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that sort of thing as you wanted. You know, I'd
make you awfully happy, Ida."

In his earnestness, his hands strayed over the
table, and he picked up part of the broken paper-
knife. Ida instantly saw the significance of what
he had done, and remembered where the other
part lay.

"Ida, you like me, don't you?"

" Oh yes, Phil., very much. You're one of my
best friends."

"Then won't you marry me ?"

"No, Phil., I can't do that."

"Can't! Why?"

"Now, Phil., it's not right of you to ask that."
She was not the least bit agitated. She was sur-
prised at the calm way in which she had taken
this very nice young man's proposal. Perhaps
she knew how shallow his protestations were,



GOLDEN BUCKLES 159

because of the light that had recently shone
upon her own nature. "You really mustn't be
angry .... and don't you think it's nearly
time for bed ?"

Before she retired for the night, Ida took the
broken paper-knife from its hiding place inside her
gown, and with it on the table beside her, wrote a
letter to her lover. Without meaning to do so, she
included it in a bundle which Philip Dennis posted
next day when he strolled to the post office for the
mail.

That letter went astray.

It reached Oodnadatta two days after the string
of camels had left for the north-west. In due
course it arrived at Marnoola, where it lay un-
claimed for a time and was then sent back.



i6o GOLDEN BUCKLES



PART IV.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

In Search of Letho.

Dr. Byrne left Gum Glen, returned to Mel-
bourne, and at once caught the express to Ade-
laide and the North. His thoughts were bitter.
He had hardly dared to formulate in his mind the
hope that had brought him down so hurriedly
from Marnoola ; it was like a castle built of morn-
ing cloud on the summit of a crag, which the sun
of reality had dissolved away, leaving the rocks
upstanding grim and bare.

He bought a plant of horses and gear at Oodna-
datta, and persuaded a black-boy to join him.
Several large crates had come up with him from
Adelaide, and he left these for a time at Jepp's
store. There was a look of determination on his
face; he was no longer a new chum, hesitating
amid new surroundings. His mind had a forward,
not a backward, cast, and when he set out from
the township at daybreak two days after the
arrival of the train, he had the air of a man whose
thoughts were centred on definite plans.

He shortened the time which Tom and he had
taken to reach Marnoola by nearly a week. For-
merly he had travelled with tired horses, but those
he was now using were fresh, and he spared
neither them nor himself. A ruthless impatience
possessed him, and the boy, who had heard in



GOLDEN BUCKLES i6i

Oodnadatta that the white man had not been long
in the country, and who tried to act to his own
advantage in accordance with this knowledge,
found that Tynan's voice could be as curt as a
whip lash, and once, only once, he found that his
companion could use his fist.

In Tynan's mind, every mile was one added to
the number that separated him from Ida Hen-
nessy. He took an almost Spartan pleasure in
thus escaping from one who, in spite of all his
disappointment in her, he sincerely loved. To
crush that love was now his chief desire, and he
knew but one way: complete absorption in some
enterprise.

On the first evening at Mamoola, he revealed to
Tom what that enteiiDrise was. The stockman
was amazed at the change which had taken place
in his friend. Instead of the old spirit of enquiry,
he saw a mind definitely made up, and the very
speech of the man betrayed his irritation at any
inaction, any pause in the carrying out of His
plans. To pause was to think, and Tynan wanted
action, not thought.

"Look here, Tom," said the young man, when he
had answered his friend's enquiries about the trip,
"you remember that gold you spoke of out west."

"Do I what?"

"You said the difficulty was in financing the
undertaking. How long do you reckon would be a
fair test?"

"Six months would show whether there was
anything worth while. But what in the hell's the
good of asking that?"

"And what would be the cost of fitting out a
plant for two whites and as many niggers as are
necessary, for six months?" went on Tynan,
ignoring his friend's objection.



i62 GOLDEN BUCKLES

Tom thought for awhile, adding up on his
fingers and muttering aloud, while Tynan waited.

Then he named a figure. "I've worked it out at
that lots of times," he said. "But, mind you,
that's an inside estimate, Jim."

"Double it," said Tynan emphatically. "Look
here, old man, if I supply the cash, will you come
in with me and test that find of yours ?"

"Will I?" said the other, jumping up. "My
oath, I will! But is that a dinkum offer, Jim?"

"Yes, Tom, absolutely. I'm talking dead on the
level. I could give you money proof right now.
Shall I?"

"Danin it all! No! I'll take your word. But
by the holy sailor!" Tom was more excited than
he cared to show.

Tynan breathed a sign of relief, but immediately
brought his mind back to the subject in hand.

"Do we want camels or horses, Tom?"

"Camels. Horses need a drink once a day. If
you break camels to it they can travel dry for a
week. That west country's pretty dry, though
we ought to strike a good time now. But are you
really serious, Jim ? D'you mean to start soon ?"

"Yes, right away. Where d'you reckon we
could get camels?"

"It's hard to say. You might be able to buy
an odd one or two up the line, but it's a dead cert
that some of the Afghans would sell you camels
at Oodnadatta."

"We'll have to go to Oodnadatta, anyway," said
Tynan. "I've got several cases of stuff there for
the trip. I bought it in Adelaide."

"The devil, you did ! You came up ready for
business then?"

"Yes, Tom, I did. Look here, don't ask me why
I'm doing this. It's not for the money; I'd take
it on if we were looking for bally fossils. I must



GOLDEN BUCKLES 163

get right away and forget everything. I want to
be right up to the neck in something, and I'm told ,
that the search for gold is pretty absorbing."

Tom touched his friend's arm, not sentimentally,
but just to emphasise his words. "Right, Jim, I
understand. . . . Yes, if you get what they
call gold fever, you'll sure forget heaven and hell."

"Well, that's settled. I've got a plant here of
ten horses, three riding saddles, two packs, and a
couple of pairs of five gallon canteens. I reckon
after a few days' spell those horses ought to be
ready for the trip down again."

So, in a week's time, Tynan and his friend, with
the nigger and plant, were on the road back to
Oodnadatta.

As Tom had thought probable, it was no diffi-
cult matter to buy camels from the Afghans in
Oodnadatta. The city man wisely left it to the
bushman to do the bargaining, for the Indian, with
true Oriental persistence, called heaven and earth
to witness that the price Tom insisted upon meant
ruination to him -and his entire family. Neverthe-
less, the bargain was concluded, and five camels,
two of which were broken in to riding, were finally
yarded at Jepp's store.

Tom's judgement in the matter of stores was
also invaluable. In spite of Tynan's assurance
that he need not consider expense, he cut the
luxuries — or what he considered as such — clean
out, and doubled or even trebled Tynan's estimate
of the more prosaic rations: flour, meat, sugar,
tea, baking powder, tobacco, and matches.

"Them's rations," said Tom emphatically,
pointing to his selection. "Take a whole camel-
string of the rest if you like, but they'll only be
a nuisance."

"But we won't be on the go the whole six



i64 GOLDEN BUCKLES

months," objected Tynan. "We'll make a decent
camp and have a chance to do a bit of cooking."
• "Yes, but not the time," said Tom. "But fire
ahead! What would you suggest that I haven't
got?"

"Well, jam for one thing," said Tynan. "And
powdered milk for another. It's awfully light, and
I can't stand black quart-pot tea. Coffee's nice
for a change, and I vote for a few tins of fish.
And how about tomato sauce ?"

"Oh yes, how about lots of things ? Don't think
I couldn't guzzle tucker I've not included in my
list. You see, the only Question is, what's abso-
lutely necessary? The other things aren't worth
the room they take up."

Finally a compromise was arrived at to the
satisfaction of both.

Of personal luggage there were blankets and
chemical duck camp sheets for sleeping on, which
could also be rigged against wet weather, a change
of clothes and boots, revolvers, cartridges and a
rifle, towels and soap. Tom saw to the few simple
cooking and meal utensils, and was firm in his
decision not to take along a camp bed which Tynan
had brought, but agreed to a hurricane lantern
and a small canteen of kerosene.

"You see, Jim," he said. "This is just a flying
trip of ours. We may not need to be away six
months, but when once we peg our claims and
settle down to work them, then you can have all
the beds and soft tucker you like."

The young man left the more important matters
entirely to his friend, looking on and helping so
that he would understand, but in no way inter-
fering. Every strap and fastening of the saddles
was subjected to rigid testing, and was in many
cases duplicated. He was especially critical over
the water canteens and bags, for on these the life



GOLDEN BUCKLES 165

of three men depended. Spare ropes, hobbles, and
nose-lines were not stinted, and a few prospectors'
tools were secretly bought and packed away with
a case of gelignite and one of detonators.

Finally all was ready. The packs were loaded
and stacked in the yard, and the black-boy Banjo,
the same one who had gone up the road with
Tynan, received his order one evening to "Bring
um up camel, picaniny daylight."



i66 GOLDEN BUCKLES

CHAPTER XXIX.
Start of Expedition.

To the small resident population of Oodnadatta,
the fitting out of the expedition evoked no interest.
That which is romance in cities is routine here.

Cattle are trucked in these yards that have
travelled overland for a thousand miles. Men of
the territory, lean and brown, put up at the
Oodnadatta Transcontinental Hotel, spend a few
days in the bar and on the benches outside, and
then saddle up and return. Distance is spoken of
in days and weeks and months, not miles, and that
which makes travel possible or impossible is
water. Much wealth has come down that north
road, which, after all, is not a road, but a track
staggering from water-hole to water-hole; wealth
not in coin carried by sumptuously dressed women
or cigar-smoking men, but crude rough wealth,
the blood of the north ; cattle, horses, gold, rubies,
and now in these days, wolfram.

You cannot judge a rich man in Oodnadatta.
On any day a man may ride into the township,
travel-stained, loosely seated as is the way with
these superbest horsemen in the world, with un-
shaved chin, battered hat, and sun-burnt chest
showing through an open shirt, smoking a briar
pipe black with the commonest plug, a man who
could rig the markets of a continent.

Standards in that far northern township are not
the whiteness of a man's hands and the cut of his
clothes, but just this: the only thing that matters
in the whole wide world, manhood.

But Oodnadatta is not Utopia. Those who would



GOLDEN BUCKLES 167

reconstruct the social fabric on ideal lines which
pre-suppose an ideal humanity, can set up no
colony here. Many and many a man, entombed for
years in the loneliness of some far out station,
with no companions but cattle and blacks — of
which the former are often to be preferred — has
drawn his cheque, come down to the head of the
line, and cashed it in a few days' wild carouse.
Gambling and drink are on a scale proportionate
to the size of the country ; nothing petty, nothing
mean; the very vices are those of full-blooded
men.

Oodnadatta was still asleep when the five camels
left the yards at the north end of the town and
made for the bore where they were to drink.
Similar expeditions have set out in an equally
unassuming manner; some have never returned,
and traces of them may or may not be found in
years to come. Others have caused the wires of
the world to buzz with news, and a township has
sprung up in the desert in a day. The true story
of Australian exploration will never be told. With
the reticences of true heroism, those who have
opened up this vast continent and given some in-
dication of its wealth, have gone down to death
unrecorded.

Tom had come north with a survey party when
he was a youth, and since then had driven many
thousand head of stock across the country. He
was not only a competent bushman, but he also
knew the country so well that he could afford to
do what a less experienced man would have at-
tempted only at great risk ; he kept off the stock
routes. Such a proceeding would have been im-
possible in summer, but good local rains had left
surface water about, so that no difficulties were
encountered for the first week.

Day after day the same routjne was followed.



i68 GOLDEN BUCKLES

At the first sign of dawn, Tom, who was leader
of the party, roused the camp, and Banjo, the
black-boy, started to track the camels. Last
night's fire was re-kindled and the quart-pots
filled and placed against the blaze. A roll of
American cloth served as a table, and the simple
constituents of the meal were spread out on it:
damper and meat usually, with an occasional tin
of jam. This close association on the march with
the old bushman, taught Tynan in a short time
more than he would have learnt during years of
station life. Tom was, as he himself expressed it,
"Just a meat and damper cook," but his friend
learnt how many different ways there were of
making even those prosaic items palatable, and
with his appetite sharpened by long days of travel,
he got to like tucker which when served in the
Mamoola kitchen had seemed hardly eatable.

For the time being he was satisfied. He was
doing something; he was facing primitive condi-
tions in a primitive way; he was driving down
into forgetfulness — at least he hoped so — ^an ache
which under easier conditions of life would have
been intolerable.

They struck the Sisters* Creek on the fourth
day, just south of Mount Randol, and followed the
dry sandy bed to Afghan Soakage, where they
camped for a day, as there was good feed for the
camels. Then on past the junction, follow-
ing the Oolanoo, a tributary of the main creek,
till their way led to a jungle of mulga swamps.
Tom shot half a dozen ducks here, and they made
a welcome change from tinned beef. To avoid
the swamps, the party took a more westerly line,
making for Tent Hill and up Emu Creek to Pros-
pect Hill on the 133rd meridian. Tynan walked
up this hill one afternoon and found a cairn of
stones on top and an empty tin match box, evi-



GOLDEN BUCKLES 169

dently placed there by some surveying or exploring
party. West again, running north to the Shaw
Ranges, with good camel-feed and water all the
way to The Colonel, a dry cr^ek rising in the
Franklin Ranges on the border of the Northern
Territory, and losing itself in the unexplored sands
to the south. Their track lay along the bed of this
creek for nearly a week, and high in front of them
rose the Franklins, where so many men have
hunted for the elusive speck and have left their
bones to mark their failure.

One day, Tom, who rode a camel at the head of
the string, turned and pointed to the ground,
shouting back the word "Native." When Tynan
came up to the place, he saw the tracks of naked
human feet leading in the same direction in which
they were going. Right through the ranges they
came across such signs: the marks of a recent
fire or a broken pitchee near a water-hole, and
twice they saw smoke signals rising ahead of
them, but never once did they see or hear a black-
fellow.



lyo GOLDEN BUCKLES

CHAPTER XXX.
The Grave in the Wilderness.

On the same day that they first saw native
tracks, they topped the pass, and after a few miles
of level going, began to descend again towards
evening. They pulled off the packs at a native
well near a dry creek, and Tynan was surprised to
see, some little distance away, a few old mulga
posts and rails which had evidently once enclosed
a small square. He meant to ask his companion
whether natives were responsible for the work,
but unpacking the camels and preparing tea occu-
pied his attention at the time, and he forgot
about it.

The two friends were lying out on their swags
after tea, smoking and talking, when Tynan
asked: "How is it you know this route so dashed
well, Tom? We've struck water every two or
three days, yet since Mount Randel we've not even
crossed a cattle-pad."

"Yes, we're in unoccupied country here, all
right,** Tom answered.

"Then how in the world do you know the
waters ?"

"I've been out as far as this once before."

"You have? When ever was that, Tom?"

"Years ago. Just after I had chucked up the
surveying job."

"I see. What were you after? Gold?" It was
always difficult to get Tom started on a yam.

"No, not exactly gold, though traces have been
found in these ranges." He puffed at his pipe for
a time, and then continued : "One of the first chaps
to prospect up here was named Macartney, and he



GOLDEN BUCKLES 171

came alone with two niggers. Pretty wild beg-
gars they were ; but Mac. had a name with blacks.
Still, nobody was much surprised when the nig-
gers returned three months later without the
white man. They said they came for stores, and
that he had sent them with a note, which they
had lost on the way. Raggan was police sergeant
in Oodnadatta at the -time, and didn't believe their
tale. For all that, you couldn't do anything but
send out some rations, on the off-chance of his
wanting them ; so my brother and I volunteered to
go back with the niggers. And those two sons of
the devil made it a picnic for us, I can promise
you.

"From the first day out we had to cover them
with revolvers all day and tie them up at night.
We pretty nearly perished. I don't want to do a
trip like that too often. The beggars led us off the
track, over a hell of a route, but at last we ham-
mered sense into them and found Macartney —
that is, we found all that was left of him: some
rags, a belt, boots, and things like that; no gold
or tools or any sign of a camp. He must have
been dead six or eight weeks. One of his legs was
broken, I reckon those two niggers knew more
about it than they chose to tell.

"We were burying him when they cleared. . . .
Some parts of what happened after that I don't
remember. I know we struck east, for it was
morning when we left the grave, and the sun was
in our eyes. After what seemed a long time, Mark
— that's my brother — gripped my arm and
pointed. He was stronger than I was, and not so
far gone. He was pointing to this well. But that
grip knocked me down, and it was some time be-
fore I could get up again. I just wanted to lie
there and die; you see, I hadn't caught sight of
the well.

"Then I heard him shout, and the next thing



172 GOLDEN BUCKLES

I remember was seeing him lying in the sand
writhing with pain. He had fastened his panni-
kin to his belt and braces, and was dipping down
the well when a snake must have bitten him. He
died very quickly. You see, he had no strength
left. . . . Did you notice some old forks and rails
as we came in to-night?"

"Yes, I meant to ask you what they were."

"That's his grave. ... I got water somehow.
The smell of it nearly drove me mad. You didn't
know water had a smell, did you? You wait till
you're so thirsty you'd sell your soul for one tiny
drop, then you'll know. ... I ripped up my shirt
and tied the strips together and weighted them
with a stone. Then I lowered it into the water
again and again, and sucked the end."

"How did you get on for food ?"

"I was just coming to that. . . We'd left the
horses; but one old chestnut mare — a good horse,
that, I broke her in myself — followed our tracks.
She had flour and tea in her packs."

For a few minutes there was silence, broken
only by the falling of embers into the heart of
the glow, and presently by the wailing chorus of
a pack of dingoes.

"So you see," said Tom, rousing himself from
the melancholy mood in which he had told the
story, "I ought to know the track. I found it on
the w^ back, alone with that old pack-mare."

Tynan lay staring at the stars that night long
after his friend had gone to sleep. He had never
been so remote from his fellows in his life, yet
somehow he never felt so near to them. Just as
on that first night at Toolooroo Springs, the unity
of all creation appealed so strongly to him that he
seemed for a time to lose his own individuality.
Space and time were annihilated, and the silence
seemed made up of the sound of what had been



GOLDEN BUCKLES 173

both here and on the farthest star. Then a change
came over his consciousness, and it was as if all
the past had crystallised in him; as though all
those sounds had blended into one — himself. He
was alone, surrounded by the lifeless coldness of
a vacuum, and he tried to cry out, but there was
no air to carry any sound. As he struggled to
pierce the gloom of his utter isolation, a face
seemed to take shape very, very far away. It was
the face of Ida Hennessy. Surely she would hear
him. He gathered all his powers, and . . .

"Here, Jim!" Tom shook him roughly by the
shoulder. "Can't you let a chap sleep?"
"What's wrong?" asked the dreamer.
"Why, you've been kicking up a hell of a row."
"Sorry, Tom. I didn't know I was."
That face remained in his mind for a long time.
What if he had indeed isolated himself by his pride
from the woman he loved. Pride seemed merely
negative when looked at by the pale radiance of
the night sky. When he did fall asleep the ques-
tion was still unanswered.



174 GOLDEN BUCKLES

CHAPTER XXXL
Smoke Signals.

From Mark's well — as Tom called their camping
place, in memory of his brother — the party struck
due north on the 132nd meridian. This bearing
led them far to the west of Mamoola, into the
country between Toolooroo Springs and the great
stretch of boggy salt known as Lake Deception.

With almost uncanny instinct — for he was in
country he had never seen before — Tom led them
from one water to another. He had what bush-
men call "a great eye for country," and when
they had camped dry for a couple of days, as they
had to do several times, Tynan was certain that
the leader of the party had not missed any water.

One day, towards the end of the afternoon, they
stopped beside a small spring which rose in the
sand at one corner of a large dry salt lake. There
was a very small supply of water, but judging by
the area of boggy ground below it, the spring was
evidently permanent.

"Do you know where we are, Jim?" asked Tom.

"No chance! Do you?"

"Yes. We're about 110 miles due west of Mar-
noola."

"How ever do you know that?"

"See that stoney rise east of us ?"

"Yes."

"Well, you've seen it from the other side. That
time I broke my leg, you know." He laughed and
added. ' "But the chief reason I know it, is that
I've been here before. This is that spring I told
you about."



GOLDEN BUCKLES 175

"I remember. Then where's Poison Peak?"

"You can't see it yet. It's about eighty miles
west of us."

"Then we travel west to-morrow?"

"No. I reckon on three or four days' spell here.
We've passed through all the good country we'll
ever see on this trip. From here on we're into loose
sand, ridge after ridge running across us, and as
much chance of surface water as there is on a
beach."

"How do you propose tackling it?"

"Well, we'll give the camels a spell here on good
feed. We'll keep them away from water till just
before we're going to start. Then we'll fill the
canteens and dash across. There's water at
Poison Peak — a rock-hole with a spring in the
middle of it. Between here and there we'll be
going dry."

"I see."

"I reckon on about twenty miles a day. It's
good weather now, but you can't tell how soon it'll
change. If it comes out hot, we'll travel by moon-
light."

For three days the camels were hobbled on the
good feed that grew in the neighbourhood of the
little spring. They were mustered each morning,
but not allowed to drink. The two white men
and the nigger lay all day under rigged camp-
sheets, rousing themselves only to eat and to
draw water. The afternoon of the third day was
spent in thoroughly overhauling the stores and
gear, in gradually filling the four canteens, and in


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