Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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possible her dear niece should be protected from all
external influences calculated to irritate and annoy her.
And so she gave a warning to Gordon.

" If you don't wish to kill your wife "

" Kill my wife," he repeated, as his pasty face
became ashen.

" Yes," she said, " if you don't wish to kill her,
yon will keep- away from her for some weeks. You
must keep away from her."

240 " OUT THERE "

" I suppose she doesn't love me," he sneered

" If she doesn't you have only yourself to blame."

" I suppose so, I suppose so," he gurgled deep down
in his throat, and there was a vacancy in his eyes
which came often with startling suddenness, as
though all the power of concentration was leaving

" Why don't you go and stay down at Gordonstown
for a time," suggested Margaret. " You have plenty
of acquaintances there."

He woke up quickly.

"Gordonstown! Oh no, I hate it now." Perhaps
also he was afraid of it, afraid that something might
come out of space and reveal his black secret to all
who knew him. Yes. He was afraid, and that deadly
fear would overshadow him as long as he was on
earth. He had no religion. Sometimes at night when
he looked up at the stars they begot in him a terrible
feeling that there was something wonderful beyond;
that death did not mean annihilation, but a passing to
what? A judgment. Yes, surely a Judgment!
Man's life is a trust, it carries responsibilities, yes,
surely again ; he who holds a trust must give some
account of it. ... Yes, surely he passes to judgment.
These doubts and fears burned in his brain until he
felt as if he must cry out aloud, and he strove to
smother that cry to deaden conscience as cowards do.
He was afraid of himself, he shrank from himself.
Memory, like an accusing angel, was always with him,
save when his brain was steeped in alcoholic stupor ;
but it was all so transient, and when consciousness
returned he was appalled, for there was the accusing
angel. "Oh, if one could only forget, only forget,"
was ever his mental cry.

In the impudence and pride of his youth he con-
sidered himself strong minded; he despised the " silly
sentiment " so conspicuous in Harold Preston. ' In
this world it is every man for himself," he used to
say, or think, " why the deuce should I worry myself
about anyone else? Life's a game, and the player
who doesn't wish to go under must be precious cute
and cunning." These had been Oliver Gordon's


principles, he had lived up to them, acted on them,
and what had he to shovp? He was still young, but
the life behind him had raised up gibbering ghosts
that goaded him almost to madness ; while that before
dark with the impenetrable mystery of the unknown
appalled, and so he was between two horrors. In
consenting to marry him, Maty had very wisely
stipulated that she should retain her interests in
Glenbar ; she should have sole controlling power, and
in that respect she was legally protected. The conse-
quence was he had no authority, no one respected him
he was a man despised. \Vith bulldog tenacity Jim
Dawkins guarded Mary's interests, and dear old
Margaret Bruce interposed herself between husband
and wife, shielding her from his presence and influence.
Notwithstanding his chronically dazed or semi-dazed
condition, there was a glimmering of reason left,
sufficient to enable him to comprehend that any
resistance on his part, any assumption of authority,
would only result in still further humiliation.

So the days merged into weeks, and poor Mary
remained undisturbed, a prey to her own thoughts, no
doubt, but she uttered no complaint ; for the sake of
her, as yet unborn, babe she endeavoured to keep her
mind in that tranquil state which Dr Blain had told her
was not only a duty but a vital necessity. Blain visited
her once a week, and on those occasions her husband
kept out of the way ; he had not the courage to meet
Blain. These visits were very welcome to Mary ;
Blain understood her so thoroughly, and he cheered
her as no one else could have done. One day when
the crisis was approaching he arrived accompanied by
a skilled nurse. A room had been prepared for him,
as he had arranged to remain for a few days.

It was on a Saturday in the Australian autumn ; the
weather was beautiful a soft, balmy air, and dappled
pale blue sky. The fierce summer heat of the sun was
subdued, but a yellow, golden light bathed the land-
scape in a dreamy mellow radiance. The night was
one of starry splendour, and the opaline dawn came
in in a wonderful pageant of changing colour, giving
promise of a perfect day, and the promise was fully
redeemed. The wind blew with zephyr softness, sweet

242 " OUT THERE "

and gentle as a sleeping- child. vSilence and peace held
all things as if Nature herself had folded her hands in
solemn prayer on this holy Sabbath day. Little Miss
Ruth Welford assembled the children in the school-
house in the forenoon for a Bible class; and in the
afternoon the Rev. Walter Sparling, a mild but earnest
preacher, came in from Gordonstown to conduct a
Church of England service in the evening- in the

Although Glenbar was on the outer fringe of civil-
isation, those who made it their business to try and
save souls considered it a duty to do something for the
spiritual welfare of the little community. The Rer.
Walter Sparling was a friend of Mary Gordon, and
when she came into possession of the Glenbar property
she arranged with him to come out on a Sunday
afternoon and remain until Monday. The man who
should have been the head and guide of that com-
munity, Oliver Gordon, was absent on this particular
Sabbath which was big with fate, and so in the
gloaming, when the sun had left an aftermath of gold
and crimson in the west, and night, with her trailing
star-spangled robe was advancing in queenly beauty
from the east, he did not hear the sweet voices of the
children's choir, trained by Ruth Welford, sing the
beautiful hymn beginning :

" Glory to Thee, my God, this night
For all the blessings of the light ;
Keep me, oh keep me, Kings of kings,
Beneath Thine Own Almighty wings."

On the previous day, with hot heart and dulled
brain, he rode out to the grazing lands where he
intended to spend some days with the herdsmen until
" the affair was over." And as he had no intention of
mortifying the flesh by fasting and thirst, he had
caused a hamper of provisions ,and drink to be taken
out in advance. No one regarded his absence with
any concern; some even considered it was little short
of a blessing that he was out of the way. At the close
of his service the Rev. Walter Sparling exhorted his
small congregation to join him in offering tip a prayer
on behalf of Mrs Gordon, and with a simple eloquence


he prayed that the Lord would bring Mary safely
through her tribulation, and bless and prosper her in
all her undertakings. In dismissing his flock with a
blessing, he enjoined the children to go quietly to their
homes. Soon the hush of the night fell upon the
little settlement. The white stars watched overhead,
and the breath of the wind as it fanned the trees
whispered of eternity.

In the Gordons' home there were lights, subdued
movements, and the hush of expectancy. From the
window of Mary's room, the window that faced the
west, the window at which she had so often sat watch-
ing and waiting in vain for the return of the man who
held her heart, the light streamed forth into the night
until it was absorbed and lost in the darkness. In the
small dining-room Margaret Bruce, Dr Blain, Jim
Dawkins, the Rev. Walter Sparling, and gentle Ruth
Welford were partaking of supper ; they seemed to be
under a spell of some mystery ; the shadow of tragedy
moved them to emotion that found its expression in
silence. If they spoke it was almost in whispers. The
torture of suspense in the heart of each took away
appetite and produced that pained, almost despairing
apathy which comes when one realises how paltry are
human affairs in the presence of pain and wrong.
Suddenly the door of the room opened, revealing the
presence of the nurse, who said with a note of
urgency :

"Doctor, will you come upstairs, please? "

Without a word Blain rose, passed out of the room,
closing the door gently behind him. The solemn
silence of the little assembly remained unbroken for
some minutes, then Sparling spoke, and said almost in
a whisper :

" Friends, let us pray," and he recited in low tones,
but with an expressive and earnest intonation, the
Lord's Prayer, and with a passionate sob repeated
twice the words, " Thy Will Be Dame."

The night deepened , the clock on the shelf ticked
off the passing time, which seemed heavy with the
burden of an unknown terror. Those who waited with
strained expectancy were strung to a pitch of tenseness
that was almost unbearable. Outside the calm of

244 " OUT THERE "

Nature remained unbroken ; the whispering wind spoke
of the dead and gone ages, of the human story always
the same Love and Hate, Envy and Greed, Sorrow
and Wrong, Pain and Death. A night bird uttered a
strange, bell-like note; the stars kept their unending
vigils ; the mystery of the darkness filled the great
spaces, and each one of the little group was impressed
with a vague sense of ineluctable calamity.

The clock struck eleven, ticked away another fifteen
minutes, then the door of the room opened silently,
and Dr Blain entered ; he had a message to deliver.

"Mrs Gordon," he began; his voice broke.
Margaret Bruce leaned back in her chair and buried
her face in her handkerchief; poor little Ruth bowed
her head on the table and sobbed. Jim Dawkins looked
as if some unseen hand had struck him a blow,
partially stunning him ; the Rev. Walter Sparling
closed his eyes and prayed silently. The doctor's
manner, his tone, his tears proclaimed what he had to
tell before he had told it.

" Mrs Gordon . . . has given birth ... to a
daughter . . . the daughter lives, a healthy, well-
formed child . . . but the mother has gone to God! "



SINCE the Preston pioneers had first set their wander-
ing feet in the primitive wilderness of Glenbar, there
had been many passings, but it is doubtful if any
death had caused such a profound sensation, and
thrown the gloom of so deep a sorrow over the settle-
ment, as that of Mary Gordon ; it was a tragedy, almost
sublime in its pathos ; it wrung a chord of sympathy
and pity in the heart of everyone who knew her story
and the tragic sorrow that had overshadowed her life, a
life, in its humble way, as sweet and beautiful and pure
as that of any woman who has ever loved and lost. She
had given birth to a new life, and in doing so had
sacrificed her own, her own so short, but in which she
had experienced the ecstasy of a joy so great that it
has no words, and a sorrow so profound that the
heart breaks.

Only the fools among men question the ways of
Providence, but among those who so truly mourned
Mary there was unexpressed wonder that this woman,
who embodied all that is unselfish, noble, and beautiful
in womanhood, should have been called upon to render
her spirit to God in return for the child she had given
to the world. Why ? What was the mystery ? Why
should she have died ? Why was the child born ? Had
it some great purpose to fulfil ? Some great wrong to
right ? The only answer that could be framed to all
these questions was God knows best!

Poor gentle Mary Gordon ! If it was possible that
she had an enemy, would even that enemy dare to say
her life had not been pure and good ? It was unthink-
able that she had ever borne ill feeling for anyone.


246 " OUT THERE "

She was laid to rest among her people in the God's
Acre at Gordoustown, and throughout the township
there was a feeling of profound sorrow. She had been
a conspicuous figure in the busy little place. Almost
everyone took an interest in the orphan girl ; all knew
her love stoiy and its tragic ending. Mary Gordon
was dead ; but Mary Gordon lived again in the baby
she had left behind. To Dr Blain, Jim Dawkins, the
Rev. Walter Sparling, Ruth Welford, and every soul
on the Glenbar Run, her loss was a personal one, for
she had endeared herself to all.

When that fatal Sunday night merged into the
dawn of the new day a messenger on horseback started
for the grazing lands to acquaint Gordon with the loss
he had sustained. It was many hours before the
drink-sodden brain was able to grasp the meaning of
that which was told him. When he did he returned
to the settlement, and his thoughts must have been
bitter indeed when lie stood at the bedside and gazed
on the stilled form. Death had taken from the face
every tiace of pain and sorrow. A holy calm had come
to her ; she looked a mere girl ; loving hands had
almost covered her with flowers ; she might have been
a bride waiting in happy slumber for the bridegroom.

Gordon did not go to the funeral ; shame, remorse,
fear, no doubt, kept him back. The torture of his
soul had been great before her death ; it was greater
now that she had passed away. No one loved him,
but he was not so callous as to be indifferent to the
precious legacy his dead wife had left to him, and
perhaps the child would come to love him. Perhaps!
He spent many days in solitude and moody silence,
and it was noted that he refrained from drink.
It was hoped that remorse was awakening in him a
better feeling; it remained to be seen. To Margaret
Bruce he said :

" You were a mother to my wife; you must be a
mother to my motherless girl."

" I should be false to Mary's memory if I did not
do my duty to her daughter," was Margaret's answer.

The Rev. Walter Sparling christened the child, and
when the father was asked what name it should bear,
he answered, " Simply Mary."


" To show that the old animosity is dead for ever,"
urged Margaret Bruce, " add Preston to the name."

At first he protested, but Margaret was persistent,
and he yielded, so his daughter was christened " Mary
Preston " Mary Preston Gordon. If the child lived
to reach woman's estate she might be curious to know
why she bore the name of Preston, learn something of
the tragedy of her mother's life, and the beautiful story
of her love for Harold Preston, enshrining it in her
heart for ever.

Jim Dawkins felt the death of Mary Gordon acutely.
He had come to regard her with an affection that was
little short of a father's affection for his daughter If he
had had any respect or regard for Gordon he might have
found compensation, but now he loathed the man, and
he resolved to resign his position. It wanted very little
reflection, however, to induce him to rescind that resolu-
tion, and he decided to remain for the dead woman's
sake, and for the sake of the dead woman's child.

As the days, weeks, months rolled by, and the
seasons came and went, it was made .manifest that
Gordon had undergone some process of change. A
silent, brooding melancholy had settled upon him.
He lived his life apart from everyone. He did not
abandon his drinking habits, but retained sufficient
control over himself to take an interest in the affairs
of the settlement, though he left the management of
the business part almost entirely to Jim Dawkins, and
loyally and faithfully did Jim justify the trust reposed
in him. Gordon had become prematurely old, his
hair had turned iron grey ; his tortured face was
wrinkled and drawn. That he suffered acute mental
distress was unmistakable. He sold nearly all the
property he owned in Gordonstown, and turned his
attention to the development of Glenbar. He carried
out many alterations in his house, the house that had
so long been the home of the Prestons. He added a
new wing, and erected numerous outhouses ; built
stone cottages for his workpeople, put up a flour mill
with improved machinery on part of the estate, built
a new school-house, and at the urgent entreaty of his
people, a small church which was duly consecrated and
a clergyman appointed.

248 " OUT THERE "

None of the improvements, however, was due to
his own initiative ; they were due to Margaret Bruce
who was ably seconded by Jim Dawkins, and supported
by the Rev. Walter Sparling. Had he been left to
himself he would probably have sunk into confirmed
sottishness, for his will-power was very weak, but old
Margaret proved herself to be a woman of great
resource, with shrewd business capacity, and she
gradually acquired a tremendous influence over him,
using that influence wisely and well. But there
was another person who also had a great influence
upon him, that person was Ruth Welford, a sweet-
tempered, bright, intellectual, and exceedingly pretty
little woman. She hated him, but for the sake of his
child, and in the general interests of the settlement
concealed her feelings.

He was as wax in her hands, although curiously
enough he never made any advances to her, yet she
had only to say do this or do that and he did it. She
was the one person to whom he occasionally talked
freely, and he revealed to her that he was intensely
unhappy. But his moods varied ; there were times
when he sank into himself, and even she failed to
draw him out. Ruth's aversion was instinctive,
she positively dreaded him, and told Margaret that she
was sure he had something dreadful preying on his
mind. Margaret agreed with that, but neither she nor
anyone else ever suspected the nature of the corroding
secret that made his life a torture, and caused him to
shudder at the very thought of death.

For upwards of five years this state of matters
continued. By that time Glenbar had developed into
what was almost a small town. It was connected by
the electric telegraph with Gordonstown. It had its
church, its post office, a general store, and twice in
that period its school-house had been enlarged, and
" Little Ruth," as she was affectionately termed, had
two assistants.

Margaret Bruce's foster daughter had grown and
developed amazingly. Margaret doted on the child;
Ruth had begun to "teach her, and all loved her. Her
beauty, her precocity and aptitude made her the idol
of the settlement, and everyone was struck by her


remarkable resemblance to her mother the same soft
brown eyes, the same beautiful gold brown hair, the
mould of features, the shape of her hands. Margaret
was very proud of her charge, and Ruth was never
so happy as when she was engaged in developing little
Mary's mental powers. Under the loving care of two
such women she could not fail to flourish. She had
splendid health, and gave promise of magnificent

By this time her father was a wreck. He had
become an old and withered man, and no longer made
any effort to restrain his craving for drink, but drink
now reduced him to a state of silent imbecility. His
health entirely broke down, he became a chronic
invalid. His daughter was kept from him ; he never
asked for, and indeed seemed to have entirely forgotten
her. The old dining-room, in which there had been so
many pleasant little gatherings in the dead and gone
past when Harold Preston regarded Oliver Gordon as
his truest friend, was devoted to his use. It communi-
cated by means of a French window with the west
veranda. On this side of the veranda a mattresscd
deck-chair was placed, and here he spent most of his
time, lying on the chair, his eyes often fixed on the
far-off horizon where the Ranges lay in the track of
the setting sun.

Old Betsy, who for many years had been Harold's
housekeeper, looked after him. He would not have
anyone near him; even " Little Ruth " ceased to be
welcome, though she visited the house much, and
occasionally he would talk with her.

A young, medical man, a Dr Barry, had started to
practise in the settlement, and at Margaret Brute's
request, he took the wretched man under his care, but
as he frankly told Margaret, he could do little for him.

" His life trembles in the balance," he said.

" A spoilt and useless life," Margaret commented
with a sigh.

" It seems to me he has something preying on his
mind," the doctor remarked.

" Well, he may have," Margaret answered with some
warmth ; " he ruined the life of my niece, and were it
not for the darling child she left behind I should have

250 " OUT THERE "

left him long ago. I will not perjure myself by pre-
tending that I bear him any love, and to be perfectly
honest, I hope the Lord will take him soon, as I should
be sorry for little Mary to know what kind of man her
father is."

" Very probably he may linger for two or three
years if he is kept free from excitement," Dr Barry
explained; " but his heart is so weak that any sudden
shock would assuredly kill him, I'm certain of that."

Margaret's answer was she would not cause him any
shock, nor would anyone else on the estate. He must
go on lingering until it pleased God to call him.

Jim Dawkius had now become the practical head of
the community. He was growing old, but was still
active and fairly vigorous. The necessary money for
carrying on affairs he drew periodically from Gordon's
solicitor, who had a power of attorney, given to him
by Gordon a year or so after his wife's death. The
consequence was things worked pretty smoothly, as
the solicitor was a sensible man, and while keeping
strictly within the limit of the powers conferred urjou
him, he placed no obstacles in Dawkins' way, knowing
as he did that the old man's probity and faithfulness
were beyond question.

Although Margaret Bruce bore Gordon no love, she
was careful to see that he was well looked after, wanted
for nothing. She was content to let him drift out
" linger " as the doctor said, until the end came.
Physically he was a pitiable wreck, and now never
ventured farther from his room than the veranda, and
it was there he passed most of his time. That part of
the veranda had been partitioned off on one side so
that no one should intrude upon him. The front part
was partially screened by a sun-blind, and three or
four wooden steps led down to a narrow path that
crossed the garden, ending at a wicket gate, giving
access to the road. Here Oliver Gordon passed his
days with only memory for his companion, and
memory tortured him. He had wrecked his own life,
squandered his gifts, and steeped his soul in guilt.
Then one day something happened suddenly, and
memory troubled the co-ward no more.



DURING those long, and to him, dreary months and
years that Oliver Gordon had been trying to deaden
the pangs of his guilty conscience, a memory must
have persistently visualised the terrible scene in the
Ranges when with execrable treachery he deserted his
fever-stiicken companion, to die alone in the solitude,
having failed to kill him in cold blood. He per-
suaded himself that Harold's death was a certainty,
but like nearly all men who do evil deeds he made one
grave error, and did not admit into his calculations the
factor of chance or possibility. Regarding Harold as
of a certainty, doomed to death, he should have waited
until his companion had ceased to breathe ; he could
then have returned to civilisation with a truthful story,
and his conscience would have been free from the
burden of cowardly desertion of a sick and helpless
man. Although he had been moved by an over-
mastering impulse to kill him, his own nervous
condition had saved him from that crime, and he might
have found some consolation from the thought that
though his heart had been filled with murderous
intent, he was not a murderer in fact. But he deserted
him deliberately and with a callousness that was
devilish. It was an outrage on all the unwritten laws
of comradeship of men who go forth to face danger
together; it was the negation of all heroism; a
cowardice so base as to make human forgiveness
impossible. Better, a thousand times better, to die as
a hero, than drag out a miserable existence with the
haunting knowledge that a companion in the throes of
deadly illness has been left alone, far removed from


252 " OUT THERE "

human comfort and help. Only a man hardened
against every feeling of pity could have lent himself
to such infamy in order that he might secure a passing

Gordon had triumphed over his rival, but at what a
fearful cost. He had wrecked the happiness and life of
Mary, and brought a curse upon himself. The fact
that Preston did not succumb did not lessen the
coward's crime of guilty intent. He had poured into
the sick man's ear the confession of his hate, accused

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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 19 of 22)