Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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scale gold. Then it suddenly flashed upon Harold's
mind that it would be necessary for him to be in
possession of money in the event of his succeeding
in returning to a civilised community, so he took
means to secrete a little hoard of the gold, and sug-
gested to Jack that as they were now in the Ranges
they should make a dash for the wilderness; but
Pringle would not hear of it, and declared that nothing
on earth would induce him to leave his friends, but he
opposed no objections to Harold going if he desired to
do so.

"You have reasons for going, old man," he said ;
" I have none. I could not live in any other way than
I am living now. I am a savage, and will die a
savage; but you go, kill your enemy, and come back.
You will be safe and happy here."

" I will go, but I don't suppose I shall ever come
back," said Harold frankly.

Mistaking his meaning jack said gloomily :

" No, the thirst lands will take you as they took my
other chums." .

Harold allowed the subject to drop. He felt it was
better to let Jack retain that idea. He made such
preparations for flight as were possible in the circum-
stances, and determined to avail himself of a dark
night to start. But one night the little party was
thrown into a state of excitement by seeing a fire
"blazing about a mile away in the direction of- the foot-
hills. Two or three of the tribe crept cautiously
forward to ascertain what it meant. In a little while


the}' returned with the information that a number of
black men belonging to a tribe with which they were
at deadly feud were encamped out there, and he and his
tribe resolved to attack them. Against this course
both Harold and Jack protested on the grounds that
they did not know the strength of the enemy, and it
would be better to conceal themselves until the morning.
But their friends were too excited to listen to reason.
These primitive children of 'the Australian wilds were
ever ready for a fight. Endowed with the cunning and
instincts of savage animals, they would track down
their enemies as an animal tracks down its prey.

Harold and Jack saw the nselessness of opposing
the unanimous resolve of their party, and they kne\v
that if they refused it would be taken as a sign of
cowardice, and the}- would of a certainty be killed.
They therefore consented to lead them. In the form of
a crescent the attackers crept forward, Harold at one
horn of the crescent, Pringle at the other. They
moved as silently as panthers until they came within
striking distance of about a dozen naked blacks
crouching round a fire. Both Harold and Pringle, as
if acted upon by some mental telepathy, resolved to
refrain from taking any part in the attack on this little
body of defenceless men, but their companions, mad
with excitement and blood-lust, rushed forward with a
tremendous shout and hurled their spears. Several
men fell at the first onslaught, the others seized their
weapons and made a brave resistance, but it was all
useless; they were overcome and slain. One of the
attacking force was killed, and two wounded, one of
the two being Jack Pringle. A spear, probably thrown
at random, pierced his chest, and he was found lying
unconscious on the ground with blood pouring from
the wound. Harold was distracted ; he himself drew
out the spear though with great difficulty, and the
natives, who were clever at stanching blood, stopped
the bleeding, bore their companion back to their own
camp, and all night long Harold sat beside him,
tending him and comforting him as best he could.

At the dawn of day the party set off with their
wounded companions for their settlement, where their
witch doctors and gins would endeavour to save their

266 " OUT THERE "

lives. But Harold had no hope of Jack, he felt sure
that the lung had been pierced, and the wounded man
knew that his end was not far off.

" They've spiked me, old man," he said to Harold,
" and I'm done for. The pain's awful." He spoke
with difficulty, and blood oozed from his mouth.
" When I'm gone, chum, you make tracks, but don't
forget the gold. You've been a good pal, and the Lord
love you."

Harold was overwhelmed with sorrow. He felt as if
some malignant foe was working against him. The
natives travelled with extraordinary rapidity, and soon
reached the camp, where they were received with
wailing and mourning. Incantations and mysterious
ceremonies were performed by the witch doctors and
the women over the wounded men, and a rough kind
of surgery was resorted to; in the case of the black
man it seemed to be effective, but Pringle had been too
surely stricken to death. Harold bewailed his help-
lessness, but what could he do. Skilful as the
Australian blacks are in treating wounds, they cannot
heal a pierced lung, and poor Pringle gradually drifted
out, dying on the fourth day after his return to the



THE death of Pringle was a great shock to Harold ; he
felt his loss tremendously ; it accentuated his loneliness
and strengthened his determination to escape. Five
years had now passed since he left his home, young,
hopeful, pulsing with lofty ideas. Now he was old
before his time, and all the great possibilities thai
filled his vision five years ago had faded for ever. He
did not attempt to disguise from himself that if he
succeeded in reaching the home where he had spent
so many happy years everything would be changed.
He had been mourned as dead, and by this time was
forgotten ; but when he thought of Gordon in posses-
sion of Glen bar, perhaps the husband of Mary,
flourishing and living at his ease, and regarded as a
person of wealth and importance, it fired his blood and
tortured his brain until he felt that he could curse God
and die. Die! no, not die while Gordon lived: his
great purpose must be fulfilled and when he had
wreaked vengeance on the man who had ruined him,
then he would willingly give up his existence, for what
interest would the world have for him after ? His
embittered, desolate life would be better ended. These
sad thoughts held him, haunted him. He heard a
voice in the night calling: " Come, come; vengeance
shall be yours."

His days were pitiless with a corroding misery ; the
savagery amidst which he lived filled him with loath-
ing whenever in fancy he saw his enemy occupying a

268 " OUT THERE "

position which commanded the respect and deference
of his fellows. He could not by any stretch of the
imagination picture Gordon a prey to remorse. If
anyone had told him that Gordon was a wreck, a
haunted wretch, to whom life was a burden, and yet
death terrified him, he would have laughed that
person to scorn. No, to his mind his enemy was a
man who could commit a crime one day, and wipe it
out of his memory the next with simply a slight effort
of will. It was but natural that his thoughts should
thus shape themselves. He had never understood
Gordon, had never been able to see into the inner
recesses of his soul. To a man who wore his heart
upon his sleeve as Preston did the subtlety of other
men was incomprehensible, and when he first realised
Gordon's villainy the shock stunned him. Even when
he began to doubt he could only vaguely apprehend
Gordon's capabilities of deception, and when at last
the truth in all its hideous nakedness was revealed, it
utterly transformed his nature.

About six months after that fatal fight in the Ranges
when poor Jack Pringle's life was sacrificed, chance
seemed to favour Preston, and he resolved on a
desperate attempt to escape. For some time there had
been a mysterious illness among the natives ; without
apparent suffering- the patient became inert, refused
food, was seized with insatiable thirst, gradually sank
into coma until death supervened. The witch doctors
cast spells and made divinations whereby they dis-
covered that their enemies had sent evil spirits among
them, and the only way to escape their accursed
influence was to break up the camp, where they had
resided for so many years, and proceed to the east,
having first exorcised the evil spirits by means of
enchanted fires, the sacrifice of two children, .and the
sprinkling of their blood over their chief, Totem.

Harold heard of this contemplated move of the camp
with joy, for he knew that eastward was the Pacific
Coast, and if he could succeed in reaching the coast
some means of proceeding south might be found. The
ceremony of exorcising was spread over seven days.
During the whole week great fires were kept burning
round the settlement, and were fed with a peculiar


brushwood that filled the air with a pungent acrid
smoke, aud each night as the moon rose living snakes
were cast into the flames. On the seventh night the
Totem was brought out. It consisted of a block of
wood on which the figure of an impossible animal had
been crudely carved. Two babies were then put to
death, and when the blood from their bodies had been
sprinkled over the Totem it was cast into a fire, around
which the blacks performed a weird dance, accom-
panying it with a chorus of wails and groans. Of
course after such terrible rites as these every evil
spirit was done for, and the next day the whole tribe
started on their eastward journey. In the course of
a few days the extraordinary wisdom of the witch,
doctors was thoroughly established; for the mysterious
illness disappeared as the tribe moved on towards' the
rising sun, through dense undergrowth and thick
jungle. Their impedimenta consisted principally of
what each man could carry, and without any organised
formation save that the women and children kept
together in a compact body, the tribe straggled
through the bush, scouts being sent on in advance to
give warning should danger threaten, but only one
other small tribe of friendlies were met with, and they
fraternised for several days. So through the primeval
wilds they moved on for weeks through a fairly well-
watered district, their boomerangs, spears, and blow-
pipes providing them with food.

Harold Preston, scantily clothed as the rest were,
and barefooted, was able to accommodate himself to
the ways and habits of the natives. His feet had
become as hard as iron, the exposed parts of his body
were burnt to the colour of copper, whilst the matted
hair of his face and body gave him a truly savage
appearance. He had learnt the native ways of
providing himself with food and water, and could cast
a boomerang or hurl a spear with the best. He no
longer had any fear of trusting himself alone to the
wilderness ; the experience he had gained would enable
him to live where other white men would starve. The
further the tribe advanced east the fiercer became his
desire to cut himself adrift from his companions, and
seek out and destrov the man who had ruined him.

2?o " OUT THERE "

But for that overmastering desire he would have been
content to have ended his days as a savage, but in
him was kept alive the feud that had so long existed
between his family and the Gordons. A Gordon had
broken him and triumphed over him, and he felt that
the bones of his people would turn in their graves if
he failed to exact a heavy penalty. He thoroughly
realised the utter futility of appealing to the laws of
civilisation for redress. In such a case as his the law
could not aid him. He could only rely upon the
traditional law of the savage which was in effect " If
a man wrongs you kill him and exterminate all that
is his. Blood and death alone can atone."

It was the elemental law of all savage races ; never-
theless Harold did not close his eyes to the fact that
however cruelly a man may have been wronged, if he
killed his enemy civilisation would regard it as murder,
and condign punishment would follow. But that
thought had no deterrent influence over him.
Stealthily as a savage, he would track his wronger
down, and having killed him would outlaw himself for
ever by seeking refuge among his black friends once
more, where not even the long arm of civilised law
would be able to reach him. His whole life, all his
thoughts and feelings were now centred in the one
desire for vengeance. The spiritual side of his nature
was dead, or at least dormant. He had neither faith
nor fear now. All the altruism and tender sentiments
of his youth and early manhood had been hardened
out of existence. He had lived a clean life, he had
been honest, and within the narrow range of his sphere
of action he had endeavoured to do good. He had
worshipped at the shrine of Nature and through Nature
to Nature's God, and yet God, in Whom he had once
believed, had allowed a treacherous man to rob him of
all that he held dear in life, and while the wicked man
floiirisKed he had been condemned to \ r ears of bitterness
and suffering in savage exile. " No, "there is no God,*'
h.e repeated.

Thus in the fierce bitterness of his heart he
reasoned ; he was human, and thought and reasoned as
a human, and he steeled himself against all belief in
the justice of Providence, and the goodness of a God

who allowed wickedness to prevail over righteousness.
Impious as this may seem, it was, after all, very
human, for few are the men, conscious of some recti-
tude and strivings for the better life, who can keep
faith whole in the face of persecution and wrong. It
does sometimes seem to our poor human understanding
that in this strangely constituted world the honest man
is allowed to suffer and be trampled upon, while the
wicked flourish and are acclaimed. In civilised com-
munities poverty is regarded as little short of a crime,
while men bow down and worship the possessor of
riches, however wicked he may be. Harold Preston
was no exception to the rule that men form their judg-
ment of things in accordance with the point of view
from which they view them. Between preaching and
practice there is a wide difference, and the abstract
principles of the Christian doctrine often seem to be
irreconcilable with the stern realities of human life.

After many weeks of wandering the tribe came at
last to a luxuriant valley among the foothills of a low
range of mountains. It was a wide open valley, well
watered and wooded, and here the nomads decided to
pitch their camp for a time at any rate. The scouts
pushed forward to the mountains which they ascended,
and on their return reported that they had seen great
waters stretching out far and far to the sky. When
Harold heard this a joy that was like a fever seized
him, for he knew that the great waters must be the
Pacific Ocean; but he held himself in check, hard as
it was to do so. For a moment he thought of appeal-
ing to his black friends to allow him to go, but
reasoning it out he came to the conclusion that it was
running a risk, for if they refused they would exercise
more vigilance and prevent his escape. So he waited
with such patience as he could bring to bear for a
favourable opportunity, and in the course of the
ensuing fortnight the opportunity came.

Nearly the whole of the tribe went on a reconnoitring
expedition ; he was to have gone, but pleaded illness
and was left behind with the women and children, and
a few of the very old men. He occupied a hovel with
Jiunie, who was now old and withered, and in the dead
of night, armed with some boomerangs, two spears,

272 " OUT THERE "

and in possession of a quantity of gold which he had
brought from the gold valley, and carrying a small
native cooking vessel and a wooden cup, he stole
noiselessly out of the camp, and set his face to the
mountains. Jinnie was sleeping soundly when he leit.
The night was dark, but the bush had no terrors for
him now. He kept his course by the stars, always
going eastward, and when the sun rose in a pageant
of splendour there were the mountains before him. He
knew that he had taken his life in his hands, and was
faced with mystery and uncertainty ; but his purpose
sustained him, and if he could reach the ocean he
might find some means of going south. He came to a
broad river and swam across it, then threw himself
down in some scrub and fell asleep. When he awoke
the sun was declining in the west. He felt refreshed,
strengthened, and buoyant with hope. He pushed on,
began to ascend, and gaining the summit of a ridge
about two thousand feet high, beheld the vast Pacific
shimmering in the golden light of the setting sun.

Every fibre of his being throbbed with excitement ;
he felt as if he must weep, and by an impulse, which
he could hardly understand, he went down on his knees
and bowed his head to the ground as an act of adora-
tion to the s"ea to which he had so long been a stranger.
The sight of the mighty waters awakened in him some
of his old love for Nature. There was no wind, the
silence was impressive, and the marvellous beauty of
the scene which his thirsting eyes drank in stirred him
to an emotion which actually found expression in.
tears ; it was sure and certain evidence that the senti-
ments of his soul, which he had thought to be dead,
were only dormant. He estimated that about forty
miles lay between him and the shore. Two days'
travelling ; two days ! In two days he would be able
to lave himself in the sea ; the mere thought of it begot
in him a sort of ecstasy, and in spite of himself his
soul was lifted up a little out of the darkness. The
descent of the mountains on the eastward side was not
easy. A succession of broken and precipitous terraces
presented at times insurmountable obstacles, and
frequently he had to retrace his steps and search for
an easier way. The solitude was almost overpowering ;


there was not a sign of human life; he felt as if lie
were the sole survivor of a deserted world.

At last the mountains were behind him, and he
sheltered for the night beneath an overhanging rock.
The wa} T now was through very dense scrub which
made rapid travelling impossible, and it was not until
the afternoon of the fourth day, from the foot of the
mountains, that, though he could not see the ocean, lie
heard the boom of the breakers on the shore. He
hurried forward with an eagerness that left him breath-
less, his excitement increasing as he went, until
exhausted and weary he suddenly found himself on the
edge of a long line of precipitous cliffs, and at his feet,
for miles and miles on either hand, the mighty Pacific
rollers broke in snow white foam on the sandy shore.
He had to follow the trend of the cliffs for many miles
southward before he found a place of descent, and as
it wa> almost dark, he decided to wait for the dawn.
He slept soundly through the night.

When he awoke in the morning the sun was high ;
the ocean glittered in its fierce light, and as he com-
menced the descent he almost collapsed with over-
mastering excitement, for in a little cove beneath him
a large topsail schooner was anchored, and he could
plainly discern a boat drawn high and dry on the
shore. For a few brief minutes he felt that what he
saw wasn't real, that he was being mocked by a mirage
or dream vision. It was the first sign of civilised life
that his weary eyes had seen for over five years. There
are times when the shock of sudden joy is almost as
hard to bear as that of sorrow. Harold threw himself
flat on the ground, buried his face in his folded arms,
and wept, with a fear at his heart that when next he
looked he would discover that he had been the victim
of an optical delusion. As his self-possession slowly
returned he gradually raised his head, and there, sure
enough, were the ocean, the ship, the boat, and more,
for standing near the boat were two men. He sent
forth a shrill loud cooee ; he cooeed again and again,
making a trumpet of his hands ; then shading his eyes,
he watched and saw the two men start and look up-
ward. He waved his arms frantically, and rushed
forward at the risk of his neck ; he felt the hot sand

274 " OUT THERE "

beneath his bare feet ; and as a blurred picture, for his
eyes were dim, he saw two men standing a little apart,
one pointing a revolver at him, the other a gun. He
flung his two spears from him, ran towards the men,
and with the last remnant of his strength, he uttered
a cry, an exclamation and inconsistently a prayer,
" Thank God, thank God," and fell insensible on the



'* O human vengeance and human hate !
See, thine altars scattered and desolate !
Poor paltry things of a passing breath,
Ye are silent here in the halls of Death ! "

IT was many a long day since Harold Preston had
offered up thanks to the Deity. That he did so in this
supreme moment of his life showed that his infidelity
had no real existence, however much he himself might
believe it had. Consciousness soon returned, and when
he opened his eyes he saw the two men standing over
him. The expression on their tanned faces was that
of almost stupifying amazement ; and no wonder they
were amazed, for here at their feet was a wild, savage-
looking being who seemed to have fallen from the
clouds, and yet he had spoken in English and had
thanked God. Two other men came from the scrub
carrying a cask of water suspended from an oar on
their shoulders. They were no less astonished than
their companions were at this apparition of a seeming
savage. They were all sailormen, and had come on
shore to procure water.

" Where in the name of holy Moses have you come
from? " asked one of the sailors, when he had
recovered from his astonishment.

Harold rose to his feet ; he had not quite gained
his self-possession, and he answered somewhat
excitedly :

" I am a white man. I have come from far away in
the interior, where I have been living among the blacks
for many } r ears. I was out prospecting for gold and
fell into their hands. They have kept me prisoner,
but I managed to escape some days ago, and made for
the sea. Where have you come from ? Where are
going to? "

" We belong to the schooner there in the cove, Tine
Day Dawn. We've been cmising about among the


276 " OUT THERE "

northern islands gathering up copra, and are bound
for Sydney," answered one of the men, who constituted
himself the spokesman.

1 Sydney! " repeated Harold, " Sydney; this is the
hand of fate. I must go with you. You cannot leave
me here in this barren, desolate region."

" Well," began one of the sailors as if in doubt, " it
strikes me you'll have to come aboard and see the old
man ; if he likes to give you a passage that's none of
our business."

" I don't want him to give me a passage. I can pay
for it. I have a little gold," said Harold eagerly.
" Where I have come from there are tons and tons of

The sailors exchanged looks, as if a common thought
had come to them all to go and enrich themselves.

" How far is the place? " asked the spokesman with
a note of eagerness.

" Hundreds .of miles through a desolate, deadly
region," answered Harold, divining their thoughts ;
" only a well-equipped expedition could hope to reach
the spot."

" Oh," exclaimed the sailors in chorus, then one :

" Well, mate, you come along with us to the hooker,
and see the skipper. His name's Peel; he's a Sydney
chap, and ain't a bad sort."

" Take me to him," said Harold. " Lord, I feel as
if I had come out of a living death ; as if I had been
buried for years and am now resurrected."

The sailors got their boat into the water, placed
the cask aboard, and when Harold had taken his place
in the stern sheets, the four men bent to the oars, and
in half an hour were alongside The Day Dawn. A big,
burly, red-faced man, smoking a pipe, was sitting on
the taffrail of the vessel as the boat came alongside.
He sprang to his feet, and leaning over cried out to
the men :

" Where in thunder have you captured that
savage? "

" He ain't a savage, skipper, he's a white chap,"
was the answer.

As Harold mounted to the deck by means of the rope
ladder, Captain Peel received him with a look of


interrogation and amazement. In a few minutes
Harold had said enough to arouse the sympathy and
interest of the skipper. As he was anxious to conceal
his identity, Harold said his name was Thomas

" Well, I'll give you a passage to Sydney, and must
find you a rig-out of some sort," said the skipper.
" You look like a baboon now," he added with a
smile; " but perhaps when you've got some of that
scrub off your face and clothes on you, you'll be more

Harold agreed and went below with Captain Peel,
who soon placed at his disposal the means of altering

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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 21 of 22)