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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE TROOPER'S DAUGHTER

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Ex Libris

As published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser,
Australia, 13 October 1906

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-19
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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THE white gum-tree might have told the story, for it overlooked the valley when the virgin forest sprawled from spur to river flat. Then came the pioneers, and the trees fell like murdered giants until the earth's bosom lay brown and naked in the moonlight.

It was here, on this rocky spur, under the gum-tree, that the gold thieves planned the attack on the escort. There were five in number—and the Boy.

His sunburnt face, his dancing eyes, revealed the schoolboy with a heart full of romance. His companions were middle-aged men, lean, and eager for blackguard work, and they plotted like hunted dingoes, while the Boy warmed his soft hands over the smoky camp fire, nodding joyously when the ringleader, Sinclair, outlined the plan of attack.

At his word they scattered themselves over the hillside within call of each other, and waited. A moonlit cloud hung in the west; the long mountain ferns brushed the Boy's face as he lay with his rifle in the bend of the track. The song of lead bars was heard in the hollow, the jingle of harness, and the sharp note of steel. A trooper ambles into sight, then another and another, as the coach lumbers into view.

The Boy listens to the beating of his own heart, and Romance leaps aside as the white-haired sergeant canters into the bend. His rifle peeps over the boulder, but his fingers are numb; the face of a girl comes to him, lifelike and pitiful, and he cowers from his post as the sergeant swings by. A rifle shot jars the mountain silence; then a double-barred flame leaps from the escort; the troopers close in, firing craftily at every pinch of light that cracks from bush and boulder. And no word is spoken among these uniformed men as they canter through the bend. A ripple of flame meets them from five points; a trooper with blood on his brow clutches his saddle for a moment, while his carbine clashes to earth.

The coach moves on. Gold, more precious than human life, is at stake. And out of the snarling shade springs flash on flash. A coach horse flounders, and with a final plunge turns its bullet- torn side to the sky. Traces are cut—how quickly it is done!—and the escort clatters over the fall bridge to the open road.

Far down the mountain side a riderless horse stumbles from boulder to boulder, its stirrup irons clanking as it descends. A rock wallaby steals under a fern-draped ledge and listens. The wind shakes the dew-drenched leaves until they flash and sing in the moonlight. Then.... from the darkness overhead creeps the Boy; blood drops mark his track—ruddy drops that will startle the eagle at dawn and fill the air with strange cries from questing hawks.

Sinclair and Creegan follow, limping like men who had fallen upon sharp stones. They came with vulture faces to where the Boy crouched at the gum-tree foot, his rifle gone, pain in his eyes, and blood on his shoulder. Creegan stood over him and raised his gun butt; the other pushed him aside.

"Let the cub speak first. Ask him why he let the sergeant go by."

The Boy crawled to his elbow, his eyes flashed.

"I—I couldn't shoot—that was all. The old man's head was down. Why, it would have been murder," he stammered.

Sinclair and Creegan made no answer; they were thinking of their three dead comrades lying beyond the fallen logs in the bed. Their attack on the escort had failed miserably. The Boy's indecision had spoilt their plans. If he had only shot the white- haired sergeant things might have gone differently. They blamed him for their defeat, because he was wounded and useless. With the spleen of men whose bullets had gone wide, they ached to be at his young throat.

"Why did ye spare the sergeant?"

"Aye, why did ye?"

Creegan bent forward suddenly, his thick hair hanging mask- like over his wicked eyes. And as he listened he heard the beat of hoofs far down the mountain side. Drawing his companion behind a boulder, they waited until the rider came near. The moonlight showed them the figure of a girl in the saddle. Sinclair and his companion recognised her as the daughter of Sergeant Cummins, the trooper in charge of the gold escort. Creegan whipped round, his face alive with interest.

"Let her come up," he said hoarsely. "The blame is hers if she plays the policeman's daughter on us to-night."

She approached at a swift canter like one on urgent business, riding with a bush girl's recklessness up the steep boulder- strewn slope until she came within a yard or so of the Boy crouching in the tree shade.

"Who's there?" She was out of the saddle with a half cry, peering at the white face and the bloodstained collar.

"Leonard Vale! What have you been doing?"

Holding the horse's bridle in her left hand, she tried to raise his head from the ground.

"Go away," he said, thickly. "Go as fast as you can."

"Wait a bit, young lady."

Sinclair, his fire-blackened hands gripping his rifle, stepped into the path suddenly. "No one goes past here to-night."

"My father rode past, George Sinclair." She looked up slowly, with the Boy's head in her lap. "I heard the firing. That's why I came."

Creegan and Sinclair drew aside with the air of desperate men. The shadow of the rope lay about them, and the coming of the trooper's daughter had not bettered their chances of escape. They might have disclaimed all knowledge of the attack on the escort, but her evidence would send them to the gallows.

Creegan came forward sulkily; an old bullet scar on his cheek seemed to grow livid as his sharp eyes wandered from the girl to the Boy lying in the grass.

"That cub you call Leonard Vale has led us into a trap, Miss Cummins. I see now why his rifle baulked at your father. Eh, God, we've been played with!" he said bitterly.

"Another lie!" the girl answered, with a white indignant face. "He has been misled by older men. You don't know him as I do."

She looked at Sinclair with kindling eyes. "He wouldn't shoot a pigeon or hurt a mouse. And.... you put him in the bend to kill my father—you fools."

Her words seemed to fill the two men with unutterable rage. They saw in her a girl not to be idly threatened or intimidated, and Creegan's wits grew sharp as he glanced at the Boy.

"Seems to me," he began huskily, "that its my life and yours, Sinclair, against Miss Cummins' and Vale's."

"Leave me out." The Boy moaned and twisted on his side.

"We are coming to you," snapped the bushranger, "in a way that the young lady won't like."

He turned upon her with tigerish malice, his eyes glinting wickedly. "You are going to become one of us to-night, Miss. My brother was shot by your father, half an hour ago, and this Boy—he might be your sweetheart for all I know—could have prevented all that if he had played his part. Sinclair and myself were about to shoot him when you appeared. It occurs to us now that you can do the shooting instead. It will mix things nicely when your father begins to work up the case. D'ye savvy, Miss Cummins?—you shall shoot him instead."

Sinclair balanced his rifle dexterously for a moment, then handed it to her, while the alert Creegan covered her with his own.

"I'll count thirty, and if you refuse to obey, my friend here will take up the argument." Sinclair indicated the bristling face of Creegan peering over the rifle-barrel.

Grace Cummins took the well-cleaned rifle while her heart seemed to leap into her throat. Then she looked up suddenly with a calm face and unwavering eyes. "My father was a soldier once, and I know the meaning of a drum-head court-martial," she began.

"Ye do, I'll be bound," grinned Creegan along the barrel of his rifle.

"You are asking me to do what is considered platoon work," she went on hurriedly. "If you will kindly blindfold the prisoner it will be better for his nerves and my shooting."

Sinclair gaped, then smiled at her frigid manner. Taking a dirty cloth from his pocket he tied it firmly over Vale's eyes.

"Glad to accommodate the daughter of an old soldier," he said sneeringly. "Glad to hear they do things so nicely in the army, Miss."

Leonard Vale was dragged into a kneeling position and propped against a boulder. Sinclair slipped aside and nodded sharply to the girl. She stooped in the thick shadow for a moment to recover her handkerchief that had slipped to the ground.

"Be smart," thundered Creegan. "Up with your rifle. We don't want any tears."

The handkerchief seemed to bother her for a moment, then she thrust it aside with a lightning movement of her fingers. With a set face she raised the rifle to the level of the Boy's breast.

"Fire!" shouted Sinclair.

The hammers snapped twice, but there was no report. A look of inexpressible disgust came into her eyes.

"It isn't loaded. You are evidently not the sons of soldiers," she said, jeeringly.

"Not loaded?" Creegan glanced savagely at his companion, "Why did ye give her an unloaded weapon, eh? What's the fooling about?"

"I swear it was loaded, half an hour ago."

Sinclair slouched forward as though to take the rifle from her.

"It was a cruel joke to play, if it was a joke."

The trooper's daughter approached Creegan fearlessly. "I want to have done with this business. Take this rifle and load it, please. I will use yours."

Without a moment's thought, the unthinking gold-robber took the unloaded weapon and gave her his own.

In a flash she leaped back, and the two electrified blackguards found themselves gaping along the barrel of her rifle. She stood rigid and immovable, in the shadow; a touch of anger that was swift and terrible crossed her face; the two ruffians tasted death in the sudden shift of her eye.

"The thing is easy enough when you have been in the army," she said slowly. "Put down your rifle, Mr. Creegan, and please don't finger your cartridge pocket."

Creegan obeyed sullenly, but Sinclair, with an inborn disregard for feminine valour, leaped in, snatching at the rifle barrel with his big right hand. The trooper's daughter remained motionless as stone; then a blinding flash quivered between her and the man as he pitched face down almost at her feet. She did not look at him; her eyes were on Creegan.

"You had better go," she said quietly. "No, not that way," as he attempted to climb the heights immediately above. "I don't want a boulder on my head. Step down the road and allow me to see you all the way. March."

Creegan walked swiftly down the road without a glance at the wounded Sinclair lying in the path. The boy had pulled the bandage from his eyes, and saw Grace Cummins standing near.

"Let me help you into the saddle," she said kindly. "We may reach the hospital at Tranbar before dawn. Sinclair can wait," she added bitterly, "until the troopers arrive; they won't be long."

The old military horse she had ridden remained quiet as she assisted the Boy into the saddle. Holding the bridle firmly, she led him towards Tranbar.


NO one knows the rest of the story. The attack on the gold escort was soon forgotten. Creegan disappeared, and Sinclair was discovered by his friends, lying on the mountain side. He, too, disappeared. The mining camp vanished and new settlers flooded the valley and the flats beyond the ranges.

One day a woman and a man drove with their children down the mountain path, and sat in the shade of the white gum overlooking the valley. The children played hide and seek among the boulders, while the mother looked on and laughed.

"This was the spot," she said suddenly.

The husband looked up while the blood leaped from his heart.

"Grace," he said gently, "we promised each other to forget—"

"After to-day."

She glanced towards him mischievously. "Even now I almost laugh when I think how I drew the cartridges from Sinclair's rifle. Creegan was so busy watching my handkerchief."

Her husband whistled softly. "How did you do it?" he asked. "You have never said."

"Silly boy." She touched his hair lightly with her fingers. "You forget that I was born in the army."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.