Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

. (page 12 of 22)
Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 12 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

horses. Harold rose from his hard bed, stretched
himself, and then recalling the incident of the night,
he glanced at Blewitt. His tired face seemed to be
ten years younger; his lips were parted as if with a
smile. Harold stooped and covered the face with the

Bill Blewitt had gone to the Lord God, Who would
judge him " fair and square."



THERE in that lonely forest, far, far beyond the
confines of civilisation, there was a scene of tragic
sorrow, not demonstrative sorrow, but all the more
touching by its muteness. Harold felt as if he had
lost an old and tried friend. Whatever old Bill
Blewitt's sins and faults were, he had the heart of a
true man, and was fearless even when he knew that
grim death had clutched him. Uncultivated and
rough as. he was, he had the stuff in him that heroes
are made of.

At noon that day some of the men dug a grave at
the foot of a great she-oak. Blewitt's body was sewn
up in his bush rug and reverently laid to rest. Gordon
seemed the least moved of any of the group. Harold
recited from memory a few passages from the burial,
service, and the impressively simple ceremony closed
with all the men, with the exception of Gordon who
stood apart, repeating the Lord's prayer. A rough
cross was made and placed firmly in the ground at
the head of the grave, over which a cairn of stones
was built, and Pete Radley, who was handy with his
knife, cut a slab of bark, about twelve inches square,
from the tree, and on the bared trunk carved Bill
Blewitt's name, and a paraphrase of the dying man's
own words : " The Lord is going to judge him fair
and square."

The mournful duty ended, the fire was beaten out,
the camp struck, and the journey resumed for another
ten miles. The following morning, when preparations


150 " OUT THERE "

for a fresh start were being made, Gordon and Harold
sat smoking together on an empty case in which they
had carried some of their provisions. They had been
silent for a time. Blewitt's warning words about
Gordon, words he had uttered with his last breath
which closed with that final " good night," had sunk
very deeply into Harold's mind, and in spite of him-
self his distrust of Oliver increased. It was not in
his nature to cherish ill will or think evil of anyone
lightly. A man must have injured him very
grievously indeed if he could not have forgiven him.
They had not spoken about Blewitt since the old man
had been placed in his grave. Now Gordon said with
startling abruptness :

" Where's that map and pocket-book of the route,
and the gorge in the mountains that Blewitt
sketched? "

Bill, in the course of his many wanderings, had
acquired a smattering of geographical knowledge, and
was not without some ability to sketch in a crude
way. While he was staying at Glenbar preparatory
to the start, and as if with some premonition of his
death during the journey, he made a small map, tracing
the compass directions of the route, and indicating
certain points in the mountains as bearings, with
approximate distances, as a guide to the precise spot
where he had discovered the gold. His pocket-book,
with many useful notes in it, he had given to Harold
when he was at the hospital.

" I have it here," said Harold carelessly as, thrust-
ing his hand into his breast pocket, he drew forth a
flat leather case and opened it. It contained some
letters, but he searched in vain for the map and
pocket-book. " Umph, that's curious. It must be in
my bag." He rose and went to where their baggage
was piled up near one of the tents. There was but
little baggage, each man's belongings was contained
in a canvas bag marked with his name. Harold
had a writing-case containing writing materials,
a diary, and some letters. Again his search for the
map and book was fruitless. His face assumed
a thoughtful expression, he bit his finger-nails,
and pondered for some minutes; then returning to

Gordon, who still sat on the box and smoked, he
said :

" I'll be hanged if I haven't left the packet behind in
niy office. It is the one thing I have overlooked."

" My God, the one thing, the chief thing," cried
Gordon passionately as he sprang to his feet, and his
eyes flashed fire. " Well, upon my word, you're an
unmitigated ass ! Your stupidity spells disaster unless
I am very much mistaken."

Harold wilted a little. That it was a stupid over-
sight he admitted to himself, but Gordon's coarseness
and brutal manner stirred his blood.

" Look here, Oliver," he said with some heat and
determination, " don't speak to me in that hectoring
tone. I am not your servant nor your inferior."

Gordon swung round, he seemed to quiver with

" By heaven " he checked himself with a great

effort. " Well, we won't quarrel. But without that
map and now that Blewitt's gone, we are on a wild-
goose chase, it seems to me. And this is the precious
expedition that ycm wanted Mary Gordon to join."
He walked quickly away as if afraid to trust himself
to say more.

The last insult stung Harold to the innermost
recesses of his heart. When he had agreed to Mary's
suggestion that she should accompany them it was
with a sanguine light-heartedness, and a lack of
knowledge of the difficulties likely to be encountered.
But Gordon's taunt virtually implied that with a
cruel selfishness he would have placed Mary in
imminent peril of her health and life. The taunt was
unjust, and it hurt him very much. After a mental
struggle with himself he came to a resolve. He called
all his companions around him. He mounted the box
and addressed them.

" Boys, the death of our companion and guide is a
serious blow to us, all the more serious because I have
unfortunately come away without a little map he
made and placed in my possession. That map would
have enabled us to have located the gorge where he
found the gold. But I have inadvertently left it
behind. I make no excuse for my carelessness. It

152 " OUT THERE "

seems to me, however, my duty to put this matter
before you. That desert track has tried us. We have
lost one of our n umber and one of our horses, and it
will be necessary to harbour our resources in view of
contingencies. We know what lies behind us, but
before us is the unknown. Now it is for you to say
whether we shall return in our track or go forward."

Pete Radley and George Grindon spoke as in one
voice, and said " Go forward," but Gordon and his
men remained silent. Then after a pause Radley
a-dded :

" I see no reason yet for turning back. We ain't
schoolboys out for a holiday, but men with men's work
to do. I for one ain't coward enough to shirk the
work. Let us go through with it."

" I'm of that opinion too," said Grindon.

Harold looked at Gordon's men, then at Gordon
himself, who was standing with his bare arms folded
across his chest, and a sullen, brooding expression on
his face. Their eyes met.

" If my men are willing to go on I will go," he
said sternly.

" Of course if you go, governor, we'll go," they
both answered.

" That settles it, then. There's nothing more to be
said. Let's strike camp at once. We are wasting
time here," said Harold.

The men turned to, and began to get the horses
together. Preston went to Gordon with outstretched

" Look here, Oliver Gordon, don't let there be any
rankling ill feeling between us. We are in the
wilderness, we are all dependent upon each other, and
it is no time for bickerings or unfriendliness."

For some moments long moments Gordon unmis-
takably hesitated to grasp the proffered hand, until
with dramatic suddenness his whole manner changed
as if some new thought had come to him. He laughed,
but there was no heartiness in the laugh.

" You are rather exaggerating matters," he said.
" I confess I have shown some irritability. Perhaps
the tramp over that sweltering desert affected me and
my liver went wrong. However, it's all right now,


we'll work together. I caine out with a purpose, and
I ain going to accomplish it."

The last sentence seemed to have a hidden meaning,
but it passed unnoticed,

Harold was glad, but he did not fail to note that
there was a lack of sincerity in Gordon's manner,
though he made no comment. His distrust of his
companion was not lessened.

Soon the little party were on the move, travelling
in a north-west and by-west course. They were able
to supply their larder with fresh food, as wood
pigeons, wild duck, and teal were plentiful. As they
forged ahead slowly, for the horses experienced a
difficulty in getting through the dense undergrowth,
they became depressed with the monotony of the
forest, and on the third night a heavy storm broke
over them, and the rain fell in torrents, rendering
their position miserable in the extreme. A gale
raged, and the roar of wind and rain was terrific ; many
a tree was struck by lightning, and not a few were
uprooted by the gale. The darkness became intense,
whilst the downpour made it impossible to keep a fire
burning. It was a night of horror; it tried their
nerves and tested their endurance to the utmost. The
morning broke sullen and gloomy. The wind was still
strong, but the rain had become a fine drizzle. The
horses were in a miserable plight, and some of the
stores had got soaked with water.

On the top of a slight eminence, which Harold
ascended in the hope of getting an outlook over the
country, was a large cairnlike mass of rock. The face
of one side at the base had been denuded, forming a
sort of cave, which afforded the drenched and weary
men shelter for a couple of days ; they were enabled to
keep a large fire going, and thus obtain hot food
and drink. The view which the summit of the cairn
afforded showed the forest stretching on for incalcul-
able miles. Here another misfortune befell them.
One of the horses got its foot into a crab hole, and in
its struggle to extricate itself broke its leg and had
to be shot. It took them eight days to get out of the
recesses of the dismal jungle, during which it bad
become like a steaming cauldron.

154 " OUT THERE "

At length the land began to fall away, the trees
were sparse with scarcely any undergrowth, and after
a long gentle descent they found themselves on the
edge of a plain dotted with a scanty growth of
spinifex, and evidently the home of vast numbers of
kangaroos, which could be seen either peacefully
feeding or bounding in wild flight over the hummocky
plain. The weather had improved, and there was a
crystalline clearness in the air. Far away on the
horizon a jagged line of hills could be seen; the men
cheered ; here were the Ranges at last. Seen from that
distance, they seemed to "rise up like an unbroken
wall with a serrated top, the whole covered with a
dark purple mantle. When the sun set that evening
these far-off hills became mystical and wonderful with
ever-changing lights. Backed by the flaming gold of
the Western sky, they assumed an ethereal and
visionary aspect touched with colours from Nature's
palette, compared with which the pigments of men
are dull, cold, and lifeless. It was the poetry of
colour, the soul of a mirage of heaven itself. As the
gold of the background changed to hot red, splashed
with fierce yellow bands, and edged with delicate sea-
green, an amethystine haze as delicate and soft as the
violet on a tropical butterfly's wing lay over the
mountains. The red, the yellow, and pale green
blended, deepened and faded until the trailing robe of
the jewelled night swept them out of human vision.

Harold had stood entranced, spellbound. The
gorgeousness of Nature ever held him, and aroused all
the artistic emotions of his soul ; and the superb
transformation scene; the wonderful display of light
and colour, the startling atmospheric effects that with
a sort of cunning alchemy, turned the cloddy earth to
liquid gold, drew from him a wordless reverence for
the beauty and splendour that are of God. The stars
broke out in the eternal spaces of the heavens,
glittering with the brightness of burnished steel that
sent out spears of silver light piercing the robe of
night, until the earth below was bathed in a pearly

Harold was suddenly startled from his reverie by a
voice that said :


" Yonder is our Mecca. Somewhere in the heart of
those Ranges lies the buried gold that has lured us
from our homes, across the burning wastes, through
the gloom of the forests to perhaps God knows

He started as though something had struck him, a
something that crashed like a violent discord in a
soul-moving symphony. He turned with a shudder,
and saw a pallid, tortured face.

It was the face of Oliver Gordon.



" WELL, you are a Job's comforter, upon my word,"
replied Harold. " I see nothing to be despondent

" No, I suppose not. You always were a sanguine
chap, full of fancies. You are not practical. You
entered on this business as though you thought it was
going to be a promenade. And so little did you
calculate the difficulties of it that you would have
brought Mary Gordon with you ! "

Harold's face flamed, and his eyes glittered with an
anger that was rare with him.

" Look here, Oliver," he snapped, " unless you wish
to pick a quarrel don't rub that into me any more.
What is it that is rankling in your mind ? You seem
to have completely changed. If you have any charge
to make against me, why don't you speak out like a
man ? What is the grievance you are nursing ? Why
do you persist in reminding me about Mary, as though
you thought I was dastard enough to lead her wilfully
into danger ? "

It was too dark for Harold to note the effect of his
little outburst on his companion. Could he have done
so, the belief which he still entertained of Gordon's
faithful comradeship might have received another
shock. Gordon drew himself up, and there was
xindisguised bitterness in his tone and manner as he
replied :

" I confess that I have changed, and I curse my
folly for ever having joined you."



For the first time since he had known him Harold
began to think that Gordon was a coward and feared
for his own safety. He gave a sharp expression to
his thoughts.

" If you are afraid," he said incisively, " start back
at daylight with your two men, two horses, and half
the stores. I'm going forward. Please understand
that nothing you can say will shake my determination.
I shall proceed even if I go alone."

Gordon did not reply for some moments. He made
a movement that was heard rather than seen by
Harold, who started back with a vague, instinctive
feeling that his erstwhile friend intended to strike

" I am not afraid in the sense you mean," he said
hotly, " and if anyone else had charged me with
cowardice I'd have beaten him to a jelly. I am not
afraid of anything but myself. If you go forward so do
I, let that be understood. I'll pit myself against you."

He snapped out the last words, as it were; there
was a subtle meaning in them. He turned abruptly
and walked away into the darkness.

Harold stood for some time ruminating on what his
companion had said, and was exercised in his mind
to determine whether it conveyed a threat, or was the
boastful utterances of a man whose pride and feelings
had been wounded. One sentence haunted Harold :
" I am not afraid of anything but myself," Gordon
had said. What did he mean by that?

Suddenly their meaning seemed to dawn upon
Harold. His friend's health was failing, and he was
obsessed with anxiety that his mind was subject to
some sudden change calculated to deprive him of his
self-control, and might even lead to tragedy. This
deduction seemed to Harold the only possible one. It
troubled him greatly, and while it took from him the
anger that Gordon's taunts and manner had aroused,
it made him restless to a degree that kept him awake
for hours; rolled in his blanket in the open, he lay
and gazed at the steel-blue stars, trying to determine
what was the right thing to do under the circum-
stances. Presently the stars grew dim, dimmer and
faded, hidden by a curtain of fleecy amorphous clouds

158 " OUT THERE "

that scudded like smoke over the face of the heavens.
He fell asleep in a little while from sheer weariness,
waking soon afterwards with a start as a roaring
sound filled the air. He sprang to his feet. It was
dawn, a pale lemon-coloured dawn with a clouded sky.
"A brickfielder " was blowing; that is, a burning
south-west wind that drove the sand before it like a
wall. The camp was aroused, and the men had to
envelop their heads in their blankets to prevent the
dust from blinding and choking them.

Gordon kept to his tent all day, and Harold did not
disturb him. This great dust-storm detained them
prisoners where they were. Neither men nor horses
could have faced it and lived. Not until the night
drew on did the storm abate. It was a starless,
melancholy night, impressive with a brooding silence
as if Nature was intent on preparation for some further
display of her majesty and power. But the morning
broke sullen and calm ; the atmosphere was opaque
with, fine dust which had been carried to great heights
and was now slowly floating down to the earth again.
Before striking camp Harold was determined to try to
come to a clear understanding with Gordon, who
seemed to have intentionally avoided him during the
last twenty-four hours. Still obsessed \vith that
haunting fear that his companion was the victim of
mental depression that might become serious if he
remained in those solitudes, he again urged him to
start back at once, and return to Gordonstown with
all possible speed.

"And you; what are you going to do? " Gordon
asked calmly.

" I am going on, as I have already told you.
Although you have dubbed me stupid and an ass, I
am not easily turned from a purpose. When I have
once made up my mind to do a thing, I do it, even
at the risk of my life."

He could hardly have been indifferent to the
remarkable change that this little speech produced in
his erstwhile friend. Gordon's pale face took on a
deep flush of red, the result of some sudden emotion;
and there was a gleam in his eyes, fraught with a
fierce determination, even some obscure but terrible


meaning, while the corners of his mouth relaxed as ii
with a smile, but it was the workings of the muscles
into an expression of supreme contempt. And when
he spoke there was a frigidity in the tone of his voice
which only too surely betrayed his feelings.

" Can you persuade yourself, Preston, even for a
moment, that I am inferior to you in that respect. You
have known me now for a good many years, and 1
don't think you can recall a single instance when I
have shown less determination than you to accomplish
a purpose. I've got a purpose to fulfil now, and I
intend to fulfil it even at the risk of my life. Now let
us understand each other once and for all. You are
going on to the Ranges } so am I : we go on together
unless you wish to split the camp up into two sections,
in which case there would be a rivalry that might
possibly become dangerous."

" I have no such wish, but I agree with you that
we should understand each other, once and for all.
If you are disposed to be quarrelsome and pragmatic,
the sooner we ; separate the better. I don't know why
your friendship should have cooled "

" Don't you ! " this with a peculiar intonation that
was significant.

" No."

" Perhaps I can give you a reason. There is an
immanent something in each of us which struggles for
mastery. I am intolerant of restraint, I have never
been under the dominant influence of anyone "

" But I don't want to dominate you."

" As a child," continued Gordon, without noticing
the interruption, " I was wayward and self-willed.
Even now that I am no longer a child those faults, I
suppose you consider them faults, are stronger than
ever, ingrained in fact, and nothing can eradicate
them. Now so long as there is any rivalry between
us there is bound to be friction."

" There is no rivalry," said Harold in amazement.

" Oh, yes, there is."

" Then I am not aware of it."

Gordon shrugged his shoulders.

" Then it exists in my imagination only," he said
with biting irony.

160 " OUT THERE "

" Surely it does," answered Preston, agape with an
astonishment he could not conceal.

" Very well, let us leave it at that," said Gordon
with another lifting of his shoulders. " But I would
add that I am too individualistic to play second
fiddle to anyone."

Again it occurred to Harold that his friend's peculiar
state of rnind was the result of some physical
disturbance arising from the hardships: and climatic
conditions they had been compelled to endure. Any-
way, he had revealed a phase of his character which
was new to Harold, who, out of his inherent altruism,
he was disposed to disregard, or at least to attach no
serious import to it. This mental attitude displayed
itself in a laugh of real sincerity, and he said with
kindly intonation :

" Well, old fellow, we'll cease our rivalries if they
really exist. I prefer friendship to enmity, peace to

" That's all right," said Gordon without the
slightest indication that he was touched or impressed.

Once more the little party were on the move, and
they struck out over the hummock}'- plain towards the
alluring Ranges, which were now hidden from view
by the dust haze and the clouds that hung low,
presaging rain, which in a few hours began to fall.
That night the camp was pitched beside a water hole
near a clump of spinifex bushes.

Next morning the rain had ceased. It had washed
the air, the clouds were dispersing, the sun asserted
itself again, and the Ranges slowly emerged like a
mirage floating in dreamy splendour on a sapphire sea.

Two days more travelling brought them to a vast,
rolling, boulder-strewn plain, through which stream-
lets meandered, and lush grass afforded good feed for
the horses. This was the beginning of the foothills
among which they soon found, themselves. The air
was salubrious and bracing, and the pleasant gurgling
of flowing water was like a blessed dispensation to the
wearied animals and men, whose powers of endurance
had been taxed to the utmost by the aridity of the
wastes through which they had been travelling.


Australia is a land of violent contrasts : its vastness,
variety of climate, sterility, and fecundity give to it
a character entirely its own. The solitude of this
richly clothed and well-watered region in which the
little party now found themselves impressed Harold
deeply. The potentialities of this part of the country
were too apparent to be overlooked, and in fancy he
saw the time, surely not far distant, when the
mountainous region would resound with human
activities, and civilisation and commercialism would
turn its latent riches to account. The axe would ring,
sawmills would buzz, villages and towns would spring
up, whilst the passions, jealousies, and wickedness of
men would produce discord where all was now peace
and purity.

Up to this point the expedition had been alone in
the wilderness, and no trace of the aborigines had
been seen. It was known that the blacks gave the
thirst lands a wide berth, but in the fertile hills where
game abounded they wandered in savage freedom,
lords of all they surveyed, as they had wandered for
untold ages. Their resentment of the white man's
intrusion had led to deadly encounters. The
possibility of being harassed by natives was one that
could not be overlooked, and the necessity of care and
vigilance forced itself upon all of them.

As the little band pushed its way through the
scrub and ravines, a sharp look out was kept, and at
night each man took it in turns to act as sentry, but
not a trace of a black man was seen. For several days
the party travelled with difficulty through this hilly
country, which was particularly trying to the horses,
although they were able to obtain good food and
water. One evening, after having overcome many
obstacles, they rounded the base of a high hill covered
with mallee and tea-tree scrub, and suddenly found
themselves in what can only, be described as a delight-
ful green glade, shut in "by precipitous rocks and
rugged hills. A stream of water flowed through the
glade, arid there were indications that game abounded.
That night the camp was pitched beside the stream,
and in the lingering twilight Gordon went off with
his gun, returning in about an hour with three ducks,


162 " OUT THERE "

a pigeon, and a wild goose, which made an excellent

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 12 of 22)