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A Samaritan of the Riverine

by Randolph Bedford

IN THE wild, burning sheep-walk of Central-Eastern Australia, watered by the mighty Darling and sundry smaller and deceitful streams; where the Winter is a flood; where the Summer is a furnace, and the sun and the baked dust and the parched gums are of a uniform dull red; and where the early Spring is as delicate as its sister seasons are fierce, the Samaritan of the Riverine lived in the body. And there he lives in the memory even unto this day.

But the people of the rivers did not generally know him as the Samaritan, nor do they. His real name was Stephen Been. The wags styled him "The Has Been."

He was over seventy years of age, erect as a gum-bole, strong almost as a man thirty years his junior, and, withal, gentle as a child, for his feet were very near the grave; and already there were whisperingly chanted in his ears the forewords of the wonderful song that all men shall one day, dying, hear, and that the new-born have not yet forgotten.

The world had dealt with him more cruelly than it does with its beasts, for he was merely a man, and a dull one, which is an animal of no fixed commercial value. This simple soul had been intended to pass through the furnace of the world unsullied. Here was a child's heart in a man's body, and everything had seemed to combine to degrade the mind of the man to the level of the beast.

When Stephen Been was arrested in a suburb of London, long ago when the last century was young, he might have been described on the charge-list thus: "A clod, eighteen years old." At any rate the law recognized that he was a clod, and immediately set about breaking him in twain as a preliminary to fertilizing the barren soil of his mind.

The poor, shivering, frightened animal had stolen half a sheep, value five shillings, and the law sentenced him to seven years' penal servitude to square the accounts. "Debit, one-half sheep, five shillings. Received payment, with thanks, seven years' transportation."

If the law had made out the account in a businesslike manner, that is the way it would have read.

So the Clod, with a number of other clods, and a fair sprinkling of genuine criminals, was embarked for Botany Bay to serve his sentence.

Botany Bay was not the Clod's destination, by the way. Port Jackson was the particular hell he was bound for, but the knowledge of Australian geography held by English state officials at that time was limited.

If that voyage did not make of the Clod a fiend, it was not his fault. The genuine criminals just referred to were bad enough; the marines and the crew were worse. An earlier voyage of this very ship had lasted nearly two years, for the trans-' port had taken out a cargo of female convicts on that occasion. And now it had been entrusted with the conveyance of mostly first offenders, whose chief crimes had been poverty and hunger, and whom the state alleged it intended to reform. And the state's methods of reformation were the lash, the chain, the tube-gag, the collar, the scaffold; in a word, its instrument was the executioner, its example was blood.

That orgie was forty years old and strengthened by its experiences when Stephen Been landed at Sydney Cove. Being stupid, he was very quiet, and his jailers, mistaking his stupidity for stubbornness, brought him up for punishment on the paltriest of excuses.

"They would flog the mule out of him," said they, and instead they flogged a devil in. So he became an animal, and as he passed from the lower vegetable state he had been born in, to the higher life of the carnivora, he was made what the system called "a dangerous felon." He attempted to escape. Seven years were added to his first sentence—his floggings were more frequent; then Hobart Town and Maria Island, the aggravated hells of convictdom followed. Just before his additional sentence had expired, a member of the Clod's gang—a hybrid creature, half convict, half convict's jailer, proposed that the gang should escape in a body. The gang acted on his suggestion and attempted to break jail. Mr. Hybrid sold them to the commandant of the station, and all of them were captured.

More floggings, more jail, for the animal-clod. The law limited the term of imprisonment then passed on him, but it did not specify the number of lashes he was to receive. The commandant could attend to that trivial question, and to do him the justice due to a zealous Government official, the commandant did.

The informer was at that time about twenty-four years of age. He had yet to serve five years of his sentence for forgery, but the Crown granted him a free pardon as the reward of his treachery, and he left Tasmania for the mainland.

Stephen Been returned to his cell in Hobart Jail and received the first of his new series of floggings. He did not feel the strokes; he was repeating to himself—as if he could forget it—the oath he had sworn to kill the informer. He did not flinch from the flogger, for he thought of his revenge, and revenge is the kindest liniment for wrong. So at last the most meritorious convict system had made the inoffensive Clod first an animal, now a devil. In '52 he was discharged from Hobart Jail after serving twenty-four years in a hell that could have been made only by man. Twenty-four years of a life that might have been made a source of good to the living, thrown away in expiation of an alleged crime that had long been dead!

THE name of the hybrid Informer was Abel Shaw. He went to Australia, as stated, and when gold was discovered at Bendigo he went to the field, and was allowed to mine, for he held a free pardon. His claim was one of the lucky holes—the informer's fortune was assured from the hour.

In '54 Stephen Been also reached Bendigo and stepped into a new world. His intention was to raise himself into a respectability he had never known in the days of his innocence, and to do this only money was necessary; for the one-time Clod saw now that respectability is merely accumulated money in its most portable form. He had never borne the appearance of a typical criminal, and as the police inspection was lax, owing to the smallness of the force, he was allowed to secure a claim unquestioned.

In three days he had bottomed. With what trembling eagerness he washed his first pan of dirt! The result of his labor with the pick and the shovel and the cradle and the dish meant more than gold to him. Good—they meant peace; bad—they were the prophets of a return to the old life. But the results were good. The Clod-animal poured the water from the dish very carefully, and saw seven water-worn pebbles, which he took up on the point of his clasp-knife, and felt anxiously with his tongue. Then he began to tremble and to flush hot and cold, and at last the tears came.

He had found gold. More, he had found hope. For over a fortnight he won at the rate of upwards of three ounces a day. Fortune, as if to atone for his twenty-four years in perdition, courted him and gave him gold. The ring of the pick was gold. The sweat of his brow, which had been agony at Maria Island, was wealth at old Bendigo.

And then the determination to kill the informer came back to him and blotted out all his visions of happiness. He had been planning what he would do with the money. Of course he would go back to his own little village in Devonshire, provided, of course, that he could escape the vigilance of the police. And when he reached England he would play the banker to his family and all of his old friends.

His people should never toil again. Happiness should be theirs for the rest of their days, and all the old daddies who had mumbled their kind-hearted commonplaces over him as a boy—worn old figures whose joints had been curved and gnarled by the bitterness of their unproductive labor, clods who had wrought to make the master rich—the master whose clay they were—should have their pipes alight and their glasses filled for ever and ever.

So the poor heart that wanted to buy love at any price, or to steal it if need be, builded his castles and day-dreamed between the pick-strokes. All the people he intended to benefit were long since dead and freed at last from the dread of starvation which had accompanied them as a shadow through all their cheerless, songless lives. But Stephen did not consider that death might have spoiled his plans. He had suffered so much and yet had lived, and he thought it must be terribly difficult to die. And so he planned lovingly for the few people who had given him a kind word or look in the days of his cloddishness—planned to requite them as their misery deserved—not with the measure of man, but with the measure of love, brimful and running over.

But a product of the old, half-forgotten hell, Shaw, the Informer, to wit, stepped in and blasted all these unselfish intentions.

Stephen Been met his enemy in a busy street, or rather track, of the camp some months after he began to win a fortune. The Samaritan-to-be forgot all his dreams of benevolence to the dwellers in the little English village he had left so long ago. Within the space of a thought he sprang at the informer, closed with him, and bore him to the ground, and there deliberately began to strangle him. A trooper, probably for the first time in the history of the world, was at hand, and he promptly struck Stephen Been with the blunt edge of his sword, and towed him to the large hut, with many intermissions in the slabs thereof, which served as a jail. Final result—the Informer was regarded as a martyr who had done his duty to society and had been undeservedly punished therefor; and Been was once again sentenced—to two years' imprisonment.

A few months after his sentence had expired he fell in with his enemy again, this time at Wood's Point. A little more gold-winning, another assault, another sentence, this time for five years. And when that sentence had expired he found himself with only a few pounds as capital—his gold had been deposited with a man who was shortly after detected robbing a sluice-box, and all the metal in the possession of the thief was handed to the robbed company as being their property.

Said Stephen Been, as he left Beechworth Jail in '62 and shook his impotent hand at its heavy blue-stone walls: "I'll kill the dog next time—I'll kill you if I live long enough!"


BUT he did not stay long in the country of gold. The metal meant men, and the presence of men meant police and the law. Even to find his enemy and wreak a just vengeance on him was not inducement to brave these terrors; he saw that only in comparative solitude could he find peace. Wherefore he shouldered his swag and stepped bravely north—an indescribably pathetic old man of fifty-five.

The System had done one good turn for him. Truly the torture of its rigorous discipline had brought the sorrow that whitens the hair and furrows the face. It had made his heart old before his heart had known youth, but it had also developed in him wonderful physical endurance—it had deadened his body to pain, made it indifferent to hunger; converted him into a perpetually adaptable creature to all, however rapidly changing, conditions of existence.

And as he trudged along the rough track his heart began to beat with youth as it had never beaten before. He had never felt love, except that dull half-awakening to human sympathy in old Bendigo in '54, and now the million scents and voices of the eternally beautiful bush told him that such pure attractions as it could offer were the especial property of such as he.

"Ting-a-ling," said the bell-bird, and the swag was heavy no more. "Tweet-Tweet," said the minah, and the jail and the Informer were forgotten.

North, farther north, through the giant granite ranges, through the valleys of the Murray, and into the plains of the West he traveled, flying from man always, going deeper into the heart of the great wild whose message of peace had been breathed to him three hundred miles nearer the sea.

At the stations in his track he never asked for the usual ration of flour and mutton; he demanded it and paid for it, and then tramped to his lonely camp, a mile removed from even the horse-paddock. This sullen reserve lasted long after the Murrumbidgee had become a daily sight to him, and the speed of the current heralding its junction with the mighty Murray showed longer and stronger in the eddies at the bends. There, venturing near to a homestead unusually early in the day, a horseman rode up to him and inquired if he wanted work.

"Yes, sir," said Stephen Been, humbly pulling at his hat, as if he were still a number and not a man.

"I want a man to load wool and to take charge of a barge to Echuca."

Of course Stephen Been accepted, and a new era began for him. He fulfilled his contract satisfactorily and made many trips on the river, which he began to love as he loved children and all things that were young and were not men. He could not read, and yet he was the best freight clerk the rivers ever had.

"Two tons of wire for Burrabogie," said the carrier at Echuca," and a case of whisky for Mungadal," and so on; and Stephen Been could have told you all his freight before he was out of port a day. He used to run over the names of the stations on the river just for the pleasure of feeling his importance as a freight clerk. You might find him a dozen times a day chanting the euphony of the station nomenclature thus: "Groongal, Pevensey, Mungadal, Eli Elwah, Burrabogie, Ulillawa, Albemarle, Terrywalka, Ulonga," to infinity.

And then it was a new life. His importance as steersman of the barge, the quiet, green, leaf-tinted water, the sobbing of the engine of the towing steamer as it breasted the current—all had the charm of novelty; and the appreciation of newness which is surely God's best gift to the adventurous man with a soul.

By-and-by he became a property-holder. The "boss" liked the strong old man who could work without a word; who never used the usual language of the river and the shearing-shed—(the boss could curse fluently, by the way, and the "super" was exceedingly profane and blastiferous), and who could be trusted alone with a barge-load in a "strange" port, because he never drank. So one day, being present at the sale of a river navigating company's fleet, the boss, having previously sounded his bargeman on the subject, purchased the Tilpa, a side-wheel steamer, ordinarily used for trading purposes, and her attendant giant, the Bunyip barge. Then he arranged instalment terms with the ex-convict, and Been entered on his new line of ship owning.

On the strength of being a shipowner, he secured long credit with several firms for the supply of miscellaneous stores, and started from Echuca one Summer night with steamer and barge laden almost hulldown with everything that the inhabitants of the West might require—sheep shears and moleskins, fencing-wire and onions, boots, saddles and tobacco—a floating store.

It was a happy life from the beginning. He managed to pay for the barge; he opened a bank-account; he was respected; men called him "Captain Been"; he had never to leave the beloved rivers. Most of his dealings with the stations lying on the three thousand miles of water were on the credit system, and here his absolute dearth of education told much against him. However, his faultless memory and a unique method of bookkeeping invented by himself and consisting chiefly of sundry knife-cuts on the starboard paddle-box enabled him to collect at least seventy-five per cent, of his money. That and one hundred per cent, profit considered left him very much on the right side of the ledger. He would sell his stock at the head of the Darling, and then load with wool for Echuca, to return with stores on the next fresh.

The life drew from him all sourness. He became the Samaritan of the Rivers. The Tilpa, up or down trip, continually carried men who wanted to work their passage and who evidently translated that phrase as meaning the consumption of as much tucker as the cook could prepare. And be the end of their stage at Brewarrina or Bourke or Tilpa or Louth or Wilcannia or Menindie, they left with half a pint of whisky in their stomachs and a shilling or two in their pockets and some tobacco and rations in their swags. Did not Bathurst, the educated loafer of the rivers, get three pounds of Captain Been by telling a story of an asthmatic mother, and did he not a year afterwards tell me that Been was the Samaritan of the Riverine, and wherefore is not this history written?

The loafers who sponged on him loved this simple old man who knew of nothing but the rivers and would talk of them for hours.

"You know that bend near 'Crismus Island'?" he would say, "There's two of the cunningest water-hens you ever see—I believe they know the Tilpa now. Why they've been there this five years, an' whenever we passes there they flies around to the stern's much as to say, 'Let's see if it's the dear old Tilpa, or that puffing Billy, the Saddler, what's always firin' rifles at us. I believe they can read the name of my boat, too."

And then he would repeat that only boast of his to the effect that he could take the Tilpa, what was drawing four-feet-seven, over a four-foot-six bar; and he could steer her from Dunlop to Albemarle blindfold—yes! he could! Oh, ye might stare, and yer might say no, but he could. If it comes to that, he'd give you a passage an' prove he could do it blindfold—there!

His friends loved him, and he knew no enemy. There was in his nature a stubborn good, which even the great penal system had been unable to destroy. From Fort Bourke to the Campaspe he was known and he was honored, and yet most men knew his history.

His moments of sadness were few. He felt fiercely revengeful when he thought of the Informer, but the memory of his wrong was beginning to fade in his prosperity. Only when he saw children playing he realized what he had lost and their voices were as the touch of a hand on his old loveless heart. If he could have stolen one of those curly-haired babies at Culpaulin or Dunlop I believe he would have done it. But '78 brought him the love he craved for.

NEAR Easter Island the Tilpa stopped in the early moonlight to "woodup," and the gentlemen of the river who worked their passages wrestled languidly with the ax on the rottenest and therefore the most easily cut and the worst fuel they could find.

In the center of a space embayed in the shore by the island, a solitary traveler's fire gleamed fitfully. The traveler was extremely disgusted with his situation; he had been intended by nature to be the most gregarious of men, and circumstances had made him an Ishmael on the track. This was his second night away from home, and the prospect of the road, which had seemed to him free and independent and glamoured with the romance of the bush, was now very, very dreary.

Therefore when he saw the Tilpa moored to the bank and all hands, from captain to cook, cutting wood for the engine, he walked over to the workers, wishing to lend a hand and too proud to risk a snub. So he stood by while they worked, and would very probably not have spoken to them but for the fact that he saw a tall, spare, magnificent old man bowing under the weight of a dead branch.

"I'll take that, daddy," he said.


Stephen Been staggered with amazement, and the weight fell on the traveler's shoulders.

WHEN the work was finished the Captain almost forced the young man to accompany him to the little saloon, where they drank a tot of whisky each. He questioned the young fellow in a kindly, inquisitive manner, which proved his interest and, little by little, he found that the traveler's name was George Garth, that he had quarreled with his father, whom he said he did not like, and there was an end to the matter. He had set out from Louth two days before to walk until he met something to do.

And then the Captain insisted on Garth's remaining aboard, and he sent one of the gentlemen who were "working their passage" for the swag by the new chum's fire. Then he installed his friend in the best berth on the wheel-deck, and saw Garth, worn out with his unusual tramp, fall asleep as the Tilpa steamed down the moonlit river.

That word "Daddy" from such a man had given Stephen Been the son of his loveless dreams and won the Samaritan forever.

Next day Garth asked to be given something to do, and the old man, who had very hazy ideas on the subjest, suggested that he ought to take stock. And Garth did so, and placed the Tilpa's financial condition in such a light that the Samaritan thought his knifenotch style of bookkeeping might not be absolutely perfect after all.

He broached the subject to the mate in the wheelhouse that evening. "Seems to me, Jim," said he, "that the young man might's well stay on an' look after the bills—be a what's it?"

"Supercargo," said the mate shortly.

"Yes, that's it," assented Stephen Been. "Won't do makin' any more 'oles in the paddle-box."

"That's a fact. If you chop it much more there'll be no starb'd sponson at all. Bimeby you'll have a ship made of holes."

AND so George Garth became supercargo, and the trade with the young women at the stations increased amazingly, and the old man found the young one more valuable than he had dreamed, and loved him more dearly with the birth of each successive day.

The affection was mutual. The old man was lovable, and then they had so much in common; both loved the river—that was everything. And Been showed the supercargo the wonderful water-hens in the bend near Christmas Island, and told numberless stories of driving the steamer Ml speed ahead when the river was dangerously low because the banks were streets of fire, and of shooting the punt rope at Wilcannia when the stream was in flood—he sang, in his rough vocabulary, the epic of the river men. And when they passed a tortoise paddling and spluttering in an insanity of fear of the smoking bulk of the steamer, Been would remark that the terrapin was very like an old jew lizard he had known at Fort Bourke in '74 and "that there jew lizard—he was a terror for santypedes an' such like, an' he once et half a pound o' shin o' beef at a sittin', he did."

For his part, Garth was in paradise. The preliminary work of setting affairs in order being ended, he had nothing to do while the boat was between stopping places, and so he roamed over the steamer at his will, now in the wheelhouse, now on a sponson, then in the bows. With the first streak of the day the steamer's whistle ran along the river reaches, and as she steamed away the nude figure of the supercargo appeared on a paddle-box—he dropped a bucket into the foaming wheel-wash, drew it up, and drenched himself with the contents. And after that, by the time he was dressed, the steamer woke the life of the river before the sun had touched it, and the mallards started for the day's flight, for they were unreasoning creatures and flew on a straight line ahead of the steamer, too foolish to think of getting out of the way. And the ghostly cockatoos fled daily before the Tilpa westward, when the Summer was waning, for they intended to Winter in the Murray.

At eight o'clock the bell sounded breakfast, and Garth joined the Captain and his mate in the saloon, which was about the size of a fairly large packing-case, and after that, smoke-ho, and a revel in the careless knowledge that the next homestead would not be sighted till the afternoon. It is a fine life, this innocent existence of the rivers; it is a paradise for whoever has a soul, and souls were owned by Been, the Captain, and his supercargo, Garth.

BUT discord came to the paradise. One day in June of '79, when the river was lowest and the Tilpa and her laden barge passed Dunlop on the last upward trip for the season, the super of the station hailed the steamer and came aboard. He wanted only a few trifling things, he said, but he delayed the Tilpa half an hour, and in his desultory conversation with the Captain told him that Coruna, the next station eastward, had changed hands. The new owner, he remarked, was Mr. Garth, a J. P., and no end of a swell.

The Captain retailed the news to the supercargo later on, and was amazed at the confusion of the young man.

"You ought to know all about it, I suppose, dad," said Garth at last. "This Mr. Garth is my father, and we've never agreed—that's why I left him, that's why I don't want to see him again till I'm independent."

These remarks, of course, resulted only in making Been all the more curious, and by judicious pumping he learned all the facts. Garth Senior was very unscrupulous. He had done shady things in stock deals and mining transactions. Garth Junior objected, and the old man had told him to clear out with his honesty and not come back again unless his honesty brought him enough to live on.

And therefore Garth Junior had cleared.

"You're a white man," commented Been, when the young fellow had concluded. "We'll let him see that honesty does pay—I 'aven't much longer to live, and the craft's yours when I go. No, no talk now—I've said it, and I wouldn't go back on my word for no man."

They stopped at Coruna to canvass the new owner before some other trading river-tramp secured the business. Captain Been, now quite an experienced diplomat in his way, sent a message by the mate requesting Mr. Garth, J. P., to honor the steamer with his presence, and five minutes after a white-haired old gentleman stepped on the Tilpa's deck. He was Mr. Garth. He started violently as the supercargo came forward saying, "How are you, father?"

He did not start when the supercargo introduced him to Captain Been; he merely said, "Glad to meet you, Captain. I hope we shall be able to do business together."

But Stephen Been, as he took his customer's proffered hand, felt sick with long-thwarted revenge, for Mr. John Garth, J. P., and the Informer of the old Maria Island were one man.


THE shock to the Samaritan had been very great. There, in the new life of fairness and clean hands and free goings out and untrammeled comings in, the corpse of the convict-time had come to resurrection. For several hours following the departure of the Informer, who had left the Tilpa without any idea of her Captain's identity, he sat in the little cabin next the wheelhouse with his arms folded and his head fallen on his breast. The supercargo looked in once or twice to ask where the steamer was to tie up, and was told to "steam easy till I tell you." The dusk crept over the river, and the great sponson and bow lamps were lighted, and the cook rang the bell for supper, but the Captain still sat in the cabin on the wheel-deck arid told his friendly querists that he was 'all right—never better—leave him alone.'

He sat there and thought until he was almost mad. At nine o'clock the mate went to him and insisted on being heard. 'The night was very dark, the river was dangerously low, the stream was sown with snags; hadn't they better tie up?'

Stephen Been aroused himself by great effort; rose and went into the wheelhouse. There he went over the rough chart—which was rolled up in a great box and was almost as long as the river itself—and told them to tie up in the next bend. His voice, hollow as the voice of the dying, made mate and supercargo look at him surprisedly. They saw that the face was not the face of the Samaritan. Always clean-shaven, it had resumed the expression of the hunted convict at bay; its lines had hardened, the lips seemed to have become thin and sneering and cruel; the eyes were shot with yellow gleams of revengeful madness; the mouth was half open in a horribly hungry fashion; the eye-teeth, standing conspicuously in the bare and livid gums, were like the fangs of the wild dog.

"You are ill, dad," said the supercargo pityingly.

"No, I'm not," answered Been. "I lifted a big weight to-day, an' I've strained my back."

The mate suggested a sweating bath in a wet sheet, but Stephen Been refused all the remedies of the river, and, without waiting to see the beloved Tilpa snug for the night, turned in.

In the darkness there came to him strange old shapes he hoped he had forgotten—the ghosts of the gang who attempted the escape for which Abel Shaw had sold them to the commandant. There came the ghost of young Hitchins—the boy who had in the frenzy of recapture killed the constable who had attempted his arrest, the boy who had, in the awful desperation of his gallows-death, uttered blasphemies that made even the executioner shudder. There came the shape of Peter Wells who died on the triangles during his punishment as ringleader of the escape; there came to him others—sad shapes saying hesitatingly that the time for justice had arrived; noisy, blasphemous shapes, calling on him in the name of his manhood and of his oath to avenge their stripes and the greatness of their old-time misery. Some were cold and half apathetic, some despairing, some hot with the white heat of long-nursed wrong. But all of them commanded him to do the one deed—to slay their common enemy.

And as if they had been so many men and he were indeed their captain, too, he had told them that justice should be done, and had waved them aside as if they interfered with his thoughts. Then the shapes left him to decide on the manner of Garth's death.

All sorts of schemes, mostly impracticable, suggested themselves to him. He would decoy the informer into the dry wastes in the back-blocks of the river, kill his horse, and leave him to die of thirst; he would invite him aboard the steamer and leap into the river with him; he would lock him in the cabin and shoot him. These and a hundred other plans worked in his brain.

He rose early the next morning, still undecided on the manner of Garth's death—still determined to exact full payment of the revenge owing him. However, for that week at least he could do nothing. He must mature his scheme.

The Tilpa resumed her journey up-stream with her Captain in the same undecided frame of mind. Three days after they had reached Brewarrina the river fell alarmingly, and the Tilpa was forced to remain tied up at the wharf until the next fresh. During this period of enforced idleness the Captain came to a conclusion as to the way the death sentence passed by the ghosts of the murdered on the Informer should be carried out. The accepted plan was grotesquely horrible—the jury of dead felons by their foreman, Stephen Been, had both found the verdict and imposed the expiation. Garth, the owner of Coruna, was sentenced to be dressed in the old Canary costume, then to be tied up and flogged to death. The labor of decoying and binding him was easy to the Samaritan's diplomacy, and the Samaritan's strength and revenge would make his arm tireless of the scourge until the end. A fine revenge, truly. The Samaritan felt almost happy as he thought over it.

THE fresh did not arrive until August, and then it was small, and carried them only a score of miles west of Louth. The mate and supercargo worried and fretted under the delay. They cursed the river, which was not much more than a chain of pools. They stamped the deck, because September was very close at hand. Ere this they should have been half way back from Echuca, ready to sell out the store to the shearers and to get the earliest bales of the clip, and beat the hated Saddler and the Warrego on the down-stream journey.

Stephen Been smiled calmly at the delay. There was plenty of time, he said; he did not care if the barge went down-stream empty—let the Saddler have the wool—what did he care? A few homestead lessees,—men with a paltry ten thousand sheep or so—had cut out early, and the clip of these small men came to the Tilpa and filled the barge fairly well, and this fact served to cheer the supercargo and the mate. They would not be able to trade very much, because the store was almost empty, but they could get wool-loading in early, so that they would be ready to race to the market on the rise when it did come. But they felt uneasy for all that, simply because all the life of the stream seemed uneasy also.

The rats began to leave the river and scurry up the banks and on to the plains; every day saw an exodus of rabbits. And then there came that leaden hush of everything which precedes any unusual occurrence in nature. The river did not seem to ripple as it struck the floats of the Tilpa's wheels; and the ducks flew away from their natural home; the screaming cockatoos screamed no more and flew south instead of west as usual; the gum leaves murmured not; the air was heavy with suppressed fear—even the birds of the month, the parakeets, which were merely animated shrieks in a dress of emerald and crimson flying athwart the gold of the sun, were strangely mute; the whole earth seemed to hold its breath so that it might not sigh the apprehension which filled it.

And Stephen Been, noting these signs, stretched a wire cable from the towing-frame of the Tilpa to the great eucalypt growing in the billabong inside the southern bank, and the engine, rusted by its long rest, drove the steamer to an opening in the tree-fringe just abeam of the anchoring gum. They prepared, in short, with the impudent daring of man, for a standing fight with an inundation.

They saw no man belonging to the land; they were as much alone as if the river had been a trackless sea. No news of the flood had come to them; they blamed Bourke for not having sent warnings. But Bourke itself was wrestling despairingly with the water giant. The founders of the town have built it in the shorter parallel of a horseshoe bend, just where the river can do its greatest, most destructive work. While the people of the Tilpa grew sick with anxiety, Bourke was up to its arm-pits in water—Bourke was disheveled and drunken with the flood.

It came to the Tilpa in a wall of water and wreckage—a wall of water that broke and reformed and fell upon itself with the sound of thunder; a wall that tore patriarchal trees from their roots and hurled them along like matches; a wall that hissed like a great serpent, and gathered and crushed the face of the world in its constricting folds. It came with the battering-rams of trees, of wreckage covered with snakes and other creeping things huddled together like friends, their venom sapped by fear.

As the Tilpa and her barge rose with the flood the crew hauled on the cable and started the engines, and so by-and-by drew the steamer and her charge up to the tree, which the mate said would stand forty floods.

But at three o'clock the next morning, when the rain was falling in sheets, the mate recanted. The fastening of the cable disappeared; the water crept into the limbs of the tree and shook it till it groaned. And still they held on.

In mid-current the water was black with timber and living trees; rafts of debris carrying hopeless animals—opossums swooning with fear, bears wailing like little children lost in the streets of a great city.

At four o'clock they heard a steamer's whistle shrieking above the roar of the water, and a few minutes later a wool-laden barge shot past them. Then followed a steamer, her red lights tinging the water as with blood, her stack vomiting sparks. The men on the Tilpa could see that one wheel had been carried away by the battering of wreckage; very probably the rudder had gone also and she was attempting to steer out of the current with the remaining wheel. It was the Warrego; she had ridden from Louth on the face of the flood.

The Warrego disappeared. Then came more wreckage; the flood drew back for an effort, advanced again, and passed triumphant, carrying with it the Tilpa's barge and £3,000 worth of the season's clip.

Just after daylight the savior eucalypt was torn from the soil. Stephen Been sprang to the towing-frame and cut the cable with two lightning strokes of the axe, and the Tilpa went full speed ahead, steering south on to the plain which was now a sea. Any one of these logs that came down with the current like stones from a sling would sink the steamer in an instant, and they tried to make for the dead water. But it took time to leave the current; its force was so great that the helm answered spasmodically, and between the spasms the engine drove the steamer down the stream with a frightful velocity. They were not caught by the dreaded wreckage—they caught it.

FINALLY, at eleven o'clock, they reached the Stillwater covering a treeless plain and there they anchored. That plain, although the Samaritan knew it not, covered Corona station.

They breakfasted at noon, and the captain was unusually jolly. The loss of the barge did not matter much, he thought, with a curious smile on his face. He wouldn't want it any more, but he was sorry for the boy's sake, all the same.

During the afternoon the wreckage became larger. It was not confined to tree and river debris now; fence-rails, boxes, furniture and, to show how far the water could penetrate, a cradle came bobbing and turning into the haven of the steamer. They found that the cradle, by virtue of its shape, was an ark of this deluge, the rescued being mostly snakes and tarantulas and scorpions and centipedes and all the insect horrors and creeping things which no living man may imagine.

At four o'clock a hut came down, escaped from the current, careered wildly in the eddies, and then collapsed with a noise like the discharge of artillery against a tree which had so far been too strong for the flood. Then a minute later another hut, swimming high out of the water, ran down in midstream and then abeam of the Tilpa, suddenly shot athwart the current and collided with the same tree.

But it did not go to pieces. A projection in the timber wedged it in the tree fork, and there it stood, exposing its bulk to the swirl of the deluge. Stephen Been and the mate and Garth looked at the arrested shanty, expecting it to break up. Suddenly the Captain exclaimed, "———if there ain't a man on the thing!" Quite as suddenly he lowered the dingey, one of the two only boats of the Tilpa, sprang into her, and pulled for the wreck before anybody fairly understood his intention.

He had become a Samaritan again. He had forgotten his revenge at the sight of a man in danger; he had left a haven for the jaws of death.

The man on the hut was still now. He had been waving his arms to the Tilpa until he saw the boat put off to his rescue. The Samaritan pulled to the wreckage as if his own existence depended on his speed. His struggle to keep the broadside on to the boiling current was almost titanic, but at last he reached the lee of the anchored hut, and after fastening the dingey to a projecting spar, swung himself into the tree.

The castaway greeted him with a cry of joy. Stephen Been clambered on to the hut and straddled the ridge-pole, so that he was face to face with the man who had suffered the perilous voyage on the quaking building.

And then the Samaritan Been became the Convict again. His face was transfigured—he looked at the wretch whose eyes were so close to his as a terrier might look at a rat. His face expressed an awful joy—the happiness of the strong, courageous devil who finds a coward devil in his grasp.

The Informer noted that sudden change, and in the space of a thought recognized his old enemy and shrieked aloud.

"So I've got you," said Stephen Been very slowly, enjoying to the full Shaw's accession of fear. "I knew I'd get you sometime." And then, with the snarl of a wolf, "D'ye remember little Hutchins an' Peter Wells, you dirty liar? Do yer? D'ye remember Bendigo and Wood's Point? An' you're a swell now, are you? An' a squatter an' a J. P., an' all—an' ye've got a son who'd drown yer if he knew what y'are; and I've been playin' a lone 'and-all me life. Through you, you dog; through you!"

The Informer opened his mouth to shriek for mercy, but the roar of the water drowned his voice, and the grip of the Captain on his wrist made him dumb.

"I'm goin' to leave ye here," said Been again. "An' it's an easier death than I meant for yer—it's an easier death than they'd agree to—they'll 'ave ter content themselves-with it."

He spoke of "them" as if they were indeed men and not impotent shadows. The Informer made no answer—he was dumb with terror.

"So good-by to yer," concluded the Captain. "May ye go to the hell ye sent those boys ter, an' may ye meet 'em there!"

He ceased and swung himself from the roof, but ere his foot touched the tree the Informer, mad with fear, caught his wrists in a grip of steel and screamed aloud above the artillery of the flood.

The struggle was very brief. Stephen Been wrestled with his enemy on the swaying hut for a moment and, freeing himself, reached the tree and looked down for a foothold in the boat.

But that struggle had given them both to death. The swaying of the hut had loosed the spar, and spar and boat had darted off with the current.

The convict gnashed his teeth in rage and climbed higher into the tree to signal for the other dingey. To his surprise it was not more than a dozen lengths away—the mate and the supercargo had seen the struggle and had hastened with their assistance. They steered the boat under the gum and called to Stephen Been to drop in.

"It'll hold only one more safely," advised the supercargo.

Stephen Been prepared to take the jump, and seeing him, the Informer shrieked again. Then the supercargo looked to the figure on the hut and recognized in the blood-eyed, foam-flecked, wild animal in the coverings of man—his father.

Still he did not falter. "There's only room for one," he repeated to the man whom he respected. "Jump, dad!"

Been hesitated—the expression of affection had half killed the wolf in him.

The Informer began to cry and pray and blaspheme by turns, his big round face working convulsively.

"Jump, dad!" said the supercargo. "Jump quick—we can't hold on here much longer!"

Stephen Been had decided. The wolf was altogether dead; the Samaritan breathed again.

"I'll wait till nex' time," he said. " Take this snivellin' vermin, though he ain't good enough to sit in the boat with you, George."

Even in that awful moment George Garth wondered at the words and the expression of dying hatred, but he had no time to think just then.

A crying, shivering bundle fell through the air and into the boat, and the dingey headed for the steamer, the mate calling to the Captain to hold on a little longer. But before they could reach him the great gum tree went down, and the hut, with Stephen Been perched on its roof, drifted with the boiling current.

They got away from their moorings, and had the engines going in a marvelously short time, but the hut was not then in sight. The darkness did not end the search. All through the night the Tilpa was a blaze of red lights tramping up and down the water-road, one moment staggering painfully up-hill against the swift stream, the next shooting like an arrow from a bow with the current; and the whistle shrieking at every pile of wreckage. At dawn they spoke of him as dead, yet they persevered in the search. They intended to find his body if they tramped the river as long as Philip Vanderdecken cruised off Table Mountain.

And at ten o'clock they found him, and he was yet alive. The house had collapsed against a heap of debris, and the timber had pinned him by the waist. During the night the pile had largely increased, and the great weight almost cut him in two. Yet he had survived the awful experience. His feet had been frozen in the icy water; his middle had been crushed by the weight of the floor-wreck, and still the wonderful vitality the convict system had developed in him had strengthened him to triumph.

He did know them as they hailed his discovery with cries of pity and affection; as they dug him clear of the debris; as they tenderly lifted his bruised body and dangling, useless limbs from wreck to raft, and from raft to the steamer-ark. He heard only the fearful chorus of the flood—the rushing of great waters and the clarion song of the New-born at its antiphon.

In the afternoon he awoke to find himself in his own berth with the supercargo bending anxiously over him.

"Oh, dad, dad!" said the young man. "You're all right, ain't you? You don't feel any pain?"

Stephen Been smiled. " I'm not all right, George; but I ain't feelin' any pain. My back's broke—that's what it is."

And then he dozed again. As the lamps were lighted he asked if the river had gone down.

"Not enough to be safe out of the dead water," the mate told him, "but they could get a boat ashore in the back-wash easily."

Then Stephen Been cried fiercely, "Let him go ashore, then! Put the vermin ashore! I'm the last of them all—don't let him see me dead!"

And wondering, they obeyed him. The supercargo, quite at a loss to account for the hatred of his father, told Garth Senior that he must quit the steamer, and a deck-hand rowed the pariah to the edge of the flood near to a point where the sight of a slush-lamp said very plainly: "lam the cheer of a man."

AT NINE the Samaritan made his will in a style peculiarly his own. He called into the cabin the cook, the engineer, the deck-hands and the gentlemen of leisure who had, in the search for him, probably for the first time in their lives become energetic, and there verbally transferred the Tilpa and her trade to the mate and the supercargo.

"Ye've all been called as witnesses that this day, the twenty-seventh of September, eighteen seventy-nine, I've given the Tilpa an' two barges at Echooky, an' the book debts, an' trade, an' all to Jim Drake an' George Garth, so help me Gawd."

And they all said they witnessed the bequest, and the ceremony was over.

Only Drake and the supercargo were to watch the sick man that night and when the cabin was cleared of the others he lay on his pillow quite exhausted.

They suggested sending to Louth for a doctor, but he said, 'A doctor could do him no good—he was cast right enough,' and so they fed his flickering strength with brandy. Despite his exhaustion, he insisted on giving them full particulars of the trade. In this way: "There was a man on Burrabogie who owed twenty-six shillings in seventy-four—nex' time you're on the 'Bidgee collect it—I don't reck'lect his name, but ye're bound to find 'im—he was a little cove with a wart under his ear and a ginger beard. When ye're up that way, too, leave a bag o' loolies with the super at Benduck; 'e's got a lot of babies an ' one of 'em useter cotton ter me quite reg'lar. An' alwus give a nip to the puntman at Wilcannia, and he'll drop the rope for yer any time at night."

He fell into a half sleep towards midnight, and the watchers turned the lamp-light low. The change of light seemed to awaken him, but although he spoke again he did not regard their presence. "Up at Crismus Island there's the cunningest water-hens you ever see and when the old Tilpa——-"

And again—"Yer can drive this yer Tilpa over a four-foot-six bar, an' she draws four-foot-seven." And yet again—"——the Saddler! I'll beat her to Echooky blindfold!"

At two o'clock in the morning he awoke out of the present to the memories of his old life—the little Devonshire village, Maria Island, Norfolk, the beautiful hell of the Pacific, of the boy Hitchins, of Peter Wells, of old Bendigo, and then, as he came to the association with the supercargo, he made Garth's tears well anew.

"That vermin can't be yer father," said the Samaritan. And then he added, "For I love you, George, my bo'."

He lay there with his brain strangely active, thinking and sorrowing for the life that had known nor wife, nor child, nor friend—for, of even the love George Garth held for him he was as uncertain as a girl with her first sweetheart—sorrowing for his wrongs a little, but glad to know the long journey was to end at last. He had known only the embraces of the gyves and the caresses of the flogger's lash, and the memories made him break into words anew.

"I've had a hard life," he said. "A hard life it's been; an' only me an' Gawd knows it—only me an' Gawd."

After that he lay very still for the night and most of a day, and when he awoke again the flood had retreated to the river and the Tilpa was stranded on the plain. Like her Captain, she would never move again.

In that hour before the dawn when the wind, laden with the death-fog, springs from the river, the Samaritan spoke with a material tongue for the last time.

"Only me an' Gawd knows it—only me an' Gawd."

And as the first rose spire of the dawn leaped from the land-rim and tinged the stranded steamer and the haggard earth with light, Stephen Been received his absolute pardon.

In the new joy of the world reprieved for yet another day, the watchers seemed to hear the song of the New-born swelling triumphant.