Australian Tales

Pretty Dick

Marcus Clarke

A HOT day. A very hot day on the plains. A very hot day up in the ranges, too. The Australian sun had got up suddenly with a savage swoop, as though he was angry at the still coolness of early morning, and was determined to drive the cattle, who were munching complacently in the long rich grass of the swamp, back up under the hill among the thick she-oaks. It seemed to be a settled thing on the part of the sun to get up hotter and hotter every morning. He even went down at night with a red face, as much as to say, “Take care, I shall be hotter than ever to-morrow!”

The men on the station did not get into smoking humour until he had been gone down at least an hour, and as they sat on a bench and a barrel or two, outside the “men’s hut” on the hill, they looked away across the swamp to that jagged gap in the ranges where he had sunk, and seeing the red flush in the sky, nodded at one another, and said, “We shall have a hot day to—morrow.” And they were right. For, when they had forgotten the mosquitoes and the heat, and the many pleasant things that live in the crevices between the slabs of the hut, and gone to sleep, up he came again, hotter than ever, without the least warning, and sent them away to work again.

On this particular morning he was very hot. Even King Peter, who was slowly driving up the working bullocks from the swamp, felt his old enemy so fierce on his back, that he got up in his stirrups and cracked his whip, until the hills rang again, and Strawberry, and Punch, and Doughboy, and Damper, and all (except that cynical, wicked Spot, who hated the world, and always lived away by himself in a private clump of she-oak) straightened their tails and shook their heads, and galloped away up to the stockyard in mortal terror. The horses felt the heat, and King Peter’s brother, who was looking for them on the side of the Stony Mount, had a long ride up and down all sorts of gullies before he found them out, and then they were unusually difficult to get together. The cockatoos knew it was hot, and screamed themselves away into the bush. The kangaroos, who had come down like gigantic shadows out of the still night, had all hopped away back into the scrub under the mountains, while the mist yet hung about the trees around the creek-bed. The parrots were uneasy, and the very station dogs got under the shadow-lee of the huts, in case of a hot wind coming up. As for the sheep—when Pretty Dick’s father let them out in the dawn, he said to his dog, “We shan’t have much to do to-day, old woman, shall we?” At which Lassie wagged her tail and grinned, as intelligent dogs do.

But who was Pretty Dick?

Pretty Dick was the seven-years-old son of Richard Fielding, the shepherd. Pretty Dick was a slender little man, with eyes like pools of still water when the sky is violet at sunset, and a skin as white as milk—that is, under his little blue and white shirt, for where the sun had touched it, it was a golden brown, and his hands were the colour of the ripe chestnuts his father used to gather in England years ago. Pretty Dick had hair like a patch of sunlight, and a laugh like rippling water. He was the merriest little fellow possible, and manly, too! He understood all about milking, did Pretty Dick: and could drive up a refractory cow with anybody. He could chop wood, too—that is, a little, you know, because he was not very strong, and the axe was heavy. He could ride, not a buck-jumper—that was his ambition—but he would take Molly (the wall-eyed mare) into the home station for his father’s rations, and come out again quite safely.

He liked going into the station because he saw Ah Yung, the Chinaman cook, who was kind to him, and gave him sugar. He had all the news to bear too. How another mob of travelling sheep were coming through the run; how the grey mare had slipped her foal; how the bay filly had bucked off Black Harry and hurt his wrist; how Old Tom had “got the sack “ for being impudent to the overseer, and had vowed to fire the run. Besides, there was the paper to borrow for his father, Mr. Trelawney’s horses to look at, the chat with the carpenter, and perhaps a peep at the new buggy with its silver-mounted harness (worth, “oh, thousands of pounds!” Pretty Dick thought perhaps, too, he might go down to the house, with its garden and cool verandah, and bunches of grapes; might get a little cake from Mary, the cook or even might be smiled upon by Mrs Trelawney, the owner’s young wife, who seemed to Dick to be something more a lady—to be a sweet voice that spoke kindly to him and made him feel as he would feel sometimes when his mother would get the Big Bible, that came all the way from England, and tell him the story about the Good Man who so loved little children.

He liked to go into the station, because everyone was so kind to him. Everyone loved Pretty Dick: even old Tom, who had been a “lag,” and was a very wicked man, hushed the foul jest and savage oath when the curly head of Pretty Dick came within hearing, and the men always felt as if they had their Sunday clothes on in his presence. But he was not to go into the station to-day. It was not ration-day; so he sat on the step of his father’s hut door, looking out through a break in the timber-belt at the white dots on the plain, that he knew to be his father’s sheep.

Pretty Dick’s father lived in the Log Hut, on the edge of the plains, and had five thousand sheep to look after. He was away all day. Sometimes, when the sheep would camp near home, Pretty Dick would go down with some fresh tea in a “billy,” for his father, and would have a very merry afternoon watching his father cut curious notches in his stick, and would play with Lassie, and look about for ’possums in the trees, or, with craning neck, cautiously inspect an ant-hill. And then when evening came, and Lassie had got the sheep together—quietly without any barking you know—when father and son jogged homewards through the warm, still air, and the trampling hoofs of the sheep sent up a fragrance from the crushed herbage round the folding ground, Pretty Dick would repeat long stories that his mother had told him, about “Valentine and Orsen,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Jack the Giant Killer;” for Pretty Dick’s mother had been maid in the rector’s family, in the Kentish village at home, and was a little above Pretty Dick’s father, who was only a better sort of farm-labourer. But they were all three very, happy now in their adopted country. They were all alone there, these three—Pretty Dick, and mother and father—and no other children came to divide the love that both father and mother had for Pretty Dick. So that when Pretty Dick knelt down by his little bed at night, and put his little brown hands together, and said, “God bless my dear father and mother, and God bless me and make me a good boy,” he prayed for the whole family, you see. So, they all three loved each other very much—though they were poor people—and Pretty Dick’s mother often said that she would not have any harm happen to Pretty Dick for Queen Victoria’s golden crown. They had called him Pretty Dick when he was yet a baby, on board the “Star of Peace” emigrant ship, and the name had remained with him ever since. His father called him Pretty Dick, and his mother called him Pretty Dick, and the people at the home station called him Pretty Dick; and even the cockatoo who lived on the perch over Lassie’s bark-kennel, would call out “Pretty Dick! Pretty Dick! Pretty Dick!” over and over again.

Now, on this particular morning, Pretty Dick sat gazing between the trunks of the gum-trees into the blue distance. It was very hot. The blue sky was cloudless, and the sun seemed to be everywhere at once. There was a little shade, to be sure, among the gum-tree trunks, but that would soon pass, and there would be no shade anywhere. The little fenced-in waterhole in the front of the hut glittered in the sunlight like a piece of burnished metal, and the tin milk-pail that was turned topsy-turvy on the polepaling, was quite dazzling to look at. Daisy, the cow, stood stupidly under the shade of a round, punchy little she-oak close by, and seemed too lazy even to lie down, it was so hot. Of course the blow-flies had begun, and their ceaseless buzz resounded above and around, making it seem hotter than ever, Pretty Dick thought.

How hot father must be! Pretty Dick knew those terrible plains well. He had been across them two or three times. Once in the early spring when it was pleasant enough with a cool breeze blowing, and white clouds resting on the tops of the distant mountains, and the broad rolling levels of short, crisp, grass-land sweeping up from their feet to the horizon unceasingly. But he had been across there once in the summer, when the ground was dry and cracked, when the mountains seemed so close that he almost thought that he could touch them with his hand, when the heavens were like burning brass, and the air (crepitant with the ceaseless chirping of the grasshopper) like the flame of a heated furnace. Pretty Dick felt quite a fresh accession of heat as he thought of it, and turned his face away to the right to cool himself by thinking of the ranges. They were deep in the bush, past the creek that ran away the other side of the Sandy Rises; deep in the bush on the right hand, and many a weary stretch of sandy slope, and rough-grassed swamp, and solemn wood, and dismal, deserted scrub, was between him and them. He could see the lofty purple peak of Mount Clear, the highest in the range, grandly rising above the dense level tops of the gum-tree forests, and he thought how cool it must be in its mighty shadow. He had never been under the mountain. That there were some strange reaches of scrub, and sand, and dense thickets, and tumbled creeper-entwined rock in that swamp-guarded land, that lay all unseen under the shadow of the hills. he, knew, for he had heard the men say so. Had he not heard how men had been lost in that awesome scrub, silent and impenetrable, which swallowed up its victims noiselessly? Had he not heard how shepherds had strayed or slept, and how, at night, the sheep had returned alone, and that search had been in vain, until perhaps some wandering horseman, all by chance, had lighted upon a rusty rag or two, a white skull, and perhaps a tin pannikin with hopeless scratchings of name and date? Had he not been told fearful things about those ranges? How the bushrangers had made their lair in the Gap, and how the cave was yet visible where their leader had been shot dead by the troopers; how large sums of stolen money were buried there, hidden away behind slags and slabs of rock, flung into fathomless gullies, or crammed into fissures in the mountain side, hidden so well that all the searching hands and prying eyes of the district had not yet discovered them? Did not Wallaby Dick tell him one night about the Murder that had been done down in the flat under the large Australian moon—when the two swagmen, after eating and drinking, had got up in the bright, still night, and beaten out the brains of the travelling hawker, who gave them hospitality, and how, the old man being found beside his rifled cart, with his gray hairs matted with blood, search was made for the murderers, and they were taken in a tap-room in distant Hamilton, bargaining with the landlord for the purchase of their plunder?

What stories had he not heard of wild cattle, of savage bulls, red-eyed, pawing, and unapproachable? What hideous tales of snakes, black, cold, and deadly, had not been associated in his mind with that Mountain Land? What a strange, dangerous, fascinating, horrible, wonderful place that Mountain Land must be, and how much he would like to explore it! But he had been forbidden to go, and he dismissed, with a childish sigh, all idea of going.

He looked up at his clock-the sun. He was just over the top of the big gum-tree—that meant ten o’clock. How late! The morning was slipping away. He heard his mother inside singing. She was making the bread. It would be very hot in the hut when the loaf was put in the camp-oven to bake. He had nothing to do either. He would go down to the creek; it was cool there. So he went into the hut and got a big piece of sweet cake, and put it in the pocket of his little jumper.

“Mother,” said Pretty Dick, “I am going down to the creek.”

“Take care you don’t get lost!” said she, half in jest, half in earnest.

“Lost! No fear!” said Pretty Dick.

—And when he went out, his mother began to sing again.

It was beautifully cool down by the creek. Pretty Dick knew that it would be. The creek had come a long way, and was tired, and ran very slowly between its deep banks, luscious with foliage, and rich with grass. It had a long way to go, too, Pretty Dick knew where it went. It ran right away down to the river. It ran on into the open, desolate, barren piece of ground where the road to the station crossed it, and where its bright waters were all red and discoloured with the trampling of horses and cattle. It ran by the old stockyard, and then turned away with a sudden jerk, and lost itself in the Five Mile Swamp, from whence it re-appeared again, broader and bigger, and wound along until it met the river.

But it did not run beyond the swamp now, Dick knew, because the weather had been so hot, and the creeks were all dried up for miles around—his father said—all but this one. It took its rise in the mountains, and when the rainfall was less than usual, grew thinner and thinner, until it became, what it was now, a slender stream of water, trickling heavily between high banks—quite unlike the dashing, brawling, black, bubbling torrent that had rushed down the gully in flood-time.

Pretty Dick took off his little boots, and paddled about in the water, and found out all kinds of curious, gnarled roots of old trees, and funny holes under the banks. It was so cool and delicious under the stems and thick leaves of the water frondage that Pretty Dick felt quite restored again, and sang remembered scraps of his mother’s songs, as he dodged round intervening trees, and slipped merrily between friendly trunks and branches. At last he came out into the open. Here his friend, the creek, divided itself into all sorts of queer shapes, and ran here, and doubled back again there, and twisted and tortured itself in an extraordinary manner, just out of pure fun and frolic.

There was a herd of cattle camped at this place, for the trees were tall, and big, and spreading. The cattle did not mind Pretty Dick at all, strange to say. Perhaps that was because he was on foot. If he had been on horseback now, you would have seen how they would have stared and wheeled about, and splashed off into the scrub. But when Pretty Dick, swinging a stick that he had cut, and singing one of his mother’s songs, came by, they merely moved a little farther away, and looked at his little figure with long, sleepy eyes, slowly grinding their teeth from side to side the while. Now the way began to go up-hill, and there were big dead trees to get over, and fallen spreading branches to go round; for the men had been felling timber here, and the wasted wood lay thick upon the ground. At last Pretty Dick came to the Crossing Place. The Crossing Place was by the edge of the big swamp, and was a notable place for miles round. There was no need for a crossing place now though, for the limpid water was not a foot deep.

Pretty Dick had come out just on the top of a little sandy rise, and he saw the big swamp right before him, speckled with feeding cattle, whose backs were just level with the tall rushes. And beyond the big swamp the ranges rose up, with the sunlight gleaming here and there upon jutting crags of granite, and with deep cool shadows in other places, where the noble waving line of hills sank in, and made dark recesses full of shade and coolness. The sky was bluer than ever, and the air was heavy with heat; and Pretty Dick wondered how the eagle-hawk that was poised—a floating speck above the mountain top—could bear to swoop and swing all day long in that fierce glare.

He turned down again, and crossing the creek, plunged into the bush. There was a subtle perfume about him now; not a sweet, rich perfume like the flowers in the home station garden, but a strange intoxicating smell, evolved from the beat and the water, and the many coloured heath blossoms. The way was more difficult now, and Pretty Dick left the bank of the creek, and made for the open space—sandy, and bunched with coarse clumps of grass. He went on for a long time, still upwards, and at last his little feet began to tire; and, after chasing a dragon-fly or two, and running a long way after a kangaroo rat, that started out from a patch of broom and ran in sharp diagonal lines away to hide itself in among the roots of a she-oak, he began to think of the piece of sweet cake in his pocket. So when, after some little time, emerging from out a dense mass of scrub, that scratched and tore at him as though it would hold him back, he found himself far up the hills, with a great gully between him and the towering ranges, he sat down and came to the conclusion that he was hungry. But when he had eaten his sweet cake, he found that he was thirsty too, and that there was no water near him. But Pretty Dick knew that there was water in the ranges so he got up again, a little wearily, and went down the gully to look for it. But it was not so easy to find, and he wandered about for a long time among big granite boulders, and all kinds of blind creeks, choked up with thick grass and creeping plants, and began to feel very tired indeed, and a little inclined to wish that he had not left the water-course so early. But he found it at last—a little pool, half concealed by stiff, spiky, rush grass, and lay down, and drank eagerly. How nice the first draught was! But at the second, the water felt warm, and at the third, tasted quite thick and slimy. There had been some ducks paddling about when he came up, and they flew away with a great quacking and splashing, that almost startled him. As soon as they had disappeared though, the place was quite still again, and the air grew heavier than ever. He felt quite drowsy and tired, and laid himself down on a soft patch of mossy grass, under a tree; and so, after listening a little while to the humming of the insects, and the distant crackling of mysterious branches in the forest, he put his little head on his little arm, and went fast to sleep.

How long he slept Pretty Dick did not know, but he woke up, suddenly with a start, and a dim consciousness that the sun had shifted, and had been pouring its heat upon him for some time. The moment he woke he heard a great crashing and plunging, and started up just in time to see a herd of wild cattle scouring off down the side of the range. They had come up to drink while he was asleep, and his sudden waking had frightened them. How late it must be! The place seemed quite changed. There was sunlight where no sunlight had been before, and shadow where had been sunlight. Pretty Dick was quite startled at finding how late it was. He must go home, or mother would be frightened. So he began to go back again. He knew his way quite well. No fear of his losing himself. He felt a little tired though, but that would soon wear off. So he left the little pool and turned homewards. He got back again into the gully, and clambered up to the top, and went on sturdily. But the trees did not seem familiar to him, and the succession of dips in the hills seemed interminable. He would soon reach the Big Swamp again, and then he could follow up the creek. But he could not find the Swamp. He toiled alone, very slowly now, and at last found the open plot of ground where he had stopped in the morning But when he looked at it a little, it was not the same plot at all, but another something like it, and the grim ranges, heavy with shadow, rose all around him.

A terrible fear came into poor little Pretty Dick’s heart, and he seemed to hear his mother say, quite plainly, “Take care you don’t get lost, Pretty Dick!” Lost! But he put the feeling away bravely, and swallowed down a lump in his throat, and went on again. The cattle-track widened out, and in a little while he found himself upon a jutting peak, with the whole panorama of the Bush at his feet. A grand sight! On the right hand towered the Ranges, their roots sunk deep in scrub and dense morass, and their heads lifted into the sky, that was beginning to be streaked with purple flushes now. On the left, the bush rolled away beneath him—one level mass of treetops, broken here and there by an open space of yellow swamp, or a thin line of darker foliage, that marked the meanderings of some dried-up creek. The sun was nearly level with his face, and cast a long shadow behind him. Pretty Dick felt his heart give a great jump, and then go on beating quicker and quicker. But he would not give in. Lost!—Oh no, he should soon be home, and telling his mother all the wonders of the walk. But it was too late! He must make haste. What was that!—somebody on horseback. Pretty Dick shaded his eyes with his little hand, and peered down into the valley. A man with a white puggarree on his hat, was moving along a sort of cattletrack. Joy!—It was Mr. Gaunt, the overseer. Pretty Dick cooeed. No answer. He cooeed again,—and again, but still the figure went on. Presently, it emerged from the scrub, and the poor little fellow could see the rays of the setting sun gleam redly, for an instant on a bright spur, like a dying spark. He gave a despairing shout. The horseman stopped, looked about him, and then glancing up at the fast clouding heavens, shook his horse’s bridle, and rode off in a hand-gallop. Poor Pretty Dick. He knew that his cry had been unheard—mistaken, perhaps, for the scream of a parrot, the cry of some native bear, or strange bird, but in his present strait, the departure of the presence of something human, felt like a desertion. He fairly gave way, and sat down and cried. By-and-by he got up again, with quite a strange feeling of horror, and terror, and despair; he ran down the steep side of the range in the direction in which Mr. Gaunt had gone, and followed his fast fading figure, calling and crying with choked voice. Presently he lost him altogether, and then he felt his courage utterly fail. He had no idea of where he was. He had lost all power of thought and reason, and was possessed but by one over-powering terror, and a consciousness that whatever he did, he must keep on running, and not stop a moment. But he soon could run no longer. He could only stagger along from tree to tree in the gloomy woods, and cry, “Mother! Mother!” But there was no mother to help him. There was no human being near him, no sound but the hideous croaking of the frogs in the marshes, and the crackling of the branches under his footsteps. The sun went down suddenly behind the hills, and the air grew cool at once. Pretty Dick felt as if he had lost a friend, and his tears burst forth afresh. Utterly tired and worn out, he sat down at the foot of a tree, and sobbed with sheer fatigue. Then he got up and ran round and round, like some hunted animal, calling, “Mother! Mother!”

But there was no reply. Nothing living was near him, save a hideous black crow who perched himself upon the branch of a withered tree. and mocked him, seeming to the poor boy’s distorted fancy to say, “Pretty Dick! Pretty Dick! Walk! walk! walk!”

In a burst of passionate, childish despair, he flung a piece of stick at the bird, but his strength failed him, and the missile fell short. This fresh failure made him cry again, and then he got up and ran-stumbling, and falling, and crying-away from the loathsome thing. But it followed him, flapping heavily from tree to tree, and perched quite close to him at last, croaking like an evil presence—”Pretty Dick! Pretty Dick! Walk! walk! walk!”

The sweet night fell, and the stars looked down into the gullies and ravines, where poor Pretty Dick, all bruised, bleeding, and despairing, was staggering from rock to rock, sick at heart, drenched with dew, hatless, shoeless, tear-stained, crying, “Mother! mother! I am lost! Oh, mother! mother!”

The calm, pitiless stars looked down upon him, and the broad sky spread coldly over him, and the birds flew away terrified at him; and the deadly chill of loneliness fell upon him, and the cold, cruel, silent night seemed to swallow him up, and hide him from human sympathy.

Poor Pretty Dick! No more mother’s kisses, no more father’s caresses, no more songs, no more pleasures, no more flowers, no more sunshine, no more love—nothing but grim Death, waiting remorselessly in the iron solitude of the hills; in the sad-eyed presence of the speechless stars. There, among the awful mystery and majesty of nature, alone, a terrified little human soul, with the eternal grandeur of the forests, the mountains, and the myriad voices of the night, Pretty Dick knelt trembling down, and lifting his little, tear-stained face to the great, grave, impassable sky-sobbed.

“Oh take me home! Take me home! Oh! please, God, take me home!”

The night wore on—with strange sounds far away in the cruel bush, with screamings of strange birds, with gloomy noises, as of the tramplings of many cattle, with movements of leaves and snapping of branches, with unknown whirrings as of wings, with ripplings and patterings as of waterfalls, with a strange heavy pulsation in the air, as though the multitudinous life of the forest was breathing around him. He was dimly conscious that any moment some strange beast—some impossible monster, enormous and irresistible, might rise up out of the gloom of the gullies and fall upon him;—that the whole horror of the bush was about to take some tangible shape and appear silently from behind the awful rocks which shut out all safety and succour. His little soul was weighed down by the nameless terror of a solitude which was no solitude,—but a silence teeming with monsters. He pictured the shapeless Bunyip lifting its shining sides heavily from the bottomless blackness of some lagoon in the shadow of the hills, and dragging, all its loathsome length to where he lay. He felt suffocated; the silence that held all these indistinct noises in its bosom, muffled him about like a murderous cloak; the palpable shadow of the immeasurable mountains fell upon him like a gravestone, and the gorge where he lay was like the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He screamed to break the silence, and the scream rang around him in the woods, and up above him in the mountain clefts, and beneath him in the mute mystery of the glens and swamps,—his cry seemed to be re-echoed again and again by strange voices never heard before, and repeated with indistinct mutterings and moanings in the caverns of the ranges. He dared not scream a second time lest he should wake some awful sound whose thunder should deafen him.

All this time he was staggering on,—not daring to look to right or left, or anywhere but straight on—traight on always. He fell, and tore his hands, and bruised his limbs, but the bruises did not hurt him. His little forehead was cut by a sharp stone, and his bright hair was all dusty and matted with blood. His knees shook and trembled, and his tongue clove to his mouth. He fell at every yard, and his heart seemed to beat so loud, that the sound filled the air around him.

His strength was leaving him; he tottered from weakness; and, at last, emerging upon a little open platform of rock, white under the moon, he felt his head swim, and the black trunks, and the masses of fern-tree leaves, and the open ground, and the silent expanse of bush below him, all turned round in one crimson flash; and then the crimson grew purple-streaked, and spotted with sparks, and radiations, and bursting globes of light and colour, and then the ranges closed in and fell upon him, and he was at once in his little bed at home—oh, so-fast—asleep!

But he woke at last, very cold and numbed, and with some feeling that he was not himself, but that he had been dreaming of a happy boy named Pretty Dick, who went away for a walk one afternoon many years ago. And then he felt for the blankets to pull them up about his shoulders, and his little fingers grasped a prickly handful of heather, and he woke with a terrible start.

Moonlight still, but a peaceful, solemn, sinking moon. She was low down in the sky, hanging like a great yellow globe over the swamp that rose from far beneath him, straight up, it seemed to a level with his face. Her clear cut rim rested on the edge of the morass now. He could almost touch her, she looked so close to him; but he could not lift his little arm so high, and besides, he had turned everything upside down before he went to sleep, and the moon was down below him and the earth up above him! To be sure! and then he shut his eyes and went to sleep again.

By-and-by it dawned. The birds twittered, and the dew sparkled, and the mists came up and wreathed themselves all about the trees, and Pretty Dick was up in the pure cool sky, looking down upon a little figure that lay on an open space among the heather. Presently, slowly at first, and then more quickly, he found out that this little figure was himself, and that he was in pain, and then it all came back with one terrible shock, and he was Lost again.

He could bear to think of it now, though. His terror, born of darkness, had fled with the uprising of the glorious golden sun. There was, after all, no reason to be afraid. Boys had been lost before, and found again. His father would have missed him last night, and the station would be speedily roused. Oh, he would soon be found! He got up very painfully and stiffly, and went to look for water. No difficulty in that; and when he had drunken, and washed his face and hands, he felt much better. Then he began to get hungry, and to comfort himself with the thought that he would soon be found. He could almost hear the joyful shout, and the welcome, and the questioning. How slowly the time went on! He tried to keep still in one place, for he knew now that his terror-driven feet had brought him to this pass, and that he should have kept still in the place where he saw Mr. Gaunt the night before.

At the recollection of that bitter disappointment, and the thought of how near he had been to succour, his tears began afresh. He tried hard to keep his terrors back—poor little fellow,—and thought of all kinds of things—of the stories his mother told him—of the calf-pen that father was putting up. And then he would think of the men at the station, and the remembrance of their faces cheered him; and he thought of Mrs. Trewlawney, and his mother. O—suppose he should never see his mother again! And then he cried, and slept, and woke, and forgot his fears for awhile, and would listen intently for a sound, and spring up and answer a flancied shout, and then lie in a dull, stupid despair, with burning eyes, and aching head, and a gnawing pain that he knew was Hunger. So the hot day wore out. The same beat as yesterday, the same day as yesterday, the same sights and sounds as yesterday—but oh! how different was yesterday to to-day,—and how far off yesterday seemed. No one came. The shadows shifted, and the heat burnt him up, and the shade fell on him, and the sun sank again, and the stars began to shine,—and no one came near Pretty Dick. He had almost forgotten, indeed, that there was such a boy as Pretty Dick. He seemed to have lived years in the bush alone. He did not know where he was, or who he was. It seemed quite natural to him that he should be there alone, and he had no wish to get away. He had lost all his terror of the Night. He scarcely knew it was night, and after sitting on the grass a little longer, smiling at the fantastic shadows that the moonlight threw upon the ground, he discovered that he was hungry, and must go into the hut for supper. The hut was down in the gully yonder he could hear his mother singing-so Pretty Dick got up, and crooning a little song, went down into the Shadow.

.     .     .     .     .

They looked for him for five days. On the sixth, his father and another came upon something, lying, half-hidden, in the long grass at the bottom of a gully in the ranges, A little army of crows flew heavily away. The father sprang to earth with a white face. Pretty Dick was lying on his face, with his head on his arm.

God had taken him home.

Australian Tales - Contents

Back    |    Words Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback