Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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THE SPELL OF A WOMAN'S SOUL 73

it be true, Mary, that angels walk the earth you are
one of them."

A tender smile dimpled her beautiful face, and a
ray of sunlight lighted up her hair with a ha-lo of
gold.

" Well now, we must not forget that we are of the
earth earthy," she said in. a tone that was like the
breathing of a lute. " A little sentiment at times is
delicious when love fills the heart ; it is like the joy
that comes from an entrancing dream, but we awaken
from dreams to the world that is real and practical.
See, the sun is setting, let us go into the garden. This
room is very hot."

They passed through the open doorway on to the
veranda. The air was heavy with the strong scent
exhaled from the long trumpet blooms of masses of
Funkia Sieboldiana that grew in a circular bed close
to the house. The sun was dipping below the horizon.
A nimbus of fleecy clouds hung just above it,
glowing with living colours of amber and crimson.
Great bars of golden light spread up fanwise to the
zenith, and over the whole landscape was the gleam
of shimmering gold. The translucent atmosphere
glowed as if from the reflection of intangible fire that
imparted to it a transparent amber light. As the
upper rim of the sun disappeared the colour in the
west deepened, and the gold on the landscape
gradually dissolved to crimson, and this again
dispersed, giving place to a velvety purple that
deepened and deepened as the stars began to scintillate
in the eastern heavens, while the west still glowed
with horizontal lines of dark red, orange-yellow and
sea-green. These faded almost imperceptibly as the
robe of night slowly spread over the earth, and the
whole canopy of heaven was studded with myriads of
glittering points of light.

Harold and Mary strolled arm in arm along the
garden walks. A warm wind came up from the river
and sighed languorously through the palms and tree
ferns, and fire-flies flashed their tiny lamps until the
air seemed to drip with a rain of molten silver.

" The world is very beautiful," whispered Mary,,
deeply impressed with the poetry of the night.



74 " OUT THERE "

" And love makes of it a paradise," was Harold's
response. " I feel it is good to be with you. You
always raise me to a higher plane, and I see with
clear eyes the nobler things that are worth the
striving for."

" You must not idealise me too much, Harold," she
remarked with a musical laugh. " After all, I am
very human, you know."

" Yes, you are very human, but it seems to me that
you embody some of the highest attributes of human
nature."

The glory of the stars and the spell of her beauty,
held him, and he felt it was good to be alive.



CHAPTER V1I1

TORTURED WITH DOUBTS

THE following evening Harold Preston arrived at his
home, hot, thirsty, and dust-covered after the long
ride from Gordonstown. The aridity of Glenbar was
striking when compared with the greenery and fresh-
ness of the township. The scorching wind that swept
in from the beyond was ladened with an impalpable
powder that spread a haze over the dried-up land, and
made life almost unendurable. A stranger would
have found it difficult to believe that this brown,
choked, burnt-up region was in its normal state a
vast extent of rolling sea-green, stretching away and
away to the misty horizon, and that cattle and sheep
roamed and fattened there in their thousands, filling
the air with the melody of their voices and adding a
pastoral beauty to the fair scene. But these long
droughts turned it all into a desolate wilderness, where
even the death adder and the black-snake found it
difficult to procure sustenance. Over all brooded a
strange, impressive silence that was as the silence of
a dead world. Occasionally, like some accursed spirit
of the place, a wandering hawk might be seen poised 1
in the ether, silhouetted against the hard, cruel, blue
sky, from which in the daytime the fierce sun poured
out a blindjng light over the parched and sweltering
earth, and at night it was an eerie mystery with the
wind playing a weird, syncopated aeolian melody that
suggested a wail of pain, as it swept through the
gaunt, leafless branches of the trees.

75



76 " OUT THERE "

As Harold drew rein at the entrance to his house,
he was welcomed by Jim Dawkins, who led the sweat-
ing, panting horse to the stables. Harold shook oil
some of the white dust from his garments, and
entering the house, freshened himself with a little
whisky well diluted with soda-water that was hot to
the palate, as though it had been heated over a fire.
He changed his clothes and rested for half an hour,
and then went into his office where he found a pile of
letters waiting for him on his desk. Recognising by
the handwriting of the address on one of the envelopes
that it \vas a letter from Gordon, he opened it with
something approximating to a feeling of irritation, for
it served lo remind him of the ugly story Doctor Blain
had told him. He stretched himself out on the couch
and perused the letter which ran as follows :

" MELBOURNE,

" Thursday.

" MY DEAR HAROLD, It delights me that I am able
to give you some good news. I had a long interview
with Frampton & Heathcote with respect to the mort-
gage on your property at Glenbar. At first they seemed
indisposed to listen to any proposition, saying thej'
considered the matter closed, as due legal notice had
been given to you, and you had taken no steps, nor
even acknowledged the receipt of their communication.
However, I argued the beggars into " a more
complaisant mood by convincing them that your
estate at the present time, owing to the long drought,
was practically valueless, and that there was not n
single sheep nor a single head of cattle on the whole
Run except the three or four cows you keep for milk-
ing purposes. That even if the drought ended this
autumn it would take between two and three years to
bring the land into full cultivation again, and fit it
to carry its proper proportion of live stock.

" I told them I was prepared to take over the
mortgage myself, and pay out the present mortgage.
They promised to consult with their client, and give
me an answer at the earliest possible moment. This
morning the answer came, and subject to the money



TORTURED WITH DOUBTS 77

being paid within seven days, my offer would be
accepted. I lost no time in going down to my bank
to see how I really stood with regard to ready cash,
and was agreeably surprised to find I am in rather a
better position than I anticipated, and I have arranged
to pay the money to-morrow. The solicitors will at
once prepare a new deed, inserting my name as
mortgagee, and I will present it to you for signature
on my return. Of course I have taken it for granted
that )^ou would much rather I held the mortgage than
a stranger, consequently I have refrained from con-
sulting you in order to save time.

" And now as regards the other matter, only second
in importance to the mortgage affair. Indeed I am
rather inclined to place it first. The samples of gold-
bearing quartz you entrusted me with I submitted to
Jacobson & Quilter, the well-known mining engineers
and assayers, and I have got their report. Having
carefully weighed the stone, they crushed it and
extracted the gold, which pans out at the ratio of
3.7Xths ounces per ton. Of course you do not need
to be told that this represents extraordinary richness,
and a reef of any magnitude that would give such an
average means wealth beyond one's dreams.

" I saw Jacobson personally; he is a keen, hawk-
eyed Jew, and the remarkable richness of the samples
of ore had evidently aroused his instincts, and he
pumped me hard and cunningly to learn where the
ore had come from, but I was equal to him. I
vaguely described the place as in a region that had
been only very partially explored, and that the means
of access were at present most difficult. He pointed
out that though there was a reef of solid gold, it
would be practically useless without machinery to
treat it, and means of conveyance to the marts. And
he offered to send a trusty expert to examine and
report, and if that report was favourable his firm would
find the capital to erect the necessary machinery, and
organise quick means of communication, with the
nearest city. I told him that I was not in a position
to give him the slightest information. I said the
sample of ore I had submitted belonged to a friend of
mine, and that they had been brought to him by a



78 " OUT THERE "

thoroughly experienced prospector, but at present no
information of any kind would be given to anyone.
The old Jew was much disappointed, though some-
what consoled when I promised him that if it was
found that it would pay to develop the district, his
firm should have a chance of tendering for machinery.
Well, my dear chum, I think you will admit things
are looking a bit rosier, and if we can locate the spot
from which the old chap brought the samples, and the
samples fairly represent the amount of gold that may
be found there, there is a fortune waiting for someone.
" I hope you will lose no time in making the
necessary preparations for a start. I am eager to be
off, and I am sure you must feel the same. You may
expect me back in Gordonstown in the course of the
next fortnight or three weeks. As you will remember,
my original plan was to reinaiu here for some time,
but the projected expedition to the West has
necessitated a complete modification of my arrange-
ments. Our future is on the knees of the Gods, but
I feel confident that you and I can win through to
many prosperous years. Love to you and Mary,

" Your chum,

" OLIVER GORDON."



If a letter couched in similar terms had come from
Gordon a few weeks ago, it might have begot in
Preston feelings of elation. As it was he experienced
a sense of irritation, and the letter dropped from his
hands to the floor. He lolled back on the couch, put
his hand over his eyes, and pondered. He began to
see things in better balanced proportions, and could
no longer be indifferent to the fact that if the dream of
riches was ever to be realised, risks and difficulties
must be overcome.

Bill Blewitt, an experienced bushman, hardened by
many adventures and rough life, was the sole survivor
of the party of four which had set out with high
hopes for the West. It was true they were without
organisation, and entirely dependent on their own
individual exertions. Therefore such an expedition
as that contemplated by Preston could not be under-



TORTURED WITH DOUBTS 79

taken lightly, and its success would depend on the
care that was taken to guard against failure. As a
stockman and farmer he had gained much experience
of bush life, but he had never attempted any explor-
ation, and the circumstances of his life had confined
him to a relatively restricted area. Gordon was little
more than a townsman. He had at no time shown
any desire to trust himself to the wilds, with a view
to wresting some of the hidden secrets from those far-
off spaces, of which so little was known at that period.
It therefore seemed that he was hardly qualified for
the work that had to be done. Those facts could not
be overlooked, but what really concerned Harold more
than anything else was a somewhat vague feeling of
jealousy of Gordon. At that stage he could not quite
justify that feeling, but his faith in Gordon had been
shaken, and though he would not have owned to a
definite fear of him, he was obsessed by an instinctive
mistrust of the man whom at one time he had
regarded as one of the truest of friends. And now
Gordon, by taking over the mortgage had obtained a
power which, if he had any sinister motives, he could
use to Harold's undoing.

It was a little more than four years since Preston
had been compelled to resort to mortgaging his
property. There had been a bad year. Nearly three
months of torrential rains had turned his lands into
swamps, and disease broke out among his sheep and
cattle. The rains were succeeded by intense heat, and
a fire, which had its origin in the carelessness of a
shepherd, swept over the crops and grasslands,
leaving a blackened waste. That year of disaster
brought about a financial crisis, and Harold appealed
to his friend to assist him. Although it was generally
believed that Gordon was rich k he declared that he was
unable to render the desired assistance; but he advised
him to go to Melbourne and see Frampton & Heathcote,
and he gave him a letter of introduction. The result
was, they undertook, after a survey of the property,
to lend ten thousand pounds secured by mortgage over
the whole estate. The money was advanced "on
behalf of a client who wished to remain anonymous."
Now by the irony of fate, as it seemed to him, Gordon



So " OUT THERE "

had obtained a power which, if he were so inclined, he
might use to crush him. Might use! The thought
startled Harold so that he sprang up and paced the
room with a feeling of desperation, then a still more
disquieting thought took definite shape in his brain
for the first time : " Was it possible that Gordon
still kept alive the old feud which had existed for so
many years between the Gordons and the Prestons ? "

Harold felt angry with himself for admitting even
the possibility of this, but it took such possession of
him that it would not be dismissed, and he recalled
a hundred and one trifling incidents that at the time
he attached no importance to but which now seemed
strangely significant. Had he known that Gordon was
a sleeping partner in the firm of Frampton &
Heathcote, and the " anonymous client," his feelings
against Gordon would have led to open warfare
against the man who, while professing strong friend-
ship, was capable of cunning and treachery that made
him a deadly enemy. Preston, with his notions of
chivalry and his strong sense of honour, was no
match for Gordon. And being in ignorance of
Gordon's baseness, and notwithstanding that black
page in his history as revealed to him by Doctor
Blain, it pained him extremely to find himself
doubting his friend.

At this moment, when his distress of mind had
reached such an acute stage that he felt as if he must
do something desperate, Jim Dawkins came in to
announce that supper was ready. The interruption
relieved the tension for the time being, and without a
word Harold strode into the long, log-built annexe
to the house, which was the common feeding-place for
all the hands employed on the Run.

The floor was the natural earth. The shingle roof
was supported by beams of the stringy bark tree, and
the walls were logs placed one above the other and
clamped together. The apertures that did duty for
windows that could be closed by wooden shutters were
now screened by flimsy cotton curtains. The long
deal table was covered with a coarse cotton cloth, and
bare forms were placed at each side, but a large chair
for the master was at the head of the table. Harold



TORTURED WITH DOUBTS Si

generally took his meals with his employes unless he
had guests, in which case he entertained them in a
small and well-furnished dining-room in the main
building. Besides Jim Dawkins, the staff now con-
sisted of an old woman who for many years had acted
as housekeeper, two girls who did the work of the
household, one shepherd who had been retained
although he had little to do, two experienced stock-
men, Pete Radley and George Grindon, a couple of
stable hands, a dairy maid, and the indispensable
carpenter. In good times Preston employed a large
number of people of both sexes. Here in this extreme
outer fringe of civilisation the little community lived
through the torrid heat amidst primitive surroundings,
and without any of the comforts, to say nothing of
the luxuries, enjoj-ed by the town dwellers. But
they were healthy and happy.

The meal consisted for the most part of tinned
provisions, though there was an ample supply of
potatoes boiled in their skins; the drink was water
from the artesian well which fortunately never failed,
milk, a thin beer, and tea.

Harold, although abstracted and thoughtful, en-
joyed his meal, for he was hungry and exhausted.
The conversation was as primitive as the surroundings.
There was little to talk about. The deadness of
everything and the heat were depressing, but Jack
Doughty, the shepherd, who was a weather wise man,
struck a cheering note.

" This yere draught's agoin' to break, boss," he
said with oracular solemnity.

" Why, what makes you think that, Jack? " asked
Harold.

" I saw four wild ducks flying from the West 'ard
last night, and the sun went down in a bank o' cloud."

No one threw any doubt on Jack's prophecy, for it
was a good sign to see duck, and it was long since there
had been any cloud. It indicated that there was rain
somewhere out West, and it might spread to the East.

When the supper was over Harold rose, and turning
to Dawkins said :

" Come and smoke your pipe with me on the
veranda, Jim, I want to talk to you."



CHAPTER IX

IN THE TENDERNESS OP THE NIGHT

HAROLD stretched himself out on a deck-chair on the
part of the veranda facing the west, while one of the
serving women put a bottle of brandy and a jug of
water on a small table within his reach. He lit a
cigar, and leaned back with a feeling of .mental weari-
ness; he had a vague, haunting sense of fear that
things had gone hopelessly wrong, that he was face
to face with a crisis in his life. It was a morbid
condition, quite foreign to his nature, and he was so
thoroughly under its influence at that moment that he
despaired of ever setting his affairs right again.

The mystery of the night held the earth, and out
of the vast silence came, in rising and falling
cadences, that low wailing note called forth by the
wandering night breeze as it breathed its hot breath
over the bare branches of the surrounding trees, and
among the yielding stems of a clump of bamboos that
formed a screen on the eastern front of the house. It
was accentuated and invested with an almost super-
natural uncanniness, for the stricken and burnt-up
land harboured none of those forms of life which are
evidenced during the tropic night by many undertones
blending in a monotonous and sibilant melody. As
compared even with Gordonstown this drought-
blighted region seemed like part of a dead world
steeped in eternal silence. The thin, translucent
atmosphere imparted to the myriad stars that pierced
the ebony sky an almost unnatural brilliancy, though
it failed to penetrate the vast spaces of darkness below,
. 83



TENDERNESS OF THE NIGHT 83

the darkness that held its thousand secrets unrevealed
by shape or sound. Far away in the magic and
mystical west, across the unpeopled and desolate
wastes, there lingered a curious radiance like the faint
reflection of a hidden furnace from which emanated a
violet glow, tinged with a strange, ethereal flush of
tender rose.

Harold's eyes focused in one wide range of vision
the steely brilliance of the stars, that magic light in
the west, and the velvety paH of darkness enveloping
the land ; and in his supersensitive condition he was
almost painfully impressed with the dream-like and
poetic beauty of it all ; his whole being was alert vith
an understanding that he was living his life in the
solemn stillness of a backwater, where he but faintly
caught the sounds of the world of passionate human
struggle where Mammon was the god before whom all
bent the knee, and the lust for gold hardened the
hearts of men. To such a man that backwater was
an elysium ; he had found happiness free from alloy,
for the little frets and worries inseparable from the
daily existence of all who labour that they may live
were to him, with his resilience and optimism, but
stimuli to greater effort to gain the modest competency
he desired ; that and the love of the woman 10 whom
he had given his love were all he had demanded from
the world.

His soul stirred in response to the voices of the
primitive wilderness where his lot had been cast. He
understood Nature in all her moods ; if the night held
something that was vague, mysterious, awful, it
revealed to him through his poetic temperament
beauties that would have failed to touch grosser minds,
and the days, whether days of rain or sunshine, of
calm or tempest, brought him a full-hearted content-
ment, for a splendid, glorious, exhilarating freedom
was his. An encompassing restriction, the miserable
and emasculating conventionalities of high-pitched
civilisation would have made him wretched and dis-
satisfied. He was a product of the wilderness, and
had none of the stibtle understanding of human
nature which comes to men who toil and traffic in the
marts of teeming cities, and enables them to realise



84 " OUT THERE "

how fierce and cruel the heart can be when it has been
rendered distrustful by the wrong, the greed, and the
selfishness of others. When the great drought
destroyed the fabric that was the result of his
ungrudging toil, he realised that Nature could be cruel,
but it raised in him no spirit of rebellion ; he was con-
tent to believe that even in her cruelty, as men under-
stood it, she was carrying out some great purpose, and
though she wrecked and destroyed, she could smile
and speedily build up again.

But now a false, jarring note had been struck in
the well-balanced symphony of his existence, and an
instinctive mistrust of his friend, in whose honour he
had had such unbounded faith, pained and wrung him
as he had never been pained and wrung before. As
he sat there pondering in the solemn stillness of the
night, with the glory of the shining stars above him,
he heard voices, and one seemed to come from the
West, over the vast empty spaces ; it crooned a siren
song of gold, of gold that had lain buried since time
began. He was as free from sordidness as a man may
be, but that song lured him, and strange as it may
seem, it made him restless, unsettled, unhappy. He
was not cynical, neither was he embittered or
despairing, but he was subconsciously aware that
something had fallen away from him, a something
that had made for peace and contentment, and his
outlook on life had undergone a sudden and remarkable
change. For the first time in his career, perhaps, he
was suffering the agony of disillusionment, and as the
deepest things in the human heart are those which it
can never utter, he was in a vague way conscious of
a crying out for interpretation. His mind was
wrestling with a problem that was shadowy and
indeterminate. He was so self-absorbed that Jim
Dawkins was beside him before he was aware of his
presence.

" Are you asleep, boss? "

The voice aroused him, and he half started up.

" Hullo, Jim, is that you? You've been a long
time."

" Well, I went to the stables to see that the horses
were all right."



TENDERNESS OF THE NIGHT 85

Harold's cigar had fallen from his hand and gone
out. Jirn was smoking a short clay pipe. Harold lit
a fresh cigar, and told Jim to pull a chair forward- and
sit down. Jim Dawkins was an uncultivated, man,
but he rang true. He, too, was a product of the
wilderness, and in his crude, rough way he understood
the solace that Nature had for those who understood
her. In a great city Jim would have pined, withered,
and, missing the solace, would probably have sought
for consolation in drink, and have died. Harold
mixed himself a little weak brandy and water and told
Jim to help himself, but Jim was a very moderate
drinker, he preferred mild beer to anything else.

" Jim," began Harold, " did you ever push out to
the West in my father's time? "

" Well, boss, soon after I came on the Run, your
father sent me and two other chaps with a mob of
cattle to see how far the grazing lands extended. It's
nigh on forty years ago. We pushed on slowly, for
many weeks, till we came to a vast swampy region.
It was no place for man or beast, so we turned and
drove the cattle home again."

Harold leaned back in his chair, and, resting his
forehead on his hand, said :

" Do you remember four fellows coming here
between three and four years ago? They had humped
their swags down from the Snowy River diggings,
and were broke."

" Of course I do, boss, and you was pretty good to
'em."

" Well, those fellows pushed out beyond the grass
lands, found a way through the swamps, crossed a
river that flows from the north, and tramped for
weeks through a blistering desert, till they struck the
foothills of the Ranges, and in the heart of the Ranges
they found a gorge where gold can be gathered in
bucket-fulls. One of those four men is now lying in


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 6 of 22)