“By Jimini! what’s that?” said Jacko.
“Did you hear any thing?”
Jacko pointed with his finger down the centre walk of the shed, and Harry, striking another match as he went, rushed forward. But the match was out as soon as ignited, and gave no glimmer of light. Nevertheless he saw, or thought that he saw, the figure of a man escaping out of the open end of the shed. The place itself was black as midnight, but the space beyond was clear of trees, and the darkness outside being a few shades lighter than within the building, allowed something of the outline of a figure to be visible. And as the man escaped, the sounds of his footsteps were audible enough. Harry called to him, but of course received no answer. Had he pursued him, he would have been obliged to cross sundry rails, which would have so delayed him as to give him no chance of success.
“I knew there was a fellow about,” he said; “one of our own men would not have run like that.”
Jacko shook his head, but did not speak.
“He has got in here for shelter out of the rain, but he was doing no good about the place.”
Jacko again shook his head.
“I wonder who he was?”
Jacko came up and whispered in his ear, “Bill Nokes.”
“You couldn’t see him.”
“Seed the drag of his leg.” Now it was well known that the man Nokes had injured some of his muscles, and habitually dragged one foot after another.
“I don’t think you could have been sure of him by such a glimpse as that.”
“Maybe not,” said the boy, “only I’m sure as sure.”
Harry Heathcote said not another word, but getting again upon his horse, galloped home. It was past one when he reached the station, but the two girls were waiting up for him, and at once began to condole with him because he was wet. “Wet!” said Harry; “if you could only know how much I prefer things being wet to dry just at present! But give Jacko some supper. I must keep that young fellow in good humor if I can.”
So Jacko had half a loaf of bread, and a small pot of jam, and a large jug of cold tea provided for him, in the enjoyment of which luxuries he did not seem to be in the least impeded by the fact that he was wet through to the skin. Harry Heathcote had another nobbler— being only the second in the day—and then went to bed.
As Harry said, they might all now lie in bed for a day or two. The rain had set aside for the time the necessity for that urgent watchfulness which kept all hands on the station hard at work during the great heat. There was not, generally, much rest during the year at Gangoil. Lambing in April and May, washing and shearing in September, October, and November, with the fear of fires and the necessary precautions in December and January, did not leave more than sufficient intervals for looking after the water-dams, making and mending fences, procuring stores, and attending to the ailments of the flocks. No man worked harder than the young squatter. But now there had suddenly come a day or two of rest—rest from work which was not of itself productive, but only remedial, and which, therefore, was not begrudged.