond the reach of your voice,” he said ; “and if you feel anxious as to my whereabouts, cooey to me and I will answer you.”

After some demur the girl con- sented, and he made his way into the forest.

A two hours’ scramble proved pro- fitless of results. Only slight undu- lations deflected the land from a dead level, and apparently neither creek nor spring existed. The part of the forest to which they had attained presented indeed some of the features of a skilfully constructed trap. Solid miles of cane-bound trunks surrounded them, offering here and there tortuous passages like blind rat-holes in the wall. The iwi alone, the _hair- feathered representative of a genus of wingless birds, appeared to possess the key of the jungle. These crea- tures, as they subsequently dis- covered, abounded, becoming visible at twilight, uttering their strange


notes throughout the night, but frus- trating any efforts at capture by their unceasing vigilance and rapidity of movement. The season for berries was not yet, but at one spot Geoffrey found a number of large purple drupes, with which he filled his pockets. There was not a sixteenth of an inch of rind on the woody kernels, but they were not unpalate- able. At another bush, laden with black, grape-like berries, he looked askance, but subsequently returned and marked the spot with some care. Why he did so was not clear to his mind, yet he was aware of some significance in the action. The labours of the morning, from the perilous ascent of the tree to this culminating struggle through the canes, combined with privation of food and sleep, had clouded his mind, and only the magnetism of the girl’s voice drew him with many dull pauses from the chill gloom to the warm sunshine of the glade.

“Then it is to be without water,” Eve said quietly when he had reported his failure.

“We may have better luck next time. The water we have will not last over to-day, however we econo- mise it. Then comes to-morrow and to-morrow.” He stood looking drow- sily down upon her.

“Drink now,” she said pityingly. ** You look utterly exhausted.”

“What—I! No; I have been feeding on the fruits of the forest. ‘And He bringeth forth His fruits in due season.’” He let the berries rain into her lap.

' “T have often eaten these,” Eve said speculatively, but is there life in them?”

“Surely,—an abundance. Where was life more vigorous than it is here? Life, life everywhere, and for us—no life at all.”

Eve looked up, startled at the dull

The Toll of the Bush.

voice, and met the gaze of a pair of smiling, drowsy eyes. Even as she looked the man swayed on his feet. She sprang up in concern, and catch- ing his hand sought to lead him into the shelter. He raised the hand to his lips, but the lids of his eyes fell lower.

Geoffrey ! Geoffrey! Did you have no sleep last night? Ah, how cruel I have been to you! And you on the cold ground! Geoffrey !”

She put her arms round him.

“Sleep!” he said thickly. not for ages. Yes, I will come with you. Gently, my darling, or the boat will upset. Could I sleep while you were cruel? But now that you are— kind—-see, I will kiss your feet.”

He made a motion to stoop, and in the attempt sank into the couch of fern, her arms still round him. For a few seconds he held her, then the weary muscles relaxed, and she was free to release herself if she chose.

In the darkness he awoke refreshed and with a clear mind. The fire burnt cheerfully, but the wind had veered into the south, and an Arctic chill was in the air. For moments he lay still, endeavouring to recall the events of the day, but for him one- half of them had no existence. He remembered dimly returning from the Bush, that was the last fact which could be definitely separated from his dreams. The cold air bit into his limbs, causing him to change his position.

From the other side of the shelter came the sound of frequent move- ments, new slight rustlings, now louder, as of one tossing from side to side. He lay still listening, his heart beating painfully. There was a long- drawn sigh.

Eve,” he called softly.


“Ts it the cold? coat over you.”


Let me put my

he Bt. h- el] ou ou

th at yu


or he aS

“Come then,” she said after a silence.

He moved to her, and she drew him down, encircling his neck with her arm. Would you kill yourself to save me pain?” she whispered.

A thousand times.”

Her lips sought his. Will love endure through the torments? Will he be with us there, when the trouble is done and we stand at the gates of death?”

Even then.”

“Lie down beside me. Put your arms round me. Oh, my beloved, whom I have tortured and killed! I would give you life if I could—life and love if it were possible. But for us there is only love in death.”

Outside the fire roared, eating into the heart of the night. The shadow of its drifting smoke swept across the spectral flare, moving upwards, aslant, in endless procession over trunk and bough. The deep monotonous note of the abounding morepork came with a profound significance, breaking the silence as it were the opening of a tragic door.


At a spot four miles back in the forest a huge column of flame and smoke roared upwards into the mid- night sky, and round it, seated, squatting, or stretched out full length on the ground—an army of rescuers waited impatiently for the dawn, for at last the trail had been found.

On a mound, their backs against the broad barrel of a tree, sat three men, while a third, a native, lay half asleep at their feet. There was no sleep, however, in the eyes of Mr. Wickener or Robert or Sandy Mil- ward, and in their restless movements, snatches of eager speech, and ever recurrent watching of the stars, was

The Toll of the Bush. 327

to be read such a state of mental anxiety and suspense as might well keep slumber at a distance.

“Twenty past one,” said Mr. Wickener, referring to his watch,— “say four hours.”

“Tt will never pass if you keep counting it like that,” Robert said.

“Makit te watch te stop,” Pine grunted ; “dat te best.”

“You sleep on, Pine,” Mr. Wickener said, looking down upon him. “I’m going to make you a rich man.”

The Englishman had made the same promise several times already, but he still uttered it as though it had just occurred to him, and ap- peared to derive satisfaction from the repetition.

Pine sat up, yawned dismally, and passed an eye over the constellations. “Tf no fire,” he said, “dat good, dat te easy ; but fire—ah, makit te biggy search! No fire here, no fire any any more. All ri’ now.”

How old do you reckon the trail is?” Sandy asked.

Pine put his hand in his shirt and pulled out a fragment of black cane. “Dat not te rongy time,” he said. “TI ’spose tree, four days.”

“And you are certain they are together ?”

“Tf Iwi, she not makit te cut like dat. Dis te strong cut. If Geoffrey, he makit one cut, he not cut all te same he cut down te bush; dat acause Iwi come along ahind.”

“You lie down and go to sleep, Pine,” said Mr. Wickener approv- ingly. ‘You save yourself up for to-morrow.”

“Go on with what you were saying about Stephen, Sandy,” Robert said.

“Yes; where wasI? I told you I left him and Jack Wilson to look after the horses. When I got back the next morning I sent Wilson on

to the station, and took Stephen with me. The fire had burnt itself out,


and we walked along the road as far as the creek where the bridge used to be. The road falls steeply there on both sides, and the first thing we saw as we looked down was the carcass of a horse, still bridled, but lying all doubled up with its back broken. [t was not a pretty sight,—death has no dignity in an animal—but Stephen paled as though he had seen a ghost and caught me by the arm. ‘I wouldn’t go nigh it if I were you, Mr. Milward,’ he said. That's Mark Gird’s horse.’ But I had seen something else, partly hidden by the water and the charred piles, and that put what he was saying out of my head. I knew the horse, in fact, the moment I saw it, and I guessed the rest. When we had got him out, and it was no easy task, Stephen told me of what occurred the night before. It appears that when Fletcher rode through, the pair of them sprang up to stop him, but he took no notice; and from this, and the cir- cumstance that he was riding a black horse, they seem to have made up their minds that he was Mark Gird’s ghost.”

There’s a good few of them tarred with that brush,” said Mr. Wickener, his eyes travelling round the camp.

Sandy nodded. But this is what [ was going to tell you. Stephen had been terribly despondent up to that time, so much so that I believe if I had proposed to give up the search as hopeless he would have thought it a perfectly natural sug- gestion and acquiesced. But the dis- covery of Fletcher’s dead body made all the difference. ‘There’s the mark of the Bush there, Mr. Milward,’ he said. askin’ pardons about the Bush; it’s just life and

There’s no

death. That man never knew what happened to him any more’n An dersen did. The thoughts he were

thinkin’ when he galloped on the

The Toll of the Bush.

creek he’s thinkin’ still ; fur his neck were snapped on the piles before he come to the water, and what he got in his brain were fixed there time everlastin’.’

“That’s not a pretty idea,’


Wickener, unless —” and he fell silent.

“What was he thinking just then?” Robert wondered.

“Tt was understood he was to wait events. I saw him on the road to Rivermouth. He must have come back after dark and been making for Gird’s when they saw him. An hour earlier he would have seen the danger, but the fire had passed on and left the gully in darkness. He never pulled up on the rise; he rode with a loose rein down the slope. What was he thinking? He was thinking the bridge was there.”

The others were silent.

“We laid him out on the bank,” Sandy resumed after awhile, and the natives came down with an ox- waggon and took him away into the township. But the effect of it all was that Stephen cheered up and began to look about him. He had counted the chances according to his Bush philosophy, and they were all in our favour. ‘The Bush strikes hard,’ he said; ‘but it don’t strike often, and I reckon the price is about paid. ‘“I'were meant well, never mind how ’twere meant—this chap took up the bill when he hit the creek, and there won’t be no more’n the three graves yet awhile.’

Wickener rose quickly to his feet and paced restlessly up and down. “Tf only one possessed that primitive capacity of belief!” he said. For me it would suffice to feel assured that the sun will rise again.”

“Faith is an impressive thing, Sandy said musingly. No man, however incredulous he may be, is entirely proof against its influence.

I believe they are alive. I believe that within a week we shall be able to begin to forget. But that is only so with me because I have clung to Stephen as a drowning man clings to an oar.”

“T could believe in the daylight but not now. This place is too tre- mendous for me.”

Wickener reseated himself with a groan, and a silence fell on the group.

So the protracted minutes drew their unforgettable trail across the minds of the watchers and building up the hours brought finally the first faint indications of dawn. Long be- fore this the camp was astir, and a new spirit of hopefulness had dispersed the gloomy forebodings of the darker hours.

Hitherto the search, spread across a wide tract of country, had been conducted in isolated groups of two or three individuals, the difficulty of their task being greatly increased by the fires which had ravaged the country in the neighbourhood of the road ; but now the discovery of a trail and the necessity that it should not be crossed called for a different order of advance. Where all were eager for work, howsoever severe, it was no grateful task to apportion to the voluntary workers the share of prominence they should take in the rescue, but at length the various parties were organised and the plan of campaign propounded. The leaders, on whom lay the delicate task of following the trail, consisted of the party on the mound, together with Charlie Welch, Stephen the bushman, and three natives, of whom Pine, as the discoverer of the first clue, was tacitly acknowledged captain. An hour after their departure an advance was to be made by the second party, and after a further interval by the third. It was hoped in this manner to avoid any overrunning of the trail,

The Toll of the Bush. 329

while provision could also be made for the return journey by a direct, and having regard to possible encum- brances, more practicable route. Thus in the first dim light of the morning the memorable journey began.

“Show them the stuff you are made of, Pine,” said Mr. Wickener, laying his hand on his protégé’s shoulder. We’ve got to reach them to-night, and you are the boy to do it.”

But Pine drew himself erect, and shaking from his person the detaining hand of the white man, regarded him with the offended dignity of the savage. Then he spoke ina low swift voice in his own liquid tongue and turned away.

“‘ What does he say?”

Sandy looked embarrassed. ‘“ He says you are to keep behind. He has no time to talk with children.”

“That so?” said Mr. Wickener good-tempered. ‘“ Well, you can never tell the depth of the sea till you put down a line” ; and he fell back to the rear. The natives moved forward, now rapidly, again only after long deliberation, and as they moved the men behind blazed the track with their axes. The dew had not ceased to rain from the foliage when they came to the spot where Geoffrey and Eve had built their first fire. The joy with which the party regarded the grey ashes was, however, short- lived, for there was a long and heart- breaking suspense, and the second party was already in sight before the advance could be continued. It was not the absence of a trail, but the number of them which caused the delay, and it was in the solution of the problem these trials afforded that Pine again covered himself with glory, Yet while his companions scoured the forest he squatted on his heels near the white men, his eyes fixed on the


scene, only occasionally deigning to cast a brief reply in his own language to the questions Sandy put to him. Even Mr. Wickener began to lose faith in the oracle. This will never do, Mr. Milward,” he said; “if the natives can't manage it, we should consider the desirability of passing the command over to Stephen.

“Wait awhile. I see the import- ance of what he has in his mind. They were looking for something and if we can discover what it was, we shall get a clue to the direction they took.”

** Water,” said Robert.

Sandy shook his head. “I sug- gested that, but he says no; they were looking for a tree, but—”

His words died away, for Pine, with one swift movement, was on his feet, his eyes scanning intently every inch of the scene. For twenty seconds he stood there, then, with a loud cry, plunged down the hillside.

The white men followed pell-mell. In a few minutes the whole party stood under the shade of a kauri, listening to the talk of the Maoris, who were assembled in the centre.

“T don’t want to be a nuisance,” said Wickener ; “only tell me if it is good news or bad.”

“Good,” said Sandy. ‘“ Pine knew that they were looking for the kauri ; what puzzled him was why they didn’t find it.”

And why didn’t they?”

“Because they found this one in- stead.”

“What was the object of finding it?”

“Tt was their landmark. They did the right thing. If they had found

it they would have been on the right side of the spur, and every step of a straight course must have brought them nearer the road ; but they struck the wrong tree and went up between the hills instead of outside them.”

The Toll of the Bush.

“That’s a miraculous piece of reasoning,” the Englishman said in- credulously.

“Well, it is capable of proof. If we pick up the trail here, and if we find it running along the hillside, the thing is demonstrated.”

And in a few minutes the trail was picked up. The first announcement was to the effect that the unfortunates had descended to the bottom of the ravine for water and had returned by the same track. Then came the dis- covery of a fragment of lace clinging to a thorn bush, at which tender evidence that the trail they followed could be no other than the one they sought, such a ringing cheer went up from the whole party as had never been heard in the forest before.

Then all day long, with only brief interruptions, the natives led them slowly but confidently ever deeper on and on into the silent forest. The sun reached his highest altitude and began to descend, the gloom of the woods deepened, the vegetation in- creased in density, but the trail ran on: here, a severed cane or a broken frond ; there a torn fragment of moss or a crushed fern; at times weil defined, at times a thing of inference, at times vanishing away altogether, to be rediscovered only by that obscure blending of reason and instinct which is the miraculous faculty of the savage. But slow, with an agonising slowness, was the journey; so delayed and cautious that again and again, tor- tured beyond endurance, the white men cried out to go on at all hazards.

Taihes, (wait),” said the guides, when they deigned to take notice at all. Their brows were knitted in hard lines over piercing eyeballs that nothing escaped. The sweat of their exertions poured down their faces disregarded. They never flinched ; they took no risks. Step by step, every step in the right direction, they

uae wrF ww

led the army of rescuers like a huge snake through the forest. Now and then a gun was fired, rousing perhaps a solitary pigeon or a noisy troop of parrots and bringing down a rain of dust from the foliage ; but no response came, and the Bush sank immediately back into its original stillness.

At length they reached and pene- trated into that huge thicket of supple-jacks where Geoffrey’s most heroic effort had been made, and at the same moment, as though there were a blight on the place to wither the hopes of the rescuers, the sun sank below the ranges and the light began to wane rapidly. Presently there was a halt. There had been many such, and every man stood still, possessing himself of what patience he might. A minute went by, ten minutes ; still there was no move- ment. Man after man dropped down by the wayside to discuss the situa- tion with his neighbour. Was it the end of the journey? No, or the guns would have announced it. Then a disquieting rumour crept backwards. The trail was lost; the light ahead was insufficient for the trackers; it would be necessary to form a fresh camp. Nothing more could be done till the morning ; those behind might close up with the advance party.

So they set to work at building the camp-fire, getting ready the food, at all the preparations for the long night.

“Can nothing be done?” asked Mr. Wickener, not for the first time, his face drawn and haggard.

“We can keep the guns going,” Sandy replied; “that will encourage them if they are within hearing,— nothing more.”

With the advent of darkness and cessation from toil Pine’s English | returned to him. Again he sat at the feet of the white men, following their conversation with the simple admiration of a child, and showing

The Toll of the Bush. 331

himself, in strange contrast to the hauteur of the daytime, a creature of no reserves.

Mr. Wickener, grateful for the opportunity, plied him with eager questions. ‘How do you account for the trail disappearing ?”

“T tink p’raps Geoffrey lose te knife. One time he makit plenty cut, nex’ time he makit no cut. I look—he not come back—so I tink.”

* But you will be able to go on.”

“Dis te hard bush. No fern in dis bush, only te dry stick. Dat te very hard trail.”

But you will be able to go on.”

“T tink dey makit camp not far. Too mutty te biggy work; no kai (food), no water, praps so. If dey go on—ah ! we no find ; dey die.”

“That’s what it amounts to then,” said the Englishman, turning to the others; ‘we shall either find them close at hand or not at all.”

No one answered him, and a long silence fell on the group.

Round the camp-fire the low-toned murmur of conversation died away at point after point as the men lay back and settled themselves to sleep. Only the sharp crackle of the blazing branches broke the quietude of the night. Here and there