Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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the hospital at Gordonstown. The bones of his three
chums bleach somewhere out there. The chap in the
hospital is named Bill Blewitt. He remembered that
I had helped him and his mates, so he sent for me,
and has given me samples of the gold and the quartz,
and particulars of the place where he found them.'-



86 " OUT THERE "

Harold paused as if wishing to see the eSect of the
information on his listener. But Jim did not betray
the slightest trace of excitement, and speaking as one
in whom interest had not been aroused he said :

" And I suppose you have it in your mind to go
out there ? "

" Yes." Harold knew that he could trust Jim with
his life, hence the reason for taking him into his con-
fidence.

" Well, don't." There was something so abrupt,
so decisive, so unexpected in that snapped out " Well,
don't," that Harold raised himself again and looked
at Jim. A light streaming through a little window
behind where Preston sat illuminated the sun-browned
face of Jim, but the face was impassive.

'Harold fell back into his former position with a
little scoffing laugh.

" Why do you say that, Jim ? '

Jim tapped his pipe on his boot heel to empty it
of ashes, refilled the pipe, lit it, and spoke oracularly :

" Well, it's this way, boss, gold prospecting and
gold digging ain't much in your line, I take it. One
chap out of four, you say, has come back. Them
Ranges is far away, and you've got to take risks to
get to 'em, and when you get to 'em maybe you
won't find the gold."

The crude force of Jim's argument was not without
effect on the listener, and Harold remained thoughtful
for some minutes, while Jim seemed absorbed in the
contemplation of his pipe.

" Of course there is something in what you say,"
said Harold at last. " But, you see, it's this way,
Jim, I'm broke through the drought, and but for the
fact that Mr Gordon has taken over the mortgage,
this property would have passed out of my possession."

" Mr Gordon has taken over the mortgage! "
repeated Jim with undisguised amazement.
' Yes ; why does it astonish you ? "

Jim did not answer immediately. Then :

" Look here, boss, I'm only a rough chap, but
sometimes I see things pretty clearly. Now, I've
been on this Run nigh on forty-five years. When I
first come Gordonstown was only a clearing, and



TENDERNESS OF THE NIGHT 87

between your father and the Gordons there weren't any
love. Them Gordons never could act fair and square.
And they would have driven your people away if they
could have done it. They was greedy for your father's
lands, but they didn't get 'em. Your father was a
fine chap. He was a good man and a honest one;
he wanted nought from the Gordons, but he knew how
to keep what he owned, and what he owned, boss, he
left to you, and you've got to keep it."

" But surely, Jim," said Harold with a caustic
laugh, " you don't suppose I'm going to part with
it."

" What I do suppose, boss," answered Jim
sententiously, " is that if you don't pay off that there
mortgage Mr Oliver Gordon gets your property."

A startled expression came into Preston's face, but
as he was in shadow Jim did not notice it. The old
man had driven home a truth, that though obvious
enough before, had not appeared to Harold in all its
glaring nakedness until that moment. So startling
was the effect upon him that lie sprang up and took
a turn or two up and down the veranda. Then
swinging round abruptly and standing over Jim, who
smoked his clay pipe placidly, he said :

" I am afraid you haven't a very good opinion of
My Gordon."

" No, I haven't, governor," answered Jim with
blunt honesty. " When I see you and him getting
very thick with one another I didn't like it; but it
weren't for me to say anything. And I tell you
straight, boss, I don't like him having the mortgage."

" But don't you understand, Jim," rapped out
Preston with some warmth, " so long as I pay the
interest and am prepared to pay the principal when it
is called up after due notice, there is no chance of
the property falling into Gordon's hands ? "

" Yes, so long as you do," replied Jim, undisturbed
by the boss's little display of irritation.

Harold threw himself into the chair again, and
relit his cigar, which had gone out. There was
another considerable pause, and out of the mystery
of the night came that weird teolian melody that
seemed to Harold's ears like a cry of distress. At



88 " OUT THERE t;

last Jim broke the silence with another oracular
utterance.

" So long as you pay, boss, you are safe. That's
clear. But suppose this yeer drought goes on for
another year or two where will you be? "

" You've become a pessimist, Jim."

" A what ? "

" A pessimist. You are inclined to take too
gloomy a view of things."

" Facts is facts," answered Jim, with unflinching
determination to stick to his point. " If I saw grass
and crops growing on your Run again, and mobs of
cattle and sheep roaming about as they did afore
this damned drought struck us, I should take no
gloomy view. But the land's burnt up; there ain't
no grass, there ain't no crops, no cattle, no sheep, and
even if rain comes in the autumn it will take four years
for you to pull up and pay off everything. Is that
right or ain't it ? "

" It's right," admitted Preston sadly.

" Then I ain't no pessimist. Now take my advice,
boss. You use my thousand pounds, marry Miss
Gordon right away, and with her money and my bit
you'll pull round."

A spasm of emotion brought tears to Preston's eyes.
" By God, Jim, you are a white man," he said in a
voice that betrayed his feelings. " Don't think that
I fail to appreciate your offer and your advice, but I
do not intend to place your little hoard in jeopardy,
and I am too proud to ask Miss Gordon to become
my wife until my prospects improve. No, Jim, my
friend. There's gold out there in the West, and I am
going to search for it. It seems like destiny that Bill
Blewitt should have come back at this critical period.
When I helped him I cast my bread upon the waters,
unknowingly, and it has returned. I should be a
fool if I remained indifferent to these things. I shall
go West. It's my only chance."
' Then I shall go with you."

" No, Jim, you must remain here and look after iny
interests. Where is there another man I can trust as
I can trust you. Something must be done, and as I
am resolved not to take your money or marry Mary



TENDERNESS OF THE NIGHT 89

ur.til I have bettered my position, the only alternative
is to go West. There is gold out there beyond all
doubt, and if old Blewitt is well enough he'll guide
us to the place. If we happen to strike it rich I
shall soon be able to put matters right here. You
know as well as I do that in this country men who
have been lucky enough to find gold in paying
quantities have made fortunes in. a few weeks." He
had spoken rapidly and with a forcibleness that
implied a desire to impress his listener with the use-
lessness of further protest or argument.

Jim was a slow thinking man, but no one could
have charged him with stupidity. He had a clear
mental vision, and was able to draw pretty accurate
deductions from such premises as came within the
grasp of his intellect. He sat silent and imperturbable.

" If you leave me in charge, boss, I'll do my duty
to you aS I done my duty to your father afore you
was born. When I come to this Run first I was a
young un, and I've growed up on it, and I've seed
you grow up-on it. It's home to me, and I ain't fit
for no other life but this. I've lived here for many
years, and I'm going to lay my bones here. And I'll
serve you well and true till I'm dead. But, boss,
there's one thing I want to say, you've got to make
it clear to Mr Oliver Gordon that he's not to interfere
with me while you are away."

" Don't worry yourself on that score, Jim, my
friend," answered Harold with a chuckle; " Gordon
will go with me."

" Oh," gasped Tim, and the peculiar intonation he
gave to the exclamation left no room to doubt that
the announcement gratified him. And after a pause
he added, "I'm happier now that I know Oliver
Gordon's going with you."

" Oh, yes, he'll go with me, Jim, and share what-
ever risks and hardships we may have to face."

Jim was not given to mincing matters. He knew
nothing of the art of dissembling. He could keep
silent when he considered silence was desirable, but
when he wanted to express a thought he expressed it
with the bluntness which was characteristic of his
rugged nature. And he was blunt now.



90 " OUT THERE "

" Well, boss, it wouldn't give me no kind o' concern
if Mr Oliver Gordon never came back again."

"I'm afraid you are unduly prejudiced, Jim," said
Harold reflectively.

" Your father didn't like the Gordons, boss, and I
don't like Mr Oliver."

" But surely you are not prejudiced against Miss
Gordon," exclaimed Preston, leaning forward a little,
and speaking with a certain sharpness.

" Miss Mary is a Gordon," replied Jim decisively,
as though he considered that in that brief expression
of his feelings he summed up all that he had to say
on the subject, and that however much he might
appreciate Mary for her beauty and sweet womanli-
ness, the fact of her being a Gordon was, in his
opinion, the only bar to an alliance between her and
Harold. " Mind yer," he added, " I ain't got a word
to say agin Miss Mary, only I wish she wasn't a
Gordon. Maybe she'll make a good wife."

Although Harold felt a little piqued he wisely
refrained from provoking any argument on a subject
that affected him so deeply; he appreciated Jim's
sterling honesty too much to display anger even
though he, might feel it.

" Well, Jim, you represent a past generation, but
at this time of day the old feud is dead, and we will
not discuss it," he said firmty. " I shall marry Mary."

Jim remained silent for some minutes, then he
rose with a yawn, and knocking the ashes from
'his pipe, announced his intention of turning in, and
with a " Good night, boss," went away to his bed.
Harold remained absorbed in thought ; he experienced
a strange sense of loneliness that he could hardly
understand. But he was in a peculiarly sensitive
mood, and the solemn stillness of the night, the vast
silent spaces full of the mystery of the unknown, the
immensity of the star-studded heavens that spoke of
eternity and the finite littleness of human affairs,
impressed him subconscious!}' ; he felt how paltry
and contemptible were the jealousies and hatred of
men when inevitable death was the end of it all.
Nature was eternal, but men came and went like
moths; they fluttered through their brief space of



TENDERNESS OF THE NIGHT 91

time moved by passion and pain, hopes and fears, love
and hate, then dropped into the dust and were for-
gotten. In his half-dream state he heard the
syncopated melody of the wind breathing through the
trees, and in his depression it seemed to him that
it was a dirge of woe and pity that filtered down to
earth from beyond the stars, and yet there was a
tenderness in the solemn beauty of the night that
seemed to soothe him, and touched a chord in his
soul that made him feel at peace with all the world.

'He must have slept, for suddenly he sprang up with
a start, stretched himself and disappeared in the
shadows of the house. And the night slumbered in
the deep heart of peace with folded wings ; over the
vast spaces brooded the great silence, strangely impres-
sive in its awful solemnity, and the tender notes of the
wind chanting in aeolian strains among the trees was
a low sweet lullaby ; nature crooned peace to the hot,
restless hearts of men who had ears to hear and souls
to understand.



CHAPTER X

THE CALL OF THE WILD

DURING the weeks that ensued Harold Preston
experienced a reaction from the depression under
which he had laboured. The shadow which had rilled
his vision had been dissipated ; he became bright with
hope and new-born desires. He turned his eyes to
the east in the morning when the pearl of dawn
changed to a stupendous scheme of glorious colour
that glowed with the vividness of flame; and he
turned his eyes to the west when the softer blending
of hues in the translucent air at eventide were like
the glow of ethereal fires, so soft, so tender, so delicate
that it seemed unearthly; he felt under the spell of
the western mystery, and heard a voice, dulcet and
low, that ever called to him from the vast silence of
the mystical west. He became enthusiastic and
entirely obsessed with the idea that out there, beyond
the edge of the vast emptiness, he would find the land
of his heart's desire. It was not for fame but love
he wrought. If he could win some of the hidden
wealth that Nature had stored up in the earth, he
could face the future with a bold heart in the sweet
companionship of the woman who was dearer to him
than all the buried wealth of the world. And the
altruistic longings of his soul might find gratification
if he had the power which money gives. He was
simple-minded enough to believe that his ideals were
by no means illusory, and that within the sp~ace of
the years that remained to him he could plant seed
that would blossom into flowers to gladden the hearts

92



THE CALL OF THE WILD 93

of his brother pilgrims who were journeying to the
dust. At times his eyes glittered with a strange
eagerness as he dreamed of the day when he would
be able to call Mary Gordon his wife, and to the utter-
most limits of his humble abilities serve his fellowtnen
by teaching them that there is sublimity in life if one
will look with clear vision on its beauties, and see
the blue that shows above the grey.

It was the dream of a man with a pure heart; he
could harbour no thought that he might possibly
awake to find that the idealist was out of place in the
hard, fierce world of pain and wrong, of sorrow and
sin.

The strenuous weeks flew by, and he worked hard
to put his affairs in order, and complete the prepara-
tions for the momentous expedition that he fondly
hoped would bring him years of happiness. The
drought still held, but as the summer waned there
were signs in the vivid, fierce blue of the sky that
some change was at hand. When the sun rose in the
east there were now trailing clouds no longer like
crimson-dyed floss-silk, but 'compact and heavy, with
dark depths that seemed stored with moisture. They
were the vanguard of an army that was ever pressing
forward in the wake of the sun, and presently it would
spread itself to north and south and west and east, and
let loose the flood-gates over the panting and weary
laud. At times, too, the wind spoke of coming rain;
there was a sob in its voice, and a moisture in its
hot breath, while long drawn-out vapour-cloiids like
skeins of sodden wool drifted through the black blue
of the heavens.

Harold rode into Gordonstown three and four times
a week, and spent many golden hours in Mary's
company. Although she did not seek to discourage
him in the carrying out of his great project, she could
not altogether conceal a haunting fear that perhaps,
after all, he was being mocked by a mirage. The story
of the Austral land is a story for all to read. Does
it not tell of the thousands who set out in high hope,
vinder molten skies, over heat-blistered plains, lured
by the golden mirage to hunger and thirst, pain and
toil, broken hearts and nameless graves? A few have



94 " OUT THERE "

found El Dorado, but to the many El Dorado has
been but a city of dreams, that has faded like the
mists of dawn, and lured only to destroy.

Harold tried to laugh away her fears. Strong with
a great endeavour, he would win through and prove
to her that he had followed no eidolon, but gone
straight to a golden goal. Had he not seen with his
own eyes evidence of the wealth out there ? Had not
Bill Blewitt, sustained by a tremendous purpose,
struggled back alone through the dreary wilderness,
that he might impart the secret to him? After all,
were not men's lives influenced by a destiny which
they were powerless to avert? Were not the mysteri-
ous workings of Destiny shown when Bill came to
the Run and he gave him food and shelter; and in the
return of this man from the wilderness to prove that
gratitude is something more than a name ? Thus he
argued, and asked her if it would not be foolishness
to turn a deaf ear to such a distinct call. She coiild
not voice the answer her heart wished to give, but
Love spoke when she said " Perhaps, Harold, you are
right, all the same I wish to God you were not going."

" Why are you so pessimistic? " he asked. " I
have come to the brink of ruin, and at the very
moment when it seemed as if my little patrimony
would pass from me, you yourself brought me a
message of hope. Do you really think it would be
wise on my part to ignore that message ? "

" God knows, dear, I do not wish to dishearten
you," she said with touching earnestness; "but
human plans are subject to so many contingencies.
And what if the message of hope prove delusive? "

His enthusiasm showed no abatement. He laughed
cheerily.

" In which case I should return to the Run," he
answered, " and by that time this abnormal drought
will have ended, and we may have a succession of
normal seasons. You know how it is in this country."

" But why risk the hardships and dangers of a long
journey for an uncertainty, when you have a certainty
here? "

" A certainty! " he echoed.

" Yes. My fortune would enable you to surmount



THE CALL OF THE WILD 95

your difficulties and regain a position of indepen-
dence."

A shadow swept over his face, and his lips
tightened. It was some moments before he could
trust himself to speak. His pride rose strong within
him ; he seemed to hear a voice that spoke from the
grave adjuring him not to be under an obligation to
the Gordons. And yet, by the force of circumstances
he could not control, a Gordon had saved him from
disaster, and taken over the mortgage. As he
remembered that he experienced a sense of
humiliation, but when he saw tears trembling in
Mary's eyes, eyes that pleaded to him with a dumb
eloquence, he took her hands, kissed the tears away,
and said with a ring of pathos :

" Darling woman, you thrill the fibres of my soul,
for out of the depths of your own soul your love for
me speaks. But I entreat of you not to try and
dissuade me from my purpose. The prize is not won
without dust, and I should be untrue to myself if I
shrank from difficulties so long as there is a chance
of my being able to work out my own redemption.
If we mutually agreed to link our destinies now, and
your little fortune should prove unequal to the
demands that might be made upon it, I should never
again be able to look the world in the face, for would
it not be said that a Preston had brought a Gordon
to ruin. Think of it, Mary; think of what I should
suffer. My love for you is stronger than my pride,
but not even my love will tempt me to risk reducing
you to a state of poverty."

She sighed, and perhaps, although she was not
conscious of it, the pride of her race prompted her
answer :

" I appreciate your feelings, Harold. Why should
you humble yourself to the woman you love and who
loves you. I was willing to take the risk shadowy
as it seems to me which you suggest is possible.
But as my offer does not find favour with you, I with-
draw it. Garry out your purpose ; I understand how
it has become an obsession with you, and I pray to
God that He will watch over you, and bring you
safely back again."



o6 " OUT THERE "

Harold could not wholly disguise the emotion which
this exchange of views had brought about, but he felt
that there could be no faltering now. He loved this
woman with the whole strength of his manhood. But
there was that within him which prevented his
joining hands with hers until he had won back his
financial independence. There was no sordidness in
this desire, but though he did not fully understand it
perhaps, it was the pride of his race that dominated
him.

If his optimism had needed any further stimulus, it
surely found it when, a few days later, on visiting
the hospital, he learned that Bill Blewitt was on the
eve of being discharged. The old man's wonderful
vitality had enabled him to triumph over the illness
induced by hardships and exhaustion, aided, of
course, by Doctor Blain's skill arid good nursing.
Blaiu had become greatly interested in his patient, and
had bestowed upon him exceptional care and
attention.

" Blewitt's recuperative powers are extraordinary,"
he said to Harold. " He is a type of man which the
wilderness produces and civilisation destroys. It was
all in his favour that he has been practically a teeto-
taller all his life, and his own statement was backed up
by evidence which to a medical man admitted no
question of doubt. He is a most intelligent and
interesting old chap, and I should like to help him in
some way."

" Oh, you may rest assured, Doc., that he will not
want so long as I am able to do anything for him."

When he met Blewitt he warmly congratulated him
on his recovery, and told him that he would find a
permanent job for him on the Run.

" But you're going out to the Ranges, boss? " he
exclaimed, with eyes that flamed with eagerness.

" Of course I am, Bill."

'" Then I go along with you."

" But, don't you think "

' There ain't no buts about it, boss. I'm gains;.'''
His iron will and determination were so obvious that
Harold refrained from any further argument, and he
felt relieved when the old man consented to remain



THE CALL OF THE WILD 97

on the Run until the little expedition was ready to
start.

Mary Gordon was no less gratified by Blewitt's
recovery than was Harold himself.

" His bush experiences and knowledge of the route
will be invaluable to you," she said. " And since
this old man is able to accompany you, why should
not I go too? "

" Good Lord, Mary "

" Now stop a minute, and let me have my say. I
have thought it all over since we talked together the
other day. I love freedom, I have been brought up in
freedom \ I am in sound health ; I have roughed it in
the bush. I long to do something that in after years
I may look back to with pride. Why should my
womanhood be a bar to accompanying you in this, the
most momentous incident in your life? "

" But, think of the risks "

" Risks! If there are risks for me there are risks
for you, and a woman who cannot share risks with the
man she loves is unworthy of him."

" Yes, but the hardships and discomforts

" Hardships and discomforts, " she repeated with a
healthy, joyous laugh, " they appeal to me. I have
passed many and many a night under the stars with
the bare ground for my bed. I can live on pemmican
and enjoy it ; I can make and eat damper with the
best of you, and as a horsewoman I will back myself
against any bushman in the colony. If you urge that
no woman has ever been a member of an exploring
expedition before, I plead to you to let me be the first
of my sex to have the credit of the innovation.
Women are capable of much that men will not credit
them with, and I want to burst the shackles of con-
^entionalism, and share with you the glorious life of
freedom in the wilderness."

She spoke joyously, even with enthusiasm, and
there was a light in her eyes that revealed how her
whole being throbbed with the anticipated pleasure
of being by her lover's side whatsoever might happen.

Harold was deeply impressed. He knew, of course,
that Mary was no neurotic product of an enervating
civilisation. She had been brought up in the splendid

P



98 " OUT THERE "

air and free life of the Australian bush, and had
frequently experienced the primitive existence of
wild and isolated stations when visiting friends and
relatives in lonely parts of the country. And now
she laid bare to him, not only the magnificent
courage of her womanhood, but her soul's great love
for him, for no woman who did not love deeply would
have offered to share the dangers and hardships
inseparable from pioneer work in unknown country.
Courageous himself he could not fail to admire her
courage, and all the feelings that stirred him, and the
emotion that set his blood dancing in his veins found
expression in the full-throated exclamation :

" Mary, you are splendid ! A wonder- woman worth
dying for ! "

" Don't talk of dying," she answered delightedly,
" we are going to drink our full of the wine of life,
and realise in excelsis the glory of living. We are
young; the golden dreams of youth still stir our
pulses. There is work to do, we will do it, and when
the end comes we will face it calmly, conscious of


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 7 of 22)