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Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land by Rosa Praed (1851-1935)

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his agony. The association had been too painful, and in his daily
tendance he had somewhat neglected this room and had usually entered
the other by the French window from the veranda. Thus, he saw now that
a bloated tarantula had established itself in one corner, between wall
and ceiling, and an uncanny looking white lizard scuttered across the
boards, and disappeared under a piece of furniture, leaving its tail
behind. A phenomenon of natural history at which, he remembered now,
Bridget had often wondered.

He opened the door of communication--where on that memorable night, he
had knocked and received no answer--and passed through it treading
softly as though he were visiting a death chamber. And indeed, to him,
it was truly a death chamber in which the bed, all covered over with a
white sheet, might have been a bier, and the pillows put lengthwise
down it, the shrouded form of one dearly loved and lost. He gazed
about, staring at the familiar pieces of furniture, out of wide red
eyes, smarting with unshed tears. In her looking glass, he seemed to
see the ghost-reflection of her small pale face with its old whimsical
charm. The shadowy eyes under the untidy mass of red-brown hair, in
which the curls and tendrils stood out as if endowed with a magnetic
life of their own; the sensitive lips; the little pointed chin; and, in
the eyes and on the lips, that gently mocking, alluring smile.

There were a few poems that Colin had taught himself to say by heart,
and which he would recite to himself often when he was alone in the
Bush. THE ANCIENT MARINER was one, and there were some of Rudyard
Kipling's and he loved THE IDYLLS OF THE KING--in especial GUINIVERE.
Three lines of that poem leaped to his memory at this moment.




He went to the wardrobe where her dresses hung as she had left them,
only that daily, he had shaken them, cared for them so that no hot
climate pest should injure them. And in so doing, he had been
overwhelmingly conscious of the peculiar, personal fragrance, her
garments had always exhaled--an experience in which rapture and
anguish blended.

How he had loved her! . .. God! how he had loved her! . . . And yet,
latterly, how he had got to take his supreme possession of her as a
matter of course; had allowed the joy of it to be blunted by depression
and irritability over sordid station worries. He remembered with
piercing remorse how often he had neglected the trivial courtesies to
which he knew she attached importance. How he had been prone to sullen
fits of moodiness; had been rough, even brutal, as in that episode of
the Blacks. . . . Brutal to her--this dainty lady, his fairy princess!
. . . And now he had lost her. She was gone back to her own world and
to her own kin.

If only he had yielded to her then about the Blacks! If he had curbed
his anger, shown sympathy with the two wild children of Nature who were
better than himself, in this at least that they had known how to love
and cling to each other in spite of the blows of fate! He had
horse-whipped Wombo for loving Oola, and swift retribution had come
upon himself. . . . That he should have lost Bridget because of the
loves of Wombo and Oola! It was an irony--as if God were laughing at
him. He set his teeth and laughed--the mirthless laugh which had
startled Harris. . . . Well, whether it were automatic or planned
retribution on the part of the High Powers, the trouble could be evened
up and done with. 'I was a damned fool,' he said to himself; 'and I've
been taught my lesson too late for me to benefit by it. Except this way
--I'm not going to be DOWNED for ever. I'll go through my particular
piece of hell, on this darned old earth if I must, and then I'll wipe
the slate and come out on top of something else that isn't love.
There's possibilities enough along the Big Bight to satisfy most men's
ambition. And it's not much odds any way, so long as SHE isn't
seriously hurt.'

With that summing up of the matter, he seemed to gain stoic energy. Now
he went back to his dressing room, and pulled out to the veranda a
couple of worn portmanteaux. Into these he put a variety of personal
belongings. Among them, pictures from the walls, and old photographs in
frames that had been on the dressing table. It was significant that
none of these were portraits of his wife. The portmanteaux he dragged
along the veranda to the side of the steps leading down to the front
garden. Then, instead of returning to Lady Bridget's room, he attacked
an escritoire in the parlour in which he had kept family and private
papers, and which flanked her Chippendale bureau. He brought out
another collection--notebooks, papers, bundles of letters dating much
further back than his occupation of Moongarr--salvage from the wreck
of his old home. His mother's workbox; his father's SHAKESPEARE; the
family Bible--a piteous catalogue. He looked long at the book and the
photographs. These last were portraits of his father, his mother and
his sisters, who had all been massacred by the Blacks, when he was a
boy. He separated all such relics from the general lot, placing them,
and also two or three packets of papers upon a shelf-table in the
veranda--it was that table where Lady Bridget had laid the cablegram
from Lord Gaverick, which she had shown him the day before she had left
Moongarr. Now it seemed to him an altar of sacred memories. He brought
various other small things out of the parlour--things he had not the
heart to destroy--all belonging to his youth--and placed them there.
As he looked at them, a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and a wave
of emotion passed over his face, softening its hardness for an instant.
But the grimness came back. He made a quick movement back to Lady
Bridget's room; and when, after a minute or two, he came out again, he
was carrying a curious object which he had taken out of the deep drawer
beneath her hanging wardrobe. It was a dry piece of gum-tree bark,
shrivelled and curled up at the sides, so that the two edges almost
met. At first he put it on the heap that he had turned out of the
portmanteaux for destruction. His grim thought had been to top with
this strange memorial of his marriage-night, the funeral pyre he had
intended to build. But again the spasm of emotion contorted his
features. His shoulders shook, and a dry choking sound came from his
lips. He took up the piece of bark too, and laid it with the
daguerreotypes on the table. He seemed afraid to give himself time to
think, but went from room to room here and in the Old Humpey, dragging
one thing after another out on to the veranda. Some of the heavier
articles he had to hoist over the steps connecting the two verandas,
and then to drag them down the other steps into the front garden, where
they strewed the gravel round the centre bed.

In spring and summer, when the Chinamen had been there to water and
Lady Bridget to superintend the planting and pruning, this bed had
always been gay with flowers, banking a tall shrub of scented verbena
the perfume of which she had been particularly fond of. Now there were
weeds--most of them withered--instead of flowers. The verbena bush
had long been dead, and the dry leaves and branches, beaten down by the
late storm, made a bed of kindling.

Never was there garden so desolate--the young ornamental trees and
shrubs all dead; the creepers dead also; even the hardy passion vines
upon the fence, mere leafless, fruitless withes of withered stems.

McKeith paused after lugging down two squatters' chairs--the first
house carpentering he had done for his wife after their arrival at the
head-station, and in which, he had resolved, no future owner of
Moongarr should ever sit. That was the thought fiercely possessing him.
Rough chairs and tables and such-like that had been there always, might
remain. But no sacrilegious hands should touch things made for her, or
with which she had been closely associated. They should be burned out
here in the deserted front garden, where not even Kuppi--the only
other occupant of the head-station--would witness his preparations. He
himself would lay and kindle the funeral pyre, and to-night, when there
would be only the stars to see him, he would light the first holocaust.

He stood considering. Sweat dropped from his forehead. His gaunt frame
was trembling after his effort, which had been heavy, and he leaned
against one of the tarred piles supporting the veranda to rest. But
only for a few minutes. Then, his feverish activity recommenced. He
piled up the wooden furniture on the bed of withered verbena branches,
filled the interstices with dead leaves that he collected from the
garden, laid the smaller things--books, papers, pictures--where they
would assist the conflagration, and did not stop until the pyre had
reached to the level of the veranda railing. He reflected grimly that
there was a chance of sparks setting fire to the house itself, and
calculated the extent of the gravel between, deciding that if he was
there to watch there would be no danger.

All the time, the old kangaroo dog, Veno had been nosing round him,
sniffing at the objects lying round, then looking up at him with
bleared, wistful eyes, and evidently unable to understand these strange
proceedings. Once or twice, he had roughly pushed the dog away, but,
when he had finished the work and seated himself from sheer fatigue on
the veranda steps, Veno came and squatted beside him, the dog's head
upon his knee. He filled his pipe and smoked ruminatively; the exertion
had had one good effect; it had dulled the fierceness of his pain.

As he sat there--a faint breeze that had risen with the approach of
sunset, cooling his heated body--he thought again about Moongarr
Bill's letter. He looked at the great pyre in front, and caught the
gleam of the lagoon below through the bare branches of the trees the
little ripple on its surface, the freshening green at its marge. Then
he gazed out over the vast plain towards the horizon. From his low
position on the steps, the middle distance was hidden from him. Through
the reddish tinge cast by the lowering sun, he could discern, far off
likewise, the unmistakable signs of new-springing grass and the course
of the river, for so long non-existent. From the gully he heard the
sound of rushing water. It had been a roaring torrent just after the
storm, and he knew that a flood must have come down from the heads.

Yes, the Drought had broken. The plain would soon be green again.
Flowers would spring up as they had done for Bridget's bridal
home-coming. If the rain had fallen a few months sooner the station
might have been saved.

And even now, with the remnant of three or four hundred cattle,
provided there were no crippling debt, no spectre of the Man in
Possession, he might still hang on, and in time retrieve his losses,
lie low, sink artesian wells, make the station secure for the future.

He had been so fond of the place. He had taken up the run with such
high hopes; had so slaved to increase his herd, to make improvements on
the head-station. He had looked upon this as the nucleus of his
fortune; the pivot on which his career as one of the Empire-builders
would revolve. . . . And now. . . .

Well, some clever speculator no doubt would buy it at a low price
during the Slump, stock it with more cattle, work it up during a good
season or two, and, when cattle stations boomed once more, sell it at
an immense profit. That was what he himself would have done had he been
a speculator in similar conditions. Even still, he could do it with a
small amount of capital to supply a sop for the Bank. . . . Now that
the Drought had broken they would be more likely to let him go
on. . . . He thought of the 3,000 pounds Sir Luke Tallant had made him put
into settlement on his marriage. He had not wanted to do that at the time;
his Scotch caution had revolted against the tying up of his resources,
and his instinct was justified. If only he had command of that money
now! It was his own; his wife was rich; that was the one benefit he
could have taken from her. . . . But it was impossible to broach the

Suddenly the dog stirred uneasily, sniffed the air and leaped to the
gravel walk where it stood giving short, uncertain barks, as though
aware of something happening outside for which it could not account.

McKeith lifted his head, bent in the absorption of his thought, and
looked about for the disturber of Veno's placidity. But Kuppi was
nowhere in sight, nor was there sign of other intruder. Where he sat,
the garden fence, overgrown with withered passion vines, bounded his
vision, and had anybody ridden or driven up the hill through the lower
sliprails, he would not have seen them, probably would not have heard
them. For there were no longer dogs, black boys, Chinamen or station
hands to voice intimation of a new arrival. All the old sounds of
evening activity were hushed. No mustering-mob being driven to the
stockyard; no running up of milkers or horses for the morrow; no goats
to be penned--they had been killed off long ago; no beasts grazing or
calling--no audible life at all except that of the birds, who, since
the rain, had found their notes again and were telling each other
vociferously that it was time to go to bed. Indeed, the silence and
solitariness of the once busy head-station had enticed many of the
shyer kinds of birds from the lagoon and the forest. Listening, as he
now was, intently, McKeith could hear the gurgling COO-ROO-ROO of the
swamp pheasant, which is always found near water--and likewise rare
sound--the silvery ring of the bell-bird rejoicing in the fresh-filled

But Veno was still uneasy, and Colin got up on to the veranda. He stood
there, listening all the while, strained expectancy in his eyes as if
he too were vaguely conscious of something outside happening. . . .

And now he did hear something that made him go white as with uncanny
dread. It was a footstep that he heard on the veranda of the Old Humpey
--very light, a soft tapping of high heels and the accompanying swish
of drapery--a ghostly rustle--'a ghostly footfall echoing.'. . . For
surely in this place it could have no human reality.

It approached along the passage between the two buildings, halted for a
few seconds, and then mounted to the front veranda.

The man was standing with his back to the Old Humpey. He would not
turn. A superstitious fear fell upon him and made his knees shake and
his tall, lean frame tremble. . . . He DARED not turn his head and look
lest he should see that which would tell him Bridget was dead.

But the dead do not speak in syllables that an ordinary human ear can
hear. And Colin heard his own name spoken in accents piercingly clear
and sweet.


To him, though, it was as a ghost-voice. He stood transfixed. And just
then the dog bounded past him. It had flown up the steps barking
loudly. That could be no immaterial form upon which the creature flung
itself, pawing, nosing, licking with the wildest demonstrations of joy.

He heard the well-remembered tones:

'Quiet Veno. . . . Good dog. . . . Lie down Veno--Lie down.'

The dog seemed to understand that this was not a moment for
effusiveness. Without another sound, it crouched upon its haunches
gazing up at the new-comer.

Then Colin turned. Bridget was standing not a yard from him. A slender
figure in a grey silk cloak, with bare head--she had flung back her
grey sun-bonnet and shrouding gauze veil. . . . He saw the face he knew
--the small, pale face; the shadowy eyes, wide and bright with an
ecstatic determination, yet in them a certain feminine timorousness;
the little pointed chin poked slightly forward; the red-brown hair--
all untidy curls and tendrils, each hair seeming to have a life and
magnetism of its own. It was just as he had so often pictured her in
dreams of sleep and waking.

He gazed at her like one who beholds a vision from another world. And
then a great sob burst from him--the pitiful sob of a strong man who
is beaten, broken with emotion. The whole being of the man seemed to
collapse. He staggered forward, and such a change came over the gaunt,
hard face, that Bridget saw it through a rain of tears which fell down
her cheeks.

'Oh, Colin--Won't you speak to me?'

'Biddy!' He went close to her and gripped her two wrists, holding her
before him while his hungry eyes seemed to be devouring her.

'It's you--it's really you. You're not dead, are you?'

'Dead! Oh no--no. . . . I've come home.'

'Home!' He laughed.

'Oh don't--don't,' she cried. 'Don't laugh like that.'

'Home!' he repeated, grimly. 'Look round you. A nice sort of home. Eh?'

'I don't care. It's the only real home I've ever had.'

'But look--look!'

She followed his eyes to the great pyre in the garden, with the dead
leaves, and the pieces of furniture, the squatters' chairs, the little
tables he and she had covered together, the hammock that he had cut
down leaving the ropes dangling--many other things that she recognised
also. Then her gaze came back to the veranda. To the open portmanteaux;
the different objects still strewing the ground; and then to the
shelf-table against the wall near the hammock, and, there, to his most
cherished possessions. She knew at once his mother's work-box, the
shabby SHAKESPEARE--the portraits, and, on top of all, the piece of
gum-tree bark.

She snatched her wrists from his grasp, darted to the shelf, seized the
shrivelled pice of bark, and pressed it against her bosom as though it
had been a living thing.

'Oh, you COULDN'T burn this! . . . You were going to burn it with the
rest--but you COULDN'T--any more than you could have burned your
mother's things. . . . I thought of it all the way--I knew that if you
could burn this, too, there would be no hope for me any more. I PRAYED
that you might not burn it.'

'But how--how did you know I was going to burn the things?' he
stammered bewilderedly.

'I saw it all--I saw you--just like this, on the veranda--so thin
and hard and miserable--and so proud, yet--and stubborn--I saw it
all--saw the bonfire ready--And I saw this piece of bark--And then
something made you stop and you put it with your mother's things
instead. You remembered--Oh! Mate, you DID understand? You DID
remember--that first night by the camp fire--and we two--just we
two'--she broke off sobbing.

'You saw--you saw--' he kept saying. 'But how--how did you know? Tell
me, Mate.'

'I saw it all in a dream--at Castle Gaverick. Three times I dreamed
the same dream; and I felt, inside me, that it was a prophetic warning.
We're like that, you know, we Irish Celts. And you--though you're a
Scotchman--you used to laugh at such things! But they're true; they're
true--I've had glints of second sight before. Joan Gildea understood.
When I told her, she believed it was a warning God had sent me, and she
said I must go to you--go at once lest it should be too late. She
wanted to come with me, but it would have been difficult for her to
leave her work, and I didn't want her--I wanted to come to you all on
my own.'

'And then?--then?' he asked breathlessly.

'Oh, then I left Castle Gaverick at once, and, in London, I took my
passage--there was an E. and A. boat just going to start. Of course I
knew the route. I got out of the steamer at Leuraville, and came
straight on by train--I didn't wait anywhere. I thought I'd get out at
Crocodile Creek and pay somebody to drive me up here. But you've got
the railway brought nearer, and when I got out at Kangaroo Flat there
was a most extraordinary thing--Then, I knew why the voice inside had
been urging me on so quickly.'

'An extraordinary thing--? What was it?' he said in the same
breathless, broken way.

'It was Mr Ninnis. He was there, standing on the platform just off his
droving trip--he was going to take the next train to Leuraville. If I
had stayed there as Captain Halliwell wanted me to, I should have
missed him. He'd got a letter from Moongarr Bill--Oh, I know all about
that. But it doesn't matter--it doesn't matter in the least. You can
go if you like and find the gold--I'll stop at Joan Gildea's cottage
in Leichardt's Town and wait for you--I don't care about ANYTHING if
you'll only let me be your Mate again. But Colin--' she rushed on, for
he could not speak, and the sight of a great man struggling with his
tears is one that a woman who loves him can scarcely bear to see. And
yet the sight made Bridget happy for all its pain--'Colin, when I
first saw Ninnis, do you know what I thought--? That you had sent him
to meet me. That you, too, had been warned in a dream?'

'No, I wish I had been--My God, I wish I had been.'

'What would you have done, Colin?'

'I'd have been there myself,' he said simply. 'It would have been me,
not Ninnis, that you saw at Kangaroo Flat Station.'

She held out her arms. The roll of bark dropped on the boards of the
veranda. In a moment he was pressing her fiercely to his breast, and
his lips were on hers.

And in that kiss, by the divine alchemy of true wedded love, all the
past pride and bitterness were transmuted into a great abiding Peace.

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