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Out there : a romance of Australia online

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having done our duty."

He gazed at her with gleaming eyes that were afire
with a tremendous admiration, and infected by her
enthusiasm and earnestness, he threw out his open
arms to her, and said :

" Woman of God, I salute you ! "

She lay on his breast, and a great sigh burst from
her.

" Now I am happy, oh so happy," she murmured.
" The shadow of a nameless fear that encompassed me
has gone like a film of smoke. I have yearned and
yearned for the chance to do something that would
take me out of the restricted area in which most
women have to fritter away their frivolous lives.
Perhaps they like it, but it has never appealed to me.
I hate it. Let those who desire the pussy-cat existence
have it. The fashionable women enjoy it, but I am
a woman of the wilds, and crave for the freedom of
nature."

A sort of ecstasy had laid hold of her, and she
bared her naked soul for the man who loved her and
who held her in his arms to see. He saw and under-



THE CALL OF THE WILD 99

stood. He felt that the world was beautiful, and that
when God created woman He crowned His handiwork.

There was a silence between them, until with some
overmastering impulse Mary straightened up her
body, put her arms around his neck, locking her
fingers together and throwing back her head, gazed
at him with a look in which all the intense ardency
of her nature was concentrated, and she spoke with
inflexible decision.

" Harold, I am going with you to the West."

For a moment he hesitated ; a tiny reaction set in,
but it passed. The woman's great strength of purpose
filled him, and though she had not asked a question,
but made a declaration, he answered :

" Yes, Mary, you are going with me to the West."



CHAPTER XI

THE BREAKING OF THE DROUGHT

HAROLD PRESTON was happy. He was like a pure-
hearted healthy boy to whom the world is a dream and
a romance, whose soul is attuned to catch every sound,
interpret every thought that can minister to his
pleasure and enjoyment. Bill Blewitt had come up to
Glenbar, and he and Harold discussed the forth-
coming expedition in all its details. Bill was scarcely
less enthusiastic than Harold himself. He had
tramped the wilderness again and again, and though
his mind was incult, he felt the ineffable spell of
freedom in the vast spaces where Nature rules and
fills the soul of man with a delight that the city can
never give. He had seen comrades fall by the way,
and their bones bleach under the brazeu skies ; he had
suffered the pangs of hunger and the unspeakable
agony of thirst; for weeks he had walked shoulder to
shoulder with Death, defying Death, and now,
although he was stricken in years and weakened by
the privations he had suffered, he was ready, with that
entire absence of fear which is one of Nature's
precious gifts to him who understands her, he was
ready and panting to go forth again into those vast,
empty spaces where the wanton winds roamed pure
and undefiled as they came direct from the outer
limits of the earth. He and his mates had done a
bold thing when they set out over an unknown route
for the wonderful ranges, carrying their lives in their
hands, and bearing upon their backs the necessarily
limited supplies of sustenance, well aware that when

100



THE BREAKING OF THE DROUGHT 101

those supplies were exhausted they would have to
depend upon the resources of primitive man to keep
body and soul together. Such men are the heroic
pioneers who have given to civilisation its treasures
and its comforts, while they themselves have perished
unknown and forgotten. The bones of these nameless
dead moulder in the far corners of the earth, in
pestiferous jungles, in Arctic wildernesses, and the
sun-blistered plains of tropic lands, where Nature still
reigns supreme.

Oliver Gordon still lingered in Melbourne. He
occasionally sent a brief note to Harold to say that
unexpected business matters detained him, and
expressing a hope that preparations for the expedi-
tion were being pushed forward. Harold kept the
determination to allow Mary to accompany him a
secret. He resolved not to reveal it until the last
moment. If at first he had regarded her proposal as
a wild and impracticable desire, he had put that from
him, and the mere thought of it now filled him with
delight. Signs of the break-up of the drought
increased and heartened him. The fierce brazen sky
was now often dappled with clouds. Flocks of wild
ducks and other birds were frequently seen flying
high over the parched land. The morning sun rose
in bankecl-up masses of heavy clouds, and at even-
tide, far away in the mysterious West, vapour hung
like a gossamer veil dyed with purple and gold.

He often turned his eyes to the West and dreamed
of the gold lying buried there. And yet he only
thought of the gold as one may think of the intangible
scent of a rose. Gold could give pleasure and delight
to the senses, and beget in the hearts of some fierce
desire. But it did not appeal to him as it appeals to
most men. The romantic side of his nature was
excited by the prospects of traversing the unknown,
of getting still closer to the heart of Nature, of
adventures, of wrestling with Death itself. He under-
stood in a subconscious sort of way that the discovery
of gold meant the destruction of Nature's solitudes,
and where there was gold the tentacles of civilisation,
like those of a huge octopus, would fling out, des-



102 " OUT THERE "

troyiiig the forests, sucking the life out of the green
heart of the primitive wilderness. It meant that
multitudes of men would swarm into Nature's voids.
They would break the silence of millions of years
with the roar of machinery. They would defile God's
air with foul smoke. They would build cities where
all that is base in the human heart would come to
the surface greed, avarice, lust, hate; the bitterness
of oppression, the power and ambition of the rich, the
helplessness and suffering of the poor; where those
who had much would struggle to get more, whilst the
poor would find life more of a curse than a blessing,
and the pauper would learn that he was merely toler-
ated as a nuisance, to be borne with, and that when
death relieved him of his misery he would be
shovelled into the ground with scarcely more
ceremony than would be shown in the burial of a
favourite dog.

Some such reflections as these took vague shape in
Harold's mind when, meditatively, he turned his eyes
to the west which flamed into an ineffable splendour as
the sun sank, and gradually darkened until the robe
of night enfolded it in mystery. Harold Preston was
a product of the wild; his responsive temperament
found delight in the radiant atmosphere, and the
silence of the great spaces where man seemed to be
so near his God. In great cities God is little more
than a name, while contending sects make a mockery
of the sweet, simple faith of the Christ Who left it
as a legacy to the world when He gave up His life
on Calvary; but in the desert spaces of the earth, on
the lonely ocean, in the vast depths of the jungle,
God is a great reality.

Harold had lived far from the modern world ; his
religion was the religion of Nature, the simple faith
of a child of the plains, but he had great ideals, soul-
ful yearnings, though a voice he could not understand
filled him at times with apprehension that his soul's
demands would never be satisfied. He was intensely
human, and his humanism never having been
subjected for any length of time to the corroding
influences of city life, he was an altruist in the best
sense, with a tendency to regard every other man as



THE BREAKING OF THE DROUGHT 103

his brother. But there was a practical side to his
nature all the same, and he fully grasped the potent
meaning of the ordinance : " Man shall earn his
bread by the sweat of his brow."

Although he was a dreamer he found joy in toil,
and during those long dreary months of killing heat
he fretted as he saw himself reduced to comparative
idleness, and his crops, herds, and flocks destroyed.
It may be imagined, therefore, with what anxiety he
watched the portents in the sky which seemed to
speak of corning rain. He wanted to see his lands
soaked before he started for the West, for even if the
main purpose of his journey there failed, he would
retrace his steps to his home with the assurance that
he would hear the pleasant music of lowing kine and
bleating sheep, see crops springing where now there
was only brown, blistered earth.

At last one morning when the sur> rose its blinding
light and fierce heat were subdued by a veil of mist
and cloud. All day long a brooding silence hung over
the land, and a great pall-like shadow enveloped it.
The clouds became denser and darker as evening drew
on. The wind rushed out of the south-west in fitful
puffs that were no longer like the thrice heated blasts
trora a great furnace. In the intervals of the puffs
the silence was like the silence of an unpeopled
world ; it was a silence that could be heard. The dust
was caught up and whirled in spiral columns that
weirdly suggested tortured living things. Some were
shattered to pieces against the buildings, enveloping
them in a veil of fine, gritty powder. The wind
increased in strength, bending the bamboos and
twisting the great trees until they shrieked. The
horses in the stables whinnied, and the cows lowed
as if from some great fear. A night bird set up a
long wailing note that was like the cry of a spirit in
pain. The clouds grew denser, the darkness deepened,
but in the west there was a strange, dull, blood-red
glow that was almost unearthly. Not a star was
visible; it almost seemed as if eternal night had
settled on the world ; and the sun and moon and stars
had been blotted out of the heavens for ever and ever.
At times Nature seemed to hold her breath as if in



104 " OUT THERE "

liorror of some impending calamity. Now and again
the air shuddered throughout the vast emptiness.

All the shutters of the house had been barred and
bolted, and the doors closed. Harold, Jim Dawkins,
.and Bill Blewitt sat on the sheltered veranda smoking.
Although Bill rarely indulged in stimulants, he was
a confirmed smoker. His pipe had been a great solace
to him in many a lonely hour in the wilderness.
Occasionally one or other of the men punctuated the
silence with a casual remark. They were impressed
with the strange sense, not of fear, but awed
expectancy which is a reverence in the presence of a
mystery, a something that compels attention and
causes one to hold one's breath. It was as if the
spirits of the night were wandering about preparing
for some awful rites ; in the immensity of the silence
there were yet sounds that could not be interpreted,
weird whisperings, as it were, that came out of the
coal black heavens and echoed through and through
the whole void. There was a terrific grandeur, the
grandeur of an impenetrable darkness in which some-
thing stupendous was being prepared that was to
shake the solid earth. Even the puffy wind died
away, and the silence was pain, a horrible ceasing of
every indication of life, as if Azrael had swept over
the land, stilling everything that breathed in stony
death.

Suddenly, with an abruptness that was startling,
there leapt into life a stupendous jagged ribbon of
reddish-blue flame that threw out spears of fire to
right and left, filling the whole firmament, as it
seemed, with dazzling light that stretched from
horizon to horizon. For moments that seemed
minutes the three men were blinded by the flash.
Presently Harold said, and his voice sounded
strangely hollow in the silence : "At last." He
knew that the great drought had ended, and that
awfully brilliant flash of lightning was a sign that
filled him with hope. There was a long pause. When
the brain is numbed and the heart subdued with the
strain of expectancy, time seems to be leaden-footed,
and suspense is an agony. At last there was a
splitting, rending crash, as if the very heavens were



THE BREAKING OF THE DROUGHT 105

falling, as an appalling burst of thunder shook the
buildings to their foundations. It rolled and roared
with rising and falling cadence. It was as if a\i
angel with a flaming torch had sped through the air
to marshal the elements to war, and heaven's heaviest
artillery had responded to the call with a shock that
made the solid earth tremble. The three men smoked
and remained silent. Courageous as they were, they
might have felt some inward shrinking at this
beginning of a war of the elements, but they were no
strangers to the terrific and sublime grandeur oi
tropic storms.

There was another pause; then a mighty blast of
wind, laden with a suffocating cloud of dust, struck
the house as if it would whirl it into space, but it was
'solidly built and withstood the strain; one or two
eucalyptus trees, however, were dashed to the ground,
and the others shrieked out as if with a cry of horror
as the great wind bent and twisted them. Once again
the flaming torch tore through the sky, followed
almost immediately by another appalling crash of
thunder. Drops of water began falling like weights,
making a loud noise as they struck the house, and in
another minute or two the clouds burst, and it seemed
as if a second deluge had come, upon the earth. The
wind rose to a gale, but the ram beat down the dust,
and the roar of wind and rain was like the roar of a
tortured ocean hurling itself with titanic force against
an iron-bound coast. The lightning lit up the land
with awful splendour ; the crash of the prolonged peals
of thunder was like the rending and tearing of a
world falling to pieces.

All night long the storm continued with unabated
furj% but towards morning the lightning flashed at
longer intervals, and the reverberations of the thunder
sounded farther away. When the grey dawn broke
Harold looked through his window. A heavy, steamy
vapour rose from the hot earth, and the range of
vision was circumscribed within a narrow limit. The
clouds were low and black, and the light that filtered
through was like light seen through smoked glass.
A flock of wild ducks, spread out in a long thin line,



io6 " OUT THERE "

came out of the mists indistinct and phantom-like, and
disappeared into the mists again, fading away as a
dissolving view fades. The rain poured down steadily,
and in fancy Harold saw his lands growing green
again, crops springing up, and the whole plain dotted
with herds and flocks, and he heard a paean going up
to God from the heart of recreated life born of the
blessed rain.

He dressed himself and went on to the veranda.
He felt it was good to be alive. A city dweller
suddenly dropped down in Glenbar would have voted
it a desolation, a deadly dull place filled with a soul-
maddening loneliness, but he had never felt lonely;
he would have been far more lonely in the midst of a
crowded city. In the good seasons every hour of the
day brought its duties, and he experienced an un-
speakable joy and contentment in labour, while the
happiness and welfare of his people were ever near
to his heart. He had no longings for the follies and
frivolities of the city. He lived a man's life, healthy,
happy, and blessed with the love of the woman he
worshipped. Dreamer though he was, he did not cry
for the stars. To earn his bread by the sweat of his
brow, do such good as came within his scope, and
feel thankful for the health and strength God had
given him, satisfied the cravings of his nature. But
with it all there was one purpose he kept steadily in
view; it was the goal towards which he pressed, to
see Mary at his side as mistress of Glenbar, and him-
self in possession of a competence that would enable
him to act the part of the good Samaritan. It was a
noble purpose, and he deserved to succeed.

When he had breakfasted with his people, he drew
Jim Dawkins to the veranda and spoke with light-
hearted hopefulness of his prospects now that the
drought had broken up. A long, dry water-course
that took its rise in some uplands farther north,
skirted his paddock, and joined the river at Gordons-
town, was now a swirling cataract, so heavy had been
the rain, and it bore on its tawny bosom little islets
of debris, knotted bunches of withered reeds, great
masses of dead leaves, and rafts of sticks and broken
branches of trees. The gurgling sound of the flowing



THE BREAKING OF THE DROUGHT 107

water was a sweet sound to Harold's ears, and the fregs
that had been so long silent were croaking in hoarse
chorus that was like a song of praise. The trees so
long choked with their heavy burden of dust had been
washed clean, and looked bright and happy in the
grey mists, whilst the bamboo plantation was a fairy
scene of delicate green drapery and nodding plumes.
The rain still beat heavily on the ground, striking it
with such force that it sprang up again in sparkling
jets that fancy could have pictured as millions of tiny
fairies dancing over the land in a delirious waltz of
joy. A song of thanksgiving seemed to arise from
the grateful earth and fade away amongst the dense
clouds that poured out their life-giving streams, as a
sign of resurrection. If Harold saw visions and
dreamed dreams during the long burning days when
his hands found little to do, he was practical enough
now. This rain meant so much to him, and the plash
of falling water everywhere stirred his soul to an
ecstatic rapture, and his brain was working rapidly.

" Jim," he said, " the tremendous storm which has
broken up the drought foretells a spell of rain that
will soon alter the whole face of the land, and pros-
perity will come to us again. The time of idleness
has passed, work lies before us. A few weeks ago,
when you offered to lend me that thousand pounds of
yours, I felt compelled to refuse it, fearing as I did
that it would go into the melting-pot with the rest,
and though I could face ruin myself I could not bring
you to ruin. But this break in the weather puts a
new complexion on things, and it is necessary that I
should restock the land and buy seeds. For this
purpose I will take part of your money "

" Take it all, boss," said Jim tersely.

" No, not at present, Jim. I will have half; that
will be enough, I think. We will ride to Gordonstown
together, and I will instruct my agent to purchase
what we want. Come with me to the office, and help
me to draw up a list. In a month's time the land
should be ready for stock, and during my absence you
can plough and sow, and engage as many* new hands
as you want. I intend to start for the West at the
earliest possible moment, so we shall have a busy



ro8 " OUT THERE "

tide during the next few weeks. I want to leave
everything in order before I start."

They went into the office, and Harold opened his
desk, took out writing materials, and began to write.

" Boss," began Jim in the tone of a man who has a
weighty proposition to make.

" Well? "

" Boss, don't you think, now that the long drought
has broke, that it would be better for you to stay on
your Run and attend to things here ? "

" Why? " asked Harold with a sharp intonation.

" You see, boss," said Jim with a certain ponder-
osity, and yet with the air of one who was perfectly
clear in his views, and had the courage of his opinions,
" some chaps are fitted for one thing, and some chaps
for another thing; you ain't got no call to go pros-
pecting, it ain't in your line, and it seems to me this
scheme of yours is a wild-cat sort of business. If Mr
Gordon likes to go, let him go and be damned to him.
But take my advice, you stop at home, marry Miss
Gordon, and stick to that you know something about.
If your father was living that's what he would tell
you ; I've watched you grow up, and that's what I
tell you. You was happy enough here afore this
drought struck us; HOW it's over, and you can put
things right again in a few months."

Harold did not attempt to interrupt, he knew Jim's
honest heart, was convinced of his sincerity, but the
idea of journeying out to the West had fascinated
him to such an extent that he could not get free
from it.

" I am quite sure, Jim, that you mean well, but
you don't quite see the matter in its proper propor-
tions. Blewitt has furnished me with unmistakable
evidence that he is not romancing "

" Oh, old Blewitt's all right, he's a good chap,"
broke in Jim, " but gold-hunting's his business, and
I say again it ain't yours. These chaps as go
prospecting ain't the chaps as get ricn, it's them as
comes after them. I ain't too proud to pick up gold
in lumps if I saw the chance of doing it, but I ain't
likely to get the chance, and so I'm content to remain
where I ami."



THE BREAKING OF THE DROUGHT 109

In Harold's dark eyes there was a gleam that
indicated a mental turmoil. Jim's advice displeased
him, but he kept silent, fearing- that if he expressed
his thoughts in words in the mood that then held him
under sway he might hurt the feelings of the man
who, rough as he was, and in his crude way, had an
affection for him that would keep him faithful unto
death.



GORDON RETURNS

THE two men worked for some time, drawing up an
inventory of the things urgently required before
active work could begin. Under the revivifying
influence of rain vegetation in that hot country sprang
up like magic, and in an incredibly short time the
features of the landscape would be entirely changed ;
Nature woiild don a robe of brilliant colours, vivid
green predominating. Large tubs had been placed
under the spoxits projecting from the eves of the
buildings, and the varying sounds of falling waters
everywhere were like a symphony of praise and
thanksgiving. For upwards of two years no such
sounds had been heard in Glenbar. The inventory
completed, Harold filled his pipe and lit it ; then
turning in his seat, he rested his elbow on the desk,
his cheek on his hand, and faced Jim. His brow was
calm again; the turmoil had ceased.

" I am sorry, old friend," he said, " that you are
not in favour of my little expedition "

" It ain't a little expedition, boss," interrupted Jim.
" And that's the whole trouble. It ain't going to be
a picnic. Blewitt left three chums behind ; they were
hard men, but they pegged out. Now, boss, you know
me well enough to know that I ain't the chap to funk
anything that's got to be done, and I'm ready to go
with you and face what's got to be faced without a
growl ; but I ask again, what are you going for ?
You've got a certainty here, there ain't no certainty
out there."

no



GORDON RETURNS xn

Harold's face was thoughtful. There was a potent
force in Dawkins' argument that was not without its
effect, but he had persuaded himself that a fate he
dare not resist was directing his life into a channel
that, by following it, he would be able to realise some
at least of his dreams. He did not deceive himself as
to the risks inseparable from such a journey. Had
not Blewitt's three churns, experienced and toughened
as they were, perished : while Blewitt himself, a man
of exceptional physical strength and vitality, had
only escaped the fate of his mates by a hairbreadth.
Nor would he have escaped but for an iron will and a
great purpose that sustained him. The enthusiasm
of the explorer and discoverer of buried wealth had
kept the vital spark alight, and such little fame as
comes to men who gamble with Death and score for
the time might have been his if, when he staggered
into the little town, he had gasped out the news that
out there, far, far away, where the burning sun set
the heavens aflame with amber light, there were
hoards of gold which Nature had stored up seons and
aeons ago. The cry of " Gold " would have led to
" A Rush," men athirst with lust-greed for the
yellow dross would have left wives, children, home,
everything, and have streamed out in to the burning
wilderness, lured by a golden mirage that would have
lured many of them to their death.

Blewitt knew that and held his peace until he could
whisper the secret into the ears of one man, a man
to whom he desired with, as it seemed, his dying
breath, to discharge an obligation. Harold reviewed
all these points again in his mind, until he saw the
finger of Fate pointing to the West, and heard a
voice say : " Go, it is decreed." If there had been a
tendency to waver under the influence of Jim's argu-
ments, he was inflexibly determined now, and bringing
his hand down upon the desk with a bang said :

" Jim, I appreciate all you say, but by God I'm
going out there because I feel I've got a call that I
dare not disobey." There was almost a fierce


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 8 of 22)