“Find it blindful,” said Jacko, who did not relish the idea of going back to Medlicot’s Mill as guide to another man. There was a weakness in the idea that such aid could be necessary, which was revolting to Jacko’s sense of bush independence.
They were standing on their horses at the entrance to the wool-shed as they discussed the point, when suddenly Harry himself appeared out of the building. He came up and shook hands with Medlicot, with sufficient courtesy, but hardly with cordiality, and then asked his wife as to her ride. “We have been very jolly, haven’t we, Kate? Of course it has been hot, but every thing is not so frightfully parched as it was before the rain. As Mr. Medlicot has come back so far with us, we want him to come on and dine.”
“Pray do, Mr. Medlicot,” said Harry. But again the tone of his voice was not sufficiently hearty to satisfy the man who was invited.
“Thanks, no: I think I’ll hardly do that.—Good-night, Mrs. Heathcote; good-night. Miss Daly;” and the two ladies immediately perceived that his voice, which had hitherto been pleasant in their ears, had ceased to be cordial.
“I am very glad he has gone back,” said Heathcote.
“Why do you say so, Harry? You are not given to be inhospitable, and why should you grudge me and Kate the rare pleasure of seeing a strange face?”
“I’ll tell you why. It’s not about him at this moment; but I’ve been disturbed.—Jacko, go on to the station, and say we’re coming. Do you hear me? Go on at once.” Then Jacko, somewhat unwillingly, galloped off toward the house. “Get off your horses, and come in.”
He helped the two ladies from their saddles, and they all went into the wool-shed, Harry leading the way. In one of the side pens, immediately under the roof, there was a large heap of leaves, the outside portion of which was at present damp, for the rain had beaten in upon it, but which had been as dry as tinder when collected; and there was a row or ridge of mixed brush-wood and leaves so constructed as to form a line from the grass outside on to the heap. “The fellow who did that was an ass,” said Harry; “a greater ass than I should have taken him to be, not to have known that if he could have gotten the grass to burn outside, the wool-shed must have gone without all that preparation. But there isn’t much difficulty now in seeing what the fellow has intended.”
“Was it for a fire?” asked Kate.
“Of course it was. He wouldn’t have been contented with the grass and fences, but wanted to make sure of the shed also. He’d have come to the house and burned us in our beds, only a fellow like that is too much of a coward to run the risk of being seen.”
“But, Harry, why didn’t he light it when he’d done it?” said Mrs. Heathcote.
“Because the Almighty sent the rain at the very moment,” said Harry, striking the top rail of one of the pens with his fist. “I’m not much given to talk about Providence, but this looks like it, does it not?”