Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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It's the dark hour before the dawn, you know. I
must look into my affairs and see just where I stand.
You know that if I've a loaf half of it is yours."

Harold's feelings and acknowledgments were
expressed by a hand grip, he could not voice them,
while Oliver seemed a prey to emotion that overcame
him, and catching up his felt hat, he rammed it on
his head, saying :

" I'll leave you two together for a bit. I'll take a
turn round and have a look at the horses ; we'll talk
matters over later on."

As soon as the door had closed upon his retreating
figure Mary sprang up, and throwing her arms
round her lover's neck, she said with soul-felt
sympathy :

" Poor darling boy! I had no idea things were so
bad as that. But Gordon must do something. I
don't believe him when he says he's hard up.
He "

" I am afraid, sweetheart, that Oliver really is in
straits himself, he surely wouldn't lie to me," said
Harold as he took the girl's face in his hands and
kissed her. " He has been an extravagant beggar,
and, as you know, his passion for horse racing has
landed him in difficulties, at least that is what he

" I didn't quite understand that," answered Mary
thoughtfully, " though I know he's pretty reckless.
But now let us sit down and talk things over. Never
mind Gordon. He hasn't your big-heartedness." She
resumed her seat, he drew his chair up to hers and
held her hand. "Of course it's all nonsense,"
continued Mary, " about your going under. You will
not go under if I can help it. Dear old Aunt Margaret,


who has been a mother to me, has managed the bit
of property my father left me so well that I can
help you and will. You are my affianced husband,
and what is mine is yours."

" My God, Mary, you are a woman worth dying for,
but you unwittingly torture me. This is the second
time to-day my feelings have been stirred to their
depths. Just before your arrival old Jim Dawkins
offered rne his life's savings, a thousand pounds.
He's a pal, Gordon's a pal, and you are a saint, but
I'm going to work out my own salvation or perish."
His face was tormented, his eyes misty. He sprang
up and paced the room. There was an impressive
silence. Mary was a tactful woman. She watched
and waited. She saw that her lover's soul was
tortured, and understood that it was better to let the
paroxysm subside. Presently he swung round and
faced her. " No, Mary," he continued. " I am not
going to risk your little fortune, nor Dawkins', nor
Gordon's. I'm winded but not beaten. Fate has
dealt me a heavy blow, but I am young. I have
health and strength, those are qualities that count in
this country, and I'll face my difficulties like a man."

Mary's sweet face was filled with an expression of
admiration, and rising from her seat she clasped her
hands about his ann, and asked softly :

" I admire your spirit of independence, but why
are you so obstinate, dear ? Think of the friends who
love you; think of me. It's my duty to help you."

He caught her in his arms and held her in a
passionate embrace.

" Do I not think of you, my beloved," he cried.
" You are my life, my heart, my world. But the
pride of my race burns fiercely in my veins, and I
would rather die than bring anyone I love to ruin."

" That is foolish talk, dear," she answered with
gentle chiding. " I cannot do very much, but such
little as I can do, I say again, it is my duty to do.
Should I love you if I acted otherwise. I have a few
thousand pounds, and "

" Mary darling, you don't understand," he cried
distressfully. " It would take over ten thousand
pounds to clear off the mortgage to begin with.


Supposing I could raise that amount to-morrow, what
then ? Unless the drought breaks up suddenly, and
there is no hope of that at present, I should be as
bad as ever in a month's time. Even if rain came
next week it would take months for the land to
recover. The great drought of twenty-five years ago
lasted four years, and this one seems likely to last
as long. No, men who come to the wilderness take
their fate in their hands. Fortune smiled upon me
for a time, now she has pitilessly crushed me. I must
abandon the struggle here and go elsewhere. I've no
alternative. They'll turn me out."
" Go where? " the girl asked quietly.
" God knows," he answered despairingly.
Mary was distressed and her eyes were filled with
tears, though she tried to control herself.

" I still think you should allow your friends to
help you," she murnmred appealingly.

" Now look here, little woman," he said firmly,
" we are only making ourselves miserable. At the
present moment the outlook is as black as it can be,
and I cannot see a glimmering ray of hope. Our
marriage has already been postponed through this
infernal drought. In the glamour of more fortunate
days I dreamed of the time when with you at my side
I might win fortune here. But Nature can be cruel
even to those who love her as I do. My dream is
over, and I have no right to ask you to waste the
flower of your youth, and miss your chances in life
waiting for me a broken, ruined man."

He buried his face in his hands, and his great chest
heaved _with a sob. Mary's white fingers closed about
his wrists ; she drew his hands down gently, and
laying her dear face against his she said in a low
sweet tone :

" Harold, the flower of my youth is 3^ours ; I am
yours until death. Whatever fate the years may have
in store for us hope and my heart will wait for you. '
Emotion choked him. He could only hold her in
his strong embrace ; and his silence was a thousand
times more eloquent than words cculd possibly have
been. At last the strong man's strength came back.
He released her, sprang up, and laughed but it was

24 " OUT THERE "

the laugh of a defiant and embittered man; he was
not embittered against her, for her sake he would
have sacrificed his life, but in his heart he railed
against the fate that had ruined him.

" Sentiment is all very well, little woman, but we
cannot live in a world of dreams, although I am
afraid I've been given to dreaming," he said. " I
am not a coward, I can fight as you say, and for your
sake I'll fight, and by God I'll win. The weakness
is over, and now tell me what the urgent and pressing
matter is that has brought you here."

" Oh yes," she exclaimed, as her pretty lips
parted, revealing her white teeth as she smiled
sweetly. " You quite put the matter out of my
head. It's rather curious. It appears that a few
days ago an old bushman staggered into the town
desperately ill, and was taken to the hospital. He was
delirious for a time, but when he recovered his
senses he asked Nurse Wood, who, as you know, is
a great friend of mine, if you were still living at
Glenbar Run. Of course Miss Wood told him that
you were still here, and he said he must see you

" See me," Harold gasped, with a puzzled look.

" Yes. He said he would get up and come to you,
but Doctor Blain wouldn't hear of it, and he asked
me to see the old man. He told me his name was
Bill Blewitt, and beseeched me to bring you to him."

" I don't know an3 r one of the name of Blewitt,"
said Harold, still puzzled. " What does he want? "

" He wouldn't say, but declared it was a matter
of life and death. He made me promise not to
mention the matter to a living soul except yourself.
As the poor old man seemed in such deadly earnest
I promised him I would let you know. I thought of
writing to you, but as I longed to see you I decided
to come myself. On leaving the hospital I ran
against Oliver and incidentally mentioned I was
going to ride out to Glenbar. He was very anxious
to know the nature of my errand, but I refused to
enlighten him. Anyway, he insisted on bringing me
in his buggy. I would rather have come by myself,
for though I am very fond of Oliver, he annoys me


sometimes by saying things he ought not to say as
your friend and my friend, and knowing that I'm
engaged to you."

" Poor Oliver," said Harold with a laugh. " He
has a heart of gold, and if I were out of the way he'd
marry you if you would have him."

" Well, you see, you are not out of the way and I
am going to be wife to you, so there is nothing more
to be said on that point." She spoke with a
decisiveness not to be gainsaid.

" You darling," exclaimed Harold, his face
betraying the intensity of his feelings. Then he
suddenly waxed thoughtful, and pulling his moustache
he muttered :

"Bill Blewitt! Bill Blewitt ! I can't place the
fellow. What the deuce can he want to see me
for? "

" Perhaps he has some secret that he wishes to
impart to you," suggested Mary. " He is a strange
old man, and very determined, I should think."

"Yes, but why make me his father confessor? "

" You know just as much as I do, Harold dear,
but as Doctor Blain says the poor old fellow has a
dog's chance of his life, humour his whim and see

" Of course I will, little woman. Anyway, I have
to thank Bill Blewitt for your presence here, so I am
grateful to him and you."

He threw his arms about her, their lips met, and
at that moment the door was flung open and Oliver
Gordon reappeared. They drew apart quickly.

" Oh, I'm sorry I've interrupted," he said, laughing.
" But there, don't mind me, I'm only a cipher."

' We don't," replied Harold. " Why should we? "

" As you say, why should you. Spoon away to
your hearts' content and I'll be deaf, dumb and blind.
All the same I'm ravenously hungry; have you got
any tucker in the place? "

" Yes, of a kind," answered Harold, who seemed
to have quite recovered his good spirits. " I'll tell
Jim Dawkins to make a damper, and we'll have a
scratch meal. After that, when the sun's gone down,
you'll drive Mary back, and I'll follow in the saddle."

26 " OUT THERE "

Mary, who knew the place well, said she'd help the
old housekeeper to prepare the food, and ran off.

" God bless that dear little woman," murmured

" She's a mascot; she'll bring you luck," Oliver
remarked, as he proceeded to mix a brandy-and-soda.

The two men pledged each other and Mary ; filled
their pipes, and fell to chatting for a little while,
until drowsiness stole upon them both. Outside the
heat haze still quivered over the thirsty land like a
gossamer veil of wind-stirred silver. The fiery sky
was without a cloud, and the sun as it sank to the
west threw never a shadow over the }^ellow plain.
The silence was almost painful, now and again it was
punctuated by the whinnying of a horse in the
stables, or the drowsy drone of a buzzing blue-
bottle as it winged its flight about the house. The
friends slept until the sun had sunk below the
horizon, then Mary burst into the room with a cheery
laugh and startled them into wakefulness.

" Now then, you lazy mortals," she cried, " the
feast .awaits you, a perfectly royal banquet."

They followed her to the so-called common dining-
room, where the rough log table was covered with
a white cloth, and the resources of Harold's establish-
ment had been taxed to furnish the proper
embellishments. Some old silver plated forks and
spoons which had belonged to his people had been
hunted out by Mary; the glasses had been polished,
the cruets cleaned, fresh mustard made, clean salt

" By Jove, Mary, you are a brick," exclaimed
Harold. "It's a jolly long time since my table
looked so spick and span."

" Oh, you men," sighed Mary, with a rueful ex-
pression, " you are such helpless creatures when you
haven't a woman to look after you. You are all
alike; just great careless children"."

Jirn Dawkins had turned out an excellent damper;
he could hold his own with any chap at damper-
making. Then there were eggs, stewed fowl, tinned
corned beef, and other delicacies, and Harold declared
it was a feast for the gods. Jim Dawkins plied his


knife and fork with the rest, and the wine and
spirits Oliver had brought served to enliven the
feast, whilst sweet Mary Gordon sat at the head of
the table, the Queen of the hour.

Two hours later Oliver Gordon and Mary in the
buggy and Harold following-, riding a bush hack,
were making their way under the canopy of stars
that glittered like burnished steel, to Gordonstown .



THE township of Gordonstown, although only a little
over forty miles from the Glenbar Run, was outside
the belt of drought that every now and again
withered up the plains. It could boast of a Town
Hall, Club, Library, weekly newspaper, and streets
of stone-built houses. It wore an air of prosperity,
and the district round about was fertile enough,
while a projected railway from Melbourne had
recently caused a boom in " town lots " which for
years had been waiting for buyers. Pleasantly
situated on a bend of the river which was navigable
for small craft up to that point, it was a place of
some importance, as a port of shipment for live stock,
wool, hides and other produce. Its population of
between five and six thousand was a thriving and
contented community, proud of their pretty little
town, and particularly proud of their excellent race-
course on the outskirts. Racing went on practically
all the year, but the great event, when all the town
got racing mad, was the " Gordonstown Gold Cup
Day," in the middle of June. It was the chief event
of a four days' programme, and it attracted racing
lovers from far distant parts. Oliver Gordon was
prominent among those who fostered the sport, but
it was generally believed that for some time his luck
had been out.

Mary Gordon's home was a picturesquely situated
stone villa, standing in about five acres of charming



grounds on the outskirts of the little town, near the
race-course. Here she lived with her aunt, Margaret
Bruce, her mother's widowed and childless sister.
Maty was left an orphan when she was a child. She
had a brother, her senior by some years, and Mrs Bruce
came from Scotland, where she had resided with her
husband, to mother them. The brother died three or
four years later, and since then Mary had lived under
her aunt's care. Margaret Bruce was a middle-aged
lady, sweet tempered and devotedly attached to her
niece. She was exceedingly fond of Harold Preston, and
from the very first had encouraged the love-making
between him and Mary. For a brief period, however,
just prior to Harold's declaration of love, she was
inclined favourably to Oliver Gordon, but his gambling
propensities and love of horse-racing caused her to mis-
trust him, and she set the seal of approval upon
Harold. For nearly four years the young people, who
were nearly of the same age, had been very happy,
and but for the drought which had brought disaster
to him, Harold would have made her his wife.

When Mary and the two men arrived at Gordons-
town after their night journey from Gleiibar, Gordon
proceeded direct to his house,' and Harold was a
guest at Mary's house, where he was cordially
welcomed by Margaret Bruce. She commiserated
with him in his misfortune, but encouraged him to
hope that there would speedily be a change for the
better. Mrs Bruce was always optimistic, and her
influence invariably inspirited Preston whenever he
was inclined to be despondent.

A hearty breakfast the next morning after a good
night's rest, combined with the cooler air and
greenery and freshness of the place, heartened Harold
considerably, and about noon he set off for the
hospital. It was a white building, with green
shutters and flower-covered walls ; it stood in a neatly
kept garden, and the long veranda that ran round
the building afforded a pleasant promenade or resting-
place for those patients who were not compelled to
keep to their beds in the wards.

As Harold mounted the steps to the main entrance
he ran up against Doctor Blain, who had just finished

30 " OUT THERE "

his morning round. They greeted each other very

" No need to ask why you are here," said Blain.
" Miss Gordon told me she was going to bring you
back. I hear you've been having a bad time up there.
These scorchers try a man's patience, but one has got
to take the rough with the smooth, and lucky he who
can smile at misfortune."

" Lucky he who can smile at misfortune, as you
say," Harold answered, " though one wants to have
a deuced lot of philosophy to smile when he is face
to face with stark ruin."

" Come, come. I trust things are not so desperate
as that."

" I am afraid they are. To the struggling man two
years of drought spells disaster."

" By Jove I am sorry, truly sorry," said the doctor
with a ring of genuine sympathy in his voice, " but
all trouble has its compensations. You have troops
of good friends "

"Thank God, yes," exclaimed Harold earnestly;
" more than that I have health and strength and am
going to win through."

' That's the way to look at things," the doctor
remarked. " Pluck and energy can do wonders."

" Well now, who is this mysterious patient of yours
Bill Blewitt, isn't it? "

" Yes, that's the name he gave when he was brought
in. He's a tough old nut, who seems to have had a
pretty bad time of it. It appears he's been out West
in some God-forgotten place* and has tramped back
through the wilderness. How he's managed to live,
heaven knows, I don't. But there's precious little to
be got out of him : he's as reticent as the Sphinx. I
fancy there is something on his mind, and he declares
that you are the only man in the world he'll tell it to."

" It's strange," said Harold in a musing voice,
toying with his moustache; " I can't place him. I
certainly don't remember the name. Is he very ill ? "

" Yes, he's pretty bad."

" Dying? "

" Well he's got a sporting chance. He has wonder-
ful vitality, and may possibly pull through. Anyway,


I am doing my best ; the beggar interests me. But
come, I'll take you to him."

The two men mounted the broad stone stairway, and
entered a long, scrupulously clean ward, with about a
dozen beds ranged on each side. The windows were
screened with sunblinds that subdued the glare, and
kept the atmosphere relatively cool. The polished
floor was speckless ; flowers were arranged on little
tables down the centre of the wards, interspersed with
tail palms in pots. There was the sad spectacle of sick
and dying men, but sympathy and human charity had
done their best to brighten and cheer them in their

Nurse Wood, a sweet-faced, middle-aged woman, was
busy in the ward as the doctor and the visitor entered.
She hurried up to Preston and shook his hand.

" Oh, I'm so glad you've come. Mary told me she
would be sure to bring you back. Our interesting and
mysterious patient asks for you every hour of the day,
and calls your name in the night. Poor old fellow ; he
has evidently gone through terrible hardships."

" I'll hand Mr Preston over to you, Nurse," remarked
the doctor as he consulted his watch; " you'll excuse
me, I'm sure, Preston. I didn't know it was so late. I
have an appointment I must keep. Look me up at the
Club between four and five, will you, and we can have
a chat? "

Harold promised to do so, and when the doctor had
gone, he and Nurse Wood walked to the extreme end
of the ward where there was a partitioned recess that
was quite brilliant with flowers and plants. On a
narrow bed in this recess lay a wild-looking, haggard
man. His long, matted grey hair, his straggling un-
kempt beard and moustache, his sunken eyes, and
drawn, tormented face gave him the appearance of being
very old. His skin was burnt to the colour of brick,
but even the tan could not disguise the pallor of his
face. He seemed to be dozing. The Nurse went
gently to the bedside, and asked softly :

" Are you asleep, Blewitt? "

" Eh what hullo; who cco-eed ? "

" I have brought Mr Harold Preston to see you."

The old fellow's face seemed to suddenly reaminate,

32 " OUT THERE "

and a light came into his bleared eyes. He turned
quickly, raised himself with an effort on his elbow,
and stretched forth a brown withered hand.

" God's in His heaven still," he mumbled, with
something like a smile.

Harold tried to identify the man but failed. The
patient was quick to understand.

" You don't know me, boss ; 'tain't likely you would
with all this weed about my face. Besides, it's nigh on
to three years since we met."

There was a chair by the bedside. The visitor
seated himself and held the withered hand between his
own, and the sick man resumed the recumbent position.
Then there was an awkward little silence. Harold
was busy racking his brains to try and recall where
he had seen Bill Blewitt before. Bill turned his eyes
on Nurse Wood with a look that spoke plainer than
words. She was leaning over the foot-rail of the bed ;
she understood the meaning of that look ; Bill did not
intend to talk while she was there.

" Well, I'll leave you for a while," she said softly;
" and mind you don't exhaust yourself too much."
She turned and walked down the ward, and following
her with his eyes, Bill said :

" That's one o' God's women. A rough devil like
me ain't fit to be 'tended by the likes o' her."

" You mustn't say that, old chap. A man's a man,
whether he's rotigh or smooth, and when we get bowled
over women are ministering angels."

" God love 'em, that's true," replied Blewitt, with a
lump in his throat. " Until I managed to stagger into
this settlement I hadn't set eyes on a white woman for
three years. I'm only a dingo, boss, but I'm grateful,
and I don't forget them as does anything for me.
That's why I sent for you."

" What have I done ? " asked Harold, still study-
ing the old bushman with mingled curiosity and

" Do you mind about three years ago, when four
chaps stayed on your Run for a few days, and you was
good to 'em ? "

" Oh, by Jove, yes," exclaimed Harold, as light
began to dawn on him.


" Well, I was one on 'em. We had tramped down
from the Snowy River, and was stony broke. We was
intending to push out West prospecting. We was all
old hands and were searching for gold. You was a
white man to us ; you fed us and was good to us. I
asked you to lend me some dust and you gave me
twenty quid! "

" Good Lord! Yes, now I remember," cried Harold.
Then with a bitter laugh, " I was pretty flush then,
now I'm stony broke."

The old man fixed him with his eyes as if doubtful
about the truth of the statement.

" On my honour, it's true," Harold said, interpreting
the look correctly. " Two years' drought has cleaned
me out."

" Give us your fist, boss. I believe you now."
They shook hands, and Blewitt continued, " I says
again, God's in His heaven, and He's let me come
back to help you, 'cos you helped me, see. I
ain't got no religion, but I believe that these things is
arranged." Harold was all eagerness now. Instinc-
tively he felt that this wanderer had some interesting
revelation to make. " When you gave me that twenty
quid, a lump came up in my throat, boss, and rne and
my pals swore as we'd pay you back if we lived, P
came down here to the township and bought some
outfit, and the four of us set our faces to the wilderness.
We struck out over the plains, and steered for the
north-west. Sand and heat, thirst and hunger, that's
what we had to endure. But we was all born bushmen
and used to roughing it, so we pulled through, and
after being out for many weeks we came to the foot-
hills of a great range, and fell in with a tribe of Myalls
(wild black men). We seemed in for a rough time, lor
I don't think they'd ever seen white men before ; but
we fired off our revolvers, and told 'em we could make
thunder and lightning that would kill 'em all off.
They believed the yarn and was good to us. We were
about at the end of our tether when we met these black
devils, but they gave us grub, and when we had been
with 'em for two or three weeks we persuaded half a
dozen of 'em to guide us into the mountains.

" One day we struck a deep gorge with a river run-

34 " OUT THERE "

ning through it. It had a promising look, and we found
gold-bearing quartz cropping out of the hill-sides. We
fossicked around, getting out lumps of stone with
hundreds of pounds' worth of gold in 'em, but it was no
use to us, for we couldn't crush it. Then we began to
pan the river dirt, and we got out pounds' weight of
scale gold. I tell you, boss, it made our eyes water;
here was thousands and thousands of pounds' worth of
gold, but civilisation was far off, and we was hard put
to it to get grub enough to keep body and soul
together. But we had struck it rich, and we made up
our minds to load ourselves up with as much as we

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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 2 of 22)