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Edward Dyson.

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Australian life to the methodical weariness of the social order 'at
home'; and when his hostess laughingly insisted on not being deceived by
his plebeian pretensions, he gallantly submitted.

'Give me what title you please, Mrs. Macdougal,' he said; 'you are my
queen.'

Mr. Ryder had done Macdougal of Boobyalla a great service in rescuing him
and his sovereigns from the revolver and the predatory fingers of Dan
Coleman and one of his gang, and was always welcome to Boobyalla. To be
sure, Macdougal was not to be expected to know how much Coleman had been
paid for providing Walter Ryder with this opportunity of ingratiating
himself with a prominent squatter, the proprietor of a large sheep-run.
The Honourable Walter arrived at the station a week before Christmas,
riding a fine gray horse, and carrying with him the paraphernalia of a
gentleman. His clothing was cut in the latest possible London style, and
he was splendidly equipped. He lamented the one thing Australia could not
produce, a satisfactory valet.

'My profound objection to democracy as a principle arises from the fact
that the levelling process destroys our perfect valets,' he told Mrs.
Macdougal.

'Oh yes, it does, does it not?' she answered brightly. Possibly it was to
provide for his deficiency in this respect that after a few days'
residence on Boobyalla Mr. Ryder was at no little expense and trouble to
win the good graces of Yarra, the half-caste. Yarra was a remarkably
clever tracker, and uncommonly cute for his years; but within a fortnight
the new comer had secured so powerful an influence over him that the boy
had confided to one of the gins:

'That plurry pfeller good man him. Mine die alonga that pfeller!' meaning
that he would cheer fully have given his life for Ryder, which was a
great deal, coming from the child of an undemonstrative race.

Yarra had been ordered by Mrs. Macdougal to consider himself Mr. Ryder's
servant during the latter's stay at Boobyalla, and as there was always a
danger of a man of the Honourable Walter's inexperience being bushed if
he rode alone, Yarra followed him on many of his long rides into the
ranges, and helped him to explore the gorges and secret recesses of the
heavily-timbered hills; but as a rule Mrs. Macdougal accompanied the
Englishman, and then Yarra's services were not required. On occasions
Miss Lucy Woodrow made a third, riding a hardy little chestnut mare her
mistress had placed at her disposal.

These parties were usually very merry, for Lucy had been transformed into
quite a daring Bush-rider, and Mrs. Macdougal, accustomed to the use of
many horses since her babyhood, could sit anything in reason with the
ease with which she reclined in her invalid chair when her languishing
mood was upon her; while Ryder, to repeat Monkey Mack's compliment, rode
'like a cattle thief.'

Ryder's horsemanship and his interest in horses formed something like a
bond of sympathy between him and his host, too. Macdougal never walked a
hundred yards from his own door; he rode every where, and rode hard
always. Mike Burton's description of him was quite accurate in this
respect. He no sooner got across a good horse, or behind one, than he
seemed to become possessed with a sort of frenzy of speed, and rode and
drove like a madman. He had killed many horses, and once a fine animal
died under him, leaving him about fifty miles from home, with one pint in
his water-bag and he was nearly dead himself when at length he succeeded
in dragging his misshapen limbs to one of the huts on the run. When Ryder
first saw Mack on a galloping horse he was reminded of a goat-riding
monkey he had seen at a fair in his youth, and had a convulsive
disposition to laughter; but he learned to respect the horseman who
pushed a spirited animal through timber at a speed that an ordinary rider
rarely indulged in on an open road.

The Honourable Walter was at some little trouble to win the good graces
of his host; he admired his horses with unaffected enthusiasm,
particularly Wallaroo, the beautiful bay entire that had excited Mike's
admiration, reputedly the fastest animal in the colony, and Macdougal's
pride and joy. He even consented to be educated on the points of cattle,
and to absorb useful information in homeopathic doses about the various
breeds of sheep; but Mack never at any time seemed grateful to Ryder for
his kindly condescension, and the affliction under the influence of which
Mack indulged in strange and disconcerting gymnastics with his tongue
rendered conversation with him something of an ordeal, even to a man of
Ryder's insensitive character. Mack's tongue seemed to become too large
for his mouth at times, and then he obtruded it, rolled it first in one
cheek and then in the other, chewed it, and finished with an amazing
gulp, implying that the troublesome organ was at length effectually
disposed of.

'He's been like that as long as I've known him, and I met him first on
the Liverpool Plains in New South twenty years ago,' said Martin Cargill
of Longabeena to Ryder. 'He seems exactly the same man now as then.'

'Yet these little peculiarities did not make him impossible in the eyes
of the fair,' answered Ryder. 'He has a charming wife.'

'Oh yes but he had heaps of gold.'

'Enough to gild that dome on his back!'

'And a girl had not many opportunities of picking and choosing in the
Bush here ten years ago.'

'Besides, the sex is so compassionate, Mr. Cargill; the ladies love us
for our imperfections.'

'Have you been dearly loved, Mr. Ryder?' asked an impudent Sydneyside
girl of nineteen.

'No, no!' laughed Ryder; 'my opportunities have neglected me terribly!'

Conversation sometimes ran in this vein even at Boobyalla, and when it
did Ryder was responsible for much confusion of thought. Conversation in
the main dealt with riding-trips, dancing-parties, the stirring incidents
of the goldfields, and that prolific subject in all societies and at all
times - scandal. Mrs. Macdougal would have been thunderstruck to know that
she and her British lion provided the choicest morsels for discussion for
some days prior to the breaking up of the party.

The Honourable Walter Ryder had been a great social success; he had
introduced an absolutely foreign element into the Bush party. His pose of
the cynical, dashing, amiable aristocrat, with a cheerful contempt for
all aristocratic pretensions, was admirably sustained. His ready
good-fellowship pleased the men; his good looks, his facility in adopting
a deep interest in his companion for the moment, and his flow of spirits,
delighted the women; and yet it not infrequently happened that his
conversation was designed more for his own edification than for the
entertainment of his hearers. It seemed to Lucy Woodrow that the man only
half concealed a sort of mephistophelian contempt for the people towards
whom he still contrived to maintain a semblance of cordiality.

The interesting Englishman was certainly very attentive to Mrs.
Macdougal, and Mrs. Macdougal was certainly very much flattered and
disturbed by his attentions. The gossip that had sprung up, from which
the principals, and Lucy, Mr. and Mrs. Cargill, and Macdougal alone were
excluded, was, to some extent, founded on fact, and the guests left the
house reluctantly, confident that interesting mischief was brewing at
Boobyalla.

For all this, Ryder's attitude towards Marcia in the presence of her
guests had been merely a piquant travesty of that of an adorer. He had
offered her gallant homage with a humorous reservation. Perhaps he had
reckoned on a keener sense of humour than the guests were possessed of.
At any rate, they preferred to put a rather serious construction on all
they saw. But Mrs. Macdougal alone had good reason for regarding her lion
in a serious light; she alone saw him in his other guise, that of the
passionate man whose passions burnt behind a cold face - pale as if with
the pallor of a prison that could never leave it, handsome with a quality
of suggestive beauty most certain to appeal to a simple, romantic woman.
Already Walter Ryder had infused a new strain into Marcia Macdougal's
character - terror, the terror that is akin to love, had endowed her with
a womanly gravity. Though the other guests had been gone a fortnight or
more, Ryder still remained at Boobyalla.

Lucy Woodrow was deeply interested in Ryder. He treated her as a comrade,
an equal, and she could not help noticing the difference in his tone
toward her and that he had adopted towards the others, nor could she help
being flattered by the implied compliment. She was exempt from his
raillery. All along he inferred that she understood him, and accepted his
veneer of jocosity and insincerity at its true value.

'What a hypocrite you are!' she said one afternoon, as they rode in the
shadow of the range. The children on their ponies were cantering ahead.

'I a hypocrite!' he exclaimed. 'Why, I have not pretended to a single
virtue.'

'No,' she continued laughingly, 'you are a hypocrite of the other sort.
You pretend to be cruel, and callous, and careless of all that's good - a
cynic and a mocker. But I have found you out: you are really gentle and
kind - an amiable hypocrite.'

'Miss Woodrow, you are taking my character away.'

'Pish! the disguise was too thin. Why, the children have penetrated it.
So has poor Yarra. They love you! You are brave - you rescued Mr.
Macdougal from the Bushrangers. You are generous - you do not try to make
him appear contemptible because of his afflictions, as some of the others
have done. You are gentle - I see it in your bearing towards the little
ones. You are kind, and Yarra is devoted to you.'

'And yet I swear there are no wings under my coat.'

'Often, when looking at you, I wonder at your resemblance to Mr Done; and
I wonder most when I find you expressing a vein of thought I believed to
be peculiar to him. It makes me think that there is something in common
between you, aside from your physical likeness, if only a common wrong,
or a common sorrow, that has coloured your characters.'

'It is hard to hide anything from those divine eyes,' he said gravely.

'I have guessed rightly?'

'Believe me, if I ever make confession, it shall be to one quick in
sympathy and merciful in judgment as you are.' There was a strain of deep
emotion in his voice, and as he reached towards her she gave him her
hand, and he pressed her slender fingers gently and gratefully,
continuing with feeling, and in the manner of one whose superior years
gave him the privilege: 'Lucy, you are as good as you are beautiful, and
in all sincerity I say I have never seen a woman one half as beautiful as
you appear in my eyes at this moment.'

He had given the girl an impression that she was helping him, that her
sympathy was precious. In her innocence she was deeply stirred, and yet
glad at heart. She was silent for some minutes, and then said:

'Do you know, I think you sometimes underestimate Mrs. Macdougal's
sensibilities.'

'In what manner?'

'I think you hurt her without being conscious of it. Her sense of humour
is not keen, and I know she is pained when you least suspect it.'

A ghost of a smile stirred about Ryder's mouth. 'I would not pain her for
the world,' he said. 'She is a kindly little woman, and her hospitality
is charming; but you must admit she is droll. What are my faults?'

'Forgive me if I seem to be treating you as a pupil.'

'There is no one on earth to whom I would rather go to school.

'Well, then, you must not laugh at Mrs. Macdougal.

'But, really, is one expected to take those extravagantly romantic poses
seriously?'

'They are meant seriously.'

'The eyes and sighs, the pensive melancholy, the little maladies, the
mysterious missing family? You must not tell me this is not burlesque.'

'I am sure you know it is not. Mrs. Macdougal has dreamed so much
rubbish, and read so much more, that all this humbug has become part of
her nature, and one has to be a bit of a humbug one's self and humour her
out of kindness In her girlhood there was no escape from the loneliness
and stupidity of the Bush but in dreams.

'My manners have been abominable. I shall mind them now.'

The evening of that day was spent in the garden before the homestead. The
day had been hot - there had been Bush-fires. The smoke hung about, and
the big moon floated like a great round blood-red kite above the range.
Ryder was sitting by Mrs. Macdougal on the garden-seat; Lucy played with
the children on the grass till it was their bed time, when the three
romped indoors together. Mrs. Macdougal turned her eyes upon Ryder
timidly, expecting the usual change in his demeanour. She had used all
her little arts on this man - the foolish, simple devices with which she
had bewitched the captain of the Francis Cadman, and with no more guile
in her soul. Suddenly she discovered the danger, but not before he had
turned her comedy into a tragedy. He overawed her, dominated her; she
dreaded him, and yet adored him as a splendid hero of romance.

He moved nearer into the shadow of the honey suckle and seized her hand.

'Marcia,' he said in a low voice, 'I can pretend no longer. I am sick of
the farce of treating you as a child before these people, while all the
time my heart hungers for you. I love you, Marcia!'

'For pity's sake - for pity's sake!' she said, struggling weakly.

'You know I love you. You have known it all along. Oh, my queen, how
could I help loving you - a rose in this wilderness? Marcia, Marcia, love
me! By God, you shall!' He kissed her again and again.

She ceased struggling. 'I do love you,' she said. 'I don't care - I don't
care; I love you! Oh, how can I help myself? I have been mad, but I love
you! I don't care; I love you!'

XXI

IT was February, and the Honourable Walter Ryder lingered at the
homestead. He had broached to Macdougal an intention of buying the whole
of the next season's wool-clip at Boobyalla, and carrying it back to
England with him. He thought it might be a profitable investment. He had
talked of going, but was pressed to stay; and meanwhile the change in
Mrs. Macdougal was so marked that Lucy had often commented on it to
Ryder. A real romance had come into Marcia's life - a terrible one, she
thought it - and her poor little foolish dreams were swept away. They had
been innocent enough, those fanciful imaginings of hers, and had given
her some joy. This reality filled her with agonies of apprehension. She
was never free of terror, and found herself studying her husband's
impassive face, wondering what was behind those dull eyes, fearing the
worst always.

Ryder had been most attentive to Lucy Woodrow during the last two or
three weeks. He accompanied her and the children on their daily ride, and
he had taught Lucy to shoot with both fowling-piece and revolver. She was
a good pupil, and enjoyed the sport. Her facility gave her a peculiar
pleasure that was sweetened by his praise. He still greeted her with
studied deference, and in his transient moments of melancholy he spoke
feelingly of a life's sorrow.

'There was a wound I thought would never heal,' he told her one day; 'but
the pain is gone - the memory will go. What cannot a good woman do with
the life of a man? But how few of us learn the potency of these sweet and
tender hands until perhaps it is too late!' He bent over her hand, and,
turning away, left her abruptly.

Marcia noticed his marked attentions to Lucy, and complained tremblingly
and with tears.

'Nonsense!' he said; 'there is nothing in it. It is to divert suspicion.
I want the people about to think it is Miss Woodrow I love. They must
never know it is you, my queen!' He kissed her cheek. 'And you need have
no fear, Marcia. She is devoted to that man Done.'

But at length Ryder announced his intention of leaving. He could put off
his departure no longer than a week, he told Marcia, and a few minutes
later conveyed the news to Lucy. He was sitting in one of the windows
when she came on to the veranda.

'Have they told you I am leaving?' he asked abruptly.

'Leaving!' She was about to take a book from the small table, but did not
do so. She turned from him, and stood with face averted, plucking at the
vine tendrils. 'At once?' she asked.

'Almost. I fear I have outstayed my welcome.'

'That is hardly fair.'

'True, you have been very, very kind. I can never forget your goodness.'

'You owe me no gratitude. After all, I am only governess here.'

'I owe you more than anyone else - I owe you the happiness Boobyalla could
never have given me without you.'

'You have not told me when you leave.'

'In a week.'

'A week! Oh, that is quite a long time!' Her voice had become stronger,
and she passed down the steps and along the garden walk to the children
without having turned her face to him. It seemed that she could not trust
herself.

He watched her closely, pressing his lower lip between finger and thumb,
and a mirthless smile curled the corners of his mouth.

To Marcia's great surprise, her husband insisted on her arranging another
party in honour of their guest, and to give their neighbours an
opportunity of bidding him good-bye. To be sure, nothing like the
Christmas gathering could be attempted, but the Cargills and two or three
other families living within twenty miles were to be invited, and Yarra
and Bob Hooke were despatched with the invitations. Hooke had been a
shepherd at the five-mile hut till within three days, when a new hand
Mack had employed was sent to take his place, and now Bob was acting
rouse-about. Ryder had heard of this new hand as a man of atrocious
ugliness - in fact, the man had been sent away, Marcia said, because the
children were frightened half out of their wits at the sight of him.

Lucy received a letter from Jim Done on the afternoon of the day on which
Ryder announced his impending departure. The letter was not a long one,
and it lacked the cheerfulness that had characterized Jim's previous
letters to Lucy. It told of Burton's death, of his own injuries and his
long sickness, and of Ryder's gallant conduct. He was now almost
recovered, he said, and by the time she received his letter would be back
at Jim Crow with the Peetrees, who had returned and pegged out claims on
Blanket Flat, having failed to do anything for themselves at Simpson's
Ranges. Jim admitted that his mate's death had been a heavy blow. 'I had
not realized how strong our friendship was,' he wrote. 'He was the best
man I have known, and I do not think it probable I shall ever make such
another friend.' Done concluded with a fervent wish that he might see her
soon. There was the melancholy and the weakness of an invalid in the
letter, and it disturbed Lucy greatly. She recalled, with a poignant
sense of remorse, how little he had been in her mind during the past two
months while he lay struggling for life. She felt that she had done him a
wrong, and, scarcely understanding herself, gave way to a flood of tears
over the wavering lines, every word of which bore evidence of the
enfeebled hand of the convalescent.

Later she told Ryder of the letter, and of Done's return to Jim Crow.

'And you did not tell me of his injuries,' she said reproachfully.

'I could not find it in my heart to spoil your Christmas,' he said. 'He
was getting on famously when I left Ballarat, and he has a magnificent
constitution. I knew he was safe, but felt that you would be certain to
worry. You see, it is best.'

'I cannot think so. You were silent because you feared to speak of your
own splendid bravery.'

'Believe me, no. It was nothing to pick up a wounded man and carry him to
safety. I was silent to spare you.'

'I am grateful for your kind intentions, and more than grateful for what
you have done for him. To Mr. Done I owe my life, and I feel that a
service done to him is something for which I, too, am much beholden.'

'And for a life that is precious to you I would - ' He ceased suddenly,
but was careful that she should understand him well.

'A life that was precious to her!' The phrase seemed to have an
extraordinary significance. Were the words a test? Her heart beat
quickly; for a moment she looked into his eyes. It was as if his whole
soul burned in them. Her face paled, a faint cry broke on her lips, and
she moved back with faltering feet. He dropped his extended hands with a
hopeless gesture, and turned from her. A footstep was heard in the
passage.

The party was fixed for the third evening prior to the date of Ryder's
departure, and it was a great success. All the resources of a
well-appointed station were brought into play for the gratification of
the guests. The night was warm; the company were gathered in the big
drawing the French window of which opened on to the wide veranda. Lucy
was at the piano, providing an accompaniment, and the Sydneyside girl was
singing an ardent love song. Yarra paused before Ryder with a tray, on
which was a cool drink. In the act of lifting the glass the latter
noticed that a uniformed trooper had suddenly appeared in the doorway. A
turn of the eye satisfied him that there was another at the French
window. He gave no sign of emotion, but leaned forward and spoke in a low
voice to Yarra.

'You remember, Yarra, what I have told you. Trooper fellow come now,
maybe.' He added a few words in the aboriginal tongue. 'Go quick!' he
said.

There was a wait of some minutes, during which Ryder sat sipping at his
drink, apparently entirely unconscious of anything but the singing. But
presently he knew that he was the third point of a triangle, from the
other points of which two regulation revolvers covered him. He satisfied
himself with a movement of his elbow that his own revolver was in its
place under his vest.

'Wat Ryder, alias Solo, I arrest you in the name of the Queen!' The
trooper from the door had advanced into the room. 'You are my prisoner.
Stir a finger, and I'll shoot you where you sit.'

Ryder had shown no disposition to stir; he was still sipping at the
glass, the coolest man in the room. The other guests looked unspeakably
stupid in their open-mouthed amazement. Ryder saw that another trooper
had taken the sergeant's place at the door, and that the man at the
French window was now on the inside.

The first trooper had advanced to within a few feet of Ryder before it
seemed to occur to the latter that he was the person addressed.

'Do you mean me, my man?' he said.

'I do; and I may tell you hanky-panky won't be healthy for you. We've got
you cornered.'

Ryder arose quite unruffled, and set down his glass. Looking round upon
the guests, he smiled and said:

'This is another of the possibilities of social life in Victoria. Will
you tell me who I am supposed to be, and what I am supposed to do?'

'You are supposed to take these on for one thing,' said the trooper,
swinging a pair of handcuffs in his left hand.

'Oh, certainly, if it's in the game.' Ryder offered his wrists.

'Behind you, please.'

'To be sure.' With his clenched fists behind him, Ryder submitted to the
handcuffs, and then, as he stood manacled, his eye fell upon Donald
Macdougal. The squatter was almost at his elbow, leaning against a small
table, rolling his tongue under his teeth. The eyes of the two men met,
and under the bushy brows of Monkey Mack there was a reddish gleam in
which the Honourable Walter Ryder read a baboon-like malignancy, and in a
moment the latter realized that in all his plans and precautions he had
never made due allowance for the cunning and depth of this extraordinary
man; but his face expressed nothing.

'Ah - h!' The sergeant gave a sigh of relief as he dropped his pistol
hand. 'That's better.'

'Now,' said Ryder coldly, 'will you tell me if this is a new parlour
game, or are these actual troopers who are a little more idiotic than the
average?'

Ryder addressed Cargill. He was standing with his back to the piano; the
gaping guests formed a semicircle in front of him. Marcia, sitting on a
couch, motionless, with cheeks of deadly whiteness, uttered no sound, and
her eyes looked like patches of darkness in her icy face. Lucy, standing
at the piano, never took her eyes from Ryder. She could see what the
others could not see - the long, thin hands of the prisoner slowly but
easily working themselves out of the grip of the handcuffs.

'Call it a parlour game if you like, Mr. Solo, but I'm the winner, and
I'll trouble you to come with me.'

'Wait a moment. Macdougal, this farce has gone far enough. As your guest,
I demand an explanation.'

Macdougal looked at Ryder in silence for a moment, and then said quietly:


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 18 of 21)