Dick Donovan.

Out there : a romance of Australia online

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obstinacy in his manner, certainly an iron determin-
ation that would not be easily turned.

Jim shrugged his shoulders.



ii2 " OUT THERE "

" So be it, boss, I've said all I'm going to say. You
know that I won't be idle here. I will look after your
affairs as if they were my own."

Harold gripped the hand of his manager, and gulped
down something that came suddenly into his throat.

" Well now, as we've got that matter off our chests
let's come to business, Jim. I will make use of five
hundred pounds of your little hoard, and we'll go to
my solicitor in Gordonstown, and I'll give you a
proper bond "

" I don't want no bond," growled Jirn.

" There must be a bond," answered Harold
decisively.

Jim remained mute, a shrug of his shoulders
implying a reluctant assent.

An hour later the two men. were riding along the
rain-soaked bridle track that led to Gordonstown.
They were clad in thigh-high snake boots and thin
flexible oilskins. Parrots and parrokeets screamed
hoarsely in the trees, as if they of all living things
objected to the rain ; magpies flashed about, engaged
in a busy hunt for insects and worms, whilst a black
snake or two wriggled across the path and disappeared
into a clump of withered scrub where frogs were
croaking in full-throated chorus, indifferent to the
danger that menaced them.

The rain was pouring steadily down when they
reached the town. Mud-laden water rushed swiftly
along the channels to the river, water was pouring
off the roofs in cataracts ; it had washed the streets,
the houses, the lawns, the gardens, the trees, until
everywhere there was a delightful freshness. Although
Gordonstown had not suffered from the drought as
Glenbar had, and indeed seldom lacked a sufficient
rainfall, the season had been unusually dry, and the
clouds of dust that swept in from the plains in dry
weather had parched and choked the vegetation until
it drooped wearily, but now the spirit of life seemed
to be astir in everything, and the nostrils were filled
with the vapour that rose up from the hot earth,
mingling with the odours of flowers that exhaled their
subtle scents as if in gratitude.



GORDON RETURNS 113

It was the busiest hour of the day; the streets were
filled with people, the rumble of the traffic went on
incessantly. All this was in striking contrast with
the calm and quiet of Glenbar, and Harold always
experienced a sense of confusion when he first came
into the town. Small as the place was, it embraced
all the activities, the passion, the rush and fret asso-
ciated with city life. It had its drinking saloons, Its
gambling places, its warehouses and shops, its police
station, music-halls, newspaper offices, stock exchange
and haunts where painted vice shamelessly flaunted
itself. A few days' stay at a time were enough for
him, and he invariably returned to his home on the
Plains with a sense of relief. He could tolerate city
life, but not enjoy it. It was not that he was
unsociable or averse to the companionship of his
fellow-beings, but in crowded centres he saw a phase
of human nature that hurt him. This was due partly
to temperament, partly to his upbringing. Whatever
his faults and weaknesses were, and he was not free
from them, he was honest and pure-minded, and his
pledge once given he would have died rather than
have broken it.

It must have been this side of his character, that
in a vague way appealed to the simple soul of Jim
Dawkins. They had both been nurtured at Nature's
bosom ; they had felt the throb of her great heart ;
they had heard her voice and understood the language
of truth in which she speaks to those who will listen.
Neither was given to outward expressions of religion,
but each felt in a way they could not clothe with
words that Nature is God, and that Nature's -teach-
ings are far purer, sweeter, holier, and saner than
the hard, narrow dogmas of men, w T hich beget hatred
and uncharitableness, and ignore the beautifully
simple doctrines laid down by the gentle Saviour for
the guidance of humanity. Men preach brotherly love,
forgiveness, and charity, but do not practise what
they preach. The heart of man is full of hypocrisy ;
the heart of Nature is utterly without guile.

Jim was an unlettered man ; he seldom read books.
Left an orphan at an early age, he was apprenticed
to the sea, but never took kindly to it, and when



H4 " OUT THERE "

his period of apprenticeship was over he drifted into
the Australian bush, bringing- up at Glenbar at the
time when Gordonstown was slowly beginning to
expand from a primitive settlement into a town.
Harold, on the other hand, had read deeply, and his
mind had evolved many thoughts and feelings, tend-
ing somewhat to mysticism and the dreaming of
dreams which unfitted him for any other life than
the one he led. He and Dawkins visited the solicitor,
who was instructed to draw up a bond ; and next they
proceeded to Harold's agent, and as a final act of the
day's business Harold, by Blewitt's request, went to
the bank and sold the gold dust the old man had
brought from the West. It weighed ten ounces within
a few pennyweights, and realised nearly forty pounds.
After two or three social calls Jim secured lodgings
for the night at an inn, whilst Harold went out to
Mary Gordon's house where he was always a welcome
guest.

Both she and Margaret Bruce were agreeably sur-
prised to see him. Mrs Bruce regarded him with a
motherly affection, and she and her niece had spent
many happy days under his roof at Glenbar.

Mary was full of the projected expedition, and was
now as enthusiastic about it as he was himself. She
was a fearless horsewoman, and had often taken part
in bush picnics, sometimes camping out, leading the
wild, free life for two or three weeks at a time. She
had taken her aunt into her confidence, but from the
moment she heard of it Margaret set her face sternly
against her going.

" The men are going to do men's work," she said,
" and will have to rough it and share dangers that
you have no right to expose yourself to. It is pioneer
work, and you will be out of place. It is an un-
womanly thing for you to think of doing."

Mary told him of this, and he talked with Margaret,
trying to convince her that she was too conventional
in her ideas as to what a woman might do and might
not do in Australia.

" It is true it is pioneer work," he said, " but why
should a woman be deprived of the glory and exhilar-
ation that come to the pioneer who treads for the first



GORDON RETURNS 115

time Nature's primitive solitudes ? We live in an
ever-changing world, you know. The greedy hand of
civilisation is stretching itself far out into the empty
spaces, and the locomotive is destroying with its
shriek the peace of millions of years. Australia
grows by leaps and bounds, and possibly within my
time there will be nothing left to explore."

The views that he expressed were the result of the
wonderful progress he himself had witnessed. The
one place he could never believe would change was
his dear Gleubar, the home of his childhood, the place
of his dreams, his tiny world of peace. Civilisation
and commercialism were twin sisters, and the ugly
grasping claws of commercialism had no respect for
the holiest of places ; it vulgarised and bestialised ; it
tore up forests, destroyed mountains, changed Nature's
gardens into blighted, blackened coal heaps ; it turned
the red blood of men, women, and children into water
until they starved and rotted in their own sweat ; it
created gambling hells, reared boozing dens where
human beings destroyed themselves, body and soul ;
it filled the cities with harlots, and drove the toilers
to seek shelter in pestiferous and leprous courts and
alleys. Yes, wherever civilisation went commercialism
was at its side. And commercialism was ready to
barter not only the birthplace of the Christ, the Cross
on which He was crucified, the sepulchre where He
was laid, but the Christ Himself. God came very near
the heart of man in the wild and desert places of the
earth, but in the cities man drew himself far, far
away from God.

Harold had not passed much of his time in what is
called " the world," or in " Society," but he knew
all these things, and when he thought of them some-
thing within him shuddered, and a wordless prayer
was in his heart that Glenbar would always remain
the Glenbar of his youth. He loved it with all
his heart and soul as a mother loves her first -
born, and the one thing needed for him to regard it
as a little earthly Ede;i where love and happiness
would find their utmost expression, was Mary Gordon
as its mistress and his wife. It was a state of bliss
that guided him like a pole star, and as he hoped and



n6 " OUT THERE "

dreamed, he was now within measurable distance of
its attainment. He was not unmindful of the perpetual
change inevitable in human life as year succeeded
year, but somehow he had a vague idea that his own
life would change less than most men's. It would be
as the slow blossoming of a beautiful flower ; it would
linger for a while at its zenith, then slowly and
imperceptibly decline, until with a great joy pulsing
in his heart at the thought of duty well done, life well
lived, he would fold his hands in a prayer of wordless
thankfulness and fall asleep. He excogitated many
plans for the future, and in them all Mary was a
central figure.

Margaret Bruce maintained an unyielding austerity
to her niece joining the expedition in spite of all
argument ; sweet, gentle, lovable woman as she was,
she displayed a feeling in this matter that very rarely
showed itself. But she knew she could do no more
than argue and persuade; she could not command.
Mary was of full age. She had entire control of her
own little property, and the determined will character-
istic of her race dominated her at times. She might
be coaxed, she would never be driven. Her lover had
consented to her going with him, and unless he him-
self forbid it, no other human being would be likely
to influence her. Margaret did not abate any of the
strength of her opposition, but finding she could make
no impression on either Harold or her niece, she with-
drew from the contest with a sadness of heart.

Mary experienced an unusual feeling of exaltation
that evening as she and Harold sat together on the
veranda, listening to the patter of the rain, and
inhaling with a sense of gratitude the odours that
floated in from the revivified garden. They were both
very happy. Love purifies and glorifies, and love
held them in its powerful sway. He thought she had
never looked so beautiful. Simply attired in a white
dress, relieved by a red ribbon and a gold locket at
her throat, her glorious gold-brown hair ornamented
by a blood-red rose, her face radiant with health, her
eyes aflame with the joy she felt, she presented to the
rapt gaze of her lover the picture of the woman of
his dreams. Sometimes when the natural instincts of



GORDON RETURNS 117

the man had stirred within him, prompting him to
seek his mate, he had set up an ideal of the woman
he could love, and Mary gradually came into his
vision as a realisation of that ideal. But never before
had her loveliness appealed to him with such a strange
and overmastering influence as it did that night. He
had a curious mental idea that was like a phantom
thought that she alone stood between him and his
God ; that she held his salvation or condemnation in
her keeping, and that if she went out of his life he
would sink into an abyss of eternal darkness. His
mind had a tendency to invest her with an ethereality,
aud he almost fancied he was gazing upon a vision
from afar off.

Suddenly he sprang to his feet and with a laugh said :

" Upon my word, Mary, I believe you have been
mesmerising me."

" Mesmerising you? "

" Yes. Or I must have been falling asleep, and
you appeared to me not as a woman of earth but
heaven."

" You great silly goose," she exclaimed. " You
mustn't let such extravagant fancies run away with
your common sense. I am only a poor little human
creature, intensely human, living a simple life, and
happy, oh so happy in your love."

They clung together and embraced with the pure
passion of a soulful love.

" Yes, human enough," he said, " and yet there is
something about you, a something I cannot define,
that exalts you above other women."

She laughed as a woman laughs ' whose heart is
stirred with a great joy.

" Every true lover thinks that of the woman he
loves," she answered, " but go on thinking it,
Harold, and never cease to think it while our lives
last."

" I will never, never cease," he said, and pressed
his lips to hers.

Jim Dawkins went back to Glenbar the next
morning. The rain had ceased to fall at Gordonstown,
and the sun shone through a steamy haze, but further



n8 " OUT THERE "

north the clouds were still pouring out their flood of
waters which lay in great pools wherever there was
a depression, while the water-course was filled beyond
its holding capacity, and was spreading the flood over
the land. Harold was detained in the town another
three days completing his business, and that evening
he met Oliver Gordon in the main street. He had just
arrived by coach, and was on his way to his home.

" I was wondering whether you might be here," he
said. " I am glad, as I have much to tell you. Come
to my house with me, and when I've made myself
presentable we'll have a chat over dinner. I am glad
to see the drought has broken at last. There has
been no rain in the south. It spells better luck for
you, old chap, and it will soon set you on your feet
once more."

He seemed in high spirits, and Harold at that
moment was in consonance with him, forgetting for
the time the doubts that had troubled him.

Gordon's house was a large, white stone building
standing on an eminence on the western side of the
town. It was the most imposing private dwelling in
the place. It was flanked by a high tower, from
which there was a wonderful view. It stood in
extensive grounds, garden and paddocks. The
gardens were ablaze with flowers and beautiful with
palms, bamboos, cacti, tree ferns, eucalyptus and blue
gum trees. The place had been built and laid out by
his grandfather, enlarged and improved by his father,
and still further enlarged and improved by himself.
He knew how to make himself comfortable, to minister
to the sensual side of his nature. He had no ideals,
he was pleased to be regarded as a sportsman, and
the life he led was of the world worldly. He prided
himself on being a perfect horseman, good shot, expert
fisherman, capital judge of horse flesh, a billiard and
card player, and though not a drunkard, he was fond
of wine and good living. He kept numerous servants,
and his household was controlled by an old and lady-
like woman who had been in his father's service. He
was one of the magnates of Gordonstown and owned
much property in the place, though he had never
taken any part in its municipal affairs. This was



GORDON RETURNS 119

due perhaps to a love of self-indulgence and constitu-
tional laziness. He was not lazy where sport was
concerned, or where powers of physical endurance
were called for, but he held back from anything- that
demanded mental concentration. Fond of reading he
had got together quite a respectable library, but only
cared for that class of literature that amused him, and
enabled him to pass away the time when it hung
heavy on his hands. He supported the Church, but
no one who knew him well would have credited him
with sincerity.

The two men dined well, arid talked over their
affairs generally. Gordon told Harold that he had
brought the mortgage deed back with him, and all
that was required to complete the matter was his
signature, which he could append in the morning in
the presence of his solicitor. He spoke with some
fervour of the projected expedition, and said he was
quite bitten with the idea of the search for the gold.
He placed before Harold the report of the assayers
who had examined the quartz, which they referred to
as being of exceptional richness.

" They were very anxious to know where it had come
from," said Gordon, " and suggested that a syndicate
should be formed, but of course I didn't enlighten
them, and gave them no encouragement as regards a
syndicate. You and I will keep this matter in our own
hands, old fellow, and if there's any gold to be got
we'll have the lion's share."

They went to the billiard-room where coffee was
served. Harold was no player, but he never refused
a game when he was the guest of his friend. On this
evening he seemed unusually clumsy with the balls,
and missed strokes that were ridiculously easy. The
fact was his mind was running on other 'things, and
particularly on the pledge he had given to Mary that
she should accompany the expedition. He felt that
the moment had come when he must impart the in-
formation to his friend, and he wondered how he would
receive it. Oddly enough he had an instinct that it
might lead to a rupture between them.



CHAPTER XIII

THE DECISION

" WELL, you've played a rotten game to-night," said
Gordon, as glancing at the marking board, he saw
that his friend's score was only thirty-five in a
hundred up game.

" Yes, I couldn't give my rnind to it. I've been
thinking of the expedition. No, don't let us play
any more. I want to talk to you. I have something
to say that will surprise you."

The cues were put up. Gordon drew forth his pipe,
lit it, and settled himself in an easy position on the
leather couch.

" Well fire away, old chap. What's the surprise? "

Harold was too unsophisticated to be diplomatic,

nor was he given to beating about the bush. What

he wanted to say he generally said with a bluntness

that was not always wise, but was at least honest.

" Well, it's this, Mary Gordon is going to accompany
us to the West."

Gordon sprang up as if propelled from a catapult.
" What! " he cried with a full-throated utterance,
and there was a startled expression in his face.

" My dear Oliver, don't look at me as though I had
done you an injury," remarked Preston with a short
laugh.

" Injury! "

" Why are you so surprised? "

"Surprised! Good God, man, you must be mad;
you are both mad." He put his pipe on the rack,
and thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers,
and stared at his friend.

120



THE DECISION 121

" I don't quite see where the madness comes in."

" Who suggested this? " The question sounded
like a fierce demand of a superior to an inferior.

Harold's blood stirred in his veins ; his face flushed ;
his pride was hurt, but he answered with a calm
reserve :

" The suggestion came from her."

" Ah, I guessed as much. And you encouraged
it ? " Gordon snapped surlily.

" No; not at first. I strongly set my face against it,
and reminded her of the risks and hardships. She
laughed at my arguments."

" And so won you over," this with a bitter sneer
that wounded his friend's sensitiveness. " Really,
j^ou are as weak as a schoolboy."

" Well she changed my views, and I saw the
matter from a point from which I had not seen it
before."

Gordon, his hands still in his pockets, paced up and
down the room like an angry animal, and Harold
leaned against the billiard-table, following his move-
ments with keen eyes, and with just a suspicion in
his mind that he was at a disadvantage. Suddenly
Gordon swung round on his heels impetuously, and
with a vehement outburst exclaimed :

" Harold Preston, you are a damned fool."

Harold wilted for a moment, then a wave of strength
swept through him, arousing the pugnacious side of
his manhood.

" If that's your opinion of me," he said angrily,
" we'll go our separate ways. I am not tinder your
domination, nor is Mary, and I am going to boss the
expedition. Let that be clearly understood." He
drew himself up with a sense of pride, and made a
movement as if to leave the room. He had a strong
will that was capable of displaying itself at times.

Gordon placed himself in front of him ; his face
seemed livid, and there was a ferocity in his eyes
which revealed to Harold a phase of his nature that
he had never so much as suspected during all the
years he had known him. It was the wild brute
nature dominating every other feeling. But with a
strange suddenness that was scarcely less remarkable,



122 " OUT THERE "

the ferocity disappeared like a light that is blown out,
aud he broke into a laugh, but it lacked sincerity.

" Forgive me, old chap, if I have offended you ! I
didn't intend to do so. The fact is you've sprung a
mine on me and startled me out of my self-possession.
Surely a little reflection will enable you to see the
madness of the whole proposition."

" I can see no madness in it," answered Harold with
admirable composure, yet with firmness.

" But can you not see you are encouraging Mary to
risk her life? "

" No."

" Well, upon my word, Harold, you are denser than
I thought it was possible you could be." The anger
light began to gleam in Gordon's eyes again, but
faded as quickly as it came. The effects of the first
shock having passed, he was getting his temper more
in hand.

" If that's your opinion you must stick to it. I've
got my own way of looking at things, and I will not
allow you or any other man to browbeat me. You
can back out of this business if you like, but I'm going
through with it. Let that be clearly understood."

" Browbeat you ! Who wants to browbeat you,
certainly I don't." There was a little rising inflexion
in Gordon's voice which was suggestive of a smould-
ering fire of passion that required much self-restraint
to prevent it bursting into flame. " Surely we as
men can argue like men of sense, not like two fools.
Now it does seem to me that you have been carried
away by some romantic idea that has blinded you to
facts. We are not going out into the wilderness on
a bush picnic, bxit on a desperate journey of hundreds
of miles through what is virtually an unknown
country. We've got to fend for ourselves as men must
fend in the savage heart of a wild laud. You and I
and the others may be able to stand it, but do you
think it right that a delicate* woman should be asked
to take the risks ? "

" Mary is not delicate," Harold snapped decisively.

" No, not in the literal sense. What I mean is she
has lived her life in comfort ; she has never known
what it is to want for anything; but does it occur to



THE DECISION 123

you that she has the powers of endurance necessary
for such a journey? "

" Yes," with even more decision.

" Upon my word, Harold, it seems to me you are
under the influence of a brutal obstinacy," said
Gordon with exasperation.

Harold still leaned with his back against the
billiard-table, and whatever his thoughts were he
preserved an outward calm.

" You told me just now," pursued Gordon, " that
when Mary proposed going you opposed her, reminded
her of the risks, the hardships "

" Yes, that's true, but when I came to think it
over I saw reason to change iny views, as I have
already told you."

" Well, think it over, again, old chap, and you'll
come round to my views."

" I don't think so."

" I say again it's a mad idea, perfectly prepos-
terous. It must be abandoned." The demand rang
again in Gordon's voice.

" If you argue all night, Oliver, you will not
change my determination to take Mary if she is still
willing to go."

The light of anger came into Gordon's eyes once
more, and he bit his under lip. He always chafed
under defeat.

" That is your fixed determination? "

" Absolutely."

Gordon's face paled. He shrugged his shoulders; he
paced up and down for some minutes, slewed round
abruptly, and flung out his right hand with a gesture
of menace.

" Very well, if that is your determination I don't
go."

Harold gave a little scoffing laugh.

" That's all right. You've only got yourself to
please."

Gordon placed himself in front of him with blazing
eyes. " And, by God, I will please myself," he
exclaimed with an emphasis of passion. " If we are
to quarrel the quarrel will be of your own making.
I've tried to serve you, and this is what I get in



124 " OUT THERE "

return. If I don't go I withdraw my offer to take
over your mortgage; now you know what that means."

Harold's face blanched, and he drew himself up.
Gordon saw that he had made an impression.

" I shall be very sorry if you drive me to that
extreme measure. But if you can be obstinate so
can I. If you have no regard for Mary's welfare and
^safety have some regard for yourself. Do you want to
be turned out of your property, ruined and despised? "


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Online LibraryDick DonovanOut there : a romance of Australia → online text (page 9 of 22)