Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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that you were able to suffer and endure as you have
suffered and endured, and reach this haven at last."

' That's all right, boss," cried the old man
querulously; "it isn't as I'm. a complaining about
the nurses or the Doc. or any of 'em. I'm a



SOMETHING BREAKS 61

complaining about this 'ere weakness as prevents
me doing anything for myself and "

" Well, well, Bill, you must bear with it," said
Harold cheerily. " What cannot be altered must be
endured, you know. Your powers of endurance have
been strained to breaking point, but your vitality is
evidently great, and if you'll only have patience and
don't fret, your strength may come back. I look
forward to having you as my chum when we start for
the Ranges."

The old chap stretched out his worn sunburnt hand
and grasped Harold's with a strength that seemed
prophetic, whilst his eyes were misty as he answered :

" That's the talk as I likes to hear, boss; it does
me good."

Further conversation was prevented by the appear-
ance of the doctor and the head nurse. He greeted
Blewitt with a cheery good morning.

" Why, you're looking better, my friend. Umph,
pulse stronger too. Did you enjoy the port wine and
the fruit ? "

' Yes, Doc., they're all right, but you see I'm "

" Never mind what you are," said the doctor, who
knew what was coming. " Be thankful for the
mercies vouchsafed you; don't dwell too much on our
bad treatment of you, in making you take soup, port
wine, fish, and fruit, and other delicacies, and you will
pull through all right, and be off on another
prospecting expedition."

The old man broke into a laugh that augured well,
and promised the doctor that he wouldn't grumble
any more. When Doctor Blain had finished his rounds
he invited Harold to lunch with him at the Club, and
they walked over together.

" He's a marvellous old chap is that," the doctor
remarked, " and I quite expect now that he will pull
through. He has certainly taken a turn for the
better. These old gold seekers are a pretty tough lot
and take a lot of killing. Blewitt has a tremendous
amount of will-power, and that's a great factor in his
favour."

The luncheon finished, the doctor and his friend
adjourned to a shady, flower-covered corner of the



62 " OUT THERE "

veranda for their coffee and cigars, and Oliver Gordon
became the subject of conversation, by the doctor
saying" :

" I understand that Gordon's gone off to
Melbourne."

" Yes, I believe he has some business to attend to
there."

" Cherchez la femme," said the doctor, with a merry
twinkle of the ej*e and a little laugh that indicated
what was passing through his mind.

" Well, possibly there may be a lady in the case,
but Oliver doesn't tell me anything of his private
affairs."

" No, I suppose not. He's devilish close, I should
think. He has never appealed to me. There is
something about the fellow I dou't like. He's a
difficult chap to understand."

" What is it you don't like? " asked Preston,
gazing steadily at the doctor.

" Well . . . between ourselves ... I should say he
could be very treacherous and an unforgiving enemy."

Preston's brow contracted a little, and his face wore
a troubled look. He could not bear to think Gordon
was treacherous.

" What is your reason, Doctor Blain, for that
opinion ? " he asked pointedly, and with just a
suspicion of annoyance.

" To begin with, I flatter myself that I am not a
bad judge of character," answered Blain. " Then of
course in this little gossipy place one hears a good
deal about one's neighbours. And, moreover, I have
had some personal experience of Mr Gordon in his
capacity of a governor of the hospital. When I came
up here from Sydney a few years ago I learnt in the
course of time that I was one of six candidates for
the post, and that I had got in by one vote only. But
the point is this, one of the candidates was a nominee
of Gordon's, and Gordon it appears had set his mind
on securing his election. The choice lay between me
and the nominee, and the nominee was defeated. For
anything I know to the contrary it was a fair fight,
and one would have thought that Gordon would have
taken his defeat graceful!}^. But his vanity was



SOMETHING BREAKS 63

wounded ; he is not a man who can endure defeat,
and though I was an utter stranger to him, he
evidently regarded me as his enemy. Ever since he
has tried to make my position as uncomfortable as
he could, and has subjected me to a good many petty
annoyances. Dou't you think now, that I have a
pretty good reason for my opinion of your friend? "

Preston grasped his chin with his left hand and
pondered for many moments, then turning suddenly
to his companion, he asked sharply :

" Blain, have you an}' particular motive for telling
me this ? "

The doctor took time to consider his answer, and he
reflectively \vatched the smoke from his cigar grace-
fully dissipate itself on the languid air.

" No, I had no specific motive. Subconsciously,
perhaps, I desired that you, as a subscriber to the
hospital, and a friend of, and great believer in Gordon,
should know that only a man of weak character
would take up the attitude that Gordon has displayed
to me. Frankly, I would not trust Gordon beyond a
very short range of vision. I've never had an
opportunity of saying so much to you before."

" Do you think he's dishonest? "

" I think he's treacherous. Wound his vam'ty or
defeat him in any way, and you make a deadly enemy
of him."

Preston leaned back in his chair and smoked hard.
"What the doctor had told him evidently affected him
deeply. When he spoke it was as a man who has
come to a decision after much weighing of facts.

" You will appreciate my feelings in this matter,
Doctor Blain, I am sure. The information you have
given me throws a new light on my friend's character,
and it reveals a flaw, if what you say is correct."

Blain started forward, clutching the chair arms,
and stretching his neck out. There was a gleam of
fire in his eyes. " If what I say is correct ! What
do you mean by that? " he asked warmly. " Do you
suggest that I have lied to you ? Or that I am paltry
enough to attack Gordon without justification, because
I don't happen to admire him ? "

" By heaven, no," answered Preston with a pathetic



64 " OUT THERE "

earnestness. " I apologise if my clumsy rew . .. h
led you to believe that I doubt your veracity. I am
labouring under a sense of mental shock. The sudden
shattering of an ideal confuses and distresses a man.
I have admired Gordon and had faith in him ; I can-
not bear to think that I have been deceived. That he
is self-willed I am not prepared to deny, and it is no
less true that he likes to obtain his ends, but I have
always regarded him as a fair fighter. Why he should
bear you any ill-feeling because he failed to secure
the election of his nominee puzzles me, and don't be
offended with me I am. inclined to think you are
perhaps unduly prejudiced against him."

Doctor Blain shrugged his shoulders, leaned back
in his chair, and purled at his cigar. These little
actions were indicative of his feelings. After
reflecting for some long moments he let his eyes
follow the cigar- smoke, and said with an air of
abstraction :

" Friendship that is worthy of the name should
have faith. Your faith is very strong, Preston. I
hope it won't receive a rude shock." He changed his
position slightly, and met his companion's gaze.
" You live out in the wilderness," he continued, " and
you hear the voice of Nature oftener than you hear the
voice of man. We are only a small community he^e,
but the evil that is in us shows itself pretty plainly
at times. Your creed, I know, is to think ill of no
man "

" Unless I have unmistakable proof that he is
bad," interposed Preston ardently.

" Ah, just so. I claim equality with you in that
respect. Now I should not have expressed myself so
freely about Gordon if I had no evidence of his
insincerity. I am sorry now that I mentioned the
matter since it has hurt "

Preston again interposed a remark.

" You need not regret it. I quite understand that
you are justified in your opinion from your point of
view."

" I rather think my justification does not rest on
my own personal little Grievance. Gossip and rumour,
even in a small place like this "



SOMETHING BREAKS 65

' Why attach importance to gossip and rumour,"
snapped Preston with undisguisable irritation,
have no patience with the poisonous tittle-tattle of
silly people to whom scandal is as the breath of their
nostrils."

" Nor have I," said the doctor with perfect
composure. " And in order that you may exclude me
from your category, I shall have to say more than I
had any intention of saying. I am not a casuist, but
I have my own views with regard to the acts and
deeds of men. You and I have always been very.
friendly ever since I came here to take up my
appointment. You and Gordon are very friendly, yet
you are men of such different qualities of mind and
heart that I am somewhat at a loss to understand how
it is you have such unbounded faith in him."

" Look here, doctor," exclaimed Harold with
vehemence, " unless you have some definite charge to
proffer against Gordon, I beg of you to let the
subject drop."

The doctor was not in the least disconcerted.
" I could present a catena of facts before you, but
will content myself with two or three, in order to
justify myself and to put you on your guard; to be
forewarned is to be forearmed. Yoii compel me to
this. It is known, for instance, throughout the
town that you and Miss Mary Gordon are engaged.
Some time ago in this very Club ; there had been
some races during the day, and there was rather a
noisy and excited gathering in the evening ; Gordon
was not quite sober, and he and Mr Cartwright, the
town surveyor, got into a heated argument about a
disputed bet. Gordon made some offensive remarks
to Cartwright, who retorted by reminding him that it
was not policy to throw stones when one inhabited a
glass structure. One thing led to another, and
Gordon boasted of always succeeding in anything he
undertook. Whereupon his opponent, in good-natured
chaff, as it seemed to me, reminded him that though
he had tried to win Mary Gordon, you had cut him
out. I shall never forget the expression that this
brought to Gordon's face. It seemed to me the
expression of a man who had a devilish nature. It

c



6 " OUT THERE "

passed almost immediately, and he broke into a
laugh, but the laugh was devilish; what he said in
reply clung to me, and I resolved that if ever a
favourable opportunity presented itself I would let
you know it. To-day the opportunity has corne
without my seeking it."

" Well what was it? " asked Harold with strained
eagerness, his face aflame, as the other paused.

" He said that Mary Gordon did not know her own
mind; that she was simply amusing herself with you,
and he offered to bet Cartwright a hundred pounds,
that Mary would never become Mrs Preston, but Mrs
Gordon."

Harold sank back in his chair, and the flame gave
place to a ghastly pallor.

" My God ! " he gasped.

The doctor looked at his companion searchingly,
but still maintaining his composure said :

" I am sorry that I should have felt compelled to
tell you so much. If you. need corroboration I refer
you to Cartwright. There is no doubt he will
remember the incident. And now there is one more
fact to strengthen my case. Although I did not
know Gordon personally when I was in practice in
Sydney, I had a friend, manager of one of the Sydney
Banks. He was a married man with a charming
family of five daughters and a son, who was the
baby. The second daughter was a sweet and beautiful
girl of nineteen. Gordon was an honoured visitor to
my friend's house. He betrayed the trust by seducing
that daughter. The poor girl, when she knew she
was likely to become a mother, begged and implored
Gordon to marry her. Presumably he refused, for in
a fit of horror and despair she shot herself. The
cowardly betrayer of the girl would have paid for his
crime with his life, for the father made a vow to kill
him, but he fled. As is now known, he went to
Scotland. My friend brooded over the tragedy of his
daughter so much that his heart broke and he died.
Your friend, Oliver Gordon, is still a free man; still
lives his boastful and empty life. If what I have
told you puts you on your guard my purpose will be
-served."



67

Preston had leaned forward, resting his elbows on
his knees, and, burying his face in his hands, he
remained in that attitude for some minutes, until the
doctor rose and touched him on the shoulder.

" Look here, my friend, don't take this revelation
too much to heart. I know that it's a painful thing
to be disillusioned, to have one's ideals shattered.
But, after all, Gordon is only a detail in your life.
It has been my painful duty I must regard it as a
duty to put you on your guard. And, believe me,
I have been actuated by a sincere desire to serve you,
for I like you. You are a white man, but your life
has been passed in the wilderness, and your knowledge
of human nature is comparatively limited. Well, I
must go. I hope our friendship won't be shaken by
what I have told you. I had no intention when we
sat down here to make this revelation, but it has
come out as such things often do without premedit-
ation."

Preston rose up as a man rises when he has been
knocked down by a partially stunning- blow. The
mental shock he" had received had deprived him of
some of his physical power. His tortured face was
pale despite the sun-brown. He emitted a hollow,
cynical laugh that was more like a spasm of pain, and
put out his hand to the doctor.

"It is something like an ordeal of fire, Blain,
when a man suddenly realises that his faith and trust
have been misplaced. No one likes to be deceived,
befooled. I appreciate the motives which have
prompted you to make this painful revelation. You
would hardly have been a true friend if you had not
told me. I am afraid I am apt to be a little too con-
fiding, to take too much for granted. As you say,
forewarned is forearmed. However, for the present let
the matter rest where it is. Good-bye. By the way,
bring all the skill that is yours to bear on Bill Blewitt's
case. I want that man to live."

They shook hands and parted, and as Harold
Preston went out into the sunlit street he was conscious
of having undergone some great change, and that
the sweetness of his life had turned a little sour.
Something had broken.



CHAPTER VII

THE SPELL OP A WOMAN'S SOUL

As Harold Preston left the Club and made his way
along High Street in the direction of Mary Gordon's
residence his mind was in a welter, and he felt that
the threads of his life had become knotted and
tangled. The sun was shining with flaming radiance,
the streets were filled with a flood of white light, and
yet he had a curious physical feeling that there was a
darkened medium before his eyes. Although the
heat was great, the business of the little settlement
caused a stir and bustle. Men and women, screening
themselves with white umbrellas, passed and repassed,
absorbed in their respective interests, and the traffic
rumbled over the rough pavement with an intermittent
cadence that was suggestive of sea waves breaking
gently with rhythmical murmur on a sandy shore.

As he went on his way, self-absorbed and with an
air of abstraction, he was only vaguely conscious of
his surroundings. He was in that peculiar state of
mind when memories are apt to crowd upon one, and
the mental eye takes a rapid panoramic survey of the
incidents and episodes of the dead and gone years.
He flung his gaze back to his early childhood, passed
in the wilds where the voice of Nature spoke to him
and he understood and was happy. Then came four
years as a student in Melbourne, when his thirst for
knowledge caused him to be singled out as "a
promising lad." He had powers of acquisitiveness,
and a mental hungering for intellectual stimulus that

68



THE: SPELL OF A WOMAN'S SOUL 69

might have led him to a plane of professional activity
with resulting- honours and the praise of his fellow-
nien. But he was a child of Nature, and every fibre of
his being vibrated to the call of the wild. Life in a
crowded city, amidst the dust and passion of
struggling masses of human atoms jostling each other
in the fight for existence, did not appeal to him. He
lacked the imminent motive power of ambition which
is indispensable to a man desirous of worldly
distinction. His temperament inclined him to an
arcadian simplicity of existence, where he could
breathe the free air of great spaces, and listen to the
soothing undertones of Nature. His soul demanded
something purer than is afforded to the toiler in a
great city where the masses herd like cattle.

Besides, he felt that his destiny was to continue the
work his people had begun. In the area of the
inheritance that would come to him. there was scope
enough to satisfy him, nor was he indifferent to the
potentialities of even that outpost of civilisation.
Civilisation was rapidly eating its way into the
remotest corners of the great land of his birth, and
he knew the time would surely dawn when the wijds
would be peopled with teaming millions, and the
voice of Nature be stilled by the roar and fret of
humanity, and the tears and the sorrow and wrong
that are concomitants of civilisation when it throws,
its corroding clasp around the virgin heart of Nature.
And so in the fulfilment of what he conceived to be
his inevitable destiny, Harold Preston shook the
dust of Melbourne from his feet, after four years of
strenuous intellectual work, during which he had
equipped himself more thoroughly than the average
youth. He had never been in sympathy with the
under- world of the ever-growing town. It fleshliness
and vulgarity had no attraction for him. He was a
stranger to its haunts of vice, its sink-holes of
meretricious pleasures, where men and women sought
nepenthe in the hashish of vicious excitement.

He spent some months with relatives in Sydney,
and derived pure joy from sailing about its wonderful
harbour.

Then he learnt something of the luring spell of the



TO " OUT THERE "

sea by sailing in a coasting . schooner as far north as
Cooktown, thence he made his way overland through
the jungles and planes, to dear Glenbar, where amidst
its restfulness, and repose, and the siren song of the
wilds ringing in his attuned ears, he found the life
he longed for.

This is an epitome of his experience of the world,
not a very wide experience, and it had left him with
all the freshness and joyousness of youth. In due
course he came into his inheritance, and when his
soul's love for Mary Gordon found a response his
happiness and contentment were complete.

Now as he made his way through the sun-smitten
township, his heart was tortured with the cruelty of
disillusionment. The two years' drought had ruined
him financially, but that concerned him far less than
the discovery that the friend in whom he had had
such unbounded faith was made of the commonest
clay, and had been guilty of a crime for which there
could hardly be any atonement. To a man of
Harold's simple nature this falling of his idol was an
appalling calamity : it shocked and stunned him ; it
had taken something out of his life that could never
be replaced. As he entered the house Mary met him
with a sweet smile and cordial welcome that heartened
him a little, but .she was quick to notice his changed
appearance. His troubled thoughts were reflected in
his face, which wore a gloom she had never seen
before. He had such an optimistic nature, such
boyish enthusiasm, that he was almost invariably
bright and cheerful, but now it seemed as if he had
actually aged, and there was a look of despair in the
depths of his dark eyes.

" Whatever has happened, dear? " Mary asked as
she passed her soft hand soothingly over his broad
forehead. There was a note of concern in her voice.

His first impulse was to tell her what he had heard
about Gordon, but a feeling he could not quite under-
stand restrained him. While he could not doubt
Doctor Blain's statements, which were too circum-
stantial to be a mere fabrication, was it not possible
that his informant had exaggerated the details ? Was
it not possible, also, that there were some redeeming



THE SPELL OF A WOMAN'S SOUL 7*

features in the horrible story ? It was so hard to
think of Oliver Gordon as a black-hearted, depraved
wretch whose soul was steeped in vice.

" I am tired, dear, and worried," he answered
prevaricatingly, as he dropped into a chair, and,
leaning- back, put his hand to his forehead. She went
behind the chair, and encircling his neck with her
arms, she laid her face against his head.

" It is not like you, Harold, to worry; why should
you ? You have such resource within yourself, such
youth and splendid energy, that you cannot fail to
overcome your difficulties."

He grasped her wrist, and looked up wistfully at
her sweet face with its ineffable expression of
sympathy and love. He smiled sadly.
'" Yes, Mary, I have youth and energy, but at
times it seems as if nothing on earth could compensate
us for ruined hopes and misplaced confidence."

"Misplaced confidence! "

She drew away, and seated herself in a chair facing
him.

" What I mean is, when you put your trust in
somebody and you find you've been deceived."

vShe clasped her hands about her knee and assumed
a very thoughtful expression ; there was a pause.
Then still in the same position, but fixing her soft
brown eyes that were pathetic, upon him :

" Harold, is it possible that some wretch in the
town has been poisoning your mind against me? "

" What a fool I am, Mary, to have given you such
an impression as that," he exclaimed, starting up
with a burst of energy. " Surely you cannot think
that I am such a poor weak creature as to allow any
silly, flippant gossip to shake my faith in you? "

" I hope you are not," she said softly.

" Indeed I am not. I should hate and despise
myself if I thought I was capable of such baseness.
No, my dear girl. If the time should ever come when
you feel that you have made a mistake in giving me
your love, all you will have to do is to tell me honestly,
and I will release 3^011 and never again let the shadow
of my presence fall upon you."

" If the time should ever come," she answered with



72 " OUT THERE "

an impressive solemnity, "I 'will tell you, Harold.
Whatever the fate of the years may be, my heart will
remain true to you unless you should at any time feel
you had made a mistake and told me so."

In an instant he was on his knees at her feet, and
taking her face in his hands, he kissed her on the
lips : " Mary my beloved," he said -with reawakened
cheerfulness, " don't let us spoil the harmony of our
love by suggesting even the possibility that either of
us has made a mistake. I have told you before, and
I tell you again, that you are the only woman in the
world for me. We are not girl and boy. My love for
you has grown and matured with the years. Your
pure, gentle soul is more precious to me than all
the wealth this country may be capable of producing.
My poor life will be a sapless, meaningless thing
without your companionship. I am a simple-minded
man, with no greed for wealth, no aspiration beyond
that of desiring to .live a clean and useful life, and of
doing my duty to all as an honest and earnest man
should."

" Harold, every word you say, every sentiment you
express finds a response in my own breast," she
answered sweetly. " I judge you with a woman's
eyes, and woman's instinct, and seeing the goodness
that is in you, my soul clings to your soul. Human
life can be idealised, purified, glorified by human love.
Let us get all that is sweet and beautiful and idyllic
out of our joint lives by mutual love, at the same
time never forgetting that we are only mortal, and
when we quit this earth it will be to reunite somewhere
beyond the stars where love is eternal."

It was a true woman's soul that spoke, and there
was a light in her eyes that almost seemed as if her
whole being pulsed with a divine inspiration.

From Harold's mind passed all thoughts of Gordon.
He was filled with a spiritual happiness that lifted
him above the world. He had no thought for anything
else but this dear woman whose womanhood was
purified by the hand of God. He raised her up, he
held her in his arms for some moments, her heart
beating in rhythm against his. He kissed her with a
kiss that was free from all grossness, and said, " If


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 5 of 22)