“I shall sit here all night,” said Mrs. Heathcote to her sister. “As things are, I shall not think of going to bed.”
Kate declared that she would also sit in the veranda all night; and, as a matter of course, they were joined by Mrs. Growler. They had been so seated about an hour when Kate Daly declared that the heavens were on fire. The two young women jumped up, flew to the gate, and found that the whole western horizon was lurid with a dark red light.
The bush fight.
Harry Heathcote had on this occasion entertained no doubt whatever that the fire had been intentional and premeditated. A lighted torch must have been dragged along the grass, so as to ignite a line many yards long all at the same time. He had been luckily near enough to the spot to see almost the commencement of the burning, and was therefore aware of its form and circumstances. He almost wondered that he had not seen the figure of the man who had drawn the torch, or at any rate heard his steps. Pursuit would have been out of the question, as his work was wanted at the moment to extinguish the flames. The miscreant probably had remembered this, and had known that he might escape stealthily without the noise of a rapid retreat.
When the work was over, when he had put out the fire he had himself lighted, and had exterminated the lingering remnants of that which had been intended to destroy him, he stood still a while almost in despair. His condition seemed to be hopeless. What could he do against such a band of enemies, knowing as he did that, had he been backed even by a score of trusty followers, one foe might still suffice to ruin him? At the present moment he was very hot with the work he had done, as were also Jacko and the German. O’Dowd had also come up as they were completing their work. Their mode of extinguishing the flames had been to beat them down with branches of gum-tree loaded with leaves. By sweeping these along the burning ground the low flames would be scattered and expelled. But the work was very hard and hot. The boughs they used were heavy, and the air around them, sultry enough from its own properties, was made almost unbearable by the added heat of the fires.
The work had been so far done, but it might be begun again at any moment, either near or at a distance. No doubt the attempt would be made elsewhere along the boundary between Gangoil and Boolabong—was very probably being made at this moment. The two men whom he could trust and Jacko were now with him. They were wiping their brows with their arms and panting with their work.
He first resolved on sending Mickey O’Dowd to the house. The distance was great, and the man’s assistance might be essential. But he could not bear to leave his wife without news from him. Then, after considering a while, he made up his mind to go back toward his own fence, making his way as he went southerly down toward the river. They who were determined to injure him would, he thought, repeat their attempt in that direction. He hardly said a word to his two followers, but rode at a foot-pace to the spot at his fence which he had selected as the site of his bivouac for the night.