Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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was extreme, and he wondered what the end was
going to be. The night deepened, the stars came out,
and a chill wind blew over the mountains, stirring the
foliage in the ravine to plaintive murmurmgs.
Gordon replenished the fire, placed the box near it,
filled his pipe, and sat smoking in moody silence.
Harold tossed uneasily on his bed of leaves. The
fever was running high. There was a hectic flush on
his drawn face, and a fierce gleam in his eyes ; he
threw his arms about and rolled his head from side
to side. The firelight fell on Gordon and transfigured
him. He looked like an evil genius gloating over the
misery of the sick man. He watched him with A
strange, compassionless expression.

" For God's sake give me a big dose of quinine,
Oliver," murmured Harold.

Gordon rose sulkily, and went to the little case in
which a few drugs remained. There were only a few
doses of quinine left. He mixed some with a tea-
spoonful of brandy from a flask, added water, and
handed it to Harold, whose hands shook like aspen
leaves, and he had a difficulty in conveying the tin
pannikin to his bloated, parched lips. He tossed the
fluid down his throat, let the pannikin fall, and with
his teeth chattering, lay back and groaned.



176 " OUT THERE "

" The fever's got a deadly hold of yooi," said Gordon
in a cold, rasping voice. He seemed to be utterly
pitiless.

" Deadly."

" Yes. It's no use shutting one's eyes to facts.
You're doomed."

There was a repellent brutality in the way Gordon
spoke. His expression was hard and stern. Harold
made no reply, but his thoughts were bitter, and with
his glassy eyes he watched his erstwhile friend's face,
and wondered if his brain had really given way.

Presently Gordon rose, knocked the ashes from his
pipe, replenished the fire, and going farther into the
cavern, rolled himself in his blanket, and lay down on
his bed of leaves.

The silence and mystery of the night held the
ravine. The stars watched over the earth, as they had
watched since the world began, long before men with
their passions and hate had defiled it. The stream
flowed hoarsely over the boulders, speaking with the
voice of ages from the heart of the eternal mountains ;
the voice of the infinite into which the human atoms
were caught up and forgotten when they had lived
their little day and turned to dust.



CHAPTER XX

THE LAST DAY

THE morning broke dull and threatening. The wind
had changed in the night. The mountains were
enwrapped in a gossamer veil of mist ; a cold damp
wind sobbed through the ravine.

Gordon rose, went down to the stream and washed
himself, collected a quantity of reserve fuel for the
fire, made a mess of meal and pemmican stewed in the
billy, and placed some of it in a tin dish by Harold's
side, but he allowed it to remain untouched. Death
seemed to have set its seal upon him. His face was
like wet chalk ; his eyes had sunk, his features were
drawn and pinched. Gordon stood for some moments
gazing intently at this human wreck. He addressed
some remark to him, but received no answer. He
loaded his gun, strapped his revolver to his belt, threw
his bag of tools over his shoulder, and was about to
depart, when he was arrested by the sick man's- voice,
a voice that sounded uncanny and hollow as if it came
from a depth.

" You are going? " he said.

The muscles of Gordon's face moved convulsively
a^ one's muscles move under some sudden shock or
surprise.

" Yes. . . . This is the last day! "

"The last day! "

" The last."

Without another word Gordon went off, and the
stones rolled from beneath his feet as he strode down
the nigged slope.

Harold lay for a long time motionless ; he seemed ta
177



178 " OUT THERE "

be dead. The wind rose, and came down the ravine in
hoarse, reverberating gusts that shook the trees and
shrubs until they wailed, as if they were being
tortured. Heavy raindrops began to fall, then
lightning blazed through the low-lying clouds, and in
a few moments was followed by a deafening crash of
thunder that seemed to shake and rend the mountains.
The sick man moved and repeated Gordon's words :

" The last day! "

They had sunk into his brain, and the raging
storm seemed to impart a startling significance
to them. Suddenly, as if impelled by a galvanic
shock, he half sprang up, clutched the tin dish
containing the now cold porridge, and forced some of
it down his throat. The effort exhausted him ; he fell
back again and remained still.

The rain fell in torrents, the roar of waters mingled
with the heavy splitting crash of the thunder, and the
scream of the tortured trees as the fierce wind twisted
and bent them as if determined to tear them up by the
roots. An unusually vivid flash of lightning struck
an overhanging pinnacle of rock in the upper part of
the ravine, and it fell into the depths with multisonous
crashings that startled into life every latent echo of
the ravine with an effect that was unearthly and
awful. For some minutes the noise was deafening,
and above the niagara of sound that rose from the
earth beneath, the artillery of the heavens above
burst into horrisonous salvos, suggestive of the very
firmament having been rent in twain. The tumult of
the warring elements was as if a grand prelude was
taking place by way of introduction to the sounding
of the last trumpet to summon the quick and the dead
to the judgment seat of God.

Harold Preston turned his head feebly on one side,
muttering as a dreamer mutters in his sleep :

" The last day."

Nature, having let loose her stupendous forces,
began gradually to subdue the strife. The lightning
flashed at longer intervals and with less vividness,
the thunder rumbled afar off, the heavy clouds broke
up, the rain ceased, a curtain of mist rose up from
the drenched and battered earth, the ravine seemed



THE LAST DAY 179

full of weeping as the wind died down to a sigh, and
the trembling trees shook the water from their leaves
like tears.

The sick man with an effort rose on his elbow, and
stared about him with ghastly, sunken eyes. Then
with another effort he managed to get on to his knees.
He swayed about like a drunken man, He crawled
with difficulty to where the little medicine chest stood.
His brain was evidently alert, though his shrunken
body had but a remnant of strength. He seized
the quinine bottle and a glass, mixed an unusually
large dose of the drug with brar.dy and water, and
slowly swallowed it. It brought a slight flush to
his pallid face, some light to his eyes, and a slight
accession of strength enabled him to crawl back to
his bed.

As the day waned to its close shafts of fire from the
sinking sun pierced the misty atmosphere, and set it
glowing with a rosy tint. Before the darkness
descended Gordon returned ; he was drenched to the
skin. As he entered Harold moved and gazed at him.
Gordon visibly started. He expected to have found a
corpse, but Harold's powerful constitution .and strong
vitality had so far kept Death at bay.

" Well? " said Harold.

" Nothing," growled Gordon, as he piled fuel on the
still glowing ashes and commenced to strip off his
wet clothes and replace them with dry ones from a
bundle he had used for a pillow. Nothing more was
said between the two men until Gordon had prepared
food and given the invalid a share. Harold forced
himself to eat, though he had no appetite. When the
meal was finished Gordon, contrary to his habit, did
not light his pipe, but seated himself on the box, and
the glow from the fire brought his haggard, drawn
face into strong relief. He remained absorbed in
profound meditation for some time, then suddenly
broke into speech.

Harold had been lying motionless with his eyes
closed. He might have been dead save for a nervous
quivering of the eyelids.

" Are you awake? " Gordon asked sharply.

" Yes."



i8o " OUT THERE "

" I told you this morning that this was the last day.
To-morrow at daybreak I am going."

"Going! "

" Yes."

" You mean you are going to leave me? "

" Yes." The monosyllable was jerked out with a
decisive snap.

Harold made a convulsive movement with his
hands, and pressed his temples with his fingers.

" You have but a few hours to live. Death has got
you in his grip. I could not save you even if I had
any desire to do so, but I haven't, and I do not intend
to risk my own life by remaining here another day.
This mad expedition has been a ghastly failure, and you
are to blame. Had we found the gold we came in search
of I should not have hated you less than I do, but I
might not have desired your death. As it is now "

" Hated me! " Harold moaned.

" Hated you, that is what I said. For years you
have been a shadow on my life, and you came between
rue and the woman who should have been mine. You,
with your sentiments and your dreams, were too
stupid to see that you had made a deadly enemy of
me. I would have dared hell itself to have defeated
you in everything, even the smallest thing, and I
swore that though Mary Gordon might never be mine,
she should never be yours. When you proposed this
expedition to me I understood that a strange chance
had given me the opportunity I had long craved. On
the day we started I mentally determined that you
should never come back alive. The farther we pene-
trated into the wilderness the stronger my hate grew,
and when I found myself alone with you in this
solitude I felt that my opportunity had come, and so
I tried to kill you some days ago, but you moved at
the moment I fared and I missed you."

'Harold dropped his hands from his temples, jerked
himself into a sitting position, and with blazing eyes
cried in a voice that seemed to come from a throat that
was being tightly compressed :

" You coward you damned traitor "

The spasmodic effort took from him all his strength,
and he fell back struggling to breathe.



THE LAST DAY 181

Gordon sat apparently unmoved. His brow was
puckered into a deep frown, his eyes shone like those
of some blood-thirsty animal about to spring upon its
prey. The sick man's arms twitched and jerked, his
hands opened and shut convulsively, his closed eye-
lids trembled, he breathed stertorously, and in a little
while lay motionless. The clouds, which had been
slowly drifting away, unveiled the face of the moon,
and a flood of pale, ghostly light filled the cavern, and
turned the face of Harold Preston to marble. Gordon
kept his eyes fixed for some time on that marble
white face, then he knelt on one knee, and placed his
fingers on Harold's wrist. He pulled the blanket
over the face, rose to his feet, and began to collect his
things together. He took nothing but what he could
carry in his arms or on his back, and when all was
ready he cast a furtive glance at the stilled figure
outlined under the blanket, went out into the moon-
light, and made his way cautiously down the slope to
the gap in the cliff where the horses had been stabled.
One of the two they had brought with them had been
ailing for some days, and had gone very lame. He
took off the hobbles, released it from the head stall
which had tethered it to a post driven into the
ground, and turned it adrift. The other animal he
saddled, strapped his swag in front of him, and rode
away in the moonlight towards the camp which was
about sixty miles away.



The moon waned, and there were some hours of
darkness and silence ere the rising sun pierced the
eastern sky with spears of golden fire, and the western
stars paled and faded before its glory. Nature,
affrighted by the war of the elements on the preceding
night, had recovered, and was now smiling through
her tears like a radiant bride; and as the God of day
slowly emerged above the horizon, the voices of
thousands of living things, that had been hushed to
silence by the darkness of the night, broke out in a
choral symphony of praise. From the moist earth
rose a thin, translucent vapour that gleamed like a
topaz in the sun's rays. The devastating forces of



i82 " OUT THERE "

Nature that had been let loose a few hours ago were
chained, and the ravine was bathed in a vivid light
until it was like a dream-picture of heavenly beauty ;
a beauty that wings the soul and points her to the
skies.

The light penetrated into the cavern and brought
into relief the stilled form that was outlined beneath
the blanket. Presently there was a movement, the
blanket was drawn down, and a face was exposed
that was like the face of a corpse upon which labefac-
tion had already begun its work. Then a thin arm
was stretched out, and an almost transparent hand
was passed over the white forehead. The brain was
beginning to work slowly; coherent thought was
shaping things, and memory was trying to place in
their proper sequence a number of scattered ideas. In
a little while Harold Preston turned on one side and
supported himself on his elbow. His eyes, which had
the glassy, expressionless appearance of a dead fish,
wandered to Gordon's sleeping place, and saw that it
was empty. His gaze remained fixed for some time ;
the dazed brain could not quite grasp the situation,
until the man's whole body was convulsed with a
sudden awakening to the awful truth. He was
deserted, left there to face death in utter loneliness,
utter desolation. It was appalling; but in that
moment, when the full realisation of the treachery of
the man he had once regarded as his friend, came to
him, he seemed to be transfigured ; something fell
away from him, his heart throbbed with a fierce hatred
that was reflected in his white face, and it became
devilish in its expression, an expression only half
human.

" He tried to kill me," he gasped, " and now he has
left me broken and ill to die here alone . . . alone !
. . . To die die." He sprang up with a mighty
effort of will. " No, I will not die until I have killed
this damnable man as he would have killed me. Hear
me, O God ! No there is no God, or He would never
have allowed this accursed man to have triumphed. I
will face the tortures of hell a thousand times rather
than let this human devil escape." There was now



THE LAST DAY 183

an awful light in his eyes, the light of a fierce, con-
suming hatred. His dreams were over ; his altruism
was dead, and every minute of the life that might
remain to him he would dedicate to revenge,
vengeance on the dastardly coward who had betrayed
him.

Overcome by the outburst of passion, he leaned
against the rock wall and panted. The horror of the
situation he had to face sank into insignificance,
compared with the horror of dying before he had over-
taken the traitor and slain him. That done he would
be willing to die, but not before not before. Some
great purpose set his heart beating strong once more,
and sent the fevered blood coursing through his veins
again, bringing a transient flush to his corpse-like
face, and a fierce light of deadly hate in his eyes.

He drew himself up to his full height with a supreme
effort. He staggered out of the cavern and down the
slope, like a man drunk. The will for the time being
triumphed over the body. He was defying Death, and
it was as if Death had stepped aside for a moment in
amazement at the sight of this fever-stricken man
worn almost to a skeleton, daring to wrench himself
free from his ice-cold grip.

He reached the bottom of the ravine, and falling
upon his hands and knees amongst the grass that
fringed the side of the stream, his blazing eyes
searched the ground. A cry burst from his parched
lips, as his groping hand struck something; it was
the double-barrelled pistol Gordon had used when he
made the attempt on his life, and had subsequently
thrown at his feet, and it had remained on the spot
where it fell ever since the exciting incident. It was
wet and rusty ; he snatched it np with a frantic
eagerness, pressed it to his lips as if it were something
precious, whilst a strange expression, half grin, half
a maniacal laugh, contorted his haggard face. With
trembling hand he thrust the weapon into his belt,
rose with difficulty to his feet, staggered across the
stream, and gained the tree in the trunk of which
the bullet intended for him had lodged. The bullet
hole was plainly visible. With what seemed frenzied
excitement he fu: .oled in his pocket, and produced a



1 84 " OUT THERE "

large bladed knife. He opened the blade, and with
shaking hands, whilst his whole frame vibrated, he
dug the bullet out of the tree. It was partially
flattened, but no great skill would be required to adapt
it to the barrel of the pistol. Between his set teeth
and with his breath coming in gasps as if it were
failing him, he muttered :

" Oliver Gordon, you coward and treacherous
hound, this bullet you intended for me shall slay you
I swear by God " ; he threw up his hands heavenwards.
" Hear this oath, God! " He paused, then with awful
bitterness he almost screamed out the words : " No,
there is no God. But by the powers of hell I swear this
man shall die by my hand and this bullet."

In his fever-heated brain the idea prevailed that he
could overtake Gordon in the wilderness and kill him.
But he had used up the last remnant of his strength.
Only a tremendous effort of will had sustained him up
to this point. He had wrestled with death, and now
that his purpose of recovering the pistol and the bullet
was fulfilled, the flickering flame of life sank down
again ; every atom of colour faded from his face, which
took on an ashen grey, the glassiness of his eyes
returned, and with a great sob, as if his heart had
burst in twain, he swayed on his feet, reeled, beat the
air with his hands as if trying to ward oft" something,
then fell forward with a crash, and lay prone and
motionless on the ground.



BOOK II

VENGEANCE
CHAPTER XXI

HAUNTING FEARS

"Are there hearts as bitter and dead as mine
Where the faces throng in the moving line
Numb with the chill of a black despair
That no man guesses or wants to share?
Unto each man once shall the gage be thrown :
He must fight the fight with his soul alone."

IT was harvest time in Glenbar, and not for years had
there been such an abundance of the fruits of the
earth. Nearly ten months had passed since the great
drought broke up, and during those busy months
there had been an almost miraculous recovery, though
it was no miracle for a recuperative country like
Australia. Nature has many moods there, and in all
of them she is thorough. When she smiles her
prodigality is astounding, and she smiles more often
than she frowns, though even her frowns can be
endured with a full-hearted optimism, as soon as her
fickleness has passed, she will shower out her favours
lavishly. In thfct Golden Land of the Southern Seas
God seems to have set His special mark, and there
Nature will take to her bosom those who have eyes
to see, hearts to feel, and teach them to understand
the joy of living and the beauty of the world.

There was joy in Glenbar, for flocks and herds
roamed the land, and it was many years since the
crops had been so good. In the orchards the fruit
trees bent beneath their burden of fruits. All day
long in the golden sunlight men laboured eagerly to
garner that which they had sown, and at night they

185



i86

slept the sweet sleep which, comes to those who have
no care. In such a climate care is of man's own
making.

Jim Dawkius had had a strenuous time, and when
he surveyed the results of his labour he was justifiably
proud, and longed for the return of the " Boss," that
he might see how faithfully Jim had respected the
confidence reposed in him. The ten months had
glided by quickly on the Glenbar Run, and Dawkins
had been so fully occupied with his manifold duties
that he had scarcely realised the flight of time. But
at last he began to wonder what had become of the
expedition, and even to feel a little anxious. Since
that day when Harold Preston had pressed the hand
of his faithful henchman in a parting adieu no sign
had come from the wilderness into which he and his
companions had disappeared. It was true the journey
to the Ranges was a long and trying one, but at the
start it was thought that within six months at the
most some of the party would return to report.

Mary Gordon was frequently at the Run. She was
a great favourite with all there, and Jim Dawkins
regarded her as being under his special care, and was
beginning to feel something like affection for her.
Her devotion had touched him. For a long time she
had been hopeful and optimistic ; but gradually her
hopefulness gave place to anxiety which she could not
conceal, try as che would. Jim Dawkins noticed it
and shared it, though he too tried to conceal his own
feelings. During the harvesting she and her aunt
went up to Glenbar at Jim's request, to make a stay
for a few weeks. She thought of the time when she
might rule there as mistress, and was desirous of
familiarising herself with the varying conditions which
each season brought. Nor was she content to remain
an idle spectator ; she insisted on taking a hand in
the dairy work, and of helping in the ingathering of
the various fruits of the orchards as they came to
maturity. Often and often she turned her eyes wist-
fully to the mysterious west, and yearned for some
cheering message that would end the suspense and
relieve the anxiety. When the west flamed with gold
at the going down of the sun she tried to draw



HAUNTING FEARS 187

hopeful augury from it, but as day succeeded day and
the silence remained unbroken, she was often conscious
of a sinking sensation at the heart, that sensation
which comes to us all when we fear that some loved
one is in peril. Suspense taxes the fortitude of the
strongest, and suspense began to tell upon Mary. She
had many and many sleepless hours, hours when
she was haunted by a presentiment of coming evil.
She tried to free herself from it, but it would not be
shaken off.

One night she and her aunt sat on the western
veranda after supper. It was a night of transcendent
beauty. A soft wind from the west stirred the trees
to dreamy murmurings, and brought with it the
delicate fragrance of new mown hay, and the subtle
scent of the jasmine whose tendrils covered the front
of the house. From the orchards came the musical
piping of tree frogs, and from the earth arose the
sibilant voices of myriads of night insects. A full
moon rode in regal splendour in the heavens, with a
train of attendant cirri that occasionally veiled her
beauty, and then suddenly revealed it that men might
look up and wonder. The land was fxill of strange
shadows that came and went as if they were aerial
spirits who had descended to earth to engage in
revelry. Far away in the west was a deeper darkness,
as if some great purple curtain had been drawn,
shutting it off in a mysterious and eternal silence.
The moonlight lay in patches like molten silver,
adding a touch of mystic weirdness to the scene. The
subdued voices of the things of the night only served
to accentuate the silence of the vast spaces that
stretched beyond the vision and up to the eternal
stars. The "night was impressive with a something
indescribable, intangible, and yet awesome by reason
of its intangibility. This something stirred the soul
with a poetic melancholy, and turned the thoughts to
littleness of human life, to the loved ones who had
gone down into the dust, to the mysteries of eternity,
and the wonder of creation.

Mary reclined in a cushioned chair, absorbed in
meditation. Her eyes wandered across the landscape
to the curtained west that had enfolded the man who



188 " OUT THERE "

held her heart, but w%ich sent back no sign, no
sound to tell her that all was well. The visionary
loveliness of the night with its great silence and its
mysteries depressed her, and she was moved by an
emotion she could not account for ; she felt as if she
wanted to cry out, to weep and weep, why she knew
not, unless it was that she was a prey to unwonted
supersensitiveness, and a vague, shadowy premonition
of tragedy unnerved her. She started up with a sense
of relief, as though a spell had been broken and
released her from some impending horror, when Jim
Dawkins came on to the veranda and spoke to her.

" It's a grand night, miss, isn't it? "

Aunt Margaret, having supped well, had fallen
asleep, and Jim's voice failed to arouse her.

" Oh, Jim, I'm so glad you have come," said Mary.
" I was feeling quite lonely. Please get a chair and
sit down."

Jim drew a chair near hers and seated himself.

" Do you mind my pipe, miss? "

" Oh, no. The smell of the tobacco will make me
think I am really awake. I am afraid I have been


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 14 of 22)