Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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Harold moved uneasily. He could be self-willed at
times, but felt now that perhaps, after all, he was
gambling with his own interests. During the argu-
ment the mortgage had not been in his mind. If he
had never heard that story about Gordon told to him
by Doctor Blain, it is doubtful if he would have set
himself in antagonism to Gordon over this question
of Mary going or not going. But though he had been
almost afraid to admit it to himself, his respect for
Gordon had been greatly lessened, if not destroyed,
and as Gordon had almost invariably managed to come
out the victor in the friendly rivalries between them,
except in the rivalry for Mary's love, he had been
impelled by a force he did not clearly understand, to
try and humble Gordon in this instance when all the
winning cards seemed to be in his hands. But Gordon,
after all, held the trumps, and humiliating .though it
was, Harold had to admit that he was beaten. Nor
could he help recalling Margaret Bruce's protest
against Mary going. If she joined forces with Gordon
as she was almost certain to do notwithstanding her
fondness for him, he saw that his humiliation would
be deeper. He did not for a moment entertain the
possibility of Mary deserting him, and if he wished it
she might still insist on going, but in that case
Gordon, by declining to take over the mortgage,
could effect his ruin. Nor could he be unmindful of
Jim Dawkins' arguments.

A strange sense of despair came upon him such as
he had hardly ever experienced before in the whole
course of his life. He had been so joyous and happy
a few hours ago; now the reaction had come, and he
felt baffled and beaten. He knew Gordon to be a
determined man, and he would have deserved the



THE DECISION 125

reproach of denseness if he had failed to grasp the
full meaning of an open quarrel at that juncture.
While he would have hesitated to believe that his
friend was a Judas, he knew that at times he could
be obstinate and even spiteful ; and though claiming
to be a sportsman, he took defeat badly. He had
never been a generous loser. His arrogant pride was:
too strong.

Harold mastered his feelings to some extent, for
he recognised with bitterness how helpless he was to
enforce his opinions. After all, whatever his prin-
ciples were, he could not afford to trifle with his own
interests. To see all that he had struggled and toiled
to gain swept from him, and himself cast forth
penniless from the home of his people, and the home
where he had known so much happiness, was too
dreadful to contemplate. Independence and pride
were all very well, but when they led to self-abase-
ment they exemplified the acme of human folly. He
had the acumen to see that, and felt the necessity of
temporising with the man who had the whip hand
over him.

" I am very sorry, Oliver," he said almost in an
apologetic vein, " that we should be at loggerheads
about a matter that so closely concerns me, but if you
are really determined in your opposition "

" I am quite determined," Gordon interpolated
sternly.

" Very well then, I will discuss the matter with
Mary, but if she persists "

Gordon broke in impatiently with another inter-
ruption.

" If she persists! What nonsense. It is for you
to decide. You have proclaimed yourself the leader
of the little expedition, and a leader who is without
determination isn't worthy of the position."

Harold's face flushed slightly.

" I admit that," he said, " but I should like to hear
her view before coming to any decision."

" All right," said Gordon as he relit his pipe, " but
don't be under any delusion as to my feelings in the
matter. If Mary goes I don't go; and if I don't go
I decline to take up the mortgage. That's final, and



126 " OUT THERE "

the devil himself won't change me. Now you know
what lies before you."

Any further discussion of the matter would have
been absurd. They shook hands and parted. Harold
went out into the street which throbbed with human
life; he passed a brilliantly lighted saloon from
whence issued laughter and song, the people in the
streets passing to and fro seemed lighthearted and
happy, but he felt under a sense of utter depression
that he could not shake off. It was as if a new-born
trouble had gripped him fiercely, that some of the
sunshine had faded out of his life for ever, and a
haunting thought filled his brain that the friendship
which had endured so long between him and Gordon
was dead beyond revivification. To a man of Preston's
temperament the breaking of a friendship was like
the shattering of an idol before which he had bowed
in veneration. But he knew now that his faith in
Gordon had gone. And yet he was in Gordon's
power; he must either dissemble or be prepared to
face ruin.

He made his way back to Mary's home, and after
supper drew her to the veranda, and they sat side by
side. -It was a beautiful night, the rain had cooled
the air. Light clouds trailed across the sky, and stars
glittered in the great depths of blue. Nicotina and
other flowers made the air languid with their scent ;
the wind crooned a lullaby in the palm trees and the
great fronds of the tree ferns. It was a night for
love cooing, for all the world seemed filled with love,
and a sweet undertone of wordless melody seemed to
tremble through space until it was lost among the
stars. But Harold's heart was hot and restless ; he
was oppressed with an idea that there was some great
change perhaps a tragic change coming into his
life. His enthusiasm over the expedition had waned,
and a phantom-like regret that he had decided on it
haunted him. Jim Dawkins' words rang in his ears;
he began to think that after all Jim was right, and it
would be better for his peace and happiness if he
remained on his farm instead of trying to pierce the
veil of mystery that hung between him and the
Western Ranges. The years that lay behind held for



THE DECISION 127

him tender memories of happiness and contentment,
why should he try to alter the current of his life and
turn it into tmkuown channels where it might be
fretted into a raging torrent, and sweep him to misery
and despair ?

His mood was in antagonism with his temperament ;
it was an unnatural mood, and vaguely he understood
that it was the result of an influence Oliver Gordon
exercised over him, an influence that he was powerless
to shake off, although in every fibre of his being he
felt that it was a sinister influence and might darken
his future. If he had never couie to know of that
dark episode in the life of that man whom he had
once esteemed as one of the truest of friends, he
would never have harboured such disquieting
thoughts, but when confidence has been betrayed and
faith destroyed a dark and brooding suspicion takes
their place. Had it not been for those fierce years of
cruel drought his life would have flowed on in its
sweet serenity. Mary would have been his wife, and
his friendship with Oliver might have remained
unbroken, for he might never have heard of the dark
episode. Perhaps for the first time since he came to
man's estate, he began to realise', to dwell upon the
uncertainties of human life. Nature was eternal, but
human life at its longest was such a pitiably small
span, subject to cataclysmic changes, and to the
inevitable tragic sorrow which comes when Death
takes those we love from us. Was it not possible, he
thought, to realise some few of one's ideals ? He was
full of strange fears and fancies, and somewhere in
his distressed soul a voice said, " It is the passions,
greed, envy, and jealousies of men that make life
bitter and unholy."

He and Mary had been silent for some time. There
are moments when lovers understand that silence can
be infinitely more eloquent than speech. The moon
was rising in the east, and her pallid light filled the
garden and the landscape beyond with a soft, radiant,
ethereal beauty, like a vision of splendour that comes
into the lotus eater's dreams. Harold turned, laid his
hand on Mary's, and voiced the sentiment that was
uppermost in his mind.



128 " OUT THERE "

" I wonder, dear, if anything I could say or do
could change your love for me."

" Change my love for you ! " Surprise rang in her
voice. " What a strange question. It implies a
doubt."

" Give me an answer, Mary."

There was a long pause.

" No, nothing, unless you became a drunkard and
a gambler, and the tenderness of your heart turned
to hate."

He laughed and pressed her hand.

" I am not likely ever to become a gambler or a
drunkard, and I don't believe I could really hate any-
thing to which God has given life."

" Then my love for you will never change while
life is mine."

There was another short silence.

" Perhaps my question seemed to carry more
meaning than I intended. I know that when a woman
truly loves a man it takes something tremendous to
change her. But I am only going to put your love
to a small test. I want you to abandon the idea of
accompanying me on my journey west."

She turned her eyes on his face, and saw a light in
his eyes that told surely of a troubled mind, of a
something that was making his heart ache.

" Why do you make that request, Harold? "

" I saw Oliver this evening on his return from
Melbourne. I told him you were going with me, and
it made him angry. He said I had no right to subject
5^011 to the hardships and perils of such a journey."

" How very kind of him." she said with cutting
irony. " And I suppose he has influenced you? "

" Frankly, yes."

" Does it strike you, Harold, that not to go means
for me a bitter, bitter disappointment ? I had set my
heart upon going? "

' Yes I know."

" Then why be influenced by Gordon? "

" Because well, I don't want to quarrel with him,
and I am afraid if I insist on your going it ma}*- lead
to a rupture in our business relations." He was
going to say friendship but checked himself.



THE DECISION 120

Mary did not speak again for some moments.
Does Oliver intend to go? "
Oh, of course. That is if you remain behind."
Then why not let him go alone? "
I don't quite gather your .meaning, Mary."
He has reminded you of the hardships and perils
which I should have to encounter. Will there be no
hardships and perils for you? "

" Well, dear," he said with a laugh, " I don't
suppose it will be as easy as a railway journey."

" That answers my question. After all, why should
you. go ? The journey may end in a fiasco, and now
that the long drought has broken there is plenty of
work to do on your~farm. Stay here with me. Let
Gordon go if he wants to go. We need not worry
about him."

Here again was the advice Jim Dawkins had given,
and it now came from the woman he loved. Was it
the voice of Fate speaking through her, through him ?
No. He laughed at the very thought. Fate had come
to him in the person of Bill Blewitt, who had wriggled
out of the clutches of Greedy Death, to breathe in his
ear, and his ear alone, the secret of the gold in the
Ranges which lay far, far be> r ond the dim horizon to
which his vision reached from Glenbar. A something
he could not quite understand it was not the lust of
gold, which still seemed to him as intangible as the
scent of the rose lured him on. The rose scent
could soothe the senses, but in a little while it was
dissipated, leaving only a memory. Gold could give
power, luxury, but it wa? also capable of destroying
all that is beautiful and spiritual in human nature.
No, he was at a loss to define what it was that lured
him to the West, but it did lure him, and a something
else within him impelled him to respond to the lure.

" Yes, Mary," he answered, " there is plenty to do
on the Run, but I have arranged everything with Jim
Dawkins."

" And you intend to go? "

" Yes. I feel somehow as if I must. I want a break
in my life. So far it has been uneventful ; I want one
episode at least that I can, in future years, look back
to with pleasure if not pride. Perhaps, after all, I

E



130 " OUT THERE "

have inherited from some dead and gone ancestor a
strain of the spirit of adventure; anyway, I repeat, I
want to go."

" And Gordon will go with you? "

" Yes."

She did not reply immediately. Her face wore a
look of trouble; her thoughts were busy with many
things, hopes and fears alternated. With a sigh she
answered him as one who yields reluctantly to that
which cannot be avoided :

" Then go, Harold, and if the main object of the
journey is achieved, that is, if you discover the gold,
see that your interests are well protected, and let
Oliver carry out the development. I will remain
behind, and when you return I shall be waiting with
open arms to receive you."

The gloom had passed from him. He felt happy
again, and their lips met in a kiss of perfect love. He
knew now that whatever might happen, whatever
might change, Mary would remain true, and her love
was the only thing that mattered.



CHAPTER XIV

THE AWAKENING

HAROLD returned to Glenbar on the morrow, and'
found Jim Dawkins very busy. He did not see
Gordon before leaving, as he had gone down the
river to visit a small sawmill in which he had an
interest, but he left the following note for him :

" MY DEAR OLIVER, You can make your mind
easy. Mary will be left behind. Please push ahead
with your preparations, as we shall start on pur
journey in a fortnight or three weeks at the outside.
I will come down to Gordonstown in a couple of days
to sign the mortgage deed. Yours affectionately,

" HAROLD PRESTON."

Harold was glad to get back to his holding. Some-
how the bustle, the activity, the noise of such a
relatively small place even as Gordonstown confused
him. It was all in such violent contrast to the
loneliness of his home, which wasn't loneliness to
him. He had so many interests there, so much that
appealed to the contemplative side of his nature. The
rain was still falling, not as a deluge, but with steady
persistency. The earth was soaked, and the water was
going down, down to the roots of things, and in
another two or three weeks the grass would be
springing into new life, the ploughs at work, and the
long silence would once more be broken with the
voices of living things. Cattle and sheep and horses



132 " OUT THERE "

would wander in freedom to the far boundaries of his
lands, and a new prosperity would begin.

Harold felt on his return that he had had a morbid
fit in Gordonstown, and had been obsessed with
fancies which are born of morbidness. He was sorry
he had been so bitter with Gordon. He was almost
tempted to think lightly of that dark episode in his
career, and to find excuse for it as the one false step
of a wilful boy which he had ever since regretted, and
yet, irresistibly, a feeling oppressed him of a scarcely
veiled deceptiveness of character in Oliver which would
for all time prevent the old friendship from enduring.
There might be a renewal of a sort of friendship, but
it could not be quite the same; it would be friendship
only in name, a friendship without respect or con-
fidence. But what troubled him most of all was the
knowledge that he was under an obligation to this
man, and that his position, his influence, and perhaps
his mental powers were inferior to Gordon's. Time
had been when he quite thought that the old rivalry
and bitterness which had so long existed between the
two families had ceased for ever. At any rate he had
been at pains to prove that the animosity of his
people had not been transmitted to him, that he
represented a new era in which the Prestons and the
Gordons would be united by a bond of fraternal regard.
But now he asked himself, was it really so? Were
Gordon's professions of friendship mere make-believe ;
had he himself not inherited a little, at least, of the
spirit which had impelled his father and his father's
father to contend for supremacy, for mastery ? Some-
thing within him seemed to answer " yes." Anyway,
he could not disguise the fact that with all his altruism
and fine feeling, he experienced a sense of envy of
Gordon's superior position, but in one thing at least
he had triumphed, he had won the love of Mary
Gordon, though her cousin had striven for it, and he
would crown that triumph by making her his wife.

And suddenly, as a result of all this heart-searching
and mental analysis, a great change came over him,
in a sense it burst upon him he was seized with a
Zwsi for gold. He was quite sure that up to that
moment he had had no such lust. Now he realised



THE AWAKENING 133

with a clearness that made him wonder that he should
have been so long blind, that riches would make him
Gordon's equal, and the probable chance of acquiring
riches had been placed in his way with a dramatic
suddenness that gave weight and significance to it.
He might in time secure a competence from his
business if the seasons held good. But here was a
way opened to him of getting rich quickly. All his
faculties sprang into alertness, and a sort of fever
burned in his veins. Yes, he would start for the West
with a grim, fierce purpose of locating the gold
deposits, and he now experienced a sense of joy that
Mary was not going. She would have been a drag
upon the expedition, she would have hampered his
own movements, and he recalled her warning that in
the event of the gold being located he should adopt
every means to secure his own interests. Yes, it
should be men's work; he would take the lead, and
make Gordon feel and understand that he was his eqxial,
if not his superior. This awakening of the fighting
spirit in his nature stirred him to new energies; he
felt that something had taken hold of him, a some-
thing that crushed down the finer feelings of his
being, and filled his heart and brain with a passion of
material desire, and he knew that it was lust for gold.
It had come to him like a revelation, and he yielded
himself to it, although he was conscious of a vaguely
defined feeling that it had swept away some of Ins
happiness, and made him discontented with things as
they were.

The ensuing days were days of strenuous activities,
and he worked far into the night, balancing his books
and setting his accounts in order. He got up fresh
hands from Gordonstown to replace Pete Radley and
George Grindon, who had consented to accompany
him to the West. They were hardy men, and old
servants, and he knew they would be faithful to him.
In addition, he would have Bill Blewitt on his side.
So that in the event of any difference arising, there
would be four, including himself, opposed to Gordon
and the two men he had undertaken to supply. The
organising of the expedition required much thought
and care. All the necessary provisions for seven men,



134 " OUT THERE "

for a period of not less than eight months, would have
to be carried, together with tools and two tents. For
this purpose six pack horses were needed, with two
spare ones in case of contingencies. In carrying out
the arrangements Blewitt proved himself invaluable.
He was an old hand, and knew that if success was to
be achieved nothing must be overlooked. Many an
exploring and prospecting expedition had corne to
grief through some trifling failure in the organisation.
Fire-arms and a plentiful supply of ammunition would
also have to be carried, for encounters with the wild
blacks was a probability not to be overlooked. The
aborigines were pitiless, cruel, and sternly opposed
the advance of the white man into their country. They
could not be blind to the fact that the advance of the
white spelt annihilation to them.

During all those days of bustle and work Harold was
haunted by thoughts of the riches that he now
believed were within his reach. He could not deaden his
conscience to the change in his nature ; he was aware
that a certain sordidness had taken possession of him,
but he did not struggle against it. He soon received
a reply to the note he had left for Gordon. It was
couched in the following terms :

" MY DEAR HAROLD, I am glad you have come to
your senses. I saw Mary the evening after you left,
and she told me of her decision not to go. Incident-
ally she placed a command upon me to look after you,
take care of you, and bring you safe back.

" As I am going out of town for some days I have
sent the mortgage deed on to your solicitor, and
asked him to procure your signature so as to put the
matter in order.

" I have also instructed my own solicitor to draft
an agreement between you and me, setting forth that
we are to share equally the cost of the expedition, and
in any discoveries we make whether one or both of
us find gold. Of course this is business, and safe-
guards our mutual interests. I don't want to imperil
our friendship by a possibility of squabbling in case
we are fortunate enough to strike it rich. A dispute
about nione}' will destroy the strongest of friendships.



THE AWAKENING 135

I have selected two of my men, experienced chaps, to
go with us, so that we shall be a party of seven. The
details of the organisation I leave to you. With the
aid of Blewitt, I have no doubt you will see that
nothing is forgotten. I have ordered two new guns,
one an up-to-date, double-barrelled fowling-piece, the
other a powerful rifle to carry a two ounce slug. I
shall be ready in time. I did intend to take
Kangaroo with me, but have changed my mind, and
shall buy a rough bush horse. Yours always,

" OLIVER."

This letter stung Harold like whipcord. The refer-
ence to what Mary had said was made with the obvious
intention of hurting him, and it did hurt. The tone
of the letter, to his way of thinking, was offensive;
there was an air of patronage about it that sent the
blood to his face with a flush of indignation. It made
him feel more than ever that Gordon was treating him
as an inferior, and he bitterly regretted, now that it
was too late, that he had taken Gordon into his
confidence.

The same day that he received the letter he saddled
his horse and rode into the town. He went straight
to Gordon's residence, to find that he had left, and
would not be back for perhaps a week. This was
probably fortunate, though Harold did not think so
then ; but his temper was up, and in his then mood a
quarrel would have been inevitable. He called upon
Mary, and gave her the letter to read. It made her
indignant also.

" Why on earth did he want to repeat my words,"
she said; " he gives them a force and point that I
never intended them to have. They were spoken
lightly and in a frivolous way. But there, why should
you mind ? Although I say it of my own kinsman,
Oliver hasn't your sincerity and delicacy of feeling.
He can be cutting and bitter at times, and that is
what you never are. But after all you mustn't take
him too seriously. I really think he means well,
though he's not tactful. Besides, he has taken over
the mortgage in order to help you. You cannot get
out of his hands now unless " she hesitated for some



136 " OUT THERE "

moments, then added " unless you will avail yourself
of my money."

Harold's feelings were moved to their deepest
depths, his pride surged up until he felt hot as if with
fever.

"Damn Oliver! " he exclaimed with an outburst
of temper that startled her.

She put her hand to his mouth.

' That is not my Harold speaking," she said with
sweet tenderness; " nor is it your true self. Don't
outrage your own principles. There is something
beautiful in your nature, something that drew me
from my cousin to you, and you have won my soul's
love. Isn't that a triumph ? Why then be false to
yourself? Why raise a doubt in my mind that the
purity of your heart, in which I have so firmly
believed, is, after all, only make-believe ? Leave hatred
and bitterness to baser men. You have a nobility of
soul that should keep you free from the pettiness of
small minds."

A sense of humiliating shame possessed him, a
wave of emotion made him tremble. He caught her
in his arms, crushed her to his heart, and there were
tears in his voice as he spoke.

" Mary, my darling, forgive me; you make me seem
a brute beast, and God knows I am not brutal. You
remind me that my winning your love is a triumph. It
is, it is ! It makes me proud, happy, grateful ! The
love of such a woman as yourself demands sacrifice.
I am prepared to sacrifice niy feelings, my very life if
need be, for your dear sake. I am strong again. The
bitterness has passed. Put your lips to mine and tell
me that I am forgiven."

" My faith is whole once more, and you are
forgiven," she murmured; joy danced in her eyes as
she took his troubled face between her soft hands and
kissed him as a woman kisses a man who has seen


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 10 of 22)