Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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his appearance. Harold decided not o shave, for he
did not want to be recognised by anyone who had
known him. But he would not fail, he thought, to
let Gordon know him before he killed him. He still
had Gordon's pistol and bullet in his possession, the
bullet " that was to find the heart of the cowardly
wretch who had left him to die in the Ranges."

Captain Peel remained at his anchorage another two
days shipping water, a necessary they had run short
of. It took Harold some little time to reconcile himself
to his new surroundings. His return to civilised life,
even though it was the semi-civilised life of a south-
sea trading schooner, was irksome to him at first.
The skipper furnished him with a siiit of clothes and
pair of sea boots from the " slop chest." He could
tolerate the clothes, but the boots tortured him, and
he had to get accustomed to them very gradually. The
Day Dawn ran south inside the Great Barrier Reef,
and with the exception of a succession of gales, the
passage to Sydney was uneventful. Skipper Peel
proved himself a first-rate fellow, and was keenly
interested in his mysterious passenger, but Harold
was very reticent about himself. When Peel asked
him if he was going to work the gold deposits he had
spoken of, he answered somewhat evasively :

" I don't know. I must take advice. They are a
long way off. One cannot be too careful, you know,
in protecting one's interests. Moreover, I must
triumph over myself first. I have lived the life of a
savage so long that I want a bit of civilisation now ;



278 < ; OUT THERE "

besides, there is something else to live for in this
world than riches."

" Perhaps there is," said the rough sailor with an
expression of avarice in his eyes, " but give me the
riches and I'll get all I want to satisfy me. It's a
damned hard world to get along in when you've no
money."

Whatever Harold's thoughts were on that point he
allowed them to remain unuttered. He himself was
dominated by one desire Vengeance. After that . . .
well, after that God alone knew what might happen!

When Preston arrived in Sydney he felt bewildered
for a time. The noise, the bustle, the stir, the masses
of people dazed him. The one feeling that filled him
with a fierce joy, if joy it could be called, was the
knowledge that at last, after weary waiting, he was
drawing near the man he hated. He sold his gold,
and provided himself with a few necessaries. Holding
himself aloof from everyone, he was a lonely man in the
crowd, formed no acquaintance, but nursed his terrible
secret in bitter silence. He believed his cause was
just, and yet to kill a man in a civilised community,
however great the enormity of the man, would be
regarded in no other light than that of brutal murder.
But let it be so : Gordon had done him a terrible
wrong; he couldn't find a single palliative circum-
stance in his wickedness. No, his hate could only be
appeased, by the wretch's death.

The avenger journeyed to Melbourne, thence by
coach to Gordonstowu. A railway between the two
places was in course of construction, but was not
expected t6 be opened for another three or four years.
He found great changes in Gordonstown. The place
had extended itself, the traffic greatly increased. He
had no fear that anyone would recognise him. He was
still a lonely man in a crowd. Obtaining lodgings in
an inn, he began to make cautious inquiries, and bit
by bit learned that Gordon had sold his property in
the town, had married Mary, had taken possession of
the Preston estates, and that Mary Gordon was dead
and rumour had it that her husband had treated her
badly. Dead ! When the unhappy man heard that



THE TRIUMPH OF HAROLD 279

the woman he had loved was no more his very soul
was convulsed by a passion of sorrow that threatened
his sanity. Then a demon entered into him, a demon
of relentless, burning hatred. Nothing on earth now
should stay his hand. His vengeance would be swift,
terrible, and complete. Had it been possible to have
dragged Gordon into the wilderness and slowly
tortured him to death he would have done it, and have
gloated over his sufferings. He cleaned the pistol,
bought ammunition, and made sure that the bullet he
had treasured for so many years accurately fitted the
barrel. It had become an obsession with him that that
bullet which was intended to kill him should cut the
thread of Gordon's life. There was a poison of mad-
ness in his blood ; he was reckless of all consequences,
and persuaded himself that there was no heart as bitter
or as dead as his own. He was numbed with the
coldness of a blank despair, and in the throng of people
among whom he moved none guessed the terrible
purpose of his darkened life.

" Mary ! the woman he- had worshipped, married and
dead ! " It was all like a hideous nightmare. " Mine
is selfish grief, mine is selfish pain," he thought, " but
my heart and brain are seared with her sorrow. I
realise it all. Why should guilt such as Gordon has
displayed be allowed to thrive ? She drooped and died,
and I who loved her was far away. What pity can
the man who destroyed her life and mine have for the
silent tears, the wasted years, the weary, hopeless days ?
God has not righted the wrong. He has been deaf
and blind to her cry of agony and mine. The griefs
and passions that shake mankind are allowed to pass
unavenged. Might is right, and wrong is not righted
in this wicked world. I lived to love, till the dam-
nable shadow of this evil man fell upon me ; now I
live for hate and vengeance. Love is patient ; love
was strong and true, and my heart of hate has been
patient too ; but now the hour of Fate has come, and
I will strike with relentless hand. Why should I
show any pity? He had none for me."

So in this awful bitterness of soul he moved on.
One day he passed Dr Blain in the street, and while
he himself remained unknown, he recognised the



280 " OUT THERE '

doctor, though he had grown old and grey. Blairs

f lanced at him with some curiosity, but little he
reamed that this hairy, savage-looking man was his
old friend whose heart had turned to stone, and whose
soul was filled with the one terrible, relentless desire
to kill his enemy.

He started on the last stage of his long journey that
was to bring him face to face with the man who had
wrecked him. As the miser counts and handles his
gold, so Harold, with a fierce, devilish joy, reckoned
his hoarded hatred, the hatred that had grown and
increased as the years of suffering had gone by. The
passions that have ruled since the world of men began
were working in the heart of that worn man, and in his
breast, with its guarded secret, raged a fire of hell. It
was the old tale, a man and woman's love, the shadow
of a mad lust for mastery and possession on the part of
another man, of wrong and pain inflicted, the loss of
faith, the disbelief in the mercy of God, leaden years
of agony, and the crime committed to punish crime.

" Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord." " No, it is
mine," man exclaims impiously.

Absorbed as he was with his great purpose, Harold
nevertheless had eyes for the many changes that the
years had produced. What had been a mere track
between Glenbar and Gordonstown was now a well-
made road, flanked with the telegraph wire, and houses
standing in patches of cultivated ground. Relatively
speaking, Glenbar had grown into a town. There
were the school-house, the church, the store, the
miniature streets with some pretentions to regularity.
And as his eyes alighted on his own dwelling-place
a flood of memories overwhelmed him. Oh, the
happiness he had known there the precious love
of Mary, the golden, dreamy days, his joy in all
things! but all had been taken from him by the
fiendish man he had come to kill. His was the
triumph now. He could not restore Mary to life,
could not bring back the halcyon time of joyous youth,
but he could and would rid the earth of a human
viper. A sense of hideous satisfaction came xipon him
at* the thought that the viper was now in his power.
He would find him face him suddenly paralyse him



THE TRIUMPH OF HAROLD 281

with deadly horror as he revealed himself, and then !
Lord the very thought of it made his heart thrill with
delight. He saw red ; he recalled the old feud, and
now he, a Preston, the last of his line, would score
the final triumph destroy the Gordons, root and
branch.

This great moment repaid him for much that he had
endured. Out There far away, in the Golden Valley
of the Ranges were millions of pounds' worth of gold ;
and those millions might be his by right of priority.
But what cared he for millions; his life was concen-
trated in this one desperate act of Revenge. That
revenge accomplished, the millions could remain where
they were, and he would curse God and die. God had
tortured him and allowed the evil man to flourish.
Never again would he offer up praise to such a God
as that.

Some such thoughts as these tore like a tornado
through his heated and distracted brain as he stood
and gazed on his former home, of which he had been
robbed robbed of his possessions, of the woman to
whom he had given his soul, of his happiness, his
faith, his hope by a damnable man who had been
allowed to flourish while he had been subjected to the
tortures of hell. " The justness of heaven " was a
mockery. Men were more just, for they at least did
punish crime. All this was mad reasoning, but how
could one, situated as he was, and whose faith had
been destroyed, reason otherwise; suffering had warped
his poor little human brain ; the demon still possessed
him. VENGEANCE was his shibboleth; he had no care
for any other.

As he stood, held by his fierce passion, an old grey-
haired man approached ; he recognised the man, it was
Jim Dawkins. Jim stared at him, but did not know
him.

" Hullo! Who are you? " asked Jim abruptly, as
he eyed the strange-looking man with suspicion.

" An old bushman. Isn't this Harold Preston's
place? "

" No. Preston has been dead many years. Mr
Gordon is the owner."

"What Gordon? "



282 " OUT THERE "

" Oliver Gordon."

"Oh. Is he about?"

" Yes, but he's pretty queer. You'll find him on
the veranda yonder.- That's where he spends most of
his time."

Harold visibly started, but old Dawkins did not
notice it; he seemed self-absorbed and disinterested,
like a man who has trouble on his mind.

For a brief moment Harold was tempted to declare
himself to his old friend, but checked the impulse. It
might lead to his design being thwarted.

" Shall I tell the boss you want to see him ? " asked
Dawkins.

" No. . . . I'll find him if he's on the veranda. I've
a message for him."

" Well, yes, he's there right enough," and Jim.
Dawkins passed on, as he was hurrying to attend to
some duty or other.

Harold stood silent and thoughtful for tense moments,
his hungry eyes wandering over the familiar scenes. A
passion of emotion shook him to his innermost depths,
and as he recalled all that he had suffered, the anguish
he had endured, the torture of suspense, his hatred for
the man he had come to kill grew stronger, if that
were possible. It was a stupendous moment in his
life; he had waited for it, yearned for it, dreamed of
it, lived for it, and now that it had come at last, his
pulses beat hard with the excitement that he struggled
to keep in check lest it should sweep him off his mental
balance. He felt how necessary it was to be calm, col-
lected 1 in the hour of his triumph when his hatred for the
man who had wrecked him was to be consummated in
a supreme act of vengeance. He noted many things,
and sighed deeply; it was the sigh of a man whose
heart was torn with the remembrance of a happiness
that had gone from him for ever. " How the place has
"changed," he thought; "everything has changed, I
more than all; I am a man who has been in hell, and
I have come back to exact a terrific reckoning from
the man who cast me there." If he had needed a
stimulus in that tense moment to nerve him, the
thought of his sufferings supplied it. A Sabbath
stillness seemed to hold the little settlement, parrots



THE TRIUMPH OF HAROLD 283

chattered in the bamboo copse, and the soft and plain-
tive cooing of a wood pigeon served but to accentuate
the silence, a silence that was like a wordless prayer.

The day was far spent. The sun was low down on
the horizon, and above it hung a canopy of cloud,
radiant with flaming gold, whilst the whole landscape
was bathed in a flood of saffron light that softened
while it revealed every salient feature. The whole
scene was one of ineffable beauty, and a faint wind
stirred the trees to a languid whispering that was like
the crooning of a drowsy mother hushing her babe to
rest; but the fiery, restless heart of the embittered man
who had come out of the wilderness bent on tragedy
would not be lulled : its every throb was a note of
vengeance. He moved on, and reached the wicket gate
that gave entrance to the front garden. As he lifted
the latch a sweet little woman appeared on the veranda
coming from the house. It was Ruth, the pretty
schoolmistress. She paused a moment, and turning to
where Gordon was lying behind the sun-screen, which
hid him from Harold, she said with a smile on her
sweet face :

" Good night, Mr Gordon; I hope you'll be better
to-morrow."

" Good night," came the response.

It was Gordon's voice. Harold recognised it, and
his heart danced with an unholy joy. He had waited
long, terrible years for the sound of that voice, and
now he was within a few yards of his mortal enemy;
that enemy should have no to-morrow; the avenger
would hurl his guilty soul, with all his scarlet sins
heavy upon it, to the nethermost depths of hell.

Ruth tripped lightly down the few wooden steps
from the veranda, and reaching the gate, half started
back with a sudden sense of shock as she encountered
the savage-looking man. He moved on one side ; she
stared at him for a moment and passed on ; his weary
eyes followed her as she walked towards the school, and
he saw three or four happy children come bounding
out to meet her with whoops of joy. The incident
thrilled him, but he clenched his teeth and set his
face; he would allow nothing to soften him in this
dread moment of his great revenge.



284 " OUT THERE "

He walked steadily up the path, mounted the steps,
g'ained^ the veranda, and his eyes afire with the fero-
city of a wild animal about to spring on its prey,
beheld his enemy lying on the deck-chair.

" AT LAST," lie muttered with a sudden iudrawiug of
his breath.

Gordon was a pitiable sight ; his ravaged face unmis-
takably proclaimed that he, top, had suffered torture.
He was withered and emaciated. He turned his
bleared, sunken eyes on the intruder a hairy, wild-
looking being with a weapon in his hand ; he betrayed
an instinct of fear, and in that moment of fate some-
thing must have spoken to him of doom, for he partly
raised himself on his elbow, and in a raucous voice that
was aquiver with apprehension, he said commandingly :

" What do you want here? "

" You," answered Harold with an expression that
was fiendish; " I ivant you. I have come out of the
wilderness to find you."

The sick man's alarm increased, a hectic flush
stained his face. " Well what is it ? " he gasped.

For long, tense moments, Harold remained silent.
The man he gazed upon his enemy was a wreck ;
he had obviously suffered, been tortured ; his youth
had gone, his brain had been seared, his heart torn ;
he had won his triumph at the cost of hellish agony.

Harold was not prepared for this sight ; it momen-
tarily softened him, but with a mental curse he
hardened himself again.

" You don't know me, Oliver Gordon," he said
deliberately under his breath, while his eyes blazed
with the fire of his hate.

" No . . . who . . . the deuce are you ? What do
you want ? Get out of this. Can't you see that I am
ill ? "

Again a long pause, then Harold spoke slowly and
watched with gloating joy the effect of his words.

"I ... am ... a dead man . . . come to life
. . . I . . . am . . . here . . to ... to ... kill
. . . you. I am Harold Preston, the man you wrecked
and deserted. The final triumph is mine. Here is the
weapon you tried to kill me with. I have treasured
it all these years that it might kill you ! "



THE TRIUMPH OF HAROLD 285

Gordon's eyes seemed to suddenly bulge from his
head, a leaden hue spread over his haggard face, his
teeth chattered as if from ague ; he made an ineffectual
attempt to rise, and then, with an impulse of supreme
horror, he uttered a loud, piercing cry and fell back
on his bed.

At that moment a child and an old grey-headed lady,
alarmed by the cry, ran from the room on to the
veranda. The child stopped suddenly as she caught
sight of the savage-looking man, and clung to
Margaret Bruce's skirts.

Harold stood transfixed. The silence remained un-
broken for what seemed a long, long time ; his eyes
fell upon the child. The fading light of the sun cast
a halo about her, tinging her rich brown hair with
gold. Her gazelle brown eyes encountered his. For
him Mary Gordon lived again in this glorious child,
whose beauty seemed not of earth but heaven. He did
not require to be told who she was. The pistol slipped
from his hand, and in that dramatic moment something
passed from him ; his soul awoke ; the nightmare had
gone. Covering his face with his trembling hands, he
sobbed, and a convulsive terror shook him.

"What does this mean? Who are you?" asked
Margaret Bruce softly, some instinct answering her
own questions.

" God pity me, God forgive me," he cried, as he
flung up his hands. It was a prayer this time from
his awakened soul.

Margaret Bruce stood as if hypnotised, her delicate
white hand on the gold brown hair of the beautiful
child who still clung to her skirts, her splendid eyes
filled with wonderment. Margaret searched the face
of the stranger; she saw the pistol lying on the floor,
she heard the appeal " God pity me, God forgive me,"
wrung from an anguished brain, and some quick
up-springing instinct revealed the man to her ;
speaking like one under a spell, she said under her
breath :

" You are Harold Preston? "

It was a pronouncement no less than an interro-
gation. He covered his face with his trembling hands
and sobbed.



286 " OUT THERE "

" Yes ... Harold Preston. ... I have come from a
living death, my tortured brain afire with fierce
hate. ..."

"Hate! " echoed Margaret without altering her
pose. The spell still held her.

" Yes, hate for the wretch there who destroyed me."

Tears filled Margaret's eyes ; her voice was broken
with emotion. She moved now.

" Put the hate from you, Harold. Look on this
child, the child of Mary who is in heaven, the woman
who loved you and who lives again in this little one.
Let the mother speak to you, appeal to you through
her sweet and innocent child. The hand of God is in
this; it is a miracle."

He fell on his knees by the stilled form of Gordon,
who was in the throes of death. The shock had proved
fatal, though he still breathed ; his eyes reflected the
horror he felt, hfs chest rose and fell convulsively.
Preston stretched his arms across the quivering body,
his hands clasped in the act of supplication.

" God, in Thy great mercy, pardon him his sins,"
he prayed. " Pity him, O Lord, for he knew not what
he did."

The dying man made a spasmodic movement, and
his eyes turned on Harold ; he gave a great sigh, and
an ashen pallor spread over his shrivelled face.

There were some solemn moments of silence, broken
only by Harold's sobs. It was the poetry of tragedy;
in those strained moments there was compressed a
human story of wrong, suffering, hate, despair,
repentance, hope, and the wonder of a little child.

Margaret spoke some words in the ear of Mary,
and leading her forward to Harold, who still knelt with
bowed head, she placed the child's arms around
Harold's neck. This act was sublime in its pathos
and tenderness. The touch of the innocent child was
as the touch of an angel of God, and her voice sounded
to him as if it were the voice of Mary in heaven.

" I am little Mary Preston Gordon," she said
sweetly.

At the magic of her touch and voice the man's awful
bitterness passed away, his soul sprang out of the pit
of hell into the light again. He caught the child to



THE TRIUMPH OF HAROLD 287

his breast and held her there, kissing her beautiful
face framed in a halo of gold brown hair.

" God," he cried with swelling heart, " I am
humbled into the dust. I do not deserve this great
joy, but Thou knowest how J have been tortured.
Forgive me, Q Lord, forgive me out of Thine infinite
mercy for this dear child's sake. Thou hast said,
' Suffer little children to come unto me ' ; this little
child shall lead me by the hand, lead me, the worn
and weary man, that I may find rest, and that peace
that Thou alone can give."

Oliver Gordon was laid to rest in the cemetery of
the town where his kindred slept. He had wasted his
life, he had prostituted his gifts to base purposes, he
had brought sorrow and pain to many, he had broken
Mary Gordon's heart, and had even alienated the
natural affections of his own child, for he frightened
her tender, sensitive nature, and sh'e shrank from him ;
so no one mourned him. But hundreds of hands were
stretched out in warm greeting to the man who for so
many years had been regarded as dead, and whose
thrilling story touched the hearts of all who heard it ;
a hundred voices accorded him a cordial welcome.
Faithful old Jim Dawkins, Dr Blain, Margaret Bruce,
and a score of other old-time friends voiced their joy
at his return in no uncertain manner.

He felt as if he had suffered the pangs of death and
been dead, but was now reawakened to a uew r life of
joy, peace, and faith ; and as he looked into little
Mary's sweet face, felt her soft little hands resting in
his in perfect confidence and trust, he experienced a
new-born happiness that compensated him for much.
The mother's face lived again in the child's ; there were
the sun-gold hair, the grace of the lily, the dear, soft
eyes with the dreamy light and the mystic spell of the
southern night.

In his soul he said :

" They have left me this God-kissed child. 'Tis the
bond of Fate, and I see the rise of a splendid star o'er
the home of my fathers in old Glenbar."

THE END



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