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HOME > Short Stories > Five Years in New Zealand 1859 to 1864 > CHAPTER XIX.
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    The Ghost Story—Benighted in the Snow.

Two young men—we will call them Jones and Smith, for convenience—emigrated to New South Wales. They each possessed sufficient money to start them, as they hoped, as young squatters, and in due time they obtained what they sought.

Jones became the owner of a small cattle ranch fifty miles from Melbourne, while Smith commenced sheep farming in partnership with an experienced runholder, forty miles further inland.

The friends occasionally visited each other, but in those days the settlers were few and months often passed without the cattle rancher seeing his friend or anybody to speak to beside the one man he retained on the station as hutkeeper, stockman, and general factotum.

It was about two years after Jones had settled on his ranch that his friend Smith, requiring to visit Melbourne, decided to take Jones on his way and stop a night with him.

He left his homestead early and arrived at the ranch late in the afternoon. As he rode near he saw Jones sitting on the stockyard toprail, apparently enjoying an evening pipe. On calling to him Jones jumped down, but instead of coming to meet his friend he ran into the bush (wood) close to the stockyard. Smith, supposing he was playing a joke, dismounted and followed him; but neither hunting nor calling had any effect—Jones was not to be found. Smith, thinking he might be taking some short cut to the hut, which was a little way off, mounted and proceeded thither. Here, again, he was disappointed, and on enquiry from the hutkeeper learned from him that his master had left for Melbourne and England a month previously, and that he—the hutkeeper—was in charge till his return. Smith, not liking the man or his manner, pretended to accept his statement, and said nothing about having just seen his master. After taking some refreshment and a slight rest he proceeded on his way to Melbourne, where on enquiry at hotels and shipping offices he learnt that his[Pg 100] friend had not been seen in Melbourne for a long time, and had not taken his passage for England.

He then told his story to a mutual acquaintance, who agreed to return with him and endeavour to discover what was wrong before taking steps. Together they journeyed back, and on coming within sight of the stock yard there was Jones sitting on the rail in his previous position, and, as before, jumped down and ran into the bush.

Smith and his companion now made an extensive examination of the locality, but were unable to discover anything to assist them. They then proceeded to the hut as if they had just arrived from Melbourne, and without mentioning that they had seen his master, got into general conversation with the hutkeeper, but failed to elicit anything beyond what he had previously stated, adding only that he did not expect his employer\'s return for five or six months.

They remained at the station that night and left early in the morning, apparently for Smith\'s homestead, but when they had ridden out of sight of the hut they wheeled and returned to Melbourne by another route.

The idea that occupied their minds at this point was that Jones was insane, probably led thereto by his lonely life; that he was wandering about in the bush in the neighbourhood of the hut, which he continued to visit, as they had seen, and that he had, with a madman\'s acuteness, purposely misled the hutkeeper about his going to England. Smith and his companion feared to mention their suspicions to the hutkeeper, believing that he would not remain alone on the station if he thought that a maniac was about. Seeing Jones a second time, apparently in his usual health, had divested their minds of any suspicion that the hutkeeper had deceived them, or was in any way responsible, and the real facts as they subsequently turned out had not presented themselves to their minds.

They decided now to place the matter in the hands of the police. There were at that time (and no doubt still are) retained under the Australian police force a number of native trackers, called the "Black Police." These men were a species of human bloodhounds, and could follow a trail by scent or marks indistinguishable by the white man.

On representing the case to the chief of the police, that officer deputed a detective and a couple of constables, with a number of the "Black Police" to accompany Smith and his friend to Jones\'s ranch. They took a circuitous[Pg 101] route, arriving as before at the stockyard without giving information to the hutkeeper, but at the same time directing two men to approach the hut unseen and watch it till further directions.

When the party on this occasion approached the stockyard Jones was not occupying his usual seat on the rails. The black trackers, on being shown the place and their work explained to them, they at once commenced the hunt. One of them presently picked up a rail which was lying near by on which he pointed out certain marks, calling them "white man\'s hair" and "white man\'s blood." Then after examining the ground around the stockyard they took up the trail leading into the bush at a point where Jones was seen to go. Working up this for some two hundred yards and pointing out various signs as they proceeded, they arrived at a small slimy lagoon or pond, on the edge of which they picked up something they called "white man\'s fat." Some of them now dived into the pond, where they discovered the body of Jones, or what remained of it.

The hutkeeper was immediately arrested, but denied any knowledge of the matter. After consigning the body of the unfortunate rancher to a hurried grave, the prisoner was taken to Melbourne, where he was tried for the murder of his master, and when he was convicted and sentenced, he confessed that he had crept up behind Jones when he sat smoking on the stockyard rail and killed him by a blow on the head with the rail picked up by the black trackers, that he then dragged the body to the bush, and threw it into the lagoon. I do not recollect whether Butler told us if the real object of the murder transpired, but the murderer turned out to be a ticket-of-leave convict well known to the police. The peculiarity of the story lay in the fact that the apparition of Jones twice appearing to his friend, and on one occasion to a stranger also, was sworn to in Court during the trial.

I was obliged, owing to business, to leave Mesopotamia in midwinter, and to save a very circuitous journey I decided to travel down the gorge of the Rangitata some twenty-five miles, to the station I referred to once before belonging to Mr. B. Moorehouse. The route lay partly along the mountain slopes overhanging the river, and then diverged across a pass as I had been carefully instructed, but there was no roadway, only a bridle path now pretty sure to be covered with snow, and there was no shelter of any kind over the[Pg 102] whole distance. Although I had never made the journey, my former experiences gave me every confidence that I would be able to find my way without much trouble, and taking with me only a scrap of bread and meat and a blanket I started as soon as it was light enough to see, certain in my mind that I would reach Moorehouse\'s early in the afternoon. The first few miles through the run I knew so well I got along without trouble, but further on the difficulties began. It was impossible, owing to the slushy and slippery as well as uneven nature of the ground, to get out of a slow walk, and frequently I had to double on my tracks to negotiate a swampy nullah, and often to dismount and lead my animal over nasty places which he funked as much as I did.

By midday I had got over about half the distance, when I made the serious............
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