Part 5 out of 7
thanks to those murderous brutes keeping back the drays--and the
muster has to be stopped for the same reason. I won't answer for when I
can be back.' . . . As she made no answer, he asked sharply: 'Do you
'Yes, of course. I have no doubt, Colin, that you'll find it all highly
stimulating. And perhaps you will be able to shoot somebody with a
clear conscience, which will be more stimulating still. Really Mr
Maule, you are lucky to have come in for a civil war--I heard that in
South America that was your particular interest. Do you carry civil
wars about with you? Only, there's nothing very romantic in fighting
for mere freedom of contract--it seems so obvious that people should
be free to make or decline a contract. I wonder which side you would
Her levity called forth an impatient ejaculation from McKeith.
'I'm afraid in my wars it's generally been what your husband would
consider the wrong side,' said Maule with a laugh. 'I've usually fought
with the rebels.'
'Then you'd better not go to Breeza Downs. You'd better stop and fight
for me,' exclaimed Bridget.
'That's just what I was about to propose your friend should do,' said
McKeith in hard deliberate tones. He looked straight at his wife--
shoulders and jaws squared, eyes like flashing steel under the grim
brows. The expression of his face gave Bridget a little sense of shock.
She raised herself abruptly, and her eyes flashed pride and defiance
'How very considerate of you, Colin--if Mr Maule LIKES to be disposed
of in that way. HE is to be allowed freedom of contract I presume,
though the shearers are not.'
'You needn't be afraid that I shall strike, Lady Bridget,' laughed
Maule. 'It will suit my general principles to keep out of the
scrimmage. I don't know anything about the rights and wrongs of your
labour question, but I confess that, speaking broadly, my sympathies
are usually rather with Labour than with Capital.'
'Capital!' echoed McKeith derisively. 'It's blithering irony to talk of
us Leura squatters as representing capital. We're all playing a sort of
battledore and shuttlecock game--tossed about between drought and
plenty--boom and slump. A kick in the beam and one end is up and the
other end down. There's Windeatt, who will be ruined if his wool-shed
is destroyed and his shearing spoiled. No rain, and the banks would
foreclose on most of us. Take myself. Two years ago the skies were all
smiling on my fortunes. This last year, it's as if the hosts of heaven
had a down on me.'
'The stars in their courses fought against Sisera,' murmured Lady
'I'm Sisera, am I?' He gave her a fierce look and crossed to the
veranda-railing, where he began cutting tobacco into the palm of his
hand. 'Well, there is something in that. But the stars have never
licked me yet. Sisera was a coward, or they wouldn't have DOWNED him.'
'Ah, but there was Jael to be reckoned with,' put in Maule softly.
'Jael!' McKeith plugged his pipe energetically. 'The more fool Sisera
for not giving Jael a wide berth. He should have gone his way and kept
her out of his affairs.'
A hard little laugh rang from the depths of the squatter's chair. Maule
got up and strolled into the sitting-room, where he seemed engrossed in
the pictures on the wall. Just then Cudgee, the black boy, hailed
McKeith from the foot of the steps.
'That fellow pollis man want'ing Massa. He sit down long-a Old Humpey.'
McKeith looked into the parlour. 'My wife will entertain you, Maule. I
daresay you've got plenty to talk about. I'll see you later.'
Presently they heard him outside speaking to the Police Inspector.
'Come into the office, Harris, and have a smoke and a glass of grog.'
Lady Bridget and Willoughby Maule were alone again. She got up from the
long chair, and as she did so her cigarette case dropped from her lap.
He picked it up and it lay on his open palm, the diamonds and rubies of
her maiden initials glistening on the gold lid. They looked at each
other across it.
'I gave you this,' he said, 'and you have kept it--used it?'
He seemed to gloat over the bauble.
Her fingers touched his hand as she took the case from him, and he gave
a little shiver of pleasure.
'Let me have it; I want another cigarette.' She selected two and gave
him one of them.
They moved to the divan near the fireplace, where some red embers
remained of the log of sandalwood. Its perfume lingered faintly in the
'That's good,' he said. 'It's like you; the only thing in the
god-forsaken desert that IS like you.'
'Oh, you don't know me--now.'
'Don't I! Well, your husband has given me the chance of knowing you--
better--and I warn you that I shall not scruple to avail myself of the
She shook her head dubiously. 'Give me a light.'
He stooped and lit his own cigarette, then, bending, held its tip to
her. They both inhaled a few whiffs in silence. Presently, he said:
'I find it difficult to understand McKeith.'
'Don't try. You wouldn't succeed. I observe,' she added, 'that you must
have become rather friendly at Tunumburra?'
'Oh, yes. I can generally get on with open-air men. Besides, I wanted
him to like me. I wanted him to ask me here.'
'Well--and what do you thing of it, now that you are here?'
'Great heavens! What do you imagine that I should think of it! The
whole thing seems to me the most ghastly blunder--the most horrible
anomaly. You--in these surroundings! Married to a man so entirely
beneath you, and with whom you don't get on at all.'
'You have no right to say that.'
'The thing is obvious; though you tried to carry it off before dinner.
Your manner to each other; the lack of courtesy and consideration in
him; his leaving you. . . .'
'Stop,' she interrupted. 'There's one thing you MUST understand. I
don't mind what you say about yourself--I want to hear that--but I
can't allow you to criticise my husband.'
'I beg your pardon. It isn't easy in the conditions to preserve the
social conventions. I will try to obey you. At any rate, you allow me
to be frank about myself. . . . It was sweet of you to keep this--more
than I could have dared hope for.'
He fingered tenderly the cigarette case on her lap.
'I suppose I ought to have sent it back to you. But I didn't want to.
You see it was not like an engagement ring.'
'No, worse luck.'
'Why, worse luck?'
'The ring would have been the outward and visible sign of an inward and
spiritual bond. If you had been really engaged to me--formally,
officially engaged, you couldn't have thrown me over so easily.'
'I--throw you over! Is it quite fair to put it that way?'
'No, I admit that. Let us be honest with each other--this once.'
'This once--very well--but not at this moment. I daresay there will
be time for a talk by and by.'
'I wait your pleasure.'
'There are some things I should like to understand,' she went on,
'--about you--about me, it doesn't matter which. And, after all, I only
want to know about you out of a sort of perverse curiosity.'
'That's so like you. You always managed to infuse a bitter drop into
your sweetness. And you COULD be so adorably sweet. . . If only I could
ever have felt sure of you.'
'Where would have been the use? We never could spend an hour together
without hurting or annoying each other. It's a very good thing for us
both that neither cared enough to make any real sacrifice for the
'There you wrong me,' he exclaimed. 'I did care--I cared intensely.
The touch of your hand--the very sweep of your dress thrilled every
nerve in me. I never in all my life loved a woman as I loved you. That
last day when you walked out of my rooms. . . .'
'Where I never ought to have gone. Fancy the properly brought-up
English girl you used to hold up to me doing such a shocking thing as
to visit you alone in your chambers! . . . Oh! Is that Colin back
For Maule had started visibly at the sound of quick steps mounting to
the veranda, and McKeith's towering figure appeared in the doorway,
looking at them.
Lady Bridget turned her head, her cigarette in her hand, and glanced up
at his face. What she saw in it might have made a less reckless or less
innocent woman feel uneasy. She was sure that he must have heard that
last speech of hers about visiting Maule in his chambers. Well, she
didn't care. Besides Colin hadn't the smallest right to resent any
action of hers before her marriage. . . She did not turn a hair. Maule
admired her composure.
'BON SANG NE PEUT MENTIR,' he thought to himself, and wished they had
been talking in French.
'You look as grim as the statue of the Commander,' said Lady Bridget.
'What is the matter?'
'Lady Bridget and I have been exchanging unconventional reminiscences,'
put it Maule with forced lightness.
McKeith took no notice of either remark, but strode across the room to
the roll-top escritoire, where he usually wrote his letters when in his
wife's company. He extracted a bundle of papers from one of the pigeon
'This is what I came for. Sorry to have interrupted your
reminiscences,' and he went out again, passing along the back veranda.
Maule had got up and was standing at the fireplace. Lady Bridget rose
'I'm going to bed. We keep early hours in the Bush.'
'What! Already!' he exclaimed in dismay.
'I was up at six this morning. Well, I hope you won't be too
uncomfortable with the white ants in the Old Humpey--they are
perfectly harmless. Your room is next to the office, as I daresay
you've discovered. And you'll find Colin there I suppose, with your
friend the Police-Inspector.'
'Don't call that man Harris my friend. We've had one or two scraps at
each other already. He was pleased to take it for granted that I'm what
he calls a "new chum," and didn't like my shewing him that I knew
rather better than he does what police administration should be in
Lady Bridget nodded. 'Then we're both under ban of the Law. I DETEST
Harris. . . . Good-night.' And she flitted through the French window
without giving him her hand.
The station seemed in a state of unquietude till late into the night.
The lowing of the tailing-mob in the yard was more prolonged than
usual. And the horses were whinnying and answering each other down by
the lagoon as though there were strangers about. Lady Bridget, lying
awake and watching through her uncurtained windows the descent of the
Southern Cross towards the horizon, and the westward travelling of a
moon just out of its first quarter, could hear the men's voices on the
veranda of the Old Humpey--that of Ninnis and the Police Inspector;
Maule seemed to have retired to his own room.
McKeith was evidently busy upon preparations for his absence from the
station. He must have been cleaning guns and pistols. There were two or
three shots--which startled and kept her in a state of tension. At
last she heard the interchange of good-nights, and the withdrawal of
Ninnis and Harris to the Bachelor's Quarters. Finally, her husband came
to his dressing-room--not along the front veranda, as would have been
usual, but by the back one, through the bathroom. Even this deviation
from habit seemed significant of his mood--he would not pass her
window. He moved about for a time as if he were busy packing. Then came
silence. She imagined him on the edge of the camp bed, so seldom used,
smoking and ruminating.
Whiffs from his pipe came through the cracks of the door between the
two rooms, and were an offence to her irritated nerves. She had grown
accustomed to his tobacco, but, as a rule, he did not smoke the last
thing at night. He had seemed to regard his wife's chamber as a
tabernacle, enshrining that which he held most sacred, and would never
enter it until he was cleansed from the grime and dust of the stockyard
and cattle camp, and had laid aside the associations of his working
day. That attitude had appealed to all that was idealistic in both
their natures, and had kept green the memory of their honeymoon. It
angered her that to-night, of all nights, he should disregard it.
In personal details, she was intensely fastidious, and at some trouble
and cost had maintained in her intimate surroundings a daintiness
almost unknown out-back. Her room was large, and much of its
furnishings symptomatic of the woman of her class--the array of
monogrammed, tortoise-shell backed brushes and silver and gold topped
boxes and bottles, the embroidered coverlet of the bed, the flowered
chintz and soft pink wall paper, the laced cambric garments and
silk-frilled dressing gown hanging over a chair. When service lacked,
and there was no one to wash and iron her cambric and fine linen, she
contrived somehow that the supply should not fail, and brought upon
herself some ill-natured ridiculed in consequence. The wives of the
Leura squatters thought her 'stuck-up' and apart from their kind. If
they had known how much she wanted sometimes to throw herself into
their lives--as she had thrown herself into the lives of her East-End
socialistic friends! But the stations were few and far between, and the
neighbours--such as they were--left her alone.
Letting her mind drift along side-tracks, she resented now there having
come no suggestion from the Breeza Downs women that she should
accompany her husband and share the benefits of police protection, or--
which appealed to her far more--the excitement of what might be going
on there. Of course, though, there was nothing for her to be nervous
about here--she wished there might have been. Any touch of dramatic
adventure would be welcome in the crude monotony of her life.
But the adventure promised to be of a more personal kind.
Suddenly, she jumped out of bed and softly slipped the bolt of the door
into her husband's dressing room. She did it on a wild impulse. She
felt that she could not bear him near her to-night. He should see that
she was not his chattel. . . . But, perhaps, he did not want to
come. . . . Well, so much the better. In any case, she wanted to show him
that she did not want him. She wondered if he would venture. . . . She
wondered if he did really care. . . .
He appeared in no hurry to test her capacity for forgiveness. . . . Or
it might be that the minutes went slowly--laden as they were with
momentous thought. She lay in a tumult of agitation, her heart beating
painfully under the lawn of her nightgown. She had a sense of gasping
wonderment. She felt, as Colin had felt, that something tremendous had
happened--and with such bewildering suddenness--altering all the
conditions between them.
Yet, through the pain and bewilderment, her whole being thrilled with
an excitement that was almost intoxicating--like the effect of an
insidious drug, or the fumes of heady wine. She knew it was the old
craving for sensation, the fatal O'Hara temperament awake and
clamouring. Try as she would--and she did try in a futile fashion--
she could not shut off the impression of Willoughby Maule--the sombre
ardour in his eyes, the note of suppressed passion in his voice. There
was no doubt that this unexpected meeting had restarted vibrations, and
that his influence was a force to be reckoned with still.
If Colin had acted differently--if he had not behaved so brutally to
those poor blacks--if his manner to her had not been so hard and
overbearing. And then his leaving her alone like that with Willoughby
Maule! Of course, he was jealous. He had jumped at conclusions. What
right had he to do so? What could he know? He must suspect her of
horrible things. His questions had been insultingly dictatorial. Now,
he wanted to shew her that he flung her off. He would not put out a
finger to hold her to him. Had he not said something like that before
their marriage! . . . It was abominable.
The whiffs of tobacco smoke came no more. He was moving about again.
She heard him in the bathroom. After a minute or two he came to the
door and tried to open it.
'Biddy,' he said. Then in a deep-toned eager whisper, 'Mate!'
She sat up in bed; she had the impulse to go and open the door, but
some demon held her back. She lay down again on her pillow. . . . The
bed had creaked. . . . He must have known that she was awake. . . . He
waited a minute or two without speaking . . . knocked very softly. . . .
She was silent. . . . Again she heard him moving about in his
dressing-room, and, after a little while, she heard him go out, passing
along the back veranda. He did not return. It was dawn before Bridget
dropped into the heavy morning slumber, which follows a night of
FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF COLIN MCKEITH AND OTHERS
When Lady Bridget awoke, it was then near the hour at which they
ordinarily breakfasted. Finding, when she had dressed, that all was
silent in the next room, she looked in.
It was empty, the bed had not been slept in, but there were signs that
McKeith had got into his riding clothes and that he had packed a
Maule was waiting in the dining-room, and Maggie, the serving maid,
gave a message from McKeith that he had had his breakfast at the
Bachelors' Quarters with Mr Harris and that they were both going to
start for Breeza Downs immediately.
Bridget made no pretence of breakfasting. She told Maule to forage for
himself, and, after swallowing a cup of coffee, made the excuse of
household business--to see if the Chinaman had put up his master's
lunch--if the water-bags were filled--what were to be the proceedings
of the day. She had a hope that McKeith might say something
conciliatory to her before he left. The remembrance of that disregarded
appeal--the word 'Mate' to which she had given no response, weighed, a
guilty load, upon her heart.
But she was sore and angry--in no mood to make any advance or stoop to
self-justification. He was outside the store, where Ninnis was weighing
rations for Harris, and McKeith's and the Police Inspector's horses,
ready saddled, with valises strapped on, were hitched to the paling.
Harris sulkily touched his helmet to Lady Bridget, but McKeith had his
back to her and seemed wholly absorbed in some directions he was
'You'll see to it, Ninnis, that six saddle-horses are kept ready to run
up, in case the Pastoralist Executive sends along any message that's
got to be carried down the river--there's that lot of colts Zack Duppo
broke in, they'll do. And you can get in Alexander and Roxalana from
the Bore pasture, in case the buggy should be wanted--and one or two
of the old hacks that are spelling out there. Of course, her ladyship's
horse mustn't be touched, and you'll see Mr Maule has a proper mount if
he wants it--the gentleman who'll be here for a bit--a friend of her
ladyship's from England--you understand. You'll keep on those new men
for the tailing mob, though I'm not sure they mightn't be Unionists in
disguise. Anyway, Moongarr Bill is a match for them. . . . And you'll
just mind--the lot of you--that it's my orders to stockwhip blacks
off the place, and that if any Unionist delegates show their faces
through the sliprails they're not allowed to stop five minutes inside
the paddock fence.'
'Right you are, Boss,' responded Ninnis, and there was a change of
grouping, and McKeith strode out to the yard to look into some other
matter, all without sending a glance to his wife.
Presently Moongarr Bill came up, chuckling mysteriously, 'Say, Boss, I
believe there's one of them dashed organising chaps coming down now
from the top sliprails.' And as he spoke, a man rode to the fence,
harmless enough looking, of the ordinary bush type.
He was about to get off his horse in the assured manner of a bushman
claiming the usual hospitality, but McKeith--big and grimly menacing--
advanced and held up his hand.
'No, wait a bit. Don't unsaddle. I'd like first to know your business.'
'I'm an Organiser,' said the man defiantly, 'and I'm not ashamed of my
job. Trades Unions are lawful combinations, and I've come to have a
talk with your men. . . .' He ran on with professional volubility. 'My
object in going round your district is to bring about a peaceful
compromise between employers and employed--Do you see. . . .?'
'Stop,' thundered McKeith. 'I'd have you understand that there's an
organiser on this station already. I'M the Organiser here, and I'm not
taking stock in Trades Unions at present.'
'But you'll let me have a talk with your men?--No harm in that.'
'No, you don't,' said McKeith.
'Well, I can spell my horse an hour or two, can't I?'
'No, you can't. You'll ride off my station straight away.'
'I've been off tucker since yesterday,' said the man, who seemed a
poor-spirited creature. 'Anyhow, Boss, you'll give me something to
'Yes, I'll do that.' The laws of bush hospitality may not be violated.
Food must be given even to an enemy--provided he be white. McKeith
called to the Chinaman to bring out beef and bread. A lump of salt junk
and a hunk of bread were handed to the traveller.
'Now you be off, and eat that outside my paddock,' said McKeith. 'See
those gum trees over there?--You can go and organise the gum trees.'
The man scowled, and weakly threatened as he half turned his horse's
'Look here, Boss, you'll find yourself the worse for this.'
'Shall I. In what way, can you tell me?'
'You'll find that your grass is burned, I daresay.'
'I'm obliged to you for the hint. I'll take precautions, and I'll begin
by shepherding you straight off my run,' said McKeith. 'Harris, if
you're ready now, come along here.'
The Police Inspector stepped off the store veranda, where he had been
standing, a majestic and interested onlooker. The Organiser--after
all, a mere man of straw, crumpled under his baneful stare.
'You can't give me in charge--you've got no warrant--I've done
nothing to be given in charge for.'
'Some of your people have, though, and here's a bit of information for
any skunk among your cowardly lot,' said McKeith. 'I've offered one
hundred pounds reward for the scoundrels who cut my horses' throats and
robbed my drays on the road to Tunumburra. There's a chance for you, if
you're mean enough to turn informer.'
'I know nothing about that,' said the Organiser.
'Eh? Well, if my grass is burned, I shall know who did it, and so will
this Police Inspector. And I am a magistrate, and will have you
arrested. Get on your horse, Harris, we'll start at once, and ride
alongside this chap till he's over my boundaries.'
Harris unhitched his horse and mounted, but not sooner than McKeith was
he in the saddle. Then McKeith looked at last towards the veranda where
Bridget stood, white, defiant, with Maule at the French window of the
dining-room just behind her.
McKeith took off his hat, made her a sweeping bow, which might have
included his guest, turned his horse's head and rode in the direction
of the sliprails, Harris and the sulky Organiser slightly at his rear.
Bridget never forgot that impression of him--the dogged slouch of his
broad shoulders--the grim set of his head, the square, unyielding look
of his figure, as he sat his horse with the easy poise of a bushman who
is one with the animal under him--in this case, a powerfully made,
nasty tempered roan, one of Colin's best saddle-horses--which seemed
as dogged tempered as its master.
Maule showed tact in tacitly assuming the unexpected necessity for
McKeith's abrupt departure--also that he had already bidden good-bye
to his wife.
Lady Bridget made no comment upon her husband's scant courtesy to his
guest when she rejoined Maule after an hour or two spent in housewifely
business. They strolled about the garden, smoked cigarettes in the
veranda, she played and sang to him, and he brought out his cornet,
which he had carried in his valise, being something of a performer on
A demon of reckless gaiety seemed to have entered into Lady Bridget.
Watching McKeith disappear behind the gum trees, she had said to
herself:--'I can be determined, too. I have as strong a will as he
has. He did not choose to say one regretful word. He was too stubborn
to own himself in the wrong. He left me in what--if he believed his
suspicion to be true--must be a dangerous position for a woman--only
it shall not be dangerous to ME. I know exactly how far I am going--
exactly the amount of excitement I shall get out of it all. Neither
Willoughby nor he deserve an iota of consideration. I shall amuse
myself. So! No more . . . . But he can't know that. He has never
thought about ME. He has thought of nothing but his own cross-grained
pride and selfish egoism. No man of ordinary breeding or SAVOIR-FAIRE
would have gone off like that!'
She forgot in her condemnation of Colin to make allowance for the
primal nature of the man; for a certain kinship in him with the loftier
type of savage, whose woman must be his wholly, or else deliberately
relinquished to the successful rival, and into whose calculation the
subtleties of social jurisprudence would not naturally enter.
Nor did she remember at the moment that Maule had been described by her
own relatives as a person of neither birth nor breeding--a
fortune-hunter--not by any means a modern Bayard. He at least was a
man of the world, she thought, and would appreciate the situation. He
had lost that touch of unaccustomedness--she hardly knew how to
describe it--which had often irritated her in their former relation.
In their talk that day he seemed much more at home than she was in the
world she had once belonged to. He spoke of 'personages' with the ease
of familiar acquaintance. Apparently, he had got into quite the right
set--a rather political set, she gathered. He told her that he had
been pressed to stand for a well-nursed Liberal Constituency, and
implied that but for the catastrophe of his wife's death he would now
be seated in Parliament, with a fair prospect in the future of place
and distinction. Of course, it was the money which had done it, she
told herself, though he had undoubted cleverness, she knew, and, as he
pointed out, his experience in a particular South American republic--
very much to the fore just now in European diplomacy--stood to his
advantage. His marriage had given him opportunity. He alluded without
bad taste to his dead wife's generosity. She had left him her entire
fortune unfettered. He was now a rich man. He explained that she had
had none but very distant relations and that, otherwise, charitable
institutions would have benefited. She had been a very good woman, he
said--a woman with whom nine hundred out of a thousand decent men
would have been perfectly happy. He let it be inferred that he was the
thousandth man. His eyes, not his lips told her the reason why.
Their talk skimmed the surface of vital things--the new awakening in
England; the threatenings of a socialistic upheaval; his individual
aims and ideas--she recognised her own inspirations. He spoke of his
political ambitions. Suddenly she said:
'I wonder why you made the break of coming out to Australia--why you
did not stay in England and follow on your career?'
'There are bonds stronger than cart ropes which may drag a man by force
from the path he has marked out for himself. Surely you must
'Really, Mr Maule.'
'Why will you be so formal!' he interrupted impetuously. 'It is absurd.
Women nowadays always call men they know well by a PETIT NOM.'
'Do I know you well! I often think I never knew you at all.'
'That is what Lady Tallant used to say to me, latterly, about you and
myself--that we never really knew each other.'
'Oh, poor Rosamond! It makes me miserable to think of her. You became
'She was very nice to me when she came back from Leichardt's Land. And
besides, she was anxious for me to come out to Luke and help him a bit.
. . . She told me about your marriage. She knew I could settle to
nothing--of course, the world in general thought it was because of
that tragedy--my wife's death--and the child--you understand?'
Bridget nodded slowly.
'Lady Tallant knew the truth--that I was tormented by one ceaseless
longing--after the impossible. I fancy she thought that if I could
realise the impossibility, I might get over the longing. . . . But--
Bridget, it's no use pretending--I did try to do my duty. I think I
succeeded, to a certain extent, in making my wife happy--but there was
always the same gnawing regret. . . .'
'You must put all that out of your head,' she interrupted curtly.
'I cannot. A man doesn't love a woman like you, and, because she is
married to another man, put her out of his head--in two years or ten--
or Eternity, for that matter.'
She laughed joylessly. 'Eternity!' she scoffed.
They were in the veranda after luncheon, she swinging slowly in the
hammock, playing with a cigarette, he smoking likewise, scarcely
attempting to suppress the stormy feeling in his face and voice. For
her, the crude brown-grey landscape rose and fell with the motion of
the hammock, and jarred with the exotic memories he evoked. She had
been called back to the varied emotional interests of her girlhood, and
realised, in a rush, how deadly dull was life in the arid wastes of the
Never-Never. Nothing more exciting than to watch the great parched
plain, with the dry heat-haze upon it, getting browner every day, and
the shrinking lagoon and its ever widening border of mud. Nothing, when
she turned her eyes to right and left, but ragged gum trees and black
gidia forest. What a dead blank wilderness it was!'
She gave a little gasp as if for breath. He seemed to read her
'Do you remember Rome--and the Campagna, that first day we went to
Albano?--And our walk through the woods down to Lake Nei?--It was
then I first knew that I loved you.'
'Will--if you are going to stay here you mustn't talk like that. It's
not playing the game.' She spoke pleadingly.
'Does your husband play the game?' Maule retorted. 'Is it playing the
game to leave you here alone with me, when he must know--or at least,
guess--how things have been between us?--Do you think I didn't notice
yesterday that he suspected me--suspected us both? I should have been
a blind mole not to see by his face and manner how he felt. Upon my
soul, he would have no defence--if. . . .'
She stopped him with a gesture.
'I must ask you again not to discuss my relations with my husband; they
do not concern you.'
'Do they not!' And as she rose abruptly from the hammock, 'I beg your
pardon,' he added humbly, 'I will do my best not to offend again.'
He got up too and stood, his back against the veranda railings.
'Lady Bridget, you mustn't be angry with me. I suppose I am a little
off my balance, you must remember that this is--for me, a rather
'Shall we go for a ride?' she asked suddenly. 'I don't suppose you have
much idea of what a wild western station is like.'
'Oh, I'm fairly well acquainted with life on big pastures,' he answered
lightly, taking her cue. 'You would be surprised, perhaps, at the list
of my qualifications as an "out-back squatter."--I'm a bit of a
rancher--had one in the Argentine--a bit of a doctor--a bit of a
policeman--I was in charge once of a constabulary force out in British
Guiana. That's where I got a rise off Harris--a bit of a law breaker,
too--in fact a bit of everything. Yes, I should enjoy a ride round
here with you immensely.'
'Then do you mind looking for Mr Ninnis, the overseer, you know.'
'Yes, I know Ninnis. Had a yarn--as he'd say--with him last night
while your husband was talking to Harris. Ninnis doesn't get on well
with Harris--another point of sympathy. We're quite friends already.
Ninnis and I--he's been in South America, too.'
'You'll find him somewhere about the Bachelors' Quarters, and I'll go
and put on my habit,' she said.
Lady Bridget appeared as Maule and Ninnis were finishing saddling the
horses. Ninnis had stayed near the head station, and was keeping a
sharp look-out for bush fires, he said. Otherwise, there appeared to be
no elements of disquiet. Lady Bridget noticed with surprise that Ninnis
seemed to defer to Maule, which was not his usual attitude towards
strangers. She attributed this to a community of experiences in South
America, and also to Maule's undoubted knack of managing men.
They rounded the lagoon and skirted the gidia scrub. Maule was on a
Moongarr horse, Bridget rode a fiery little chestnut. Maule had already
had opportunity to admire the famous O'Hara seat. They had hunted
together once or twice on the Campagna, that winter when they had met
in Rome. It was difficult to avoid retrospect, but Bridget seemed
determined to keep it within conventional limits. They found plenty,
however, to talk about in their immediate surroundings. Perhaps it was
the effort to throw off the load on her heart that made Bridget gaily
confiding. She drew humorous pictures of the comic shifts, the almost
tragic hardships of life on the Leura--how she had been left
servantless--until Ninnis had got up Maggie from the Lower Leura--
when the Chinamen decamped during the gold rush. She described the
chivalrous SUNDOWNER who had on one occasion helped her through a
week's washing; and Zack Duppo the horsebreaker, whose Christmas
pudding had been a culinary triumph, and the loyalty of faithful Wombo,
who had done violence to all his savage instincts in acting as
house-servant until the advent of the Malay boy Kuppi. She told of her
first experience of a summer out West. The frying of eggs in the sun on
a sheet of corrugated zinc, so intense was the heat. The terror of
snakes, centipedes, scorpions. The plagues of flies and white ants.
Then how, during the servantless period, in utter loneliness and
Colin's enforced absence at the furthest out-station she had had an
attack of dengue fever, and no woman within forty miles of her.
'And your husband allowed this? But where was that barmaid-looking
person who seems to keep house here for stray gentlemen--and, who has
the yellow-headed and blue-eyed little boy?'
Bridget's lip curled.
'Mrs Hensor had accepted a temporary situation at an hotel in Fig Tree
Mount--the only time I've regretted her absence,' and the musical
laugh seemed to Maule to have acquired a note of exceeding bitterness.
'Perhaps you don't know,' she went on, 'that Mrs Hensor is a sort of
Helen of the Upper Leura--though unfortunately as yet no Paris has
carried her off--I wish there was one bold enough to do it. She had to
be asked to take a change of air because there was rivalry about her
between the buyer of a Meat Preserving Establishment and the chief
butcher at Tunumburra. Fair Helen scorned them both. Result: The two
buyers bought beasts elsewhere and, as you would understand, on a
cattle station, butchers may not be flouted. Though I daresay,' Lady
Bridget added with a shrug, 'if I could have had the butchers in the
house--I draw the line only at Harris--and had sung to them and
played up generally, I might have scored even off Mrs Hensor. But they
wouldn't come until after she had gone and there was no further danger
of a duel taking place outside the Bachelors' Quarters.'
Maule took her cue again and laughed as if the matter were one to jest
about. But as he looked round, his face did not suggest merriment. Nor
for that matter did the landscape. They were riding at the edge of the
immense sandy plain, patched with brown jaggled grass and parched
brambles and prickly lignum vitae--nothing to break the barren
monotony but clumps of stunted brigalow and gidia, a wind-mill marking
the site of an empty well with the few hungry-looking cattle near it.
Now they dipped into a scrub of dismal gidia.
'This is the most depressing country I have ever ridden through,' he
'You don't know what a difference three inches of rain makes,' she
answered. 'Then the grass is green, the creeks are running, and at this
time the dead brambles are covered with white flowers. But it doesn't
rain. There's the tragedy.'
'The tragedy is that you--you of all women should be wasting your
youth and beauty in this wilderness. How long is it going to last?'
She shrugged again, and for an instant turned her face up towards the
sky. 'You must ask the heavens?'
'Meaning, I presume, that like most of the Australian squatters, your
husband hasn't capital enough at his back to stand up against continued
'Precisely.' She looked at him, with her puzzling smile.
'But you couldn't have understood his position when you married him?'
'No, I didn't--altogether. But I should really like to remind you that
I am not in the witness box.'
'I think you owe me the truth!' he said, passionately.
'What do you call the truth?' she asked, reining in her horse and
meeting his eyes straight.
But she had to turn hers away before he answered, and he as well as
herself was conscious of the compelling effect his gaze had upon her.
'I could have made you marry me if I had been strong enough to
persist,' he said.
'Cannot any man do what he is strong enough to do--if he wishes it
enough to persist?'
'I should have put it this way. If I had thought less of you and more
of myself. But after what you said that day, when you jeered so
contemptuously at the kind of environment in which, THEN, I should have
had to place my wife--what could I do--except withdraw? But you
suffered, Bridget,' he went on vehemently. 'Not so much as I did--but
still you suffered. You thought of me--I felt it, and you must have
felt too, how continually I thought of you. I used to try and make you
think of me--dream of me. And I succeeded. Isn't that true?'
'Yes, it is true,' she answered in a low voice.
'Only lately, since I have been in the district, it has seemed to me
that the invisible wires have been set working afresh. Isn't that true
'Yes, it is true,' she said again, as if forced to the acknowledgment.
'Then, can there be any question of the bond between us? You see, it's
independent of time and space! for you WERE sorry--you DID care.
That's the truth you owe me. If after--after we parted in that
dreadful way, I had gone back, had thrown up everything, had said to
you, "Come with me ANYWHERE, let us be all in all to each other--on
the slopes of the Andes, on an island in the South Seas--you would
have come?" '
'I always told you,' she said with her puzzling smile, 'that the slopes
of the Andes appealed to me.'
'Peru would have been more picturesque than this, anyway. Is that all I
can get out of you--that grudging admission? Well, never mind, I am
satisfied. You have owned up to enough. I won't tease you now for more
'I have admitted too much,' she said gloomily. 'The curse of the
O'Hara's is upon me. Almost all of them have gambled with their lives,
and most of them have lost.'
She gave her horse the rein as she spoke, and they cantered on over the
plain. After that, she resolutely forbade sentiment.
Mr Ninnis was gratified by an invitation that evening to dine at the
Home, and came down in his best dark suit and his most genial mood.
Bridget sang. She had not been singing much lately. Colin's gloom over
the evil prospects of squatting on the Leura re-acted upon her spirits.
And besides, the piano had been attacked by white ants, and the tuner
had not been so far up the river for a long time. It was inspiring to
learn that Maule added to his gifts that of getting a piano into tune.
Ninnis promised to rummage among the tools for a key that would serve.
Ninnis had never admired Lady Bridget so much as he did this evening.
Certainly he thought her more flighty and incomprehensible than ever,
but he could not deny her fascination. It seemed quite natural to him
that she should be in high spirits at seeing an old friend from
England, who appeared to know all her people. Ninnis had taken
immensely to Maule. Beside Maule knew parts of the world where Ninnis
had been. It was curious to see the American-isms crop out. Ninnis
considered Maule a person of parts and of practical experience. He said
to himself that the Boss had done wisely in leaving Maule at the
head-station while they were short-handed. Maule showed great interest
in Bush matters--said he wanted to learn all he could about the
management of cattle--thought it not improbable that he might invest
money in Leichardt's Land. Ninnis agreed to show him round, and Maule
begged that he might be made useful--even offered to take a turn with
the tailing-mob, so that Moongarr Bill and the other stockmen might be
free to muster more cattle.
Nothing was heard of the Blacks during the next day or two, but one
morning Ninnis discovered that an old gun, which the station hands and
the black-boys were allowed to use on Sundays for shooting game in the
lagoon, had disappeared in the night. Circumstantial evidence pointed
to Wombo as the thief. Cudgee owned to having seen him skulking among
the Gully rocks. A deserted gunya was found near a lonely, half-dry
waterhole in the scrub, and there were rumours of a tribe of wild
blacks having passed towards the outlying country in the Breeza Downs
No news came, however, of either racial or labour warfare. McKeith sent
not a word of his doings, and Harry the Blower was not due yet on his
postal, fortnightly round.
McKeith had been gone a week, and the time of his absence seemed like
that sinister lull which comes after the sudden shock of an earthquake
and the tornado that follows upon it. Then, one day, something
All the men except the Chinamen were out. Moongarr Bill, Ninnis, and
the stockmen on the run, while Maule--a book and a sandwich in his
pocket--had gone herding with Joey Case and one of the extra hands.
A sense of mutual embarrassment had that day driven them apart. He had
been afraid of himself, and she too had felt afraid. During these seven
days she had rushed recklessly on as though impelled by a fatality,
never pausing to consider how near she might be to a precipice.
Whenever possible, she had ridden out with Maule and Ninnis, or with
Maule alone. She found relief from painful thoughts of Colin in the
excitement and emotion with which Maule's society provided her. She
went with him on several occasions behind the tailing-mob, though
ordinarily, she could not endure being at close quarters with cattle.
But it interested her to see Maule ride after and round up the wild
ones that escaped; to watch his splendid horsemanship which had the
flamboyant South-American touch--the suggestion of lariat and lasso
and ornate equipment, the picturesque element lacking in the Bush--all
harmonizing with his deep dark eyes and Southern type of good looks.
To-day, she had preferred to remain at home alone. She had been pulled
up with a startled sense of shock. Last evening when they were walking
together on the veranda he had begun again to make love to her, and in
still more passionate earnest--had held her hands--had tried to kiss
her. She had found herself giving way to the old romantic intoxication
--then had wrenched herself from him only just before the meeting of
At last, she had realized the strength of the glamour. She fought
against it; nevertheless, in imagination gave herself up to it, as the
opium-smoker or haschisch-eater gives himself up to the insidious
FANTASIA of his drug.
Yes, Bridget thought it was like what she had read of the effects of
some unholy drug--some uncanny form of hypnotism.
For she knew that she did not really love Maule--that her feeling for
him was unwholesome.
There was poison in it acting upon her affection for and trust in her
husband. Maule made subtle insinuations to McKeith's detriment,
injected doubts that rankled. There were no definite charges, though he
would hint sometimes at gossip he had heard in Tunumburra. But he would
convey to her in half words, looks, and tones that he had reason to
believe Colin unworthy of her--that her husband had led the life of an
ordinary bushman, and had fully availed himself of such material
pleasures as might have come to his hand. The veiled questions he asked
about Mrs Hensor and her boy, brought back a startled remembrance of
the scene outside the Fig Tree Mount Hotel and Steadbolt's vague
accusation. She had almost forgotten it--had never seriously thought
about it. Yet now she knew the midge-bite had festered.
Could it be that there was a chapter in Colin's life of which she knew
nothing? Was it not too much to believe that he had always been
faithful to his ideal of the camp fire? Ah! Maule would have jeered at
that--would have been totally incapable of understanding the romance
of that dream-drive--a dream in truth. But how beautiful, how sane,
how uplifting it seemed, compared with the feverish haschisch dream in
which she was now living. Restless under the obsession, she wandered up
the gully and, as she sat among the rocks, wrestled with her black
angel--and conquered. Clearly there was but one thing to do. She must
send Maule away at once before Colin came back. As for Colin, that
trouble must be faced separately. Maule must ride back to Tunumburra--
he knew the track. Or, should he wish to explore the district further,
Harry the Blower was due with the mail to-morrow, and could guide him
to any station on the post-man's route which might appear to Maule
Bridget knew that Maule would leave the tailing-mob before the other
men that afternoon, and would probably come to look for her here. So
having arrived at her decision and wishing to put off the inevitable
scene as long as possible, she set forth by another route for the
But she had only gone a few steps, when out of the gidia scrub, came
Oola the half-caste, her comely face bruised, her eyes wild with grief
and terror, her head tied up in a blood-stained strip torn from Lady
Bridget's lacy undergarment, the gaily-flowered kimono hanging in dirty
shreds upon her brown bosom.
'White Mary! Lathy-chap!' she cried. 'Plenty poor feller Oola. Plenty
quick me run. Me want 'em catch Lathy-chap before pollis-man come. That
feller pollis-man take Wombo long-a gaol. Mithsis'--the gin implored.
'BUJERI you!--Mithis tell pollis-man Wombo plenty good blackfellow. No
take Wombo long-a gaol.'
'What has Wombo been doing?' asked Lady Bridget. 'Did he steal the
'YOWI (yes). Wombo plenty frightened long-a ole husband belonging to
me.' And Oola dropped and knocked her head upon the ground, wailing the
ear-piercing death-wail of the Australian native women.
'Oola, you must stop howling!' said Bridget, alive to the seriousness
of the situation. 'Has Wombo shot your husband with our gun?'
'YOWI, Mithis. That feller husband altogether BONG ' (dead).
From Oola's broken revelations Bridget pieced the story. It appeared
that the tribe had followed in hot pursuit of the fugitives, and,
knowing his peril, Wombo had sneaked up to the head-station in the
darkness, possessed himself of an effectual weapon, and fled away with
the gun. The offended blacks had discovered the guilty pair on the
outskirts of Breeza Downs, and Oola's husband, with a company of
braves, had attacked their gunya. Then--to quote Oola--'that feller
husband throw spear at Wombo--hit Oola long-a COBRA (head) with NULLA
NULLA. Him close-up carry off Oola. My word! Wombo catch him PHO PHO.
Plenty quick husband belonging to me TUMBLE DOWN.' And Oola wailed
'Where's Wombo now?' Bridget asked.
'Blackfeller YAN (run) along-a pollis-man. Pollis-man close-up black's
camp. That feller Harris catch 'im Wombo--fetch um long-a Tunumburra
gaol. Mine think it stop to-night Moongarr. Close-up station now.'
Lady Bridget at once saw through the affair. Here was Harris taking a
legitimized revenge on Wombo, and doubtless also on herself. Clearly,
he had been patrolling the Breeza Downs boundaries in search of
Unionist incendiaries, and seizing Wombo instead, had acted promptly
without waiting for a warrant or consulting McKeith. Wombo would be
charged at the township with theft of the gun and murder of Oola's
husband. To a certainty he would be hanged if the matter ran its
ordinary course. That it should not do, Bridget declared within herself
--if she could by any possibility prevent it.
The half-caste woman and the white lady went swiftly through the gidia
scrub towards the head-station. At the gully crossing, Maule, on his
way back from the tailing-mob, overtook them, and dismounting, walked
with Lady Bridget to the house. She forgot then all the scene of last
evening, told him the black's story, begged him to help her in the
rescue of Wombo.
He reflected for a minute or two.
'We're up against Harris,' he said, 'and Harris has a grudge against
all of us. But Harris feels some respect for my knowledge of
constabulary law, which, I take it, is pretty much the same in most
countries where there are white settlers and native races.'
She looked up at him, letting him feel that she was relying on his
astuteness and his strength. He went on:
'Ninnis is mustering with Moongarr Bill and the others, a good way off,
and they're camping out to-night. . . . That leaves only Joe Casey and
the other extra hand. Ninnis put me in authority here. Somebody has got
to take command, and it must be either you, Lady Bridget, or myself.
Perhaps I'm the best qualified of the two. . . .'
She laughed shakily in assent.
'Anyway, I fancy that I know how to deal with this sort of affair
better than you do,' he said. 'Will you let me manage it my own way?'
'I suppose I may assume that your husband left me in a position of some
responsibility. And if I seem to be taking too much on myself--or, on
the other hand, deferring too much to Harris, you'll trust me and not
There was no time for discussion, had she wished to go against him.
Oola was shrieking and pointing frantically to the track down from the
upper slip rails, along which Harris and his prisoner were to be seen
The Police Inspector, uniformed, burly, triumphant, exhaled the Majesty
of the Law as he rode slightly in advance leading the black-boy. Now,
as they pulled up at the fence, Wombo presented a sorry spectacle--a
spear wound in his left shoulder, a spear graze on his leg, his wrists
handcuffed and his feet tied to the stirrup-iron with cords so tight
that they cut into his tough, black flesh.
Harris dismounted, tied Wombo's horse securely to the veranda post and
then made his statement which coincided with Bridget's idea of what had
happened. It was too late to push on to Tunumburra. He proposed to lock
up his prisoner at Moongarr for the night. Could he have the
Not long before, the Police Inspector had locked up a horse stealer,
whom he had in charge, in the hide-house for a few hours while he took
To Bridget it seemed an irony that Wombo should be imprisoned in the
very room he had so lately shared with his stolen gin.
She was quivering with indignant pity at sight of the sores on the
black boy's legs made by the raw hide thongs, and Oola, who had crept
up the off side of the black-boy's horse, was wailing anew. Maule
checked with a look the angry protest on Lady Bridget's lip and
answered the Police Sergeant in her stead.
'Why, certainly. I'm sure her Ladyship won't object. You'll let me see
to that for you, Lady Bridget,' and, as she bowed her head, he
addressed Harris again. 'Mr Ninnis and most of the others are camping
out to-night on the run, and I seem to be the only responsible man in
the place--of course you know that Mr McKeith asked me to stop and
help look after things for Lady Bridget if necessary.' Then he
complimented Harris genially upon his zeal. 'You've got your warrant, I
suppose,' he asked incidentally.
The Police Sergeant looked a little uncomfortable.
'Well, fact is, I wouldn't waste time going back to Breeza Downs
head-station for that. Mr McKeith's there and they had a bit of an
alarm. Those Unionist skunks tried to fire the shed one night, but no
particular damage was done, and they've dispersed. But Windeatt is in
such a fright of their making another attempt on his head-station that
he's pushing the imported shearers on with the shearing for all he's
worth, and keeps any man he can get hold of on guard night and day
round the house and sheds, while I and my lot have been doing a bit of
riding after Unionists. . . . Now, if you please, we'll have the key of
the hide-house,' concluded Harris. 'I'd like to get my prisoner stowed
away safe before I take an hour's spell myself. I'm pretty well knocked
up, I can tell you. No sleep at all last night watching that nigger who
was tied up to a gum tree, and I've been in the saddle all day.'
Maule proffered the usual refreshment with a deprecatory reference to
Lady Bridget, who stood stonily apart. Then on pretext of getting the
key of the hide-house, he had a few words with her in the office.
'I'm going to take care of this,' he said, as she gave him the key of
the padlock which secured the hide-house door, and he forthwith
fastened it to the ring of his watch-chain. 'Of course you want the
black-boy to escape?'
'I shall let him out myself,' she answered.
'That would only make McKeith more angry. I have a better plan, in
which you need not be implicated.'
'I would rather do it myself,' she said. 'I'm not afraid. If it had
been possible, I would have cut those horrible thongs straight away and
let the poor wretch get into the bush. He'll be safe at the head of the
gully in the gidia scrub.'
'I promise you that he shall be safe in the gidia scrub before sunrise
to-morrow. Trust me.'
She shook her head. 'But I can't take services from you, after. . . .'
she began hastily and then stopped.
'You call that a service! Yes--to humanity, if you like. Oh, I know.
After yesterday evening. NOW, you blame me for being true to myself. . . .
All that has got to be settled between us, Bridget--for good and
all. I thought it out as I rode behind the tailing-mob to-day. But for
the moment,' he fingered the key agitatedly, 'Bridget, you MUST let me
do this thing for you. Don't refuse me that small privilege, even if
you deny me all others.'
She wavered--yielded. 'Very well. You can manage it better than I
could. So I will accept this last favour.'
'The first, not the last. What have I done but cause you pain? . . . If
you knew the torture I have been going through. . . .' He checked
himself. She was staring at him, half frightened, half fascinated.
'No, no. There must be an end.'
'Yes. There must be an end. Later on, we'll decide what the end is to
He went out to the veranda carrying the key. Bridget did not follow
him. She had no power either to resent or to compel him. She sat
waiting. When, after about a quarter of an hour, he came back, she was
still in the office as he had left her, seated by the rough table on
which were the station log, the store book, and branding tallies.
He came in triumphantly, exhibiting the key.
'Harris wanted to take possession of this. It was lucky I had put it on
my chain. However, he's satisfied that Wombo is securely locked up and
an extra glass of grog and a hint that, as he hasn't provided himself
with a warrant there's no obligation on him to stand over his prisoner
with a loaded gun, eased his mind of responsibility. The man is in a
beast of a temper though, he evidently expected to be entertained down
here. I hope Mrs Hensor will give him a good dinner. He insists on
sleeping in the little room off the store veranda where he says he can
keep watch on the hide house. I suppose it's all right?'
Bridget nodded. 'I'll tell Maggie.' Maule asked for ointment with which
to dress the black-boy's wounds and abrasions, and she gave it and left
The afternoon was drawing in. Then came the sound of the herded beasts
being driven to the yard at sundown and, by-and-by, of Joe Casey's
stockwhip as he got up the milkers. The shorthandedness and disturbance
of Harris' arrival made everything late, and the goats which should
have been penned by now, were busy nibbling at the passion vines on the
garden fence. But all this made little impression on Bridget's
preoccupied brain. She had the thought of that coming interview with
Maule before her. Oola's continuous wailing was an affliction, and she
gave the half-caste a blanket and some food and told her to camp on the
further side of the hide house where, with eyes and ears glued by turns
against the largest chink between the slabs, she might see and speak to
Maule's and Lady Bridget's TETETETE dinner was an embarrassed meal,
with Kuppi and Maggie hovering about the table. The man's eyes said
more than his lips, and the woman sat, strained and silent, or else
uttered forced commonplaces.
They were alone at last on the veranda, with night and the vast
distances enfolding them. The air was close and hot, the sky banked
with storm clouds, and, occasionally, there were flashes of sheet
lightning and low growls of thunder. Before long the head-station was
very quiet. Harris had inspected the hide-house and, having assured
himself of the safety of his prisoner, had retired to the veranda room,
making a great parade of keeping his door open, his gun loaded, and his
clothes on, ready for any emergency. Joe Casey had gone to his hut, the
Chinaman and the Malay boy to theirs, and Maggie, the woman servant, to
her own tiny room wedged in between the new house and the kitchen wing.
But it was all early. At that hour, Maule laughingly reminded Lady
Bridget, the dining world of London would scarcely have reached the
She would not waste time on banalities.
'I've been waiting to tell you something. My mind is quite made up. I
can't go on like this any longer. You must go away to-morrow.'
'To-morrow!' he echoed in dismay.
'Yes. I've thought it out. You don't know the country, but the mailman
will be here to-morrow, and he can show you the road.'
'You are very kind. . . . Why are you so anxious to get rid of me?'
'Surely you understand. You made me a scene yesterday. You'd go on
making me scenes.'
She gave a hard little laugh. 'Oh! I--don't want to play any more.'
'You call it play! To me it's deadly earnest. I let you go once. I do
not mean to let you go again.'
'But you are talking wildly. Don't you see that it is impossible we can
'Oh! that I grant you. We must be everything to each other--or
In spite of her cold peremptoriness he could see that she was deeply
agitated. That fact gave him courage. His voice dropped to the tender
persuasive note which had always affected her like a spell.
'My dear--my very dearest. . . . We made a great mistake once. Let us
forget that. Death has opened the gate of freedom--for me, at least--
and I can only feel remorseful thankfulness. We have again a chance of
happiness. We will not throw it away a second time.'
'You seem to forget that if you are free I am married.'
'What a marriage? Call it a mad adventure.'
'That may be,' she said bitterly. 'But it doesn't alter the fact that I
did care very much for my husband.' She brought out the last words with
'DID care. You put it in the past tense. You don't care for him any
longer. It would be astonishing if you did. One has only to see you
together. . . . Oh, Biddy, it was so like you to rush off to the other
side of the world, and ruin your life for the sake of some strange
impracticable idea! I can follow it all. . . .'
'You are mistaken,' she put in.
'I think not. You married in a fit of revulsion against the conditions
in which you were living--the hollow shams of an effete civilisation--
that's the correct phrase, isn't it? And--well, perhaps there was
another reason for the revulsion. . . . And you thought you had found
the remedy for it all. Oh! I admit that he is very good looking, and,
of course, he worshipped you--until he had you secure, and then he
reverted to the ways of his kind. "Nature's gentlemen" usually
do. . . .'
'Be silent, Will,' she exclaimed vehemently. 'You don't understand.'
'My dear, your very anger tells me that I do understand. Why! naturally
your imagination was set on fire. The Bush was painted to you in its
most glowing colours. No doubt, as you said, it's a Garden of Eden in
good seasons. Wonderful vegetation, glorious liberty--no galling
conventions--vast spaces--romance--and the will o' the wisp wealth
of the Wild. Confess now . . . are not my guesses correct?'
'Yes--partly.' She spoke with reluctance. 'But I remember that YOU
used to talk to me about the joys of the Wild,' she added with sharp
'Oh, yes, I know it all. I've been there myself. And it's only when El
Dorado proves a delusion that one begins to hanker--I did before I met
you--for the advantages of civilised existence.'
'Well, you have secured those. Why not go and enjoy them as I'm asking
you to do.'
'They have no value for me, unless I may share them with you. Bridget,
I can give you everything now that you once asked for.'
'With your wife's money?'
He drew back sharply. 'Ah! You CAN hit a man!' and there was silence
for a few minutes. Then he leaned closer to her, and his fingers
touched the gold cigarette case which lay on the arm of the squatter's
chair in which she was sitting. He went on in a changed manner.
'Poor Evelyn left her fortune to me, knowing the truth. She was a
noble-souled woman. I was not worthy of her. But unworthy as I may have
been, Bridget, I deserved better of my wife than your husband deserves
of you. At least, I did not deceive her.'
'What do you mean? Colin did not deceive me. That, at all events, is
not one of his faults towards me.'
'Has he told you, then, why he keeps on his station that insolent woman
and her yellow-haired blue-eyed boy?'
Bridget started visibly. He saw that his shaft had struck the mark. But
she answered calmly:
'I don't know what you want to imply. I thought you knew that Mrs
Hensor's husband was killed on one of Colin's expeditions, and that he
looked after her and her boy on that account.'
'Oh, yes, I've heard that story. But it seemed common gossip at
Tunumburra that there was another--less creditable--explanation.'
She turned fiercely upon him. 'You have no right to make such an
'I only mention what I heard. I went about a good deal there in bar
saloons, and to men's gatherings. Naturally, I was interested in the
district where, by the way, McKeith does not appear to be over popular.
Of course, I attached no great importance to the gossip then. It only
made me wonder. Oddly enough, to-day when I was out with the tailing
mob, one of the men repeated it--I need not say that I stopped him. He
said he'd had it as a fact from a man who was a long time in your
husband's employ--a man called Steadbolt.'
Again the scene in front of Fig Tree Mount Hotel flashed before Lady
Bridget, and Demon Doubt rose up clothed now in more material
substance. Her voice shook as she answered, though she tried to be
'Steadbolt was discharged from my husband's employment. He is another
of Mrs Hensor's rejected suitors. That speaks for itself.'
'Strange that Mrs Hensor should reject so many suitors without apparent
reason,' said Maule.
Bridget did not seem able to bear any more. Her head drooped upon her
hands, her shoulders heaved convulsively.
'I don't know what to do--I am alone. It's an insult to talk to me in
'I want to protect you from insult--I want to take you out of these
miserable conditions--and there's only one way to do that,' he
He took her hands in his and kissed them passionately. 'Oh, I love you.
There's nothing in the world I would not do to make you my wife. Why
should you hesitate? It breaks my heart to see you unappreciated,
neglected, living the sort of rough life that might suit a labourer's
daughter, but which is sacrilege for Lady Bridget O'Hara. A man had no
right to condemn a beautiful, refined woman like you to such a
fate. . . . Well there' as she murmured incoherently, 'I'll not say any
more about that since it hurts you. You see, I respect your wishes. I'll
even go away at once, if you command it, and leave you to form your own
judgment. I will stay in Leichardt's Town--in Sydney--anywhere--
until you have decided for yourself--as I know you must do--how
impossible it is for you to remain here. Then I will meet you wherever
you please, and we will go to Europe together--bury ourselves abroad--
wait in any part of the world you may choose, until the divorce
proceedings are over, and we are free to marry. You need not be afraid
of scandal, the thing can be kept out of the English papers. It's so
far away that nobody will remember you were married to an Australian.
Besides, anything of the sort is so easily got over nowadays. My
darling, why do you look at me with those tragic eyes? It is not like
the old Biddy to be a slave to Mrs Grundy.'
She had been listening, sitting rigid in her chair, her hands still in
his, looking at him in a strange fixed manner, almost like a person in
the first stage of hypnotism. Now she snatched her hands away and gave
a sobbing cry.
'Oh, I'm not the old Biddy. I never can be again.'
'Dear love--believe me, when I promise you that you shall never have
cause for regret.'
He would have taken her into his arms, but she drew herself back.
'Will, you don't understand. And I don't understand myself, I can't see
things clearly. It's all been so sudden--Colin going away--you--
everything. . . . I want to be alone. I want to find myself.'
He moved aside with a slight inclination of his head as if to let her
pass. 'I told you that I would do anything you wish.'
'You mean that--really? Then I wish you to go away at once. You said
you would leave me to decide for myself. I take you at your word, and I
shall write to you, by-and-by. Promise me that you will go.'
'I have no choice. Your will is law to me. But understand, dearest--I
am only waiting.'
'It's good of you not to want to worry and argue. . . . Don't you
understand?--I couldn't bear you to be here when Colin comes back. You
must go to Tunumburra to-morrow.'
'Go to Tunumburra to-morrow?' he repeated blankly.
'It's on the way to Leuraville, and you can take the steamer from
there. I will write to you in Leichardt's Town. Oh, it's quite simple.
The mailman will be here early. You can leave a letter saying that you
'I understand.' Her definite planning gave him hope that she had
already made up her mind, and that she would join him in Leuraville or
Leichardt's Town. After all, that might be best. 'But I shall see you
again. The mailman is not here yet. I have still a few hours respite.'
She made no answer at first. Then 'Good-night,' she said abruptly, and
flitted like a small white ghost along the dim veranda.
'Lady Bridget!' His voice stopped her. It shook a little, but the
manner was conventional, and she gained confidence from that and turned
'Lady Bridget. While we've been talking about ourselves, we've
forgotten that unfortunate black-boy. I only want to tell you, that you
may depend on your wishes being carried out. I shall go to my room and
watch my opportunity. Trust me, that's all--in everything.'
'Thank you,' she answered simply. 'I do trust you.'
She came back a few steps, and he met her in the middle of the veranda.
In one of her swift transitions of mood a humorous element in the
situation seemed to appeal to her, and she said with a laugh:--'It's
comical, isn't it? The two tragedies, black and white--we two here--
those two out there!'
Just then the black curtain of cloud, that had been rising slowly and
obscuring the stars, was torn by a strong flash of chain lightning. It
threw up her face in startling clearness and he saw, in strange blend
with the conflicting emotions upon it, the wraith of her old whimsical
He did not answer her laugh. In truth, the man's nature was stirred to
a more deep-reaching extent perhaps than ever in his life before. It
may have been the flash of lightning recalling a momentary flash of
illumination that had once shone upon his own soul.
That had been when he was kneeling by the bedside of his dying wife,
and her last words revealed to him a magnanimity of devotion for which
he had been wholly unprepared. He had thought her merely amiable and
stupid--except in her love for him--and his sentiments towards her
had been a mixture of boredom, and the tolerant consideration due to
the bestower of substantial benefits. Nevertheless, she had awakened,
during a spasm of remorseful self-abasement, some nobler quality latent
in the man.
And now--as that flash of lightning illuminated Bridget's face and
made him keenly sensitive to the charm of her personality--her wayward
fascination, her inconsistencies, her weakness, her temperamental
craving for dramatic contrast, her reckless toying with emotion--by a
curious law of paradox, there came back upon Willoughby Maule that
scene with his dying wife, and he had again the flashing perception of
something sacred, unexplainable, to which his own nature could not
It sobered him. He had had the impulse to snatch her to his breast, to
seal the half-compact with a lover's kiss, so passionate that the
memory of it must for ever bind her to him.
But the impulse was past. They stood perfectly silent, stiff, in the
interval--it seemed a very long one--between the lightning flash, and
the distant reverberation of thunder which followed it.
Then he said mechanically, like one walking out of a dream? 'There's
going to be a storm. Are you frightened?'
'No,' she answered. 'I'm never frightened of storms!' and added,
'besides, Colin would be so glad of rain.'
Before he could reply, she had glided away again and he was alone.
He thought it strange that she should be thinking of her husband and
his material interests just then.
It must have been a little while after midnight when Bridget was
awakened by more thunder and lightning and a confused tornado of sound.
She had been dreaming that Harris was throwing her from the gully
cliffs on to the boulders in its bed--only it seemed to her bewildered
senses that the boulders rose towards her instead of her descending to
meet them. Next she discovered that rain was pattering on the zinc
roof, and that the violent concussions she felt beneath her must be due
to the horns of goats knocking up against the boards of her bedroom.
Ah! she thought, the men had forgotten to pen the goats, and they were
sheltering from the rain in the open space under the floor of the
house. There could be no more sleep for her that night, unless they
She waited through the din until there came a lull in the storm, then
got up and put on her shoes and a waterproof coat over her nightdress.
It was not the first time by any means that, when sleeping alone, she
had been obliged to rise and drive away stray animals that had been
inadvertently allowed means of entrance.
She went out to the back veranda, which was connected by steps with the
verandas of the other two wings. The moon was full and shed occasional
pale gleams through the scudding clouds. The close heat had given place
to a chill wind and the rain came down intermittently but in no volume
--it could not make much difference to the parched earth. There was not
a light visible anywhere. The goats were still making a noise under the
Lady Bridget got a stick from a heap of sandal-wood boughs stacked
against the veranda, and passing to the front, where the piles
supporting the house were higher, proceeded to belabour an elderly
nanny, who, with her mate, was now nibbling twigs of the creepers. But
she was surprised to see only two or three goats, she had thought there
must be many more. The animals were refractory, and her beatings of no
avail. Now, suddenly, she was seized with a fit of nervous shivering
and realised that she felt physically ill. It was of no use for her to
try and drive off the goats. She sank down on the veranda steps of the
Old Humpey, and afterwards thought she must have fainted.
The sound of Maule's approaching footsteps and his alarmed ejaculation
seemed to bring her to herself. He appeared to have come round the back
of the Old Humpey. He was horrified at the sight of her convulsive
'You mustn't stop here,' he exclaimed. 'I was afraid the goats would
disturb you, and I've been getting them out as quietly as I could. Most
of them are shut up in their fold.'
She saw that he was almost fully dressed. With an effort she controlled
her terror, and asked:
'You've not been asleep.'
'Oh! off and on. I've been keeping my eye on Harris' room,' he pointed
across the yard to the kitchen and store-building opposite--at the end
of which Harris had installed himself--to the squat outline of the
slab and back hide house. 'My ear, too,' he went on, 'for Harris'
slumbers are neither silent nor peaceful. When he's not snoring, he
groans and stirs, and the worst of it is that he's got his door wide
open on to the veranda and his bed right across the window that looks
straight at the door of the hide house. I thought I'd take advantage of
the thunder, but it was no good. He was awake and looking out. Now he
has lain down again, and as soon as I hear him snoring I shall try once
A fresh fit of shivering seized Bridget.
'This won't do,' he said, and went hurriedly into his own room which
opened a few doors down on to the veranda, and coming back with an
opossum rug on his arm and a glass of brandy and water in his hand, he
made her drink the spirits and wrapped the rug round her. Presently the
A moon-gleam between two clouds closing on each other showed her his
eyes glowing with sombre passion. She saw that he was holding himself
under stern restraint. Though where they were, the veranda running
between the end of the Old Humpey and the new house, made a kind of
passage so that they were in shadow, there was a possibility of
watchful eyes discovering their whereabouts.
'Will you go back to your room, and I'll get rid of these goats,' he
said, trying to speak in a matter-of-fact way. 'I supose there isn't a
yard where I could put them, nearer than their own by the lagoon.'
'I don't think so,' she answered dully, and without stirring from where
she crouched upon the steps. When he urged her anew to go back to bed,
she answered petulantly:
'Oh, do let me be. I like the wind and the rain--they're soothing. And
I couldn't sleep now until I know that Wombo is safe in the scrub.'
He made no further protest, but set to work shepherding the goats. She
watched him drive them out of the gate till his dark form and the
piebald shapes he was driving before him were lost in the night. She
knew that it would take some little time to pen them all securely in
their fold. But the night was young yet.
From shivering, the fire of the brandy and the warmth of the fur rug
had turned her temperature to fever heat. She felt keenly excited; the
blood in her veins seemed boiling, and the occasional raindrops and
moist wind were pleasant on her face. She had gone to the end of the
veranda and stood there with long withes of the native cucumber vine
that grew over the Old Humpey swaying around her in the breeze. There
was not a light in the place. Even moon and stars were now veiled. Her
brain raced round desperate and futile schemes for eluding the
vigilance of the Police Inspector. She wished now that she had thought
of asking him to dinner and putting opium into his coffee--that was
the sort of thing they did in novels. She did not know that a less
developed brain than her own was working at this moment to the same
end, on an inspiration from the bush DEBIL-DEBIL, or such savage
divinity as watches over the loves of the Blacks.
She saw what at first she had thought part of the shadow of a
neighbouring gum tree cast on the strip of grass that ran at the back
of the Old Humpey. But the lesser shadow moved, halted, and the greater
shadow was stationary and grew denser as the moon sailed again across a
clear patch of sky.
Then Bridget realised that the moving shadow was the half-caste Oola,
shrouded in the dark blue blanket she had given her, and that the gin
had halted at the casement window of Maule's bedroom. Now, Oola, with
her hands on the sill, curved her lithe body, drew her bare feet to the
window ledge and dropped within.
Bridget ran along the grass to the window, and from there watched Oola
move about the room and in the almost darkness fumble among the objects
on the dressing-table. Then Bridget could hear the little click of the
tongue and the guttural note of exultation a black tracker gives when
he comes upon a trail. Bridget drew aside against the wall, so that
Oola, again springing over the window sill, did not observe her. But
Bridget saw the watch and chain with the iron key attached to it which
the gin had stolen, and seized Oola's arm as the dark form crouched
upon the grass again. The gin uttered a smothered shriek. Bridget took
the watch from her hand, detached the key from the chain, and slipped
watch and chain into the pocket of her coat, while Oola, clutching Lady
Bridget's knees, pleaded chokily:
'Mithsis--you gib me key--no make im noise. No tell pollis-man me let
out Wombo. My word! plenty quick he YAN long-a scrub. BA-AL pollis-man
catch Wombo. Mithsis--BUJERI White Mary! You gib it key to Oola.'
The key was in Oola's hand. 'BA-AL me tell,' whispered Bridget. 'you go
She, too, bent her body and followed Oola, who sped like a hunted hare
round the comer of the Old Humpey. Now she wriggled in the shadow of
the yard railings. Now she crept stealthily past Harris' window--and--
oh! DEBIL--DEBIL be praised! the Police sergeant's stertorous snoring
was clearly audible.
Blessed, likewise, be the retiring moon and the sweeping clouds! Lady
Bridget, every nerve a-quiver and the rushing blood throbbing in her
temples, also crept noiselessly beneath the window in the wake of Oola,
crawling like Oola, but more to the back of the hide-house into the
shelter of its drooping bark eaves.
Bending cautiously round the slabs, she watched, as the gin, with a
swift wriggling motion like that of a snake, drew herself along the
sunken earth floor beneath the eaves and then, softly raising herself
to the level of the padlock, put in the key. There was a muffled
grating of iron under the gin's hand, as the padlock unclosed and the
hasp dropped, then a creak of the door on its hinges, while it opened
and shut behind the undulating shape in the aperture. Then a low
throaty ejaculation--the black's call of warning. And now with a
quickness incredible, the wriggling movement of two blanket-shrouded
serpentine shapes round the hide-house--in and out among the grass
tussocks and the low herbage, now hidden for a moment by friendly gum
shadows in the dimness, now dark moving blurrs upon the lesser
darkness, and now altogether invisible. . . .
Lady Bridget knew that in five minutes, once they could be upright
again, the fugitives would have reached the gully, and after that the
gidia scrub. Then security from the terrors of a white man's gaol would
be almost assured to them.
Lady Bridget waited--waited, it seemed to her an eternity, in reality
it was barely over the five minutes she had mentally given the two
blacks for their escape. That five minutes had been full of alarms, and
she could feel her heart thumping, so tense was the strain. She had to
consider the possibility of Harris being awakened; also, of Maule's
return and an attempt on his part to free the hide-house prisoner. Also
there was the danger of the clouds breaking before she had done her
She heard a movement of the sleeper in his bed below the open window
opposite. Harris might have been aroused, and perhaps have stirred
without awakening. . . . But the snoring had ceased. . . . She did not
think, however, that he could be fully awake. . . . Presently the
She crept very slowly along the earthen floor, drawing her hands along
the slabs as she went. A splinter from one of them ran into her finger
--but that did not matter. Now she touched the door, which lay back
towards her, for the blacks had not waited to close it. She pushed it
very softly, holding her breath at the creak of the hinge and listening
intently for the recurrent snore which sounded through the window only
three paces from her.
At last the thing was done--the padlock fastened, the key turned in
the lock, and now in her pocket. She dropped flat on the earth, her
cloak drawn lightly between her knees, and wriggled snake-like, as Oola
had done past Harris' windows, then pushed herself on hands and knees
along the ground, squeezing her body against the palings of the yard,
till she reached the Old Humpey on the opposite side. Once round that
corner, she got on to her feet, feeling sick and giddy but intensely
relieved. She leaned against the gum tree which had protected Oola, and
now realised that it had been raining in a driving gust and that she
was wet to the skin.
The bleating of a kid, which had been left under the house and had
found its way into the yard, startled her anew. She thought that she
heard sounds in the wing near the hide-house--steps on the veranda.
Was Harris stirring? Had he discovered the flight of his prisoner?
She waited again till all was quiet. By this time, there was a watery
radiance just overhead. She looked towards the lagoon, but there was no
sign of Maule. She felt the shivering begin again, though her head
seemed burning, and she could hardly think collectedly. Her chief idea
was to get back to bed.
But she was able to reason to herself that Maule must somehow be
informed of the escape. She did not think he could have got back yet to
the spot where he had left her. Or he might come straight to his room
and miss the key and his watch. In any case, these must be restored to
the place from which Oola had taken them.
She lifted herself to the window-sill as Oola had done, and in a moment
was inside the room. It had been an easy enough business, only that in
clutching the window frame, the jagged end of the splinter she had run
into her hand caught and tore her flesh. The room was of course empty.
She lifted a candle--which, with matches, stood on the dressing table
--and put back the watch and chain, and the key now separate from them.
That fact would show Maule that it had been tampered with. But she must
find some more exact means of conveying what had happened. Premature
action on his part might give the alarm. Her brain worked in flashes.
She had vivid ideas, which in her fevered state she could not hold
properly. She must write to Maule. A notebook that he must have taken
from his pocket lay on the table also. She tore out a leaf--paused--
She must write so that only he would understand. An accident might
happen to the paper.
There must be no definite statement to implicate him or herself. Some
words in French occurred to her. She wrote them down and continued the
note in that language. At the close she begged him to act so that there
should be no ground for suspicion--reminded him of his promise to go
away on the morrow--said she would write to him at the Post Office at
Leuraville. She did not sign the sheet, but folded it across--
addressed it to Maule and laid it under the watch on the table.
A fresh spasm of shivering seized her. Suddenly she remembered the
opossum rug she had left. She opened the door leading from Maule's room
into the veranda, and went out. She stood bewilderedly, looking across
the faint-lit yard to the dim veranda of the kitchen wing opposite, as
she fought against the sick faintness that threatened to overcome her.
Then she walked along the veranda to the place where she had parted
from Maule. The rug was lying there, and she threw it round her, and
waited on the steps with chattering teeth and shaking limbs.
In a minute or two, he joined her. She saw by the fitful moonbeams that
he was wet and muddy--truly in a worse plight than herself. She could
hardly speak for the rigor. Seeing her condition, he took her up in his
arms, and carried her along the veranda towards her own room. The clasp
of his arms, the warmth of his body, even through his wet clothing
helped her to steady herself. She continued to tell him of the great
'Wombo has escaped--I saw Oola taking the key out of your room. Harris
was asleep--snoring. She let Wombo out, and I locked the door of the
hide-house again afterwards, and put the key back in your room. It's
all right--nothing can be found out till the morning. They're safe in
the scrub by now.'
'Well, I'm thankful for that at any rate,' he answered. 'But at this
moment I cannot think of anything or anyone but you. My dearest--I'm
so afraid of your being ill--what can I do?'
'Nothing. I have sal volatile in my room--stuff to take for a cold. I
only want to get off my wet things and go to bed--I can sleep now.
Don't be frightened about me.'
She staggered when he put her gently down inside her own door, but
recovered herself courageously, lighted her candles, laughed at her own
disordered appearance, bade him go at once and look after himself.
He kissed her hand reluctantly.
She looked at him alarmedly. 'Will! But you have promised me. You are
going away to-morrow.'
He did not reply. His eyes were roving round the chamber, dimly lighted
by the two candles. He was observing the feminine details the
untidinesses so characteristic of her; the daintinesses, equally
characteristic--all in such odd contrast with inevitable bush
roughnesses. He noticed the silver and ivory on the dressing-table; the
large silver-framed photographs--an autographed one of the Queen of
Wartenburg--Molly Gaverick and Rosamond Tallant in Court veil and
feathers, Joan Gildea at her type-writer--the confusion of books, the
embroidered coverlet on the large bed, the bush-made couch at its foot
upholstered in rose-patterned chintz on which she had seated herself.
'You have GOT to go,' she urged. 'WHATEVER happens, you are leaving
here with the mailman to-morrow. . . . Promise--on your word of honour
--that NOTHING shall hinder you.'
'Of course, I shall keep my promise, though it breaks my heart to leave
you like this. But I know--I feel that the parting will not be for
long. . . . Yes. . . .' as she slowly shook her head and a strange
fateful look shadowed the feverish brightness of her eyes. 'I COULDN'T
leave you if I didn't feel certain of that.'
'Oh, I'm tired out. I'm tired--dead tired--' Her face was ghastly,
her lips like burning coals. 'I can't argue any more. And now it's
'Not good-bye. At least there will be time to-morrow for that.'
'You MUST go--Good-night.'
He left her, but waited in the veranda, reassuring himself by the sound
of movements on the other side of the closed door. When all was silent,
and the candles extinguished, he went back to his own room.
He saw on the dressing-table his watch and chain with the key detached
beside them--a confirmnation of the truth of what Lady Bridget had
told him. But she had forgotten to tell him of the note she had left
also, and, naturally, he did not look for it. Had he known and looked
he would have discovered that the note was gone.
Lady Bridget always looked back upon the next few days as a confused
nightmare. She awoke in the grip of fever--that malarial kind which is
common in Australia--tried to get up as usual, but fell back upon her
bed, faint and dizzy. Her brows ached. She had alternations of burning
heat and icy coldness. There came active periods in the dull lethargy
which is often a phase of fever, and from which she only roused herself
at the spur of some urgent call on her faculties. One of these was
Willoughby Maule's anxious message of enquiry conveyed by Maggie, to
which she had the presence of mind to return the answer that she had
caught cold, and was staying in bed for the present, but would no doubt
be quite well shortly. Also that she was sorry not to bid him good-bye,
but begged that he would not think of postponing his departure.
She heard as in a dream the sound of the mailman's arrival, and
presently, of the saddling of horses in the yard, and then the
CLOP-CLOP of their feet as they were ridden past her end of the house
to the Gully crossing. There were two horses. So Maule had left the
head-station with Harry the Blower, as she had bidden him do. She was
conscious of relief.
She realised in bewildered fashion, that Maule was gone out of her life
at Moongarr, and connected the sound of his horses' departing feet with
the thud of Sir Luke Tallant's hall door, when he had left her at the
first interview which had led to their final quarrel.
From that effort of memory she sank again into mental coma. Maggie took
it to be natural sleep, and laid the mailbag just brought by Harry the
Blower, on her mistress' bed to await her awakening. Much later in the
day, on the return of Mr Ninnis and the other men from their
cattle-muster, finding the bag still untouched, Maggie broke the seals
at her mistress' dazed order, and having sorted out Lady Bridget's
letters, carried away the bag for Ninnis to take his own mail.
But Lady Bridget paid no heed to her letters, and thus it happened that
for the time being, she was quite unaware of an event which was of
great importance to her.
She had been scarcely even distantly conscious of the hue and cry, and
general excitement at the head-station, when it was discovered that the
prisoner had escaped. Harris had his own suspicions--it might be said,
his certainties, but the man's crafty nature bade him keep his
accusations for an opportunity when he ran less risk of being worsted.
He meant to wait until McKeith's return. Meanwhile what he had not been
prepared for was Willoughby Maule's departure with the mailman before
he himself came back from an unsuccessful hunt after the fugitives.
That move had lain outside his calculations. He had gleaned enough from
Mrs Hensor, as well as from his own observation, to feel sure that
Maule and Lady Bridget were in love with each other, and he had never
supposed that they would part so abruptly.
The head-station was very shorthanded in the absence of Ninnis and the
stockmen, and Harris had been obliged to go out by himself on the
man-hunt. He did not know the country at the head of the gully, where
he concluded that Wombo was hiding, and lost himself in the gidia
scrub. Thus, he was in a very disagreeable temper, when he at last
arrived at the Bachelors' Quarters.
To Lady Bridget the day passed, and all the seemingly distant noises of
it, like a phantasmagoria of vision, sound, impressions--the echoes of
station activity; the Chinamen's pidgin English as they weeded the
front garden; Tommy Hensor's voice when he brought the cook a nestful
of eggs some vagrant hen had laid in the grass-tussocks, the men going
forth with the tailing-mob--and at intervals the scorching
recollection of that hinted scandal concerning Colin and Mrs Hensor of
which Maule had told her. . . . Horrible. . . unbelievable. . . and
yet. . . .
Then, after a long while, with lucid breaks in the dreamy stupor, she
heard the roar of Ninnis' incoming mob of wild cattle from the range.
She could even wonder whether he had been able to muster that herd of
five hundred or so for the sale-yards. She knew that her husband was
counting upon the sale of these beasts--probably at 6 pounds a head--to
enable him to fight the drought, by a speedy sinking of artesian bores.
She felt herself reasoning quite collectedly on this subject, until the
roar of beasts turned into the roar of the mighty Atlantic, breaking
against the cliffs below Castle Gaverick. . . . She saw the green waves
--real as the heaving backs of the cattle--alive, leaping. . . . And
she herself seemed tossed on their crest. . . she saw and felt the cool
embrace of the wave-fairies she had once tried to paint for Joan
Gildea's book. . . . Oh! she had never fully appreciated the strength
of that now inappeasable longing for the Celtic home, the Celtic
traditions which had been born in her. She had never known how much she
loved Castle Gaverick. . . how much she loathed the muggy heat, the
flies and the mosquitoes now brought by last night's rain, the fierce
glare beating upon the veranda, the sun-motes dancing on the
boards. . . .
The appearance late that evening of Mrs Hensor, who having heard the
mistress was ill, had come down partly from curiosity, partly from
genuine humanity to see what might be amiss, was the next thing that
roused Lady Bridget from her fever-lethargy.
'Maggie told me you'd been out in the rain last night, and had caught
cold, and I thought Mr McKeith would wish me to ask if I could do
anything,' Mrs Hensor said.
Lady Bridget sat up in bed, for the moment her most haughty self.
'Thank you; but there's no occasion for you to trouble, Mrs Hensor. I
would have sent for you if I had required your services.'
'And I'm not aware that I was engaged to give them,' snorted Mrs
Hensor. 'It was out of consideration for Mr McKeith that I came. I've
got quite enough to do at the Quarters, and I'm really glad not to have
to trouble myself down here--what with Mr Ninnis wanting extra
cooking, and Mr Harris in such a rage over Wombo's getting away--I'm
wondering if you heard anything last night, of that, Lady Bridget? And
Harris is put out, too, over Mr Maule going off with Harry the Blower,
while he was hunting for the black-boy. However,' Mrs Hensor concluded,
'the master will be here tomorrow to see into the rights of things.'
'How do you know that the master will be here to-morrow?' asked Bridget
'Harry the Blower brought me a letter from Mr McKeith,' replied Mrs
Hensor with malign triumph. 'I suppose he thought you'd be too busy
doing things with Mr Maule to bother over the station affairs, and that
Mr Ninnis might be out on the run--and so he wrote to tell me what he
wanted done as he often used to before.'
Lady Bridget closed her eyes, and leaned back against the pillows
trying hard to control the muscles of her face, and not to betray her
mortification. Moreover, she was certain that Mrs Hensor had stated the
'I should prefer to be alone,' she said, feeling the woman's eyes upon
'Then I'll go, as you don't want me,' returned Mrs Hensor. 'But if I
was you, Lady Bridget, I'd take a dose of laudanum, and get myself into
a perspiration, for I believe it's a touch of dengue fever you've got
the matter with you.'
A touch of dengue in tropical Australia may be serious or the reverse--
sharp and short and critical, or tedious and less dangerous. Lady
Bridget's case was the sharp, short kind demanding prompt treatment.
When McKeith came home the following day, he found her delirious, and
incapable of recognizing him.
Worn out as was the strong man's frame--not only with wild jealousy
and tortured love, but with sleepless nights of patrol work, days in
the shearing-shed, sharp fighting with a second conflagration--
fortunately put out before much damage had been done--and a final
dispersion of Unionist forces, Colin never for one instant relaxed his
watch by Bridget's bedside.
All night he tended her, fighting the fever as he had fought the fire
at Breeza Downs, plying her with continued fomentations, dosing her
with quinine, laudanum and the various medicines he had found
efficacious. For never was a better doctor for malarial fever than
Colin McKeith--he had had so much experience of it. When towards
morning she fell into a profuse sweating, and he had to change and
wring out the blankets in which he had wrapped her, he knew that the
fever danger was past.
She awoke at mid-day from a deep, health-restoring sleep, so weak
however, that her bones felt like water and her face looked as white as
the pillow case. But her brain was clear.
She saw that there was no one else in the room, which was still in
great disorder. The blankets, hot and heavy, were almost unbearable,
but she had not strength to fling them off. It felt frightfully warm
for the time of year and the air that came in through the open French
window seemed to be blowing from an oven. The sky, as she glimpsed it