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Conrad Harvey Sayce.

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when he found himself explaining to her in de-



240 GOLDEN BUCKLES

tail how he proposed to act, "just as if she was a
blooming man," as he expressed it to himself
later.

"Luckily I've got some working horses in the
paddock," he said. "I sent a boy after them right
away. I propose packing one with a week's
rations and sending it out at once. The camel
won't be much good for months by the look of its
feet. I'll send out to-morrow and bring in a team
of buggy horses. You see," he added, so as not
to alarm her, "I reckon they've done all the riding
they want for a bit, and would rather like a lift
in a buggy."

The girl put her white hand on the manager's
rough brown arm and looked up into his face.
"Thank you, Mr. Macfarlane. You're . . . you're
more than kind."

"Oh, a chap couldn't do any less," he said
casually, though the touch of that little hand made
it rather an effort to appear casual. He was
turning to go, when Ida checked him.

"Mr. Macfarlane, I wonder if you would add one
more to the favors you have done me," she asked
timidly.

"What d'you mean?"

"I wonder if you would let me go out with the
pack-horse."

"But!" He was too astonished at the sug-
gestion to find words. "Surely you don't
mean . . !"

•• f es, I do. Indeed I do. I know I'm a woman,
but I can ride, and. . . " the reason was very
feminine, "I want to so much."

"But I'll be sending out in an hour's time. You
can't ride through the night, and the Springs are
forty miles away."

Again that little hand was placed on his arm.



GOLDEN BUCKLES 241

and a voice full of the tenderness that love had
aroused, pleaded with him.

"Mr. Macfarlane, listen! I came from Mel-
bourne to find my brother. I rode up from
Oodnadatta, and no one can say that one day's
ride was shortened because I was a woman. And
now you won't make me wait till he comes, will
you?"

"You could go in the buggy if you liked."

"No. Oh, Mr. Macfarlane, I want to be the
first to see him .... You see . . he's my . . .
he's not my brother."

Macfarlane had ruled men with his will for
many years. He was reputed to be a man who
never changed his mind once it was made up.
But now, against his better judgment, he sub-
mitted.

"Very well, Miss . . er . ."

"Hennessy." Ida supplied the name.

"Very well. Miss Hennessy; though I don't at
all like /our taking it on. I'd go with you my-
self, only I must stay behind to drive the buggy.
I'll send Ruby with you; she's as good as any
white man on the road. . . . When could you be
ready?"

"In a quarter of an hour," she answered. "And
thank you very much."

Before the working horses were mustered, Ida
Hennessy was ready and waiting beside the hitch-
ing rail. Macfarlane, who thought that even the
best of women were useless creatures outside a
very limited sphere, received another surprise
when he saw this city-bred girl, dressed in riding
breeches and coat, mount and ride away into the
night. For some time he gazed in silence at the
spot where the darkness had swallowed up the
plant, then sought relief in words.



242 GOLDEN BUCKLES

"Well I'm . ." He broke off suddenly, re-
membering that a lady had recently stood beside
him, and changed the express! )n, but not the
thought :

"Well I'm blest!"

Probably he was right. Most men are blessed
by contact with a woman.



GOLDEN BUCKLES 243

CHAPTER XLIL

Golden Buckles.

A loaded steel bar will return to its origirial
shape when the weight is removed, so long as its
elastic limit has not been exceeded. But if too
great a strain has been put upon it, the bar will
never regain its former strength.

It is somewhat the same with men, and is illus-
trated by the two who finally arrived at Toolooroo
Springs. Tom Lawson, bom and bred to hard-
ship, recovered quickly from the fatigue of that
terrible journey, whereas his companion, not one
whit behind him in the dogged pluck that had
carried them through, had borne too great a
burden. All his subsequent life he would be a
weaker man because of what he had undergone.
One hardship had followed too quickly on another ;
thirst and hunger had again and again attacked
an already weakened body, and not all the will-
power in the world could bear up for long against
such persistent privation.

Tynan arrived at the Springs strapped to the
camel's saddle, for he was too weak to hold him-"
self on, and when he realised that they were with-
in reach of help, and that life no longer depended
on his power to keep going, he collapsed utterly.

Water was good and abundant, and there still
remained enough flour to make a couple of dam-
pers, but the exhausted man seemed suddenly to
have lost all interest in life. For weeks he had
struggled toward this spot ; his mind had focussed
itself on this bough wurley and had seen nothing
beyond; he had, as it were, told his body that
nothing more was required of it but just to reach



/ 244



GOLDEN BUCKLES



the Springs, and now it was as if he had no
further right to make any more demands upon it.

Perhaps, also, he had lost the will to live. His
recent prolonged struggle against death was due
to the working of the law of self-preservation, and
not a little also to pride which refused to be beaten
in the presence of another man ; but now that he
could afford to wait in comparative safety and let
others continue the struggle for him, he nearly
let go his hold on life.

Besides, why should he hve? In his present
state of utter mental and physical exhaustion, he
was open to the attack of the cowardly suggestion
that he should not again take up the challenge of
life. Such a thought never comes to a man when
lie is fighting against odds, but only when, bruised
and bleeding, he had been carried outside the
arena for a time. Gladly would he have buckled
on his armour and entered the lists again when
the trumpet called, if only he could wear a lady's
token in his helmet; but, in his pride, he had
scorned it when it had been offered, and now he
found that pride was not a strong enough incen-
tive to make him want to live.

Tom was also in a pretty exhausted state,
but allowed himself no rest until he had done all
that he could for the weaker man.

The sacking bed which Tynan had made for him
when his leg was broken, was still in the wurley,
and a few more bushes piled on the roof made it
tolerably sun-proof. Banjo carried up a couple
of kerosene tins of water from the spring and
warmed them at the fire, and the rough bush
nurse bathed his friend's body again and again,
to the sufferer's great relief. He managed to
shoot a couple of pigeons at the troughs that
evening, and had them stewing in a billy-can all
night, so that a rich broth was ready for the sick
man next day.



GOLDEN BUCKLES 245

At dawn the faithful Banjo left with the camel
for Mamoola, carrying a note addressed to Mac-
farlane, and there remained nothing more for
Tom to do but wait.

All day Tynan lay with closed eyes, not sleep-
ing, for the aching of his body kept him awake,
but in a state of utter listlessness. He accepted
his friend's ministrations almost automatically,
and then sank back again, letting his mind swing
idly between the mortal and the immortal, having
no strength to concern itself with either. In this
condition, the mind is extremely susceptible to
any suggestion, as the eastern masters of Yoga
know so well.

About seven o'clock in the evening of the day
that Banjo left the Springs, Tynan slowly opened
his eyes and raised his head, and appeared to
listen intently. Then he smiled, and when he lay
back again, his face had lost its vacant expres-
sion. Let those who wish to ascribe it to coin-
cidence, do so, but the fact remains, that it was
about seven o'clock on that evening when Mac-
fi„rlane brought the glad news to Ida Hennessy.

A few minutes later, Tom walked up to the
wurley with three pigeons in his hand, and sat
down at the entrance and began to pluck them..
It was dark inside, and the older man was sur-
prised to hear Tynan's voice asking :

•'Any luck, Tom?"

"Yes, I potted three," he answered. "They're
terribly shy." Then, as this was almost the first
sign of interest in anything that the sick man
had taken since their arrival, he added : "How are
you feeling, Jim?"

"Not too bad, Tom, thanks. I must have had
a bit of a sleep. . . I feel dashed hungry."

"That's good. Luckily I've got some of that
broth left. Will you have a drink of tea with
it?"



246 GOLDEN BUCKLES

"No thanks, old man. Just the broth."

It was very little that the patient could take,
but that little did him a lot of good, for soon
afterwards he fell into a deep sleep, which lasted
well into the following morning.

He awoke with such keen hunger that Tom cut
his own rations very short, for although they had
enough flour to last till the evening, and help
ought to have arrived by then, it was not wise
to run themselves right out.

"How long have we been here?" asked Tynan,
after a time.

"Nearly a day and a half. Don't you remember
coming in, old man?"

"No, Tom, I don't."

"I'm not much surprised. You were as close
up to the sweet bye and bye as it's safe to go."

"Was I? . . . I'm afraid I've been a dashed
nuisance to you on this trip, Tom."

"Go to blazes! If anyone in this plant ought
to be sorry, it's me, not you. I suggested the trip
in the first place ; then I hadn't the sense to know
that all that gelignite was sure to knock the bot-
tom out of the rock-hole; and then I jolly well
ought to have watched those camels better than
I did. . . . But what's the good of being sorry?
We've been mates, and have got through. We
won't shed tears over one another's graves yet
awhile."

"I don't see Banjo about," said Tynan, later.
"Where is he, Tom?"

"He ought to be on his way back from Marnoola
with stores by now. I sent him in yesterday
morning, and I reckon he'll make the pace. He's
a good nigger."

"Yes, he is. Couldn't we do anything for him,
Tom?"

"Yes, we could, if you like. I wouldn't advise
giving him money. It's no good to a nigger. If



GOLDEN BUCKLES 247

we fit him out with new togs and a blanket and
new pipe, he'll think hin^iself just Christmas."

Tom, who knew how terribly his friend had suf-
fered, and had been inclined to fear the worst
when he had collapsed so utterly, was pleasantly
surprised at the way things were shaping. After
dinner, Tynan again fell asleep, and the sun was
only an hour or two off the western horizon when
he next opened his yes.

He was alone. Tom was hiding at the troughs,
waiting for the pigeons to come and drink. No
wind was stirring, and the foretaste of a winter
night had chilled the air. All fit once Tynan
leant up on his elbow and listened. He thought
he heard horses coming from the east.

Such a sound meant that help was near. Yet
the smile that lit Tynaii's face was not such as
the prospect of relief would bring. His eyes,
which had been either dull and listless, or bright
with fever, now shone with the tender light that
only bums on love's altar. The young scientist
had travelled far since the days when he had re-
jected everything but what his mind could grasp,
f'^r he was now drawing the breath of life itself
from what he once would have called an illusion.

Presently Tom' returned, empty-handed.

"The beggars are too cunning," he said. "I
bet they'll come in after dark. I only wish 1 had
some bird-lime."

"Any sign of Banjo?" asked Tynan.

"No, not yet. I went up on the sandhill. You
can see two or three miles of the track from
there. But he's sure to turn up some time
to-night."

So he had been deluded when he thought he
heard horses! But it seemed to make no differ-
ence to the comfort the young man derived from
it.

The last meal was just finished when a plant of



248 GOLDEN BUCKLES

horses came over the sand-hill. In the fading
light, Tom suspected nothing unusual when he
announced to his friend:

"Here they come ! By gad ! they've sent horses.
I wonder who's come along. A couple of them are
mounted."

Tom walked out to meet the riders, more excited
than he cared to show. It was his first contact
with civilisation, after so many weeks during
which he had wondered more than once whether
he had not severed the connecting link for ever.
But he was totally unprepared for what he saw.
A white woman and a half-caste lubra! He could
only stand and stare foolishly at the advancing
horses.

Ida rode straight up to the bushman, and did
not dismount.

Without any preliminary greeting, she asked:
"Is he inside?" and pointed to the wurley. Re-
ceiving an affirmative nod of the head, she rode
forward again, leaving Tom still staring at her
with astonished eyes.

"Well, I'm . . .. " and he also hesitated as to
an exact description of his condition, finally de-
ciding on the word "blest !"

Tynan had struggled to his feet, and had
tottered to the entrance of the wurley. For a
minute or two, the landscape was blurred and dark,
and he 'clutched at the two posts for support. The
low sun shone full on him as he stood there. From
a face covered with a scrubby beard, his eyes
looked out over gaunt cheek bones, and his hair
hung matted over forehead and ears. His neck,
so scraggy that it seemed abnormally long, stood
up from the collar-bone over which the skin was
tightly stretched, as dry and yellow as parch-
ment. His body was terribly emanciated and dis-
colored with bruises, while a few rags, clinging to



GOLDEN BUCKLES 249

his waist, hardly hid the festering scars on his
legs.

Darkness went gradually from his eyes, and he
ceased to feel as if the earth was rocking. He
looked up.

Ida Hennessy stood before him.

He was dazed for a moment as if by a strong
light, and shaded his eyes with a shaking hand.
Then, like one who is certain that speech will dis-
pel a vision, and yet is unable to bear its presence,
he asked :

"Is that Ida?"

"Yes . . . Jim, it's me."

He lowered his hand, and stretched it out like
a man groping in the dark. "I can't see very well,"
he said to himself. "When I can't touch it, I'll
know it's not there . . . and that it's all imagina-
tion. ... A chap doesn't like to made a fool of,
even if he's not very well."

Ida took the groping hand in one of hers. Tynan
tottered forward with a start, and would have
fallen if she had not caught him.

"Jim! Jim!" she cried, brokenly, "It's me. It's
Ida Hennessy."

Marvelling how light he had become, she
carried him unaided into the wurley, and laid him
on his blankets and knelt at his side.

"Jim," she said again. "It's really me. Feel."
She put her soft cheek against his rough hand.
"You must not think you're dreaming. All that
is over now."

"But I went away from her," he said, still think-
ing he was alone. "I was proud, and . . . and
perhaps I refused her love. . . I told her about

it in that letter. . . God knows I "

"Yes, yes, Jim," broke in the girl, almost in
tears. "You went away, but I came after you, be-
cause I loved you."



250 GOLDEN BUCKLES

Hitherto he had been staring at the bushes on
the roof, but now he turned quickly and faced her.
The shock of her sudden appearance, though -sub-
consciously he had anticipated it all day, had
stunned his mind for a time, but now the light of
intelligence flickered back into his eyes, till at last
it burnt in a steady flame.

"Ida," he said, and his voice was no longer that
of a sleep-talker, "Ida, say that again, will you?
Perhaps I didn't hear it right."

At the sound of the voice she loved, the girl
broke down, but through her sobs came the con-
fession.

"I came to find you, because I love you."

"But Ida" ; he still did not fully realise what she
had said, "I refused your love when it might have
been mine."

"It was not love then, Jim. I too was proud. I
blamed you for a thing I didn't understand. A
girl who loved a man wouldn't do that."

"And you don't blame me now, little girl?"

She kissed his wrinkled brown hand. "No, dear,
of course I don't."

"Really?"

For answer she lifted her face to his, and wdak
as he was, he held her to him in a first long kiss.

"Dearest," he said at last, "that child is not
mine."

"Not yours?"

"No. It was bom when I had been at Marnoola
barely six months."

"Tlien, Jim, why ever did you let me thmk it
was?"

"My dear, I wanted your love. And love covers
a multitude of sins, you know."

Ida hid her face in her hands. "Oh, Jim! Jim!



GOLDEN BUCKLES 251

It's I who have sinned. Will love ever cover mine,
do you think?"

"It has done that, my darling, for both of us."

It was dark when Tom came up from the troughs
with a bridle in his hands.

"I didn't leave this with the rest of the gear,
Miss," he said, "thinking as you might want to
take special care of it."

Ida motioned him to speak gently, and tip-toed
out of the wurley. Tynan was fast asleep.

"Thank you," she said. "I do want to take
special care of it;" and -added, in explanation,
"This is the bridle he sent me from Mamoola, and
which told me where he was. . . You see, he's not

my brother Did you notice the golden

buckles?"




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\ Melbourne



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Online LibraryConrad Harvey SayceGolden buckles → online text (page 15 of 15)