Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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those tense, uplifting moments which gave colour and
poetry to Harold's life. If Mary did not exactly
understand her cousin, Harold was like an open book
to her. She saw deep into his soul, as a woman sees
when all her faculties are alert with love ; and she
thought of the years that lay before them, years that
seemed so full of promise, when they could live their
lives together, linked by a bond of mutual love and
trust. They might be commonplace lives, moving in
a very circumscribed sphere, but they would be happy
because sanctified by love and usefulness.

All this might have come to pass, nay, assuredly
it would have come to pass had they married.
She would have been his wife at any moment, but he
had scruples about a certain instability in his financial
position ; his pride held him back until such time as
he could feel independent of her small fortune. Then
came that cruel drought : it was destiny ; and Bill
Blewitt with the report of vast deposits of gold out in
the Western Ranges : it was destiny again. And now
Mary Gordon turned her eyes, dim with tears at
times, to the shrouded and mysterious west which had



202 " OUT THERE "

taken her lover into its silence and held him. Ever
since that little episode of the picnic, which seemed so
far away in the past, her days and years had beer
very happy. She lived no idle life. She interested
herself in a hundred and one things, and particularly
in the hospital, which had proved such a useful
institution in the town. She could not bear the
thought of being a nonentity in the community in
which her lines were cast. She determined to qualify
herself to the fullest possible extent to be a worthy
helpmate to Harold, when as his wife she would rule
as mistress over Glenbar. She wanted to do something
with her life, so that when the time came to give it
up she could fold her hands calmly with a conscious-
ness that she had not frittered the precious years
away. It was that feeling that had induced her to
spend so much time on the Run during Harold's
absence.

The little settlement consisted of about two hundred
souls, men, women and children, in busy times, and
all the men and most of the women were in Harold's
employ. She knew that it was the. desire of his heart
to largely increase the number ; he had long be'en
pondering over a scheme for greatly extending his
dairy operations, and setting up on some part of his
estate a factory for preparing and cleaning his own
wool and hides for the market. The drought had hung
that scheme up for a time, but she felt sure that on
his return he would endeavour to give it practical
shape. It was an age of progress. Gordonstown was
extending year by year, and it was in the natural
order of things that Glenbar must expand sooner or
later.

Jim Dawkins loved now to have her and her aunt
at the Run, for Margaret Bruce was exceedingly useful
in the house, and Mary not only helped him with his
accounts, but she looked after the welfare of the
women, and started a little school where the children
might be taught the rudiments of knowledge.

The harvesting came to an end. It had been a
glorious harvest, and the work was carried out under
ideal conditions of weather. The sheep-shearing would
follow, then the cattle would be rounded up, and a



OUT OF THE SILENCE 203

selection made of tho?e that were fit for the market.
Through all these phases of the farm life Mary's
anxiety about the expedition continued.

The boundary line of the Glenbar lands on the
western side was a full mile away from the house, but
Harold had grazing rights far beyond that, and at
certain times of the year the shepherds led their flocks
almost up to the swamps. Many a time now Mary
would ride to the boundary and to the limits of the
grazing grounds, and look away to the West with an
intense desire to go on and on in the hope of obtaining
some news. But the wilderness was pitiless. The
vast sunlit plains held a silence that was as the silence
of the sphinx. And out there where the earth melted
into the blue horizon that flamed with many-coloured
fires at the close of day, there was the mystery
of the unknown. It tantalised her until her heart
ached and her e}-es filled with tears. Sometimes she
felt angry with her womanhood, which set a limit to
what she could do. A hardy man on a good horse,
accompanied by a pack horse, might have pushed out
hundreds of miles, and gained some information. But
then a reaction set in, and she thanked God that she
was a woman whose life was to be made beautiful by
companionship with the man she loved. But oh, it
was weary waiting. Why did he not come ?

So the days passed and autumn drew on. She and
Margaret Bruce were preparing to leave for their
home. They had interests in Gordonstown that could
not be neglected too long. She tried to be cheerful, to
think cheerfully, but it was impossible to divest her-
self of an anxiety that caused her many painful hours.
The pain of suspense became, at times, almost
unbearable, and she was a prey to a restless nervous-
ness that began to tell upon her. Aunt Bruce
endeavoured to comfort the girl ; she spoke hopefully,
though she did not feel hopeful. Then within a few
days of the time fixed for their departure from Glenbar
the silence was broken with dramatic suddenness. It
was dinner hour : there was a lull in the work of the
farm, the toilers were recuperating their energies with
their frugal midday meal. A horseman galloped at
breakneck speed across the land, coming from the



204 " OUT THERE "

boundary, and reined in his foam-flecked horse at the
entrance to the house so abruptly that he nearly
threw it on to its haunches. The man was Joe Peterson,
a stockman. He was drenched with perspiration and
excited. He cooeed, and one of the men ran out from
the dinner-room.

" Here, take the horse to the stable. Where's Mr
Dawkins? " he said rapidly and excitedly.

Dawkins and several others came out.

Peterson had a message to deliver. He and several
other stockmen had been out for some days in the
grazing lands, rounding up the cattle that had strayed.
The previous evening they had seen a light far away
to the westward which had puzzled them. It was a
flickering light, shooting up and fading away alter-
nately. A light of that kind out in the wilds puzzled,
even alarmed them, and at first they thought that
some of the blacks had encamped there, though very
rarely indeed did the blacks venture so near the
settlement unless bent on mischief. The stockmen did
not venture out in the darkness, not knowing what
forces they might have to encounter; but all night
they kept watch, and as soon as the dawn broke,
mustered together, examined their revolvers, and rode
in a body to the West, each man carrying a heavy
stockwhip. They rode warily for nearly ten miles,
until they came upon a party of haggard, ragged,
exhausted white men encamped near a pool. It was
the survivors of the expedition which had set out for
the West with such high hopes more than a year
ago, and it was the light of their camp fire that had
attracted the attention of the stockmen the previous
evening.

Oliver Gordon, gaunt and worn and ill, his clothes
hanging in rags about him, came forward and greeted
them. The party was in the last stage of exhaustion.
Harold Preston, Pete Radley, and one of Gordon's men
had been left behind in the wilderness dead. They
had lost all their horses. The last two they had
slaughtered for food. They were making straight for
Glenbar, but even the few miles that separated them
from the settlement seemed more than they could
accomplish without assistance, and so on the previous



OUT OF THE SILENCE 205

evening they made a huge fire, hoping that it would
be seen and bring- them assistance. Such was the
message that Joe Peterson, who had ridden for dear
life, had to deliver.

Harold Preston was dead !

Jim Dawkins, rugged and tough as he was, broke
down when he heard the news. But he bucked himself
up. He thought of Mary, and gave orders that the
men were to finish their meal, then quietly make up a
little relief-party, and convey food out to the members
of the expedition, while he himself undertook to break
the news to Mary.

Harold Preston iras dead!

Jim Dawkins' rough, sympathetic nature was stirred
to its depths. Never before had he faced such an
ordeal. It cut him up. It unmanned him. He could
face danger fearlessly, but this strained him to break-
ing point. In order to steady himself, calm his-
nerves, he superintended the relief preparations. Four
men, with Peterson at their head, started off with four
spare horses, and a laden pack horse. Then Jim went
to seek Mary. Quietly as the preparations had been
made, Mary gathered that something unusual was
going on, and had come on to the veranda to inquire
what it meant, an'd she and Dawkins faced each
other. She saw the little party riding towards the
boundary.

" Is anything the matter, Jim ? " she asked with an
accent of alarm.

For some moments he was utterly at a loss what to
say, how to answer. It was an emergency he was
scarcely equal to. He made an ineffectual effort to
look bright.

" Well, miss. I'm sending some things out to the
expedition."

" Things out to the expedition," she gasped
breathlessly. " You've had news? "

" Yes. Joe Peterson was in the grazing lands
yesterday, and saw their camp fire."

"Well, well? "

" They are about twenty miles off. They'll be in
to-morrow."

Something in his manner startled her. She fixed her



2o6 " OUT THERE "

eyes upon him. A spasm of faintness seized her and
almost deprived her of breath.

'Jim, you are concealing something," she said witk
a vehemence that reduced him to a pitiable state of
distress. " For God's sake don't keep me in suspense.
What is it ? "

" Well miss. They seem to have had a pretty
rough time

" And Harold Mr Preston is he well? "

" He's stayed behind, Joe Peterson says."

" Stayed behind! "

She felt as if she were going to fall, and grasped the
railing of the veranda to steady herself. Jim put out
his hands to catch her, but with a violent effort of will
she recovered and straightened herself up.

" Jim, have a ho^se saddled. I'll go with the men,"
she said peremptorily.

" No, miss, you'd better not do that. It's men's
work."

" But why has Mr Preston remained behind? "

" Two of the other chaps have also been left," said
Jim with diplomatic prevarication. His tongue refused
to tell her the truth. -

A ray of hope came to her. Harold and two men
had been left behind. There was nothing ominous in
that apparently. But she put the question.

" Why have they stayed behind? "

" Mr Gordon will give you all the news when he
comes in, so keep yourself calm."

"Gordon is with the return party?" she asked
breathlessly.

" Yes. I expect they will be in to-morrow, and then
we shall get all the details."

Mary's first fears were allayed ; Jim excused himself
on the score of some duties to attend to, and was glad
to get away. Never before in the whole course of his
life had he come so near betraying his emotion by
tears.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MESSAGE FROM THE WEST

FOR some days there had been signs of a change in
the weather, and as the evening drew on a high wind
arose, accompanied by rain ; the night was wild and
stormy.

Mary did not see Jim Dawkins again that day. He
purposely kept away. He could not face her. He had
misled her, but he felt that Gordon would break the
news to her better than he could. He was miserable
enough himself. The news of Harold's death was a
shock that weakened his manhood.

All night long the weather continued bad. The
wind blew in squalls, at times rising to a gale. It
shook the house, and dashed the rain against the
windows with a violence that was alarming. At any
other time such an occurrence would not have affected
Mary ; now it made her nervous, irritable. Sleep was
banished. Her thoughts worked rapidly. Why had
Harold remained behind ? Why did he not leave
Gordon and himself come, knowing how terribly
anxious she would be ? Was it not a little unkind of
him to remain ? This line of reasoning made her
angry with herself. It reflected harshly on him, and
she had no right to be harsh in the smallest degree
until she knew the reason for his remaining behind.
Of course he had written to her. Gordon would bring
the letter. In a few hours she would know every-
thing. Thus she tortured herself with doubts, hopes,
fears. Her woman's strength of endurance was taxed
to its uttermost limits. The long period of suspense
had! told upon her, now this uncertainty was like a

207



2 o8 " OUT THERE "

reat weight that was crushing her. She made a
esperate effort to be brave, strong. But the
unknown, the vague, the indefinite ; the menace with-
out a name that lies hidden in darkness tests even
iron nerves. When one knows what one has to
encounter it is different. A truly courageous man or
woman can face the certainty of death without
flinching; but courage loses, its power when one
cannot see one's foe.

Poor Mary worked herself into a state bordering
almost on hysteria. There was a terror in the night
that frightened her. And yet she was a healthily
constituted woman to whom hysteria was unknown,
whose nerves had been braced and hardened by
familiarity with Nature in all her moods, and the
tonic of open air life. But now the lashing of the
rain, the shaking of the house, the roar of the wind
dismayed her, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness
almost prompted her to cry out aloud that she might
break the spell of the strange feeling that held her
with a nameless dread. She went to the window, drew
back the curtain, and peered into the night, but was
faced with nothingness, a black void. The window
panes were blurred with rain ; beyond them the night
with its mystery. She readjusted the curtain with a
shudder. Would the night never end? It was like
infinity. She loosened her long and beautiful hair; it
fell about her like a raiment of old gold. She removed
some of her things, put on a dressing-gown, and lay
on the bed longing for the dawn; the light would
surely dismiss her phantom fears. The darkness had
taken away her hopes ; the day would perhaps restore
them. She prayed that all might be well, and fell
asleep even against her will. Her aunt came to her
with tea, toast, and fruit on a tray.

" Why, Mary darling, haven't you been in bed ?
How horribly pale you look. Are you ill? "-

The girl started up and flung her hair from her face.
She thought that she had had a bad dream, a night-
mare. Her head ached, her eyes were heavy. An
unaccountable sense of depression weighed upon her.

" Oh, auntie, I am so glad you have come. What
is the time? "



THE MESSAGE FROM THE WEST 209

" Ten o'clock."

"Ten! " She sat on the edge of the bed and
rubbed her eyes. " Why, I must have slept for
hours."

" What has been worrying you, child? "

" Thoughts, fancies, fears. What a horrible night
it has been. Thank God the day has come."

Aunt Margaret drew back the curtain from the
window. The sun was hidden in clouds ; the land-
scape was enveloped in mist. The wind had ceased,
but a drizzling rain fell. Mary drank a cup of tea
and ate some fruit.

" Why have you made yourself ill like this? " asked
Margaret as she seated herself at the side of the bed.

" I arn not ill, auntie," the girl answered, laughing
a sad little laugh. " I got nervous. I don't know
why. But I have been wondering why Harold and
the other men have remained behind. It's very
foolish of me, of course, to let my imagination fill me
with silly fears."

She spoke bravely, but she was far from feeling
brave. Her aunt did her best to cheer her. She
helped her to dress her hair. Mary attired herself
very neatly, and went down to the veranda. She
felt as if the day was big with Fate, with revela-
tion. She inquired for Jim Dawkins, and was told he
had ridden off somewhere, but would be back in an
hour or two. It was an unusually dismal day, but
Mary did not complain, she knew that the rain was a
blessing. She dare not let her thoughts run away
with her again, so she went into the dairy to find
occupation, and chatted with the chief dairymaid, who
was churning. Frequently she went to the door and
tried to pierce the mist, bxit saw nothing but the mist.
It was as if a curtain had been let down from heaven
to veil a tragedy. The hours seemed to go by leaden-
footed, and she was glad when the bell sounded for
dinner. As soon as all the hands had assembled she
looked into the dinner-room, and her eyes searched for
Dawkins in vain. Nobody could or would say where
he had gone to. She went to the door of his office
and turned the handle, but the door was locked. Then
jt came to her as a flash that Jim had gone off to meet



210 " OUT THERE "

Gordon, and she resolved to go also, but she heard
her aunt calling- her to dinner.

" I don't want any dinner, aunt," she replied. " I
am going to ride to the boundary."

" Mary, you must not be so foolish," said her aunt
with an insistence that was not to be denied. " Be
sensible. Come and have your dinner. Your proper
place is here. Now be good and do as I wish."

Mary yielded, though reluctantly. She knew that
she was bound up in her aunt's affections, and she
loved her. Margaret was full of sound common
sense; she and her niece had been such close com-
panions, such intimate friends, and Mary never liked
to oppose her wishes. She made a pretence of
partaking of dinner, she had no appetite. Anxiety
had her on the rack again. The meal over, she
hurried to the veranda and paced up and down
impatiently. After a time she procured a book and
tried to read, but the book lay in her lap, and she fell
to dreaming. She heard the clock in the dining-room
strike three. Then a long hour crept away, and soon
afterwards she caught the sounds of a horse's hoofs
coming from the west. She sprang up and ran to the
other end of the veranda, and saw a horseman emerge
from the mist. He looked like a phantom. She did
not know it, but he was the. figure of tragedy coming
from behind the veil. As he drew nearer she recog-
nised Jim Dawkins, and her heart told her that he
had been to meet the wanderers. At last the mystery
of the long, long weary months would be cleared: up.
The message of the West would be given to her. She
ran out and met him.

" Are they coming, Jim? " Her voice rang with a
pathetic appeal. Her nerves were tense. She was
waiting for the verdict.

" Yes. They will be here very shortly." He spoke
with a sadness that he could not conceal.

" Where are they? " It was a demand.

" Away back."

" I will go and meet them," she said, making an
impetuous movement.

" No, please. . . . No, you must not. I have a
message for you from Mr Gordon "



THE MESSAGE FROM THE WEST 211

" Yes, yes. Don't hang on your words so, Jim.
What is it ? "

" Naturally he wants to make himself a bit tidy.
He is in rags. He asked me to say if you will go to
your room with your aunt he will come to you as
soon as possible."

Mary was about to utter some protest, but checked
herself, though impatience was burning like a raging
fever in her veins.

" I will go," she said and turned back into the
house. In about an hour she heard some stir, the
clattering of the feet of men and horses, and a subdued
cheer. With palpitating heart she ran to the window
and peeped out. She saw Gordon riding between the
two men who had returned with him. They looked
like scarecrows. They all had straggling beards and
moustaches. They sat their horses which had been
taken out to them as weak, dejected men sit. They
disappeared into one of the out-buildings, followed by
some of the hands who had gathered to witness their
arrival. Mary and her aunt remained together; the
girl's body was bent, her elbows on her knees, her
hands clasped together, her eyes glistening with tears.
She was still waiting for the verdict. There was a
knock at the door; she was about to spring up, but
her aunt stopped her and opened the door herself. In
another moment Oliver Gordon stood in the room.
Someone had lent him a coat that was too big for him,
it accentuated his emaciation. His eyes were sunk in
his head, his face pinched and drawn and burnt to the
colour of dull copper. He held forth both his hands.

" Gordon! " Maiy exclaimed as she sprang up and
seized the extended hands. There was a pause, it
seemed like an age ; then her heart spoke. " W T hat of
Harold? Whereas he? "

Gordon's eyes lit up, but he could not meet her
gaze, she was trying to read his thoughts. " Why
don't you speak ? Is he well ? "

" I left him in the Ranges." The voice seemed
to come from far away. His guilty conscience smote
him. There was guilt in his averted eyes.

" With the other men? "

" Bill Blewitt died on the journey out."



212 " OUT THERE "

" You are prevaricating. Why do you torture
me? " She still clasped his hands, still gazed at him.
There was desperation in her look and manner.

" I am weak and ill ; be patient. I have much to
tell you."

She flung his hands from her violently. She covered
her face and shivered.

" My God," she sobbed. " Harold is dead."

Gordon stood with bowed head, his arms hanging
straight down, limply at his side. He dare not look
at her.

" Yes he is dead," he answered in a scarcely
audible voice.

" Ah ! " she gasped, and her whole soul went out
in that exclamation. She swung round like a
mechanical figure, and pitched forward against her
aunt, who caught her in her arms, strained her to her
bosom, her hot tears falling on the girl's hair. But
Mary did not weep. The spring of tears was dried
up. Her brain was stunned.

Her heart was broken.

Harold -was dead!



CHAPTER XXV

THE SERPENT'S TEETH

FOR many long days Mary Gordon lay like one from
whom the power of thought had been taken away,
and yet she was conscious of a sort of divulsion as if
she were being stretched on a rack. It was a mental
feeling, for she had no bodily pain.

Harold was dead !

The shock had for the time broken her physical
strength. Her aunt tended her with assiduous
devotion. Gradually the girl's numbed brain began
to reawaken, and with the reawakening came the full
comprehension of what she had suffered. She had
been so happy, so buoyant with health and content-
ment. She looked to such a far-stretching horizon,
the future seemed so full of promise. Now she asked
herself : "Is life nothing more than a mirage, a
something that seems luring and beautiful from a
distance; a fantastic dream that fascinates, until
suddenly one awakes to find hopelessness and ashes
where one looked for fruit ? Is it merely a void
through which resounds the moans and weeping of a
sorrowing world ? "

These are thoughts that come to those who are
stricken suddenly by some stupendous sorrow in a
moment of supreme happiness ; when a precious loved
one has been borne by Time to Death. Death does
not hold Time, but Time holds Death ; it flows ever
and ever on like a silent river, bearing its flotsam to
the Great Gatherer who sweeps the poor human atoms
into eternity. The news of Harold's death had
withered every flower in Mary Gordon's life, and she
213



214 " OUT THERE "

felt that henceforth her way would be but a dusty
road under a grey sky.

When a fortnight had passed she rose again, but
she was no longer the same being. Jim Dawkins in
his rough, rugged way tried to console her. To him
the loss of the " Boss " was a heavy blow. He was
very human, and he understood what the loss meant
to Mary. From him she gathered the story which
Gordon had told of the trying journey out to the
Ranges; of the death of faithful old Bill Blewitt; of
the camp in the foothills ; how he and Harold had
pushed on into the mountains only to meet with bitter
disappointment ; how Harold was seized with deadly
fever; how he nursed him and tended him with loving
care, though he himself was suffering ; how he
stayed with him until he breathed his last and he
buried him ; of his own lonely journey back to the
camp where he learnt of the death of Pete Radley,
who in chopping wood for the fire had struck his
wrist with the axe and severed an artery ; how his
chums had done all that mortal men could do who
were ignorant of surgery, to staunch the flow of
blood, but to no purpose. Then of the terrible
journey home, and the death of his man from exhaus-
tion in the wilderness.

George Grindon and the other man corroborated
this story up to the journey to the foothills and from
the foothills home. But there was none to corroborate


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 16 of 22)