Alfred St. Johnston.

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IN QUEST OF GOLD ***




Produced by Melissa McDaniel and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)






[Illustration: "THE BEAUTIFUL CREATURE ROSE TO THE LEAP."
(_p. 264._) _Frontispiece._]


IN QUEST OF GOLD;

OR,

_Under the Whanga Falls_.


BY

ALFRED ST. JOHNSTON,

_Author of "Camping among Cannibals," "Charlie Asgarde," &c._


WITH EIGHT ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATIONS BY GORDON BROWNE.


_SEVENTH THOUSAND._


CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED:
_LONDON, PARIS & MELBOURNE_.
1892.

[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.]




Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected
without note. Dialect spellings, contractions and inconsistencies in
the text have been retained as printed.




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I. PAGE

THE BIRTH OF AN ADVENTURE 1

CHAPTER II.

GAINING INFORMATION 11

CHAPTER III.

PREPARATIONS FOR A START 21

CHAPTER IV.

THE FIRST STAGES 31

CHAPTER V.

A TRAITOR IN THE CAMP 39

CHAPTER VI.

THE FIGHT WITH THE MYALLS 51

CHAPTER VII.

LIFE OR DEATH? 64

CHAPTER VIII.

A TERRIBLE ENEMY 70

CHAPTER IX.

AFTER THE FIRE 80

CHAPTER X.

AMONG THE MOUNTAINS 89

CHAPTER XI.

VERY NEAR TO DEATH 95

CHAPTER XII.

THE WHANGA 103

CHAPTER XIII.

WAYS AND MEANS 113

CHAPTER XIV.

BUILDING THE DAM 128

CHAPTER XV.

UNWELCOME VISITORS 142

CHAPTER XVI.

GOLD! 148

CHAPTER XVII.

LEAVING THE VALLEY 157

CHAPTER XVIII.

"THERE'S MANY A SLIP" 166

CHAPTER XIX.

HOW THE BOYS RETURNED HOME 175

CHAPTER XX.

A CONFERENCE OF BUSHRANGERS 187

CHAPTER XXI.

YESSLETT PREPARES TO ACT 196

CHAPTER XXII.

WHAT BECAME OF ALEC 210

CHAPTER XXIII.

CROSBY ACCOUNTS FOR HIMSELF 218

CHAPTER XXIV.

COMO'S ERRAND 230

CHAPTER XXV.

YESSLETT'S ADVENTURE 238

CHAPTER XXVI.

ESCAPE FROM NORTON'S GAP 247

CHAPTER XXVII.

A WILD NIGHT-RIDE 260

CHAPTER XXVIII.

IS IT TOO LATE? 269




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


"THE BEAUTIFUL CREATURE ROSE TO THE LEAP" _Frontispiece_

"'GOLD, GOLD! CHEER UP, ALEC; OF COURSE WE'LL HAVE IT'"
_To face page_ 5

"HE SEIZED THE NATIVE ROUND HIS SLIM, NAKED BODY"
_To face page_ 79

"HE WAS SO OVERCOME ... THAT HE SAT STRAIGHT DOWN INTO THE STREAM"
_To face page_ 130

"AN ARMED HORSEMAN ... SHOUTED, 'BAIL UP!'"
_To face page_ 170

"ALEC KICKED HIS FEET FREE FROM HIS STIRRUPS, AND ... LEAPED ON TO
THE OTHER HORSE"
_To face page_ 182

"TO SCREEN HIM FROM STARLIGHT'S FIRE HE HAD INTERPOSED HIS OWN BODY"
_To face page_ 256

"'YOUR PRICE IS THERE!'"
_To face page_ 279




IN QUEST OF GOLD;

OR, UNDER THE WHANGA FALLS.




CHAPTER I.

THE BIRTH OF AN ADVENTURE.


"Alec, Alec," a strong, clear, boy's voice rang out from the gully,
"are you up there? Whatever are you doing at this time of night?" And
the next moment George Law, a tall, strongly made lad of fifteen or so,
left the sandy bed of the dried-up river, and sprang up the great
rocks, as lightly and actively as a cat, to where his elder brother was
sitting alone.

"Hallo, Geordie, lad! is that you? I might have known it; no one else
can climb the rocks as you do."

"I thought I should find you at 'The Castle.' What have you come for?
There's something the matter, I'm sure there is. What is it, old boy?"
He sat down as he spoke and passed his hand into his brother's arm.
"Tea is quite ready, and the Johnny-cakes piping hot. Mother and
Margaret couldn't think where you were, but I guessed you had ramped
off to 'The Castle' for a quiet think. Come, tell us all about it."

For a moment Alec Law did not answer, but sat, as he had been sitting
before his brother came, with his chin on his hand and his elbow on his
knee, looking with steady gaze over the tops of the wild, great trees
that grew below them in a tangled mass of luxuriant greenery, towards
that far-away strip of silver on which the moonlight fell, which he
knew to be the sea. He was two or three years older than George, and
was more developed and of a stouter build, but one could see at a
glance that they were brothers: they had the same dark eyes and level
brows, and the same dark wavy hair. They were dressed alike, which made
the likeness stronger. Just as nine-tenths of Australian bushmen do,
they wore white - or what once were white - moleskin breeches, laced
boots, gaiters, and red flannel shirts open at the throat, and with the
sleeves rolled up to the elbow.

Alec turned when he found his arm taken, and, as he saw his brother,
the stern look vanished from his determined face, and his eyes met
Geordie's inquiring gaze with a softer light there than had shone in
them before.

"Yes, you are right; something is the matter. I came here to try and
think of a way out of it all. I didn't want to trouble you with it, so
I came out alone."

"And did you think that I should not miss you? No, that plan will never
pay. Don't let us begin to have secrets from one another, Alec; all the
more reason I should know it, if it is trouble."

"I should have told you at once if I had thought you could help, but
you can't."

"Mine may not be up to much, but two heads are better than one."

"Well this is all about it. You know that during the two years after
father's death we had that long dry season; there was no rain, and
every water-hole in the creek dried up; the sheep and cattle died by
hundreds at a time. That was the beginning of it."

"The beginning of what?"

"Of our getting into debt. Things seemed to go from bad to worse from
that time, and mother had to borrow a lot of money from old Mr. Crosby,
of Brisbane. He was a friend of father's, and said that he would
advance money on the run, but that mother must mortgage it to him. He
said it was merely a form, and that mother might trust so old a friend
not to take advantage of it, if at any time a difficulty arose about
paying the interest on the money we had borrowed. So she signed all the
papers."

"Well! has there been any difficulty?"

"Yes, from the very first. He cheated poor mother, who didn't know
anything of business, most shamefully, and gets interest twice as high
as he fairly ought. It has crippled us for years. We could not fence
the farther stations, we haven't been able to buy new stock, and many a
time mother would have been unable to produce the yearly interest-money
if old Macleod had not been here to help her with one of his clever
plans."

"What a shame! What an old thief that Mr. Crosby is. And to think of
mother having all this trouble, and never saying a word to anybody."

"She didn't want to trouble us. I'm not sure that Margaret has not
known since she came back from Brisbane. But things have come to a
climax now. The price of wool has gone down lower than ever, and our
last shearing hardly realised enough to cover the working expenses of
the run. Mother wrote to tell Mr. Crosby how it was, and that she hoped
to be able to pay him next year; but this has just given him the very
opportunity he wanted, and he is down on to us at once."

"What can he do?"

"Why, sell Wandaroo straight off. Don't you see, he lent us money on
the security of the run, and if we can't pay the interest he can sell
everything right over our heads?"

"Sell Wandaroo!" said George, in a voice of the utmost astonishment and
grief. "But it is ours. We were born here. I could live nowhere else.
Oh, I love it so, Alec."

"So do I, so do we all," said the elder brother, in a pained but steady
voice; "but he has the law on his side, and he can rob us of
everything - for it is robbery."

"Has he said that he will not wait?"

"Yes. Macleod rode to Bateman yesterday, to get some more of that new
sheep dip, and he brought a letter up from the steamer. Mr. Crosby says
that he is very sorry that he can't wait, and that he must have the
money at once; and, if we can't pay it to his agent in Parra-parra
before a month, he shall put his men in possession, and we must turn
out."

"How much do we owe him?"

"Oh, more than we can possibly get. The interest is £600. He has lent
us £4,000, at 15 per cent., the miserly old Jew. Think of that, and he
called himself our friend. Oh, Geordie, lad, I cannot bear to think of
leaving Wandaroo. I love every mile of it;" and the poor fellow buried
his face in his hands. "I think it would almost kill mother to have to
go away."

[Illustration: "'GOLD, GOLD! CHEER UP, ALEC; OF COURSE WE'LL HAVE IT.'"
(_p. 5._)]

"When did she tell you all this?"

"About two hours ago, when you were in the wool shed. I came out here;
I could not bear to see her grief, as I could not help her; and I have
been thinking, thinking till my brain burns."

"Ah, poor mother! I saw there was something wrong, though she tried to
hide it, and to smile when I came in to tea. And Margaret never said my
hair was rough, or anything. Have you thought of any plan, Alec?"

"No, I can think of nothing. If we sold every sheep on the run we could
not raise the money. If I could be up and doing anything I should not
care, but to sit here absolutely helpless will kill me. Nothing short
of a gold mine can save us."

He spoke with the bitterness of despair in his voice, for life seemed
very hopeless to him just then. He sat moodily gazing at the great,
distant, purple hills, over which the golden round of the full moon was
rising in the rich silence of the Australian night. But his words had a
different effect upon George, who still sat with his sun-browned hand
on his brother's arm.

The younger boy sprang up with a shout.

"Gold, gold! Cheer up, Alec; of course we'll have it. Do you mean to
say that you have forgotten the story father used to tell us of how,
when he and mother first came to Wandaroo, they found Black Harry with
a nugget of pure gold slung round his neck on a bit of green cow-hide?"

"Yes, I remember that."

"And don't you recollect that father used to say that there was a huge
fortune lying where that came from for the man that could find the
place? He used to say that he should not try to find it himself, for he
believed he could do better by honestly working on the run than by
rushing off on a wild-goose chase after gold he might never find."

"But that was years ago, and Black Harry is dead long since."

"I know, I know," said George, eagerly; "but that old _gin_" (woman),
"Ippai, was his wife, and she will be sure to know all about it. There
are several boys of the tribe still on the run, and we can get them to
go with us. They never forget a path, and can lead us back to the
north-west, where they came from."

He had sprung up in his excitement, and talked rapidly and earnestly to
Alec, who had turned round in astonishment at Geordie's glad voice. At
first the more sober elder brother shook his head at George's wild
proposition, but slowly the doubt seemed to fade from his face, and he
seemed to catch some of the enthusiasm of the younger fellow. George
Law was often the quicker of the brothers, but once let Alec make up
his mind to anything, and nothing could turn him aside from carrying it
out.

"Why not? Why not, Alec?" George pleaded. "What is the use of sitting
here and doing nothing? If we fail, as you seem to think we shall, we
shall be no worse off than we were before, and if we succeed, why - - "

Here language failed him, he could only point across the gully in the
direction of the home where he knew their mother was grieving.

Then Alec sprang up; he had caught fire at last. Geordie was right - no
good could come of inaction. His face was all aglow with excitement
now, and his strong right hand was clenched.

"I believe you, Geordie. It is our only chance. It seems to me very
improbable that we shall find the gold, but we can do our best and try.
Anything is better than staying here and doing nothing. Come, let us go
in now or we shall have mother getting anxious about us. After tea I
will go down to the native camp and see old Ippai, and find out all I
can about that nugget. There is no time to be lost."

"When can we start, Alec?"

"To-morrow."

"Hurrah; but that is rather soon, isn't it?"

"What is the use of delay. If we are going we may as well go at once.
Shearing is over and there is nothing to be done on the run that
Macleod cannot see to. There's only the shepherding, and that can be
done without us, particularly now that Yesslett is living with us; he
can do ration-carrier's work. Don't tell mother what we are after; it
would only frighten her and buoy her up with what may be a false hope.
I will tell her that we are going away for some time."

George nodded, and without another word they turned and descended the
steep dark rocks into the blackness of the gully. It was a dangerous
place, for the side of the ravine on which the fantastic pile of rocks,
which they called "The Castle," was placed, was of a great height, and
the rocks themselves were bare and steep. But the two boys descended
with sure and fearless tread; "The Castle" had been their favourite
playing place when they were children, and custom had quite driven fear
away.

Alec led the way with a firm, manly step, and George followed close
upon him. Geordie saw that Alec was thinking and did not wish to be
disturbed, so he followed him without a sound. There was a perfect
confidence between these two, which was marred by no little jealousies
or selfishnesses. Brought up alone on the station with no other
companion, for their sister was older than either of them, and had been
away in Brisbane to be educated, they had become all in all to one
another, and loved each other as very few brothers do. From this great
affection a perfect understanding had grown up between them, and each
one read the other as a well-loved book.

They had never been away from each other for more than a day, and they
were never so happy as when together. Their father had been unable to
afford to send them to school, as he had his daughter, for the early
settlers in Queensland had not had very prosperous times, so they had
learned from him the little that they knew. They were not very clever,
these two lads; many an English boy of twelve knows more Latin and
history and mathematics than they did, but they were fine, strong,
healthy fellows, with pure and honest hearts; and they had learned from
their father, both by example and precept, the maxims of an English
gentleman. They both could ride as soon as they could walk, and had
gained that perfect mastery and management of a horse that only
constant riding from childhood can give. Then they were both excellent
bushmen, and could do everything on the station as well as any of the
hands, which perhaps, after all, was of more importance to two
Australian boys than any command of Latin prose or knowledge of Greeks
roots could be.

Climbing up the other branch of the creek, and passing through the
thick strip of uncleared bush, where in the darkness the laughing
jackasses were uttering their strange weird cry, they entered the
paddock and approached the house.

Wandaroo had been purchased by Mr. Law shortly after the separation of
Queensland from the colony of New South Wales, and whilst the former
country was in a wild and almost unknown state. He had selected
Wandaroo on account of the creek which ran through it, as he thought it
would always furnish water for his flocks. The timber house that he had
originally built was still standing, but had been greatly added to as
his family increased, and he became able to afford to extend the old
homestead. A large and wide verandah ran along two sides of the house,
shading the living rooms (for coolness is the one thing most desired in
tropical Queensland), and the posts and roof of it were covered with a
mass of gorgeous creepers. The roof of the house and verandah was
formed of large sheets of bark carefully stripped from the trees and
flattened for the purpose. These are pegged down on to the rafters and
make an admirable heat- and water-proof covering.

The buildings about a head station are numerous, and from a distance
Wandaroo looked more like a little village than merely the homestead
and out-buildings of a single squatter. On one side was the store, a
most important part of every head station, where all imaginable
articles in the way of food and clothing were kept. Beyond it was the
bachelors' hut, where the men attached to the station lived, and
farther away were the stables and cart-shed, and the dry store where
flour, salt, &c., were kept. On the other side was the strongly-built
stockyard into which the herds of horses and cattle were driven at
mustering time, and close by was the great wool shed where the sheep
were clipped at shearing time and the fleeces stored.

To-night, by the light of the full moon, and of those great and
glorious southern stars which blaze so royally in the Australian sky,
the whole of the commonplace station buildings looked very beautiful.
All little uglinesses were hidden, and the tender light, which fell so
softly upon roof and wall and fencing, invested everything with a
shadowy charm. The great gum trees by the house gleamed blue in the
moonlight, and under their boughs the ruddy lights from the house shone
out in brilliant contrast.

"Look at it, Alec," said George, breaking silence at last, as they
crossed the paddock and approached the house. "Do you think that we can
lose Wandaroo, which our father made, and where we were born?"

"No, we will not. _We will find that gold, or die in the attempt._
Nothing shall turn me back!"

So saying they entered the house.




CHAPTER II.

GAINING INFORMATION.


Only staying to wash their hands and to put themselves in some slight
degree of order, they entered the large and comfortable room where tea
was waiting for them; it was the largest in the house, and served for
dining and general living room. Mrs. Law and Margaret had finished
their meal before the boys came in, for they could not keep the
manager, old Macleod, waiting. They were standing near the bright
petroleum lamp talking earnestly. Mrs. Law, whose busy hands were never
idle, was knitting a grey worsted stocking for one of the boys. The one
woman servant, Mrs. Beffling by name, whom Mrs. Law kept to help her in
the house was busy at one of the large cupboards at the end of the
room, so that at first Alec could say nothing of what he intended
doing, but directly that tea was over - it did not take them long that
night, for both boys were too excited to eat - and the woman had left
the room, he rose from the table.

"Mother," he began, with that simple directness of speech that was so
characteristic of him, "I have been up at the rocks over the gully, and
have been thinking what we must do. George came and found me out." Here
he half turned and nodded towards his brother, who had moved to the
wide open window, and was looking out into the night. "And I have told
him all about it. We have laid our heads together, and have determined
to go out prospecting to-morrow. You know that when father first bought
Wandaroo he reserved the right of extending the run, at the same price
per mile, towards the north-west. He never prospected the country in
that direction, and since his death we have never done it. If we find
good grass land there, and well-watered country, we might, if the worst
comes to the worst, be able to take up a run there, and in a few years'
time be doing all right again."

All this that Alec said was quite true. He had long wanted to prospect
the country that lay beyond the borders of their own great run, but
although it was the truth it was not the whole of the truth. He said
nothing of their wild dream of finding gold in those far-distant
north-west ranges. As he had said to George, he knew that the thought
of it would alarm their mother, for the native tribes were warlike,
cruel, and unfriendly, and besides this he did not wish to give her any
hope that might fail her at last. Alec spoke in the low tones his voice
always sank to when he was excited, and when he ended his square jaw
was set in a firm, resolute manner that in itself showed the determined
and unconquerable spirit of the young man.

Mrs. Law knew her sons well enough to be sure that when Alec spoke and
looked as he then did he would brook no opposition, and she was a wise
enough woman to have learned that she might lead her high-spirited sons
when she would fail did she try to drive them. In Australia, too, a man
seems to develop earlier than in Europe; and although Alec was only
nineteen, he was always consulted on the management of the run, and his
opinion as an experienced bushman and stock rider attentively listened
to.

"Have you carefully thought of it, Alec?" said Mrs. Law, laying aside
her knitting for a moment, and looking at her son, for the suddenness
of his resolve had somewhat astonished her, as she had never heard
anything of this plan before. "How will the station go on?"

"Yes, mother, I have thought of it all, I think. We are full-handed
just now, for Macleod engaged that extra shepherd that we wanted for
the South Creek station when he was down in Bateman. He will be a good
useful fellow, I think. And Yesslett can act as ration-carrier; he
knows the run well enough by this time."

"How long shall you be away?" asked Mrs. Law.

"Can't say. We shall take flour enough, and tea, and so on, for a month
or so, but we may be longer, so you mustn't be frightened, mother. We
must face the worst, and be prepared for a move if that old brute of a
Crosby turns us out."

"Who shall you take with you?" asked Mrs. Law, managing to repress the
tears that lay so near her poor sorrowful eyes.

"George, and one or two of the black boys."

"Oh, shall you take Geordie?"

"Yes, mother," Margaret interposed; "let George go." She knew well
enough that the brothers would stand by each other to the death, and
that George, young though he was, would be Alec's best protection.

"Do you think that I would let Alec go without me?" said a clear voice
from the window.

And Alec said, "I would sooner take Geordie than any man on the
station. He rides and climbs better than any one of them, and nothing
tires him. And now, mother, good-night. Don't sit up for me; you have
had an anxious, sad day. I am going down to the _gunyahs_" (huts) "to
get a couple of boys to go with us, and to glean as much information as
I can about the country. I shall be back in an hour or two. Good-night,
youngster; good-night, Margaret."

Kissing his mother, he took up his hat from a side table, and without
another word left the room.

As he passed the bachelors' hut on his way to the paddock, he noticed
that one of the hands, a man named Keggs, whom they had only engaged a
short time before, was leaning against the door-post smoking a short
black pipe. He was not a prepossessing person, for his face, which was


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