Beatrice Ethel Grimshaw.

The Valley of Never-Come-Back, and other stories online

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The Valley of Never-

and other Stories

By Beatrice ^rrimshaw Author O f

" The Terrible Island" "onn. of the fora I Seas," &c.

















I The Valley of Never-Come-Back

\ EVEN in bright Sydney, the light seemed a little pale
to Meredith, new landed. It was a sunny day ; out in
the street, the rays played with you, lightly, pleasantly ;
indoors, they slipped through narrow windows, and
peered, unsure of themselves, among the massed, dusk
furniture. Where Meredith had come from, sun-rays bit
you to the marrow; they flung themselves in fierce
battalions through wide doorways never closed ; they
burned the scant white mats, and sallowed the basket
chairs. A curious, gentle world, this of the cities, in
spite of hooting traffic and humanity boiling up like
ant-hills ; a world of blues and greys and cream colours,
nothing emphasized. When you lay in your extra-
ordinarily wide bed in the hotel, of nights, with four
choking walls about you, your waist missed the hard
bulge of the navy-pattern Colt that had been your
bed-fellow for so long ; you found yourself snapped into
sudden wakefulness, twenty times a night, by footsteps
that passed your door. Impossible to realize, just at
once, that they didn't mean, didn't threaten, anything.
Up north, far north towards the Line, in Papua, the
world was coloured like a parrot's plumes ; the seas
were flaming blue and furious green. There were no
hordes of white folk a few scores in the settlements ;
out in the ranges, where Meredith had lived, no one
except the natives, on whose account one slept with
that blued-steel companion. They were the people of
the unknown ; Meredith lived on the edge of it. In



Papua, it is the natives of the unknown country whom
you must distrust, because heartily and fiercely, down
to the bottom of their hearts, and to the point of the
long killing-dagger of human bone they distrust you.

Years years how many, since he had trodden pave-
ments or seen the hurried stranger crowds go by ? In
Papua you knew everyone. In Papua you walked not
too fast, and carefully, always ; you were so used to the
rough tracks, the rock-strewn river-beds, and in any case
there was never anything to hurry for. He knew it of
old, this process painful, almost of speeding up body
and mind to the time of the wide-awake places. It was
bound to last some days. By Saturday or Sunday
next he would be feeling different ; his environment
would have closed round him, flowed over his head ;
he would be a chip in the current, swept easily along,
instead of the little struggling thing that now beat about
on the surface. By Sunday next ....

A woman passed him in the lounge of the hotel,
almost brushing his knee with her skirts. They were
very short skirts ; the legs beneath them, frankly dis-
played, according to the mode of the day, were silk-clad
and beautifully shaped. She seemed to be all silk, a
little ruffly, like a flower. She smelled of fresh violets ;
there was a great bunch of them at her waist the colour
of her dress, and the colour of her eyes. Meredith did
not get beyond the eyes for a minute. Then he noticed
that the hair waving under the little purple hat was
deep black. She had a fur thrown loosely about her

It all attracted Meredith, by its strangeness its
unlikeness to anything in his life of late. Not for many
years had he seen women who wore dark silken things,
and framed their faces in the intriguing dusk of furs.
It gave a fascinating newness to the woman of the
violet clothes and eyes. He watched her as she moved


across the lounge, and seated herself in a window where
she could look out and watch the street. A shut
window ; what horror. It would take him a long
time longer than next Sunday to get used to shut

The woman she seemed to be young ; under thirty,
at all events loosened her fur with dark-gloved hands
(how small a woman's hands looked in dark gloves !
he'd forgotten that) and leaned forward. She seemed
to be waiting for someone. Imagine any man keeping
her waiting.

" I would like to punch his head for him," thought
Meredith. Then he saw her draw back, and quickly
open her handbag. He did not know why she looked
so earnestly inside it ; why she drew her handkerchief
across her lips as she did so but a certain self-possessed
hurry in her actions told him that the man was coming

He watched the door ; it would be interesting to
see ....

What 1 there was Packer coming in ; good old Packer
of the Civil Service ; didn't know he was away from
Kurukuru Station, down on leave. He'd like a yarn with
him by and by, but just now it would be more interesting
to see what sort of lucky man it was who ....

Jove 1 It was Packer himself. He was going up to
her. She had risen, and they were about to go out
together. Would Packer see him ? The lounge was so
dark everything in Sydney was dark ; dark and
choking and stuffy. If they looked at the mirror by
the door, they were bound to see him. Yes, Packer had
seen ; he was coming back. Good old Packer ; how
smart he was ; never seen him look such a dandy.
Packer was a well-bred man ; squatter family ; looked
it to-day, though he didn't look like anything much
but a beachcomber or a pirate when you met him at



Kurukuru, at the back of all beyond. Going to intro-
duce ? He was.

" Hallo, Meredith ! Well, but I am glad to see you ;
I never thought .... This is Mr. Meredith, Mrs. May ;
he's one of the maddest chaps in Papua, but you'd
stand him all right if you knew him ; he has his points.
I say, how does it happen you aren't dead ? "

" Did you want me to be ? " asked Meredith. He had
risen and was standing with his back towards the light,
facing the " Violet Lady " as he had already named
her in his mind. He was not very tall, not very broad,
not very marked as to feature, and you could not, in
any case, see him clearly against the window. His
clothes, through long sojourning in trunks, were creased,
and smelt of mothballs more than enough. He was not
an impressive figure, but the Violet Lady looked twice
at him.

" I thought you were bound to be dead," was Packer's
reply. He turned to his companion. " This man," he
said, " is the only man who's ever come back alive from
a valley right away in the interior that's all sort of queer
stories about it. Nobody knows anything much,
because nobody's been able to tell. They call it the
' Valley of Never-Come-Back.' '

The Violet Lady gave him a third look a long one,
this time. Meredith returned it with interest. Like
most pioneers, he was a trifle innocent where women
were concerned, but more than a trifle determined to
make his way with them. The bushman, like the sailor,
has to take his opportunities while they are ripe. In
that long third look Meredith had read an opportunity,
and his hand was already out to pluck and hold.

" I'll tell you about it," he vouchsafed, " if you would
like to hear." Packer stared at him. Meredith was
close-mouthed even among the silent men of the Papuan
bush country. He had never volunteered to tell any-


body anything before not so much as a comment
about the weather could you screw out of Meredith,
when the keep-it-close fit was on him and it generally
was. Packer could not but think he was joking with
the Violet Lady.

Madeline May to give her her full, true, though
theatrical-sounding name was not so foolish as to
think anything of the sort. She guessed at once that
there was an interesting secret and what so attractive
as locked doors ? But the afternoon's amusement was
in peril, and Packer must not be offended. Madeline
had hopes of Packer. The late Mr. May had been dead
long enough to allow of his widow's slipping, a little
prematurely, into the picturesque stage when one half-
mourns, but he had hardly left enough behind him to
pay for the purples and the lilacs that expressed her
bisected grief. She was getting very anxious, being
neither so young nor so pretty as Meredith, innocent
bushman that he was, had judged her, and having by
no means enough money to go gunning among the big
game that she, naturally, coveted.

Packer had, perhaps, exaggerated the importance of
a Papuan Resident Magistrate's position. Madeline
had, maybe, been taken in ; maybe not one thinks
perhaps not. But it was getting to a point where she
had to re-marry, as promptly as possible, or else ....

Mrs. May, widow, did not want to " else." There
are good women who are capable of darkening their
hair and eyelashes, with things out of bottles that are
of course not really dyes ; who are not above lip-paints ;
who contrive to look like sirens, or the more modern
" vamp," and are not terribly offended if taken for the
thing they look like once in a way. Mrs. May was
quite good. She was as selfish as a cat, as greedy as a
fowl ; she talked scandal like a hospital sister ; was not
above small, safe acts of dishonesty, and she had never


in her thirty-odd years of life done a disinterested kind-
ness to any human being. But she was good.

She wanted to marry again, and Packer, it seemed,
wanted or would want, with a little more encourage-
ment to marry her. She knew several women who
were married to Papuan Government officials. They
had an excellent time. After six months in the country,
they had contrived to get their doctors to order them
" South," and they still contrived to get their doctors
to keep them there. The husbands stayed away in
Papua, where they could not be a nuisance to anyone,
and paid for everything. The wives stopped on in
pleasant Sydney, and enjoyed themselves. Oh, it was
a fine life ! and one could, if one wanted, discover quite
a little society of Papuan wives ordered relentlessly
" South " and thriving on it to foregather with. She
had always envied Mrs. Noone and Mrs. Blank-Dasher
and the rest, of Papua ; always wanted to join that
happy band of do-nothings. This was her chance. Yes,
she would go out with Packer but she would cast her
nets for the other man, later. She'd heard of queer
things happening in that country men who found oil-
fields, others who discovered forests of sandalwood,
and made thousands in a month.

The quality of the smile that she gave Meredith
unaccompanied by words ; Madeline May knew the
values of silence sent him to his stuffy room in a trance
of delight. One could not stand the lounge after that.
One had to be alone, and dream ....

There is no knowing how things might have gone,
had Mrs. May's fishing been unsuccessful that afternoon.
But it chanced that she landed her fish ; and, as was
natural, an immediate re-valuation took place. Packer,
R.M., swimming free, and Packer landed and gasping
at her feet, were two very different things. At once he
went up in price ; he represented, in a world that is


hard and uncertain, security and ease ; he was (to
change the comparison) the barn-door fowl in the hand,
better worth having than a flock of birds of paradise
in the bush. Mrs. May put out of her head at once the
thought of trying to keep both men. She knew the
danger of that as thoroughly as a silk-legged widow of
thirty-and-too-much was likely to know it.

But, none the less, she wanted Meredith's secret. A
little kindness might not come amiss.

It followed that she managed to get him alone, on
pretext of wanting to see Sydney from the roof of the
hotel. Mrs. May knew who better ? that the empty
corridors of hotels are lined by walls that have ears.
She carried Meredith off to the top, therefore, and,
surrounded by belching chimney-pots and a view of
the harbour, badly smeared, she spread her nets in view
of this easily captured bird.

Afterwards she told Packer, with a tiny little laugh,
that " he fell for it right away." Mrs. May was one
of the many Australians who think it " cute " to use
American slang ; being under the irremovable impression
that Vanderbilts and Astors converse in the language of
the Bowery.

" Believe me," she said, " I got him to tell me all
about it. I couldn't have slept a wink if I hadn't. I
always say that I'm a born detective. How do you
think your little Maddie pulls the sleuth stuff ? "

Packer, not quite sure what she meant, replied at a
venture : " I'm sure anything you pulled would come
without much pulling," and, getting off slippery ground,
asked her what she had heard ? He didn't believe
old Meredith would tell anybody all about anything
not if it was an angel from Heaven or his own (Packer's
own) little Maddie.

Madeline, suddenly practical, dropped her airs and
Americanisms for a minute. This was business.


This was the thing that mattered most in life

They had gone to the gardens for quiet. Australia's
most famous, if not most lovely, view lay painted
before them on the hanging canvas of the blue Pacific.
Red roofs, green gardens, fairy inlets and bays, all as the
advertisements depicted it and the gardens, with then-
steps and statues, and the beautiful neat flowers, and
delightful clipped trees, and the tidy, clean walks that
wound about, leading to lovely kiosks where you could
have tea.

" I do like the gardens," burst out Maddie, in an
irrepressible aside. " Little old Sydney and its gardens
for me, every time. . . . What were you saying, dear ?
Oh about your friend. Well, then I must be an angel,
for he told me . . . ."

Packer was so deeply interested that he forgot the
apparently inevitable compliment. " For heaven's sake
what was it ? " he demanded, stopping before her in
the midst of the asphalt walk, his head and shoulders
blocking out half Sydney Harbour. "It's been a sort
of legend for years the valley, away in the interior,
that men were supposed never to come back from. And
there's been two or three who didn't apart from natives,
who hardly count. Was he there ? What did he find ? "

" He says," answered Mrs. May succinctly, " that
he did get there, and that he found gold."

" Gold ? Gold ? Are you sure ? " Packer breathed

Madeline May looked at him. Fond as she was of
money, she was very far from understanding the nature
of the gold-lust, a passion not wholly ignoble, as it is
known to men of the outback. Packer had actually
turned white, or as nearly white as his tan would let
him. He was panting as if he had just run up a hill.

"Gold! Where? How much?" he demanded,


clutching her arm in his excitement. A policeman,
rocking slowly along the path, slowed down still
more to cast a professional glance at him. He let go
her arm. " I beg your pardon," he said, " but you
don't know what it means ! "

" My dear man," said Madeline, rubbing her arm,
which was not hurt at all, " I know as much about gold
as anyone else. Perhaps I want it a bit more than you.
He said it was gold alluvial gold (didn't I remember
well ?) and lots of it, in the bed of a river."

" Well ? "

" Well ! What more do you want ? Don't you know
where the river is ? "

" I can make a guess but that's not what I mean.
Did he just say that, and stop ? Didn't he tell you
anything about how on earth he ever got there, or how
he came back ? You know they call it the ' Valley of
Never-Come-Back ' at least, that's what the native
name means, translated. Why, Meredith has no business
to be alive at all, if half the things they said about the
place were true ! "

Madeline May looked a little disturbed. It seemed
that she must have had succumbed, in her own way,
to the gold madness that was now shaking Packer
down to the bottom of his soul. It had not taken her
in just the same fashion, but she had certainly allowed
the main point of the discussion to slip. She had for-
gotten that she wanted to know Meredith's secret ; he
had, it appeared, drawn the red herring of the gold across
her path, rather cleverly.

" And I thought I had him in my hand," she muttered
to herself, twisting and crushing the ends of her gossamer
veil in her hand. She felt humiliated. Didn't she know
her job of a pretty woman better than that ?

" What do you think ? " Packer asked with anxiety.
" What did he say ? "


" Oh, just what I told you. No, he did not say why
or how he'd come back. I suppose he thought it was
enough that he was back."

" You don't think so, and I don't. There's some-
thing behind." Packer stared fiercely at the eternal
stone boxers squaring up to each other on either side
of the path. One would have thought he wished to
challenge them.

Meredith was his friend yes, but not his "mate."
There is a difference, among Australasians. Packer was
a man with no very lofty sense of honour ; he had as
much as most men, neither more nor less. It was not
against his code to find out, by any means available,
what his friend had chosen to conceal. That there
was something grave, he did not doubt for a moment.
The very fact that Meredith had told Mrs. May so much
as he had, proved to Packer, who knew him that
the secret, the real secret, remained behind.

Now that he came to think of it, the information wasn't
very new. For years there had been rumours of gold in
the unknown valley. It was not the reputation of its
dangers that had kept men from attempting the journey.
The white man of Papua is notoriously a dare-devil.
No, it was a more prosaic reason that of expense. It
costs money, much money, to get into the interior of
the " Unknown Land." You may traverse half Africa
you may make yourself a nickel-plate reputation as
one of the hundred and ten undistinguished " African
explorers " with less than the money needed for a
three months' prospecting trip of a few score miles in
the unexplored parts of New Guinea. Unless, of course,
you are the Government but the Government has other
fish to fry.

The " Valley of Never-Come-Back " was situated in
one of the great blanks that lie upon the Papuan map,
among the half-traced, huge, torrential rivers of the


West. Years gone by a Chinaman was supposed to
have reached it, and got away alive ; but he was never
able to tell anything about it, because, when he went
down to the inhabited places again, the first white
man who met him found that he had lost his reason. At
best, he could not speak more than the merest smattering
of pidgin English. But in spite of that, and in spite of
the fact that he never said a sensible word while they
were taking him down in the schooner to Queensland, and
putting him safely away in an asylum, something got
out. There was a whisper of gold. There was a whisper
of something else nobody knew what. But it was
something terrible.

It was to be expected that some of the Papuan gold-
digging crowd perhaps the hardest, pluckiest crowd in
all the South Sea world would take up the challenge
that Nature, and luckless Ah Wing, had thrown down.
Two contrived to raise the money (no one knew where
the Chinaman had got his) to recruit the necessary
carriers, to get away, with stores, arms and ammunition
for six months, into the unknown.

For six months nobody took alarm. For eight months,
Port Moresby waited. Then down the coast drifted the
inevitable native rumour that is, in New Guinea, the
Mother Carey's Chicken to disaster. It was said that
the men and their carriers were lost.

No one believed it at first. The rumour grew. The
Government sent out a patrol officer, and police. The
patrol officer could not find out where the miners had
gone, because the natives of the district were hostile,
and shot at him on sight, instead of waiting to answer
questions. He did his best, searched villages, picked up
more rumours ; and came back. So did not Hart and
Willoughby ; nor yet the carriers whom they had taken
with them. And the silence of the Papuan bush closed
over their fate.


An Australian, fond of adventure, and possessed of
money to burn, came up to Papua to burn a little of it
looking for the gold, for Hart and Willoughby, and,
incidentally, for adventure. Whether he found Hart
and Willoughby, or the valley, or the gold, is not to this
day known. It is probable that he found adventure ;
certain that he found the greatest adventure of all.

There were one or two others ; but no one was quite
certain whether they had been looking for the valley,
or merely prospecting, in an ordinary way ; since it
became unfashionable at that date, to say that one
was going to look for the place. One ran the risk of
being called absurd and uncivil names.

But the legend held, as the legend of somebody's
secret island down at the East End holds to-day ; as
the tale of the diamonds on the Aikora is bruited about,
once in a way ; comes to nothing, and dies down again.
The valley had become one of Papua's strange tales.

" Instead of which, Meredith went out and found it,
or said he did." Packer, when he reflected on these
things, was moved to forget the presence of his lady-love,
and to say, with an Army-in-Flanders word or two,
bitten short in his moustache, that he'd cut the heart
out of Meredith, but he'd get it somehow.

Madeline was practical. She had had to be.

" That's nonsense," she said crisply. " What you've
got to do is to find out why he's come down to Sydney
anyhow. He must have business here. If he's really
found the gold, he wouldn't leave it without some big

" Oh, he wants to finance some sort of syndicate,"
answered Packer absently. " There's nothing in that.
They all do."

The shadows were growing blue in Sydney Gardens ;
the women picnicking on the grass with their children
felt the lowering temperature and began to cluck and


fuss over their brood like hens, gathering the little ones
together and driving them towards home. Men, loafing
and smoking on the seats, sat up and looked about them ;
pipes were put in pockets, newspapers folded away. It
was nearly time to close. Down on the walk below
the two stone boxers, eyeing each other, seemed to wait
with heads down and hands guarding for the moment
when the gates should be shut, and the wandering people

Madeline, sensitive, suddenly, to the rise of the tides
of night, to the whisper that they bring with them of
the shortness of our day, the certainty of the dark that
comes after and comes soon Madeline, a little over-
wrought and inwardly troubled lest she might not have
indeed played her great game wisely, caught at the arm
of the man she had chosen, beginning to cry, gasped out,
into Packer's entirely sympathetic ears :

" I can't bear to be poor. It's wicked for him to keep
it to himself. I'll die if I don't find out."

Meredith had come down by the Morinda. It followed
that, being in a hurry, he was to go back by the Marsina,
since the Morinda had already sailed on her return
journey to the Mysterious Land. There are only the
two steamers, and it is well understood in Papua that
business trips take the traveller to Sydney by one and
bring him back by the next unless, indeed, he is in such
a hurry that ten days, at the end of a two thousand mile
run, is time enough for him.

This last was what Meredith had intended. If it
had not been for the little Violet Lady. But because
of her dark feathery hair, and her silken ankles, and the
pitiful charming, little-widow way she had with her,
he had somehow discovered that his sales and his
purchases would keep him twenty days in Sydney,


instead of only ten. So he let the Morinda sail and took
his passage by the boat that was to follow.

In the matter of the Violet Lady, he thought that

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Online LibraryBeatrice Ethel GrimshawThe Valley of Never-Come-Back, and other stories → online text (page 1 of 19)