“I’m blessed if your cowardice sha’n’t hang you,” said Joe Brownbie to him on their way home. “Do you think we’re going to fight the battles of a fellow like you, who hasn’t pluck to come forward himself?”
“I’ve as much pluck as you,” answered Nokes, “and am ready to fight you any day. But I know when a man is to come forward and when he’s not. Hang me! I’m not so near hanging as some folks at Boolabong.” We may imagine, therefore, that the night was not spent pleasantly among the Brownbies after these adventures.
There were, of course, very much cursing and swearing, and very many threats, before the party from Boolabong did retreat. Their great point was, of coarse, this—that Heathcote was willfully firing the grass, and was, therefore, no better than an incendiary. Of course they stoutly denied that the original fire had been intentional, and denied as stoutly that the original fire could be stopped by fires. But at last they went, leaving Heathcote and his party masters of the battle-field. Jerry was taken away in a sad condition; and, in subsequent accounts of the transaction given from Boolabong, his fall was put forward as the reason of their flight, he having been the general on the occasion. And Boscobel had certainly lost all stomach for immediate fighting. Immediately behind the battle-field they come across Nokes, and Sing Sing, the runaway cook from Gangoil. The poor Chinaman had made the mistake of joining the party which was not successful.
But Harry, though the victory was with him, was hardly in a mood for triumph. He soon found that Medlicot’s collar-bone was broken, and it would be necessary, therefore, that he should return with the wounded man to the station. And the flames, as he feared, had altogether got ahead of him during the fight. As far as they had gone, they had stopped the fire, having made a black wilderness a mile and a half in length, which, during the whole distance, ceased suddenly at the line at which the subsidiary fire had been extinguished. But while the attack was being made upon them the flames had crept on to the southward, and had now got beyond their reach. It had seemed, however, that the mass of fire which had got away from them was small, and already the damp of the night was on the grass; and Harry felt himself justified in hoping not that there might be no loss, but that the loss might not be ruinous.
Medlicot consented to be taken back to Gangoil instead of to the mill. Perhaps he thought that Kate Daly might be a better nurse than his mother, or that the quiet of the sheep station might be better for him than the clatter of his own mill-wheels. It was midnight, and they had a ride of fourteen miles, which was hard enough upon a man with a broken collarbone. The whole party also was thoroughly fatigued. The work they had been doing was about as hard as could fall to a man’s lot, and they had now been many hours without food. Before they started Mickey produced his flask, the contents of which were divided equally among them all, including Jacko.