Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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could carry and come back to make proper arrange-
ments to work the claim. " But things went wrong.
One of my mates fell ill of fever and died, and we
buried him under a rock ; another went out one day
further in the hills prospecting, and never came back.
Me and the other chap then packed up our traps and
started for home. We tramped into the desert, and I
tell you, boss, it was hell. We did about three
hundred miles when iny chum fell ill. I stayed with
him till he died, and his bones are bleaching out there
in the wilderness. It was awful lonely for me. God !
what I suffered. I kept the life in me with vermin and
roots, and the thirst was awful. I must have gone
mad, because there was many days that I couldn't
remember anything. But I was tough. I was a
sailorman in my younger days, and I suppose that made
iron of me. How long I tramped I don't know, for
I lost count of the days ; but there was one clear
thought in my head, I wanted to find you; I wanted to
prove to you that even a rough old dingo like me
has a heart. I laid my course pretty straight for this
place, and the night I stumbled into the settlement I
was done. I suppose I went off my nut, 'cos I don't
remember 'em bringing me here, and when I came to
again they told me I'd been here a week."

" It's wonderful! " commented Harold thoughtfully,
as the old man paused from exhaustion; " we are poor
weak creatures, but our lives sometimes seem
influenced by a strange destiny that we cannot
understand."

He spoke to himself, and Bill Blewitt made no



BILL BLEWITT 35

reply, but pointing to a locker at the side of his bed,
he said :

" Open that there locker, boss, and you'll see two
billy cans, give 'em to me." He took the lid oS a
two-pint billy, and Harold saw, to his astonishment,
that it was more than half full of scale gold. He
opened the" other which was filled with pieces of
quartz ; he took out three or four lumps and examined
them with the eye of the expert. " If I'd nothing to
prove that my yarn is true, you might 'a' thought I
was raving. "But seeing's believing, ain't it, boss?
Look at them pieces of stone, why, there's more gold
than stone. And from where I brought them from,
out there, beyond the thirst land, there are thousands-
of tons. Some day there'll be stamping mills by
scores put iip, and ihe place will hum."

Harold would have been a strange man if he had
failed to "be moved by this ocular evidence of the
buried wealth the old man spoke of. It needed no
expert knowledge to determine that the specimens of
quartz the miner had brought back with him were
exceedingly rich in the precious metal. He was
excited, though he tried to keep his feelings in check.

" Well, all I can say, Blewitt," he remarked, " is
that you can enrich yourself and 3-0111- relatives."

Blewitt 's sunken eyes turned to him, and with a
strange little laugh, he said : .

" I ain't got no relatives that I know of, boss. I've
been wandering over the world for nigh on sixty years,
thirty of 'em in this country and ten afore that in
New Zealand. I'm one of those chaps as can't settle
anywhere, and I've never been nmch given to women-
folk. The pals I've left out yonder were the best
chums I had. Now God Almighty is a-finishing of
me up. What does it matter ! He's been good to me,
to let me win through to this place and find you. You
gave me to drink when I was dry, and to eat when I
was hungry, and you helped me and my chums like a
white man. I'm only a diugo, but I remember things.
Give me out that bundle, boss."

Harold handed him a bundle from the locker. It
contained a few old rags of clothing, a much rusted
revolver, and a frayed, worn, leather pocket-book.



3 6 " OUT THERE "

" I ain't no scholar," he said, " but I can read and
write, and in this book which I'm going to give to
you, there's a lot of notes written that will help you,
and a kind o' map I drew of the gold region. I
calculate it's about eight hundred miles nor'-west,
and by west half west from here, and the way is hard.
You'll take the gold too, boss, and look after me while
I'm here. If the Doc. can patch me up I'll guide you
to the place. But I give you this advice, don't you
blab about the business, or there'll be a rush and you'll
lose your chance. Well, I'm pretty well pumped now,
but my mind's easier now I've seen you. I didn't
want to peg put before I had a chance of giving you
the information. Now you've got it, use it. You
ain't a dingo like me; maybe you've got a wife or a
gal, and dust and gold stone will be useful to you."

Harold gripped the hand of this nigged gold seeker,
and there was a tremor in his voice as he spoke.

" Bill Blewitt, don't you call yourself a dingo again.
You've got the heart of a true man. You've given me
new life, new hope. Yes, I have a girl, one of the
dearest women on God's earth, and for her dear sake
I accept your gift. May God prolong your life, that I
may prove to you that I, too, can be grateful."

A wan smile spread itself over Blewitt 's brown,
wrinkled face as he made reply :

" I'm worn out, boss, and pretty tired. I've played
the game fairly and never wronged no man, and I've
never knowed what fear was. I ain't going to be a
skunk now, and if Almighty God says as I've got to
hand in my checks I'm willing and ready."

It seemed as if all that had been said was all that
could be said at that moment, and as the old man was
obviously exhausted and drowsy, Harold left him,
promising to see him on the morrow. He carried off
the old pocket-book in his pocket, and the two billies
weighty with their precious contents he wrapped in a
newspaper the patient had been reading, as he did not
wish to attract attention as he passed through the
town. A feeling of elation possessed him, for his star
having dipped low on the horizon, seemed to be in the
ascendant again. Save for those weighty tin cans
under his arm, which were substantial and real



BILL BLEWITT 37

enough, he might have found some difficulty in con-
vincing himself that he had not dreamed a fairy story.
But it was the kind of fairy story common enough in
those days in Australia, and as many a man still living
can testify, they were far more wonderful than fiction.



CHAPTER IV

THE BIRTH OP DOUBT

ALTHOUGH Harold Preston's life so far as it had gone
had been -that of a bush farmer, intellectually and by
temperament lie was many degrees above the average
of his class. vSpringing from intellectual and robust
stock he found mental recreation in a speculative
philosophy, and was bookishly inclined. He had been
a voracious reader, and his reading had covered a
wide field. He was by way also of being an idealist.
His lines had been cast close to the heart of nature.
He lived on the edge of the wilderness, and often as
his eyes wandered over the seeming interminable
spaces, which stretched far, far away to the blue
distance, where the Western sun appeared to sink
below the edge of the earth, his imagination was
stimulated to a wide expansion, and he dreamed
dreams, such dreams as came to those hardy pioneers
who first set their feet on the shores of that wonderful
land where, for tens of thousands of years, the primi-
tive savage, half animal, half man, had roamed in undis-
puted freedom. Harold realised the illimitable
possibilities of the country where he had had his birth,
a country he ardently loved, whilst the immensity of
his surroundings could not fail to deeply impress one
of .his temperament and lift him out of the narrow
groove of sordidity, greed and selfishness which is the
lot of the average settler. The result of- it all
was the development of a large-hearted altruism that
found practical expression in a somewhat reckless

38



THE BIRTH OF DOUBT 39

generosity, and a trust and faith in his fellow-beings.
He held to the belief that there is inherent goodness
in all men, and it was opposed to his principles and
disposition to think ill of anyone.

At quite an early age, when a student at Melbourne,
his idealism had fostered in him a belief that it was
his special mission to put an end for ever to the feud
which had so long existed between his people and the
Gordons. The bitter rivalry and fierce jealousy, which
in the past had led to bloodshed and misery, was to
end when he came into his inheritance. In a sub-
conscious way this resolve had come to him, when as
boy and girl, he and Mary Gordon had looked into
each other's eyes. As they grew up together his
resolve strengthened with the years, and when
Margaret Bruce appeared upon the scene to take
charge of the orphan girl, he felt that his dream would
be realised. Margaret knew little of the ancient feud
and cared less". Her niece's happiness was far more to
her than musty traditions of rivalry, and stupid
shibboleths. She grew to like young Preston, and eu-
couraged him. There had been one little episode which
had served to reveal her personality. Oliver Gordon,
with the rashness and flippancy of youth, had dared
to remind her that between the Gordons and the
Prestons was a barrier, and woe betide anyone who
attempted to break it down. She turned upon hira
with a fierceness that made him wilt, young as
he was.

" You stupid boy," she exclaimed, " what do I know
and what do I care about the senseless quarrels between
the two families in the past. I have heard of them
with astonishment and^a sense of shame. And once
and for all you will understand that I will be no party
to keeping alive an unneighbourly feeling. If Harold
Preston and your kinswoman, Mary Gordon, are
desirous of mating, I'll see to it, as Mary's guardian,
that neither you nor - anyone else shall prevent it.
Now please take that as final. Harold is a good lad
and honest and upright, and you will show your
manliness by holding out the hand of fellowship and
goodwill to him."

Years had passed since that little incident, and



40 " OUT THERE "

between the two men it seemed as if a firm bond of
friendship had been welded. Their rivalries were
friendly ones. They were both fond of horses. Harold
loved them for their own sake, but Oliver regarded
them more from the pounds, shillings and pence point
of view. He had a passion for racing, and entertained
no sentiment for an animal that failed to gratify his
desire for winnings. One of the little triumphs of his
life had been when he rode Kangaroo in the Gold Cup
Steeplechase stakes, and beat Charioteer ridden by his
rival. The two horses seemed equally matched; they
were bush bred and bush trained, and for weeks before
the races the interest taken in them in Gordonstown
and throughout the district rose to fever heat. It was
a tremendous event in the life of the bush community.
Thrones might have toppled over, the whole of Europe
might have been in a blaze, the American continent
might have been overwhelmed by some stupendous
cataclysm, but these things would have sunk into
insignificance in comparison with that one great event
in the lives of the Gordonstown settlers, the race
between Charioteer and Kangaroo. Never in the
history of the place had there been so much excitement
as on the day of the race. It was made a general
holiday. From far and near, from stations scores of
miles away, came riders astride of all sorts and
conditions of horses, bush buggies, wagons, carts,
four in hands ; and there was not a man, possibly not
many women, who had not " a bit " on the great event,
whilst everyone knew, from the grey beard to the
callow youth, that whichever horse won, piles of gold
would change pockets. The betting was slightly in
favour of Preston's Charioteer, and as each man was
to ride his own horse, the public felt sure that only
the best would win. The day was beautiful, and the
winter sun was tempered by a fresh breeze. Neck and
neck kept the two horses ; the hearts of the multitude
throbbed wildly ; their voices rent the sky, as thunder-
ing cheers were swept like billows before the breeze;
there were minutes of tense, strained suspense that
was like an agony, then for a moment or two a silence
that told of the pent-up feelings of the eager spectators,
" By God Charioteer has it." " No, Kangaroo.



THE BIRTH OF DOUBT 41

Kangaroo, Kangaroo." Yes, it was true; just when
the prize seemed Preston's, Gordon urged his mount
to a final spurt, and the big horse crashed past his
rival and won by a head only. The people seemed to
go mad. A roar of cheering shook the earth. They
swarmed, over the course, and were almost tempted to
carry the winning horse shoulder high, but they
hoisted his rider instead, and to the strains of " See the
Conquering Hero Comes," they bore him into the
paddock.

Harold Preston took his defeat like a man, and that
night in a crowded Club House proposed in a felicitous
speech the health and happiness of the winner. Oliver
made no attempt to conceal the gratification he felt at
having outstripped his rival. However sincere he
might have been in his friendship, he desired to be
and was determined to be top dog. He could not
brook defeat in anything, and he liked to believe, and
encouraged the belief in others, that if he was not the
greatest man in Gordonstown, he was certainly one of
its leading lights. This was vanity, of course, but
while it gratified him it did no harm to anyone.. In
striking contrast with his friend, Gordon had no ideals ;
he was practical and materialistic, and it was incon-
ceivable of him that he ever indulged in day dreams ;
nor had he any of Harold's altruism. He was self-
centred, and never allowed other people's affairs to
worry him. In spite of the diversity in their tempera-
ments, Harold was sincerely attached to his friend, and
one of his first resolves was, after that interview with
Bill Blewitt, to take Gordon into his confidence and ask
him to join in an expedition, and of course he could
not keep the information from Mary.

As soon as ever he entered the house on his return
from the hospital she saw by his changed expression
that something had heartened him, and he did not
keep her long in suspense. The two tin pots, one
nearly full of scale gold, and the other of richly veined
specimens of quartz, were fairly^ good evidence that
old Blewitt was not romancing; it was evidence, that
if made generally known would have caused hundreds
of persons to make a wild rush for the district, however
inaccessible it might appear. Men in their thirst for



42 " OUT THERE "

fold did not hesitate to take risks, and would face
eath itself in the mad struggle for wealth.

Mary could not but be gratified by the sight of so
much gold, and she was glad indeed, for her lover's
sake, but reaction followed the elation, and she said
with very visible distress :

" I wish, dear, that Blewitt had not given you that
information."

" Why? " asked Harold in amazement.

" Oh, well, it will unsettle you; besides, if you go
in search of this El Dorado, think of the dangers you
will have to run."

He took her in his arms ; he strained her to his
breast, and she clung to him as if afraid to let him
go from her. He kissed her and soothed her, and with
a light-hearted laugh, said :

" My darling little woman, you mustn't worry
yourself about dangers. Risks, when one comes to face
them, generally sink into insignificance compared with
what one imagines them to be. Besides, I'm a
seasoned bushman, and haven't passed my life on a
bed of roses. You know that well."

" But from what Blewitt told you the place is a long
way off, and you might have to be absent for many
months. What about your farm during your absence ? "

" Oh, that will be all right. You and Jim Dawkins
can look after it for me; Jim's as true as steel, and is a
capable and intelligent fellow. I'd trust him with my
life."

1 Yes, I know that, dear; all the same I wish

" Oh, come, come, Mary sweetheart, don't let us get
moody because a lucky chance at the psychological
moment has shown me a possible way to fortune. It
could not have come at a more opportune time, as you
know. If Blewitt is correct in what he says about the
richness of the district, there must be an enormous
amount of wealth for the picking up. Why should I
miss such an opportunity ? Gordon and I will work
out a scheme together "

Mary gave a little start, and there was a strange, a
quite unusual expression in her eyes as she looked at
liim and asked quickly :

" Do you intend to let Gordon into the secret ? "



THE BIRTH OF DOUBT 43

"Why, of course I do, dear. Why shouldn't I? "
He was astonished at her question. There was some-
thing in her manner and tone that seemed to imply
mistrust of Gordon. As she remained silent he asked
again : " Why shouldn't I? Have you any reason to
suppose that he is not to be trusted ? "

" Pray, don't attach any importance to my question,'*
she said, with some confusion. " I really don't know
what prompted me to speak as if I had some doubt.
To be quite frank, what I really thought was, if the
position were reversed, would Oliver be as generous as
you? "

" Yes I believe he would," answered Harold with an
air of abstraction. " I believe he would," he repeated.
" I don't like to think ill of my friend."

" No, of course you don't," said Mary, as she put
her hands on his arm and looked up into his face.
" You are a big-hearted, generous man with Catholic
sympathies, and not quick to suspect anyone of evil
intent. ..."

" Good God, Mary," he interrupted, " do you
suggest that Oliver has any evil intentions? "

" Oh, no, no, but I think he is rather selfish, and
would not, as you would, go out of his way to serve
a friend."

Harold did not pursue the argument ; though he had
never seriously thought of it before, he could not but
admit now that Mary was right. It was a tiny rift in
the lute, a little flaw in the bond of friendship. All
the same he was quite willing to co-operate with his
friend if Gordon was willing, anyway he could not
entertain the idea for a moment of withholding the
information from him.

As he went down town on his way to Gordon's house
he looked in at the Club and had a chat with Doctor
Blain, as he had promised to do.

" Well, what did you make of our mysterious
patient ? " asked the doctor.

Harold realised that however frank and open he
might be with Gordon, it was necessary to be reticent
with other people, and so his answer was somewhat in
the nature of equivocation.

" Oh, I found him rather an interesting old chap, and



44 " OUT THERE "

what is more, an honest and grateful one. Although
I had forgotten the incident, it appears he and three
pals were on my Run about three years ago. They
were stony broke and were going west, gold hunting.
Of course I did what any man in this country would
have done under the circumstances. I fed the poor
beggars, and gave them a little money. Since then
Blewitt, the only survivor of the four, so he tells me,
has been fossicking round somewhere, and has picked
up a few ounces of dust, and remembering my
hospitality to him and his chums, he was obsessed with
a desire to repay me."

" Has he struck anything? " asked the doctor with
some eagerness.

" He has brought back a few pieces of veined quartz
which he has placed in my possession, but of course
it's impossible to express an opinion until they have
been assayed. I shall send them down to Melbourne."

" It sounds as if Blewitt had made a find," remarked
the doctor thoughtfully. " Has he told you where he
got the stone? "

" He hopes to get strong enough to guide a little
expedition to the place," answered Harold evasively.

" Oh, by Jove, then we shall have to patch him up,"
said the doctor with a cheery laugh, " and if he's
able to go, I should be tempted to throw up doctoring
here and- join the expedition."

" By the way, Doc., let the old fellow have any
luxuries or strengthening things he wants, I'll pay,"
said his friend.

" That's suggestive," remarked the doctor, with a
knowing wink. " Bill Blewitt 's life is valuable eh,
old chap ? "

" Well, it would be a pity if his secret died with
him."

" I agree with that," answered Doctor Blain.
" Well, I'll do my best, and I shall try and pump his
secret out of him."

As Harold rose to go and, put out his hand, he said :

" You may pump, Doc., but I don't think you will
get anything out of him. Bill Blewitt, I should say,
is a man who knows how to hold his tongue when it
suits his purpose. Besides, if the facts were known in



THE BIRTH OF DOUBT 45

the town there would be a rush ending possibly in
death and disaster."

" You're right, you're right," muttered the doctor
reflectively, and as he shook Harold's hand he added,
" You can rely upon me, my friend. I will be as silent
as the grave. Gold mania is very infectious, and when
it seizes a community, it generally means tragedy, so
be cautious."



CHAPTER V

LOVE AND GOLD

WHEN Preston left the Club lie changed his mind
about seeing Gordon that day. Although he was only
vaguely conscious of it, that little doubt that Mary's
question had given birth to was worrying him, and
so, with a resolve that he would withhold the inform-
ation from Oliver for the present, he returned to Mary
Gordon's residence. He talked of going back to
Glenbar that night, but Margaret Bruce and her niece
both urged him to spend a day or two with them, as
it would be an agreeable change from arid Glenbar.
Although anxious about his business, he was not
averse to a few days' holiday spent in Mary's company,
and readily accepted the invitation. He had three da} y s
of dreamy delight, and talked to Mary of the time
when their two lives would be welded and they would
work out their destinies together.

" You are the only woman the world holds for me,
Mary," he said on the last night of his stay as they
sat on the veranda in the moonlight. He was un-
usually thoughtful, unusually serious, as though
some shadowy feeling of apprehension about the future
was haunting him. "If by any possible chance we
were separated I well "

He stopped suddenly with a little snap of exaspera-
tion, as if angry with himself for having betrayed his
thoughts.

She leaned towards him, laid her hand on his, and
said in a low, sweet tone :

" What is the matter with vou to-night, dear ?
46



LOVE AND GOLD 47

Why talk of separation ? One must, of course, consider
human contingencies, but I can think of nothing
save death that can separate us if we are true to each
other."

A little tremor thrilled through him.

" Death, yours or mine, would set the other free,"
he answered. "Let me say now truthfully, as God
will judge me, if I die I hope you will not let any
foolish sentiment keep you from marrying" if you
desire to do so. But in my case I honestly believe
that if I survive you I could never bear to hold
another woman in my arms. I suppose I ain peculiar
in that way. But you have so filled my life that your
death would leave a void no one else could fill. I am
sure, quite sure, my feelings in that respect will never
change."

Her head was on his shoulder, her hand stole up to
his neck, and she murmured :

" Harold, what is troubling you to-night? It is so
unlike you to be really despondent. Are you not
well?"

For answer he flung his arms around her, and with
a lover's ardency embraced her again and again. The
warm, languorous north wind kissed the trees and
they sighed. The silver sheen of the moon flooded the
landscape with ghostly splendour, and the southern
stars palpitated with a glittering radiance. There was
the scarcely perceptible music of tiny wings as they
beat the air, and there floated up from the earth the
sounds of a thousand night insects like the sounds that
come to one in dreams. The whole night seemed to
drone out a song of the aeons, of the ages, of the love
tales that had been told and forgotten, and of the
millions and millions of human moats that had danced
their little hour in the sun and passed like the shadow
of smoke.

The two beings seated on the veranda locked in each
other's arms were experiencing the blissful moments
alas how few transient as the light of a meteor, when
a song of heavenly joy seems to sing in the human
heart, and that sorrow and wrong and dusty death have
been banished for aye.

They drew back abruptly and sat up in their seats as



48 " OUT THERE "

the sound of footsteps recalled them to the everyday
world again.

There was a little short laugh, and a voice, that
somehow sounded like a false note in the symphony
of the night, said :

"I'm sorry I've intruded at such an inopportune
moment. I'm a regular bungler, but Miss Bruce told
me I should find you here." The voice was Gordon's.


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 3 of 22)