Part 3 out of 7
understand your up-to-date theories. I've always gone in for plain
facts--standard reading--history--great thoughts of great minds--
old books brought out in people's editions. I'm up a tree--downright
bushed when you begin upon your queer ideas--all those new-fangled
religions and notions--Theosophy, spooks--about the earth being
alive, and thoughts making a sort of wireless telegraph system--I do
believe in that, though--to a certain extent. And your Brotherhood of
Man! Bosh! We're all like a lot of potatoes thrown into a sack and
shaken about by circumstance. And the big ones come to the top, and the
little ones--because they're little--sink to the bottom. I've always
wanted to be one of the big potatoes, and mean to be.'
Bridget laughed. She had a ringing laugh when she was amused.
'Oh! go on, Colin. I grant that you're a very big potato and I'm a very
'You know I didn't mean it that way. You're the biggest potato in the
whole bag as far as mind goes, and you make me feel the smallest.
You're so wonderful that the marvel of your being contented to marry me
is a bit staggering. And that brings me back to my question, which you
'How have I brought myself to the incredible enterprise of marrying an
Australian bushman? Do you know?'--she became suddenly serious--'I
have asked myself that question once or twice, and I haven't been able
to answer it.'
The light of adoration in his eyes faded a little.
'I've been afraid of that,' he said slowly. I've been afraid that you
might be rushing into the business without reasoning it out--weighing
all the sides of it.'
'If I were, it would only be the way of the O'Haras.'
His blue eyes became more troubled.
'I've been afraid of that,' he repeated. 'Bridget--suppose--my dear,
suppose it was to turn out a mistake.'
'Well, I've made so many mistakes in my life and lived through them
that one more wouldn't matter,' she rejoined lightly.
'This one would matter--because it would be irretrievable. Suppose
that you were to find that you couldn't put up with the Bush life--
I've told you that you are letting your imagination and your enthusiasm
run a bit away with you, and that there may be hardships you don't
reckon on. For though it all looks to me plain sailing now, and I hope
it will only be a year or two before I can put on a manager, and give
you the home and the climate that are more suited to you, one can't
tell in Australia that there may not be a drought or that a cattle boom
may not turn to a slump--do you see?'
'I shan't mind in the least, Colin--that is, I shall mind immensely,
but if there comes a drought it will be quite exciting helping you to
drag out the poor, thirsty beasts, when they get bogged into the
waterholes as you were describing the other day.'
'YOU--helping to drag out bogged beasts! Why! they'd drag you in.'
'Well, there are other things. Riding! I could help you to break in
horses. All the O'Haras are good on horseback'--at which he laughed
immoderately and told her that when she had seen one, Zack Duppo, on a
buckjumper, she would not be keen to try that game. But it might amuse
her to help cut out a few tame bullocks on a drafting camp if she had a
good old station mount that knew its work.
She shuddered. 'I love horses, but I should run away from the first
bullock that looked at me. I'm frightened of beasts, and, on second
thoughts, I should not want to pull out bogged ones. And I loathe
cooking--domestic work--in a house. It would be different out of
doors. You've promised to teach me the first time we camp out how to
make--what do you call them--johnny-cakes?'
'Ah! The first time we camp out together. If you knew how I've dreamed
of that. Biddy, I've got plans in my mind for that--' He caught her two
hands in a fierce grasp, and as he looked at her, his eyes full of
love, he would--greatly daring--have held her close to his breast and
kissed the provocative lips, as yet almost virgin to his. But she made
a shrinking movement, and he, acutely sensitive, dropped her hands, and
the love that had flamed in his eyes gave place to the dour look she
did not know so well.
'Why do you always keep me at a distance?' he said, and drew abruptly
away from her.
'Dear man, you mustn't be importunate. It--it's constitutional with
me. I've always hated love-making at close quarters.'
'Always! Does that mean that you've been in the habit of letting men
'Colin, you are rude--brutal.'
'D'ye think so? It seems to me that I'm only as Nature made me. Biddy--
if you feel like that now--how will it be when you're my wife?'
She flushed a little, but as her way was, evaded him.
'Perhaps I shall have grown more used to it all by that time.'
'The time is not so long--only a fortnight from now. And when you hold
me off from the touch of your hand--the feel of your lips--well, it
makes me wonder. . . . '
She gave a little alarmed shiver.
'Don't wonder, Colin. Don't worry. . . . And oh! before everything,
don't drive me--it isn't safe with an O'Hara woman. I can see that you
don't understand women--of a certain type.'
'Oh! I grant you women haven't stood for a great deal in my life, and
the few I've known well have been of the humble, human sort. But I do
know this, Bridget'--his face softened--'I do know that a proud,
sensitive woman--which is what you are and what I love you for being--
is like a thoroughbred mare, out the first time in harness. You must
keep your hands tight on her and let her go her own pace. I can tell
you, too, the cart-horse kind that has to be driven with a whip and a
"gee-up" all the time wouldn't be the type for me.'
She laughed gain, but shakily. There was an appeal in her voice.
'Colin, you've told me a lot about breaking in young horses, and how
patient one has to be with them. Be patient with me. . . . Now, I'll
try and answer your question--truthfully. I only know in a very
confused sort of way WHY I want to marry you. . . . I think you must
understand what a lonely sort of life I've led, really--and what a
dreadful muddle I've made of it--Well, I've told you how I hated
everything. And though I can laugh, and be interested, too, in Molly
Gaverick's way of looking at things, and in her determination not "to
be out of the swim"--I was just as determined myself, when I had the
mood to be in it--and though one side of me hankers after the push and
the struggle and the worldliness--yet the other side of me revolts
against it, and longs to be washed clean of all the sordid social
grime. There! I've felt about marrying you that it would be a new
baptism into a bigger, fresher, purer life--do you see?'
'Yes--I see.' His tone was doubtful. 'You've tried it before--that
idea of bigger interests--a different kind of life--in other ways,
Biddy, haven't you?'
'Oh! in ever so many ways. Of course, that wasn't only in the sense of
love--hero worship, you know. It was the schemes, ideas, plans for
living in the higher part of one. Tolstoy, Prentice Mulford--that kind
of thing. . . . Colin, you blame me for not GIVING; yet, all my life,
I've been blamed for giving too freely.'
'For giving too freely!' He repeated sharply.
'You mustn't misunderstand me. I said it hadn't only to do with men
making love to me--my ideas about a different life. It was my general
attitude--expecting to meet something great and being disappointed. . . .
Of course, I've suffered--suffered horribly--in my heart--in my
pride. And I've often found that my attitude towards things brought me
into difficulties. The average person, if it's a man--supposes that
because one has such ideas one must be a kind of abandoned creature.
And, if it's a woman, that one has some mean, ulterior motive. I've
always seemed to be looking for largeness and finding only what was
small. You attracted me because you're like nature--big, simple,
'Now, what the deuce do you mean by elemental?'
'Primal, unadulterated--closer to the heart of life and nature. It's a
sort of cosmic quality. You are large--your surroundings are large.'
He laughed, only half comprehending, gauche in the expression of his
'One thousand square miles, two thirds of it fair grazing country in
good seasons, and will be first-rate when I've worked out my artesian
bore system. Plenty of space there for a woman to swing her petticoats,
in--your riding skirt it'll have to be.'
'There! You see!' she cried. 'COULD one be mean or small in such
conditions? It's glorious, the thought of riding over one thousand
square miles--and tapping Mother Earth for your water supply! It will
be just what I said--a new baptism--a washing in Jordan. But you will
be patient, Colin; promise me that you will be good to me, and not ask
too much--at first.'
There came a note into her voice which intoxicated the man with hope
and joy. But he restrained himself. He would not frighten her again.
'Good to you! Biddy--you know you're sacred to me--I'll do everything
--I'll be as patient as you could wish until you get so used to me that
everything comes naturally. You understand? So long as you'll trust me
and open your heart to me, I'm not afraid that you won't love me, my
dear, in the end.'
'I WANT to love you, Colin.'
She moved a little closer to him and put her hand up, timidly, to his
shoulder. His breath came quickly, but he did not lose his
self-control. He knew that he must go gently with her. She drew her
hand down his coat sleeve and let it rest like a snowflake on his--a
contrast in its smallness and whiteness to the great brown hand
beneath. She looked at that, smiling whimsically, and he saw her smile,
and reddened. But he did not know that she found a pleasure in the
sight of his hand--scrupulously kept, the nails as well trimmed as a
bushman's nails can be, while showing the traces of manual labour.
'How ridiculous they are together!' she said softly 'But I like your
hand, Colin. It's different from the other men's hands.'
He was glad she said 'the other men's,' and not 'the other man's'.
Through all the gusts of passionate tenderness that went out to her,
there was always rankling the thought of 'that other man.'
They had only one more talk, in the real sense, before their marriage,
and that was an unpremeditated but natural outrush of the vague
jealousy which slumbered at the core of McKeith's love. It was on the
last evening, and it made an ineffaceable impression upon him.
They were standing, after dinner, close together by the balustrade of
It was a clear night, with a young moon, and the stars set deep in blue
so dark that the sky gave an impression of solidity. The air was full
of scents and of a soft balminess, with the faint nip of an early May
in the Southern hemisphere.
He had folded her light scarf round the child-like shoulders. The touch
of his big hand stirred her--it had not often done so in that peculiar
way. It roused something in her that she had thought dead or drugged to
sleep, and took her back for an emotional moment to a certain late
summer evening at Hurlingham, when she and Willoughby Maule had stood
in the garden together under the stars. There came to her an almost
fierce reaction against that moment. She felt a distinct emotion now,
but it was different--less tumultuous, and bringing her a soft sense
She slipped her hand gently into McKeith's, and they remained thus for
nearly a minute without speaking. He was the first to break the
'Bridget,' he said impetuously, 'we're going to be husband and wife
to-morrow. It makes me tremble, darling--with happiness and hope, and
with fear, too. What have I done, a rough Bushy like me--to win a
woman like you? Well you know how I think about that. And I don't
believe in a man belittling himself to the woman he loves, though it's
just because he loves her so that he feels unworthy of her. And then it
comes over me again--badly sometimes--how little I really know of
you, and of your life, and of your feelings towards the other men you
must have had to do with--one other man in especial, may be, that
you've loved, or may have thought you loved. That's what I want to know
about, my dear.'
Her face was turned from his as she answered:
'What's the good of your knowing, Colin? Whatever there was is past.'
'But IS it past. Over and over again, I've started to ask you and have
pulled back. Now it's got like a festering sore in my heart, and I'm
afraid it will go on festering unless I'm satisfied. There WAS somebody
in especial--a man you cared for and might have married if he had been
a finer sort of chap than he turned out to be?'
She looked at him sharply.
'How do you know? Has Rosamond Tallant been telling you?'
'No,' he said, with complete candour. 'There wasn't a word of that sort
passed between us--and I wouldn't have heeded it if there had.'
'Joan, then? No, I'm sure Joan Gildea wouldn't have talked behind my
'You may bet your life on that. Joan hasn't said anything about
whatever love-affairs you may have had.'
'Every girl has had love-affairs. I'm no exception to the rule. There's
been no real harm in them. Let them lie--buried in oblivion. They're
not worth resurrecting.'
'No, but,'--he persisted--thinking all the while of that letter--
'Bridget, I must ask you this one thing. Is there any man in the world
you care for more than you care for me? I know,' he added sadly, 'that
you don't love in the way I love you--in the way I'd like to be loved
by you. I know that's too much to expect--yet.'
The melancholy note in his speech touched her.
'I told you that I do WANT to love you, Colin--only I can't help being
what I am,' she said softly. She looked up at him in the pale
brightness of the thin moon and myriad stars. He stood with the faint
illumination from the open windows of Government House upon his fine
head and his neat fair beard. It intensified the gleam in his earnest
blue eyes, while it softened his angularities and bush roughness, and
as she looked up at him, she could not help feeling what a splendid
fellow he was! What a MAN! So much finer than that other man to whom
she had nearly given herself! Ah, she had had an escape! Under all his
show of romantic adventure, his ardent protestations, his magnetic
charm, that other man had been utterly sophisticated, worldly,
self-interested. He had shown this in his money-grabbing, in his
disloyalty both to the woman he had professed to love, and to the woman
he had married for her fortune. Thinking of him in this way, Lady
Bridget felt that in time she might come to care a great deal more for
He caught up her last words.
'Yes, I know that you WANT to love me Biddy, and I hope with all my
heart and soul that you will--or else--' he broke off, his face
'I don't know. It would be hell. I can't think such a thing at this
moment. If it comes--well, I'll face it as I've had to face other ugly
things. Don't let us speak of the possibility!'
She sensed some quality in him that she had not realised before.
'You frighten me a little, Colin. It's as if I may any day come up
before something I wasn't prepared for; and yet--I rather like it.'
He smiled at her.
'I'm glad you like it, anyway. You seem to me such a child, Biddy,
though you are always telling me you are such an old soul. I can't for
the life of me make out what you mean by that.'
'Oh! A soul that has come back and back, and has lived a great many--
'H'm! Yes! Well, one life is good enough for me, and as we can't prove
the other thing, what does it matter anyhow? I wouldn't want you in
another life if you were going to be quite a different person. I want
you as you are in this one. And so I reckon would any man who has ever
been in love with you. Let us go back now to what I was asking you.
Biddy, there WAS a man--one man that you did care for? You've admitted
'Yes--I suppose there was.'
'And not so long before you came out here?'
'I suppose that's true too.'
'Bridget!--do you know what's been festering in my mind--the thought
that you might be marrying me in a fit of pique--a sort of reaction.
Biddy--tell me honestly, my dear, if it's anything of that sort?'
She seemed to be considering.
'I don't quite know how to answer you, Colin--if I'm to be absolutely
honest. And I'd always rather tell you the truth.'
'Thank God for that. Let there be truth between us--truth at any
'You see,' she said slowly. 'My whole coming out here--everything I've
done lately, has been done in reaction against all I've done and felt
'Would you have married that man--if everything had been on the
'What do you mean by "on the square"? I've done nothing to be properly
'No--no--I was thinking only of him, Biddy, did you love that man?--
really love him?'
'I'm not sure yet whether I'm capable of what you'd call loving really.
I had a violent attraction to him,'--he remembered the phrase--'I
confess I did feel it dreadfully when he married someone else. Now it
doesn't hurt me. And of course, he has gone out of my life altogether.
I'm glad he has, and I hope he will keep on the other side of the
'Well, let it stop at that.' He drew a breath of relief. 'I don't
believe you really cared for him. If you had, you couldn't take it as
you do. I'll never bother you again about that man. And, oh, my dear--
my dear--it doesn't seem to me possible that you shouldn't come to
love me, when I love you as I do--with my whole heart and soul--I
worship you, Biddy. And I'll not say again that I'm unworthy of you--a
man who loves a woman like that CAN'T be unworthy.'
He took her in his arms and kissed her. And this time she did not
resist the caress.
They were married with much flourish of trumpets and local
paraphernalia. Never before in the annals of Leichardt's Land had a
wedding taken place from Government House. This one was regarded as
quite an official event. The Executive Council--at that moment about
to undergo the pangs of dissolution--attended in a body. There were a
great many members of parliament present also. It became even a
question whether the official uniforms worn at Sir Luke's 'Swearing In'
should not lend eclat to the occasion. But Colin McKeith vetoed that
The bridal party drove straight from the Church to that same
extemporized wharf by the Botanical Gardens which had been put up for
the Governor's State Landing. It had been re-constructed and
redecorated for to-day's event. Thus the embarcation of the bride and
bridegroom, of the viceregal party and the wedding guests, in the
Government yacht, which was to take the new-made pair to the big
mail-boat in the Bay, was almost as imposing a ceremony as the
Governor's Entry into his new kingdom. The day was glorious--an early
Australian winter's day, when the camellia trees are in bud, and the
autumn bulbs shedding perfumes, and garlands of late roses, honeysuckle
and jasmine are still hanging on trellis and tree.
As the bridal party came down the avenue of bunyas, and the band played
the Wedding Chorus from LOHENGRIN a feeling of dream-like incongruity
came over Bridget. She laughed hysterically.
'What a pity Joan Gildea isn't here!' she said. 'Think of the "copy"
she might have made out of this!'
Lady Tallant had conceived the original idea of having the wedding
breakfast on the deck of the Government yacht, while it steamed down
the forty miles between Leichardt's Town and the river bar, beyond
which, in those days, large vessels could not pass. There, the repast
was laid on tables decorated with white blossoms and maidenhair fern,
under an awning festooned with flowers and exotic creepers, and
supported apparently, by palm trees and tree ferns which had been taken
from the Government Gardens.
The bride looked small, pale, and quaint in her white satin dress and
lace veil, now thrown back and partly confining the untidily curling
hair. Some of the reports described her as being like an old picture;
others as a vision from Fairyland. She came barely up to her husband's
shoulder as they stood together, and the adoring pride of his downward
gaze at her, stirred all the women's hearts and roused a sympathetic
thrill in the men's breasts. Colin made a good show in the regulation
bridegroom's frock coat, and with a sprig of orange blossom in his
buttonhole. There was no doubt that he was extremely happy. He gave a
short manly speech in response to Sir Luke's rather academic oration
proposing the health of the wedded pair. The Premier too made a speech,
and so did the Attorney-General, who was best man. Bridget's
bridesmaids had been selected from the daughters of the Executive with
as much attention to precedence as though she had been a royal
princess. All this had delighted the Leichardstonians, and when Sir
Luke read out the congratulatory cablegrams received that morning from
the Earl and Countess of Gaverick, Eliza, Countess of Gaverick, and one
or two other members of the British aristocracy, the enthusiasm was
The speeches were over; the wedding cake had been cut; the river-bar
and the liner were in sight, when Lady Bridget went below and changed
into sea-going blue serge. The mail-boat, beflagged in honor of the
occasion, dipped a salute. The Governor led the bride along the
gangway, introduced the captain of the mail-boat, and there were more
congratulatory speeches, and still more of official ceremony as the
bride passed by a line of inquisitive and admiring passengers--
fortunately there were not many--and down to the state-room prepared
for her. Then the curtain seemed to fall that divided her from her
past, and when the Governor stepped again on to the Leichardt's Land
yacht, and the last farewell had been waved, Lady Bridget felt
thankfully that she had become a private individual at last. Only just
Bridget, wife of Colin McKeith, Bushman, now starting upon her voyage
towards the Wild.
She could not get away from the bewildering sense of unreality. It
dominated every other feeling. She did not even reflect that there was
no going back; that her fate was sealed, and that the Bush was
henceforth to be her prison or her paradise.
All the way up the river, Rosemary Tallant congratulated herself upon
having done the best that was possible for poor Biddy the failure. It
was all entirely satisfactory. She wove a halo of romance round Colin
McKeith, and, after reading her laudation of him, and her description
of Bridget's send off, old Lady Gaverick and the impecunious Chris and
his wife declared to each other that Biddy had done as well for herself
as the family had any reason to expect.
Eliza, Lady Gaverick, was highly pleased, though she would not for the
world have let her niece by marriage know it. Being Scotch herself she
approved of the Scotch bridegroom, and began now to think seriously of
the alteration she subsequently made in her will.
It was a four days' passage to Leuraville the port at which the
McKeith's were to be dropped. Not being a good sailor Lady Bridget
retired to her berth when the steamer got into a choppy sea.
Of course she had no maid. Colin unpacked the cabin trunk and dressing
bag and arranged things so far as he could understand his wife's dainty
toilet equipments, and his mistakes made them laugh and got them over
the first awkwardness of close quarter.
Then he said:
'Now I'm going to stow away my own traps. My cabin is just facing this
and you've only got to call out if you want anything. Eh, but my word!
Biddy, it's a fine thing to be marrying from Government House. The
Company has done us both proud.'
They were landed at Leuraville on the evening of the fourth day. A
tender took them off with the mails--as it happened, they were the
only passengers for that small sea-township. Ordinary business folk
going north, preferred the smaller coasting steamers which put in at
every port. The postmaster, the portmaster, the police magistrate, and
a few local notables were waiting to receive them at the wharf. McKeith
greeted them all heartily and rather shyly introduced them to his
bride. The local men were shy also. They mostly addressed her as Mrs
McKeith. The police magistrate--Captain Halliwell, lean, dark, sallow,
with a rather weak mouth, but more carefully dressed than the others,
and with an English voice, called her Lady Bridget. He was a retired
officer of the ROYAL ENGINEERS. She had been told and now remembered
that men in the ROYAL ENGINEERS were popularly said either to be
religious or cranks. This man was a Christian Scientist which he
announced when apologising for not offering the hospitality of his
house, a new baby having arrived the day previously, ushered into the
world, he explained, by prayer and faith and without benefit of medical
Bridget knew something about Christian Scientists. She plunged at once
into faith-healing ethics with the police-magistrate, while Colin saw
about getting the trunks off the tender. How odd it seemed to be
talking about London and Christian science in a place like this!
Leuraville too seemed part of a dream. But her face soon lost its
bewildered look. She became interested in her surroundings, although
there was no suggestion here of savage freedom or romantic adventure.
Leuraville showed low and hot and ugly. A red sun near its dropping,
drew up the miasmic vapours from the mangrove-fringed reaches
stretching on either side of the wharf. Some light crafts were moored
about. A schooner was loading up with cattle--wretched diseased
beasts. Bridget watched them with shuddering repulsion--being hoisted
up and slung aboard with ropes. The men at their task swore so
abominably that the police-magistrate stepped up to them and
remonstrated on the plea of a lady's presence. Bridget had never heard
such swear-words. She was used to the ordinary 'damn,' but these oaths
were so horribly coarse. Colin, who was asking local questions of the
other men appeared to take it all as a matter of course. The men
stopped their work to stare at Lady Bridget. They wore dirty corduroys
hitched up with a strap over flannel shirts that were open at the neck
and left their brawny breasts exposed. There were other loafers in
flannel shirts, hitched up trousers and greasy felt or cabbage-tree
hats, and there were two or three blacks of the demoralised type seen
in coast townships. Now, one of the bullocks got loose and rushed
blindly down the wharf, and Bridget shrieked and clung wildly to her
husband's arm until it was headed back again.
Colin laughed at her terror.
'It's all right, Biddy. But how's that for a Bushman's wife. You'll see
lots of cattle up at Moongarr.'
Moongarr was the name off his station which was to be her future home.
'I hate cows. Once I was charged by a wild cow and I've been afraid of
them ever since.'
'That isn't a cow. It's Mickey Field's poley-tailed bullock being
shunted off to the Boiling-Down Works on Shark Island,' said a local
The police-magistrate found his opportunity.
'You wouldn't be afraid, Lady Bridget, if you realised that cow as an
expression of the Divine mind.'
Bridget laughed. Her sense of the queerness of it all was almost
hysterical. She had the Irish wit to make the men grin at her prompt
answer, which when it became bruited up and down the Leura, earned her
the reputation of being sharp at repartee.
'But do you think,' said she confidingly, 'that the cow would be after
realising ME as an expression of the Divine Mind?'
'Eh, you needn't think you're going to knock spots off my wife, any of
you,' cried Colin delighted at the sally. And now he walked and talked
like a man on his own soil again, as more of the townsfolk came about--
extraordinary people, Bridget thought. Loose-limbed bush-riders, really
trim, some of them, in clean breeches and with a scarlet handkerchief
doing duty as a belt, unkempt old men, a Unionist Labour organiser
addressing a knot of station-hands out of work--even a Chinaman--a
Chinky, McKeith called him, who, it appeared kept a nondescript store.
That was in the days before the Commonwealth and the battle cry of
All of them showed the deepest interest in the small, pale, picturesque
woman walking by Colin's side.
It seemed incredible to Biddy that she should be walking like that
beside the big Bushman, in this sort of town, and that he should be her
The street they walked up began from the wharf with two-storied
respectable buildings--the Bank, the Post-Office, the
police-magistrate's residence, some dwelling houses, within palings
enclosing gardens--clumps of bananas, pawpaw apple trees, a few flower
beds, bushes of flaunting red poinsettia, and so forth. There were
stores, public houses, meaner shanties straggling along a dusty road
that lost itself in vistas of lank gum trees.
The Postmaster hoped that Mr McKeith's lady would not find the hotel
too rowdy. It was one of the two-storied buildings, and had a bar
giving onto the street, and a veranda round both upper and lower
storey. A number of Bushmen and loafers were drinking in the bar, and
others were on the edge of the veranda dangling their legs over it into
the street. All of them stopped their talk and their drink to stare at
Lady Bridget. The landlady--a big, florid Irish-woman in black silk,
with a gold chain round her neck came out onto the veranda and greeted
McKeith as an old friend, holding out her hand to Lady Bridget. She
took the husband and wife up to their rooms, a parlour opening on the
balcony, a bedroom over the bar and a little room at the back of it.
'It's a rough sort of shop, Biddy,' said Colin, when the woman had
departed. 'But it will do for a shake-down for to-night. If the steamer
had come in earlier I'd have taken you straight up to Fig Tree Mount,
where the buggy will be waiting for us; and after that we'll begin our
camping out, and you'll be in the real Bush. But we've lost the train,
and must wait till daylight to-morrow. You'll be tired my dear--and
you must be feeling strange,' he added kindly. 'I'll go and have your
traps brought up and leave you to fix yourself. I want to see one or
two chaps and find out whether my drays are down as far as Fig Tree for
stores and what's going on up along the Leura.'
Bridget noticed that the change in McKeith seemed yet more accentuated.
His manner was more curt and decided--rougher than before. He appeared
to have taken on the tone of the Back-Blocks. Yet she admired him. She
did not dislike the roughness.
But she felt a womanish aggrievement at his having left her to undo her
own things. And the rooms were horrible--the meagre appliances--the
course cotton sheets, the awful Reckitt's-blue colouring of the painted
walls. And then the dreadful noise of the men drinking below in the
bar! If this was the Bush! But Colin had said it was not the Bush.
He left her again after dinner which was horrible likewise--burned up
steak, messy fried potatoes and cabbage, an uneatable rice pudding. He
did not seem to mind. The result of his enquiries had left him grim and
preoccupied. Yes, he had taken on the Bushman, and had more or less
dropped the lover. The practical Scotch side of him was uppermost, and
he appeared more disturbed over station affairs than at her want of
appetite. She resented this unreasonably. She had not wanted him to
play the lover in these surroundings, they would have been fatal to
romance, but she had not bargained for his glumness. He was angry at
the non-arrival of his draymen and the probability that they were
drinking at a grog-shanty on the road. He would certainly sack them, he
said if that were the case. And he had disquieting news from Moongarr.
Pleuro had broken out among the cattle. What was Pleuro? Lady Bridget
wondered, but she was not sufficiently interested in cattle to ask the
question. And the Unionist labour men were making themselves a nuisance
--going round the stations burning the grass of squatters who employed
non-Union stockmen and shearers--in one instance, threatening to burn
a woolshed. And there hadn't been any rain on the Leura for a month
past, and weather prophets were predicting a drought.
It was dreadfully prosaic and boring. After he had gone out again to
transact further business, Lady Bridget went to bed and squirmed
between the cotton sheets, remembering ruefully the luxuries of
Government House. Never in all her life had she slept between cotton
sheets or washed herself in an enamelled tin basin. The noise in the
bar became intolerable. She could hear the swear-words quite
distinctly. They were disgusting. She tried to stop her ears . . . . Oh
what a dreadful life this was into which she had plunged so recklessly!
Her thoughts went back to the old-world--to the luxurious veneer
covering the younger Gavericks' petty economies--stealing the
notepaper at country-houses for the sake of the address--cadging for
motors and dinners--'keeping in' with the people likely to be of use;
pulling strings in a manner which Bridget knew would have been too
utterly galling to Colin McKeith's self-respect. And she thought of her
father and his financial unscrupulousness! But none of these could have
conceived of life without certain appurtenances of that position to
which they and she had been born. The only one who was self-respecting
among the lot was old 'Eliza Countess' as they designated her. It
struck Bridget that Eliza Countess and Colin McKeith had points of
character in common--it was true they both came from Glasgow. She
thought of the parsimonious rectitude--which had of course included
linen sheets and fine porcelain and shining silver--of old Lady
Gaverick's establishment, of its stuffy conventionality--though that
had been soothing sometimes after a dose of Upper Bohemia; and Bridget
wept, feeling rather like a wilful child who had strayed out of the
nursery among a horde of savages.
At last she could bear it no longer. They were singing now--a terrible
thing with a refrain of oaths and GEE-UPS, and whistling noises like
the cracking of whips--a bullock drivers' camp ditty. Bridget
shudderingly decided that a row in Whitechapel could be nothing to this
in the matter of bad language. She got up and paced the sitting-room in
her dressing-gown, wondering when her husband would come and rescue her
from these beasts. Watching for him she could see through the
uncurtained French windows the starry brilliance of the night, and the
moon now in its middle quarter. And down below, the houses and shanties
along the opposite side of the street, the fantastic tufts of the
pawpaws, the long white road stretching away into the ragged blur of
Presently a firm step sounded on the veranda and came up the stairs.
When Colin opened the door, he saw standing by the table, which had a
kerosene lamp on the red cloth, and, even at this time of the year,
winged insects buzzing around, and sticking to its greasy bowl--a
small white figure like an apparition from another world, in its
wonderful draperies of lace and filmy white, the little pale face
framed in a cloud of shining hair, and the strange eyes wide, scared,
and with tears glistening on the reddened lids.
She cried out at him.
'How could you have left me alone here with those horrible drunken men
down there making such a noise that I thought every minute they would
break in on me? And swearing! I've never dreamed of such dreadful
language; and I can't stand it--I won't stand it a moment longer.'
'You shan't. It's abominable, I've been a thoughtless beast.'
He swooped out through the open door, down the wooden stairs which
creaked under his wrathful steps. Bridget heard him call the landlady,
'Mrs Maloney! Come here!' in a voice of sharp command. Presently she
heard him speaking to the men in the bar, not abusively, indeed almost
good humoured tone, but imperatively.
'Look here, mates.' The uproar stopped suddenly. 'You're decent blokes
I know, and you've all had mothers if you haven't had wives. Well,
there's a lady up there--she's my wife, and she's never heard
bullock-drivers swear before, and you've scared her a bit. Just you
stop it. Shut up and be off like good chaps.'
Some dissentient voices arose; an attempt at drunken ribaldry, strident
hisses, 'Sh! Sh!' Cries of 'Shame.' 'Chuck it!' Then again, McKeith's
voice, this time like thunder. 'Stop that I say--one more word and out
you go, whether you like it or not.'
On that, came the noise of a scuffle and the fall of a heavy body
across the veranda. And of McKeith, once more breathing satisfaction:
'All right! I haven't killed him--only given him a lesson . . . . But
just you understand I'm not taking any of your bluff. You've GOT TO GO.
If you don't, it'll be a case of the lock-up for some of you. And if
you do--quietly mind, there'll be a shout all round for the lot of you
to-morrow. Drink my health and my wife's, d'ye see? Here Mrs Maloney,
chalk it down.'
In five minutes he was back in the sitting room, looking rather
dishevelled, and with his coat awry. But there was silence below except
for the putting up of shutters, the sound of shuffling feet along the
road and snatches of the bullock drivers' chorus which gradually died
away in the night.
McKeith went up to his wife who was still standing by the corner of the
table, and put his arm round the little trembling form.
'Oh! Biddy--my darling. I've been a brute. I'm not fit to take care of
you. I ought to have thought of all that. But one gets used to such
goings-on in the Bush, and they aren't bad chaps--the bullockys, and
you've got to discount their lurid language a bit. I don't know whether
it is that bullocks are more profane than most animals, but it's
certain sure that you can't get them to move without swearing at them.'
Then, as she said, half crying, half laughing, 'I see. So this is my
baptism into the Bush! You should have taught me the vocabulary, Colin,
'Don't be too hard on me. You won't have this kind of thing at
Moongarr. That's the worst of these cursed coast townships. I shouldn't
have left you alone, but if I hadn't, we couldn't have got off properly
to-morrow, and I'd set my heart on having things ship-shape for our
first camping out. Everything's fixed up now--I've been wiring like
mad up the line . . . . The buggy's at the Terminus all right, and I've
got the black-boys there, and the tent and all that. It's going to be
an experience you'll never forget. THAT'S to be your baptism into the
Bush, my dear . . . . If only there's water enough left in the Creek
yet . . . . But if there isn't we can dig for it. Oh, Biddy, think of
it--a night like this--moonlight and starlight--MY starlight--MY
star, that I used to look up at and wonder about, come down to earth.
No, no, I won't maunder, I won't be a romantic zany--not till
to-morrow night--I know the very spot for our camp . . . .'
He began to describe it--a pocket by the river bed--pasturage for the
horses--then pulled himself short. No! He wanted it all to be a
surprise . . . . She was to have just the very thing she had often said
to him she would like best . . . . And now it was getting late and they
must be up in good time to-morrow. Would she go to bed and try to sleep
. . . .
He took her to the door of her room . . . . Was she as comfortable as
she could be here, anyhow? . . . . He knew it must seem cruelly rough
to her; but it wouldn't be his fault in the future if she didn't have
things as she liked them--so far as conditions would permit . . . .
And after all, there women who enjoyed a wild life with their husbands.
There was Lady Burton--and scores of other women--Biddy had asked him
to have patience--and he meant to be patient--he worshipped her too
much not to be patient. Well, she must be patient too with him, and
with this queer old Bush which she would get to feel as much at home in
as he did himself--in time.
He left her at her bedroom door, kissing her hand with the native
chivalry that sat well upon him, and went back to his pipe and the
waking dreams of an ardent but self-restrained lover who had practical
as well as romantic considerations to weigh. Bridget went to sleep with
the smell of his tobacco--and yet did not seem to mind it in the least
--coming in whiffs through the door cracks and filling her nostrils.
She too dreamed--a vivid dream, but by some law of contrariety, not of
any idyllic camping ground in the Never-Never Land. She dreamed that
she was seeing the Carnival at Nice--a medley of dancing waves, azure
sky, palms, gold-laden orange trees and white green-shuttered houses--
flowers, CONFETTI, masks, grotesque pageantry, the merry music of the
South. And though he had never been with her at Nice, Willoughby Maule
came into her dream. They were doing impossible things--dancing
together in the Carnival crowd, flinging confetti, bobbing and
grimacing before the comic masks. Then the carnival scene seemed to
turn flat, and to become a painted picture on the drop curtain of a
stage, and she started up at the sound of knocks such as one hears
before the curtain rises in a French theatre.
Her husband was at her door calling her in the grey of dawn. He had
everything ready he said. She dressed fumblingly as if she were still
in her dream, and they walked to the station-shed whither the baggage
had already gone. The sun was only a little way above the horizon when
they took their places in the bush train that was to bear her on the
second stage of her journey into the Unknown. Such a wheezy, shaky
little train, and such funny, ugly country! Sandy flats sparsely grown,
mostly with gum trees, where there were no houses and gardens. Near the
township there were a good many of these wooden dwellings with
corrugated iron roofs--some of the more aged ones of slab--and with a
huge chimney at one end. They were set in fenced patches of millet and
Indian corn or gardens that wanted watering and with children perched
on the top rail of the fences who cheered the train as it passed.
Sometimes the train puffed between lines of grey slab fencing in which
were armies of white skeleton trees that had been 'rung' for
extermination, or with bleached stumps sticking up in a chaos of felled
trunks, while in some there had sprung up sickly iron-bark saplings.
Now and then, they would stop at a deserted-looking station, round
which stood a few shanties, and the inevitable public house. Maybe it
had formerly been a sheepfold, abandoned when the scab had destroyed
the flocks; and there were enormous rusty iron boiling-pots to which a
fetid odour still clung, and where the dust that blew up, had the
grittiness and faint smell of sun-dried sheeps' droppings.
At one of the more important stopping places, they had early lunch of
more fried steak, with sweet potatoes and heavy bread and butter and
peach jam. Most of the other passengers got out for lunch also.
There was a fifth-rate theatrical company cracking jokes among
themselves, drinking brandy and soda at extortionate prices, and
staring hard at Lady Bridget. Colin pointed out to her a lucky digger
and his family--two daughters in blue serge trimmed with gold braid,
and a fat red-faced Mamma, very fine in a feathered hat, black brocade,
a diamond brooch, and with many rings and jangling bangles. There were
some battered, bearded bushmen who seemed to be friends of Colin's,
though he did not introduce them to his wife, and who talked on topical
subjects in a vernacular which Lady Bridget thought to herself she
would never be able to master. There was a professional horse-breaker
whom McKeith hailed as Zack Duppo, and to whom he had a good deal to
say also. There were some gangs of shearers or stockmen or what not,
who appeared to be the following of two or three rakish, aggressive
looking males upon whom the bushmen scowled. Union delegates, Strike
Organisers, McKeith explained.
After that station, marks of civilisation diminished. The Noah's Ark
humpeys in their clearings became few and far between, and the long
lines of grey two-railed fences melted into gum forest. Now and then,
they saw herds of cattle and horses. Once, a company of kangaroos
sitting up with fore paws drooping and a baby marsupial poking its head
out of the pouch of one of the does. Then, taking fright in a second,
all leaped up, long back legs stretched, tails in air, and, in a few
ungainly bounds they were lost to sight among the gum trees. Early in
the afternoon the train reached the temporary Terminus, for the line
was being carried on by degrees through the Leura district. This was a
mining town called Fig Tree Mount--why, nobody could tell, for there
were no fig trees, and not a sign of a hill as far as the level horizon
--except for the heaps of refuse mullock that showed where shafts had
been sunk. A good many years ago, Bridget was told, there had been a
rush to the place, but the gold field turned out not so good as had
been expected, and it was only lately that the discovery of a payable
reef had brought the digging population back again. From one direction
came the whirr of machinery, and there was in the same quarter a
collection of white tents and roughly put up humpeys. Otherwise, the
township consisted of a long dusty street cutting the sandy plain and,
out of the two score or so of zinc-roofed buildings, twenty were public
Lady Bridget had been very silent all day. To Colin's anxious enquiries
she answered that it was enough to take in so many new impressions
without talking about them. Through the crude blur of these impressions
her husband stood out definitely, a dominant influence. She seemed to
be only now beginning to feel his dominance. Yet all the time, she
could not get away from the sense of living in some fantastic dream--
an Edward Lear nonsense dream. The sight of the kangaroos in the Bush
brought a particular rhyme of her childhood to her mind. She half said,
half sang it to an improvised tune:
'Said the Duck to the Kangaroo,
"Good gracious! how you hop!
Over the fields and water too,
As if you never would stop!" '
She caught her husband looking at her in a fascinated, puzzled way, and
paused and gave him her funny little smile.
'That's a very pretty song,' he said. 'But I can't make out what it
means. What is it about a duck or a kangaroo? They're nonsense words,
'Nonsense--oh yes, frightful nonsense. Only it struck me that there's
sometimes a lot of truth in nonsense. Listen now,' and she went on:
'"My life is a bore in this nasty pond,
And I long to go out in the world beyond.
I wish I could hop like you!"
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.'
He still looked puzzled--but adoring.
'You've got no sense of humour,' she said, 'Don't you see that you and
I are as incongruous as the duck and the kangaroo?'
'That is so,' he answered gravely. 'But I'll be a kangaroo with
pleasure if it makes the Bush more attractive to you.'
She fell suddenly silent again, and sat gloomy and staring at the
endless procession of gum trees as the train lumbered on through that
fantastic forest, which made her think of all kinds of ridiculous
things. And she was conscious all the time of his furtive watching from
the corner opposite, and of his readiness to spring forward at the
least indication of her wanting anything. It bewildered her--the
strangeness of being alone with, entirely dependent upon this big man
of the Bush, who had the right to look after her, and yet of whom she
knew so little.
He did look after her with sedulous care. He had natty bush dodges for
minimising the discomfort of the hot, dusty train journey. He
manufactured a windsail outside the carriage window, which brought in a
little breeze during the airless heat of mid-day. He contrived to get
cool drinks and improvised for her head a cushion out of his rolled up
poncho, a silk handkerchief and a large cold cabbage leaf against which
she leaned her hot forehead. In all his actions she watched him with a
curious blend of feelings. There was a satisfaction in his largeness,
his commonsense, his breeziness. She liked hearing his quaint Bush
colloquialisms, when he leaned out of the window at the small stations
and exchanged greetings with whomsoever happened to be there--
officials, navvies, miners, even Chinamen--most of whom saluted him
with a 'Glad to see you back, sir!' . . . or a 'Good-day, Boss. Good
luck to you,' as if they all knew the significance of this wedding
journey--which no doubt they all did.
Bridget kept in the background and smiled enigmatically at it all. She
was interested in her husband both in the personal and abstract sense,
and was a little surprised at herself for being pleased when he paid
her any attention or sat down beside her. At moments, she even hankered
after the touch of his fingers, and had a perverse desire to break down
the restraint he was so manifestly putting upon himself. Once, when he
had been sitting very still in the further corner, thinking she was
asleep, she had looked at him suddenly, and had found his eyes fixed on
her in a gaze so concentrated, so full of intense longing, that she
felt as if he were trying to hypnotise her into loving him. She knew
that if he were, it must be unconscious hypnotism on his part. There
were no subtleties of that kind in Colin McKeith. No, it was the primal
element in him that appealed to her, dominated her. For she was
startled by a sudden realization of that dominant quality in him as
applied to herself. In their courtship it had been she who dominated
He reddened guiltily when he caught her eyes. His long upper lip went
down in obstinate resistance to impulse. But if he had kissed her then,
she would not have rebelled.
'Colin, what are you thinking of?' she said, and he answered in a tone,
husky with pent emotion.
'I was thinking of our camp to-night--of how we should be alone
together in the starlight. . . . And of how I want to make you happy
and of how wonderful it all is--like some impossible dream.'
'Yes. I've been feeling too that it is like a dream,' she replied
'A bit of nightmare so far, I'm afraid, for you, Biddy,' he said
shaking himself free from sentiment. 'But this part of it will soon be
He got up, pulled the blind down behind her, and readjusted the cabbage
leaf under her head. Just then, the train pulled up at a station where
there were selectors' holdings, and a German woman was lugging along a
crate of garden produce. He jumped out and bought another cabbage from
which he shredded a fresh cool leaf for her pillow. And at that they
laughed and he relapsed into normal commonplace.
When she got out at Fig Tree Mount, he took her across the sandy street
to the nearest and largest of the public houses which had 'Station
Hotel' printed on it in big blue letters--a glaring, crude,
zinc-roofed box with a dirty veranda that seemed a receptacle for
rubbish and a lounge for kangaroo dogs, to say nothing of drunken men.
The dogs took no notice of the male loungers, but started a vigorous
barking at the sight of a lady. There was the usual bar at one end, the
usual noise going on inside, and the usual groups of bush loafers
outside. Several riding horses were hitched up to the palings at a
right angle with the Bar, and a bullock dray loaded with wool-bales--
on the top of which a whole family appeared to reside under a canvas
tilt--was drawn up in the road. The beasts were a repulsive sight,
with whip-weals on their panting sides, their great heads bowed under
the yoke and their slavering tongues protruding. Bridget looked at
everything with a wide detached gaze, as she followed her husband along
the hotel veranda. McKeith, motioning to his wife to proceed, stopped
to peer at the faces of two men lying in a drunken sleep on the boards.
'Not my men, anyway,' he said, rejoining her. 'But that will keep.' The
place seemed deserted and in disorder. There were glimpses through the
open windows of unmade beds within, and, on the veranda, lay some red
blankets bundled together. Colin took his wife into a parlour, where
flies buzzed round the remains of a meal and some empty whisky bottles
and glasses. After considerable shouting and knocking at doors along
the passage, he succeeded in arousing the landlady, who came in,
buttoning her blouse. Her obviously dyed yellow hair was in a
dishevelled state, her eyes were heavy and her face sodden. She had
evidently been sleeping off the effects of drink.
'Had a night of it, I suppose, Mrs Hurst?' observed McKeith glumly.
'This is a nice sort of place to show a lady into.'
The woman burst out on the defensive, but McKeith silenced her.
'That'll do. Clear away all that mess and let us have a clean cloth and
some tea. And I say, if you have got a decent room for my wife to wash
the dust off and take a bit of a rest in, I'll be obliged.'
The landlady blinked her puffed eyelids, muttered an uncourteous
rejoinder and went off with some of the debris from the table. Bridget
laughed blankly. She looked so small and flower like, so absolutely
incongruous with her surroundings, that the humour of it all struck
'Good Lord! I wonder what your opinion is of this show! Here is the
beginning of what is called the Never-Never Country, my dear. Do you
want to go back again to Government House?'
'No, I don't,' and she touched him to the heart's core by putting her
little hand in his.
'That's my Mate,' said he, his blue eyes glistening. 'But I'll tell you
what I think of your splendid pluck when we're quit of these beastly
townships, and have gone straight into Nature. Now, I've got to go and
see after the buggy and find my boys, and I shall have all my work cut
out to be ready in an hour. You just make the best of things, and if
the bedroom is impossible spread out my poncho and take a rest on that
sofa there, and don't be frightened if you hear any rowdiness going
The bedroom was impossible, and the sofa seemed equally so. Bridget
drank the coarse bush tea which the landlady brought in, and was glad
that the woman seemed too sulky to want to talk. Then she sat down at
the window and watched the life of the township--the diggers slouching
in for drinks, the riders from the bush who hung up their horses and
went into the bar, the teams of bullocks coming slowly down the road
and drawing up here or at some other of the nineteen public houses 'to
wet the wool,' in bush vernacular. She counted as many as twenty-four
bullocks in one of the teams, and watched with interest the family life
that went on in the narrow space between the wool bales and the canvas
roof above. There were women up there and little children. She saw
bedding spread and a baby's clothes fluttering out to dry, and tin
pannikins and chunks of salt beef slung to the ropes that bound the
wool bales together. Then, when the wool was wetted, or when some other
teams behind disputed the right of way in lurid terms which Lady
Bridget was now beginning to accept as inevitably concomitant with
bullocks, the first dray would proceed, all the cattle bells jingling
and making, in the distance, not unpleasant music.
It was the horses that interested Lady Bridget most, for, like all the
O'Haras, she was a born horsewoman. Though she was moved almost to
tears by the spur scars on the lean sides of some of them--spirited
creatures in which she recognised the marks of breeding--and by the
unkempt condition of some that were just from grass, she decided within
herself that there could never be a lack of interest and excitement in
a land where such horseflesh abounded.
Presently she had her first sight of the typical stockman got up in
'township rig.' Spotless moleskins, new Crimean shirt, regulation silk
handkerchief, red, of course, and brand new, tied in a sailor's knot at
the neck, leather belt with pouches of every shape and size slung from
it, tobacco pouch, watch pouch, knife pouch and what not. Cabbage tree
hat of intricate plait pushed back to the back of the head and held
firm by a thin strap coming down to the upper lip and caught in two
gaps on either side of the prominent front teeth--there are very few
stockmen who have kept all their front teeth. Stockwhip, out of
commission for the present, with an elaborately carved and beautifully
polished sandal-wood handle hanging down behind, a long snake-like lash
coiled in three loops over the left shoulder.
Lady Bridget knew most of the types of men who have to do with horses--
huntsmen, trainers, jockeys, riding masters and the rest, but the
Australian bush-rider is a product by itself. She liked this son of the
gum forest-tanned face, taut nerves, alert eyes piercing long distances
--a man, vital, shrewd, simple as a child, cunning as an animal. And
the way he sat in his saddle, the poise of the lean, lanky muscular
frame! No wonder the first stockman seemed to the wild blacks a new
sort of beast with four legs and two bodies. And the clean-limbed
mettlesome creature under him! Man and beast seemed truly a part of
each other. Lady Bridget O'Hara's soul warmed to that stockman and to
He was looking at the windows of the bar-parlour. As soon as he saw the
lady, the cabbage tree hat was raised in a flourish, the horse was
reined in, the man off his saddle and the bridle hitched to a post.
Now the stockman stepped on to the veranda.
'Mrs McKeith--or is it Lady McKeith I should say--I haven't got the
hang of the name if you'll pardon me--Mr McKeith sent me on to say
that he'll be here with the buggy in a minute or two. . . . I'm
Moongarr Bill. . . . Glad to welcome you up the Leura, ma'am, though I
expect things seem a bit rough to you straight out from England and not
knowing the Bush.'
Lady Bridget won Moongarr Bill's good favour instantly by the look in
her eyes and the smile with which she answered him.
'I'm from Ireland, Moongarr Bill, and if we Irish know anything we know
a good horse, and that's a beauty you're riding.'
'Out of a Pitsford mare by a Royallieu colt, and there's not a finer
breed in the Never-Never. My word! you've struck it there, ma'am, and
no mistake,' responded the stockman enthusiastically. 'I bought 'im out
of the yard at Breeza Downs--that's Windeatt's run about sixty miles
from Moongarr, and I will say that though it's a sheep-run they've beat
us in the breed of their 'osses. . . . Got 'im cheap because he'd
bucked young Windeatt off and nearly kicked his brains out, and there
wasn't a man along the Leura that he'd let stop on his back except me
and Zack Duppo--the horse-breaker who first put the tackling on 'im.'
After the interchange of one or two remarks, Lady Bridget had no doubt
of being friends with Moongarr Bill, and Moongarr Bill decided that for
a dashed new-chum woman, Lady Bridget had a remarkable knowledge of
The quick CLOP-CLOP of a four horse team and a clatter of tin billys
and pannikins--as Lady Bridget presently discovered slung upon the
back rail of an American buggy--sounded up the street.
'There's the Boss,' said Moongarr Bill. 'Look alive, with that
Lady Bridget now perceived behind the stockman a black boy on a young
colt, leading a sturdy flea-bitten grey, laden with a pack bag on
either side. He jumped off as lightly as Moongarr Bill and hitched his
horses also to the veranda posts. Except that he was black as a coal,
save for the whites of his eyes and his gleaming teeth, he seemed a
grotesque understudy of the stockman--moleskins, not too clean and
rubbed and frayed in places, fastened up with a strap; faded Crimean
shirt exposing a wealed and tattooed breast; old felt hat--not a
cabbage tree--with a pipe stuck in its greasy band; an ancient red
silk handkerchief with ragged edges, where whip crackers had been torn
off, round his neck, and a short axe slipped among a few old pouches
into the strap at his waist. He jumped on to the veranda, clicked his
teeth in an admiring ejaculation as he gazed at Lady Bridget.
'My word! BUJERI feller White Mary you! . . . new feller Mithsis
belonging to Boss. My word!' Then as McKeith drew up his horses in
front of the hotel, Wombo and Moongarr Bill sprang to the heads of
wheelers and leaders.
It seemed to Bridget that there was a change in her husband even since
he had left her. He looked more determined, more practical, wholly
absorbed in the unsentimental business of the moment. He had changed
into looser, more workmanlike rig--was belted, pouched, carried his
whip grandly, handled his reins with a royal air of command, as if he
were now thoroughly at home in his own dominions, had already asserted
his authority--which she found presently to be the case--and intended
the rest of the world to knock under to him. There flashed on Lady
Bridget an absurd idea of having been married by proxy--like the
little princesses of history--and of being now received into her
lord's country by the monarch in person. Her face was rippling all over
with laughter when he joined her in the veranda.
'What! Another delicious black boy! He looks like a Christy Minstrel. I
thought you hated blacks, Colin.'
'So I do. You've got to have 'em though for stock boys, and I keep my
heel on the lot at Moongarr. Wombo and Cudgee aren't bad chaps so long
as they are kept clear of their tribe. How do you like the new buggy,
my lady? A dandy go-cart, eh?'
He looked as pleased as a child with a new toy carriage. The buggy was
quite a smart bush turn-out--comfortable seats in front--a varnished
cover, now lying back; a well behind, filled with luggage; a narrow
back seat whence Cudgee--a smaller edition of Wombo--sprang down.
Cudgee, too, stared at Lady Bridget and clicked his teeth in
'Hullo! New feller Mithsis.'
Afterwards, Lady Bridget remembered the greetings and wondered why the
black boys had said: 'New feller Mithsis!' Who had been the old feller
Mithsis? she asked herself.
McKeith sternly quashed the black boys' ebullition and told them to
mind their own business. Bridget agreed that the buggy was first rate
and became enthusiastic over the horses, four fairly matched and
'Oh! what beauties! I'd like to go and make friends with them.'
He was delighted. 'Good 'uns, ain't they? But wait and make friends
when you're behind 'em. We've twenty-five miles to do before sundown.
Got your traps fixed up? That's right. Here, Bill, take her ladyship's
bag and stow it safely at the back of the buggy. Handle it gingerly--
it's full of silver and glass fallals--not what we're much used to on
The stockman grinned and carried the dressing-bag--one of Sir Luke's
and Lady Tallant's wedding presents--as if it were dynamite. Colin
seemed anxious to impress his wife's dignity upon her new subjects. She
felt still more like a queen of comic opera. He helped her into her
dust cloak, paid the bill, cut short the landlady's sulky apologies--
she had done her hair and recovered herself a little. Then he settled
Lady Bridget into the buggy after the manner of a bush courtier--her
feet on a footstool, the rug over her knees, a cushion at her back. His
whole air seemed to say:
'This is the Queen, and I, the King, expect that proper homage be paid
The loafers at the bar all came out to see the start. The family on the
top of the bullock-dray peered forth from under the tilt. The barkeeper
shouted, 'Good luck to you and your lady, Mr McKeith.' The drunken
reprobates, awakened from their slumber on the boards, called out, too,
'Goo-luksh!' There was an attempt at a cheer, but before McKeith had
got out his answering, 'Thank ye--Good day, mates,' a shower of
opprobrious epithets rained upon him from a little band of discontented
bush rowdies--the advance guard of that same Union delegate who had
come up with them in the train from Leuraville.
Three of these men lurched on to the bar veranda, and, so to speak,
took the stage. In front was a stumpily-built bullock driver with a
red, truculent face, a ragged carrotty beard and inflamed narrow-ridded
eyes. A little to the rear stood a lanky, muscular bushman in very
dirty moleskins, with a smooth loose-lipped face, no eyelashes, and a
scowling forehead, who was evidently the worse for drink; next to him,
a shorter man of the drover type, older, eagle-beaked and with
sinister, foxy eyes. This one hailed McKeith.
'Yah! Look at him and his spanking team! What price honest labour, you
blamed scab of a squatter? Just you wait a bit. It'll be our turn soon
to burn all you blanked capitalists off the Leura.'
The lanky bushman took up the jeering note.
'Pretty flash turn-out, ain't it! My word, you think yourself a bloated
fine gentleman now you've married into the British hairystocracy, don't
you, Mister Colin McKeith? You can take it from us, boys, he's the
meanest cuss that ever downed a harmless nigger. . . . Ask him what the
twenty-five notches on his gun stand for?'
'And I tell YOU what it is, Steve Baines. There'll be another notch on
my gun, and it won't be for a nigger, if you give me any more of your
insolence,' said McKeith coolly. 'Get out of the way, men. Let the
horses go, Cudgee. Ready, Biddy?'
But Cudgee, out of malice or stupidity, did not let the roans go or
else someone else put a restraining hand on the reins. The man with the
ragged beard roared out.
'Ho, you think you're going to ride over us!--you and your fine
ladyship! Wot do we care about the British hairystocracy. What we're
asking for is the rights of labour, and we mean to have 'em. Do you
want to know what he's done to us boys? Fired us out straight away cos
we was 'avin' a bit of a spell and a drink to keep the life in us after
we'd close up killed ourselves lifting that there ladyship's blanked
hundred-ton weight of pianner on to the dray. . . .'
Moongarr Bill's chivalrous instinct flamed to a counter attack. He had
just mounted, but swung down from his saddle and made a rush at the
speaker. McKeith's stern voice stopped him.
'Don't be a fool, Bill. Let the brutes alone and push on with the pack.
This is not the time for a row. As for you, Jim Steadbolt--you know
me, and you know that if this was any other sort of occasion, you'd pay
on the nail for your infernal cheek. . . . Leave go of those reins.
D'ye hear'; for the man of the ragged beard was jerking the near
leader's bit and putting the mettlesome animal on its haunches.
'Damn you! Let go.'
He leaned forward to strike at Steadbolt with his riding whip, but the
lash had caught round the pole-bar of the buggy, and he could not
extricate it. Bridget tried to help him. He turned to her for an
instant, a soft gleam of tenderness shining through the steely anger on
'No. Keep still, my dear. Don't be frightened.'
'I frightened!' She gave a little laugh. Her form stiffened. The small
pale face poked forward between the folds of her motor veil, and all
the O'Hara spirit flashed as she spoke to the group of malcontents.
'How dare you! Stand back. I thought Australian men were men, and that
they didn't insult women.'
There was an uproar in the veranda, and more cries of 'Shame,
Steadbolt, you! . . . You just git, Gumsucker Steve. We ain't got no use
for you, Micky Phayle. . . . Can't you see a lady as is a lady?'
sounded from the bar and parlour. It was the landlady who asked the
last question. The two reprobates who had been asleep, lunged off the
veranda, and made a feeble assault on Steadbolt, who still clung to the
reins. The man, lashed to fury by the scorn ringing in Lady Bridget's
voice, made a last envenomed attack.
'It ain't us GENUINE Australians that insults you. . . . Takes a
mongrel Scotchy for that. . . . Say, Ladyship, just you ask your
husband what a sort of an insult he's got ready for YOU up at his
Bachelor's Quarters at Moongarr.'
The words had not left his mouth when McKeith's driving whip whizzed in
the air and raised blood on the speaker's cheek. Steadbolt dropped his
hold of the roan leader's bridle and fell back screaming imprecations.
At a touch, the buggy-horses bounded forward.
'Sit tight, Biddy,' said her husband. 'Up you get, Cudgee,' he shouted.
The black boy leaped to the back-seat, and in a moment the buggy
swerved by the bullock-dray that was drawn up a little further down the
road, and the excited horses galloped past the nineteen public houses
and the zinc-roofed shanties, past the new quarter of tents and
whirring machinery, past the deserted shafts and desolate mullock
heaps, then way out along the sandy wheel-track into the unpopulated
For the first mile scarcely a word was exchanged between husband and
wife. The horses were fresh and McKeith had enough to do to keep them
from bolting. Moreover, even in emotional phases, he was always silent
while chewing the cud of his reflections. Bridget was thinking, too.
She had an uneasy sense of startlement, without exactly knowing why she
felt startled in that inward way. It was as though some great obscene
bird of flight had brushed her with its wings, and brought vaguely to
her consciousness unpleasant possibilities. But presently she became
interested in watching Colin's handling of the team. She had often sat
behind such a team, but never beside such a splendid whip. Impulsively
she made some such remark, and he looked down at her, the hard face
breaking into a smile.
'That's good. . . . Wait a bit, my dear, until they've steadied down
again. . . . Y'see they take a lot of driving, and I don't want to lay
an accident on top of that unholy shindy. . . .' He spoke in jerks. The
roans were inclined to 'show nasty' as Moongarr Bill came abreast of
them, and Wombo's pack jingled behind. McKeith gave Moongarr Bill
directions about the camp in Bush lingo, which again turned Bridget's
thoughts. The black boy and the stockman spurred on as the roans
slackened pace. McKeith was able to relax the strain.
'My word! we scooted pretty quick out of that piece of scenery,' he
said. 'I felt downright mad at your being let in for such a disgraceful
bit of business. I hadn't time to tell you that I'd sacked those men
half an hour before. Found them in the lowest of the grog shanties,
their horses not looked after, dray only half loaded, and the three of
them--Gumsucker Steve was to have come and taken off our leaders when
we got into broken country--thick with the Union delegates and
sticking for higher wages. I paid them off and filled their places on
the spot with two chaps off a wool-drive. . . . So I left the brutes
vowing vengeance, and I suppose they thought they'd lose no time in
giving me a taste of it. . . . Well, they're no loss.' He had been
explaining things in jerks while he brought the team to an harmonious
jog-trot along a piece of uneven road. 'That fellow Steadbolt is a
wrong 'un--not good even at his own job of wood and water joey--which
means, my dear, the odd cart-driving on a place--and not to be trusted
within ten miles of a public house.'
Lady Bridget asked suddenly:
'I want to know, Colin--what did that man mean by saying you had an
insult ready for me at your Bachelor's Quarters? What insult?'
It seemed as though blue fire leaped from McKeith's eyes.
'Insult! Good God! Biddy you can't hold me responsible for the foul
insinuations of a beast like that. Insult YOU! my wife!'
The passionate tenderness thrilling his voice, the honest wrath and
bewilderment in his face must have silenced any doubt, had doubt
existed in Lady Bridget's mind.
'I don't know, Colin. I don't even know what Bachelors' Quarters mean.
Have you an army of Bachelors at Moongarr, and what do they do when
they're at home?'
He laughed. 'It's a shanty I put up for the new-chums when I've got any
--and for the gentlemen-sun-downers that come along, and visitors that
I don't want to be bothered with at the House. There's a woman up
there. . . .' He stopped suddenly and his face grew grim again. 'That's
it, I suppose--I'm sorry I didn't sling the whip harder and cut the
fellow's cheek open. I would if I'd thought. . . . !'
He stopped again.
'What woman? Have I a rival? This is becoming dramatic!' Lady Bridget's
voice was amusedly ironic, but she carried her head erect. 'Tell me
about the woman at the Bachelors' Quarters, Colin.'
'There's nothing to tell, except that's she's the widow of a man who
went up with me on my last Big Bight expedition, and was killed--
partly through his own, and partly through my, fault. That's why I've
made a point of looking after her, and I built my Bachelor's Quarters
chiefly to give her a job. I thought she was too young and too good
looking to be drawing grog for diggers at Fig Tree Mount--which was
what she set out doing.'
'I see. . . . So she's young--and handsome.'
'Oh, in a coarse sort of way. . . . No, I wouldn't say that; she's
rather refined for her upbringing. Anyway, Steadbolt as well as a lot
of other men fell in love with her--Steadbolt was pretty well off his
head over it. She wouldn't have him at any price--naturally--and I
had to give the fellow work outside the head-station to keep him away
from her. That was before I went south. Very likely he's been trying it
on again, and knew I should have to get rid of him as soon as I came
'Why doesn't the woman marry again?'
McKeith shrugged. 'Too jolly comfortable perhaps--or perhaps the right
man hasn't turned up. Florrie Hensor is several cuts above a
malingering lout like Steadbolt. Well there, poor devil! Maybe, it's
not unnatural that I should feel a sneaking sympathy for an
unsuccessful lover. That abominable lie was a bit too strong though--
and before you! The man must have been downright mad from drink and
fury and bitterness. It--it's all funny--isn't it? One of the queer
sides of the Bush. Good old Bush! I am glad to be back in it again,
He lifted his head and seemed to draw in the strong odour of the gum
trees and the pure vitality of the weltering sun. His anger appeared to
have left only compunction behind it. And again he begged her to
forgive him for having subjected her to an experience so disagreeable.
They were on a stretch of clear road now, and the roans trotted
pleasantly along. Lady Bridget took up his words.
'Yes, it's all funny--that kind of thing--in this setting. . . . I
never supposed that I should be howled at by a revolutionary mob in the
Australian Bush. . . . A BAS LES ARISTOCRATS. It's quite exciting. I
think I should have enjoyed the Reign of Terror.'
'Eh! You're only frightened of four-footed beasts. If you'd lived then,
you'd have gone up to the block with that smile on your lips, and the
proud turn of your little head--just as I used to dream of you. . .'
'Of ME! '
'You don't know--I'll tell you some day. I remember talking to Joan
Gildea once. . . . It's queer. . . . But never mind now. D'ye like
'I love it. I wish we could drive on through the forest all day and all
night--a dream drive. I think I might be able to place myself at the
end of it.'
'To place yourself!'
'I've never been able to find my true pivot inside. All my life I've
been howling in my soul and haven't known what I was howling for. I
thought to-day that you might teach me.'
'Is it only to-day that you have thought that?' he said wistfully.
'Well, anyway, I'm glad of it.'
'Colin,' she said abruptly, 'wasn't it funking a little bit, don't you
'No--not with YOU beside me. You'll have other opportunities for
seeing whether I've got much of the funker in me. No doubt those brutes
will give trouble some time.'
'What can they do?'
'Fire my run--spoil my cattle sales--get hold of my stockmen. . . .But
I'm not so badly off as my "sheep" neighbours at Breeza Downs.
They've got to have their shearing done. . . . Though I've had a lot of
bother to-day,' his face became gloomy, 'and I foresee more ahead.'
She asked what other sort of trouble.
'Why! there's been no rain at Moongarr since I left it five months ago.
And Pleuro means innoculation and short sales. . . . Ah well! . . . '
He flicked the wheelers gently. 'Shake it up, Alexander! Look alive,
Roxalana. . . . I named 'em when I was reading ROLLIN'S ANCIENT
HISTORY, my dear . . . my dear!' He looked down at the little woman by
his side with deep tenderness in his blue eyes and a smile that
banished the shade from his face. 'Oh, my dear, there ain't going to be
any bush worries for us this blessed afternoon and evening. It's the
poetry and romance'--he pronounced it romance--'of the bush that's
got hold of me now. I'm just longing for us to strike the camping place
--and then--just you and me together--just man and woman--alone with
He put his hand on hers and she pressed it in return. The Woman in her
thrilled to the Man in him.
Cudgee, on the hind seat with his back to them, broke the spell.
'My word, Massa! You look out, Mithsis--big feller goanner sit down
along a tree.' And for the first time in her existence, Lady Bridget
beheld a monster iguana dragging its huge lizard tail and turning its
stately, brown crocodile head round at her from the safe vantage place
of a thick gum branch.
After that, the way led off the main road, on by a less used track
through wilder country. Here Wombo, the black boy, was waiting--
Moongarr Bill having gone on with the pack horse to the camping place--
and helped to unharness the two leaders which he drove before him
ahead. The trees thickened, the buggy wheels caught on stumps. Cudgee
had to get down at intervals and, with his axe, lop and clear fallen
timber. Every mile the progress grew slower and the forest more lonely.
No sign now of a selector's clearing, or of any human occupation. . . .
But there was a pack of emus hustling and shaking their big bunches of
feathers like startled ballet girls.
'I feel as if part of the Zoo had been let loose,' said Lady Bridget
when again there bounded along in the near distance a pair of kangaroos
with a little Joey kangaroo taking a lesson in locomotion behind its
They were still in the gum forest, but now and then came a belt of
gidia scrub--mournful trees with stiff black trunks and grey green
foliage and a pale sort of wattle flower smelling like dead cattle when
rain is about, as McKeith explained. But there was no rain about now,
and, in truth, he would have welcomed the unpleasant odour. Perhaps it
was that which made the ground so stark and bare beneath these trees
where no grass will grow. The sun was lowering when they left the
gidia. Out in the gum forest again, the birds were chattering before
retiring to rest. All life is still in the bush at mid-day, but now
there were curious scutterings among the grass tussocks, and the whirr
of its insect population sounded all round. The country got prettier--
swelling pastures and stony pinches and a distant outline of hills.
They could see the green line of a water course.
'Plenty water sit down along a creek?' McKeith asked the black boy. But
Cudgee shook his woolly head.
'Ba'al* mine think it, Massa. No rain plenty long time.'
[*ba'al--the Aboriginal negative.]
McKeith sighed. The dark shadow of coming drought is a fearsome spectre
on the Never-Never Land.
A COO-EE sounded long, clear, vibrant. Moongarr Bill and Wombo, who had
gone on ahead, were fixing camp. Lady Bridget's musical voice caught up
the note. She answered it with another COO-EE, to Cudgee's delight.
'My word! Ba'al newchum, that feller white Mary,' said he.
They had rounded a knoll abutting on the green line of ti-trees and
swamp oak. It was a barren hump; upon its crest, and alone in barbaric
majesty, stood a row of grass trees silhouetted against the sunset sky.
Weird sentinels of the bridal camp they seemed--tall, thick black
trunks like palm-stems, from each of which spread an enormous tuft of
gigantic grass blades green and upright in the middle, grey and jaggled
and drooping where they hung over at the bottom. Out of each green
heart sprang a great black spear many feet in height.
The stony knoll dropped sheer like a wall. On the other side of it was
a space the size of an amphitheatre, a large part of it spread with
soft green grass, like a carpet, and the rest of the floor scattered
with low shrubs and big tussocks. Amongst them was a herb giving out a
fragrance, when the feet crushed it, like that of wild thyme. The whole
air seemed filled with a blend of aromatic perfumes.
Here was a roofless room, open on one side where a break in the
ti-trees showed the sandy bed of the creek, which, at first, to Lady
Bridget's fancy, had the appearance of a broad shallow stream. On this
side, low rocks with ferns growing in their crannies, edged the stream.
On the opposite shore, one giant eucalyptus stood by itself and cast
its shadow across. Beyond, lay the gum-peopled immensity of the bush.
The stony walls of the knoll, curving inward and sheltering a thick
growth of ferns and scrubby vegetation, closed in the bridal chamber.
Creepers festooned the rocky ledges and crevices. Here and there, a
young sapling slanted forward to greet the morning sun when it should
rise behind the hummock.
Moongarr Bill had undone the pack-bags and was building a fire between
two large stones. The flames leaped up, the dead twigs crackled. Long
years after, Lady Bridget could recall vividly the smell of the dry
burning gum leaves--her first experience of a bush campfire.
Close to the fire, under the flank of the rocky knoll the tent was
pitched, a roll of blankets and oilskin thrown just within it.
Presently, from the hummock above came the sound of Cudgee's axe. He
had felled the youngest of the grass-trees, and was now chopping off
its green tuft. Soon he appeared, carrying a huge bunch of the coarse
blades of foliage, which he brought to the tent. With an odd mixture of
emotions, Lady Bridget watched her husband take the grass tops from the
black boy and spread them carefully on the floor of the tent, heaping
up and smoothing the mass into a bed, upon which he laid the oilskin
and then one of the blankets--they were new white blankets, fresh from
the store. After that, he set the cushions from the buggy, covering
them with the rug, at the head of the couch, making a bolster, and,
over that, the one she had had at her back.
'No down pillows or linen sheets allowed in a bush camp-out, my lady
Biddy,' he said with a laugh, a half timorous glance at his wife, but
her answering smile reassured him.
'You'll never sleep on a sweeter bed,' he said, sniffing the resinous
fragrance of the grass-tree tops. He would not let her help him with
the upper blankets when she wished to lend a hand.
'No, this camp is my own show. Go and look at the scenery until I've
got our wigwam in order.'
And she submissively obeyed.
Against the other side of the rock wall, the black boys had built a
second fire. The horses were hobbled and grazing along the green border
of the creek. The buggy propped up, was covered with a tarpaulin. The
pack-bags had disgorged their contents. A miscellaneous heap of camp
properties lay on the ground. And now, Cudgee's axe was at work again,
stripping a section of bark from a gum tree, for what purpose Lady
Bridget did not divine.
She walked down to the creek and stood among the rocks at its edge. She
had expected a rippling stream, and, to her disappointment, saw only a
broad strip of dry sand, along which Moongarr Bill was mooching, a
spade in his hand.
'What are we going to do for water?' she exclaimed.
'Dig for it, my ladyship,' answered Moongarr Bill. 'That's one of the
upside-down things in 'Stralia. Here's two of them--mighty queer, come
to think of it--the rivers that run underground and the cherries that
grow with their stones outside.'
Lady Bridget observed that she was already acquainted with that
oft-quoted botanical phenomenon. In her rides around Leichardt's Town
she had been shown and had tasted the disagreeable little orange berry
which has a hard green knob at the end of it and is, for some ironical
reason, called a cherry. She also told Moongarr Bill that in England
she had seen a dowser searching for hidden springs by means of a forked
hazel twig carried in front of him which pointed downwards where there
was water and asked why Australians didn't adopt a similar method. At
which Moongarr Bill laughed derisively, and said he did not hold with
any such hanky-panky.
'Bad luck, Biddy,' McKeith said behind her. 'If there had been the
proper amount of rain in these last three or four months, we'd have had
the one thing that's wanting now to make this the ideal camp I've had
on the top of my fancy--a running creek of pure water. But never mind
--the water's there, though you can't see it. . . . That's got it,
For already the sand was darkening and moisture was oozing in the hole
Moongarr Bill had been digging, and which he widened gradually into a
respectable pool of water. When it had settled down, all the billies
were filled and the horses driven to it, whinnying for a drink.
Lady Bridget watched the evening meal being prepared between the two
fires--only watched, for she was sternly forbidden to set hand to it.
'No canned goods, nor cooked food,' McKeith said, were allowed at this
lay-out. Moongarr Bill was first-class at frying steak. He himself was
going to boil the quart-pot tea and would give Biddy a demonstration in
johnny-cakes, made bush fashion at their own camp fire. The sheet of
bark had been cut into sections--one sub-divided into small squares to
serve as plates. The inside looked clean as paint, and smelled of
Mother Nature's still-room. Colin mixed the flour and water upon the
larger sheet and worked up a stiff dough. He kneaded it, slapped it
between his broad palms, cut it and baked the cakes in the ashes; then,
butter being the only luxury permitted, he split them and buttered
them; and Lady Bridget found in due time that not even the lightest
Scotch scones taste better than bush johnny-cakes.
Quart pot tea, likewise--made also in true bush fashion. First the
boiling of the billy--Colin's own particular billy, battered and
blackened from much usage--half the battle, he explained, in brewing
bush tea. Then, regulation handfuls of tea and brown store sugar thrown
in at the precise boiling moment. Now the stirring of the frothing
liquid with a fresh gum-twig. Then the blending and the cooling of it--
pouring the beverage from one quart pot into another, and finally into
the pannikins ready for the drinking.
Proudly, round the rock-flank of the hummock, Moongarr Bill brought
fried steak and potatoes steaming in a clean tin dish and done to a
turn, then went to cook more for himself at his own camp. They ate off
the bark plates. Salt, sugar and mustard came out of small ration bags.
McKeith produced black-handled knives and forks--the last a
concession. And good to taste were the fizzling johnny-cakes and the
strong, sweet, milkless tea.
Such was Lady Bridget's real marriage feast.
They were hungry, yet they dallied over the repast. It was the most
delicious food she had ever tasted, Bridget said. They made little
jokes. He was entranced by her happiness. Joyously she compared this
banquet with others she had eaten in great houses and European
restaurants, which were the last word in luxury. Oh! how she loved the
dramatic contrast of it. Nature was supreme, glorious. . . . Oh no, no!
never could she hanker after that which she had left behind--for ever.
Because, if ever she were to go back again to the old life, she would
be an ugly dried-up old woman for whom the smart world would have no
further use. . . .
Then suddenly she became quiet, and busied herself in the tent, while
McKeith took out his pipe and smoked in ruminative bliss. When she came
back she had no more talk of contrasts or of her old life, no more
fantastic outbursts. Indeed, there seemed to have come over her a mood
of sweet sobriety, of blushing, womanly shyness.
'Mayn't I be your squaw and help you to wash up?' she said, when he
collected the tin pots and pannikins and proceeded to get the camp
shipshape. No, she was not to stir a finger towards the dirty work. It
was HIS job to-night. Another camping-out time she might play the squaw
if she liked. She was not on in this act.
He amused her greatly by his tidy bush methods. The billies were
refilled, the ration-bags laid ready for the morning.
Now darkness had fallen. He put more logs on the fire, and the flames
blazed up. Then he made up a little pile of johnny-cakes that he had
not buttered, and covered it with the bark plates. 'We shall have to
make an early start, and there'll be no time to bake fresh ones--and
no more use for these things,' he said. The square of bark on which he
had mixed the dough was in his hands and he was about the fling it
among the bushes, but she stopped him.
'No--don't throw it away. . . . I--I want it for a keepsake, Colin.'
He stared at her in surprise. The red flames threw a strange glow on
her face, and made her eyes look very bright.
'My dearest! A sheet of bark!' Then a great light broke on him. The
strip of bark dropped from his hands. His arms went out and enfolded
the small woman, lifting her almost from the ground as he crushed her
against his breast and kissed her lips with the first passionate
lover's kisses he had ever given her. . . . 'Oh, my dear--my
sweetheart!' He gave a big, tremulous laugh. . . . 'There was never any
woman in the world like you. . . . To think of your caring about just a
sheet of bark!'
'You made me my first johnny-cakes upon it. . . . And to-night is the
beginning of our married life--and oh, Colin, it is the first time I
have felt really married to you, and I want a bit of the bush to
remember it by.'
He kissed her again. . . . The miracle was accomplished. He seemed to
have no words in which to say all that filled his heart.
The night sounds of the bush stirred the vast silence. For the first
time, Lady Bridget heard the wail of the curlew--a long note, weirdly
melancholy. It startled her out of her husband's arms. There were
uncanny swishings of wings in the great gum tree on the other side of
the creek. And now the clanking of the horses' hobbles which had been
dilatory, intermittent, became sharply recurrent. A shout from Moongarr
Bill cut short the monotonous corroboree tune which the two black boys
had been singing at their camp some little distance away.
'My word, I believe YARRAMAN* break him hobble!'
At which the boys scampered off through the grass, and presently came
the cracking of a stock whip among the trees.
'It's all right, Moongarr Bill's after them,' said McKeith, as his
bride released herself from his arms. 'But if you don't mind darling.
I'd better just see if anything has started the beasts.'
Lady Bridget watched him disappear round the knoll. The curlews went on
wailing, and as if in answer a night owl sent forth his portentous HOOT
--HOOT!. . . Apparently nothing was much amiss with the horses; they
had quieted down again. Lady Bridget picked up the strip of bark and
carried it in her arms into the tent, laughing to herself as she did
'Only a sheet of bark! What a fool I am--But it's quite appropriate,
She put it beside her dressing-bag, and then went out once more into
the night. Through the interlacing gum branches she saw a great coppery
disk, and the moon rose slowly to be a lamp in her bridal chamber. How
wonderful the stars were!. . . There was the Southern Cross with its
pointers, and the Pleiades. And that bright star above the tops of the
trees, which seemed to throw a distinct ray of light, must be
Venus. . . . The moon was high enough to cast shadows--black--distorted.
The low clumps of shrubs beyond the carpet of grass looked like strange
couched beasts. . . .
As she stood by the rocks at the creek edge, she heard her husband
speaking to Moongarr Bill, who seemed to be walking down along the
'Horses all right, Bill?'
'Oh, ay--just a possum up a tree gev Julius Caesar a start. . . . Been
digging a decent bath-hole for the ladyship in the morning, boss.
There's plenty there.'
'I wish it was as near the surface at Moongarr, Bill. We shall have our
work cut out making new bores, if the dry weather lasts.'
'My word, it's no joke going down three thousand feet. Amazing queer
the amount of water running underground on this dried-up old earth.'
'But we can always strike it, Bill; no matter how dried up the outside
looks, there's the living spring waiting to be tapped. And how's that
in human nature too, Bill. Same idea, eh?'
Moongarr Bill emitted a harsh grunt.
'My best girl chucked me a month back, boss, and as for your darned
sentiment and poetry, and sech-like--well, I ain't takin' any just at
'Bad luck, Bill! Struck a dead-head that time, eh?. . . Well,
'Good-night, boss--and good luck to you. I reckon your spring ain't a
dead-head, anyway. . . . Say, Mr McKeith, me and the boys are shifting
our fire over to the other side of the creek. . . . Keep the 'osses
from hevin' any more of their blessed starts. . . . Handier for gettin'
them up in the morning.'
Lady Bridget McKeith had been married about a year and a quarter.
Winter was now merging into spring. But it was not a bounteous spring.
That drear spectre of drought hung over the Never-Never Land.
Lady Bridget stood by the railing of the veranda at Moongarr, looking
out for two expected arrivals at the head-station--that of her
husband, who had been camping out after cattle--and of the mailman--
colloquially, Harry the Blower--who this week was to bring an English
Perhaps the last arrival seemed to her at the moment most important of
the two. The bush wife had long since begun to feel a sort of home
sickness for English news. Yet, had you asked her, she would have told
you that barbarism still had a greater hold than civilisation.
There did not, however, appear to be much of the barbarian about Lady
Bridget. She still looked like an old picture in the high-waisted
tea-gown of limp yellow silk that she had put on early for dinner, and
she still trailed wisps of old lace round her slender shoulders. There
was the same touzle of curly hair, like yellow-brown spun glass or
filaments of burnished copper, which was shining now in the westering
sun. The finely-modelled brows and shadowy eyes were as beautiful as
when Colin McKeith had first beheld his goddess stepping on to
But for all that, a change had taken place in her--a different one
from the indefinable yet significant change which is felt in almost
every woman after marriage. There is usually in the young wife's face
an expression of fulfilment, of deepened experience--a certain
settled, satisfied look. And this was what was lacking in Lady
Bridget's face. The restless soul within seemed to be peering out
through hungry eyes.
She could see nothing human from the veranda except the blue-smocked
figure of Fo Wung, the Chinaman, at work in his vegetable garden by the
lagoon. There was one large water-hole and a succession of small ones,
connected by water-courses, now dry, and meandering from a gully, which
on the eastern side broke the hill against which Moongarr head-station
was built. The straggling gum forest, interspersed with patches of
sandal-wood and mulga, that backed the head-station, stopped short at
the gully, and beyond, stretched wolds of melancholy gidia scrub.
Looking up from the end of the veranda, Lady Bridget could see an
irregular line of grey-brown boulders, jagged and evidently of volcanic
origin, marking the line of gully. These gave a touch of romantic
wildness to the otherwise peaceful scene.
Lady Bridget's gaze went along a track skirting the gidia scrub, and
crossing the lower end of the gully near the lagoon, to the great plain
which spread in front of the head-station. Except for some green trees
by the lagoon, a few ragged belts of gum and sandal-wood or single
isolated trees dotted about, the plain was unwooded to the horizon.
There were also silhouetted upon the sky the grotesque-looking sails of
one or two windmill-pumps. In the foreground the plain was intersected
by lines of grey fencing, within which browsed straggling herds of lean
cattle, mostly along the curve of the lagoon.
Neither plain nor lagoon formed altogether pleasing objects of
contemplation just now, for they spoke eloquently of the threatened
drought. When Lady Bridget had come up a bride, the plain had been
fairly green. The sandal-wood blossoms were out and wild flowers
plentiful. The lagoon was then flush with the grass, and its water, on
which white, pink and blue lilies floated, had reflected the vegetation
at its edge. Now the lagoon had shrunk and the water in the gully was
in places a mere trickle. Of course, the trees were there--ti-tree,
flooded gum, and so forth--but they looked brown and ragged. One
standing by itself, a giant white cedar, which in spring was a mass of
white and mauve bloom and in winter of scarlet berries, had a wide
strip of brown mud between it and the water that had formerly laved its
Lady Bridget had thought that the rocky gully, the lagoon and the vast
plain made as pretty a landscape as she had ever seen, when she had
first looked upon it in the early morn after her homecoming. Now, as
she paced up and down the veranda--for she was in a restless mood--
her mind went back to that bridal homecoming. They had not arrived at
the head-station till after dusk, but it had been visible from the
plain a long way off, and she had examined it with ardent curiosity
through her field-glasses in the clear light of sunset.
She had seen a collection of rough buildings backed by the forest, and
from different points of view, as they drew nearer, had made out that
the three principal ones formed three sides of a square. Two of these--
the side wings--were old and of primitive construction--slab walls,
bark roofs, and low verandas, overgrown with creepers. Colin explained
that these were the Old Humpey--as he called the original dwelling
house--and the kitchen and store building opposite. Lately, the New
House had been put up at right angles with the old buildings, and
fronting the plain. It had been begun before his trip south and
practically finished during his absence. Colin was very proud of the
It was made of sawn wood and had a high-pitched roof of corrugated
zinc, turned to gold by the sunset rays upon it. There was a deep
veranda all round the New House, and it was much taller than the wings,
being raised on blood-wood piles, that had been tarred to keep off
white ants, and with a flight of wooden steps leading up to the
The details of Moongarr head-station became familiar enough later to
its new mistress. Besides the dwelling houses were various huts and
outbuildings. The stock-yards lay on a piece of level ground behind at
the side of the gully, and between the yards and the House stood a
small slab and bark cottage--the Bachelors' Quarters.
Even though glorified by the sunset, it had given Lady Bridget a little
shock to see how crude and--architecturally speaking--unlovely was
her new home. But her Celtic imagination was stirred by the weirdness
of the grey-green gum forest, and of the mournful gidia scrub, framing
Then, as dusk crept closer, and the great plain, along which the tired
horses plodded, became one illimitable shadow out of which rose strange
sounds of beasts and eerie night cries of birds, the spell of the
wilderness renewed itself and she felt herself enveloped in world-old
She remembered how the lights of the head-station against the forest
blackness had looked like welcoming torches and how she had roused
herself out of her weariness at the last spurt of the equally weary
buggy horses. Then the jolt in the dark over the sliprails, the slow
strain of the wheels up the hill, the cracking of Moongarr Bill's
stock-whip, and the sound of long drawn COO-EES. Also of dogs barking,
of men running forward. Then how Colin had lifted her down and half
carried her into the parlour. She remembered her dazed glance round and
the rushing thought of how she could soften its ugliness. Yet it had
looked welcoming. A log fire blazing, the table spread, a Chinese cook
in baggy blue garments--pigtail flowing; a Malay boy; her bewildered
question--was there no woman in the establishment? Then Colin's
strident call from the veranda--'Mrs Hensor. Where's Mrs Hensor!' And
the appearance presently of Florrie Hensor--youngish, tall, a full
figure; black hair, frizzed and puffed, a showy face, red cheeks,
redder lips, rather sullen, flashing dark eyes--who had received Lady
Bridget almost as if she had been her equal, and of whom the bride had
at once made an enemy by her frigidly haughty response. From the first
moment, Lady Bridget had disliked Mrs Hensor. But she had felt a vague
attraction towards the little yellow-headed, blue-eyed boy clinging to
Mrs Hensor's skirts. As for any uneasiness on the score of Steadbolt's
insolent insinuations, she had absolutely dismissed that from her mind.
Yes--that bridal homecoming--how strange it had seemed! How rough