Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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her soul.

When the wave of emotion that had shaken them
both had subsided they talked of their affairs, their
mutual interests, and he made his feelings against
taking her money clear to her. He was resolved to
carry through the arrangements he had come to with



THE AWAKENING 137

her cousin : sign the mortgage bond at once, and the
other agreement as soon as it was ready. Finally she
consented to go out to Glenbar with her aunt' on the
following day, and stay there until the expedition was
ready to start.

He left her with a feeling of regenerated happiness
and peace. He signed the mortgage deed that after-
noon, and rode back at night, under the moon and.
stars, to the home he loved. And with only the many
undertones of the bush pulsing in his ears he felt that
the world was beautiful.

Mary and Margaret Bruce arrived at Glenbar the
following evening. The westering sun was shining
through a mist of rain, and had called into being a
marvellous rainbow ; as Harold ran to the door on
hearing the buggy draw up, his eyes wandered to that
arc of glorious colours which told that God was in His
heavens ; he felt as if it was a good omen to himself,
and by an irresistible impulse slightly inclined hi*
head as an act of reverence.

His guests were conducted to the large, well-
furnished sleeping chamber which had been his
mother's, and where after a brief illness she had folded
her hands resignedly to the Divine will and passed to
eternal rest. His old housekeeper had been busy all
day furbishing the rooms, hanging up spotless white
curtains, spreading the capacious bed with lavender-
scented sheets, and making all gay and sweet with
flowers. In the recess of a window that commanded
a view of the wide stretching plains, she had placed a
large glass vase filled with huge purple trumpet-
shaped blooms that exhaled a languorous scent
pervading the whole apartment. Harofd was a lover
of flowers, as his mother had been, and even during
the drought he had managed to keep one little patch
bright by watering it from the Artesian well.

That night supper was spread in the best dining-
room, and Jim Dawkins and Bill Blewitt were
persuaded by Harold to join the little party. They
felt somewhat bashful in the presence of the ladies,
and it was obvious they were not at their ease, but
Mary and her aunt soon removed all restraint by their
cheerfulness and homely ways. MaVy was glad to



i 3 8 " OUT THERE "

meet Blewitt, and chatted freely with him. He was
still weak, and bore unmistakable traces in his face
of the terrible suffering's he had gone through. He was
very reticent about himself, showed no disposition to
enter into any details, and when Mary asked him if
he thought there was much gold in the place he had
been to in the Ranges, he answered her with a terse,
" Yes, iniss, plenty."

Suddenly she said with a little laugh :

" Would you be surprised, Blewitt, if I told you. I
thought of joining the expedition? "

He raised his head quickly, a flash of fire came into
his bleared and sunken eyes.

" You, miss," he exclaimed in a tone that rang
with alarm. " No, no, miss, you mustn't do that.
It ain't woman's work. You'd die."

Harold was conscious of a little inward start, but he
remained silent. That decisive and bluntly expressed
opinion made him feel thankful that he had not
insisted on Mary going with him, and he mentally
gave Gordon credit for having more sagacity than he
had. The subject was by tacit consent dropped, for
somehow it had produced a feeling of depression. It
made it clear to Mary that the expedition would not
be the mere " outing " she at first thought it would
be. " It ain't woman's work, you'd die," was
suggestive of hardship, risk she had not dreamed of;
but she remained silent.

For another week Harold was kept very busy, and
his men had not an idle moment. The rain now fell
intermittently, and though the sun shone at times, its
fierce heat was subdued by the mist in the air.
Already the land was taking on a tint of green. The
ploughs were at work, the vines were being trained
and pruned, the orchards attended to, the dairy over-
hauled, the shippons cleaned and whitewashed. In
the evening, when his day's labours had ended, Harold
spent happy hours with Mary; he and the two ladies
and Dawkins generally indulged in a game of whist,
and Mary added a touch of real home life by playing
on the piano Harold himself played a little and
singing simple songs in a melodious and well-trained
voice. Harold's happiness was perfect; the influence



THE AWAKENING 139

of his affianced wife in his home made it seem doubly
home to him, and he dreamed of the time when she
would be mistress. He would

" Set her as a. Goddess in his house and pay her reverence there."

At last a letter came from Gordon asking him to
come down and sign the agreement, and he added, " I
am now ready to start at any moment."

That night Harold rode into the town. He dined
with Gordon, who told him he had put all his affairs
in order, had engaged a competent manager to look
after his various interests, and added with a latigh,
" I have even made my will. One never knows what's
going to happen, it's as well to be prepared. And I
may as well tell you that if I peg out before you my
executors have instructions to cancel the mortgage."

Harold's pulses stirred. He felt that he had wronged
the man in thought ; he put out his hand and grasped
Gordon's with something of the old grip of friendship.
Oliver seemed slightly disconcerted at this demonstra-
tion, he was not demonstrative himself, but he made no
remark. The two men went to the gun-room, and
Gordon took pride in showing the new weapons he
had bought.

" By the \vaj-, I picked up quite a curious old second-
hand "pistol the other day in Melbourne," and he
displayed a double-barrelled, percussion-cap weapon
with delicately chasted stock, damascened barrels. A
silver plate bearing a monogram was let into the stock.
The barrels were rifled. " I find it has an effective
range of eight hundred yards. I shall take it with
me, as well as my two colts revolvers. "We may not
want them, but it is just as well to be on the safe
side."

Harold examined the pistol with great interest, and
agreed with his friend that in the hand of a marks-
man it would be more formidable than a black man's
spear and boomerang.

A few days later the little expedition set out from
Glenbar on its fateful journey to the West. One thing
only did Harold forget. That one thing was destined
to lead to tragedy.



CHAPTER XV

IN THE WILDERNESS

" 'Twas a long last look and a mute farewell
To the homes where our fathers had loved to dwell,
And our faces turned to the wild north-west,
And we rode away on a roving quest."

OLIVER GORDON and his men went up to Glenbar the
night before. Mary had suggested to her lover that
she should ride out with the party a day's march, but
lie would not hear of it.

" I could not bear to say my farewells to you in the
presence of others," he told her.

As the hour of parting drew near they were both
deeply affected. Mary tried to keep her spirits up,
but it was a failure.

"I wish now," she said, "that you had never
committed yourself to this journey."

" Why? "

" I hardly know. I suppose I am stupid. I have
made myself a bit nervous by imagining all sorts of
dangers."

Harold endeavoured to reassure her, saying that he
would come back all right, and bring wealth with him.
She and her aunt were to remain for a few weeks at
Glenbar, as Mary wanted to assist in putting the
household in order, as well as to explore the
neighbourhood. The party started at daybreak.
Harold remained behind on the pretence of having a
few details to settle up, and he was to follow on horse-
back two hours later. His real reason was to spend
those two hours in sweet dalliance with Mary. He

140



IN THE WILDERNESS 141

had not quite understood how severe the wrench would
be when the supreme moment to say good-bye came.
While neither of them was inclined to exaggerate,
they did not foolishly underrate the difficulties- and
the dangers of the journey, and they knew that under
the most favourable circumstances they could not hope
to meet again for months.

The morning broke fine, but misty, a saffron-coloured
mist to which the rising sun imparted a blinding
glare. Heavy clouds hung low in the east, indicating
that the suspension of the rain was only temporary.

Mary and her lover strolled into the forest which
marked the eastern boundary of his property. The
tall, umbrageous trees made a solitude filled with a
dim, religious light, and steeped in an impressive
silence that seemed to be intensified by the low
murmur of the underworld, and the drowsy hum of
bees as they languidly hovered over the big blossoms
of the convolvus lianas and the purple and brown
orchids which gemmed the trees with splashes ot
colour.

They did not talk much, for they had exhausted
nearly all they had to say. Harold thought he had
never seen Mary look so beautiful as she did in that
hour of their parting. The light that filtered through
the trees flung a halo of gold around her head, as it
gleamed on her rich brown hair, and her eyes were
raised to his face with a look of pathetic tenderness,
in which her great love for him was expressed with
the eloquence of her soul's emotions. They spoke in
a language that needed no words. But at last words
had to be uttered, and once again Mary renewed her
pledge, " Whatever the years and Fate may bring I
will wait for you, true unto death."

Their lips met ; a sob broke from her, tears blinded
her, and then the final " good-bye " was spoken.
They tore themselves asunder, he mounted his horse,
and with one final glance of farewell rode away into,
the silence.

At first the track trended north for two or three
miles, and then they struck a north-west course, and"
faced the wilderness. They camped that night on the
extreme north-west boundary of the Glenbar lands, and



142 " OUT THERE "

took note of their equipment to make sure that nothing
had been left behind. But they could not remember a
single item that had been overlooked. The horses,
which were in splendid condition, were hobbled for
the night, and as the men consumed their frugal fare
around the camp fire, each one was looking forward
in high hope that the expedition would be crowned
with success.

A fortnight later they found themselves threading a
way through a bewildering maze of swamps, a watery
solitude where black swans seemed to lord it with an
autocratic air, and immense numbers of pigeons,
ducks, plovers, and quail made it their home, fearless
and undisturbed. Although they were not the first
white men to burst into that watery waste, as some of
the early explorers had been there before them, they
were perhaps the very first to spread terror among its
denizens by striking many of them down with swift
death and shivering the silence of ages with their
guns.

Blewitt's experience proved invaluable, as he was
enabled to guide the little party safely through this
track of a thousand streams where there was a riot
of reptile life, and small crocodiles lay like logs of
scabby wood in the slime. The horses at times found
it difficult to obtain firm foothold ; occasionally one
or other would sink up to the knees, and obtain
release only after a desperate struggle. There were
many narrow shaves, and disaster was only averted
by skill and caution. At last this oozy track of
many waters lay behind them, and they entered upon
a sandstone region of burning desolation. The land
here was naked and dry. Such herbage as there was
consisted of tufts of rank, sour grass which the animals
would not touch.

The dangerous death-adder glided about over the hot
sand, and emus dotted the plain, startled occasionally
into wariness, as some huge kangaroo sped with
flying leaps from a real or imagined danger. A few
stunted prickly acacias broke the monotony of the
scene, and were the haunts of colonies of brilliantly
plumaged parrots. Lizards were everywhere,
including the monitor, or fork-tongued, which, if it



IN THE WILDERNESS 143

cannot find a tree to climb, will burrow in the ground.
The heat was terrific; it radiated from the sand as
from a furnace, and the travellers, as well as the
horses, began to suffer from its effects. As they
pushed their way forward into the vast emptiness the
aridity became more marked, even the stunted acacias
and the sparse tufts of sour grass could find no
sustenance. It was the heart of the thirst land where
the sun reigned as a fierce and pitiless sun-god,
subduing every living thing to helplessness, and
exsiccating the earth at that season as if a superheated
blast of air had swept over it, and yet now and again
from the shelter of a wind-formed sand ridge a frilled
lizard, which is half lizard, half kangaroo, would start
up and stare in wonderment. It has bulging eyes, a
formidable-looking mouth, and wears around its neck
a huge saw-edged frill which expands under excite-
ment; when this frill is expanded and the reptile
squats on its hind legs with its long scaly tail moving
with a wavy snake-like motion, its appearance is
demoniacal.

That and the moloch horridus, a spine-covered
lizard of the most repulsive appearance, seemed to be
the only living things that Nature had fitted to make
their home in that heat-blasted desert ; they were
singularly suggestive of the hideous imaginings of a
delirious, drink-sodden brain. These two were,
apparently, the only representatives of reptile life
inhabiting that fire-smitten region, even the dreaded
death-adder gave it a wide berth. The loneliness and
solitude were deeply impressive, whilst the brooding
silence, the fierce splendour of the brazen sky, the
blinding light that flooded the great spaces, and the
awful sterility made it difficult to believe that it was
part of the same work in which there were crowded
cities and roaring floods of human life. It was like
another planet, a dead world given over to eternal
silence.

Every member of the little party, as well as the
horses, began to wilt. During the torrid heat of the
fierce day they had to remain inactive. The horses
were hobbled, though it is doubtful if they would
have roamed far : they stood with drooping heads and



144 " OUT THERE "

open mouths, panting for breath. The men sheltered
themselves as best they could in the shadow of their
tents. They had to shield their eyes from the
affluence of the light and the unchecked brilliancy,
which even in that land of light was extraordinary.

They travelled at night, night that was awesome
with an indescribable weirdness, and heavy with dark-
ness though the multitudinous stars in the velvety
heights made tracks of silver flame.

Here in the mystery of the night these glittering
stars watched over the silent earth, as they had
watched for millions of aeons, long before the
passionate heart of man pulsed with love and hate,
and he had pushed his daring way into the remotest
of Nature's solitudes. When the opalescent glitter of
the dawn heralded the approach of the sun, the weary
men sought rest for themselves and beasts.

Bill Blewitt, who up to this stage had struggled
forward with a grim determination, now began to
show signs of exhaustion, a mental drowsiness that
was ominous. A remarkable incident at this period
was the presence of a huge white eagle that hovered
over the camp from day to day. Sometimes it swept
with majestic wings through ethereal space to the
purple horizon, then turned and flew into the very
eye of the sun again, and would remain for hours, as
it seemed, poised over the little camp. It was like a
desolate, lonely spirit of the desert, a thing of ill
omen that stared with its fearless eyes into the depths
of the burning sun, and hung like a figure of impend-
ing doom over the little group of human atoms that
crawled like tiny insects over the fiery sand.

It had taken the expedition nearly five weeks to
reach this point in the journey, and Blewitt said it
would take them another week to get out of the dry
desert region. Between Gordon and Preston there had
been some slight disagreements over matters of detail.
Gordon had betrayed^tan intolerance of the discipline
that it was necessary to enforce for the well-being of
all concerned, and this had led to a little friction.
Moreover, he had become strangely irritable, and
disputed with Blewitt the question of the route to
follow. Although Oliver knew nothing at all of the



IN THE WILDERNESS 145

region through which they were passing, and Blewitt
had traversed it twice, he would not admit that ,the
latter's knowledge was superior to his own, but
endeavoured to enforce his own views with a high
hand. Blewitt was neither influenced nor daunted,
but appealed to Preston to assert his authority to keep
peace in the canip. This led to heated arguments, and
at times Gordon became sullen and silent ; he seemed
to be suffering in health, and for a few days displayed
symptoms of sunstroke, but they passed off, though
his temper did not improve. He proved himself to
be a man of a callous and unimpressionable nature.

And now Blewitt's exhaustion became so pronounced
that one day he fell down on the burning sand and
lay as if he were dead. Some remedies from the little
medicine chest brought him round, but it was obvious
to everyone that he was a doomed man ; with a will-
power, however, that was astonishing he kept on.
One of the horses had died, the others were worn and
weak, and all the members of the party were weak
and listless from the effects of heat and thirst, when
fortunately they reached a belt of timbered land, and
found some water in a rocky hole. This was a god-
send, and they decided to camp for a few days to
recuperate after the exhausting passage of the desert.
There were shady groves of casuarina or beefwoods, for
which they were truly grateful, but they found them-
selves surrounded by huge ant-hills, and it was some
time before they hit a spot which ensured them freedom
from the attacks of the terrible termites. Their
journey over the brooding desert wastes had taxed
their energies to the utmost. There wasn't a man of
the party but recognised now that the expedition they
had undertaken was one that called for exceptional
powers of endurance, and that many dangers and
difficulties would have to be encountered before their
object was achieved. In these primitive wilds, where
Nature had held undisputed sway for incalculable
ages, pioneers had to carry their lives in their hands.

Harold Preston was far too intelligent to think for
a moment that the continuance of the journey could
be undertaken lightly, and he saw with distress he
could not disguise that they were not to escape



146 " OUT THERE "

tragedy : Blewitt was doomed ; Harold suggested that
an attempt should be made to convey him back as fast
as possible to Gordonstown. Blewitt laughed grimly
at the bare idea of this. Throughout the journey he
had doggedly refused to sleep under a tent, saying that
he wasn't used to luxury. He would roll himself in
his bush blanket, with a coat for a pillow, and lie with
only the star-gemmed sky above him.

On the night of the third day after they had
reached the belt of scrub he lay down at the foot of a
tree within the radius of the camp fire glow. All the
rest of the party were asleep, with the exception of
Harold. He was restless and anxious about Bill, upon
whom the shadow of death had unmistakably fallen.
In the solemn night hours in the forest there were
faint sounds that only served to intensify the silence
the whir of insects, the occasional flutter of a bird,
the low, strange cry of a dingo calling for its mate,
or the click and swish of some night lizard as it seized
its prey.

Occasionally a puff of wind stirred the foliage of the
trees to a sigh; it was like the sigh of some unseen
spirit of the air.

Harold paced backwards and forwards before the
fire, which had burned down to a mass of glowing
embers, until his attention was suddenly arrested by
Blewitt, who, in a weak voice, called " Boss."
Harold went to him and knelt down.

" What is it, old man ? What can I do for you ? "

" You can't do anything, boss. I've reached the
end of my journey."

Bill spoke with difficulty. He was evidently
suffering.

" I should have liked to have held out until we
reached the Ranges, but it ain't to be, boss, it ain't
to be. I'm glad I didn't die in the hospital. I told
you I was a dingo, and I wanted to die like a dingo
in the open."

" Well, now look here, Blewitt," said Harold, who
was deeply moved, " don't exhaust yourself with un-
necessary talk. Have you any relatives you would
wish me to write to; anything you would like me to
send to them? "



IN THE WILDERNESS 147

" I may have relatives, boss, but they are scattered
all over the world, and I don't know where they are.
I'm an old man, and it's years and years since I heard
from anyone belonging to me. I've been wandering
all my life, a vagabond ; it was according to my
nature, boss, and I was content. When I was a young
'un there was a gal I was mighty fond of. I'd a-give
iny life for her gladly, but once when I was stony
broke she took up with another chap and went off to
California with him. That made a devil of me, and I
swore from that day I'd have nothing more to do with
women. But I heard from a pal that the chap she took
up with had been cruel to her, and killed her. Then
I swore to hunt him down and kill him. I found him
in a mining camp in Colorado, and told the boys I
was there to kill him in fair fight. He was a coward
and tried to slink away, but the boys rounded him
up. We fought with revolvers, and I told him he
could fire first, for I knew as the Lord God wouldn't
let him kill me. He fired and missed. Then I gave
him another chance, and he missed again. The third
shot was mine, and I plugged him through the head.
My poor gal was revenged. The boys buried him, and
I came to this country. I've never done no wrong to
any man, boss, and I've saved the lives of some at
the risk of my own; now I'm going to hand in my
checks, and the Lord God, W 7 ho wouldn't let that chap
in Colorado kill me, is a-going to judge me fair and
square, and I ain't afraid."

He had managed to tell in his crude way this tragic
little story with great difficulty; his breath failed him
at times, and it was evident that only a tremendous
effort of will-power enabled him to go through with it.
Harold felt his own powerlessness in such a supreme
moment. The occasion was too solemn for argument,
or even comment, and poor Blewitt's simple faith was
too impressive, too grand to be disturbed by any
dogma, any narrow doctrine of ethics. The mystery of
the night was around them ; the silence of the wilder-
ness was eloquent with a mighty something, deeper,
more appealing, more moving than mere formal, word-
uttered prayer. The unwearied and watching stars,
which had witnessed all the tragedies of the sinful



i 4 8 " OUT THERE "

world of men, seemed to shine with a promise of hope
that there were peace and rest for the tired heart of
man as he drifted out to the great unknown, and the
night wind breathed softly through the trees as if it,
too, had a message of hope to tell. Harold raised
himself up, and paced to and fro again with a sorrow
too deep for words moving him to unwonted emotion.
Once more the old man called him.

" Boss."

Harold knelt down beside him again.

" You was good to me, boss, and when my chums
died out here one after another I felt I'd been left that
I might tell you the secret of the gold find. You was
the only man in all the world I cared to tell it to.
But, boss, I don't like that other chap, Gordon. He
ain't square, he ain't white. Watch him, and don't
let him get the upper hand of you. And now, boss, I
want to sleep, and you must go to sleep. Good night."

There was something in the way Blewitt spoke that
forbade reply. Sleep held everything save the languid
night wind and the things of the night that stirred in
the great spaces of mystery, Preston was exhausted ;
his whole being was yearning for rest. His brain was
weary, his heart ached. He stretched himself on the
ground, his face buried in his arms, and in a few
minutes oblivion held him.

The wood pigeons began to coo, the parrots to
chatter, the magpies to scream; the forest was bathed
in saffron light, and the East pulsed with the many-
coloured fires of the new day. The camp was already
astir, some of the men had gone out in search of the


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 11 of 22)