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Title: In The Far North (1901)
Author: Louis Becke

From "The Tapu Of Banderah and Other Stories"


               "Out on the wastes of the Never Never--
                    That's where the dead men lie!
               There where the heat-waves dance for ever--
                    That's where the dead men lie!"
                         (Barcroft Boake,
                         in the Sydney Bulletin.)




I

Jack Barrington, nominal owner of Tinandra Downs cattle station on the
Gilbert River in the far north of North Queensland, was riding slowly
over his run, when, as the fierce rays of a blazing sun, set in a sky of
brass, smote upon his head and shoulders and his labouring stock-horse
plodded wearily homewards over the spongy, sandy soil, the lines
of Barcroft Boake came to his mind, and, after he had repeated them
mentally, he cursed aloud.

"_That's where the dead men lie!_ Poor Boake must have thought of this
God-forsaken part of an utterly God-forsaken country, I think, when he
wrote 'Out where the Dead Men Lie.' For I believe that God Almighty has
forgotten it! Oh for rain, rain, rain! Rain to send the Gilbert down
in a howling yellow flood, and turn this blarsted spinifex waste of
scorching sand and desolation into green grass--and save me and the
youngsters from giving it best, and going under altogether.... Boake
knew this cursed country well.... I wonder if he ever 'owned' a
station--one with a raging drought, a thundering mortgage, and a
worrying and greedy bank sooling him on to commit suicide, or else
provide rain as side issues.... I don't suppose he had a wife and
children to leave to the mercy of the Australian Pastoralists' Bank.
D----n and curse the Australian Pastoralists' Bank, and the drought, and
this scorching sand and hateful spinifex--and God help the poor cattle!"

He drew rein almost under the shade of a clump of stunted sandalwood,
which had, in good seasons, been a favourite mustering camp, and looked
about him, and then he passed his hand over his eyes to shut out for a
few moments the melancholy spectacle before him.

I have said that he pulled up "almost" under shelter; further he could
not advance, for the hard, parched ground immediately under the shade of
the sandalwoods was thickly covered by the stiffened sun-dried carcasses
of some hundreds of dead cattle, which, having become too weak to leave
the sheltering trees in search of food and water had lain down and died.
Beyond, scattered singly and about in twos and threes, were the remains
of scores of other wretched beasts, which, unable to drag themselves
either to the sandy river-bed or to the scanty shade of the stunted
timber, had perished where they fell.

With a heavy sigh Harrington dismounted, took off his water-bag from the
saddle, and pouring a little water into his hat, gave his horse a drink.
Then he drank a few mouthfuls himself, filled and lit his pipe, and sat
down, to rest awhile until the sun had lost its fierce intensity--and
think.

And he thought despairingly of the black prospect which for the past
six or seven months had tormented him by day, and haunted him at night,
broken now and then with a gleam of hope when the pitiless blue of
the sky changed to grey, and rain seemed near, only to be followed by
renewed and bitter disappointment.

"It cannot last much longer," he thought; "even if rain came within
a week the rest of the poor brutes left alive will be too weak to
recover--and there's not hands enough on the station to cut leaves for
them. Even the blacks have cleared out lower down the river... found a
good water-hole I daresay, and, like wise niggers, are camping there.
Why doesn't Providence give a poor honest bullock as much show for his
life in a drought as a damned, filthy blackfellow! Instead of hoofs--in
this part of the country at any rate--cattle ought to have feet like a
bandicoot, then the poor beasts could worry along by digging waterholes
in the river bed."

Then, sick at heart as he was, a faint smile flitted over his
sun-bronzed face at the fancy.

An hour passed, and Harrington, with another weary sigh, rose and
saddled his horse--one of the few now remaining to him and able to carry
a rider. Five miles away from the sandalwood camp was another and larger
patch of timber--tall, slender brigalows, which grew on the edge of a
dried-up swamp, once the haunt and breeding place of countless thousands
of wild duck, teal, and geese. This was another of the mustering camps
on Tinandra, and as it lay on his way home, he decided to go there and
see if any of the "Big Swamp" cattle were still alive. As he rode slowly
over towards the fringe of timber, the westering sun turned from a
dazzling, blinding gold to a gradually deepening red; and his sweating
horse gave a snort of satisfaction as the soft, spongy, and sandy
spinifex country was left behind, and the creature's hoofs struck upon
the hard sun-baked plain of yellow earth which lay between the two
camps. Looking down at the great, widely spreading cracks in the hungry
soil, the result of a seven-months' continuous drought, Harrington
almost unconsciously bent his head and thought that surely God would
send rain. He was not a religious man in the conventional sense--he
had never been inside a church in his life--but the memory of his dead
mother's belief in God's mercy and goodness was still strong within him.

The brigalow scrub was about half a mile in length, and stood between
the swamp and the high river bank. At the dried-up bed of the swamp
itself he did not care to look a second time; its once reedy margin was
now a sight of horror, for many hundreds of cattle had been bogged there
long months before, as they had striven to get further out to the centre
where there was yet left a little water, saved from evaporation by the
broad leaves of the blue water-lilies.

Skirting the inner edge of the scrub till he reached its centre, he
looked carefully among the timber, but not a beast was to be seen; then
dismounting he led his horse through, came out upon the river bank, and
looked across the wide expanse of almost burning sand which stretched
from bank to bank, unbroken in its desolation except by a few ti-trees
whose roots, deep down, kept them alive.

"Bob, old fellow," he said to his horse, "we've another ten miles to
go, and there's no use in killing ourselves. I think that we can put in
half an hour digging sand, and manage to raise a drink down there in the
river bed."

Still leading the animal, which seemed to know his master's intention,
Harrington walked down the sloping bank, his long riding-boots sinking
deeply into the fine, sandy soil, and Bob pricked up his ears and gave a
true stock-horse sigh of weariness and anticipation combined.

On the opposite side of the river bed and close under the bank were
growing two or three heavy ti-trees, and here, just as the sun had set,
he halted, again unsaddled, and after lighting a fire, began to scoop
out a hole with his quart pot in between the roots of the trees. For
some minutes he worked on with energy, then he stopped and listened,
and Bob, too, turned his head inquiringly, for he also had heard the
sound--it was only the cry of a beast, but it seemed so near that
Harrington ceased his digging and stood up to look.

Not a hundred yards distant he saw, by the light of the now brightly
blazing fire, four gaunt steers and a skeleton heifer, staggering and
swaying over the river sand towards him in their weakness and agony of
hunger and thirst The poor creatures had seen the man and the horse!
As they toiled towards the light of the fire, a dreadful, wheezing
moan came from the parched throat of the leading steer as it laboured
pantingly over to something human--something it associated with water,
and grass, and life, and presently the wretched animal, with one last
effort, fell in its tracks almost at Harrington's feet. It lay there
quiet enough for a minute or two, with lean, outstretched neck and one
horn buried in the sand, its fast glazing eye turned to the man, and
seeming to say, "Give me water or death."

Harrington, wrought up and excited to the last pitch, flung himself upon
his knees, and placed his cheek against that of the dying steer, and a
sob burst from his bosom.

"O God, if there is a God! have mercy upon these Thy dumb creatures who
suffer such agony."

He stepped up to his horse, took his revolver out of the pouch, and then
a merciful bullet ended the sufferings of the thirst-stricken animal at
his feet.

"Steady, Bob, old man! Steady there!" he said brokenly, "I may have to
do the same to you before long." And then, tearing off a long piece of
dried ti-tree bark from one of the trees, he thrust it into the fire.
Then, with the blazing torch in his left hand, and his pistol in his
right, he tramped over the sand to the remaining cattle, and shot them
dead one by one.

Then back to his digging again. A drink of thick, muddy water for his
horse, and then with a dull sense of misery in his heart he led Bob up
the bank and began the last stage of his ride home--home to his anaemic,
complaining, shallow-brained wife and the weakly children who, instead
of being the consolation of his life in his misfortunes, were an added
and ever-present source of misery and despair.

* * * * *




II

A few years before, Harrington had bought Tinandra Downs, and had
stocked the run with three thousand head of store cattle; for half of
which number he had paid, the remainder he had bought on long terms from
a neighbouring squatter--a man who knew his sterling merits, and was
confident that he (Harrington) would make Tinandra one of the best
cattle stations in the far north. Fortune had smiled upon him from the
first; for within two years came the discovery of the famous Palmer
River goldfields, only a few hundred miles distant, and cattle and
station properties doubled in value, for in less than half a year there
were six thousand diggers on the field, and more came pouring in from
the southern colonies by every steamer to Cooktown. New townships sprang
suddenly into existence, provisions of all kinds brought an enormous
price, and Harrington cleared off his debt to his squatter friend almost
ere he could realise having done so, and that he had several thousands
of pounds to the good as well. And his good luck stuck to him, for
it was attended by careful management, and every mob of fat cattle he
despatched to the goldfield instead of sending them on a three-hundred
league journey to Brisbane, meant another couple of thousand sovereigns.

Then he began to improve the head station--and to think of Myra, a girl
whom he had once met in Sydney, and who sent him newspapers, and, once
or twice, at long intervals, had written him letters. He had answered
these letters with a secret hope that, if all went well with him, he
would take another trip to Sydney, and then--well, he could at least
ask her. If she said no, why, who was there to chaff him? He was not a
communicative man, had very few intimate men friends, and the few women
whom he knew were not the sort he could possibly talk to about a lady.
Both his parents had died before he was ten years of age, leaving him
utterly alone in the world. Born in a bush town, in the interior of New
South Wales, he had turned to the bush and to the wide, open, grassy
plains, as an infant would have turned to its mother in its distress;
and the bush and the plains and the grey mountain ranges had taken him
to their bosoms; and the silent, reserved boy became the resolute, hardy
bushman, stock-rider, and then miner--a man fit and ready to meet the
emergencies of his rough life. Of the outside world he was as ignorant
as a child, as indeed were most of the men with whom for many years he
had associated. But there was nothing despicable in his ignorance;
and when as time went on, and his improved circumstances threw him in
contact with men and women of refinement and culture, he was quick to
take advantage of such opportunities; but the honest, simple nature of
the man always remained the same.

Before he was thirty, Harrington was known as one of the most
experienced and fortunate over-lander drovers in Australia, and he
became as familiar with the long and lonely stock-route from the
stations on the Gulf of Carpentaria to Sydney and Melbourne, in his many
journeys, as if it were a main road in an English county.

At the conclusion of one of these tedious drives of seven months'
duration, the brown-faced, quiet drover was asked by an acquaintance
with whom he had business transactions, to spend the evening with him at
his house. He went, and there met Myra Lyndon. He was attracted by her
bright manner and smiling face, and when she questioned him about his
life in the Far North, his adventures among the blacks, and the many
perils of a drover's existence, he thought her the fairest and
sweetest woman in the world. And Miss Myra Lyndon encouraged him in his
admiration. Not that she cared for him in the least She had not reached
eight-and-twenty years of age to throw herself away on a man who had
no other ambition than to become a squatter and live amongst a lot of
"horrid bellowing cattle." But he was nice to talk to, though terribly
stupid about some things, and so she did not mind writing to him once
or twice--it would reward him for the horse he had one day sent to her
father with a lamely worded note, saying that it was one of a mob he had
just bought at the saleyards, and as he had no use for a lady's hack,
he thought that perhaps Miss Lyndon would be so kind as to accept it Mr.
Lyndon smiled as he read the note, he knew that drovers did not usually
buy ladies' hacks; but being a man harassed to death with an expensive
family, he was not disposed to discourage Harrington's attentions to
Myra; though, having a conscience, he felt that Jack Harrington was too
good a man for such a useless, empty-brained, and selfish creature as
his eldest daughter.

So Harrington went back to his "bellowing bullocks," and then, having
saved enough money, bought the very run he had so often wished he
could buy; and "Jack" Harrington, the overlander, became "Mr." John
Harrington, the pastoralist and owner of Tinandra Downs, and then the
vision of Myra Lyndon's face came to him very often--now that he was so
prosperous.

One day he told his overseer that he was going to Sydney for a trip, and
being a man of action, packed his valise, mounted his horse, and rode
off on his journey of five hundred miles to the nearest seaport where he
could take passage for Sydney.

For the first week or so after his arrival in the city, he "mooned"
about doing nothing, and trying to pluck up courage enough to go to Myra
Lyndon to ask her to be his wife. He had called several times upon her
father and discussed business matters with him; but beyond inquiring
after "Mrs. Lyndon and the Misses Lyndon," had said nothing further,
and in a nervous, shamefaced manner had each time accepted Mr. Lyndon's
invitation to "come and see the girls before he went back to the North,"
but had not had the courage to go. Next week, or the week after
that, would do, he thought. If she said "No," he wouldn't feel it so
much--once he was on his way North again in the old _Florence Irving_;
he would put it off till just as he was ready to start. Then if she said
"Yes," he would stay in Sydney as long as his love wished--a month--aye,
six months, so long as she came back with him to Tinandra Downs. And
Myra Lyndon, who knew from her father that her "bullock-driver admirer,"
as she had mockingly called him to her friends, was in Sydney, waited
for him impatiently. A systematic course of jilting and being jilted had
made her feel anxious as to her future, and gall and wormwood had come
to her now that her two younger sisters had married before her, and left
her, as her somewhat acidulous-tongued mother said, "the Lyndon family
wallflower." She meant to marry him, spend a year or so among the
"beastly bellowing cattle," and then return to Sydney, where as Mrs.
Harrington, the wealthy squatter's wife, she could enjoy herself
thoroughly, snub some of the women she hated, and flirt with some of the
men she liked.

Late one night, Harrington, sauntering from the theatre to his hotel,
met, to his intense astonishment, a man he knew--had known years before
when he (Harrington) was a drover and the other man--Walters--was a
mounted trooper in the Queensland police.

They shook hands warmly, and then Walters said, "Come along with me,
Jack, to the Water Police Station; we can have a yarn there.... Oh, yes,
I'm a Sydney man now--a full-fledged inspector of police... tell you
all about it by and by. But, push along, old man. One of my men has just
told me that a woman who jumped off the Circular Quay and tried to drown
herself, is lying at the station, and is not expected to pull through.
Hallo! here's a cab! Jump in, Jack; there's some whisky in the
sergeant's room, and after I've seen the cadaver--if she has
cadavered--we'll have a right down good yarn."

The cab rattled through the now almost deserted street, and in a few
minutes Harrington and his friend alighted at a small stone building
overlooking the waters of Sydney Harbour. A water-policeman, who stood
at the door under the big gas-lamp, saluted the inspector and then
showed Harrington into the sergeant's room.

Ten minutes passed, and then Walters, accompanied by a big, stout,
red-faced man, came in.

"Ha, here you are, old man. Jack, Dr. Parsons--the man who does the
resuscitating and such silly business of this institution; Parsons, my
old friend, Jack Harrington. Sergeant, where is that whisky?"

"Is the woman dead, doctor?" asked Harrington presently, as the
sergeant's wife brought in a bottle of whisky and some glasses.

"No," replied the police doctor slowly, as he poured some whisky into
his glass, "she is not dead; but she may not live much longer--a day or
so perhaps. It all depends. Shock to the system."

"One of the usual sort, Parsons, I suppose?" inquired Walters--"left the
baby on the wharf, with a written request for some 'kind Christian to
love it,' eh?"

The fat doctor grunted. "You're a beast, Walters. There's no baby in the
case. Here, give me ten shillings--you'll spend more than that in drinks
before you go to bed to-night This girl _isn't_ one of the usual
sort. She's a lady--and she's been starving. So ante-up, you
ex-nigger-shooting Queensland policeman; and I'll add another half-sov.
Then perhaps your friend will give me something for her. And I'm not
going to send her off to the hospital. I'm going to take her to some
people I know, and ask them to keep her for a few days until she gets
round."

Harrington put his hand in his pocket, and then in a nervous, diffident
way, looking first at Walters and then at the doctor, put five
sovereigns on the table.

"I'm pretty flush now, you know.... I'm not a plunger, but I shall be
glad, doctor, if you will take that and give it to her.... I was almost
starving myself once---_you_ know, Walters, when I got the sack from the
'Morning Star' Mine for plugging the English manager when he called me a
'damned colonial lout.'"

The fat-faced doctor looked steadily at him for a moment or two. Then he
reached out his hand.

"You're a good fellow, Mr. Harrington. I'll take a sovereign or two.
Come in here with me."




III

Harrington followed him into an adjoining room, where, upon a
wicker-work couch was reclining the figure of a young girl. Standing
beside her was the police-sergeant's wife, who, as soon as the two men
came in, quietly drew aside.

"Now, here I am back again, my dear child," said the doctor
good-humouredly, "and here is a very old friend of mine, Mr. Jack
Harrington; and we have come to cheer you up and tell you that you have
two or three good friends. And we won't let any women or parsons come
to you and worry you, and tell you that you have been a wicked girl,
and ought to have thrown yourself upon God's mercy and all that sort of
thing. So just drink that coffee, and then by and by we will take you to
some people I know well, and you shall come and tell us in a day or two
how sorry you are for being so foolish."

The girl's dark hazel eyes looked steadily at them both; then she put
out a thin white hand.

"You are very kind to me. I know it was very wicked to try and kill
myself, but I was so lonely, and... and I had not eaten anything since
Wednesday... and I wanted to die." Then she covered her face and sobbed
softly, whilst the doctor patted her on the shoulder and said--

"Don't worry, little girl; you are in good hands now. Never mind Mrs.
Thornton and her un-kindness. You are better away from her--isn't she,
Mr. Harrington?"

Mr. Harrington, knowing nothing about Mrs. Thornton, promptly said "Oh,
most certainly," and the girl's eyes met his for a second, and a faint
smile flushed upon her pale lips. The tall, bearded, and brown-faced
man's face seemed so full of pity.

"Now you must go to sleep for an hour or two," said the doctor
imperatively; "so now then, little girl, 'seepy-by, beddy-bo.' That's
what _my_ mother used to say to me."

Harrington followed the doctor out into the sergeant's room, where
Inspector Walters, with his heels upon the table, was falling asleep.

"Sit down a moment, Mr. Harrington," said Dr. Parsons, taking up a book
which the sergeant had left upon the table; "this is a sad case. Here
is a girl, Nellie Alleyne, age 19, nursery governess to Mrs.
Lavery-Thornton, of Waverly, jumped into the water off the Quay; rescued
by Water-police Constables Casey and Boyce."

Harrington nodded.

"This girl has told me her story. She is alone and friendless in Sydney.
She came out to Australia when she was seventeen, got a billet with
this Mrs. Lavery-Thornton--who seems to be a perfect brute of a
woman--suffered a two years' martyrdom, and then was dismissed from her
situation with the large sum of twenty-two shillings in her pocket Tried
to get another such position, but people wouldn't take her without a
recommendation from her last place. The Thornton woman wouldn't give her
one; said she was too independent. High-spirited girl with twenty-two
shillings between her and starvation, wanders about from one registry
office to another for a couple of weeks, living in a room in a Miller's
Point slum; money all gone; pestered by brutes in the usual way, jumps
into the water to end her miseries. Rough, isn't it?"

Harrington nodded. "Poor thing! I should like you, Dr. Parsons, to--to
let her know that she _has_ friends. Will you let me help. Fifty pounds
or a hundred pounds won't hurt me... and I've been stone-broke myself.
But a man can always peg along in the bush; and it's an awful thing for
a child like that to be adrift in a big city."

The kind-hearted police doctor looked steadily into Harrington's face
for a moment, then he said quietly--

"An awful thing indeed. But there are some good men in the world,
Mr. Harrington, who are able and willing to save pure souls from
destruction. You are one of them. Tom Walters and myself are both
hard-up devils--we see a lot of misery, but can do nothing to alleviate
it; a few shillings is all we can give."

Harrington rose, and his sun-tanned face flushed as he drew out his
cheque-book. "I never try to shove myself in, in such matters as these,
doctor, but I should feel pleased if you will let me help."

Then he wrote out a cheque for fifty pounds, pushed it over to the
doctor, said he thought it was getting late, and that he had better get
back to his hotel.

Dr. Parsons gave the sleeping inspector a shake, and in a few words told
him what Harrington had done.

"You're a dashed fool, old man," said Walters sleepily to Harrington;
"most likely she'll blue your fifty quid, and then blackmail----"

The doctor's hand descended upon the inspector's shoulder. "Shut up, you
beastly old wretch--do you think _all_ women are alike. Come, now, let
us have another nip and get away. Mr. Harrington is tired. Sergeant!"

The sergeant came to the door.

"Thompson, take good care of that young _lady_. We happen to know her.
If she awakes before eight o'clock in the morning, tell her that she
is to stay with your wife till I come to see her at nine o'clock. Any
effects, sergeant?"

"Yes, sir," and the sergeant took out his note-book, "seven pawn
tickets, five pennies, and a New Testament with 'Nellie Alleyne' written
inside."

"Here, give me those tickets, I'll take care of them; and Thompson, if
the newspaper fellows come here to-night, say that the young lady fell
over the wharf accidentally, and has gone home to her friends. See?"

"I see, sir," said Thompson, as the good-hearted doctor slipped half a
sovereign into his hand.

Then the three men stepped out into the street and strolled up to the
Royal Hotel, and sat down in the smoking-room, which was filled with a
noisy crowd, some of whom soon saw Walters and called him away, leaving
the doctor and Harrington by themselves.

"Better take this back, Mr. Harrington," and Dr. Parsons handed him his
cheque. "Two or three pounds will be quite enough for the poor girl."

"Not I," said Harrington with a smile, "fifty pounds won't ruin me, as
I said--and it may mean a lot to her, poor child. And I feel glad that I
can help some one... some one who is all right, you know. Now I must be
off. Good night, doctor."

Parsons looked at the tall manly figure as he pushed his way through
the noisy crowd in the smoking-room, and then at the cheque in his hand.
"Well, there's a good fellow. Single man, I'll bet; else he wouldn't be
so good to a poor little devil of a stranded girl. Didn't even ask her
name. May the Lord send him a good wife."

The Lord did not send Harrington a good wife; for the very next day he
called upon Mrs. Lyndon, and Mrs. Lyndon took good care that he should
be left alone with Myra; and Myra smiled so sweetly at him, when with
outstretched hands she came into the drawing-room, that he fatuously
believed she loved him. And she of course, when he asked her to be his
wife, hid her face on his shoulder, and said she could not understand
why he could love _her_. Why, she was quite an old maid! Amy and Gwen
were ever so much prettier than she, and she was sure that both Gwen
and Amy, even though they were now both married, would feel jealous when
they knew that big, handsome Jack Harrington had asked her to be his
wife; and so on and so forth, as only the skilled woman of thirty,
whose hopes of marriage are slipping by, knows how to talk and lie to
an "eligible" man unused to women's ways. And Harrington kissed Myra's
somewhat thin lips, and said--and believed--that he was the happiest man
in Australia. Then Mrs. Lyndon came in, and, in the manner of mothers
who are bursting with joy at getting rid of a daughter whose matrimonial
prospects are looking gloomy, metaphorically fell upon Harrington's
neck and wept down his back, and said he was robbing her of her dearest
treasure, &c., &c. Harrington, knowing nothing of conventional women's
ways, believed her, and married, for him, the most unsuitable woman in
the world.

A week or so after his marriage he received a letter from Dr. Parsons
enclosing the cheque he had given him for Nellie Alleyne:--

"Dear Harrington,--Girl won't take the cheque. Has a billet--cashier in
a restaurant. Says she is writing to you. She's true gold. You ought to
marry her and take her away with you to your outlandish parts. Would ask
her to marry me--if I could keep her; but she wouldn't have me whilst
you are about. Always glad to see you at my diggings; whisky and soda
and such, and a hearty welcome."

And by the same post came a letter from the girl herself--a letter that,
simply worded as it was, sent an honest glow through his heart:--

     "Dear Mr. Harrington,--I shall never, never forget your
     kindness to me; as long as I live I shall never forget Dr.
     Parsons tells me that you live in Queensland--more than a
     thousand miles from Sydney, and that you are going away
     soon. Please will you let me call on you before you go away?
     I shall be so unhappy if I do not see you again, because in
     a letter I _cannot_ tell you how I thank you, how deeply
     grateful I am to you for your goodness and generosity to me.
     "Yours very sincerely,

     "Helen Alleyne."

Harrington showed the letter to Myra, who bubbled over with pretty
expressions of sympathy and wrote and asked her to call. Nellie did
call, and the result of her visit was that when Harrington took his
newly married wife to Tinandra Downs, she went with her as companion.
And from the day that she entered the door of his house, Helen Alleyne
had proved herself to be, as Dr. Parsons had said, "true gold." As the
first bright years of prosperity vanished, and the drought and financial
worries all but crushed Harrington under the weight of his misfortunes,
and his complaining, irritable wife rendered his existence at home
almost unbearable, her brave spirit kept his from sinking under the
incessant strain of his anxieties. Mrs. Harrington, after her third
child was born, had given up even the semblance of attending to the
children, and left them to Nellie and the servants. She was doing quite
enough, she once told her husband bitterly, in staying with him at such
a horrible place in such a horrible country. But she nevertheless always
went away to the sea-coast during the hottest months, and succeeded in
having a considerable amount of enjoyment, leaving the children and Jack
and Miss Alleyne to swelter through the summer at Tinandra Downs as best
they could.




IV

It was nearly midnight as Harrington took down the slip-rails and led
his horse through the paddock up to the house, which, except for a dimly
burning lamp in the dining-room, was in darkness. The atmosphere was
close and sultry, and the perspiration ran down his skin in streams as
he gave his horse to the head-stockman, who was sitting on the verandah
awaiting him.

"Terrible night, sir, but I'm thinking if it keeps on like this for
another hour or two we'll get a big thunderstorm. 'Sugar-bag'" (one of
the black boys) "was here just now and says that the ant-heaps about are
covered with ants--that's a sure sign, sir."

"God send it so, Banks! If no rain comes within two days, you'll have to
start away for Cleveland Bay with Mrs. Harrington and Miss Alleyne and
the children. We must find horses somehow to take them there."

Before Banks led the horse away for a drink, he stopped.

"Miss Alleyne went to Canton Reef, sir, this morning with little Sandy.
She ought to have been here before dark, but I expect the horses knocked
up. There's a couple of cows with young calves there, so Sandy says,
and Miss Alleyne said she would try and bring them in if I would let her
take Sandy. We've had no milk, sir, for the children since Tuesday, and
Miss Alleyne said that you would be vexed. I would have gone
myself, sir, but I couldn't well leave, and I know Miss Alleyne will
manage--it's only fifteen miles, and Sandy says that the two cows and
calves are pretty fat and can travel; there's a bit of feed at those
waterholes about the Canton. Most likely she and the little black boy
have yarded the cows at the Seven-mile Hut and are camping there for
the night But I'll start off now, sir. I've got Peter the Pig already
saddled."

"Yes, yes, Banks, certainly. Why didn't you start long ago?"

"Mrs. Harrington said I must wait for you, sir," the man answered
somewhat sullenly.

Harrington nodded. "Hurry up, Banks; but here, take a glass of grog
first."

He watched the stockman disappear down the dusty track to the
slip-rails, then he went inside, and sitting down at the table buried
his face in his hands. Then, booted and dusty, and tired in mind and
body, he slept.

An hour had passed, and no sound disturbed the hot oppressive silence of
the night but the heavy breathing of the wearied man. Then through his
dreamless slumber came the murmur of voices, and presently three figures
walked quickly up from the milking-yard towards the house.

"He's asleep, miss," whispered Banks, "he's dog tired But the news you
have got for him will put fresh life into him. Now just you go to him,
miss, and tell him, and then as soon as I have given them cows a drink,
I'll bring you in some tea. Sandy, you little black devil, light a fire
in the kitchen and don't make a noise, or I'll tan your hide, honest."

For a minute or so the girl stood in the doorway of the dining-room,
holding a heavy saddle-pouch, in her hand, her frame trembling with
emotion and physical exhaustion; and trying to speak. As soon as she
could speak, she walked over to the sleeping man and touched him on
the shoulder He awoke with a start just as she sank on her knees, and
leaning her elbows on a chair beside him, burst into a fit of hysterical
weeping. He waited for her to recover herself.

"Oh, I am so glad, so glad, Mr. Harrington! Now you need not give up
Tinandra... and the drought doesn't matter... and oh, I thank God for
His goodness that He has let me help you at last!" She broke off with a
choking sob, and then, with streaming eyes, placed her hand in his.

Harrington lifted her up and placed her on a couch. "Lie there, Miss
Alleyne. I will call Mrs. Harrington----"

She put out her hand beseechingly. "Please _don't_, Mr. Harrington. She
is not at all strong, and I think I made her very angry this morning by
going away to look for the milkers.... But look, Mr. Harrington, look
inside the saddle pouch." Then she sat up, and her eyes burnt with
feverish expectation, "Quick, quick, please," and then she began to
laugh wildly, but clenching her hands tightly together she overcame her
hysteria, and attempted to speak calmly.

"I shall be better in a minute... empty it out on the table, please...
Banks says it is another outcrop of the old Canton Reef."

Harrington picked up the saddle-pouch, and putting it on the table,
turned up the lamp, and unfastened the straps; it was filled with pieces
of rough weather-worn quartz thickly impregnated with gold. The largest
piece contained more gold than quartz, and an involuntary cry of
astonishment and admiration burst from his lips as he held it to the
light.

Nellie's eyes sparkled with joy. "Isn't it lovely! I can't talk, my lips
are so dry."

Harrington dashed outside to the verandah filled a glass from the canvas
water-bag hanging from a beam overhead, and gave it to the exhausted
girl.

"Now don't you attempt to speak for five minutes."

"No, I won't," she said, with a faint smile, as she drank off the cold
water--and then at once began to tell him of her discovery.

"Sandy and I found the two cows and calves a mile this side of the
Canton Reef in a gully, but before we could head them off they had got
away into the ironbark ridges. Sandy told me to wait, and galloped after
them. I followed him to the top of the first ridge, and then pulled up,
and there, right under my horse's feet I saw a small 'blow' of quartz
sticking up out of the baked ground, and I saw the gold in it quite
plainly. Of course I was wildly excited, and jumped off. The stone was
quite loose and crumbly, and I actually pulled some pieces away with my
hands, and when I saw the thick yellow gold running all through it I sat
down and cried. Then I became so frightened that Sandy might not find
me again, for it would be dark in another hour, and so I ran up and down
along the ridge, listening for the sound of his stockwhip. And then I
went back towards the outcrop of the reef again, and half-way down I
picked up that big lump--it was half buried in the ground.... And
oh, Mr. Harrington, all that ridge is covered with it... I could have
brought away as much again, but Sandy had no saddle-pouch... and I was
dying to come home and tell you."

She breathed pantingly for a few minutes.

"It was nearly dark when Sandy came back. He had run the cattle on to a
camp about three miles away.... I don't know which pleased me most,
to get the cows so that poor Mable and Harry can have some milk in the
morning, or the gold.... Banks met us half-way from the Seven-mile Hut,
and took me off my horse and put me in front of him."

Banks came to the door, carrying a tray with a cup of tea and some food.
"Here ye are, Miss Alleyne; ye're a born stockman, an' a prospector,
an'--God bless you, miss, _you've brought the rain as well_."

For as the rough, hairy-faced stockman began to speak, a low rumbling
sound of thunder smote the silence of the night, followed by a loud
appalling clap, and then another, and another, and presently a cooling
blast of wind came through the open door, and stirred and shook the
Venetian blinds hanging outside. Banks almost dropped the tea-tray, and
then darting outside, dashed his cabbage-tree hat on the ground, and
began to dance as the first heavy drops of the coming deluge fell upon
his head.

In less than ten minutes, Harrington, with silent joy in his heart, was
standing at the doorway, watching the descending torrents of rain--that
rain which to his bushman's heart meant more than all the gold which lay
beneath the earth. He had, as it first began to fall, rushed into his
wife's bedroom, and kissed her and the terrified children.

"The rain has come, Myra, thank God," he said, and then he added
quietly, "I have more good news for you in the morning."

Mrs. Harrington said she was quite aware of the rain having come--the
disgusting noise of the thunder had made the children scream. Had Miss
Alleyne come back? And brought the cows? His other good news could keep
till the morning.

Harrington turned away from her with a feeling of dulled resentment.
_He_ knew what the girl had suffered, and his wife's heartlessness cut
him to the quick.

As he stood watching Banks and the black boys filling every available
tank and cask on the station from the downpour off the roof, Nellie rose
from the couch on which she had been lying, and touched his arm timidly.

"Don't you believe in God's goodness _now_, Mr. Harrington? See, He has
sent the rain, and He has granted my daily prayer to Him that I, too,
might help you. And Banks says that this is not a passing thunderstorm,
but that the drought has broken up altogether--for see, the wind is from
the south."

Harrington raised her hand to his lips. "I have always tried to believe
in God and in His mercy, Miss Alleyne."

"Not always, Mr. Harrington," she said softly. "Don't you remember when
all the Big Swamp! mob were bogged and dying, that you said that if
He would not hear the moans and see the agonies of the beasts He had
created, that He would not listen to the prayers of human beings who
were not suffering as they suffered? And to-day, as Sandy and I rode
along to the Canton Reef, I prayed again and again, and always when I
passed a dying beast I said, '_O God! have mercy upon these Thy dumb
creatures who suffer much agony!_"

Harrington's chest heaved. "And I prayed as you prayed, Miss Alleyne;
but I said, 'O God! if there is a God.'"

She put out her hand to him and her dark eyes filled with tears. "He has
answered our prayers.... And now, good night... I wish I could go out
into the rain; I feel I could dance for joy.... Mr. Harrington, _do_
let me go to the Canton Reef with you to-morrow. Everything will be
all right to-morrow, won't it? But there, how thoughtless I am.... I
am going to milk those two cunning cows till they are dry; poor little
Harry does so want some fresh milk. Good night, Mr. Harrington; I shall
sleep happily to-night--everything will be all right to-morrow."

At breakfast-time next morning the rain was still falling steadily, and
Mrs. Harrington decided to join her husband at the morning meal.

Harrington rode up to the door and smiled brightly at his wife. "Waiting
for me, dear? I won't be long. The river is running now, Myra--running
after two years! I'm off to Miss Alleyne's reef as soon as I've had a
bit of tucker. Where is she?"

"In bed, I presume," said Mrs. Harrington acidulously. "She might
have remembered that I was very much upset last night by that horrible
thunder, and have risen earlier and attended to the children."

A look of intense disgust came over her husband's face.

"Myra, the girl was done-up, dead beat! Won't you go and see if she is
able to get up?"

Mrs. Harrington rose stiffly. "Oh, certainly, if you wish it. But I
think it is a great mistake. She really ought to have considered the
children, and----"

The head stockman's wife met her at the door, and looking past her
mistress, spoke to Harrington in terrified tones-----

"Miss Alleyne is dead, sir!"

Harrington sprang from his chair. "Dead, Mrs. Banks!"

"Yes, sir. I was only just in time. She on'y sez, 'Tell Mr. Harrington
that I am so glad that everythink will be all right now.' An' then she
smiled, sir, and sez as I was to kiss Master Harry and Miss Mabel for
her, as she was agoin'. And then she sez, 'Isn't God good to send
the rain, Mrs. Banks? Everything will be all right now for poor Mr.
Harrington--rain and gold.' Then she just laid quiet for a minute, an'
when I looked at her face again, I saw she was dead."

*****

A year later, Jack Harrington, again one of the wealthiest cattle men in
North Queensland, and the owner of one of the richest gold mines in the
colony, was riding home to his station. Behind him he heard the clatter
and clash of the twenty-stamper battery that on the "Canton Ridge" was
pounding him in so many thousands of pounds a month; before him lay
the sweeping grassy downs and thickly timbered creeks of a now smiling
country. His wife and children had long before returned to the cooler
South, and in his heart was a great loneliness. Not, perhaps, for them,
but because of the memory of the girl whose prayer to the Almighty had
been answered, and who was resting on the bank of the Gilbert under the
shade of a big Leichhardt tree.



THE END




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