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Title: Lola-Sue
Author: F W Mole
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Lola-Sue
Author: F W Mole

* * *

LOLA-SUE

By "Dunbar"

(F. W. MOLE).


Published in The Week (Brisbane, Qld.) in serial format commencing
Friday 10 May, 1929 (this text). Also in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.)
in serial format commencing Saturday 4 May, 1929.


*


CHAPTER I.--THE FOUNDLING.

Constable Conway, of the Queensland Police Force, tramping his beat in
Ann Street, Brisbane, in the early morning of a June day, noticed a
small bundle of clothing on the stone step of the old Protestant Hall.
Picking up the bundle and examining it, he was surprised to find that
it contained an infant, a little spark of forsaken humanity, but a few
weeks old.

Though, the infant was warmly and comfortably clad, and well nourished,
there was no clue whatever as to its identity. "Who the blazes----"
Having said this and nothing more, Constable Conway, holding the infant
tenderly in his strong arms, looked up and down the street as if
expecting to find the infant's mother. Not seeing a soul in the dawn of
this new day, he made a further close examination of the infant, and
was surprised to find a piece of green ribbon tied around its little
neck with a yellow card-board medallion suspended therefrom, on which
was roughly printed "Loyal Orange Lodge of Australia."

"Now phwat d'yer think of that!" exclaimed the constable to himself.
"The sacred green of ould Oireland and an orange emblem of her rotten
inimies. Divil a bit do I know phwat the little colleen is--Sassenach
or a Catholic. But it's a broth of a kid anyhow, and not a whimper out
of it."

Constable Conway being a bachelor, did the only thing that his duty
dictated him to do. He took the little foundling to the Roma Street
Police Station, where it was gazed at in wonderment by all the members
of the staff not then on duty. When, later, it cried for nourishment,
it was passed over to the charwoman, who had an infant of her own at
the Creche, and who temporarily wet-nursed it. Subsequently, one of
female inspectors of the Orphanage Department took charge of it, and
recorded its existence in the official register of the department.
Then it was handed over to one of the several officially recognised
foster-mothers, who care for State children under the surveillance of
the Inspector of Orphanages. For want of a better name, and because
of its unknown parentage, the little female derelict, picked up like
a lost parcel out of the flotsam of a city's street, was christened
"Lola," an official Christian name coined out of the initial letter of
the phrase, Loyal Orange Lodge of Australia. For surname, it was given
Conway, the inspiration of an official way, who remarked, grinning:--

"Well, wasn't that the name of the John who found it?" And so, from the
concatenation of circumstances surrounding its finding, it was launched
on the sea of life with the poetic name of Lola Conway.

The sleuths of the Criminal Investigation Department failed to trace
the infants mother and thus was added another unsolved mystery to the
many that often baffle the keenest intelligence of the police force. In
the next annual report of the Director of Orphanages, it was classified
among the infants of the State whose father and mother were unknown.

Reared and nurtured by a foster-mother whose love of children was an
obsession, the little foundling grew in time into a little maid of
beauty and promise. She had the wonderful violet eyes, soft fair skin,
and dark wavy hair of an Irish colleen, though whether she was English,
Irish, or Scotch was mere conjecture.

At the State school she made rapid progress. She was as intellectual
as she was beautiful. When twelve years of age she won a State
scholarship. At thirteen, she contributed short stories to the
Children's Corner of the Saturday editions of the great dailies, for
which she received payment. But at fourteen, she was, owing to the
inexorableness of official regulations, sent out to service--hired out
to be trained as a domestic. Before she was at her first place six
months, a watchful inspector of the Orphanage Department was obliged to
remove her, as her early beauty was found to be too great an attraction
to the youths of the family with whom she was "hired."

Her next venture in the field of labour was more propitious. She
was "hired" out to the wife of a dairy farmer at Samford. In this
picturesque district among mountains and running streams, among
horses and cattle, among scented gums and the perfume of wattles, she
revelled in all the glory of wooded mountain and umbrageous scrub;
in all the freedom of a filly unbridled. Here the inherited love of
an Australian for a horse, broke out in her with all the joy of its
galloping freedom. When the morning and evening milkings were over, she
loved to feed the poddies with the skimmed milk, letting them suck her
fingers as she held her hand in the milk-full bucket. But her greatest
delight was to ride to the township for the mail, or on other errands.
There were no other children at Coonan's farm and she became a general
factotum. The Coonans--man and wife--made much of her. She had her own
pony and her own saddle, and she soon learned to ride like a huntress.
She had the balance and fearlessness of a born equestrienne and her
lithe figure developed amazingly.

In the evenings she read and studied, for she was ambitious. She
peopled the mountains and valleys with imaginary beings and wrote
her stories for the magazines. These she read to the Coonans, who
encouraged her. A Kindly editress suggested that she should learn
typewriting and type her stories. Her ambition then was to obtain a
typewriter. She saved her money to that end, and the Coonans helped
her. She mentioned to Mick Coonan that typewriters could be bought on
time payment. But Mick would not hear of that. "Cash down or nothing,
Lola," he said. "You leave it to me." And she did. A month later
when he returned from Brisbane, he brought with him a second-hand
Smith-Premier, which he had picked up at Isles Love's, and which he
had had overhauled. Lola's delight at the gift was unbounded, and
practising assiduously, she soon became an expert typiste.

The Coonans were horse and cattle breeders as well as dairy farmers and
Lola became initiated into the mysteries of breeding and procreation.
She learnt what sex was and all that it meant. She looked upon the
birth of foals and calves as one of the greatest mysteries of nature,
and in her reasoning she understood how children were begotten. Her
own origin puzzled her. Who was she? Who were her parents? Why was she
abandoned? These questions confronted her but she received no answer
to them. To have no mother or father to love her or whom she could
love saddened her. But no one could vouchsafe her any information.
She was worse than an orphan. She was a State child--a chattel, hired
out like a sold slave. Though there lay before her all Australia, a
continent, yet she was not free; she was chained to the state by laws
and imprisoned by regulations. Until she became 18 she could claim
no freedom. Even then she was under official surveillance until she
was 21. Yet, withal, she was growing more beautiful every month that
passed. Though she was shut out from love--the love of a child for a
parent--by hard circumstance, it was not from unmeetness. If the mother
who had abandoned her could only have seen her now, in all the beauty
and mystery of budding maidenhood, surely, if she were human, she would
have folded her in her arms and have cried out with bitter tears of
repentance, "My darling, my angel, why did I forsake you!"

In her present environment Lola was not unhappy. Though she was not
bush-born, she was being bush-trained. She loved the lonely paths
meandering through the wild wood, and she translated into little
stories the call of the birds, the cry of the native bear, and the
weird laughing of the 'possums in the distant gums. She had heard
people who called on the Coonans speak of the wonders of Mount
Glorious, and she longed to make a trip to its wonderful summit. Her
delight was unbounded when Mick Coonan mentioned one evening that he
intended going up the mountain to inspect some scrub land that was
advertised for sale as orchard blocks, and he would take her with
him and his wife. They arranged to make the trip on the approaching
Christmas Day, camp out for the night, and return on Boxing Day.
Arrangements were made with a neighbour to attend to the milking in
their absence.

Christmas morning dawned fair, and Lola was up at dawn. She helped
with the milking and in preparing for the trip. With all the ardour of
a first campaigner she made wonderful preparations, but Mick Coonan
impressed upon her that they would have to travel light, as his little
mare, which he called "Colleen," would have to pull them and the sulky
up a mountain, where the pinches, the last three miles from the top,
would tax to the utmost the stamina of his favourite mare. A reasonable
compromise as to luggage and eatables was ultimately agreed upon, and
everything was finally ready for the trip, including a nose bag for the
mare.

Lola sat between Mick Coonan, and his wife, Margaret, and was radiantly
happy. It was her first great adventure, as she termed it.

Mick Coonan had been up the mountains on a previous occasion, and he
described points of interest along the road.

"That's where a car went over and was burnt. Yer might 'ave read about
it in the paper," he said, pointing out a black splotch on the side
of the range. "This culvert's where a bloke who took a girrul fer a
joy-ride in his car got smashed up, killing the girrul, and she wasn't
his mussus, either, begorra. You bet your life he got what fer when the
missus heard about it."

"Och, the forward hussy," remarked Mrs. Coonan. "Them joy-rides in
motor cars leads to no good. I'm tellln' yer, Lola, keep clear of fast
men and motor cars."

The incident was tucked away in the store-house of Lola's memory. At
the Highlands, Mick Coonan pointed out the banana plantations on the
downward slope of the range, and the old deserted piggery where a city
merchant with more money than sense, put down a cement floor in the
styes, with the result that the pigs got cramp and died.

"Pigs must waller, Lola, and nozzle in the ground. Yer can't make 'em
clean and perlite. Slosh is what they likes, plenty of slosh. Yer don't
see cement floors in the styes down at Samford."

"No--only in the bails and the milkin' sheds, eh, Lola?" remarked Mrs.
Coonan.

"And in the separator house," added Lola, who did not talk much. She
was too enraptured with the scenic beauty of the winding road up the
mountain, with its manifold hair-pin bends. On the right was dense
scrub, and on the left banana plantations, running from the side of the
road right down to the Valley below, where by a winding road at the
bottom, flanked by a stream of purest water, nestled little homesteads,
the blue wood-smoke from the cottage flues curling softly upwards on
this lazy Christmas morning.

Now and then from below came the shouting of children at play, and
above them, Lola heard the coo of the scrub pigeons, the sharp quick
notes of the stock whip birds and the sweet tinkling calls of the
bell-birds.

"Oh, Mr. Coonan, doesn't it seem wicked to cut down this beautiful
scrub and turn it into a blackened ruin for banana plantations?"
remarked Lola, sorrowfully.

"Bedad, that's one way of lookin' at it, Lola, but kids must have
bananas. They can't live on scrub."

At the turn off to Mount Nebo, they spelled the mare and boiled the
billy. The spot was a favourite camping ground beside a mountain
stream. Away to the east could be seen the waters of Moreton Bay
shimmering in the morning sunlight, and beyond Bribie Island and mighty
Stradbroke. "I never dreamt it could be so beautiful," sighed Lola,
looking out upon the wonderful panorama, with the eyes of a visionary
and the soul of a poetess.

"That's nothin', kid. Gobs, you wait till we reach the top."

"It's very beautiful and wonderful," agreed Mrs. Coonan.

Having eaten and rested, they proceeded on their way. The scrub was
left behind and they meandered upward through open forest country. The
way was less even and more steep. To ease the little mare they got out
of the sulky and walked up the steepest pinches, and Lola, with the
keen activity of girlhood, had stones ready to chock the wheels when
the mare was rested.

The sun was now almost overhead, and the sweat ran down the panting
mare in streams. She stood with legs apart and nostrils distended and
quivering, showing blood-red. Mick Coonan was proud of his little bit
of horse flesh, and patted her and spoke to her encouragingly.

In places the road was cut out of the side of a mountain, and it was
so narrow it would be impossible for two vehicles to pass. Luckily,
they got through without meeting descending car or vehicle; but Lola
shuddered in contemplation of what would be the result if a cart or car
went over the side where there was a sheer drop hundreds of feet below.

At last they came to what is known as "Hill 60," the steepest pinch of
all. At its base, gleaming in the bright sunshine, were the roadmakers'
tents; now deserted, the navvies employed in cutting a deviation of the
road round "Hill 60" having gone home for Christmas.

"Colleen will never take the sulky up that pinch, Mr. Coonan," said
Lola, looking up the steep incline. "It will be cruel to make her."

"Begorra, that little mare has never jibbed at a pinch yet. It's Mick
Coonan knows what she can do. You bet she'll do it," replied Mick
proudly.

And she did. It was a gruelling pull, but the mare reached the top,
where she stood, all aquiver with the fearful strain, her head hanging
down to her knees.

"What yer think of her now, Lola? Ain't she worth her weight in gold?"
asked Mick, patting his little mare fondly.

"You little pet," said Lola, putting her arms around the mare's neck,
and placing her cheek against her reeking head.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when they reached, without
mishap, the clearing on the summit. Then the magnificence of the view
made Lola gasp with astonished delight.

Miles away lay the city of Brisbane, and beyond the city the bay, with
its island-girt loveliness; whilst all around and about was the dense
jungle, dark, silent, majestic.

Under a giant fig tree Mick unharnessed the mare and rubbed her down
with the nose bag, whilst Lola went to the creek running at the edge
of the scrub for a billy of water. Mrs. Coonan unpacked the hamper and
made the fire, while Mick indulged in the luxury of a smoke.

When they had had their meal, they went for a walk along the road
through the scrub. To Lola it seemed fairyland. She gazed in wonder and
admiration at the straight palms and great trees shooting skyward, some
garnished with staghorns, orchids, and hare's foot ferns.

Scrub magpies (which Mick named currawongs) called loudly overhead,
whilst rosellas, lories, king parrots, bright green parakeets (which
Mick called "greenies"), blue mountainers (which Mick named "blueys"),
flew about on the outskirts of the scrubs like flying chips hacked out
of a mountain rainbow.

When the surveyed blocks had been inspected and they arrived back at
their camp under the giant fig tree, the sun had gone down, and the
darkness crept up from the valleys and covered the mountain with its
enveloping pall.

The billy was boiled again, and having made a good meal of ham and cold
fowl and Christmas dainties, the three sat together on an abandoned
pine log and looked citywards. Twenty-five miles away over scrub and
forest and couchant foot-hills, they saw the lights of Brisbane like
distant fireflies gleaming brightly in the wonderful distance; whilst
overhead, in a moonless sky, the stars of unnumbered worlds twinkled in
the concave of a great immensity.

"Look, Mr. Coonan, away to the right are moving lights. What can they
be?" asked Lola.

"Them's motor cars goin' up 'I'gate 'Ill. And look, Lola, you see them
lights in a straight line? Well, them's the lights on Victoria Bridge,
and if yer look away to the left, yer'll see more movin' lights. Them's
more motor cars going over the hill at Nudgee College on the way to
Sandgate."

And so they sat on, gazing at the magnificence whilst the wallabies
hopped out of the scrub and the mopoke called to its mate from the
height of a distant spur. The air on the mountains was cold, and while
Mick Coonan built up the fire, his wife unrolled the rugs under the fig
tree and made up a bed for Lola under the sulky. In a few minutes it
was a sleeping camp.

The voices of the scrub called them at dawn, and what a gloriously
wonderful dawn it was.

Softly, like the impalpable smile on the face of a soul soaring
heavenward, it crept over the sky from the pearly gates of the east
and lit up the mountain heights with its ethereal loveliness. Boiling
billows of mist moved sluggishly over the valleys below, and broke into
gossamer vapours as the light crept higher and higher from horizon to
zenith.

Behind them was the background of the dense black scrub, where the palm
fronds quivered in the gentle morning breeze, and where the wonga and
the wompoo called from the Moreton Bay figs. The wallabies had hopped
back to the thickets and the cheep of the scrub quail and the call of
the region bird proclaimed that day had come.

In the East far over the distant sea and stretching along the horizon
was a line of slate coloured clouds, whence rosy fingers of light
pointed upward from the path of the unseen sun. Then, in a twinkling of
time, a thin glint of gold topped the centre of the cloud-line, and ran
like molten metal to right and left along its edge. Lola had awakened
first and stood on the huge pine log, gazing in fascinated wonder at
the marvellous revelations of the sky's untranslatable glories.

"Oh, Mrs. Coonan, look! Isn't that gold-edged cloud beautiful. It's
like a long bright road."

"Indade it is, Lola," answered Mick Coonan, who appeared on the scene.
"Shure it's the golden road to the Land O' Everlastin'." Turning back
to the reality of things, Mick Coonan went to look for his mare, to
give her her nose bag, while Lola gathered sticks to make up the fire.

After breakfast and while the dew was still heavy on the grass, they
went up to the cleared area on the mountain where there was an old
abandoned orchard, and gathered lemons and cape gooseberries and wild
raspberries.

It was Boxing Day, and the morning was spent in idle wandering. The
heat of the sun, notwithstanding the altitude of the mountain, was
unpleasant. It was a dull, heavy heat, close and oppressive, which
presaged a storm.

"I wouldn't be surprised, Mag," said Mick Coonan to his wife, "if we
had a storm this evening! I don't like the feel of the heat. We'd
better make an early start for home so as to be down the mountain, in
case we get caught."

"Very well, Mick," replied his wife. "Lola and I will pack up while you
harness Colleen."

It was two o'clock when they left the top of the mountain, and already
there were indications of a coming storm. It was still a long way
off; but they had a long way to go, and sometimes the storms in that
latitude came up very quickly.

When they reached the Mount Nebo turn-off, Mrs. Coonan said; "The
storm's coming, Mick. Listen to the thunder."

Mick Coonan gazed anxiously towards the west. The storm was approaching
too rapidly to be safe. His one great desire was now to reach the
bottom of the mountain before the storm struck them with the full force
of its fury. He knew from experience the danger of being out on the
Mountain road in the driving madness of a midsummer storm, and so he
urged the little mare forward while the going was good. The thunder
rolled louder and nearer and the heavy blue black clouds, tinged
underneath with a dirty green, rose higher and higher in a great convex
across the western sky. Lightning, at first in quick angry sheets and
then in fitful flashes, like the glaring eyes of an angry lion, lit
up the dense black cloud masses. Then, quivering lengths of chain
lightning slashed the cloud in vertical flashes like naked, twisted
scimitars. The force of the rising wind became greater and the tops of
the great gums and bloodwoods swayed and bent under the fierce strain.

"We're goin' to ketch it, Mag, and there's no shelter between here and
Mount O'Reilly."

"If it will only hold off until we reach Highlands we can shelter in
the school hall," replied Mrs. Coonan.

"Yer ain't skeered, are yer? Lola?"

"Not in the least, Mr. Coonan, we're in for it together."

Away in the distance they could hear a heavy roar as the wind-driven
rain surged over the tree-clad ranges. It was growing dark, but the
vivid flashes of dazzling lightning lit up the road, while the little
mare trotted gamely on the downward slope.

The thunder hitting the ranges with staccato crashes warned them that
the lightning was too near to be safe. A sudden mighty burst of sound
following almost instantly on a blinding flash of lightning startled
the little mare, and it took all of Mick's most careful driving to keep
the sulky on the road.

On the left was a high bank cut out of the mountain's side; on the
right was a downward drop to the depths below. If the sulky went over,
eternity lay at the bottom.

Following the last thunder crash the clouds were burst asunder with the
mighty concussion and the rain fell in torrents. Mick made the mare
walk, as he did not care, now that the road was slippery, to make her
go faster. What he feared most was falling timber. If a tree were blown
across the road, all hope of reaching home would have to be abandoned.
Fortunately, there was no hail worth mentioning. From the greenness of
the storm clouds, Mick Coonan predicted heavy hail. If it came he would
have to get out of the sulky, and hold the spirited mare. If she were
pelted with falling ice lumps, there was no knowing what would happen.
Behind, glared the head lights of a car, and Mick Coonan had to pull
in close to the bank to let the car pass. The driver thanked Mick but
stopped when he noticed that he had two women with him.

"What about the ladies? Will they come with us in the car?" The driver
asked with some concern.

"What about it, Mag? It might be safer for you and Lola."

"No, Mick, we'll stick together. I wouldn't rest if you were out in the
storm alone."

"Will you go in the car, Lola?" asked Mick.

"And be a deserter? Not me Mr. Coonan. I'll stick with you and Mum."

"Thanks, Mister, we'll be stickin' together," said Mick Coonan to the
driver.

"Right-O! Good luck! Hope you'll get home safely. Good night!" and the
thoughtful driver accelerated and was soon lost in the darkness. The
storm was now at its height and the flood waters rolled in cataracts
down the side of the mountain. Intermittently, branches were wrenched
off the trees by the force of the wind, and hauled down the ravines.
There was still some distance to go before the bottom of the range was
reached and Mick Coonan kept a sharp look out for washaways. They were
drenched to the skin, but that only added to the romance of it all, as
Lola regarded it. She and Dad and Mum, the only dad and mum (save her
foster mother) she felt who ever really cared for her, were together,
so what mattered anything else, storm or rain or lightning. The world
about them was in convulsions. The lightning made savage gashes in the
darkness, and the earth seemed to tremble as the thunder claps hit the
ridges and reverberated along the mountain spurs. By careful driving
and the exercise of great patience, Mick Coonan brought them safely
to the foot of the last steep slope where there was a culvert through
which the discoloured waters rushed like a mill race. The little mare
snorted and hesitated as she stepped gingerly on the planking of the
bridge, sensing danger in every uncertain footstep.

Near the school-house at the approach to the mountain road, a half-dead
gum tree, torn from its insecure roots by the cyclonic force of the
storm, fell with a terrific crash across the road just as they had
passed. This startled the terrified mare and she bolted. Mick Coonan
warned his wife and Lola to sit tight and not to jump out of the
sulky. The mare had a hard mouth, and in the darkness unslashed by the
lightning, it was hard work to keep her on the uneven road; but Mick
Coonan held the reins grimly and spoke firmly but gently to the mare in
the endeavour to calm her by his voice and to give her courage by his
presence. She was easing in her mad gallop when the off wheel sank in a
washaway at the side of the road and the sulky overturned. Mick Coonan
held on to the reins while his wife and Lola were thrown clear of the
sulky and rolled down the side of the road unhurt. The frightened
mare tore herself free from the harness and dragged Mick Coonan, who
instinctively held the reins in his left hand, along with her till his
head struck a granite boulder.

Mrs. Coonan and Lola, with deadly apprehension, went to his assistance.
A terrible fear seized them when they found that his head was cut and
bleeding and he made neither move nor moan. Taking the rug, wet and
sodden, from the overturned sulky, Mrs. Coonan made a pillow for his
head, but from the dead weight of it she feared that her husband's
neck was broken. She cried and moaned, "Oh, he's dead, he's dead,"
and Lola sat down beside her on the rain-soaked ground and put her
arms around her and tried in her small way to comfort her and she too
sobbed, saying in her grief, "Oh, Mum, Mum, he's gone to the Land O'
Everlastin'."




CHAPTER II.--THE DRUDGE.

The death of Mick Coonan changed the course of Lola's young life as a
rock changes the course of a flowing stream.

By his will, under which he appointed the Equity Trust Company,
Limited, his executor and trustee, he left a legacy of £1,000 to Lola
to be paid to her on her attaining twenty-five years of age. The
residue of the estate which was not inconsiderable, he directed to be
sold, and the proceeds paid to his wife.

This meant the end of the farm at Samford and Mrs. Coonan went back
to Ireland, whence she had come as an Irish Immigrant. She would have
taken Lola with her, but this the Inspector of Orphanages would not
sanction; nor was Lola keen to leave Australia. It was her country,
not Ireland, as she expressed herself, and she would not leave it.
The Coonans had sought to adopt her, but as she was over ten years
of age when she was hired out to them, letters of adoption could not
be signed, consequently Mrs. Coonan, though fond of her, could not
legally claim her. Mick Coonan often lamented in his large hearted,
good natured impulsive Irish way, "that the law was agin him making
Lolo his legal if not his natural darter," but he made her the only
recompense that he could for her fondness for him, by giving her a
legacy of a thousand pounds. In this he was guided by the manager of
the Equity Trust Company, when having his will made. The manager, in
his vast experience, had a profound knowledge of State children, and
the lives that they led or were forced to lead, and suggested to Mick
Coonan that the legacy be not made payable to her until she attained
her twenty-fifth birthday, as by that time, she would know her own mind
and, if married, would know what sort of a man her husband was likely
to be to her. In this Mick Coonan concurred.

Consequent upon the turn of events, Lola who was now sixteen years of
age, was received back into the fold of the Orphanage until such time
as she could be suitably hired out to some other mistress. In a sense
she was a slave, a slave to a system, but it was a system forced upon
the community by the ungovernable passions of sex, and by the stern
persistence of society in ostracising the unfortunates who, obeying
the instincts of love with which they are dowered and which must rule
till they cease to be human, have had the temerity to mate outside the
law. As the whole attitude of society is so intolerant, it is not to be
wondered at that "one more unfortunate" leaves the fruit of her love
on the door step of a city building, to be brought up as a State child
by a paternal State, and in accordance with the strict code of its
laws and regulations. Therefore until she became eighteen, Lola must
submit and as there was a keen demand for State girls as domestics, it
was not long before she was again hired out. This time she passed into
the custody of a woman who claimed to be "in society," consequently,
she was parsimonious, to wit, mean. Hers was one of those homes where
eatables were kept under lock and key, and where domestics were treated
with an intolerance that is only known in snobdom.

"Oh, your name's Lola, is it?" said Mrs. Wade-Smith, when she had
landed Lola at her Ascot home from the Central Station, where she had
gone to collect Lola and her belongings. "Well, it's too grand a name
for a servant, and it's too long. You will be called Sue."

"Yes, marm. If it please you."

Mrs. Wade-Smith looked austerely at Lola as if not quite sure whether
the girl was sarcastic, or just plain dull.

"Yes, just Sue, child. Who on earth ever gave you such a heathenish
name as Lola, and don't call me marm. Say Mrs. Wade-Smith."

"Very well, Marm--Mrs. Wade-Smith, I mean. It's a grand name," said
Lola, still hanging on to her black japanned hat-box, which contained
her regulation kit, and standing guard over her typewriter.

"Do you think so, child? My husband's name was Smith, a common name. My
maiden name was Wade. I made him change his name to Wade-Smith."

"You're clever at changing names, Mrs. Wade-Smith. You've now changed
mine to Sue. Smith, Wade-Smith, Sue, Lola-Sue," said Lola mischievously
memorising the names by ticking them off on her fingers.

"You are a presumptuous child. The name of Lola will be dropped
absolutely. I repeat, henceforth, in this house you will be called Sue."

Unconsciously, Mrs. Wade-Smith had coined a name for Lola that was to
stick to her throughout her life--Lola-Sue. Even her surname of Conway
was rarely mentioned.

"Bring your things along, Sue, and I'll show you your room. Good
gracious what are you hugging that typewriter about with you for?"

"I practise on it, Mrs. Wade-Smith."

"Practise on it," almost shrieked Mrs. Wade-Smith. "You'll find no time
for practise here. Surely you don't imagine that a little drudge like
you, without any education, is ever going to be a typiste?"

"I hope so, some day, Mrs. Wade-Smith."

"Well, you just get that out of your mind before you're a day older.
Typiste, indeed! What next!"

Lola-Sue was shown to her room, a space partitioned off under the house
which was built on high blocks, and under which John Wade-Smith parked
his car.

This underneath part of the house was lit up by electric light, and
besides being used as a garage, was also used as a laundry. The
light from the electric bulb was of no effect as a means of lighting
Lola-Sue's room. When its door was shut, all light was shut out, but
she was given a meagre supply of candles, as her use of these could
be regulated; whereas if the electric light had been installed in her
room, she might make extravagant use of it. That, of course, was the
reasoning of Mrs. Wade-Smith.

"I've provided you with a white cap and apron. You will wear them when
waiting at the table and on my day-at-home."

"Yes, Mrs. Wade-Smith."

"And here's a written list of your duties which you must strictly
observe."

"Very well, Mrs. Wade-Smith."

Mrs. Wade-Smith kept no other domestics. Lola-Sue was, therefore, a
"general." She was called upon to scrub, wash, cook, run errands,
and to wait at table. The Wade-Smith family consisted of John
Wade-Smith, sub-manager of a mercantile firm, his wife, Miriam, three
daughters--two older and one younger than Lola-Sue, and two boys both
younger, and as Mrs. Wade-Smith was in society, Lola-Sue had her work
cut out to run the Ascot household.

At dinner that evening Lola-Sue made her debut, the whole family being
present.

When her back was turned and she was safely back in the kitchen, John
Wade-Smith remarked:--

"What an astonishing beautiful child. Where did you pick her up Miriam?"

"From the orphanage. And you keep quiet. Don't put notions into the
girl's head."

"What's her name, ma?" asked the oldest daughter, Marjory.

"Sue."

"Sue what, ma?"

"I didn't inquire. But she's to be called Sue."

"Oh, come, Miriam," said John Wade-Smith. "If she's a State child,
she's subject to State regulations and she'll have a card or something
on which will be printed her name and rate of pay."

"Well, yes, now I come to think of it, she did give me a card. Here
it is," and Mrs. Wade-Smith took a card from the sideboard and handed
it to her husband. "Lola Conway, aged sixteen," said John Wade-Smith,
reading from it, "Lola, what a pretty name, Miriam; but why call her
Sue? That's not her name."

"Lola's too high-falutin a name for a servant, so I've decided to
call her Sue, and that's the name she's to go by in this house." This
was said in such a dispute-if-you-dare tone, that there was all-round
silence.

Then, after a pause.

"Oh, well, if you say so, Miriam, why, of course."

Then the meal proceeded apace. From the freedom of the bush and her
sojourn with the Coonans to her present confinement as a drudge in
the home of the Wade-Smiths, was as pitiable and as disastrous for
Lola-Sue as was the fall of Lucifer from heaven to hell. Barely was
she permitted to visit her foster-mother, who had brought her up from
infancy with tender, if not loving care. She was never permitted to
leave the house at night. That was a law of the Orphanage Department,
and it suited her mistress to strictly enforce it. She had no girl
friends outside the limited circle of her foster-sisters, and they
were merely drudges hired out to other mistresses more or less kind.
Boy friends were strictly forbidden, consequently her young life was
one of tragic loneliness. From early morning until late at night
she toiled and drudged and fretted with never a kind word from her
mistress or a pat of approbation. The daughters of the household whom
she was commanded to call Miss Marjory, Miss Joyce, and Miss Mavis,
were little snobs of their mother's unhappy training, while the boys,
Master Percy and Master George made her the butt of their boyish and
sometimes cruel pranks. To complain to their mother was useless. She
received no sympathy from that quarter. The only friend she had was
John Wade-Smith, who pitied her, and in secret his heart went out to
her. Many a box of chocolates he surreptitiously gave her with the
injunction to keep her mouth shut and to say nothing. At meal time, her
breakfast, dinner, or tea was carved and served with the others, but
her plate was often forgotten until the food on it was cold and the
others had almost finished. At time, John Wade-Smith intervened.

"Aren't you going to ring for Sue? Her dinner's getting cold."

And for answer he got from his snappy wife, "You're mighty concerned
about the servant. She can take her plate when I ring for her to bring
in the pudding."

"Yes, but why not be human? The child has feelings."

"Oh, shut up. You make me tired. What do you know about managing
servants?"

And so tragedy and comedy for Lola-Sue went hand in hand. She was an
orphan, a State child, and nobody's darling. Yet, notwithstanding
the severity of her existence, she was growing more beautiful as the
months went by. When the Miss Wade-Smiths had their tennis parties and
Lola-Sue was called upon to assist in serving afternoon tea the young
men were captured by her beauty, and her grace and dainty appearance.
It was only on occasions such as this she was permitted to wear her
glad rags. At all other times she was dressed like a drudge.

"Gee, that's a stunning maid you've got, Marjory. Where did you pick
her up?" asked one of the tennis boys one Sunday afternoon.

"Oh, she's an incorrigible, a State child, a Miss Nobody of Nowhere,
you know, sent to ma to be disciplined," was the reply he got.

"Poor little devil," remarked another of the boys. "She doesn't seem
half bad."

Lola-Sue, in her demure, meek way, went about her business, seemingly
unconcerned, noticing no one, speaking to no one. She didn't dare. But
inwardly she was burning and boiling like a pent up volcano. Some days
she felt that she would explode; but ever before her was the threat to
send her to a "home" if she showed the least sign of insubordination,
and as the home was a penetentiary for incorrigibles, Lola-Sue would
submit to any ill-treatment, any degradation, rather than incur the
penalty of being sent to a "home" to herd with girls steeped in
inherited vice.

One cold winter's morning when the westerly winds cut like a knife, she
was bidden to scrub the verandas. The water in the pail was ice cold.
It had been taken from a tank exposed to the westerly blasts and was
of the temperature of liquid ice. Her little hands ached, and the hot
tears that fell on them was the only warmth that she experienced. John
Wade-Smith happened along and saw her crying.

"What's the matter little Lola-Sue?" He was the only one who called her
Lola-Sue, and then only when there was no one about.

"The water's so cold, sir, and my hands ache. I can scarcely hold the
scrubbing brush."

"Damit, child, there's hot water in the bath, that will only run to
waste. Go and get a bucketful of that."

"I daren't, sir, Mrs. Wade-Smith says I must use clean tank water, but
it's so terribly cold."

"We'll see about that. Here give me that bucket." And John Wade-Smith
(may he get a halo) went to the bathroom and brought the bucket back
full of warm water. But he was caught in the act.

"What on earth are you doing with that bucket of water?" his wife asked
with an evil glint in her eyes.

"Bringing it to Sue to scrub the floors with."

"And who asked you to interfere in the management of this house?"

"For God's sake be reasonable, Miriam. The child's crying with the cold
and the hot water will only run to waste. She may as well use it."

"She'll do nothing of the kind. It's tap water, and useless for
scrubbing. Why will you interfere?"

That was the end of the argument. John Wade-Smith felt that by being
persistent and asserting himself, he would only make matters worse for
Lola-Sue, so he capitulated.

Later, when Mrs. Wade-Smith made Lola-Sue go for a fresh bucket of
water she called her a snivelling little cat, crying for the sake of
earning sympathy.

But there came a day when John Wade-Smith really asserted himself. It
happened on a holiday. His wife and children had gone with a party to
Redcliffe to spend the day and he and Lola-Sue were home alone. It was
arranged that when she had washed up the breakfast things and tidied
the house, she could spend the day with her foster-mother, provided she
came home early to get the tea. John Wade-Smith decided to spend the
day on the links, and he said:--

"I'm going out to Yeerongpilly, Lola-Sue about ten. Hurry up with your
work and I'll take you in the car as far as your foster-mother's."

"Thank you, so much, Mr. Wade-Smith. I won't keep you waiting."

Lola-Sue was more than delighted. It was the first time she had been
asked to have a ride in the Vauxhall. A prying neighbour saw them leave
together in the car and made a mental note of the proceeding. In due
time, in the course of an over-the-fence conversation, she remarked
confidentially to her next door neighbour:--

"Tell it not in Gath, but Mr. Wade-Smith has taken his pretty little
maid for a joy ride. If his wife only knew. Goodness, these old men are
all alike. They can't resist the flappers. And the maid above all!" In
due time the incident was whispered to Mrs. Wade-Smith at an afternoon
tea.

"It was so kind and thoughtful of your husband, dear Mrs. Wade-Smith,
to take your little maid for a ride in his car, on St. Andrew's Day.
They were away all day, and they came back about five in the evening,"
vouchsafed the prying neighbour.

"Yes, I think it just lovely that a man in Mr. Wade-Smith's position
should be so insensible as to what people think, and to take his
servant for an outing in his car. But then, she's such a pretty little
thing," added neighbour number two.

Mrs. Wade-Smith was furious but remarked sweetly:--

"Oh, you know, my dears, my husband is so Bohemian in his tastes. He
just loves giving pleasure to people in humble positions. That's one
trait in his character I've always admired."

But that evening when John Wade-Smith arrived home from his office and
had gone to his room to change before doing a turn in his garden, his
wife followed him into the room. He sensed that something unpleasant
was coming, and he had not long to wait.

"A nice sort of man you are to take your servant for a joy ride in your
car on St. Andrew's Day. Where's your pride?"

"Who told you that yarn?"

"Never you mind who told me. I happen to know all about it, you
two-faced thing."

"Don't be an ass, Miriam. I took Sue to her foster-mother's in the car,
played golf all day, and brought her back in the evening. What's wrong
with that?"

"What's wrong with that!" repeated Mrs. Wade-Smith sneeringly. "Why,
it's the common gossip of the neighbourhood, you low brute. Anyway,
though you do think her a little angel, she'll fly to-morrow, and not
to heaven either."

"Why, what do you mean?"

"I mean that I'll bundle her back to the orphanage. She's no good. I'll
put temptation out of your road."

It was then that John Wade-Smith saw red. "Look here, you damned
jealous fool. If that child goes out of this house, I go, too, so
please yourself. I'll give the neighbours something to talk about,
blast them. When she packs up, I'll pack up, and we'll go together and
damn the consequences. Haven't you enough sense to see that if you send
Sue back to the orphanage, the neighbours will soon tumble to the fact
that you're jealous and have taken their cock-and-bull story seriously."

Mrs. Wade-Smith became alarmed. She had brewed a storm that she could
not calm. Never since their marriage had her husband turned on her like
this. She began to cry. "I feel so humiliated. The neighbours think you
are unfaithful to me."

"Good God, woman, have some sense. They say, what do they say, let them
say! and be damned to them. I'm not a chicken stealer." Then the storm
clouds passed over and blue sky appeared once more in the domestic
firmament of the Wade-Smiths. Lola-Sue was not sent flying.

But for weeks and months she toiled and drudged in the kitchen, in
the laundry, in the yard, under the cold merciless eyes of an austere
mistress. In her early dreams, she had never dreamt of such a harvest
of toil. Occasionally, on a Saturday morning, she was given a pass to a
picture show. The first picture she saw after she had been some months
at the Wade-Smiths was that of "Oliver Twist." This realistically
portrayed her own drab, dull, and uneventful life. She, in common with
Oliver Twist, was an orphan. This was the tragedy of her existence. How
she longed for the dawning of her eighteenth birthday. Then she would
be free from the official control of the State Children Department,
free to wear clothes other than the left off garments of her mistress's
daughters; free to wear georgette blouses and silk stockings, and
all those delicate undies which are the dream of every girl of an
inherently refined nature, free to be a living throbbing unfettered
human being, full to the brim with aspirations soaring upward. From
the depths of her domestic misery and drudgery, she looked forward to
her eighteenth birthday as a plant in a darkened corner reaches out to
the radiant sunlight. Then she would begin to be a girl in reality, to
enjoy life, to choose work that was congenial to her; then she would
reap the harvest that her present dreams portrayed.

She had now passed her seventeenth birthday, and gave every promise
of a superb womanhood. She was strong and healthy, and her complexion
untouched by the grease and powder and carmine of senseless
flapper-hood, glowed with its natural exquisite colouring. The rich red
blood of health and girlhood glowed in vermeil suffusions through the
fair skin of her rounded cheeks; and in her soulful violet eyes were
hidden depths of unrevealed mysteries.

In surreptitious moments, when her mistress was paying her social calls
and she had the house to herself, she practised stenography from text
books and wrote her stories on the typewriter. This was her one great
deception, but she hugged it close. Her training in the Wade-Smith
school made her as wise as a serpent, though as innocent still as the
dove. To Mrs. Wade-Smith it was unthinkable that Lola-Sue should have
aspirations above the wash-tub or the kitchen sink. She therefore,
forbade her ever to touch her typewriter. "If you can find time to tap
those horrid keys," she said to Lola-Sue one day, "you are neglecting
your household duties. Such stuff and nonsense! Learning to type,
indeed! Did you ever hear of such absurd notions! What next, I wonder!"
And so Lola-Sue was forbidden to indulge in her greatest pleasure. At
night time she was obliged to go to bed early as her candle allowance
was too limited, and she valued her splendid eyes too much to strain
them by the flickering imperfect light of a candle.

Her master, however, encouraged her, sub-rosa, in her desire to rise
above the environment of sink and wash-tub. He brought her from his
office silverburn and carbons, rubbers and ribbons. These she kept
locked away, at the bottom of her japanned hat-box, in which she kept
all her secret treasures. There, they were safely hidden from the hawk
eyes of her mistress.

Occasionally, when opportunity offered, when the family were out at
night at some function or the other, and John Wade-Smith was home alone
in the quiet retreat of his "den," Lola-Sue would come to him and he
encouraged her to unburden herself of her cherished desires. In him she
recognised her one and only friend.

"You'll soon be eighteen, Lola-Sue. What then?" he asked her on one
such occasion.

"A situation as a typiste Mr. Wade-Smith. There's nothing I would like
better."

"Very well, Lola-Sue, we'll see what we can do for you when you are
free from the control of the State."

"Oh, if you only would, Mr. Wade-Smith, I would remember your kindness
always."

"Bear and suffer a little longer, child. Study as hard as you can at
every possible opportunity and you'll make good. I'm behind you."
The interest of John Wade-Smith in the future of this little lonely
friendless orphan, was as a gleam of golden sunlight through the dark
clouds of a raw winter's day. When he spoke to her in his encouraging
kind way, the tears would dim the delphinium blue of her eyes and she
would say, over and over again:--"If it weren't for your kindness and
interest, sir, I couldn't bear this drudgery."

Then John Wade-Smith, who after all, was only human, would do what his
wife would have crucified him for doing if she had been aware of it,
draw Lola-Sue to him and kiss her softly on the tear-stained eyes and
bid her be of good cheer pending the day of her freedom.

So, like a prisoner under sentence of death, hoping for a reprieve,
Lola-Sue was buoyed up against the drudgery and insolence of her
domestic slavery by the ultimate goal of her freedom. In the meantime,
she bore and suffered and waited. At last, a long long last, she was
eighteen--and free. No longer a slave, a drudge, a thing that was
chained and manacled to the rules and regulations of a "system" but
free to sell her efficient services--as a typiste if possible, as a
domestic at any rate, in the open market of the world.

There was one office where she was known by reason of the will of
Michael Coonan. That was the Equity Trust Company Limited. When she had
gone there with Mrs. Coonan, she was fascinated by the busy clicking
of the numerous typewriters and by the capable and business-like way
in which the girls worked at their machines. If she could only receive
an appointment to an office like that, she would be happy for ever.
That was what she thought. She mentioned the matter to John Wade-Smith,
and he said he would see what he could do. He knew the manager of the
Equity Trust Company personally, and took him into his confidence. "Oh
yes," said that official to John Wade-Smith when he spoke to him on the
matter. "I know the little girl. In fact, I'm her trustee, and she's
one of my cestui que trustants."

"Well, will you, when you have an opportunity, give the girl a trial?"

"I shall be only too pleased. In fact, I think she can be placed at
once." He rang for the officer in charge of the typists division.
"I think you mentioned, Miss Millner, that the typing of wills and
succession accounts is in arrears owing to some of the girls being
absent from influenza."

"Yes, Mr. Munro, the copying work is very much behind."

"Then I'll give you another girl immediately." Turning to John
Wade-Smith he asked. "How soon will your protégé be available, Smith?"

"To-morrow, if you wish it."

"Very well, to-morrow then. And Miss Millner, when the girl arrives,
give her your personal assistance and consideration. I believe she has
had a rough spin."




CHAPTER III.--THE TYPISTE.

It was a tremendously happy day for Lola-Sue when she left, for good,
the service of Mrs. Wade-Smith. That aristocratic lady was bitterly
sarcastic when her husband informed her that he was instrumental in
getting Sue an appointment as a typiste in the Equity Trust Office;
but the bitter things that are said to her husband concerning his
unwarranted and unmoral interference in the destiny of her domestic
drudge, were as nothing compared with her final parting with Lola-Sue.
"You debased creature," she said when her husband had gone out, "how
dared you to throw yourself at my husband. Not another night will you
remain in this house. You can't be trusted. The street's the proper
place for you."

It was then that the pent up fury of Lola-Sue broke loose. The ignominy
that she had suffered, the degrading insults that she had put up with
during her two years of slavery under an impossible mistress, made her
eloquent in the denunciation of a woman whom she hated and loathed with
all the ardour of her passionate nature.

"Mrs. Wade-Smith," she said, white with the tenseness of her passion
and hate, "for the last twelve months I've prayed to God every night
to free me from your hateful servitude, and now He, by His hand of
time, has granted my prayer. I'm no longer your hireling or a child of
the State. I'm more free than you are to go my way and I go from you
and hating and loathing. If it hadn't been for the kindness of your
husband, I believe I should have committed suicide. I love him as much
as I hate you. He's been everything to me."

"I knew it. I knew it, you insolent and shameless hussy, and he'll pay
for it--for his carryings on with you. How dare you."

"Stop, you shall not say that. Mr. Wade-Smith is a gentleman, one of
the kindest and most honourable that ever lived. I cannot understand
how he came to marry such a shrew as you, and I pity him."

This was too much for Mrs. Wade-Smith, who completely lost her dignity,
and attempted violence; but failing in this, as Lola-Sue was too alert
and active, she went to the girl's room and smashed her typewriter and
threw her locked hat box which contained her scanty wardrobe, outside
into the laundry. Lola-Sue then left the Wade-Smith's happy home for
ever. She went to her old foster-mother and told her all that had
happened. That night a taxi-driver called at the Wade-Smith's for her
belongings, including the wrecked typewriter.

The next morning, clad in the best clothes that she possessed, she
commenced duty in the Equity Trust Office. She was, however, ashamed
of her shabby apparel, but during lunch hour she went to the State
Children Department and requested payment of the one-fourth of her
Savings Bank funds, which she was entitled to draw on attaining her
eighteenth birthday. The other three-fourths she could not draw until
she became 21. During the last twelve months of her servitude she was
entitled to be paid 10s. a week. Of this sum 1s. 6d. a week was allowed
her as pocket money and the balance of 8s. 6d. was paid to her credit
in the Savings Bank. As she had been working since she was 14 years of
age at an increased wage every year she had a fair sum to her credit
in the Savings Bank. A wise "system," however, allowed withdrawals in
sums not exceeding £5 at a time. But when Lola-Sue explained to the
inspector her present circumstances he permitted her to draw £10. With
this money she, under the guidance of her old foster-mother, and with
her own innate instincts of neatness and taste, purchased an outfit
which worked a marvellous transformation in her appearance.

When she appeared at the office next day the staff gasped, and several
of the girl clerks and typistes were more than a little envious.
Lola-Sue at 18 years of age with her willowy figure, her firm young
breasts rounded and perfectly moulded, and shown to the greatest
advantage by a tight-fitting bodice, her faultless complexion, her
large soulful violet eyes, was a girl whom men turned round to gaze
at. She had now realised in a measure her early craving for beautiful
attire, georgette frocks which were soft and clinging, and creaseless
silk stockings which showed to advantage her shapely legs beneath her
short skirts. Though the strong firm hands were red and roughened by
the hard work of a domestic they were not beyond repair, and when
finances permitted it she intended purchasing a manicure set. In
typing, her hands were constantly before her, and she was ashamed of
them, but time and care she knew, would remedy their defects. But
if her hands were coarse, her feet, with their arched insteps were
perfectly moulded. Her bobbed hair thick, dark, and marcelled by
nature, was a halo of lustrous glory. This is an imperfect description
of Lola-Sue when she commenced work as a stenotypiste in the Equity
Trust Office. Not having had the training in a business college that
other girls on the staff had had, she was somewhat at a disadvantage.
But she was a careful reader and an apt student, and she had moreover
the will to succeed, the will to conquer. Being too proud to be
backward, she attended night classes at a college and made rapid
progress. Her heart was in her work. Moreover, she wanted to justify
her appointment for the sake of Mr. Wade-Smith. He had confidence in
her and her greatest desire now was to warrant that confidence. And
she did. In less than six months she had become so proficient that she
was placed in the Probate Division which was presided over by Wilfred
Beaufort Stinson, generally known as Billy Stinson.

The Equity Trust Office for purposes of reorganisation was broken
up into several divisions, and that presided over by Mr. Stinson
was regarded as the most important, and it carried the highest
classification. It was considered an advancement to be transferred to
that division, and Lola-Sue felt honoured in being on its staff. She
became Billy Stinson's special typist, and acquitted herself so well
that she soon became indispensable to him.

Hitherto, Lola-Sue's experience of men was limited. Poor Mick Coonan
she had known and trusted. Mr. Wade-Smith was to her an honourable
and splendid gentleman, who had stood by her in the blackest hours
of her existence. The orphanage inspectors she looked upon as mere
officials, whom she regarded with no friendly eyes, as they were part
of a "system" which was abhorrent to her. None of them had made love to
her. But Billy Stinson was different to them all. He treated her with
deference and consideration. He was the first young man to take a keen
interest in her and to appraise her worth. But that was characteristic
of Billy Stinson. He took a keen interest in all good looking girls
and Lola-Sue had a charm and a fascination that were irresistible. Her
laugh was low and throaty, and she had a fine sense of humour. She
laughed with bubbling mirth when one day Billy Stinson told her a tale
against himself.

"You know, I'm not an oil-painting, Lola-Sue, and this fact was
brought home to me this morning. A lady came into my office seeking
information about an estate. Looking at me she said, 'You remind me
very much of Mr. Heywood, the solicitor. He's a very plain man, isn't
he?' I looked at her and laughed. 'Indeed!' I replied. 'But you're not
very flattering.' The lady felt that she had put her foot into it, and
qualified her statement by saying, 'Oh, I didn't mean that exactly.
There's a sort of attractive ugliness, you know.' Well, she really made
matters worse, Lola-Sue, didn't she, now? If what she remarked be true,
I'm an attractively ugly person." Lola-Sue laughed heartily at this
joke at Billy Stinson's expense, but she admired him for the candid way
in which he told the story.

"Oh, but you're not ugly, Mr. Stinson. At least, I don't think so. I
think it was horrid of that lady to say such a thing about you," and
she laughed again her deep throaty laugh.

Whether it was Lola-Sue's laughter or her admission that she did not
consider him ugly, Billy Stinson could not say precisely, but he felt
that he loved Lola-Sue. The daily contact with a beautiful girl who
develops an interest in a man is fatal to both.

Lola-Sue had watched with considerable interest Billy Stinson's manner
of dealing with clients and she appreciated his fairness and candour.
Never mean, never hasty, never inconsiderate, she measured him with
a generous rule. To her, he appeared not only as nature's gentleman,
but as God's nobleman. Perhaps that was because, to her, he was always
thoughtful, always regardful of little niceties that gave her pleasure.
It is not to be wondered at that as time went on she placed him on a
pedestal.

When a girl places a man on a pedestal her interest in him is more than
regard. But as yet Lola-Sue gave no heed as to the composition of that
pedestal. To her it was purest marble. She would have resisted any
suggestion that it might be only ignoble concrete with more marl and
sand than pure Portland.

As for Billy Stinson, he appraised Lola-Sue with the eyes of a
connoisseur. She was what he termed a good-looker, and propinquity was
responsible for the growth of a feeling that was more than friendship.
He knew several girls whom he liked, and if he had been in daily
association with any one of them as he was with Lola-Sue, it is more
than possible he would have grown to regard her with the same desire
for possession as he recorded Lola-Sue. The fact is, in Billy Stinson
there were two men, the individual man and the comprehensive man. As
an individual he loved Lola-Sue. As a comprehensive entity he loved
women generally. As an individual, he was deeply sensible of his love
for Lola-Sue. He made himself believe that she was all in all to him;
the instinct inherited from the ages, an instinct that is as old as
the world itself, as old as passion, even older than the dawn of human
reason, the instinct of sex, the call of the male to the female.

It was this second man in him that regarded all well developed girls as
possible mates. As yet he was only dimly conscious of this instinctive
feeling. It came to him only at certain illuminating moments as when
his mind was not centred on Lola-Sue, or when it had not lost control
of itself.

Lola-Sue had been at the Equity Trust Office for 12 months, and she
was now due for her annual recreation leave of three weeks. During the
last three months, she and Billy Stinson were all in all to each other.
There was no man in the world as supreme as Billy, and no girl in the
world as matchless and divine as Lola-Sue. They spoke to one another
in the superlative language of love, and indulged in the rhapsody of
extravagant sentiment. In addition to what she had saved from her
salary, Lola-Sue obtained a further advance from the Inspector of the
State Children Department, and she and another girl of the company due
for leave at the same time, arranged to take a coastal trip as far as
Adelaide and back. She was eagerly looking forward to visit the great
southern capitals, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide; but she was very
reluctant to leave Billy Stinson, for he and the office made up a
centre around which her life now revolved.

"You know, Billy dear," she said, as she was bidding him good-bye, "I
really hate leaving you, but you'll write to me often, won't you? I'll
just live for your letters, for they'll be a little bit of you." As she
said this her beautiful blue eyes grew liquid with welling tears.

"Lola-Sue, my own little Lola," answered Billy Stinson as he circled
her shapely form with his left arm, "of course I'll write to you.
You'll get a letter from me at each port of call, perhaps two."

"My word, my gentleman!" she replied, looking up at him and smiling,
"if you disappoint me, look out. No excuse will be accepted. I've left
a memo on your desk to remind you of the exact date I'll be in Sydney,
Melbourne, Adelaide, and back in Melbourne and Sydney. I'll call at the
G.P.O. in each city."

Billy Stinson missed his little Lola-Sue very much. Without her the
office seemed boring and uninteresting. On Christmas Eve he sent her
a wireless, wishing her a Merry Christmas which reached her as the
Levuka was steaming past Port Kembla.

"Just like the thoughtful dear," she soliloquised when she had read the
message handed to her by "Sparks." When he received her second letter
from Melbourne it commenced, "My dear, faithful Bill."

Christmas had come and gone and New Year's Eve found Billy Stinson at
Southport. He had been cruising in the southern end of Moreton Bay with
his boating pals, but he had insisted on calling in at Southport. From
there he wired Lola-Sue at Adelaide wishing her for the new year and
for all the years to come the supremest happiness and all the very best
that life could afford. "My darling old faithful Bill," she wrote back,
"the supremest happiness for me in all the years to come will be to
live with you and to love you always and for ever."

Back in the office, after the holidays, Billy Stinson missed Lola-Sue
more than ever; but as the days went by and the rush of work absorbed
him, his longing for her become dulled. Propinquity, the dangerous
jade, began her subtle intriguing. The office of the Equity Trust
Company, Ltd., was noted for its pretty girls, and Margaret Deering,
who temporarily took Lola-Sue's place as Billy Stinson's typist and
stenographer, was another of the "good-lookers." Though she had not the
superb figure of Lola-Sue nor her winsomeness, she was nevertheless
dangerously lovely and more versed in the wiles of womanhood than the
confiding and trusting Lola-Sue. She, however, exhaled an aroma of
femininity which intoxicated the susceptible Billy, and when one day
she looked at him with her great grey eyes she thrilled him. "My God,
Margaret," he said, as he placed his hand on hers, "those eyes of yours
are wonderful. They thrill me through and through."

Instead of resisting Billy Stinson's familiarity, she felt flattered,
but discreetly made no reply. Next day, and the days that followed,
Billy Stinson, with the adroitness of a born lover, made unmistakable
but cautious love to Margaret Deering, with the result that she began
to occupy a prominent place in his thoughts. He knew instinctively
that his interest in her pleased her. She made no attempt to withdraw
her hand from his firm strong grasp when she sat close to him at his
desk, or when he twirled with shaking fingers the small soft curls that
nestled at the nape of her shapely neck, for Margaret's hair was not
bobbed, and the soft short curls lying at the back of her neck were
enticingly alluring.

When Lola-Sue returned from her holiday south, and resumed her duties
as Billy Stinson's typiste, almost the first words she said were,
"Billy, you were a thoughtful dear to send me that wireless to the
Levuka, and your New Year telegram to Adelaide, but you old sheik,
why didn't you write to me to the G.P.O., Sydney, on my return? I
expected six letters at least, but received only one, and that was a
week old."

Billy Stinson smiled whimsically as he sat at his desk with Lola-Sue at
his side and replied: "Well, since the New Year I've been as busy as a
buzz-saw, and besides, old dear, I wasn't sure when you were returning
to Sydney. You know, I did not want any of my letters to you to be
unclaimed, and to be returned through the Dead Letter Office."

"Excuses not accepted, Billy. Own up, who is the girl?"

"You, dearest; you and only you. When you're away from me you're never
out of my thoughts," saying which he drew Lola-Sue to him fondly and
kissed her.

Lola-Sue believed every word that Billy spoke. Though she was well
aware that he was very popular with the girls in the office, she had
the utmost confidence in his loyalty to her.

Nevertheless, she said, half in jest, half in earnest, "If ever I catch
you making love to another girl, I'll be sorry for you, but most of all
I'll be sorry for the girl. I've a little automatic that Mick Coonan
gave me and I can shoot, and shoot straight."

Billy Stinson got up from his chair, and leaning over, placed his head
fondly against Lola's and replied, in all seriousness:--

"You hot-headed little darling. I believe you're Irish after all with
the impetuous passion of the Celtic race. You've a temper, you know,
you little devil, but you're adorable in your anger."

Then Lola-Sue became very serious. "Billy," she said, "I could never
share you with any one else. You are my first man. If you double cross
me I believe my mind would become unhinged, and God only knows what
would happen then."

The engagement of Billy Stinson with Lola-Sue, when it was announced,
caused a mild sensation in the office of the Equity Trust Company,
Limited. Billy's reputation for philandering was well established, and
the girls in the office wondered and talked among themselves. "What
web had Lola-Sue spun to enmesh him? What secret spell had she thrown
over him?" The answer after all was simple. Lola-Sue was as sweet and
shapely as a rose upon its upright stem, and the bright radiance of her
personality enthralled him. She was no flirt, and resisted all attempts
at man-handling. She had been educated in the school of experience, and
if Billy wanted her he could have her in one way only--as his wife.

This she made Billy Stinson understand from the beginning of an
intimacy when it had passed beyond the friendship stage to that of an
ardent romance. And Billy was quick to understand that here was a girl
winsome and desirable--desirable beyond all the other girls of his
experience. He must have her. Must possess her absolutely, body and
soul, even if he had to marry her. To let someone else have her was
unthinkable, and he knew that she had many admirers. The red flames of
desire burnt through and through him, and her relentless "hands off"
made these flames burn more fiercely. It was in this state of desire
for absolute possession that forced him to marry her.

After the proposal, Lola-Sue showed Billy Stinson what her love for
him really amounted to. She threw aside the shackles of her reserve
and gave her love for him full sway. He was her first love, her first
man, and she consumed him with the conflagration of her love. He was
her hero, her God, and she now longed for the day of her marriage, so
that she could give herself to him unreservedly and without restraint.
With Lola-Sue love was an imperial passion, serious, all absorbing,
all compelling. She now felt the rapture that a conqueror feels, and
revelled in the glory, in the might, of her conquest. This man who was
so much sought after was hers. She had bound him captive to the chariot
wheels of her love. Hers was now the love of the billowy sea, not of
the placid lake.

When Lola-Sue had sent in her resignation to the manager of the Equity
Trust Company, Limited, and it was officially accepted, the lady
members of the staff met and resolved to give Lola-Sue, who was a
general favourite, even though she had "landed" what they regarded as
the prize of the office, a luncheon party in honour of her approaching
marriage. The ceremony was held in the large retiring-room allocated by
a thoughtful management, to the lady clerks and typistes, of whom there
were twenty-five, for their privacy and general convenience.

Invitations were issued to the manager, the sub-manager, and the
several divisional heads, and Margaret Deering, who suggested the
luncheon and organised it, presided. The male members of the staff to
whom invitations had been sent, were the guests, as distinguished from
Billy Stinson and Lola-Sue, who were the guests of honour. A toast
list, interspersed with recitations by lady elocutionists, had been
drawn up, and when the luncheon was almost ended, and the toast "The
King" was duly honoured, Margaret Deering, amidst much applause, called
upon Kathleen Bertinshaw to propose "The Bride Elect."

Kathleen had carefully prepared her speech, which she had committed to
memory--as she thought--but in her extreme nervousness she broke down
hopelessly, and finished by drawing her type-written speech from behind
her and reading it to its conclusion. However, she on behalf of her
fellow officers--male and female--wished Lola-Sue every happiness and
prosperity, and felt assured that in Mr. Stinson, for whom they all had
a very high regard (cheers) Miss Conway would find a loving and devoted
husband, and one who, she was sure, would be loyal and true till death
doth them part (Renewed and prolonged cheers.)

Billy Stinson replied on behalf of "The Bride Elect," and said how
fortunate he was in winning the love of such a splendid and charming
girl as Lola-Sue--er, Miss Conway. Then he went on to say, "If I,
speaking personally, lose a most efficient typiste and secretary, I
shall gain a still more efficient and loving wife."

This and much more he said in his fluent style, for he was an
accomplished debater, and many admiring glances were cast in his
direction by several members of the "Cat Brigade" as the female staff
was designated by an office wag. After a recitation and a song to a
ukulele accompaniment, Margaret Deering called upon Connie Gilchrist to
propose "Our Guests," coupled with the name of the manager.

"They were," she said, "very happy in having as their chief such
a capable and considerate gentleman as Mr. Munro. Under his able
management the company's office in Brisbane was making very great
progress. As for the sub-manager and divisional heads, they were
held by the lady members of the staff in--in (here she hesitated and
blushed), very, high esteem. (Applause.) They were gentlemen in the
highest sense of the term, courteous and considerate, and always ready
to look leniently on their mistakes."

Margaret Deering then called upon Nancy Hillcoat for a recitation, "The
King's Jester." When this was very well rendered, the manager, Mr.
Munro, was called upon to respond on behalf of "The Guests." When he
rose to speak he was greeted with very hearty applause.

"Miss Deering, Miss Gilchrist, and fellow officers," he said. "I am
delighted to be with you to-day, and I appreciate to the fullest
extent the sentiment which prompted you to render honour and homage to
your efficient and charming fellow officer, Miss Lola Conway. Though
I congratulate her on her approaching marriage, I deeply regret her
loss to the office. She has proved herself to be a gifted typiste,
stenographer, and correspondent, and I feel certain that the admirable
qualities which she possesses will be transferred from the realm of
business to that of domesticity. Indeed, if I may say so, I have a
grudge against Mr. Stinson for taking from us such a painstaking and
conscientious officer." Turning to Connie Gilchrist, he said. "I must
thank you, Miss Gilchrist, for the very nice and appreciative way in
which you spoke concerning the chiefs, and I hope that the chiefs
will live up to your estimate of them. And now," he continued after a
pause, "I desire to take this opportunity of having a little heart to
heart talk with you. This company, of which I have the honour to be the
manager, has been built up by efficient service, not only efficient
service to the company, but efficient service to the general public,
whom we claim as our clients. You cannot render efficient service
if you do not work for the love of performing your duty, but work
simply because you are paid for your services. You must work with the
knowledge ever before you that you are doing your duty not only to your
employers but to the community, and to that community, as well as to
the office, the slogan is 'Faithful and efficient service.' Remember
always that your time between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. belongs to the company
which pays you for that time, and if you go slow on your job, work
with your eyes on the clock, you will have to answer some day to the
Court Martial of Destiny. In conclusion, I desire to say this: You, Mr.
Stinson, are about to take into your keeping a charming and beautiful
young lady. We all love and cherish her. You, Mr. Stinson, are about to
accept a trust higher and more noble than the most valuable trust that
has ever been administered by this company, the trust of a loving human
soul, and it is sincerely hoped that you will never fail in that trust."




CHAPTER IV.--THE WIFE.

Lola-Sue was not quite twenty-one when she became engaged to Billy
Stinson. As she was a minor and a ward of the Inspector of the State
Children Department, she had to obtain his consent before she could
marry. That official's consent was not withheld when he learnt whom
she was about to marry. Billy Stinson was well known in the social and
athletic circles of Brisbane, and as he held a good position in the
Equity Trust Company, Limited, the inspector mentioned to Lola-Sue that
while he consented to her marriage with him, he had grave doubts as to
wisdom of it.

"I may as well tell you, Lola," he said, "that Mr. Stinson's father
is a wealthy wool and beef baron, and the owner of Moonbulla Station,
in the Charleville district. I would suggest that you ask him if his
people are aware of his promised marriage to you."

When Lola-Sue mentioned to Billy Stinson what the inspector had
said, he replied: "Well, the fact of the matter is, beloved, I have
not informed my people that I am marrying you. They are as proud as
Lucifer, and I'm damned if I am going to invite them to interfere in a
matter that concerns you and me only."

"But is it, Billy dear, a matter that concerns our two selves only?
They will, naturally, want to know all about me."

"That's just the point, they will, and when they know, they'll sneer
and call you a Miss Nobody from Nowhere. Oh, I know them."

"Of course, I don't mind what they call me, Billy. It's you I am
marrying, not your people, and with me, it's you only who counts."

"Then that settles it, my Lola, you don't care and I don't care. Let
talk no more about it."

And so the preparations for the wedding went on apace. Lola-Sue, in
view of her approaching marriage, was given the balance of her money
that was being held in trust for her until she attained her majority.
With this tidy little sum, she purchased a trousseau that was adorably
sweet if not costly. Her tastes were refined in the extreme, and she
vowed that Billy would see her only in the most delicate of silken
undies. There was nothing cotton or home-spun in her nature. Innately
she was a little lady and if Billy Stinson had introduced her to his
people she would probably have more than held her own with them. She
was a lovable girl and passionately in love with her Billy; but even
with the wonderful attributes that she possessed, she would have been
weighed in the social balance and found wanting, because of her obscure
birth and parentage.

"An illegitimate, my God!" Billy Stinson could almost hear his father
exclaim.

And his mother: "Oh, Billy, my son, are you mad?"

It is therefore understandable that Billy Stinson, knowing and loving
his Lola-Sue as he did, and knowing also his people, decided to marry
her without consulting them. In this he followed the dictates of his
own free will, and married Lola-Sue quietly and unostentatiously.
She was not unmindful of his magnanimity and loved him all the more,
if that were indeed possible, for what she considered his great
renunciation in marrying her in spite of what people and his people in
particular, thought. As Billy Stinson had imagined, there was a feeling
of anger and consternation in the home of the Stinsons when they were
informed of their only son's marriage. They had hoped that he, before
long, would give up his billet in the city and return to the station to
take charge and to become its active manager. He was born at Moonbulla,
and had had his early bush training there.

Even in his boyhood he gave the promise of a splendid manhood. It was
at Moonbulla he learnt to ride and shoot, to hunt the kangaroo and to
trap the wily dingo. In the big station dam on the Langlo, he learnt to
swim and as an all round athlete he was hard to beat.

When he was fourteen years of age and had got beyond the control of
his tutor, he was sent to the Brisbane Grammar School and during his
three years at that great school under the doyen of masters, Reginald
Roe, he made rapid progress not only in learning, but in sport.
Cricket, rowing, football, tennis, swimming, he excelled in them all.
He would have been chosen as the Rhodes scholar for the year had he
not stated his intention that he had no desire to leave Australia to
waste years of his life in England, pursuing studies for which he had
no inclination. At seventeen years of age, he was five feet eleven
inches in height, and weighed 10 stone. Lithe and pliable as a twisted
greenhide whip, he occasionally did a turn at the Stadium as an amateur
boxer, and if he had followed the "ring" as a professional, he might
have developed into a champion middle-weight, but instead, when the
manager of the Equity Trust Company, Limited asked Mr. Roe to nominate
a smart lad for his office, he nominated Wilfred Beaufort Stinson. He
had no desire to return to Moonbulla as the life of the city had eaten
into him, and he obtained his father's consent to take a billet in that
reputable office. "The training in a business office will do the boy
good. It will make him better fitted later on to take over the control
of Moonbulla," confided Seymour Stinson to his wife. But when he had
learnt of his son's marriage with Lola-Sue, he cursed the city and all
that appertained to it. This, then, was the end of his dreams for his
boy's future, and in his visions of that future, there rose up before
him a splendid girl, Muriel Poingdestre, the daughter of his neighbour,
Rupert Poingdestre, who owned Oonamurra Station, 60 miles to the south
of the Warrego. "If he had only mated with her, instead of with a
bastard, the ungrateful young dog. Oh, well, I'm through with him. He's
made his bed, and, dammit, he'll lie on it." That was the trend of his
disappointed thoughts.

But as the love of a mother for her son passeth all understanding. Mrs.
Stinson could not become reconciled to an estrangement from her son
Wilfred. She never called him or spoke of him as Billy. She considered
the name too plebian. Her husband was, therefore, not surprised when
she said to him one day, "I think we should take a run to Brisbane to
look Wilfred up. He's too proud and independent to suggest that we
invite him and his wife to Moonbulla."

"Don't care whether he comes or stays away," was the gruff reply of
Seymour Stinson.

"Yes, I know how you feel about his marriage, Seymour, but after all,
he's our son and we cannot lightly dismiss him from our lives. We shall
have to make the best of his marriage, I suppose."

"Oh, well, have it your own way. You may go to Brisbane to look him up.
I'm damned if I'll go."

A few weeks after this conversation, Billy Stinson received a letter
from his mother, addressed to him at his office, informing him that
she was about to leave for Brisbane and requested that he call on her
at Lennon's Hotel. When he arrived home at his little bungalow at
Indooroopilly on the evening of the day he received the letter, he said
to Lola-Sue, kissing her fondly:

"Great news, Lola. Mother's coming to Brisbane to look us up."

The blood left Lola-Sue's face and her heart missed a beat.

"Oh, Billy!" she gasped. She had a mental vision of the type of woman
she expected her husband's mother to belong. Mentally she compared her
with Mrs. Wade-Smith, and she clung to her husband as if for protection.

"Bit of a shock, but we'll stand two square to meet the enemy, dearest.
She's only to see you to love you."

"But, Billy, dear, she won't look at me through your eyes, you know.
She's already prejudiced, and I feel that I'm prejudiced."

"Never mind, my Lola, hope for the best. When she sees our little crib
and learns what a splendid little wife you are, she'll thaw."

A few days later Billy called on his mother at Lennon's where the
aristocracy of the western runs usually forgathered when in Brisbane.

"Well, mother, how are you?" he said, kissing her.

"Well, Wilfred, and how are you?"

"Fit as whalebone. How are things at Moonbulla?"

"Very promising. The last shearing was excellent and the lambing a
record. Didn't you bring your wife with you?"

"No, mother, though she's longing to meet you. I wanted you to see her
for the first time in our little home. She's an ideal wife. Perfectly
domesticated and all that."

"Umph!" grunted Mrs. Stinson, significantly. "Who is she? Who is
the girl you've married?" she asked in a frigid manner. And Mrs.
Stinson could assume that manner to perfection. She was domineering
and haughty, and her square chin and thin lipped mouth gave one the
impression of very strong will power.

"I thought I had made all that clear when I wrote to you."

They were in the hotel lounge, and several people were present and
Billy Stinson said irritably:

"We can't discuss my wife here. Let's go to your room. What do you want
to know about Lola-Sue?"

"Everything. In the first place who gave her that heathenish name?"

"Does her name really matter? She is now called Lola Stinson."

"Well, where does she come from? Who are her people?"

"I thought I had told you. She's a foundling. She has no people, only
my people."

"I'm not so sure about that."

"Well I am. I've given her my name and if you are ashamed of her I'm
not," said Billy heatedly.

"The situation doesn't demand that you should lose your temper."

"Well, so far as I can see, there's nothing to be gained by all this
cross questioning. It's intensely unpleasant to me."

"You do not appear to have taken the trouble to consider how intensely
unpleasant, to use your own words, your marriage to an unknown waif is
to your father and to me."

"Well, mother, I wasn't aware that you considered it your duty to
choose a wife for me. I think you will concede that I am the person
primarily concerned, when it comes to that subject."

"That's all very well, you cannot live unto yourself alone. If you
commit a rash act, you are not the only one who suffers. What about the
feelings of your parents?"

"I am not going to admit that I've committed a rash act. I have already
described to you, or attempted to do so, who Lola is, and what she
looks like. To me she is the sweetest and most lovable girl in the
world, and I'm not ashamed of her or to be seen anywhere with her.
She's probably superior in every way to many of your society friends or
to the daughters of your pure merino compatriots of the West."

"Don't be impertinent, Wilfred."

"Oh, well, you goad me on to saying things that are better left unsaid.
See Lola, and judge for yourself."

"That's precisely what I've come to Brisbane for."

At "The Bungalow," Billy's home at Indooroopilly, Lola-Sue surveyed
with pride and enthusiasm the dinner table to which she had just put
the finishing touches. Her training as a domestic in the home of the
Wade-Smiths now stood her in good stead. The silver, mostly wedding
presents given to Billy Stinson, was polished to the utmost, and the
linen of the table was of the whitest and finest. Lola-Sue had no
cause to be ashamed of her dining-room, and she was now awaiting,
expectantly, the arrival of her husband, with his pure merino mother,
one of the great squattocracy of Queensland.

In the distance she heard the train stop at Taringa, and knew that in
five minutes at the most it would arrive at Indooroopilly. It was only
a six minutes' walk from that station to The Bungalow, and Lola-Sue
tilted her resolute little chin and prepared to meet the enemy. Her
dimpled cheeks glowed with a healthy colour, and her great violet eyes
sparkled. She looked a little thoroughbred with her lithe, graceful
figure, her alertness, and her sweet mouth with its small even teeth.
She possessed a magnetism that drew men to her, though women of the
type of Mrs. Wade-Smith and, possibly, of Mrs. Seymour Stinson could
see nothing in her. She was alert, vivid, and sympathetic. Her early
struggle along life's stony highway made her feel for the underdog.
She mothered with forbearance and soft-hearted sympathy the little
orphan maid whom she had obtained from the State to help her with her
household duties. "If I can make the lot of one little orphan less
forlorn in this unsympathetic world I'm going to do it, Billy." That is
what she said to her husband when the question of a domestic help was
discussed, and he, knowing what her early life had been, backed her up.

Then the latch of the front gate clicked, and Lola-Sue knew that her
judgment hour had come. Would she stand the test according to the
standard of Billy's mother? Would she be weighed in the balance of her
discrimination and found wanting? She opened the front door and heard
her husband say: "Lola, I want you to meet my mother!"

Lola bowed gracefully, smiled a welcome with her bewitching smile, and
held out her hand. She didn't presume to hold her face up to be kissed.
Mrs. Stinson held her hand almost above Lola-Sue's head and Lola had to
reach up to grip it.

"How do you do, my child; Wilfred would drag me out here to see his
home. How pretty you've made it look, child. It's like a doll's house."

"I'm awfully pleased you like it, Mrs. Stinson. Billy says it's the
sweetest little nest that ever was."

"Billy! You must not call your husband Billy. His name is Wilfred."

"Oh, but he's Billy to me, Mrs. Stinson. It sounds ever so much more
chummy than Wilfred."

"Chummy! Good gracious, child, Wilfred's not your chum. He's your
husband."

Lola-Sue felt that she was not doing her best, and after these rebuffs,
she was almost afraid to speak.

"Wilfred, dear, I'm afraid that you will have to teach your wife the
little niceties of the English language."

"Oh, rot, mother! I'm always called Billy. I like it ever so much
better than Wilfred. If Lola-Sue called me Wilfred I should feel that I
had done something wrong. Wilfred Beaufort; you come here! That sort of
style you know, mother."

Before Mrs. Stinson, could reply, the maid announced that dinner was
served. That dinner lived in Lola-Sue's memory for ever. It was a
strained meal, and the atmosphere was electric. It was not her fault
that the dinner she had taken so much trouble over was more like a
meal with a corpse in the next room than an agreeable and entertaining
pastime. Though she and Billy did their best to help things along, Mrs.
Stinson's manner was so correct as to be absolutely icy.

No doubt she acted as if she were giving her daughter-in-law a
lesson in the correct deportment at dinner. When she was not making
supercilious remarks, she sat and goggled, with the result that Billy's
love for his mother received a severe jolt. When Billy returned from
seeing his mother safely back to Lennon's he found Lola-Sue in tears.

"Oh, Billy, if I had to go through another evening like that I'd go off
my mental balance and commit suicide."

"Never mind! Cheer up, old girl. The ordeal's over." And then to
comfort her he said:--

"Why, any woman with sense would take to you, Lola-Sue, so don't worry.
Going up to town I rubbed it in a bit, you bet. I said to her that it
had been remarked that you were a long sight too good for me. Anyone
could see that you were a lady born and bred."

In spite of the lump of lead in the region of her heart, Lola-Sue could
not help smiling at what she termed a gross exaggeration, and they
were soon their two merry selves again. For two years all went well
with them. Billy was a model husband, and Lola-Sue made his home a
snug retreat. The first great shadow that fell across their lives was
the death of their first-born, who died under an anaesthetic whilst
undergoing an operation for an enlarged thymus gland. The loss of her
baby was a great shock to Lola-Sue, and Billy, in order to bring back
the roses to her cheeks, invested in a British touring car, and they
had week-ends at Southport and Coolangatta.

When Lola-Sue left the office of the Equity Trust Company, Limited,
her place as Billy Stinson's typiste and confidential secretary, was
taken by Margaret Deering. For twelve months or so, he did not fall to
the lure of her, but close personal contact with her day after day,
the charm, the perfume, the aura of her, had in time its effect. Billy
Stinson became smitten with the love complex, and when he took an
interest in a girl, such was the magnetism of his personality, he was
hard to resist. It is true he was not an Adonis, but he was extremely
well made, tall and straight as a blue gum sapling, with an ugliness,
if his features could be termed ugly--that was really attractive. Be
that as it may, he was a very great favourite with the girls. With
the advent of the motor car, his pace with Margaret Deering became
more swift. The office intimacy expanded into joy rides at night, and
when Lola-Sue began to complain of his being away from home at night
so often, he gave business as an excuse. This excuse held ground for
a time, but when one odd day, Lola-Sue came across her husband and
Margaret Deering having lunch together in a well known café, she became
jealous and suspicious. Walking up to the table where they were seated,
she said with her sweetest smile. "I hope I'm not intruding, Billy
dear, but may I join you?" Then turning to Margaret Deering her manner
changed instantly. Icily, and with extreme hauteur, she said:--

"It's so good of you, Margaret, to permit my husband to enjoy your
charming company during my absence. The poor man feels very lonely when
I'm not with him. How he must appreciate your goodness to him." Then
turning sweetly to her husband: "And you do, don't you, Billy dear?"

Billy Stinson was caught, but he endeavoured to make the best of the
situation. With a grin, though evidently ill at ease, he said:--

"Margaret and I met quite accidentally at the lift, and as she was
going up for lunch, naturally, I asked her to lunch with me."

"Oh, naturally!" interpolated Lola-Sue.

"Well, Lola, it was only an act of common courtesy, one that any man
would in a like situation extend to a lady of his acquaintance."

"Quite so," retorted Lola-Sue, sarcastically, "but are you quite sure
that Margaret did not design the meeting?"

"Oh, don't be horrid, Lola. Billy--Mr. Stinson--and I met purely by
accident. It was a coincidence, nothing more," said Margaret Deering,
but the fact of her having spoken Billy's Christian name grated on
Lola-Sue. It connoted an intimacy of long standing.

"Please say no more," said Lola-Sue, decisively, and abruptly walked
away. From that day a change came over Lola-Sue. She became morose and
suspicious, and her brightness and vivacity were dampened. Nothing that
Billy did to bring her back to her old winsome self was of any avail.
If he took her to the theatre and Margaret happened to be there also,
she imagined an intrigue. Soon the sight of Margaret Deering became
intolerable to her.

"But dear," Billy remonstrated, "a theatre is a public place. Surely
Margaret has as much right to be there as we have."

There it was again, thought Lola-Sue. The old familiarity--his calling
her Margaret--was again in evidence.

"That may be so," Lola-Sue replied. "But it seems to me more than a
coincidence that no matter where I go with you, we come across her.
When I see her I have the same repulsive feeling as when I come across
a black snake."

"Oh nonsense, Lola-Sue. You mustn't let your jealousy obsess you. You
know I belong to you. What more do you want?"

"I'm not so sure that I do belong to you, Billy. But I do know this.
I'm not going to share you with any other girl or woman," snapped
Lola-Sue determinedly. That was an indication as to how matters stood
between them.

But notwithstanding Lola-Sue's strong dislike to Margaret Deering,
Billy Stinson refused to give her up. Though he exercised the greatest
discretion, he still continued to meet her secretly. At the same time
he constantly endeavoured to reassure Lola-Sue that there was nothing
of a sentimental nature between him and Margaret Deering, but in this
he was not very successful. Lola-Sue had the uncanny intuition of a
jealous woman.

There was no doubt that Margaret Deering loved Billy Stinson. She
soon divined that he was not happy at home, and she made herself all
the more agreeable to him. She gave to him the love that his wife now
denied to him, and he was so constituted that he must love someone.
Love with him amounted almost to a disease. He loved love, and could
not live without it. Lola-Sue knew this, and waited to catch him in
flagrante-delicto.

In one of her fits of ungovernable temper she said to him: "You'd make
love to a nun if you were thrown in her way."

In the lives of most secret lovers and clever crooks there comes a
time, when, notwithstanding the utmost precautions taken to cover
their tracks, a simple mistake, a slight indiscretion, leads to
their undoing. This was so in the case of Billy Stinson and Margaret
Deering. It was Christmas time, the time for the giving and receiving
of presents. A few days before Christmas Eve Billy Stinson was at
the hosiery counter of a well known firm of drapers purchasing silk
stockings, when a lady who was on visiting terms with Lola-Sue, chanced
to come and stand by him.

"Goodness, Mr. Stinson!" she laughingly remarked. "What do you know
about purchasing silk stockings?"

Turning round suddenly, he saw Mrs. Fortescue and felt that not much
ever missed her hawk eyes. With some embarrassment, Billy replied:--

"At this time of the year, you know, Mrs. Fortescue, a married man must
live up to his obligations."

"Indeed, yes, I wish my husband were as generous as you, Mr. Stinson."
So saying, she laughingly passed on.

Two days after Christmas Day, when Lola-Sue was having one of her
"at homes," where half the tragedies of life are brewed by gossiping
tongues, the conversation turned on the subject of presents, and what
each had received in the way of Christmas boxes. Lola-Sue mentioned
that her husband had given her a string of pearls and a sum of five
pounds to purchase a pair of evening shoes and a pair of silk stockings
to match her new frock.

"But didn't he give you two pairs of 'As You Like Its,' Mrs. Stinson? I
saw him in Finney's buying them."

Lola-Sue, though her jealousy flamed up anew, was loyal to her husband,
and said, with sudden Inspiration, "Oh, no, Mrs. Fortescue, he brought
me home two pairs on approval; but as neither suited I suggested that
he give me the money instead, when I would buy my own stockings."

That evening when Billy returned home, there was a scene. Lola-Sue
(her uncontrollable jealousy over-riding all reason), accused him,
in a tempest of flaming anger, of buying silk stockings for Margaret
Deering. Billy strongly denied the accusation, on the principle of
never admitting an indiscretion; but as he was too ingenious to lie
brazenly, Lola-Sue knew that he was telling a lie.

Among the many traits that went to make up Lola-Sue's highly strung
nature, that of jealousy was the most dominant. If her baby had lived,
she might not have been so obsessed by the thoughts of her husband's
unfaithfulness. She would have had something very dear to her (she was
passionately fond of children), on which to lavish her affections.
But not having that solace she had no one but her husband on whom to
lavish her affection. He was her all in all, her world, her one great
possession, and the thought of his passing her over for some one (in
her opinion) less worthy was to her gall and wormwood. Her jealousy
became an hallucination, and she magnified every little inattention
on the part of her husband into the crime of unfaithfulness. She was
proud, superlatively proud, and her indignity at the thought of being
cast aside for another was unbearable. Before her eyes she seemed to
see silk stockings dangling, and when she went into town, she carried
her automatic pistol with her. For what reason she scarcely knew, only
that its presence in her handbag, was a source of comfort.




CHAPTER V.--THE ASSASSIN.

Jealousy does not cure but incenses an erring husband, and on New
Year's Eve, Billy Stinson got out his car and informed Lola-Sue that he
would not be home until late, as he was going out to the Yeerongpilly
Golf House to assist in arranging a series of tournaments for the New
Year. He would, however, be home in time to see the old year out and
the new year in.

Some little time after he had gone, Lola-Sue rang up her friend, Hilda
Fortescue, and asked her if she and her husband would come and sit out
the old year with her.

"I'm dreadfully lonely," she said, "bored almost to tears. The maid's
gone out and I do not expect Mr. Stinson back until late." She had
explained where he had gone.

The Fortescues came in their car and as it was a glorious night, with
the moon nearing its full, David Fortescue suggested that they should
run to Sandgate. "We'll be back before 11--in time to welcome in the
new year," he said.

Lola-Sue was delighted at the suggestion, because as she said, "I'm fed
up with being alone."

In less than half an hour, they arrived at Sandgate. The tide was at
its full, and from the Upper Esplanade they could see, across the
moonlit waters of the bay, the lights of Woody Point.

"Oh, it is good to be alive and out on a night like this," exclaimed
Lola-Sue in the ecstacy of the glorious scene. "It calls to mind
another superb night that I spent on Mount Glorious some years ago,
when I was about 14. Poor Mick Coonan likened the gold-edged clouds
before the rising of the sun, to the golden road leading to the 'Land
O' Everlastin',' and as I sit here and gaze at the track of the moon on
the shimmering waters of the bay, it, too, seems to be a golden road
running right up to the 'Land O' Everlastin'.'"

"That's a very pretty sentiment, Mrs. Stinson," said David Fortescue.
"I believe you have the soul of a poet."

"Didn't you know, David," remarked his wife, "that Mrs. Stinson is
a poetess and an author. When her husband is absent at night on
duty--bearing the white man's burden, she beguiles her loneliness by
writing verses and sketches for publication in the magazines. From what
she has told me, she has met with a very fair amount of success."

"Is that so, Mrs. Stinson? Well, I'm not surprised. Loving life and
nature as you do, it is but natural that you should give expression to
the thoughts arising from your gifted soul."

"Indeed, I wish I were gifted, Mr. Fortescue," replied Lola-Sue; "but
you know a soul cannot march to the scrubbing of floors and the washing
of dishes, and that has too often been my lot in the past--a past that
I am glad is now shut out and blotted for ever. Sometimes I seem to cry
out for a touch of the palpitant world, for the glory of battle, the
proud wave of the banners, the gleam of the spears."

"Well, you are young yet, not more than a child, after all, Mrs.
Stinson. Who knows what the world may have in store for you. Something
grand and glorious, I hope. But come. Let's go round to Burtons, and
have some supper. I could do with a plate of oysters."

This suggestion was agreed to without demur.

When they arrived at the well-known resort, they found that there were
others there before them, judging by the many cars parked outside.

"That looks like your car over there, Mrs. Stinson," said Mrs.
Fortescue.

"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" answered Lola-Sue. A hand with fingers as
cold as ice seemed to grip her by the heart, but steeling herself to a
dangerous and deadly calm, she made no further remark, but went inside
the restaurant with the Fortescues.

At Burtons there were several alcoves and cubicles designed for
faithful--and faithless--lovers, and Lola-Sue, an avenging Nemesis,
looked quickly but carefully into each as opportunity offered, until in
the remotest cubicle she found what she was looking for--her husband
and Margaret Deering. They were too absorbed by their mutual regard to
see Lola-Sue enter; but Billy Stinson, sensing an intruder, suddenly
looked round and saw his wife. Instantly he removed his arm from
Margaret Deering's shoulders and faced tragedy. Hastily rising to his
feet he stumbled over a chair and fell. This probably saved his life.
A revolver shot rang out, and Margaret Deering fell forward over the
table and then crumpled up on the floor, shot in the chest.

Arrested for attempted murder, Lola-Sue collapsed mentally and
physically. The over excitation of her brain functions by jealousy
and domestic unhappiness was followed by serious mental aberration.
She became irrelevant in conversation and gave random and incoherent
answers to questions put to her by her doctor. At times she became
violent in her conduct and--needed controlling and watching. Loss of
sleep and general exhaustion followed. Her doctor prescribed absolute
rest.

"Unless," he said, "she can get plenty of sleep, the recuperation of
her brain cells was unattainable. It was a case of idiopathic insanity."

But the law, inexorable in its majesty, compelled Lola-Sue to stand
her trial. Counsel in her defence, argued from the standpoint that
responsibility for crime may be destroyed by insanity. On the plea
of insanity, he was supported by the evidence of alienists, which
clearly proved to the satisfaction of the Court, that at the time of
the shooting of Margaret Deering, the accused was labouring under
such a defect of reason from disease of the mind as not to know, or
to seriously comprehend, the nature and quality of the act she was
doing; or if she did know it, she did not know that she was doing
wrong. In his summing up, the Judge stated that there is no criminal
act, when the actor, at the time of the offence, is in a state of
unconsciousness, or morbid disturbance of the mind, through which the
free determination of the will is excluded.

On the evidence so ably placed before them by counsel for the defence,
together with the lucid and cogent remarks from the bench, the jury
found the prisoner not guilty, on the grounds of insanity, if not
of justifiableness; but she was ordered to be detained during His
Majesty's pleasure. This meant the intervention of the Home Secretary,
who ordered Lola-Sue to be detained in a hospital for the insane as a
criminal lunatic.

Even as the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb, the mind of Lola-Sue,
in its then state, was incapable of realising all the horror of her
terrible sentence. Though the scene of her trial was vivid and distinct
enough, she did not realise all the stark and tragic details. She
appeared to be in a state of coma. Her beautiful violet eyes, beneath
whose ocean depths lay the blighted hopes of her crumpled soul, wavered
abstractedly around the Court room, with all its paraphernalia of law;
but she had no realisation of her unenviable situation.

Now and then a smile, half mocking, half triumphant, flickered across
her lips--lips that were framed and fashioned for caresses--as if
some gleam of a great and satisfied understanding had penetrated her
benumbed and disordered brain. The perfunctory announcement "Not
Guilty!" had left her unmoved; and when she was taken away in a car to
the Hospital for the Insane at Goodna, she regarded the proceedings as
a joy ride and not an excursion to a place of living death.

"During His Majesty's pleasure!" That might be for years or for the
term of her life. It was a sentence worse than any meted out to a
criminal because of its indeterminateness. No part of it could be
manumitted for good conduct. It meant years of damnable torments in an
earthly hell. Shut out from freedom, the beauty, the glory of a world
in which she had hitherto revelled in the very ecstacy of living, she
had now to pay a price that was beyond and above all reckoning.

When the great gates of the asylum closed behind her, she stood face
to face with never ending details of loathsome associations, of
miserable discomforts, of haggard dreariness, and of pointless routine.
Henceforth her life was a blank. The days and the weeks and the months
would go by unheeded, and the years would creep like a flowing tide
over the sands of time, levelling the shore of her life into an even,
uneventful sameness, because of a man's inconstancy, and a maid's
desire of conquest.

And that man!

For him it meant the loss of his position, the alienation of sympathy,
and the nightmare of public reprobation. Under the penetrating
cross-questioning of the law, all that was reprehensible and abhorrent
in him, was laid bare. Though the world may profess to love a lover,
the philanderings of the lover may not be exposed to its withering
gaze. So Billy Stinson, too, paid the price; but it was as nothing
compared to that which his beautiful and loving wife had to pay.

And that maid!

Though the passing of time brought recovery, Margaret Deering in
travail of soul, sought obscurity in other lands. In the silent watches
of the night, when she stood face to face with her conscience, or when
her pillow was wet with her tears of repentance she cried:


"What shall I do with my life now I live? Could there be restitution.

"Then there were something to live for, a guerdon to strive for, and
win.

"Is there no hope, and must life be henceforth, a slow dissolution,

"Passive and tearful, purgative of soul from unspeakable sin?"





CHAPTER VI.--THE FORGOTTEN.

Following on the tragedy begotten of his inconsistency, Billy Stinson
was weighed down by remorse. He was about to leave the State when his
father wrote him:


"As you have made such a mess of your life in the city you had better
pack up and return to Moonbulla to regain your manhood. I want a new
manager."


His mother also wrote him:


"I am not surprised at what has happened. Had you taken my advice
this disgrace would not have been brought upon us. But what gratitude
could you expect, what happiness hope for from a nameless nobody and a
marriage so profoundly beneath you?"


There was not a word of pity nor a sigh nor a tear for the beautiful
clean-souled girl-wife who had been so infamously treated. In a few
weeks when remorse began to lift from his volatile nature Billy Stinson
pulled himself together and took a fresh outlook on life. The city
was now no place for him, and so he decided to go west. The home of
his youth called to him and he obeyed the call. It was not so much
that his father and mother needed him; it was because he longed for
the untrammelled freedom of the western runs. He felt that his life
in the city has been artificial. It was not, after all, what he had
been trained to, and he looked back to his boyhood days. He longed for
the feel of a good horse under him and for the grip of a gun stock.
He recalled the nights slept under the stars when out mustering with
the stockmen, and the days of withering heat when a drink from an
ice-cold water-bag was an unforgettable luxury. Then, too, such was his
irrepressible nature, there dawned upon him the vision of a long-legged
girl with bright black eyes and raven hair, with whom he had played
tennis, hunted the kangaroo, and swum the Langlo. Yes, he would go west
and renew the experiences of his boyhood.

His welcome back to Moonbulla was a cordial one. He arrived in a
buckboard from Charleville, and old Joe Sigley, groom and coachman
and general factotum, had made the pace a merry one. Driving four of
the breed of ponies for which Moonbulla was noted, and which Cobb
and Company had made famous, the seventy miles from Charleville to
Moonbulla was covered in record time.

It was a case of the return of the prodigal, and he was made much
of. What had happened in the past was permitted to be forgotten. His
marriage was regarded as an unpleasant episode not to be mentioned.
Among the welcome home party were Muriel Poingdestre and her military
looking father, who had served in the Indian Army. Major Poingdestre
had come up from Oonamurra at the express wish of the Stinsons to
be present at the coming home for good of their son. It had been an
unexpressed hope between Major Poingdestre and Seymour Stinson that
Muriel and Billy would form an alliance and establish a pure merino
dynasty. Billy's marriage had relegated that unexpressed hope into the
limbo of unsatisfied ambitions.

But when Billy the impressionable, saw Muriel Poingdestre he was
startled. It was years since he had seen and played with her as a
long-legged raven-haired kid, shapeless and unattractive, but now he
beheld a transformation. Tall and graceful, with black eyes and black
arched eyebrows and an olive tinted complexion that resisted the
Queensland sun, she appealed to Billy's aesthetic taste for a well
developed girl. He learnt that she was known as the Langlo Queen, and
found that she was as accomplished as she was beautiful.

In the social life of the western stations she was a general favourite,
and the jackeroos worshipped her as an unattainable goddess. At the
Charleville picnic races and at the race ball, she queened it over
all and was acknowledged belle. She had taken a keen interest in
the tragedy of Billy Stinson's married life and admitted with open
frankness when she was shown a photo of Lola-Sue, that she was indeed
beautiful, and remarked that "Billy had good taste."

In time, Billy Stinson learnt a good deal about Muriel Poingdestre,
and he gave way to much introspection. If he had only met her earlier
in her present transformation! In the rough outback he found her to
be fearless and cool, a girl who won men's souls with her wondrous
charm. When the dingoes raided the station flocks, she joined in the
hunt with the best riders of the west. Her shoulder was inured to the
rifle's kick and her fingers trained to the quick pull of the sensitive
trigger. When the brumby stallions whinnied to the station mares to
win them from their allegiance, she would join in the round-up and
back her aim with a sight so quick that gave no chance to a careering
outlaw. But, with all her gameness and fearlessness, she was so tender
and sympathetic that she'd shed a tear with all the pity of a girl who
cares over a lonely dingo pup when its mother had been found and killed
in her lair.

In these hunts with men who knew neither fear nor danger, Billy Stinson
played his part. He had not forgotten his early training on Moonbulla,
and he was just as quick to shoot as he was to love. He proved himself
to be a just manager and possessed magnetism that drew men to him as
well as women.

In Muriel Poingdestre he found a staunch pal. They were together as
often as opportunity permitted. At tennis, at golf, at hunting, at
shooting, they generally paired, and it became general knowledge that
had circumstances permitted, their marriage to each other would have
been an ideal consummation. She was not more than twenty-one and he but
six years her senior, but marriage was out of the question. The grim
walls of the asylum, and the forsaken soul within them, kept them apart
as inexorably as the wedding ring that Billy Stinson had placed on
Lola-Sue's finger, a wedding ring on which he had engraved in the then
surge of his love, "For ever."

But Billy Stinson was not the only Richmond in the field of Muriel
Poingdestre's conquests. There was Humphrey Pryor of "Contraband,"
who looked with extreme disfavour at the growing intimacy between
the two. He was, however, somewhat reconciled by the fact that Billy
Stinson was married, whereas he was unencumbered. At any rate he vowed
that if he could not get Muriel Poingdestre no one else would, and
he was a dangerous rival. Regarded as fearless and unscrupulous, his
holding--"Contraband"--was in the heart of the Carnarvon Ranges. Being
a cattleman he loathed sheep and sheep men, and there was no love
lost between the merino earls and the beef barons. He was reported to
be wealthy, and the fact that he owned several racehorses that had
done remarkably well at Eagle Farm, gave colour to the rumour of his
affluence. There was not a great deal known about him, save that report
had spun around him a web of romance.

The police hinted that he was the head of a band of cattle duffers
who, secure in the remoteness of the Carnarvon Ranges, raided the runs
of the squatters from the Maranoa to the Diamantina. Being a superb
bushman and having around him men as lawless as himself whom he could
trust, he regarded the law of ownership where cattle were concerned,
with supreme contempt. Well mounted and knowing every inch of the
country, he and his men worked and raided in secret, and the station
owners wished him in hell or a worse place if one existed.

Before Billy Stinson had returned to Moonbulla, Muriel Poingdestre had
been attracted by the romance that surrounded Humphrey Pryor, and by
the compelling attentions he paid to her. The cool insolence of his
daring, the quick glances from his agate-brown eyes, had a fascination
for her as the reputed fascination of a snake to a bird. When his hand
clasped hers it had the feel of iron in his grip. She admired his
strength, his alertness, and she was thrilled by the magnetism of his
strong personality. He owned two imported blood stallions, Ercanil
and Libertine, and he carried on the breeding of racehorses with
considerable success. More than one of the Contraband colts had won a
classic race in Brisbane, and one had pulled off the Sydney Cup. At the
picnic races at Charleville he was a noted figure, and his black colt
Satan, which he had nominated in the name of Muriel Poingdestre, had
won the ladies' bracelet at the last meeting. He himself was the rider,
and as Muriel Poingdestre was so delighted with the horse's success and
with the admirable and skilful manner in which he was ridden, he made
her a present of the horse as well as of the bracelet.

Like most Australian girls brought up on a station, she was an
excellent judge of a horse and knew how to handle one. Though she was
diffident in accepting such a valuable gift from a man who was really
nothing to her and whom the conservative Major Poingdestre regarded
with disfavour, her love for the splendid animal surmounted all
scruples. She accepted the gifts of horse and bracelet in a manner so
charming that forced Humphrey Pryor to remark, "If she had loved him
just one half as much as she appeared to love Satan, he would feel well
repaid."

"But you're the very devil yourself, aren't you, Mr. Pryor?" Muriel
replied.

"Only in that I am always delighted to give you a devil of a good
time," was his answer. "Come," and he led her to the refreshment booth
where he sealed the gift of "Satan" over a bottle of champagne.

"It's really too generous of you to give me a horse that you set such
store by, and if I do not love the giver as much as I love his gift, I
appreciate his generosity very much indeed."

"Then, though you do hold me lower in your estimation than you do
'Satan,' I am at present quite satisfied in that you appreciate the
gift, Miss Poingdestre."

"I do, indeed. One may love a beautiful horse as one loves anything
beautiful, but the word love in that sense is not applicable to a man's
love for a woman, or a woman's love for a man. That's a different thing
altogether; but we can at least be very good friends, you and I, Mr.
Pryor."

"Yes, but friendship is not very satisfying where you are concerned,
Muriel." It was the first time he had called her by her Christian name
and she felt embarrassed. "I want more than that, I want you. I want
your love. I am obsessed with the desire of making you my wife, and I
usually get what I want."

Muriel Poingdestre didn't like that last remark, and she said, somewhat
haughtily:

"Is that a threat, Mr. Pryor?"

"No, a warning. It must be love or hate, nothing between."

The daring of the man almost took her breath away. She did not know
whether to feel flattered or annoyed, so she said.

"Oh, come, Mr. Pryor (she could not get herself to call him Humphrey),"
"you're speaking in superlatives. Love cannot be coerced. It's a
beautiful flower that grows in the garden of appreciation, watered by
the rains of worth, and kissed by the soft dews of purity."

"On the contrary, it is a flower that is forced into a gorgeous
loveliness by the fertilising influence of a dominant mind over one
less powerful."

"For instance?" Muriel Poingdestre inquired looking at him sideways,
flicking her riding whip.

"Well, you know how the black fellow weds his lubra. He chases her,
bangs her on the head with his nulla-nulla, and drags her back to
his tribe by the hair, a conquered bride. That's savage domination.
The aim of my life is to dominate yours, and when the domination is
consummated, I shall then claim your sweet surrender."

"Who knows," replied Muriel meditatively, hitting her right leg gently
with her whip. "The future is in the lap of the Gods."

Then they walked slowly away and sat under pepperina tree, where the
conversation was resumed.

"Is it not possible to forestall the future, dearest, by deciding in
the present? I love you more than you realise. I want you, want you. My
God, Muriel, you appeal to me so much that I feel I cannot live without
you." He seized her right hand in his iron grip and his voice was low
and tense, vibrating with passion.

"Not now, Mr. Pryor, not now----"

"Oh, cut out the Mr. Pryor, Muriel, and call me Humphrey. It's a dud of
a name, I know, but better than this mister business."

"Well, then, Humphrey, I cannot answer as you wish. Some day, perhaps,
but not now."

Introspectively, she envisaged her future with this man whom she
admired, yet feared. Out of her envisioning there arose the face of
another man whom she also admired but did not fear. That man was Billy
Stinson, who had recently come back into her life as it were from the
past. Him she could not marry. To her he was unattainable and the
unattainable has often a fatal attraction.

This, also, was what Billy Stinson thought. At the time of the picnic
races he was down the Paroo looking for relief country to depasture
some of the Moonbulla sheep. The western country was in the grip of a
severe drought, but down towards the New South Wales border there was
still good grass and the merinos of Moonbulla were too valuable to be
allowed to die.

As he rode along the dry banks the Paroo with his black boy Wombie, his
thoughts were not of Lola-Sue but of Muriel Poingdestre. He was aware
that Humphrey Pryor was her satellite and was in a position to marry
her, whilst he, Billy Stinson, though craving her love, was shut out by
inexorable fate, and was forced to stand aside while another man made
love to her. To him the position was intolerable. He knew he could win
Muriel Poingdestre from his rival, Humphrey Pryor, if the starting had
been equal, but he was handicapped out of the race, and an accusing
conscience whispered:

"It is because thou hast sinned."

Though he may have repented, the ghost of his repentance pointed its
skeleton finger at the law which forbids a man to have two wives.




CHAPTER VII.--THE GHOST.

In the meantime Lola-Sue lived in the dead world of her defective
mentality. Physically, she had not suffered. She was as beautiful as
the day on which she had married Billy Stinson. Time, instead of ageing
her with creeping insidiousness, seemed to stand still. Mentally,
however, she was no better. Her case interested the professional
alienists and she was transferred from Goodna to Willowburn, in the
hope that the more genial climate of Toowoomba, with its greater
elevation, would help to waken her out of her mental darkness. Five
years had passed since her admission as a patient to the mental
hospital at Goodna, and Billy Stinson got tired of the negative answers
of the medical superintendent to his letters of inquiry as to the hope
of his wife's early recovery. He, therefore, ceased to make further
inquiries. Then it dawned on him that he, under the divorce laws of
Queensland, could now petition the Supreme Court for divorce; but
until he had awakened to the fact that he was now in love with Muriel
Poingdestre, he had had no thought of exercising his legal right
in that direction. Of late, however, his desire to possess Muriel
Poingdestre, to hold her against all-comers, began to tear his honour
by the roots, and to force him to break his vow to love and to cherish
Lola-Sue "For ever."

Out in the undisturbed silence of the illimitable west, miles away from
the head station, where he had gone to superintend the deepening of an
artesian bore, Billy Stinson communed with himself.

Was it right to sacrifice himself on an altar of sentiment, to continue
tied to a living negation? Surely that was not demanded of him. He was
still young, not yet in the prime of his life. Could any sane person
argue that he must go on living until the end of his days, possibly far
remote, a loveless, mateless life like an emasculated eunuch? God, it
was unreasonable.

It was spring time everywhere. Quickening nature was calling. In
the bush, the burgeoning of the trees, the mating of the birds, the
rutting of the cattle. In the city, the gay life of the palpitant
world, the glamour of evening, the allurement of night, with soft
arms entwining. Must he shut his eyes and steel himself against all
the joys of existence, or stare with lacklustre eyes into a lonely
future and behold a vista of loveless years? Such a predicament would
be intolerable. Life without love brought man down to the level of a
soulless brute. He could not live for ever on the memory of a past
love. In that way lay madness or death.

In this frame of mind, he had ever before him the mental vision of
Muriel Poingdestre. No, come what may he could not let her go. In
this he determined. Duty? But did he not owe a duty to himself? What
would it profit him, profit Lola-Sue, if he went on living a life
of self abnegation? No, a thousand times no. The law could give
him his freedom, and was not a law which gave a man a right to his
freedom after five years in cases of insanity, a wise and humane law?
Assuredly. Well then he would take advantage of that law. It was framed
for such cases as his. He would go to Muriel Poingdestre and explain
all to her, plead with her until she came round to his way of thinking.

Even as he resolved, sitting in the shade of a coolabah by the bore
drain, which ran down a natural hollow which was once the dry bed of
a creek, there came to him the swift thuds of kangaroos hopping, and
the barking of excited dogs. Looking up he saw Muriel Poingdestre
on the galloping Satan, in all the excitement of a kangaroo hunt.
She was alone. He had half expected to see Humphrey Pryor with her.
The dogs had cut out a grey old man from the fleeing mob and were
running him down. The hunted brute was beginning to tire, and the
dogs were gaining. To his surprise, Billy Stinson saw the kangaroo
making straight for him and the tree under which he was sitting, as if
instinctively courting his protection. As he got up and moved away, the
kangaroo stopped at the coolabah and faced the dogs. With his back to
the thick trunk of the tree, the 'roo stood to fight for his life. The
first dog leapt at the kangaroo's throat, only to be hurled back ripped
by the great metatarsal toe from throat to chest. Before the second
dog had a chance to spring, Billy Stinson, pitying the terrified brute
that seemed to look to him for protection, drove the dog off with his
hunting crop, and shouted to him to lie down. Relieved from the pursuit
of the dogs, the kangaroo hopped away through the Mulga and was soon
lost to view. Muriel Poingdestre riding up was surprised to see who
had appeared so suddenly on the scene. To Billy Stinson she seemed the
embodiment of grace and beauty. Her olive cheeks were flushed with the
excitement of the hunt, and she sat the great "Satan" with the ease and
suppleness of a girl accustomed to a life in the saddle.

Dressed in a close fitting silk blouse, riding breeches, and puttees,
with a soft felt hat on her well-shaped head, she looked very young and
boyish.

"Billy!" she exclaimed, "who ever dreamt of running across you out
here. But look at poor 'Larry' with his throat and chest ripped open."

Instantly, she dismounted, throwing the reins on the ground, when the
well trained 'Satan,' lathered with sweat, commenced to graze.

"Oh, Billy, what can we do for the poor dog?" and the tears welled up
into her sympathetic eyes.

"Have you by any chance a strong needle and thread?" he asked.

"Thank goodness, I have," and she took from the band of her felt hat,
a strong needle threaded with linen thread. Muriel held the dog while
Billy stitched up the gaping wound.

"If he could only lick it, he would be all right. When you get him home
dress the cut with carbolic oil. But what lucky chance brought you out
here, miles from anywhere?"

"Dad asked me to ride down to the bore drain to see if the water was
running into the paddock at the Twelve Mile where his stud rams are
paddocked. For company I brought with me my two kangaroo dogs 'Larry'
and 'Lady.' When near the boundary of your run, the dogs gave chase to
a mob of kangaroos and so--well, here I am."

"To me, dear, it seemed as if you had dropped down from heaven. I was
dreaming daydreams of you when I heard the thudding of the kangaroos
and the yelping of your dogs."

"Then your dream materialised, eh?"

"Well, you did; but whether my dream in which you were a prominent
figure, will ever materialise, I cannot say."

Billy Stinson said this so wistfully, that Muriel Poingdestre was
intrigued.

"Tell me more, Billy. I'm interested."

It was intensely hot. They had moved to a clump of mulga where there
was more shade. Out in the open the heat waves danced and shimmered
and a flock of rose-breasted galahs broke the silence with their noisy
screeching.

"It is the same old recurring nightmare, Muriel--the tragedy of my
life. It was of that I was thinking before you rode up."

"I know, and I'm sorry for you, Billy. But how do I figure in the
picture?"

"You're the centre piece. Since my return to Moonbulla, I have realised
what a mistake I have made. What I have lost. I never anticipated that
you would develop into such a splendid girl. Coming back to the West,
I have known what it is to love again. You are to me the one priceless
being on earth."

"Billy!"

"Yes, Muriel, I am not philandering. I'm serious. Out here in the
lonely heart of the West, a man seems to gain understanding. Sometimes,
as in my case, it has come too late. In the cities, one seems to
treat love lightly. There it is more of a pastime than a passion.
But not here where men are face to face with the realities, not the
artificialities of life, love seems to have a grander, a profounder
meaning. In the vastness of these spaces, it seems as immeasurable as
the depths between star and star, as sublime as the thundering crash
of tempests. Oh, I know, Muriel, I have no right to speak to you of
love; but believe me dear, there's never a day that dawns or a night
that falls, but some fond thought of you, beloved, calls. I have tried,
God knows how often to blot you out of my thoughts but it is no use.
You are with me wherever I go. The very birds seem to call your name.
Even the wind in the trees seems to make a whispering of you. Muriel,
Muriel, Muriel."

"Don't, Billy, don't. I'm sorry, but it's no use. More sorry than you
can imagine," saying which she looked at him with tear suffused eyes
and placed her sun-browned hand tenderly on his.

"Don't touch me, Muriel. I can't bear it. See, my hands are
blood-stained with 'Larry's' blood. I am unclean, and my conscience is
blood-stained too since that fatal night at Sandgate, over five years,
ago."

"In time, Billy, you will throw off this morbid feeling. Out here there
is plenty of work for a man to do, and work, you know, is a great mind
healer."

"No. There is only one panacea, Muriel. Your love. Without it, without
you, the future holds nothing worth while. Looking right down the long
lane of the years I see no vision splendid that does not contain you in
it. I seem to be living under a cloud, and I can see no way of getting
back into the light. Without being blasphemous, I look to you and say,
'Lead, kindly light.' If I hadn't come back to Moonbulla and learnt to
love you, perhaps I should not have cared so much. Loving you makes it
so hard to live without you."

"But, Billy, isn't that the way with men? They seem always to love the
unattainable. It is the anticipation that lures. It you possessed me,
you might find in time that I would fall like a curse at your feet."

"Yes the unattainable. You are that, all right, Muriel. But isn't that
also the way with women too? Isn't it a trait of human nature? Do not
women, do not you (and Billy Stinson, as he asked this looked earnestly
into Muriel Poingdestre's eyes) feel at times the bitter-sweet wine of
desire and the pain of unsatisfied longing?"

"They do, Billy. God knows, they do. But women hide their feelings
better than men, until some great happening, some sudden danger to the
one they love, breaks down the barriers and lets the flood of their
pent up love loose. Then they stand confessed."

"Then let me stand confessed. Before you rode up, glorious in your
hunting, I had resolved to take steps to break the legal bonds that
hold me from you. I had decided to petition the court for a divorce.
The law gives me the opportunity. Why should I not take it, Muriel?"

"For what purpose, Billy?"

"To marry you, my Muriel."

"No, Billy, not your Muriel. That can never be." But as she said this,
as if in contradiction to her words, she placed her arm around him ever
so lovingly. Then in words of great solemnity she said, speaking low
and earnestly, "I may be the desire of your heart, the throne of your
attainment, but not in that way can I go to you. The soul of a woman,
like a menacing ghost, seared into mindless darkness by the passion of
her great love for you, would always stand between us. Though the law
may be clothed in the semblance of justice, to me it would seem too
much like the garments of expediency. It would be a sin, and when sin
attains its desire the longing for it dies. You know, Billy, there's
a Divinity that shapes our end. Life goes on to its end no matter how
we may fashion and strive, according to an immutable rule. But, come,
it's getting late. We have a long way to go. Throw away dull care, and
for the love of Mike, Billy, give me a drink out of your water bag. I'm
parched." So saying, she got up, laughing, and held out her hand to
assist the morose Billy to his feet.




CHAPTER VIII.--THE DIVORCE.

The weeks and the months sped by and the drought lay like a curse on
the land. The ninth year cycle had come round and a lean time followed
a fat. So it has ever been in the meteorological history of Queensland.
The sheep and the cattle on the grassless runs began to die off, first
in hundreds, then in thousands, then in tens of thousands, until the
western downs were thick inlaid with patines of bleached-white bones.
The Government came to the assistance of the wool earls and the beef
barons, and long trains heavily laden with starving stock, groaned
eastward and southward to wherever relief country could be found. Even
the sugar cane fields of the North carried their quota of starving
sheep that grew fat again on the cane trash. The maize growers, on the
Burnett and the Atherton Tableland, waxed rich on orders for maize for
stud sheep, and the golden grain was scattered from motor cars over the
paddocks and the hungry sheep rushed to the purring of the car as the
lambs run to their dams.

Where mulga was plentiful, the ravages of the drought were warded off
for a time, but scrub cutters were hard to get and so every available
man on the stations was put on to cutting down mulga. The sheep licked
up the dry leaves and waxed fat while the mulga lasted, but the drought
showed no signs of breaking and in time even the mulga would give out.

For weeks men were camped out on the runs, scrub cutting; and rations
were brought to them by buck-board and motor car from the head
stations. It was a desperate attempt to keep alive as many of the
sheep as possible. When the drought broke, and restocking commenced, a
hundred thousand merinos would be worth a King's ransom. Billy Stinson
worked with the station hands, the jackeroos, and as many rouseabouts
as could be roped in, in the desperate attempt to keep alive the
Moonbulla sheep by feeding them on the Mulga. It was a battle and a
gamble with the adverse forces of nature with the odds piled up against
the squatters. If the squatters won, fortunes were saved, and made.
If they lost, it meant ruin and starting all over again from the very
bottom. Men, who could write cheques for a hundred thousand pounds when
the seasons were good, could not write a cheque for a hundred pence
when the drought ended. The banks and the great land, mercantile and
finance companies closed down on them, and their brief reign as wool
earls and beef barons was at an end.

Though the work of scrub cutting in the intense heat was strenuous,
night, with its cooling break, brought rest and silence beneath the
infinitude of the starry dome of the heavens.

It was on such nights as these, that the thoughts of Billy Stinson ran
to Muriel Poingdestre. If the sun-drenched cloudless days brought the
mocking mirage of mirrored lakes and translucent waters, the nights
brought mental visions of Muriel Poingdestre that also mocked him. He
repeated to himself over and over again: "The law points the way, but
she will not have me that way. If I invoke the aid of the law, shall
I be any nearer my attainment of her? No matter. It is a risk I must
take. But it is a risk. If I claim her through bonds snapped by the
law, shall I not court the full measure of her loathing. Undivorced,
I cannot marry her. Divorced, I may not. But, divorced, some chance
circumstance may weigh in my favour. Am I justified in my own sight?
What are the facts. She is young and beautiful, and has all the world
to choose from. Would to God it were so with me. Have I any worth in
her sight? That has to be definitely proved. Knowing me as I am, can
I hoodwink myself into the belief that were all things equal, she
would marry me? That too, is a risk I must take. There can be no half
measures. She is worth a great risk--a great fight. It is better to
scheme, to risk all than to slumber."

A week later, his solicitor in Brisbane received a letter requesting
him to petition the Supreme Court for a divorce. When the petition was
drawn up it set forth, omitting all formal parts, that Lola Conway,
from the date of her confinement had not been released or discharged
from the asylum for the insane; that she was not likely to recover;
that she had been a lunatic for a period of five years and longer;
the petitioner, therefore, humbly prayed that his marriage may be
dissolved, that he may have such further and other relief in the
premises as the court may seem meet.

Then followed the issue of the writ, and as the law is exacting in its
formulae, a copy of the writ, with a statement of the plaintiff's claim
for a dissolution of his marriage, with the defendant, Lola Conway,
was formally served on her (notwithstanding her total inability to
comprehend what it was all about) with the intimation that she was
required within twenty-one days to file in the court her defence to her
husband's petition.

But as this was impossible, another legal fiction was evolved, in that
the Curator in Insanity, the guardian ad litem, of the defendant,
gave all and sundry notice that he as such guardian ad litem had
entered an appearance for the defendants the action of Wilfred Beaufort
Stinson, plaintiff, and Lola Stinson, defendant.

On the hearing of the petition, the court found the facts proven, and
in the absence of collusion or connivance, granted a rule nisi for
the dissolution of the marriage, returnable in three months, when the
rule nisi was made absolute.

The fact of Billy Stinson's having obtained his divorce soon became
common knowledge, and people began to talk and to speculate. Usually,
a man such as he, and circumstanced as he was, applies for a divorce
for one purpose only--to marry again--and gossip soon linked his
name with that of Muriel Poingdestre. This was gall and wormwood to
Humphrey Pryor, who saw Muriel Poingdestre slipping from him. "By the
blod of Christ he'll never get her," he exclaimed when he had heard of
the divorce and learnt the ostensible purpose for which it had been
obtained.

This oath was repeated to Bill Stinson by one of his own stockmen who
was present at the mail change on the road to Augathella when Humphrey
Pryor made the remark. The driver of Cobb and Company's coach, which
carried the mail from Charleville north along the Warrego, was the
first to acquaint Pryor of the news of the divorce. The Stinsons and
the Poingdestres were people of note in the Warrego district, and any
event that concerned them was always interesting gossip and the mailman
who brought the papers and correspondence from the settled to the
unsettled districts, were always welcome. Billy Stinson merely smiled
when he heard what Pryor had said. He had no fear of his great rival
and was as quick to hate as he was to love.

"You tell 'The Yellow Streak' when you next see him, Batham, that
I'll back my chances at any odds against him in the winning of Miss
Poingdestre."

This was not altogether bravado, for Billy Stinson, though perhaps
not such a superb horseman as Humphrey Pryor, was no mean antagonist.
As a rifle shot he was quite as expert as Pryor, and as a pugilist
he was probably his superior. He would face any danger coolly and
with courage, and was not a man to take second place where Muriel
Poingdestre was concerned.

Neither was Humphrey Pryor. The name that he was known by in the
west, "The Yellow Streak," would seem to imply that he was a coward
and would not stand up to his man when cornered. But that was not so.
The police had christened him "The Yellow Streak" because he was too
wily for them, though they had done their best to take him and his
men red-handed in lifting stolen stock. His knowledge of the country
comprised within the boundaries of the Warrego, Mitchell, and Gregory
districts, was unsurpassed, and he never rode a bad horse. He would be
at one place on one day and a hundred miles away on another.

Habitually, he and his men carried firearms, rifles, as well as
revolvers. As stockmen, horse-dealers, and cattle duffers they were
matchless riders and bushmen, and because of his desire to give the
police a wide berth, he was nicknamed "The Yellow Streak." Police and
strangers were not welcomed at Contraband, which was a secluded holding
in the heart of the Carnarvon ranges, and what cattle or horses went
into that great pocket, never came out again until they all bore the
Contraband brand. If they went in as clean skins the branding irons
were soon got ready. If they had brands it was not hard to fake them or
to alter ear-marks.

When Billy Stinson's divorce was made absolute, he purposely avoided
Muriel Poingdestre. He did not, for appearance sake, want to make it
appear that he was too interested in her, though he was eating his
heart out for her. Moreover, by not pressing his company on her he
hoped that time would work in his favour and make her look upon his
action in obtaining a divorce with a more lenient eye.

However, when he was made aware of Humphrey Pryor's direct challenge,
he decided to stay away from her no longer. He did not wish Pryor to
have the notion that he stayed away from Muriel Poingdestre because he
was afraid of him, consequently he made opportunities to see her as
often as possible and to wait the psychological moment when he could
ask her to marry him.

In the bush, more especially in the wide flung spaces of "the never
never," where station is linked up to station and homestead to
homestead, with a central exchange by primitive lines of telephones,
which enables one settler to listen in on another's conversation,
gossip quickly spreads, and Muriel Poingdestre soon learnt of the
feelings of both men towards her and of the deadly enmity that existed
between them.

Billy Stinson with some of his men were camped at No. 3 bore, at the
north-west corner of Moonbulla, where they were still scrub cutting.
The loneliness of the life palled on him, and Muriel Poingdestre drew
him as the magnet draws the steel.

Early one morning, before the sun had crept up out of the east, he said
to one of his men, John Kimber:

"Kimber, I'm going to Oonamurra. I want you and the men to carry on for
a week or so till you are relieved."

"Sir," replied Kimber, "I know why you go to Oonamurra and I wish you
luck."

"Thank you, Kimber. As you know so much, I may as well mention that I'm
going to get 'Yes' or 'No' from the Langlo Queen."

When Billy Stinson had rolled his valise and turned to ride down the
bore drain south by west, his men gave him a rousing cheer, for they,
too, would have ridden to hell and back for a smile from the Langlo
Queen, the darling of the Warrego. When Billy Stinson had gone an hour,
John Kimber called to Jimmy Dare, one of the Moonbulla's jackeroos, and
suggested to him that it might he as well to ride over to Macnade's
homestead, to phone Oonamurra that Mr. Stinson is riding south. Miss
Poingdestre will then know he is on the way.

Whether it was an inspiration, or the ordering of the Divinity, that
shapes the destinies of mankind, that prompted John Kimber to suggest
phoning Oonamurra, it is hard to say; but when Jimmy Dare reached the
Tanbar Gate on the stock route south to New South Wales via Cunnamulla
and Wooroorooka, he met Humphrey Pryor and some of his men on their
way north to Contraband. They were armed as usual. In the course of
a desultory conversation the jackeroo mentioned that his boss, Mr.
Stinson, had left No. 3 bore that morning at daybreak for Oonamurra.
He might have mentioned also that he was riding over to Macnade's
homestead, startled at the effect his statement made on Humphrey Pryor.

"Jesus Christ!" blasphemously exclaimed Pryor. "The blighter will never
reach there if I can stop him."

Turning to his men he said, "You go on to Contraband while I go south
to track that bloody mormon. I'd track him over the coals of hell to
stop him marrying the Langlo Queen."

Then he turned his horse south and rode with the easy grace of the
long-limbed, small-waisted men of the west, who spend the greater
portion of their time in the saddle.

He knew he would have to ride long and hard to overtake his quarry; but
he knew his horse, fed on Mitchell grass, and knew also from experience
how hard he could push him without knocking him up.

The country was as an open book to him, and he had no difficulty in
picking up Billy Stinson's tracks and following them. At Windula he was
told that Stinson had passed through less than an hour ago.

In the meantime, Jimmy Dare, regretting that he had mentioned to Pryor
the destination of his boss, sensed trouble, and he too, rode fast on
to Macnades to telephone to Oonamurra that not only was Mr. Stinson
riding there, but that "The Yellow Streak" was following fast on his
tracks, well armed.

Mrs. Macnade and a black gin were the only people at home, her husband
and a black boy being away scrub-cutting. They were surprised to see
Jimmy Dare ride to the slip-rails on a foam-lathered horse. Dismounting
and throwing the reins on the ground, he asked permission to use the
telephone. Alarmed at the evident haste and the apparent importance of
the message, Mrs. Macnade asked: "Is there any trouble at Moonbulla,
Mr. Dare?"

"No, but there might be, Mrs. Macnade," and he mentioned to her all
that had happened.

"He's a passionate man, that Humphrey Pryor, but none so bad after
all I'm told. He generally gets what he wants. I would n'a like to
cross him. Ah, well, it's the same old story, lad. Twa stallions
fight for a filly, two bulls for a heifer, twa men for a maid. I'm
thinkin' Humphrey Pryor 'd as lief shoot Mr. Stinson to gain Mistress
Poingdestre as not. But there I'm detainin' ye. Telephone at once."

It was nine o'clock that morning when Muriel Poingdestre answered the
phone message from Macnade's, four hours after Billy Stinson had left
No. 3 bore. It would be some considerable time yet, she thought, before
he reached Oonamurra. In the intense heat of the day he could not
travel fast on the one horse. He would have to spell him occasionally
otherwise he would knock up. A terrible fear possessed her when she
learnt that Humphrey Pryor was tracking Billy Stinson south. She knew
what that meant. A quarrel, a fight in the lonely bush, perhaps a rifle
shot and no witnesses to prove anything.

There was no time to lose. She must do something. She knew the track
along which Billy Stinson was riding. She would ride north and warn
him. Her father was out on the run with the men. There were only the
bookkeeper and her black boy at the station.

"Combo! Combo!" she called, going out to the stables.

"Yowi, missy, what you want?" replied the black boy, coming out of the
harness room.

"Saddle up Satan. Plenty hurry. Baal sit down."

"Yowi, missy, me bin plurry slick, you bet."

Going into the office, she said to the bookkeeper:

"If father comes in before I return, tell him I'm riding north to meet
Mr. Stinson and Mr. Pryor."

Taking her rifle which the black boy handed to her when she had
mounted, she rode north in a loping canter. In the meantime, riding
hard and obsessed by his intense hatred of Billy Stinson, Humphrey
Pryor came to the deserted homestead on Candu grazing selection. Here
Billy Stinson had rested and boiled his billy, and Pryor found the
ashes still hot. Without pausing, though his horse was tuckered up and
weary, he pushed on, knowing that before long he would overtake his
man. The nearness of his quarry gave zest to the hunter and he spurred
with rowels of hate the tiring horse. The country over which he rode
was flat and sun-baked, broken here and there by patches of mulga and
clumps of lignum. From his horse he could see a long way ahead and he
kept a sharp look out for his rival. Not far away was the soak at Mulga
Bend, where there was always water. If he did not catch up to Billy
Stinson before the soak was reached he knew he would find him there
spelling his horse.

Up from the south rode Muriel Poingdestre, also making for Mulga Bend
with her rifle's butt held firmly to her right thigh as she rode,
her drawn and anxious face, tanned to a deeper hue by the hot winds,
betokened the fear that possessed her heart. Without bite or sup she
had left Oonamurra because of a 'phone call. Never in her life had she
ridden as she rode that day, and her splendid Satan proved equal to the
task set him.

It was the irony of fate that she rode the gift of Humphrey Pryor to
save Billy Stinson from harm at the giver's hands. What made her do it?
Subconsciously she loved Billy Stinson and her love from smouldering
embers burst into a sudden flame at a suspicion of danger to him.

Though the heat was intense and the sun-cracked earth seemed to grin up
at her like a fleshless skull, she rode on, with only a stolen pause
to rest awhile and to wet the quivering nostrils of her horse from her
water-bag.

"The Yellow Streak." To her he had never seemed that; but she called
to mind his open boast that no man but he would marry her, and now, in
her newly discovered love for Billy Stinson, this boastful assurance of
Humphrey Pryor revolted her.

It had been reported to her that one day at the coupling of her
name with that of Billy Stinson's, when in a mild, mad mood at the
Ellengowan Hotel at Augathella, he had wagered his soul he would have
her yet, or swing for the life of his hated foe.

So, riding hard, she breathed a prayer that she might be in time to
reach Mulga Bend, or to warn Billy Stinson, before Humphrey Pryor
caught up to him.

Another half-hour's ride brought her to the soak. It was a depression
in the creek that, in rainy seasons, emptied into the Warrego. Clumps
of lignum dotted the approach and a few twisted coolabahs with their
thick trunks stood like rheumatic sentinels along the banks of the dry
creek up and down from the soak.

Through the heat haze she saw a man riding in a fast canter towards the
bend. Then she saw him dismount on the other side of the soak and walk
stealthily towards the waterhole. She, too, dismounted and, fastening
her horse to a mulga, moved silently forward, taking advantage of
all the cover that the ground afforded. She saw Billy Stinson in the
hollow, stooping over the soak to get a billy of water, all unconscious
of the nearness of Humphrey Pryor.

Stilling her fear, she cupped her hands and hooted the call of the
boobook owl. Instantly Billy Stinson rose, alert, only to meet the
levelled rifle of Humphrey Pryor.

"So you thought to beat me to the Langlo Queen, did you, Stinson? Hell,
no! But I'll take to her as a souvenir the bay and accoutrements of the
bloody mormon. Keep your hands up, you bastard, and take the count. At
ten I fire, and if your bloody corpse is ever found I'm no bushman."

As he counted Muriel Poingdestre from across the waterhole heard the
staccato numerals--one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Then
her heart seemed to stop beating, but with firm fingers on trigger she
sighted her rifle.

Nine!

She fired, and a bullet from a gun unseen smashed through the right
shoulder of Humphrey Pryor.

Both men were startled. It was a bolt from the blue. Then they saw
Muriel Poingdestre calmly walking towards them with her smoking rifle
in her hand.

As Pryor fell from the shock of the bullet, Billy Stinson ran to Muriel
Poingdestre.

"Muriel," he exclaimed, "wherever did you spring from?" and he went to
embrace her; but she evading him, went up to the fallen man and said:
"I'm sorry, Mr. Pryor, but I had to save the man I love from your hate."

And then she proceeded to render first aid.

"You infernal tiger cat. I'll get even with you yet," was all the
thanks that she got for her pains.

Then turning to Billy Stinson she said. "Come, Billy, its getting late.
Help Mr. Pryor on to his horse. He'd better make tracks for the nearest
hospital to have his wound attended to."

"You're well named 'The Yellow Streak,' Pryor, but we now know where
we stand," said Billy Stinson, as he helped the wounded man on to his
horse.

"We do," replied Pryor, livid with rage and loss of blood. "But the
next time we meet, you may not have a woman to protect you."

"It's all right, Pryor; but you'd better watch your steps. At any rate,
I'm going to keep your rifle as a little memento of this, to you,
painful and embarrassing episode, but to me a glorious interlude in my
life."

As Muriel Poingdestre and Billy Stinson rode away in the direction of
Oonamurra, they came to a common understanding. In their love, now
confessed, they felt neither hunger nor fatigue. When Billy Stinson
asked her how it happened that she was at Mulga Bend at such a critical
moment, she told him.

"And when I got that phone message from Jimmy Dare, I knew that I loved
you, Billy, and rode to save you. Now I experience the rapture that a
conqueror feels."

"And I, beloved, owing my life to you, surrender it to you for ever."

For ever!

Out of the distance, a voice seemed to shout in mocking tones "For
ever!" and the reverberations of its echoes seemed to run throughout
the universe. For ever! For ever! until it died away in the vastness of
illimitable space, for had he not joined himself to Lola-Sue for ever,
and sealed that vow with a circlet of gold inscribed For Ever.




CHAPTER IX.--THE GHOST MATERIALISES.

The marriage of Billy Stinson with Muriel Poingdestre was duly
consummated.

It was Muriel's wish, in view of the fact that Billy was a divorced
man, that the marriage should be a quiet one. She did not court any
undue publicity, though the society papers made much of the event.
It was a little bit of social history that they did not choose to
overlook. One well-known influential weekly, much read in the west and
throughout Australia, put it this way:--


"A western wedding, which created a considerable, amount of interest
in pure merino circles, took place quietly at the English Church at
Charleville. It linked together pretty Muriel Poingdestre, daughter of
Major Poingdestre of Oonamurra, and Wilfred Beaufort Stinson, only son
of the Moonbulla Stinsons, whose tragic first marriage was recently
dissolved by the court."


This set tongues a-wagging, and gossip reared itself on its hind legs
and gesticulated. The very thing that the Stinsons did not desire, was
any allusion to their son's former marriage, or, as they termed it, his
mesalliance; but the Press is no respecter of family skeletons and lo!
theirs was dragged out in all its hideous nakedness to a gaping world.

The proud and haughty Muriel Stinson felt the sting in the tail of the
Press paragraph. Strong in her love for her husband, she had fondly
believed that the tragic story of his first marriage had passed into
the forgotten limbo of all unpleasant happenings, but she had to learn
that gossip has a long and tenacious memory.

Wherever she went she seemed to be followed by the spectre of Lola-Sue.
It followed her on her honeymoon to the southern cities, and it seemed
to creep between them when they went to bed at night.

It was horrible. If Lola-Sue had been dead it would have been
different, but she was alive, alive. God! What if she recovered and
came to her and said, "This man you are committing adultery with is my
husband. No law can separate us. He is mine. Give him up."

What could she do? Nothing.

She did not mention her fears to her husband. As usual he was buoyant
irrepressible, and lived every minute of his life with her. In his
every action he showed that he loved her, just as at first, in his
every action he showed Lola-Sue that he loved her. So far as he was
concerned, Lola-Sue was as good as dead, forgotten, The memory of her
did not haunt him in the least. He was a splendid animal. All that
concerned him was the present. To be mated with a lovely woman was to
him the highest gratification, life's greatest consummation. If it
wasn't Lola-Sue, it was Muriel. If it wasn't Muriel, it would be some
one else, so long as that some one else was beautiful and appealed to
his sexual instincts. He was always in season. He could not satisfy his
desires by hugging a memory, so, now that he was mated to Muriel, who
satisfied to the full all his sensuous desires, the memory of Lola-Sue
had no haunting terrors for him.

In this way, he metaphorically waltzed through his honeymoon and ate,
drank, and slept with a light heart. His love for his wife was an
opiate that brought him blissful peace.

But it is the woman who suffers--and pays. Though Muriel gave herself
to her husband willingly and exquisitely, the joy of him was cloyed
with perpetual fears. For her, there was no dreamless repose of
assurance such as her husband experienced.

There would recur to her, no matter how hard she tried to thrust
it aside, the beautiful face of Lola-Sue as she had seen it from a
photograph, and her heart went out to her with an ineffable pity.
Then she would think to herself: "Here am I, an usurper, experiencing
all the joys and pleasures that were hers, should be hers. But no, I
couldn't give her back her man even if she came to claim him. He is
mine, mine. He has sealed me to him with his glowing burning kisses,
with the strong firm pressure of him, limb to limb, body to body, face
to face."

In this mood, they returned to Brisbane from the south. It was early
August and carnival week, the only carnival Brisbane ever knows save
when royalty visits it, when they arrived.

The Exhibition at Bowen Park was in full swing and it seemed as if the
country had emptied itself and poured into the metropolis. The sheep
men and cattle men from the north and the west foregathered at the
great hotels and money flowed like water. It was a time of pleasure, a
time of spending, and a time of hectic excitement. Pedigreed stock held
the ring and the pens, and the squatters and farmers had come to view,
to criticise, and to speculate.

The rains had been generous and the season's good, and the pulse of
the Stock Exchange had a healthy throb. The prices of wool, of wheat,
of maize, of butter, was a dominant subject, and the rains responsible
for the success and splendour of carnival week. Probably in no country
in the world does the topic of rain enter into the conversation of
the people as it does in Australia. The difference between points and
inches is the difference between penury and affluence.

Clear sunny days, and zephyr cooled nights, star studded and still,
characterised Exhibition week. It was Queen's weather, in a climate
unsurpassed in Australia, if not in the world. At night the theatres
were packed to overflowing, and, if anywhere, there was carking
care, it was thrust into the background. It was a time of trysting,
a saturnalia of glory and brightness. Major Poingdestre, cursing his
widowed loneliness since the marriage of his daughter, had come to
Brisbane to the show. With him had come the Stinsons from Moonbulla.
They were all staying at Lennon's, and when they found out that Billy
Stinson and his bride had just arrived by the Ly-ee-moon from the
South, and were staying at the Gresham, they soon forgathered. The
reunion was a happy one, and at dinner that evening champagne was drunk
liberally. After, they made up a theatre party, and arranged that next
day they should all meet at Ascot, Major Poingdestre remarking that he
had two good tips for the Metropolitan and the Carnival Handicaps.

The Wednesday of Exhibition week at Ascot was a typical Queensland day,
a bright sun shining from a cloudless sky, and a cool north-easter
fluttering the flags on the flagpoles above the grandstands.

It was on the lawn that friend met friend after, perhaps, years of
separation; where the pure merino squatters hobnobbed with the bucolic
farmers; and where the wealthy grazier, with field glasses across his
shoulder, shook hands with the stipendiary stewards and the Q.T.C.
committee.

It was on the lawn where Billy Stinson and his wife saw Humphrey Pryor,
who had his horse, Laocoon, by the imported, sire, Trojan Priest,
entered for the Metropolitan Handicap.

It was on the lawn where Billy Stinson met and introduced to his
wife, the Medical Superintendent of the Hospital for the Insane at
Willowburn. Luncheon was over and the bookmakers were crying the
odds in the Metropolitan Handicap. Several of them were laying the
double--the Metropolitan and the Carnival Handicaps.

"I know you have a dark horse for the Metropolitan, dad, what's your
tip?" asked Muriel Stinson of her father.

"I have it on the authority of the owner, Toby Earl, that the horse
that beats his colt, King Cole, will, win," replied the Major.

"Who's riding him?" questioned Billy Stinson.

"Hayes."

"That's good enough for me, Major. The best jockey that's ever ridden
at Ascot," remarked Billy Stinson.

"And for me, too," interpolated Seymour Stinson. "I see he's had one
win to-day already. But what are the odds, Poingdestre?"

"We might get twelve to one if we get in early before the punters get
going."

"Then we'll make up a hundred among us. Here's fifty, Billy, for your
mother and me. You hop in and book the bet with Barrington," and
Seymour Stinson handed his son £50.

"Very well," said Major Poingdestre. "Then Billy, Muriel, and I will
make up the other fifty."

"No, I'm not going in," said Muriel Stinson. "I don't like King Cole's
colour. He's black like myself," and she laughed. "You men make the
bet. I'll have a flutter on my own."

"Be Gad, the devil you will, Muriel, and what's your fancy?"

"Laocoon."

"Oh, nonsense, Muriel. He's a rank outsider and his performance to date
doesn't inspire confidence," said Billy Stinson.

"Yes, but look at his breeding, Billy, a Trojan Priest colt. Besides,
Humphrey Pryor is as cunning as the devil, and he wouldn't have entered
his big chestnut for this and the Carnival Handicap if he didn't think
he had a chance for one of the races. Put a tenner on him for me,
Billy, at the longest odds you can get."

"Very well, beloved; but it's throwing good money away," said her
husband ungraciously.

Billy Stinson duly booked the bets. The best odds he could get on "King
Cole" was eight to one. He got fifty to one against "Laocoon." From the
strident calls of the bookmakers and the throng around the ring, they
went on to the grandstand to view the race. The Stinsons, father and
son, and also the Major were good judges of horses, and they carefully
watched and criticised each horse as it did its preliminary canter.

"Who's riding Humphrey Pryor's horse, Muriel?" asked Mrs. Stinson.

"Gannon, an apprentice, mother. What do you think of him?"

"The jockey or the horse?"

"Oh, the horse, of course. Isn't he a beauty?"

"B' Gad, you're right, Muriel. His action is free and graceful."

"But can he last the mile and a half?" queried Billy Stinson, who
wasn't too pleased at his wife's backing Pryor's horse.

"That remains to be seen," replied Muriel.

"All the Trojan Priest progeny have been remarkable for their staying
powers," casually remarked Seymour Stinson, closely watching each horse
through his glasses. "But I must say King Cole is the pick of the field
and he's trained to a hair."

The horses were lined up at the barrier.

"Look, dad," excitedly exclaimed Muriel Stinson, "'Laocoon' is number
one on the rails."

"But that does not matter much in a mile and a half race, Muriel."

"I'm not so sure about that, dad. If he's a stayer and gets a good
start, its equal to more than half a stone off his handicap. By the
way, what is 'Laocoon's' handicap?"

Referring to her race book, she exclaimed, "Why, he's got only seven
stone four!"

"Quite enough weight for him to carry a mile and a half," interjected
Billy Stinson. "And King Cole, a much better horse, has only eight
stone ten."

The Stinson-Poingdestre party were only interested in two horses, King
Cole and Laocoon, and while the horses were being got into position by
the starter the bookmakers made a move to the side of the grandstand.
Above the hum of voices they heard one raucous voice yell out, "Six to
one King Cole."

"He's shortened in the betting," remarked Seymour Stinson.

"Twenty to one Laocoon," shouted another bookmaker.

"Good God," said Major Poingdestre. "Pryor's horse, too, has come down
in the betting. What's the big idea?"

"And you got fifty to one from Harrington, Billy," exclaimed Muriel,
excitedly turning to her husband.

Looking towards the bookmaker who had called "Twenty to one Laocoon,"
she saw Humphrey Pryor go up to him and book a bet. Immediately
thereafter the bookmaker--it was Maddern--shouted "Fifteen to one
Laocoon." And then "seven to one King Cole."

To those interested it seemed as if there were only two horses in the
race, King Cole and Laocoon.

"Did you see that, dad?" said Muriel Stinson. "Immediately Humphrey
Pryor snapped up twenty to one on Laocoon the odds came down with a
run. I'm sure he's backed his horse heavily."

"He is known to be a plunger," replied the Major.

"They're off!"

A great shout went up and further remarks were stilled for the moment.
All eyes were now on the race. The colours of Laocoon's Jockey were old
gold, cerise cap, and Muriel Stinson kept her keen black eyes glued on
that bit of colour, with a passing glint at the black, white sleeves,
and pink cap of King Cole's jockey.

Passing the six-furlong post the field was strung out, but King Cole
was running second and his jockey had him well in hand.

"Four to one King Cole!" shouted a bookmaker above the hum of excited
voices.

"Twenty to one Laocoon!" shouted another when he saw through his
glasses that Laocoon was running sixth, and Muriel Stinson's heart
missed a beat when she saw her fancy not too well placed in the race,
and King Cole going strongly in second place.

Entering the straight King Cole and the cavalier colt Prince Rupert,
which started second favourite, were going great guns, almost neck and
neck.

"King Cole! King Cole! Come on, you beauty," was shouted amid
tremendous excitement by his backers. "Prince Rupert wins! Prince
Rupert wins!" was yelled in wild frenzy by that colt's patrons. Then
above the roar came the cry "Laocoon! Laocoon! Look at him coming up on
the outside, making the field look like hacks!" shouted a backer of the
big chestnut. Then others took up the cry, "Laocoon! Laocoon!"

A furlong from the winning post the placed horses were King Cole,
Prince Rupert, and Laocoon. Prince Rupert's jockey plied the whip and
he shot a neck ahead of King Cole, but the effort was not sustained, as
King Cole, running gamely and consistently and ridden with excellent
judgment by Hayes, passed him half a furlong from the judges box. Then
the crowd shouted themselves hoarse, "King Cole! King Cole!" Then
Gannon, almost sitting on Laocoon's neck, rode the race of his life.

"Billy, if I had a weak heart I'd drop dead. I see nothing but old
gold, old gold," cried Muriel Stinson, holding on to her husband in the
tenseness of her excitement.

"That damned chestnut will win," said Seymour Stinson, shaking with
apprehension. Prince Rupert seemed to drop back, but it was Laocoon
overtaking and passing him.

"King Cole!" "Laocoon!" "Laocoon!" "King Cole!" were shouted
alternately.

The crowd on the grand stand stood on the seats.

Neck to neck the two horses raced to the winning post, and flashed a
moving streak past the judge's box.

"King Cole wins! King Cole wins!" was the dominant cry because he was
the favourite and carried a fortune in bets.

"Laocoon! Laocoon!" was shouted by a lesser number, among whom was
Muriel Stinson.

"I'm sure Laocoon won," she said, white and trembling.

From the grandstand it was not possible for the crowd to see what horse
had won, and it waited breathlessly for the numbers to go up. After
a short pause as if there was an element of doubt on the part of the
judge, the numbers appeared:--9, 2, 4.

Laocoon, King Cole, Prince Rupert. The crowd read the numbers, turning
to their racebooks for verification of the numbers. Major, Poingdestre
testily doubted the judge's decision. So did Seymour Stinson. Billy
Stinson was glum, and made no comment, but his wife said, rubbing it
in, in the delirium of her excitement. "Of course Laocoon won. Any one
with a glass eye could see that."

When it was officially announced that Laocoon had won by a short head
in the record time of 2 mins. 31½ secs. for Queensland, the backers of
King Cole accepted the inevitable which was confirmed by the shout of
the 'books. "I'll pay Laocoon!"

"Well, that's that," remarked Seymour Stinson as he left the
grandstand, his wife, Major Poingdestre, Billy Stinson, and Muriel
following. "Collect my bet, Billy, there's a dear," said Muriel handing
her husband the ticket. "I'll wait for you near the bandstand." Then
turning to the others she said: "Billy and I will join you later for
afternoon tea. My shout. We'll pick you up at four, opposite the
jockey-board in the members' enclosure."

The crowd of bettors around the bookmakers was large and Billy Stinson
had to wait a considerable time to collect his wife's bet. In the
meantime, while Muriel Stinson awaited the arrival of her husband, she
heard a voice from behind her: "Well, tigercat, how are you?"

Turning at sound of a familiar voice, she saw Humphrey Pryor and
coloured.

"I'm very well, Bushranger, thank you."

"Bushranger?"

"Yes, you have all the elements of one, you know; and the
characteristics, too, if it comes to that."

"I'm afraid I've developed a reputation."

"You have, and not an enviable one. By the way, how is the shoulder?"

"Quite all right. Dr. Rowe, of Augathella, soon fixed me up. But you
have branded me for life. I was a clean skin until you attempted
murder."

"A clean skin, perhaps, but not a clean reputation, eh, Mr. Pryor?
Besides, I did not attempt murder. I hope I am too skilled in the
use of my rifle for that. I did just what I tried to do--temporarily
disable you."

"You succeeded very well. But would still prefer that you should call
me Humphrey, notwithstanding what has happened. I bear you no ill will."

"You are generous, are you not?"

"No, I'm reconciled to the fact that you fought for your man. Only I
should have preferred to have been that man and not the villain in the
piece. But where is the great lover?"

"If it's my husband, you mean, he's collecting my bet."

"What! Did you back Laocoon?"

"I did at fifty to one. I put a tenner on him. That nets me five
hundred pounds."

"You were lucky."

"I was. It was a great race, and I congratulate you on your win."

"Thank you, Muriel."

Seeing that she looked at him as if about to protest, he continued:

"I may still call you Muriel, may I not?"

"Oh, since you bear no ill will, yes."

After a pause:--

"Is Laocoon running in the Carnival handicap?"

"No, I've scratched him. He's done very well for to-day. So have I.
I've not only taken a bit from the books, but I've met a very dear
friend who is willing to let the dead past bury its dead."

"Then you bear no resentment?"

"None whatever. You're another's now, above and beyond me. After the
'Dead March' it's 'The Girl I left behind me,' so why sigh after the
unattainable?"

"You're philosophical, very."

"Life is too short to spend any part of it in sackcloth and ashes. Let
us eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we go our own separate ways.
But, seriously, Muriel, I loved you and still love you, notwithstanding
I've been supplanted by another."

"Then are you, too, going to play the role of the great lover?"

"No, but one never knows one's fate. With you, I could have gone a long
way on the road of better dealing. But now, as things are, I'm--well,
I'm still a bushranger. Good-bye. I may see you again some day. Strange
happenings occur on life's broad highway. But in all sincerity, Muriel,
I wish you every happiness."

"Thank you, Humphrey. In my heart I believe you do. Good-bye and good
luck."

There was no smile on Muriel Stinson's face when she said this, and
her dark eyes with their unfathomable depth's, had in them a wistful
look. And he, Humphrey Pryor, bared his head as he grasped her hands
at parting in a firm, friendly clasp, for he, notwithstanding his
questionable mode of living, akin to that of bushranger, could, when it
so pleased him, be a very gallant gentleman.

Muriel Stinson was glad he had left her before her husband's return,
and she was beginning to wonder what had detained him. The next race
was about to start and the bell closing the totaliser had been rung,
yet still he did not come. There was a reason. When Billy Stinson had
collected his wife's bet, and was about to return to her, the Medical
Superintendent at Willowburn, Dr. Beath, who had come to Brisbane for
the carnival, catching sight of him, caught him by the arm and said, as
they walked away from the crowd: "Excuse me for a moment, Mr. Stinson,
but I've something to tell you. I do not know how you will take it.
It is about your wife--your first wife, I mean. She's regaining her
sanity--becoming normal."

"The devil she is. That's awkward, doctor, you know I've married again."

"Yes, that's why I wanted to put you on your guard."

Billy Stinson felt the world crashing. This was a complication he had
not taken into his consideration.

"My God, doctor, what you tell me is serious. If Lola is discharged
it will have a terrible effect on my present wife. I know, though she
hasn't said anything, that the possibility of Lola's recovery is a
ghost that haunts her."

"Still, the situation must be faced, Stinson. She is still a very
beautiful woman, more lovely, if anything, than she was on her
admission. It would be a cruel wrong to detain her a day longer than is
necessary. She is very bright and has not heard of your remarriage."

"Does she discuss me at all, doctor?"

"No, she never refers to the past; though I am convinced she knows all
that has happened."

"How long will it be, do you think, before she is liberated?"

"A month at most."

"A month's respite," groaned Billy Stinson. "I feel like a condemned
man, doctor. I suppose I ought to be glad that the poor girl is
recovering, but I'm not. If I hadn't married again the case would be
different."

"Don't anticipate trouble, Stinson," said the doctor, kindly, placing
his hand on Billy's shoulder. "It may turn out all right in the long
run. Good-bye."

As the medical superintendent walked away, the glory of the sunshine of
the perfect August day seemed to become dim to Billy Stinson. The roar
of the books, shouting the odds, had a far away distant sound, and he
found himself muttering, "What will the end be?" His thoughts reverted
to Lola-Sue and he had a mental vision of her on the day--and it seemed
so very far away--when he had married her, when she, radiant, elated,
seemed clothed with joy as an angel of grace, when true happiness
seemed to shine like the sun from her eyes. Now his was the curse of
an inward reproving. He had been living the last few years in a fool's
paradise. He had now been awakened to a world of illusion, and the
future with all its terrible import, must be faced. It was a chastened
Billy that went up to his Muriel.

"Why, Billy, whatever is the matter?" she remarked smiling. "You look
as if you'd lost a fortune on the Metropolitan."

"I've had disconcerting news, Muriel," he answered, without beating
about the bush. "I've just been talking to Dr. Beath, the medical
superintendent at Willowburn. He informs me that Lola is recovering. In
a month at the most she'll be discharged."

If Billy Stinson had struck his wife, he could not have paralysed her
mind more than by his utterance of this merciless news. It was what she
had feared from the day of her marriage. Now she was face to face with
the stark terror that had haunted her, she who had just sipped at the
cup of love and of happiness.

"Lola recovering!" she whispered with white lips. "God! Billy, what's
to become of me? In spite of the law you must take her back. Our
marriage must be annulled."

They wandered away under the trees across the beautiful sward,
sightless to the thoroughbred tread of the horses on the velvety turf
as they were walked and pranced backward and forward in front of their
stalls. On a seat under a weeping fig they sat down. Billy Stinson took
his wife's hand. It was cold and supine in his grasp.

"Dearest, I will never give you up," he said--"I've done with the past
forever. Our marriage shall not be annulled. I will see that Lola
shall not want, of course. I will explain all to her. I will tell her
everything."

"Billy, dear, I should go from you when Lola comes out; but oh! I
can't. I'm a mass of contradiction. I know you are mine, mine, dear,
and I will not let you go."

"That is the way I want you to talk, my Muriel. Everything looks black
at present, but some providence may find a solution of the problem.
Come, let us join the others for afternoon tea. All may yet be well.
There's nothing to be gained by meeting trouble halfway."

Listlessly and sadly Muriel Stinson got up from the garden seat on the
lawn, saying. "I have no heart for further gaities, Billy, I shall be
glad to be home again."

Then there came to her like an inspiration the philosophy of Humphrey
Pryor. "Life is too short to spend any part of it in sackcloth and
ashes. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, even if to-morrow we separate."
Then she mused.

"That is the philosophy of the bushrangers, the Gardiners, the Kellys,
Ben Hall, Captain Thunderbolt."

So, in a more equable frame of mind, she turned to her husband and
said, "But there, we musn't be cast down, Billy, dear. Let us meet
sorrow with laughter. Have I not read somewhere 'What doth it profit to
gaze on the mists of Hereafter.'"

"That's the way I want you to look at things, my sweet contradiction.
Keep up that spirit and all will be well. I will try to emulate you."
When they joined the others for afternoon tea, no word of the recovery
of Lola-Sue was mentioned. It was not meet that they should spoil the
remainder of their day.

When they came out of the refreshment room the bell clanged for
saddling up for the last race of the day--the Carnival Handicap. It
was the race on which Major Poingdestre and Seymour Stinson hoped to
retrieve their losses in the Metropolitan.

"Look here, by Gad," said the Major, "we'll plunge on a rank outsider.
What say, Stinson."

"I second that," replied Seymour Stinson.

"Carried!" exclaimed Billy.

"What shall it be?" asked the Major, consulting his race book.

"Laocoon's scratched. There are nine left in the race."

Whilst they were making up their minds, Humphrey Pryor happened to
pass, on his way to the Members' Stand accompanied by the Chairman of
the Q.T.C. He was not in good favour with the Poingdestre-Stinson crowd
and merely recognised them by raising his hat, but as the chairman of
the Q.T.C. was well known to the Major and also to Seymour Stinson, he
stopped to say a few words and perforce Humphrey Pryor was obliged to
stop also.

"I congratulate you on your win in the Metropolitan, Pryor. It was a
great race."

"Thanks, Major. Did you back Laocoon?"

"No, unfortunately. We backed King Cole."

"Then back 'Queen of Hearts,' 'King Cole's' full sister for a place in
the Carnival Handicap. A mile's her distance." So saying he raised his
hat and walked on as he had no desire to have any further conversation
with Muriel Stinson nor to let it be known that he had already spoken
to her. Still less, had he any wish to hold converse with her husband.
They were not kindred spirits.

The horses were already lining up for the last race of the day, and
Stinson was commanded to hurry and place all the money they could raise
among them, which amounted to fifty pounds, on Queen of Hearts; both
ways. He got sixty to one for a straight-out win, and twenty to one for
a place.

By the time that he got back to his party at the stipulated place on
the grandstand, the race had started. Son of a Gun, the favourite,
was well in the lead, closely followed by Boomerang and Abelard. The
colours of Queen of Hearts' jockey, black, white sash and white cap,
were flashing in the ruck, and it did not seem then that the mare had
a chance. At the leger post, the position of the horses had changed
considerably. Abelard was in the lead with Boomerang and Son of a
Gun running neck and neck a length behind, while Queen of Hearts was
running well on the outside clear of the field.

Four furlongs from the winning post a great "Oh!" was heard by the
fifty thousand spectators, women shut their eyes, and men clenched
their hands and teeth, a horse in the carriage paddock had broken
loose, jumped the fence into the course, and maddened by the lashing
harness, galloped madly down the course towards the racing horses.
The position was dramatic, the consternation intense. On came the
thundering galloping hoofs as if nothing mattered. The jockeys saw the
terrible danger, but it was too late to avert disaster. Right into the
racing field galloped the runaway. Then came the crash. Three horses
were down and their jockeys strewn along the course. Then came the cry
of disappointed backers, "Sun of a Gun's down," and the field smashed
up. Two of the fallen horses got up and ran riderless along the course.

The ambulance galloped to the scene of the disaster. The crowd,
heedless now of what horse won, ran towards the prostrate jockeys. One
was killed and another had his leg broken. But the race was continued
by the survivors as if nothing had happened.

Queen of Hearts running wide at the time of the smash, escaped unhurt,
and was now in the lead. The disaster was already forgotten. "Queen
of Hearts wins! Queen of Hearts wins!" was shouted on all sides. But
the race was not yet won. Boomerang was also safe and running strongly
on the rails. "Come on Boomerang, come on Boomerang," was excitedly
shouted by his backers.

Seymour Stinson following the race with his glasses said: "It's all
over bar shouting. Nothing can catch 'Queen of Hearts.'"

"Gad! You never know till the numbers are up," snapped Major
Poingdestre, leaning so heavily on his walking stick in his excitement
that it broke.

"Hooray! Hooray! she wins, Billy!" shouted Muriel Stinson forgetting
her gloom of a few minutes before. She, though born in India, loved a
horse race with all the ardour of an Australian native. On came the
gallant little mare, closely followed by Boomerang and Coolabunia,
another outsider. But the weight was too much for Boomerang, and Queen
of Hearts won by a clear length from Boomerang, with Coolabunia half a
length behind him, third.

It was a great win for the backers of Queen of Hearts, but as outsiders
had won the two principal races of the day, backers generally lost
heavily, and the books paid out willingly to the few who had backed
Queen of Hearts at long odds.

Major Poingdestre, his broken walking stick notwithstanding, was in
high glee over their handsome win, and Seymour Stinson said, "It was
damn lucky that Pryor had given them the tip." But Billy Stinson and
his wife were wondering, now that the excitement was over, how their
respective parents would take the report concerning the immediate
recovery of Lola-Sue, and her imminent discharge.




CHAPTER X.--"THE GOATHERD."

The visiting justice, an ex-politician, had completed his periodic
inspection of the Hospital for the Insane at Willowburn, and, as
always, was favourably impressed by the wonderful organisation and
scientific management of that great institution. He had interviewed
patients and listened carefully to their complaints. Some were serious,
some trivial, and some very annoying. In the office of the medical
superintendent he discussed his notes with Dr. Beath.

"I have had a long interview with patient Stinson, doctor," he said,
"and she begged me to sign an order for her release. Though I'm not an
alienist, she appears to me to have fully recovered her sanity and is
now quite normal."

"Yes, Merritt, she has made a wonderful recovery," replied the medical
superintendent, "but I think that a little longer detention would
be safer. I would like to see what the effect of the news of the
remarriage of her husband will have upon her before discharging her."

"Well, as it would be more than cruel to keep her in this place a day
longer than is necessary, may I suggest that you mention the matter to
her before I leave for Brisbane? She looks to me, apparently, to get
her out."

"Not a bad suggestion, Merritt. I will get her in."

Ringing for an attendant, he said, "Have patient Stinson brought in
here."

Whilst they were waiting, the visiting justice remarked, "I have never
seen a more beautiful girl, doctor. Though she has been here six years
she seems still quite a girl."

"That is so. Her mind has been asleep, just lying dormant from the
great shock that she received. It seems as if her body has been asleep,
too--like waking up out of a long sleep, refreshed and reinvigorated.
Here she comes." Instinctively, as if paying tribute to her beauty and
wonderful personality, the doctor and visiting justice rose to receive
her.

"Sit down, patient," said the doctor curtly (it was his official
manner). "The visiting justice informs me that you are very desirous of
being discharged."

"Oh, yes, please, doctor. I feel quite well. Really I do," said
Lola-Sue fervently, looking at him appealingly with her deep violet
eyes.

"Have you not wondered why your husband has not called to see you since
you became convalescent? I have told him that you were recovering."

"No, doctor. I have had a long time to think over the past. It would
have surprised me if he had come."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, can't you understand, doctor, that he does not now want me. If it
rested with him I should be kept here for ever."

"Oh, nonsense, child, you have no grounds for making such a statement,"
replied the doctor sternly.

"I know my husband better than you do, doctor. He cannot live without
love. That's his failing. Besides (after some hesitation) the love I
had for him is dead."

"You wouldn't be surprised, then, to hear that he is married again?"

"But how could that be, doctor? I am still his wife, even though we do
not love one another."

"Tell her, Mr. Visiting Justice," said the Medical Superintendent
turning to that official.

"Mrs. Stinson, according to the marriage and divorce laws of
Queensland, if a woman be confined in a mental hospital for five years
or longer, that is a legal ground for divorce."

"Then, sir, on that ground my husband has divorced me?"

"Yes."

"Thank God for that. If I am glad, doctor, Mr. Visiting Justice, do you
know what that means?" Lola-Sue got up from her chair and stood facing
them. "It means," she said with flushed cheeks, "that I am now back
again to where I was before I married. It means that I am free, free;
that I have expiated my offence by my long years of imprisonment in
this--this horrible place. Now God has given me back my reason to enjoy
again to the full, my new-found freedom. Oh, God, how I thank thee."
Then she sat down, hid her face on her arms on the table and sobbed.
The doctor got up and motioned the visiting justice aside, saying
softly:

"That cry will do her more good than all the treatment that this
institution can give her. I am quite satisfied, Merrit. You may sign an
order for her discharge as soon as you obtain the consent of the Home
Secretary as representing 'His Majesty's pleasure.'"

And so, on a golden day in June, when the world was full of sunshine
and glory, Lola-Sue walked out of the great mental prison, to begin
her life anew. Billy Stinson was there with her old foster-mother, and
together they brought her to Toowoomba to catch the mid-day train for
Brisbane. "Dear," said her foster-mother fondly as she got into the
waiting buggy beside her child (as she called her). "Now we'll take
good care of her, won't we, Mr. Stinson?"

"She'll never want, while I live, Mrs. Sturgess."

"Do you hear that, Lola? By-gones is by-gones."

"Yes, by-gones is by-gones, mother, as you say; but I'm going to live
my life without any help from Billy. He's taken the high road, and
I've taken the low, so it's good-bye Billy, for good when we get to
Brisbane. I'm not your wife now, Billy," she said, turning to him with
the old bewitching smile that had captivated him only a few years ago.

She was again the vivacious beautiful Lola-Sue of Billy's office days,
and he felt almost as if he desired her again.

"Don't, Lola-Sue. I'm very sorry for all that has happened, but we can
still be friends. I will see that you do not want for anything."

"No, Billy. We are at the cross roads," Lola said, as the horse trotted
along in the buggy. "You've married again and I do not blame you, but
the less we see of one another the better."

When they boarded the train at Toowoomba, Lola-Sue wrapped herself in
a mantle of reserve. She gave monosyllabic answers to questions put
to her. Remarks made to her by Mrs. Sturgess and Billy Stinson often
passed unheeded. She nestled back in a corner of the carriage and
closed her eyes.

Mrs. Sturgess leant over to Billy Stinson and whispered:

"Let the poor dear rest, Mr. Stinson, and don't weary her by talking."

Passing Harlaxton in the descent of the range, Lola-Sue opened her eyes
to gaze upon the wonderful view that unrolled before her. Mountains and
valleys and the distant sweep of the blue-veiled ranges engrossed her.
It was all so strange and wonderful, and she was a living entity in the
glory of it all. It seemed to her as if she had stepped out from the
noisome horror of a bottomless pit into a world of untranslatable glory
that was waiting, with open arms, to receive her.

"You're free again! You're free again! You're free again!" That, she
thought was what the wheels were saying, as the train thundered on, on
its downward track.

The shifting panorama passed before her, now hidden by cuttings, now
obliterated by tunnels. It was the dark of the tunnels she hated
most. It seemed as if she were going back into the bottomless pit,
and she shuddered as the whistle screeched at the entrance of each of
the tunnels. Then when the train rushed out again into the dazzling
sunlight, she realised that she was not dreaming, realised to the full
that the terrible nightmare of the last six years had passed away for
ever. She had emerged from the depths and would begin anew to revel
in the joy of existence. Then she seemed to awaken to the fact that
the man sitting opposite her had been her lover--her husband. She
shuddered. That time was so long ago, and she really wondered if it
had ever existed. Of one thing she was now sure. The man opposite her
had no attraction for her. If anything, he repelled her. It was he who
had thrust her into the pit. He did not recall pleasant memories, only
troubled dreams and repellent fears. She would be beholden to him for
nothing. He could forget her so completely as to remarry again. God!
and she thought she loved him once. Women to him were but human toys.

He played with them for a while, then, like a whimsical child, he
threw them aside. First it was she. But was she the first? He made her
believe so.

But then all men are liars. There may have been many others. At any
rate there were she and Margaret Deering (poor Margaret, she pitied her
now!) and now his present wife. How long would she last, she wondered.
Bah! How she hated men! No, not all men. Her thoughts travelled further
back. There was Mick Coonan. She did not hate him. He was always good
to her, always straight and honourable. Then there was Mr. Wade-Smith.
He, too, was good to her at a time when she had not a living soul to
turn to in all the world. There was also (she had almost forgotten) Mr.
Munro, the manager of the Equity Trust Company, Limited. She recalled
how nicely he had spoken at the luncheon party given by the girls in
her honour, and how he had enjoined Billy Stinson to guard her as
his most sacred trust. And how had he fulfilled that trust? God! she
thought, what are men's promises worth! Could she ever trust one again!
Could she ever submit herself to be again bound by the invisible chains
of marriage. Then the wheels of the train awoke her from her reveries.

"You're free again! You're free again! You're free again!"

At first they told her she was free from the mad house. Now they told
her she was free of the man sitting opposite her. She had, therefore,
come into a double freedom, and it seemed to be too good to be true.
She was still young, and strong, and she would have to begin life all
over again. But she had gained experience and it would be a cleaner,
a stronger beginning. Well, she had all Australia before her and the
strength and will to make good. Less than a hundred miles away was the
city where she had suffered so much. But back of the Great Dividing
Range she had just crossed, Australia stretched for thousands of miles
westward to the setting sun. Plains and undulating downs, sheep lands
and cattle lands, wheat lands and maize lands, making up an Empire of
illimitable wealth, were there calling and she would answer the call.
Somewhere in those great spaces, she would find a retreat where she
could revel again in the joy of existence.

Then with a puzzled frown on her brow, she wondered what her next
move would be. She couldn't go back to typing. She had had enough
of confinement. She must live in the open. The blood of the nomads
seemed to course through her veins. She recalled that when she was at
Samford with the Coonans, her greatest delight was to go riding over
the country on her pony, and she yearned for a horse. She recalled
also the rides that she and her husband had had when they were first
married, on horses hired from a livery stable. He had admired her seat
on a horse, and had complimented her on her fearlessness. But, perhaps,
that was lies, too. No, she knew she could ride and she could make a
companion of a horse. It would be a better companion than a man. Yes,
she would have a horse and a dog. But where was the money to come from.
Then she remembered. She was now twenty-six years of age. When she
became twenty-five, she was entitled to receive Mick Coonan's legacy--a
thousand pounds. It seemed to her a fortune. This realisation of a
pleasant fact gave her a new outlook on life.

She would, as soon as possible, call at the Equity Trust Office
and inquire about the legacy. With accumulated interest it would
have accounted to considerably more than £1,000. This ensured her
independence. Truly she would begin life again, a clearer, a stronger
beginning. Arriving at Brisbane, she parted with Billy Stinson without
any regrets. So far as she was concerned he was a back number. He
wasn't limned in the landscape of her future.

"Then I can do nothing for you, Lola?" he inquired at parting.

"Nothing, thank you," was her laconic reply.

"You are very independent--and bitter, aren't you, Lola?"

"Independent, yes, but bitter, no--only just. Your duty is to your
wife, Billy. Give her all your care. She will need it. Regard me as if
I had never existed."

"But if at any time you should need help, Lola?"

"I shall not need it from you. You had the right once, to provide for
me. In remarrying, you have forfeited that right. Now you have no claim
on me, nor I on you. Good-bye, Billy, for ever. It is my turn now to
use those words. See, here is the wedding ring you gave me. Inside
it you had engraved 'For Ever,' which means for all eternity. How
grotesque! No more lasting than if the words had been engraved on the
seaside sands. Take the ring, Billy, I have no further use for it."

Without a quiver of her lips or a flutter of her eye-lids, Lola-Sue
handed the ring back to her whilom husband, and if there were any
regrets they were his. It began to dawn upon him that here was a superb
being who counted him as nothing. He felt humiliated, hurt. The honours
were with her, not with him. The foundling, the drudge, the girl who
should have felt honoured by his marrying her, was nobler, greater than
he, and he felt it. She was sublime, he was inglorious.

There was nothing more to be said. He turned and left her, realising at
last what a mess he had made of things. If she had clung to him with
tears and beseechings he could have afforded to be magnanimous and it
would have satisfied his egotism. Instead, she had cast him off as a
being unworthy of consideration. She had no further need of him, him
who had been the idol of women. It was the first time that he had ever
been repulsed by a woman, and by a woman who was once his, to do what
he liked with. He never imagined that she would still be so beautiful.
The passing years had not aged her. The artificialities of life had
not dimmed the rich colour of her cheeks nor engraved a wrinkle around
her eyes. She was still his Lola-Sue, the Lola-Sue of his early
infatuation. This, and her regal independence, her scorn of him, made
him desire her again. He had for a moment an impulse to take her in his
arms and crush her to him, to kiss her mouth, her eyes, her firm full
neck. But he was afraid. He feared her scorn, feared the foundling,
the drudge, the little nobody who once worshipped him. Well, he had
got what he deserved. It was in his favour that he recognised what a
mistake he had made.

The space of a few years makes many changes in the staff of a large
office, but Mr. Munro was still manager of the Equity Trust Office
at Brisbane. To him, Lola-Sue went as soon as she had got over the
strangeness of her freedom, to ask about her legacy.

The story of the tragedy of her young life and of the remarriage of her
husband was well known to Mr. Munro, and to the members of the staff,
who were her contemporaries, and they welcomed her with every kindness
and consideration.

Mr. Munro not only paid her legacy with its accumulated interest, to
her credit in the Savings Bank, but he advised her as to her future.
When he learnt that she had no desire to be dependent on the bounty
of her former husband or to resume typing, but preferred to be her
own mistress, he placed several propositions before her. The one that
appealed to her most was a goat farm on the Ward River west from
Charleville. The previous owner had recently died and his estate was
in the hands of the Equity Trustee Company for sale. An early sale was
necessary to close the estate.

Mr. Munro pointed out to her that on the western plains where the goat
gets the same conditions which suited his forefather, the antelope, he
will thrive and pay on country unsuited for sheep and cattle.

"But the goats must be Angoras," he said. "And they must be grazed for
their mohair and skins. There's good money in it, too, Mrs. Stinson,
and not too much labour involved. Now there's a mob of three hundred
Angoras, forty acres of freehold, and a hundred thousand acres of Crown
land adjacent, where your goats may roam at will. They need very little
shepherding, and as a business proposition I have nothing better to
offer. You can just walk in and start right away."

Lola-Sue, from her previous experience in the Equity Trust Office, had
learnt not to take too much for granted. To the proposition submitted
to her, she said:

"Thank you ever so much, Mr. Munro, for your very good interest in me,
and for putting this proposal before me. I will think it over and will
let you have my decision in a day or two. Will that do?"

"Yes, think it over and call on me again," Mr. Munro replied.

In the meantime, Lola-Sue went to the Department of Agriculture and
Stock and made certain judicious inquiries. She was informed that in
Western Queensland with its warm dry climate, Angoras did remarkably
well. They did not pay to rear for their meat in a country where sheep
are so plentiful, or even for their hides--only for their fleece, the
mohair being worth from eight pence to a shilling per pound. Though
they were not so profitable as sheep, she was told, mohair had a slight
advantage over wool in that it loses very little in scouring. There was
no grease in it. The goats, moreover, could be run and worked the same
as sheep except that they required a tighter fence.

In the end Lola-Sue decided to acquire "Goatlands," as the place
was called, and in due course its title, with all improvements, was
transferred into her name. She had no misgivings as to the loneliness
of the life she was about to lead. The loneliness appealed to her. She
desired more than anything else to go away to some remote, picturesque
corner of Queensland where she and her past would be absolutely
unknown. She wanted to begin her life all over again.

She facetiously called "Goatlands" her station, and she ran it
single-handed, save for a black boy and his Mary, whom she had obtained
through the instrumentality of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals.

The black boy was named Boompa, and she named his gin Minns, because
she had the laughing black face and strong white teeth of the model of
that famous Australian portrayer of aboriginal life.

From the Commissioner or Police to whom she appealed, and who commended
her for her pluck, she purchased a black colt, by the blood horse
"Black Battalion," which she named "Battle." The colt was 16 hands
high, and was jet black save for a white star on his forehead and a
white front fetlock. Bred at Consuelo, whence came all the famous
horses of the Queensland mounted police, he was a colt that was
generally admired. And Lola-Sue's riding outfit of black corduroy
breeches and black silk shirt with deep sports collar, black cloth
riding coat, and small soft black felt hat, matched her mount.

The homestead at "Goatlands" was a small four-room cottage built of
cypress pine with a front veranda and a lean-to skillion at the rear,
covered with galvanised iron. The rooms were lined and ceiled with
strong unbleached calico to reduce the heat from the iron roof. At the
rear, connected with the cottage by a covered way of curved galvanised
iron, was the kitchen, with its wide open fire-place made of stones
and rubble and chimney of hardwood slabs. The only outbuilding was a
shearing shed, with harness-room, horse-stall, and man's room, all
under the one iron roof.

Around the cottage was a wire netting fence, goat proof, and in this
enclosure, Lola-Sue cultivated a garden which was irrigated by water
pumped by a windmill from a lagoon in the river. Around the shearing
shed were a few pepperina and bottle trees which gave grateful shade
from the scorching sun. But the spot that appealed to Lola-Sue most
of all was a corner of the lagoon about a quarter of a mile away from
the little homestead hidden from outside view by weeping myalls, that
framed a natural swimming pool.

Here in the early morning, before the sun was up, she would indulge in
her morning dip. At such an hour there was no one about and she dived
into the cool clear water innocent of bathing suit, and revelled in the
exercise of swimming, splashing the water over her naked body in the
pure joy of living.

Minns, she taught to cook, to wash, and to scrub. She admired her white
mistress and marvelled at her perfect upright figure and her firm
round breasts. "By cripes, Misses, you gibbet me stays make me budgery
fellow bingey belongum you, mine scrubbit floor, my word," Minns said
to Lola-Sue one day when Lola-Sue was getting dressed to ride into
Charleville.

"Never mind, Minns," Lola-Sue replied laughingly. "Bime-bye you die, go
down into ground black fellow you, then bime-bye jump up white fellow
you, all same me."

With this assurance, Minns was content, but Boompa, who was standing
by holding Battle, which he had groomed and saddled for his mistress,
joined in and with his broadest grin, showing his red gums and strong
white teeth, was not sure and said, "Baal mine tinket that Battle, he
black horse, him die, come up white horse, no plurry fear. Mary she
die, come up black pickaninnie all right." These blacks, children of
nature and loyal, afforded much amusement to Lola-Sue. She was never
lonely when they were about.

Then there was shearing time when her goats were shorn and the mohair
baled and sent away to Charleville for shipment abroad. The bales were
branded "Lola" and the brand became famous. She soon learnt that the
best nannies for crossing with pure Angora bucks were those with small
heads, no horns, and smooth coats. After the fourth cross, each goat
sheared from three to four lbs. of good mohair eight inches long of
fine lustre and clear white colour.

Lola-Sue had no difficulty in getting shearers to shear her goats,
or men to do casual work on "Goatlands." She was a man's woman, and
the men who knew nothing of her history, admired her pluck, but most
of all, they admired her frank winsome manner, her bonhomie and her
democratic outlook on life and things in general. She was no snob and
was never conscious of her fascinating beauty. She treated men as
friends, but with proper reserve, and they respected her. They sensed
that she was not a girl to be trifled with, and the unwritten law
of the bush that invariably guards the honour of its women, was her
protection.




CHAPTER XI.--"THE ENIGMA."

Soon gossip got busy concerning Lola-Sue. Who was she? Whence had she
come? Who were her people? Were questions asked by busy-bodies without
satisfactory answers.

Attracted by her beauty, several men paid court to her, but she guarded
all advances with a maidenly reserve. Her experience of life and of men
now stood her in good stead. She sought for no affair, and discreetly
held herself in leash with more than prudent reserve.

Like Nanna, the Moon maid, wife of Balder the Beautiful, she also rode
a bright horse, and tender was she and fair. Always neatly dressed
and as well groomed as her black colt, she excited the envy and
maliciousness of the women who posed as members of western society.

"That girl's an enigma. I'm sure she has a past," was a remark passed
by one of Charleville's fair matrons when her husband mentioned that he
had never seen a more superb horsewoman.

"She's always well dressed. I wonder where she gets her money. I'm sure
she never makes it out of her beastly goats," averred a girl to her
"boy" with whom she was walking along the bridge over the Warrego, when
he raised his hat in recognition of Lola-Sue's bow. "Perhaps not. But
is it our business anyway?" replied the girl's companion.

"Oh, you've fallen for her too, have you?" said the girl, nettled by
the apparent rebuke.

"No, but I must say she's an acquisition to the district. I met her at
the Langlo."

"What's her name?"

"Well, really, I didn't think to ask her and she never mentioned it."

"Oh, then, you weren't introduced to her?"

"No, she merely asked me my opinion of the pick of a litter of kelpies
that old Stigant was showing her at the Langlo. I just happened to be
there at the time on my way back from Mount Morris. That's all, she
doesn't even know my name."

"But she recognised you just now?"

"Well, yes. Just the usual 'Good-day' friendly greeting of the bush,
you know."

"The bold creature!"

Though Lola-Sue lived in comparative isolation, she excited
considerable curiosity when she rode into Charleville on business.
As there were many only too willing to be friendly to her, the
uncharitable remarks of the felines often reached her. She smiled and
discreetly held her peace. "Naturally," she thought, "knowing nothing
about me they're sure to think the worst." Latterly, she had been
having trouble over her goats. In their browsing they often travelled
far afield and neighbours who had no time for her, began to lodge
complaints with the sergeant of police. Her 40 acre paddock was not
large enough in which to graze her flock and as there were thousands
of acres of unoccupied land adjacent to her homestead, she considered
she had as much right to let her goats have the run of these unoccupied
lands as the neighbours had to use them for their sheep and cattle. But
she had the wives and daughters of the scattered community against her
and they influenced their husbands and fathers.

"She's no good, that one."

"She gives herself too many airs."

"I don't know what the men see in her."

"You mark what I say. Her reps. up to putty."

These and others of a similar nature were the remarks whispered and
sometimes shouted in the ears of her male admirers.

As the result of the agitation against her goats, Lola-Sue received a
visit from the local officer in charge of police, Sergeant Conway. Fate
had again taken a hand in the game of life's mix up and had thrown him
once more in her way. Twenty-seven years ago he had picked her up in
Ann Street, Brisbane. He was then Constable Pat Conway. He had, in the
years between, advanced in the force, and he was now Sergeant Patrick
Conway, who, unconsciously, had given Lola-Sue her surname.

As the police are said to be omniscient (whether the force deserves
that credit is by the way) Sergeant Conway was aware that Lola-Sue's
correct name as officially registered, was Lola Stinson, but he did not
connect her with the little foundling of 27 years ago, nor had she the
remotest idea that he was the constable who had picked her up from the
steps of the Protestant Hall.

"Now look a-here, my gurll, them goats of your must be kept paddicked.
Yer can't be havin' them runnin' over the landscape," said the sergeant
truculently to Lola-Sue.

"But, sergeant, what harm are they doing? Sheep and cattle are roaming
freely over the common, why not my goats?"

"Well, go-ats is go-ats, and not sheep or cattle. The settlers don't
like 'em. Yer must rigister them all."

"But sergeant, how can I keep them in. You must know that no kind of
temporary fence is of the slightest use."

"Put triangles on them, begorra, then they won't break throo yer
fences."

"Triangles, Sergeant! I'd have to buy up a timber yard to make
triangles for all my Angoras!"

"Divil a bit do I know about that, but yer must keep yer go-ats
paddicked. Either that, or yer must translate thim to an island off the
coast with a good strip of sea betweeen," and Sergeant Conway grinned
at his own wit and departed.

Lola-Sue was angry. She recognised the unjustness of the sergeant's
edict and resolved to take no notice beyond getting Boompa to round up
the goats occasionally and to drive them into the forty-acre paddock.

There's nothing a well-trained police officer hates more than the
defiance of his authority. The discipline of the force is rigid, and
disobedience is the cardinal sin. Even as he has to obey his superior
officer whether sergeant, inspector, or commissioner so must the
undisciplined public with whom he comes in contact, be made to obey the
orders of the police. The ignoring of his order by Lola-Sue incensed
Sergeant Conway beyond measure. It hurt his official dignity. It was,
therefore, a very angry sergeant who again interviewed her.

"If I ketch thim go-ats outside them finces, I'll have them driven to
the pound and cut their blarsted throats, so I will."

Instead of being conciliatory, Lola-Sue met the sergeant with defiance.
If she had cajoled him, being an Irishman, he might have relented.
Every true Irishman is susceptible to beauty, more especially beauty
in distress. "You go to the devil. You can do your damndest. I'll not
keep them off your beastly lawn. You dare touch one of them!" and she
stamped her foot in frenzy. Boompa and Minns were awed spectators of
Lola-Sue's open defiance of the sergeant.

It was not often she swore. She wasn't that sort. But Sergeant Conway
with his official air of brief authority, seemed to rub her the wrong
way.

"By cripes, Misses, that pfeller bobby 'im King Billy all right. Too
much 'im yabba yabba," said Boompa, and Minns chimed in with: "Black
gin 'im no like. Yowi, white Mary face like it pink mushroom eyes like
it pongo. 'Im like, Yowi. Why kill um goat then? Next 'im kill um
'Battle,' Yarraman."

"No fear, Minns, she kill 'im first. Bad Gubimint man."

"He's a beast, Boompa. If he kills my goats, he's worse than a dingo.
But he wouldn't dare touch 'Battle,' Minns."

"Jumback, 'im run about, Yarraman 'im run about, cow 'im run about,
goat 'im no run about. Why 'im no run about?" asked Boompa.

"Search me, Boompa, I don't know. Plenty wicked people make noise, make
much yabba, yabba. Tell policeman. He come here make row, what for? I
don't know."

Even the unsophisticated savage recognised the injustice of it all.
"Sheep, horses, cattle are permitted to roam at will over the Common,
then why not my goats?" said Lola-Sue to herself. "It's a conspiracy,
and the women are behind it. The cats. All because I refuse to gossip
with them and tell them who I am and what I am. Well they can go on
guessing. They're a jealous lot, but I'll live my life in spite of
them. While unregistered sheep and cattle are permitted to graze on the
Common, I'll not register a single head, nor keep them paddocked."

Having come to this decision, Lola-Sue dismissed the trouble from her
mind. Next morning, before the sun was up, she went for her usual swim
in the Lagoon, safe in the remoteness and seclusion of the spot; she
discarded her kimino and stood erect, like a sculptured goddess, on her
improvised spring board, naked and unashamed.

It was the morn of a summer's day, and the heat waves had not yet begun
to dance. In another hour, the sun would have licked the dew from
the grass and thrown long shadows across the lagoon. Now, the breath
of the morn was as sweet and as fresh as that of a healthy child,
and Lola-Sue, cutting her way through the clear cool water with long
swinging overhand sweeps of her shapely arms, forgot all her troubles
and worries in the enjoyment of her healthy exercise. There was not a
sound, save the call of a bird, or the chirp of an insect. Her swimming
was so gracefully easy, that the water rippled from her shoulder as it
cleft the surface like the nose of a graceful canoe. Then she climbed
once more on her springboard for one final dive before returning home.

She stood up, bending gracefully forward on the balls of her small
arched feet; with her two arms raised above her head preparatory to
diving, a man crept through the trees and watched her, spellbound. He
had come upon her unawares.


"And there in indecision, he beheld the glowing vision

Of a sculptured marble goddess the age of Pericles."


Was she Artemis or Diana? And was she like up to the famous rider of
the fabled Acheron? Unwittingly he had come upon her, and as he gazed,
his thoughts and feelings were elemental. Had he lingered there, he
thought, he would deserve to be hunted like the dog-torn classic
hunter, Actaeon, so he discreetly turned away from the Psyche at her
bath.

Lola-Sue all unconscious of the unknown eyes of admiration, finished
her swim, and drying herself, got into her kimono and walked home just
as the sun was glinting over the long flat surface that ran to the
eastern horizon.

Humphrey Pryor, in charge of a mob of five hundred fat bullocks from
"Contraband" for the trucking yards at Charleville, had camped for
the night some miles higher up the river. Two of the stock horses,
bred on the Lower Warrego, had broken their hobbles and cleared out.
He knew that they would make for the place where they had been bred,
and decided to lose no time in following up their tracks. In going
the early rounds of the camp, before the cattle had stirred, he had
missed the horses and told his drovers that he would ride on and look
for them. In the meantime, as soon as it was sunrise, and they had
breakfasted, they could bring the cattle along and he would join them
later.

Riding south, he, with the tracking instinct of an aboriginal,
picked up the horses' tracks which led to and past the lagoon where
Lola-Sue bathed. Approaching the lagoon, he saw clothing on the bank.
Dismounting, he tied his horse some little distance away to a gum
sapling and moved cautiously forward through the myalls that edged the
lagoon and almost hid it from view. It was then that he saw Lola-Sue
emerge and stand on the springboard for her final dive. When she had
dived, he went quickly back to his horse and rode on.

Though his reputation was anything but good to those who thought
they knew him, his sense of decency suggested that he should not
make himself known to her under such embarrassing (for the lady)
circumstances. But as he rode on after the missing horses, he wondered
who the Naiad was and whence had she come.

Without mentioning the episode of that morning, he made discreet
inquiry and soon found out all that was known about her. He felt
intrigued. A girl with such an independent mind, so beautiful, and
living such a lonely life in the bush, was worth knowing, and he would
not leave Charleville until he had seen and talked with her.

A few days later, the opportunity came. When Sergeant Conway found that
Lola-Sue meant to defy him, his official importance received a rude
shock. He instructed his assistant, Constable Treloar, to take one of
the black troopers and round up fifty of her goats, and drive them to
the pound. "When ye've done that, cut their blasted throats. I'll be
over to superintend the dade later on."

The round up of the goats was accomplished in a little less than two
hours. When they were yarded in the pound, Constable Treloar did a
little revolver practice and shot a score. Then he told his trooper to
buck in and cut the throats of the remainder. This the darky had no
hesitation in doing. It delighted the heart of the savage to see the
red blood spurt as he drew his sheath knife across the bleating throats
of Lola-Sue's Angoras.

From the day that Sergeant Conway had threatened to kill the goats,
Boompa had kept a sharp look out. He mistrusted the sergeant and
felt that his mistress had been foolish in defying "Gubiment." Like
all blacks in the unsettled districts, Government was embodied in
the uniformed police. Consequently the blacks feared the police and
slunk away from them whenever possible. When Boompa, who had been
reconnoitering in the bush, saw Constable Treloar in khaki and a black
trooper in his dark blue uniform with red stripes and red striped cap
ride out with two kelpies and start rounding up the goats, he raced
off, hell for leather, to inform his mistress.

Lola-Sue was dressed ready to ride into Charleville. Her riding togs
fitted her perfectly. She had dressed with particular care, as she
wanted to look her best on this special occasion to show her enemies
that this was a free country and that she feared neither them nor
the police. She was on the point of calling Boompa to saddle up
"Battle" when that streak of darkness unceremoniously rushed into the
cottage shouting in his excitement, "Miss Lola, Missy Lola, plurry
'leeceman, plurry trooper 'im bin drive um goats to chokey. Hurry up,
plenty quick, me been hear um bang! bang! Constable 'im shoot goat
quick."

Commanding Boompa to saddle her colt, which he had brought in and
groomed before he went reconnoitering, she, taking her hunting crop,
rode off at a brisk canter towards the distant pound. She arrived on
the scene too late to do any good. Fifty of her prized Angoras were
lying in the pound yard, dead. The trooper had commenced to pile
the slaughtered animals prior to burning them, and the sergeant and
Constable Treloar sat on their horses outside the pound, looking on at
the ghastly scene. Lola-Sue rode up to them.

White with ungovernable passion she said:--

"You'll regret this to the end of your days, sergeant. If it's ever
in my power to do you an injury I'll do it without the slightest
compunction. I'd shoot you like the dingo you are, you cur!"

There was such concentrated fury in this deliberate threat that the
sergeant, to maintain his dignity, replied:

"I'll arrist ye fer usin' threatenin' langwidge, so I will. Ye'd better
'ave a care pfwhat yez say, me bold beauty."

"If you dare lay your blood-stained hands on me, you cruel brute,
I'll thrash you with my hunting crop and accept the consequences with
pleasure. You arrest me! You daren't do it! And you know it! Now you've
carried out your dirty orders I suppose you're satisfied. But you'll
regret it. We'll meet again some day, never fear, then you look out!"

With this parting prophecy, Lola-Sue rode away slowly with a dignity
she was far from feeling. She had now no heart to ride on to
Charleville, so headed her horse for home. Then the reaction set in.
She cried bitterly over the massacre of her goats. She had got to love
them. Now, in her despondency, she felt that there was not a soul in
the world who loved her, not a human being, save her black boy and his
gin, to whom she could turn for sympathy. She felt that she was an
outcast and her lovely buoyant disposition began to curdle.

Then came her destiny, determined in the shape of Humphrey Pryor.
Failing to meet her in the orthodox way, he determined to ride out to
"Goatlands" and to call on her at her little weather-board home in the
west. When he arrived to ask for a drink from her water bag, he found
to his very great disappointment, that she was not at home. Instead he
met the grinning Minns, who informed him that Missy Lola had ridden
over to the pound to rescue her goats.

"Baal yan, Missy Lola, she come soon," she said as Humphrey Pryor
turned to ride towards the pound.

"Bad p'leeceman. I'm no good Gubbimint man. 'Im shoot goats, bang!
Missy Lola she get mad," continued Minns, but Humphrey Pryor rode on to
meet her whose vision of naked perfection had haunted him since he had
gazed upon it.

Lola-Sue rode slowly and dejectedly towards the setting sun when,
suddenly out of the haze of the sunset appeared Humphrey Pryor. As he
reined in his horse before her, she seemed to awaken out of a sombre
dream. Instantly, she pulled herself together and gripped herself in a
vise of reserve. "Who was this man mounted on such a splendid horse?"
That was the thought that flashed through her brain. "I've never seen
him before. Who is he?" Humphrey Pryor held a somewhat similar mental
conversation with himself. "Who was this beautiful creature so superbly
accoutred and mounted, and who sat her well bred horse with the easy
grace of a born equestrienne?" Raising his slouched felt hat much worn,
he said:

"Pardon. Are you in trouble?"

He had noticed her dejection. Looking more closely at her, he noticed
that she had been crying. He noticed, too, the fine violet eyes
suffused with tears, set wide apart under a broad intellectual forehead.

Lola-Sue brought her horse to a standstill, and "Battle" and the
unknown horse, she noticed, nozzled each other in friendly fashion.

"Yes," she merely replied and moved as if to ride on.

"But I say, you know, you must let me help you. What's the trouble?"
And Humphrey Pryor, too, turned his horse as if to ride in the
direction Lola-Sue was going.

"It's very kind of you to offer, sir, but I do not know that you can do
much good--now," and she rode on slowly.

"Is it as bad as all that? Is the trouble past mending?" he asked as he
rode beside her.

"Yes, you cannot bring my goats back to life!"

"Your goats? I don't understand."

"I'm the owner of 'Goatlands' and breed Angoras. The sergeant of police
and his satellites have impounded fifty of them and killed them."

"What!"

His exclamation impressed her. He was so genuinely startled.

"Yes, ride over to the pound, and see for yourself. See the poor
slaughtered brutes." She said this so bitterly that he sensed the rage
that tore her.

"But I don't understand. Why should the police kill your goats?"

"Oh, don't ask me! How should I know? The sergeant mentioned something
about General Order 42X or some other number, and said I must keep
my goats off the Common. I refused. Go over to the pound and see the
result."

"Yes; I'll go and I'll interview that sergeant; but not just yet.
Believe me I want to help you. Tell me all about it?"

Lola-Sue was impressed. Here was sympathy least expected and it
appealed to her. In this instant of her lonely misery, it was what she
hungered for. So, with eyes of blazing glory, she told him as they rode
on together, what had led up to the massacre, told him the story with
the ardent graphic tenseness of a soul in blind revolt. When she had
finished he said:

"What a damn shame! I've no love for the police. That blundering
sergeant will regret this."

"That's just what I told him."

So interested were they in one another that they had reached
"Goatlands" almost before they were aware of it. The sun had set but
the twilight of the western Downs, a merger between light and dark
made the evening softly beautiful, turning the wedgewood blue of the
sky into a purple haze before it passed into the velvet softness of a
star-studded night.

"I hope we shall meet again," Humphrey Pryor said as he was about to
go. He had no wish, at this early stage, to press his company upon her.

"Oh, you mustn't go till you've had some tea. Minns will have it
ready. Boompa!" she called. "Look after this gentleman's horse and put
'Battle' in his stall." Dismounting, she handed the blackboy the reins,
and Humphrey Pryor did likewise. Then he followed her into her little
home which he noticed was marvellously neat and clean.

Whilst having tea he said:--

"To me it has been very interesting meeting you, but you don't know who
I am. My name's Pryor--Humphrey Pryor. Funny name, Humphrey, isn't it?"

"Well, it's uncommon, but it seems to suit you, somehow," Lola-Sue said
smiling, and Humphrey Pryor was glad to see that smile. It lit up her
face in such a way that she seemed to him more lovely than ever.

"And you? What is your name?" he asked.

"Oh, I? I'm just Lola-Sue. That's a funny name too, isn't it?"

"Well, it's pretty. But Lola-Sue what? It sounds like a chink's name,
but there's nothing of the chink about you."

"Well, I should hope not, indeed," Lola-Sue replied, still with her
fascinating smile, as she poured him another cup of tea, while Minns
was peeping round the back door grinning.

"Do you know what they call you in Charleville?"

"No--what?"

"The Enigma."

"Well, perhaps, I am a bit of an enigma to everyone but myself; but I
have given no one here my confidence. The women-folk here don't seem to
like me. Living here all alone they seem to think I have a past, that
I'm not--well--how shall I put it--square. Oh, the men are all right, I
get on very well with them."

"Then that's the fly in my lady's ointment. The women are jealous of
you, first because you don't court their friendship, second, because
you are attractive and all men like attractive women. That means the
women about here are jealous of you."

"Oh, but you mustn't say that. I'm not attractive by any means, and I
have a past, a very sad past but not the kind of past they mean."

"I'm sure of it. That's why I want to help you--Lola-Sue. You see, I
can't call you anything else--yet--because I know you by no other name,
and I want to see you often, Lola-Sue, may I?"

"You may, Humphrey Pryor. You see (she said this mischievously, using
his own words), I can't call you anything else because I know you by no
other name. But what do you mean by 'yet?'"

"That's for the future to decide, so good-bye for the present 'Enigma,'
but I like Lola-Sue better," he said, rising to depart.




CHAPTER XII.--THE PAL.

Humphrey Pryor was disturbed.

The five hundred fats that he had brought down from "Contraband" had
been safely trucked at Charleville--some for the saleyards at Enoggera,
and the remainder for the meat works at Redbank and Pinkenba--but he
stayed on at Charleville. This was unusual for him. Hitherto, when he
had completed his business, he hurried back to the Carnarvon Ranges--to
"Contraband." Charleville then had no lure for him. It was hot, dusty,
flat and uninviting. He was more at home in the heart of the bush than
in the heart of a town. But now he lingered on, and men--and women,
too--who knew him well, wondered. They considered him to be too lawless
for the towns where the police stations were, for he and the police
had nothing in common. Frequent complaints had been made to them by
selectors and graziers concerning stolen stock and suspicion fell on
Humphrey Pryor and his men. Earmarks had been faked and brands defaced,
but no positive proof had been sheeted home to them. Though they were
lawless, they kept within the law in that they were not found out.

Though, in a general sense, he had nothing in common with the police,
he did not intend to leave Charleville until he had had a word with
Sergeant Conway on the subject of the slaughter of Lola-Sue's goats.
But it was not this that disturbed him.

Though his shunning of the police had earned for him the name of "The
Yellow Streak" there was nothing "yellow" about him or in him when he
rode up to the police station at Charleville and gave the sergeant a
piece of his mind over the killing of Lola-Sue's goats.

"You may have had the law on your side, Conway," he said, with
asperity, "but it was a dastardly act on your part to order the killing
of that poor girl's goats, and I wanted to tell you so."

"Pfwhat the 'ell is it ter do with you, Mr. Pryor? Has the gurrl
constitooted you her champeen?" replied the irate sergeant.

"No, Conway, but I'm doing what it is the duty of the police to do--to
champion the weak against the strong."

This aspersion on his "duty" was more than Sergeant Conway could stand.
"Look-a-here, Mr. Pryor, though your rich and ride a good horse, yer
repootashun as a cattle thief is well known and some day I'll nab yer,
then ye'll see who's protectin' the weak, begorra."

Humphrey Pryor looked the sergeant full in the face and countered.

"Some of the Queensland police, sergeant, are good bushmen and fine
men--men who would not stoop to kill a lonely girl's harmless goats.
But the police at Charleville are not of that kidney. They're not
clever enough or bushmen enough to catch me or any of my men in cattle
duffing. Good-day."

With this parting shot, Humphrey Pryor rode away, leaving Sergeant
Conway sourly ruminating over this reflection on his reputation as
an officer of the law and his prowess as a bushman. Then he rode in
the direction of "Goatlands" and when he arrived at the pretty little
homestead, the sun had set.

Boompa was the first to see him ride up and went and informed his
mistress that "Pryor Boss 'im been come."

Lola-Sue went out to meet him and welcomed him not effusively but with
naive simplicity.

"Boompa," she ordered. "Take the saddle off Mr. Pryor's horse and rub
him down well until he shines like the moon, then turn him loose in the
horse paddock. See that there's water in the trough."

"Oh, but I say, Lola-Sue, I'm not staying long. I just called to tell
you that I've given that sergeant a piece of my mind."

"You're coming in to entertain me for an hour. Then you may go, Sir.
Minns boil up the kettle. Mr. Pryor will have some tea."

"Thanks, Lola-Sue, I really could appreciate a good cup of tea. What
bushman couldn't?"

Though Lola-Sue looked alert and capable when dressed up in her riding
togs, she was very seductive and sweet in her cool soft frock of blue
organdie with its blouse low cut to show off to advantage her plump
shoulders and a suspicion of well curved busts. Her thick bushy hair
fell on the nape of her fair white neck in curls, brown and soft, with
a glint of burnished copper through the tresses. She was a charming
Eve, thought Humphrey Pryor, who wondered if anyone could be more
naively seductive, more innocent, or more youthful looking and artistic.

"I'm interested in you, Lola-Sue. Won't you tell me the story of your
life--in confidence, you know," he begged, when he had finished three
cups of tea.

"Well, yes, in confidence, mind. If a woman asked me for the story of
my life--in confidence, I shouldn't tell her. A man is different, that
is, if he is a man. Men, as a rule, do, not break confidences."

"Then your trust in men is greater than your trust in women?"

"Yes, ever so much. But first of all what did you say to that brute of
a sergeant?"

"Oh, something very uncomplimentary, I assure you. He won't rest till
he gets my scalp. But never mind him. It's you I want to hear about."

They were sitting in squatters' chairs on the veranda, facing the east,
he smoking, and she just resting.

The moon just past its full, was rising, and brought with it a cool
breeze which was more than welcome after the heat of the day. Away
in the lagoon bull-frogs croaked and from a distant tree came the
persistent call of the boobook owl. All was silent and peaceful, the
only discordant sound being the creaking of the windmill as it pumped
water into the tank from the semi-artesian bore; but every now and
then the galvanised iron on the roof crackled as the cooling night
air contracted it after its expansion by the day's heat. Amid these
surroundings Lola-Sue told Humphrey Pryor the story of her life. To
him it was a revelation of infinite suffering and of fortitude under
adversity; and in the telling never did heart of man reach out to heart
of woman as his reached out to hers. He pitied her, felt for her, and
longed to take her under his protection. She appealed unconsciously to
his better nature. It was years since he knew what home was and what it
stood for, and now he wanted home with her. Since his disillusionment
over his passion for Muriel Poingdestre he had resolved to cut women
out of his life. Domesticity, he had decided, was not for him. His
must be the life of the nomad, the free-lance bushman, the raider, the
liver of double and triple lives, a polished gentleman and sportsman
when at the clubs in Brisbane, a bushranger and outlaw when eluding the
vigilance of the police after a successful raid of northern runs, with
his men like tempered steel, a successful drover overloading cattle
from the Territory to Adelaide, adding to them surreptitiously as he
travelled the stock routes down the Georgina, the Diamantina, and the
Cooper, into New South Wales.

Now a new element had gripped him within the space of an hour--sympathy
for, and interest in, a fellow human being, who, like himself, was
up against the social order of things, but who unlike himself, must
inevitably go under unless supported by some one strong enough and
willing enough to fight for her. The incident of the slaughtered goats
was but the beginning. It was a case in point. To-morrow or the next
week or the next month, other incidents would occur which would prove
to her inexperienced nature, that no woman, young and beautiful,
even thought she have means, can live solely in the world of her own
creation, without in some state or form being up against the social
order. If she didn't do or say things, they would be done and said for
her. She, even though as pure as the dawn, would be scared by some
stigma invented by malice. If she did not affect the humility of a
dependent, war would be declared against her and a hundred malicious
little persecutions would be brought to bear upon her. Such were the
thoughts that punctured the brain of Humphrey Pryor as he listened, not
unmoved, but terribly intently, to the dramatic story of Lola-Sue's
young life.

Though she spoke simply and plainly without passion and without heroics
as if the events that had happened to her were now of no account but
merely incidents that were passed and done with for ever, her story was
of intense interest to her listener.

When she came to that chapter of her life which covered her marriage to
Billy Stinson, he could contain himself no longer. Getting up from his
chair he walked with agitated steps along the veranda and exclaimed:
"My God, with him of all men!"

By the dim light of the moon she could not see his features and learn
therefrom how seriously he was listening to her recital; but his sudden
getting up and the exclamation which followed, made her pause and ask:
"Why, do you know him?"

"Yes, yes, but go on. Never mind about him--now."

He resumed his seat, but did not relight his pipe. He was too disturbed
to smoke and so she continued to the end. It was getting late and he
saw that she was tired. "I must be moving on," he said. "But from what
you have told me I am convinced that you cannot live this lonely life
without sooner or later suffering for it. You must have someone to
stand by you, some stanch friend."

Then, taking her small hand in his strong grasp, he continued after a
short pause: "I should like to be that friend. Will you let me?"

Lola-Sue did not reply immediately. She thought for a moment, looking
down at her feet, then raising her head and looking at him, her eyes
searching his in the semi-dark for some evidence of trust, which she
seemed to find, she answered: "Yes; but I should like to see you
again to hear, in turn, your life's story. When are you leaving for
Contraband?"

"I do not intend to leave Charleville until I can decide upon some way
of fully protecting you."

"Oh, but I need no protection. I have a rifle and a revolver and I can
shoot."

"I don't mean that sort of protection altogether. The killing of your
goats proves that you do need protection, and I'm going to see that
you have that protection. Good-night, Lola-Sue, but I'm coming again.
To-morrow, perhaps, or the next day for certain."

As he left to get his horse, Lola-Sue went with him to the slip-rails
leading to the horse paddock. He called and his horse came to him.

"Does every one come to your call like that?" she asked, smiling.

"Well, yes, as a rule," he replied as he saddled up.

"I must practice that. If I call you at any time, should I need you,
will you come?"

"Instantly. From to-night, you are she who must be obeyed. Good-night
Lola-Sue."

"Good-night, Humphrey."

She watched him as he rode away into the night.

When he had gone and she was alone with her thoughts, she communed with
herself. What manner of man was this who had come so suddenly and so
opportunely into her life? He seemed manly, honest, straightforward.
Could he be relied upon? She thought so. She liked him. His directness
pleased her. She was intrigued by the championship of her cause in
the matter of the goats. Now that he had referred to it, could she
continue to live this lonely life, to play the lone hand in the face of
social ostracism? This was a problem that had to be faced and seriously
considered. To sell out, to give up, would be to admit defeat. To her
independent nature this would be intolerable. Still, the position had
to be faced. The outlook did not appear to be too hopeful. With her
limited experience in life's great problems, she needed experienced
guidance. Like an exhausted swimmer she needed a helping hand to assist
her to the firm banks of social safety. To her in her hour of need had
come a man (and she was glad it was not a woman), who had thrown out
that helping hand. As she visualised him she saw that he had a strong
face, burnt almost to blackness, clean cut like a cameo. His eyes were
brown, sharp, and compelling, his mouth determined, his chin resolute.
Tall and lean, with the narrow hips of a sprinter, his legs were
slightly bowed through overmuch riding and a life spent mostly in the
saddle. There was assurance in his walk and energy in the firmness of
his tread. She imagined him a bad enemy, but a firm friend, ruthless,
but considerate where women were concerned.

Then she contrasted him with Billy Stinson. Both were men of fine
physique, but Humphrey Pryor had lived the harder life. If Billy
Stinson had the weaker mouth, Humphrey Pryor certainly had the
stronger. She liked the vehement way it shut like a trap when she told
him of the action of the police in killing her goats. Now that she
had had some experience of men, she would sooner trust herself with
Humphrey Pryor than with Billy Stinson. This she felt instinctively,
though Billy Stinson had the more fascinating way and a manner with
women that was almost irresistible. But that way did not appeal to her
now. She had experienced its falseness. Given her choice between the
two men, she would now unhesitatingly choose Humphrey Pryor. He looked
dependable and strong.

When she went to bed that night, she turned in with a greater sense of
security than she had felt for some time, though why, she could not
precisely explain where she asked.

The next day, Humphrey Pryor did not call on her. Though she busied
herself with her domestic affairs, she had a restless and lonely
feeling. She divided her attention between the house, the garden, the
fowls, the cow, and Minns followed her about like a pet lamb. Then she
went to her little den which she called her library--a lean-to at the
back of the cottage, which had formerly been used as a spare room,
and tried to write. She still kept up her connection as a freelance
contributor to the southern weeklies and magazines. She could not
discipline her thoughts to write a single sentence, and the clinking
of her typewriter irritated her. Getting up in despair, she went and
sought companionship with "Battle." Between her and her colt was a
mutual sympathy and a mutual understanding. She put her face against
his head, circled it with her right arm, and smoothed the velvety
softness of his nose with her left hand.

"Whatever happens, 'Battle,' I'll never part with you," she cooed in
her gentle tones, and the colt with his neck arched, his long, thin
ears pricked forward, and his great full eyes looking calmly into the
distance, rubbed his head up and down against the soft face of his
mistress as if in comprehension.

The day following Humphrey Pryor called and had lunch with her. It was
a dainty, well prepared meal, and its culinary perfection and spotless
damask appealed to him. He compared the meticulous care with which
it had been prepared and laid out to his own rough way of living at
Contraband with old Granny Hutton, a Chinese cook, and a couple of
lubras to attend to all household matters.

What a different place Contraband would be if he had her there to
superintend matters and to exercise a general governance. After
lunch, he smoking and she hatless, carrying a dainty sun-shade, they
strolled along to the lagoon and sat in the cool shade of the weeping
myalls. The ground was almost bare of grass, but dead leaves formed a
clean carpet, and a dead tree trunk, deposited where it lay by past
flood-waters, made a clean if not too comfortable seat.

"This is where I come for my morning dip. Over there is my springboard
and near it are the gidyea steps that make coming out clean and easy,"
remarked Lola-Sue by way of making conversation. Her companion was not
in a talkative mood. He seemed to be burdened with unspoken thoughts.
As he went on smoking she continued, "It's fairly deep out there by the
opposite bank. I don't know who made the springboard and the steps.
They were here when I came, but I make good use of them. What do you
think of the spot?"

"To me it is sacred," he replied, seriously.

"Sacred!" she could not understand.

"Yes, sacred, because it is your sanctuary; because those waters there
have held you in their embrace."

She looked at him, still not comprehending, but her heart seemed to
miss a beat. Was he really interested in her? and the thought thrilled
her. She lowered her head so that he could not see her face lest he see
there a story not yet ready for the telling. To hide her embarrassment,
she kept prodding the ground with the point of her sun-shade. Then he
said suddenly.

"Lola-Sue, look at me!"

She turned her head slowly and looked up at him, a smile dimpling her
still incarnadined cheeks.

"Now, tell me. Can you trust me?"

Looking at him with her beautiful fearless eyes, she answered after a
pause:

"Yes, Humphrey, I trust you. But why do you ask?"

"Because you know nothing of me, nothing of my life. I'm not looked
upon as a good man. Most people knowing me, would say that you run a
great risk in being in my company."

"Does it matter so much what people say? I've read somewhere: 'They
say. What do they say? Let them say.'"

"That's all very well so far as it goes; but you are a young woman
whom any man should be proud to know. You cannot afford to ignore the
afternoon tea chatterings of Mother Grundy. In being friendly with me
you run the risk of social ostracism."

"But there is no one interested in me. I'm all alone in the world. I've
no one to please but myself."

"Well, you should not be all alone. You're not the type that should
live and blush unseen. You're not an outlaw, banned from the society of
your kind by any crime. Life for you should be beautiful and brimful
of happiness. God knows, you've had enough of unhappiness, you, a
beautiful flower grown up amid the rubble and refuse of life's dumping
ground."

Lola-Sue was startled by the impassioned way in which he spoke. Then
she too became very serious. No man had ever spoken to her like that.

"Yes, I suppose I've had a rough spin. If I'm not an outlaw, I've
suffered enough to make me one. But you, you're not an outlaw are you?"

"Almost. I should be--quite, if I had been found out."

As he said nothing further, there was a pause. Each was burdened with
unspoken thoughts that strained for expression. Lola-Sue was the first
to speak.

"Look at me, Humphrey?"

Turning he caught her two hands in his and looked at her as if he would
devour her.

"Now you tell me. Can you trust me?"

"Trust you! My God, yes. If I'm an interpreter of character, Lola-Sue
there's not a false note in your make up."

"Then tell me the story of your life. You said you knew Billy Stinson.
Naturally I'm curious."

"Well, like yourself. I am practically alone in the world. When I was
seventeen, I got a position as jackeroo on a station. It was there I
learnt all about cattle and sheep. But I never had any time for sheep.
When I was eighteen my father died and my mother followed him into the
unknown a year later. I have a brother somewhere in Sydney and a sister
married in Melbourne. But we are as strangers to one another. Families
drift apart and brothers and sisters are as if they did not exist. They
are not united by common interests and each goes his or her own way.
The years go by and no letters pass between. We each had a little money
left. I went in for droving and got together a drover's outfit. I had
some good contracts and got to know Queensland from end to end. I have
taken mobs of cattle from the Territory as far as Adelaide. Several
times I have overlanded them to Sydney. Then I took up some country
in the Gulf south of Normanton. This I stocked with cattle, but they
weren't my own cattle. I stole them from adjacent runs and put my brand
on them. With my men whom I can trust, I've raided the runs of station
owners in the Gulf country by moonlight and cut out all the clean skins
and branded them. I've even obliterated brands and faked ear-marks. I'm
what is known as a cattle duffer. Even when I've bought stock on the
square on a bang-tail muster my men and I have bang-tailed very many more
that were not mustered.

"Oh, I know it's thieving and all that, but I'm not alone in that
sort of business. Many reputed respectable men in Queensland have
become wealthy in the same way. When the Gulf Country became too
hot for me--the police had their suspicions and I was carefully
watched--I sold out and bought 'Contraband,' which I now own. There I
go in for horse breeding and cattle raising, but the surrounding run
owners would be glad to be rid of me. Like a confirmed pickpocket or
burglar, I find it hard to break off the raiding habit. It's a life
of adventure and I like it. That's one side of my life--the bad side,
the side that is against the law, the side of me that is known in
the unsettled districts of Queensland. The other side is that of a
well to do Queensland grazier and bloodstock breeder--a prince of the
turf and a club man, the side of me that is known to the fashionable
society of the cities and to well-known Government officials with
whom I have a certain amount of influence. It is this side of me that
gives me the right of entry into the homes of the pure merinos of the
West--the squatters, the home of men like the Stinsons, of Moonbulla,
and Poingdestre, of Oonamurra, and of many others. It's a funny old
World, Lola-Sue. No matter what a man's reputation may be, if he is
rich enough and presentable enough, and no matter what his bad record
may be, his riches and personality gain him an entry where a poor man,
no matter what his good record may be, is not burdened with invitations
to the homes of the exclusives. As a rich man I am on friendly terms
with many who may whisper behind my back that I'm no good. Even the
police, who are ever on the alert to catch me cattle lifting, assume
an attitude of cordial friendship. But I'm not deceived. Some day, if
it's made worth their while, they'll frame me. You don't know what that
means? Well I suppose you don't. In a bad sense it means that they will
invent or fabricate something false that has a semblance of truth to
incriminate me, and will rely upon evidence of their devising to bring
about a conviction. There are plenty willing enough to help them, and
among them Mr. Wilfred Beaufort Stinson."

Lola-Sue listened with intense interest to her companion's rough
outline of his life, only occasionally interjecting at intervals, but
when he mentioned the name of Billy Stinson, her interest was quickened
and she immediately asked.

"But why should he aid the police against you?"

"I'm coming to that, Lola-Sue. I've lived a pretty clean life where
women are concerned. In fact, I've been so much occupied with the
pastime of raiding runs and breeding horses, that I have not had much
time to spare for raiding the hearts of women and breeding children.
But at Charleville, some time ago, I met a girl whose grace and beauty
and splendid seat in a saddle, caught my fancy, and I wanted more than
anything on earth to marry that girl. I'm glad now that I didn't."

"Why?" For her dear life Lola-Sue could not help rapping out that
interrogation.

"Because I've since met some one whom I seem to know better--some one
who to me is more beautiful and more graceful in the saddle--some one
who I feel convinced would be a truer mate, a stauncher pal."

"Perhaps she, too, has only caught your fancy. Men are so fickle, so
changeable," remarked Lola-Sue haltingly, half divining what he meant.

"In the case of Muriel Poingdestre, it was not I who changed. It was
she."

"Muriel Poingdestre! What a pretty name. What became of her?"

"She married your former husband, Billy Stinson."

Lola-Sue had not heard the name of Billy Stinson's second wife before,
and it came as a revelation to her. She was amazed.

"What! He married the girl you wanted! Oh, Humphrey, no." It seemed to
her incredible.

"Yes, Lola, yes. It hurt, I can tell you. But after all, I think it
was my pride that was hurt more than my heart. I wanted to kill him,
shoot him like I'd shoot a dingo, but she, she saved him. She shot me
instead," and he told her of the incident at Mulga Bend.

"How she must have loved Billy," Lola-Sue said, thoughtfully.

"Perhaps," replied Humphrey Pryor, doubtfully; "but I think he
fascinated her as he must have fascinated you, as a snake is said to
fascinate a bird."

"Yes, perhaps he did. But if she had discernment, such as that which
has since come to me, and which, some day, may come to her, she would
not have thrown you over for Billy Stinson," said Lola-Sue seriously.

"Why?" It was his turn now to rap out a sudden interrogation, and he
waited breathlessly for an answer. It came slowly and meditatively.

"Because--well--because you are the better man."

"Lola-Sue, you wonderful girl! Do you mean that, after what I've told
you about myself, the good side and the bad side?"

"I do," answered Lola-Sue seriously.

"Then that paves the way for what I came out here to-day to tell
you, Lola. Just now I told you that I was glad I didn't marry Muriel
Poingdestre, glad because I'd since met someone who, to me, is more
beautiful, more wonderful; someone who, as I have said, would be a
truer mate, a stauncher pal. That someone is you, Lola-Sue. This time
it is you I want more than anything else on earth. Will you marry me?"

Lola-Sue was thrilled to the core with his confession. Though her
womanly instinct impelled her to the belief that Humphrey Pryor loved
her, though in what manner she did not know, nevertheless she was
hardly prepared for the downright tenseness and abruptness of his
sudden proposal. She was too overwrought to answer immediately. If, as
has been said, the incidents of a life-time flash through the brain of
a person conscious of imminent death, the incidents of her own life
flashed through the brain of Lola-Sue following the abrupt proposal
of marriage. She was on the brink of a new life and she knew it. What
would she answer? With a sense of detachment she saw a crane rise from
the far end of the lagoon and wing its way southward as a flock of teal
circled and lighted gracefully on the unruffled surface of the water
whence the crane had flown. The westering sunlight filtered through
the lattice-like leaves of the trees tempering the glare of the waning
afternoon, and still she sat on with hurricane thoughts racing through
her mind and the vital question still unanswered. She seemed dazed,
like a soul on the dubious bank betwixt waking and slumber.

"Lola, beloved, do you find it so very hard to answer?"

As if waking from a dream, Lola-Sue heard the pleading voice of her
companion and trembled as his left arm encircled her and drew her to
him. "Yes, very hard, Humphrey. There's an invisible barrier between
us--the barrier of my own life, and I cannot move it aside. Though I
trust you, believe me, Humphrey, I do. No, please. Just let me say
what I am impelled to say. I married once and I trusted my husband so.
Before we were married I thought that life for all time--with him,
would be a happiness too great to be borne. You see, I had such an
unhappy past that I clung to Billy Stinson as a lost soul clings to the
Rock of Ages. But I was disillusioned and my faith and trust in men
fell with a crash. It upset the balance of my reason, and I suffered
over five years of undiluted hell. I have often thought since that if
we hadn't married, if we had just been mates together, living together,
he and I, as lovers, without the binding obligation of the law, the
crash would never have come. But marriage made him too sure of me. I
couldn't break away (he knew I wouldn't want to), but he could. That
is man's selfishness. That is his extreme egotism, and he broke away.
I am not spiritless and I resented his deceit, his faithlessness. If I
hadn't been married to him and he broke away from me I wouldn't have
minded so much because there would have been no binding promise, no
legal obligation, I should have been free to choose another mate. Do
you wonder then why I hesitate when you ask me to marry you, Humphrey?
I feel and believe that as mates you and I would get on together ever
so much better than if we were married. I could not survive another
breakaway.

"Oh, I know you will promise constancy and eternal love, and all that,
but men are men. They cannot change their natures. In his heart no
man is monogamous. If he is, he is afraid to be polygamous, and it is
the woman who suffers. With women it is different. If she is treated
properly she will be constant always. She will give to her husband
the fidelity of a dog. But no woman can forgive unfaithfulness. If
she does, the forgiveness is only superficial. At most it is but a
patched-up truce.

"Yes, I know that some women break up the happy home. But as a rule
they are neurotics and suffer from erotomania. Or perhaps they are
unbalanced in some other way. The desire to captivate, for example,
such as the Delilahs, the Jezebels, the Aspasias, the Cleopatras of
every age, the women who take the cash and let the credit go, nor heed
the rumble of a distant drum."

"Then again, if I consented to marry you, Humphrey, you would never
be proud of me; I have no name, no family history. I am a nobody. I
was picked up out of the street like a stray mongrel. How then could
you introduce me to your fellow clubmen, to the pure merinos of the
squattocracy? I was humiliated once by Mrs. Seymour Stinson. I have
lived and suffered since then. I do not wish to court a repetition of
such an intolerable humiliation. You are wealthy and free to choose a
wife from among the fairest and best born of the land. Then why pick on
me? You are a breeder of thoroughbreds. You do not mate your stallions
with brumby mares. In a sense I am a brumby. You cannot mate with me.

"No, Humphrey. I like you too well to let you burden yourself with
a nobody. Indeed, I am not sure that I love you--yet. But of this
I am sure. There is no one whom I would look to for protection and
assistance in preference to you, though I admit my choice is limited.
You have made me understand that I shall have to give up this life at
Goatlands. Well, I will sell out and go hack to the city, though I
should hate it. I love the country so. But one must live, and I know
I could earn enough to keep myself by writing for the magazines. If I
should want assistance of any kind, I shall, as I have said, ask you to
help me. I shouldn't like to lose your friendship ever. That is your
answer, Humphrey."

There was a quiver in Lola-Sue's lower lip when she said this, but she
turned away her head so that Humphrey Pryor should not see the welling
tears.

"Look at me, Lola-Sue."

"No, Humphrey, please."

But he insisted and made her turn her head. When he saw her tear-dimmed
eyes, he was overcome. He caught her to him in his strong arms and
kissed her wet eyes and quivering lips.

"Beloved, I will not let you go. Though you have made out a strong
case against yourself, it does not weigh with me. I want you. All that
I have I will share with you. I will blot out with my love the misery
of your past life and make you happy. Together we will overcome your
invisible barrier, you with your beauty and charm and broadmindedness
and I with my power and influence. If you desire it I will give up this
rough life that I am living, and retire to some respectable suburb near
Brisbane, where we shall start afresh and build up our own circle of
friends. Though you call yourself a nobody, I will make you a somebody.
Among a mob of brumbies there is often a thoroughbred of an unknown
sire, a horse that stands out supreme among the mob. Though your
parentage be unknown to me, beloved, you are a thoroughbred. There is
no girl or woman among the many I know who is your equal. I am judging
you by what I have seen, and by your broad and commonsense outlook. If
you do not love me now, you will in time. Are you broad-minded enough
to throw up everything and come with me to Contraband to be my mate. I
will protect you with my life, Lola. I want you. Come, my love, my pal,
Lola."

"Dear," she replied, with her dignified smile, "I will leave all and
follow you--as a pal--on a gentleman's agreement."

"And while we remain pals, I shall honour that agreement."




CHAPTER XIII.--THE OUTLAW.

This was the genesis of the coming together of Lola-Sue and Humphrey
Pryor. At heart they were akin in their love of freedom. Both loved the
untrammelled life of the sparsely settled west; a life unrestrained
by the strict rules of conduct and of conventions cloying rotes.
Their mateship was not orthodox, but they had no one to please but
themselves, and it stirred Lola-Sue's imagination. It was a life that
suited her in her present rebellious mood. She owed nothing to society,
and if she became an outlaw, that was her concern. It would be what,
after all, society had made her. The law had dealt with her once, but
she had paid its price. She now owed it nothing. Moreover, she had no
kith to concern themselves over her future conduct. In this, perhaps,
she was fortunate.

It was, therefore, with a light heart and a debonnair toss of her
lovely head, that she set out with Humphrey Pryor on the road to
"Contraband." If he were an outlaw, she would be one too. She left the
disposal of Goatlands to him. He placed its sale in the hands of a well
known auctioneer at Charleville, with instructions to sell for the best
price obtainable. But whether it sold or whether it remained ownerless,
didn't concern him. Whatever sum it realised, would be a bagatelle to
him. Lola-Sue would share with him all that he had, and the proceeds
from the sale of her property were of no great moment. He decided to
place a sum of money to her credit in the Queensland National Bank at
Charleville, and she could draw against it whenever she pleased. When
the account was exhausted, he would replenish it. In agreeing to this
arrangement, Lola-Sue, however, made one stipulation. She would not
part with Boompa or Minns. They must go with her to "Contraband." In
this Humphrey Pryor readily acquiesced.

"A nigger or two more at Contraband would not matter very much. They
could be put to good use," he said; and Lola-Sue was pleased. There was
nothing that Humphrey Pryor would not do to please her. She was the
most fascinating companion that a man could have. They left "Goatlands"
for the Carnarvon Ranges in the early morning in a buckboard drawn by
four splendid ponies. The buggy was loaded up with goods, on the top
of which sat Minns. Boompa followed riding Battle. Lola-Sue brought
with her all her priceless possessions, including her type-writer.
She opined that at Contraband she would find plenty of material for
interesting stories and snappy paragraphs.

"At Contraband, beloved, you will find the life rough."

"I'm prepared to rough it, Humphrey," his companion said as they
rattled along, "but is it usual to call a pal beloved?" she said,
mischievously.

"The mateship is of your choosing, beloved. I am your lover, no matter
what you say to the contrary."

Lola-Sue was pleased at this remark, though she did not comment on it.
She was interested in watching the skilful way in which he handled the
reins and cracked his whip.

"There will be no one to pry on us at Contraband. There'll be no
society there, Lola, only the society of my men. You will find them
rough, but they're all good native-born Australians, and no foreigners,
consequently you'll have nothing to fear from them."

"I'm not courting society at present, mate, I shall be quite interested
in the doings of yourself and your men. I shall have a lot to learn and
a lot to do to make all recognise that Contraband is home. But what
about Granny Hutton?"

"Oh, she does her best; but she is 80, you know, and can only order,
but she sees that her orders are obeyed. That woman is a well preserved
marvel, but she is obsessed by a fear of the police. She hates them.
There is an interesting story behind her 80 years, but she will never
speak of her past. You may get her to do so some day, but she shuts up
like a trap when questioned. She trusts no one."

"How interesting. Where did you pick her up?"

"I picked her up, beloved--pal, at Eidsvold. Her husband--or the man
she was living with, George Steele Hutton, a bullock driver, was
gored to death by one of his working bullocks. I wanted a woman whom
I could trust to hold her tongue, to look after the domestic side of
Contraband, and she was recommended to me. She has been a faithful
housekeeper, but her fear of the police was her best credential."

And so, this is how Lola-Sue came to Contraband.

She found the homestead nestling in a pocket in the ranges, redolent
with the sweet scent of trees and flowers. Scrubs of dogwood covered
the sides of the hills and a creek tumbling down from the gorge above,
purled through the long valley to join the Barcoo. The song of birds
and the bellowing of cattle were to her like the call of the wild. They
brought her back to those happy days she had lived with the Coonans at
Samford. "The creek is named Silver Sand," Humphrey Pryor enlightened
her, "and here among the ranges, there is always grass even in drought
time."

"And Contraband, did you name it that?" she asked.

"Yes, when I bought the place it was called Wallaroo, but I renamed it
Contraband, as being more appropriate. Most of the cattle running are
Contraband, you know, pal."

"Oh, I see," Lola-Sue replied smiling, showing her small even teeth.
"You're a bit of a humorist, aren't you?"

After these few brief explanations, Humphrey Pryor informed her "that
this was her kingdom over which she was to reign as queen, and my men
and the blacks about the place, and even Granny Hutton will give you
their allegiance."

In the evening when the men had drifted in, she was introduced to them
as the new mistress of Contraband. There were six of them and each was
named in turn, Jack Crane, Tom Jones, Steve Meehan, Ted Meenin, Bill
Shuttlewood, and George Pottinger. They were typical bushmen all, and
Lola-Sue preserved them from oblivion by taking a group photograph of
them.

"Men," she said with her bewitching smile, that no man could withstand,
and she won them with her smile,---"Mr. Pryor has engaged me to look
after his and your welfare. I hope I shall succeed. I hope we shall be
mates. Mr. Pryor has spoken well of you to me and said that you are all
dinkum Australians, whom I can safely trust. Whatever I can do for your
comfort and well being, I will do. Let it go at that."

This simple but direct appeal was to their liking, and they cheered
her. It bucked them up to have a young and beautiful woman ministering
to their wants and they appreciated her genuine friendliness towards
them. She made herself one of them, sharing with them their dangers
and inuring herself to their rough life and their casual bush ways.
She became their darling and there was not a man among them but
would guard her with his life. Clad in khaki riding breeches and a
khaki blouse astride her black horse, Battle, she helped them in the
mustering when they rounded up a mob of fats to truck from Charleville;
or in their leisure moments she pitted her skill with her Winchester
against their Carbines. In this way she became a skilful markswoman
and kangaroo shooter, and the men were proud of her. They called her
"Little Wonder." At the annual muster when the whole of the stock on
the immense run were rounded up and counted for the Government stock
return, she took her place, camping out with them and sharing with them
all the hardships of the undertaking. To them she was a marvel and she
loved them all for their mateship.

But Humphrey Pryor kept a close watch over her lest she meet with some
accident. He would never let her ride the run unless he was with her.
Though he was in the throes of love's desire, he kept strictly to his
"gentleman's agreement" until the time should come when she would
declare herself, and he felt that that time would come some day. Though
how it would come he could not say. In the meantime he was content to
wait. That she was with him always was enough for the present. The
future was on the knees of the gods. As for the present, well, she
loved the life that she was leading. She looked upon it as a great
adventure; but what pleased him most was the way in which she mothered
him. If any slight accident happened to him, she was most solicitous.
Unless she cared for him, she would not show such tender concern.

Matters were going very well and he would not spoil her present
happiness by again pressing her to marry him. She had her own ideas,
learnt in the bitter school of experience, and he would respect them.
All that he could do and would continue to do was to respect her and to
make her more and more dependent upon him for her happiness. She was a
child of nature, bubbling over with health and life and interest in all
that was his. But she could be calmly dignified and terribly in earnest
when the occasion warranted. This was of greater protection to her at
any attempt at familiarity than the revolver which she always carried
in its holster at her hip.

Humphrey Pryor had some misgivings as to how Lola-Sue would be received
by old Granny Hutton, who professed to be very religious.

"Granny," he said, when introducing her. "This is Lola Conway, but we
all call her Lola-Sue. The story of her life is probably as interesting
as yours. Perhaps, if you are nice to her, she may tell it to you some
day. However, I have brought her here to help you run Contraband."

"Indeed, sir. It is about time you brought someone to sanctify this den
of iniquity. I'm too old to influence you, sir, or your men. But she's
a bonny lass, and I hope you mean well by her Humphrey Pryor."

Notwithstanding her eighty years, Granny Hutton's eyesight was
remarkably clear and penetrating, and she was electrified by the close
resemblance that Lola-Sue bore to her own daughter, whose tragic
disappearance Lola-Sue was to learn late.

"Granny, I am more than pleased to meet you," said Lola-Sue, holding
out her hand and capturing the heart of the old matriarch by her
winsome smile, "From now on, you're to live a life of undisturbed ease.
Look upon me as your daughter."

"Not my daughter, my child, rather my grand-daughter. I had a daughter
once. God bless her, and you remind me of her--the same bonny smile,
the same blue eyes and the same love for the free and open life of the
bush. God bless you and keep you in His keeping."

Later Lola-Sue remarked to Humphrey Pryor.

"What a splendid woman Granny Hutton must have been in her youth. Is
she native born?"

"I think not, but her life I believe, has been lived in Australia. From
words that she has let drop, she's a relic of the old bushranging days.
She was a young woman in the sixties and lived a great part of her life
on the old gold diggings in Victoria and New South Wales. The men here
think a great deal of her."

The months went by, and the autumn of Lola-Sue's arrival gave place
to winter, and winter to the early warmth of spring. It was mating
time, and the surges of man's desire ran like liquid fire through
Humphrey Pryor's veins. Lola-Sue had awakened in him a passion that was
unquenchable, a consuming fire that could only be extinguished by the
absolute possession of her. All round him he saw the rejuvenation of
nature by the satisfying of desire. The trees wooed the sap from their
roots, the instinctive forces of nature were at work, everywhere for
the earth's replenishment. Birds called to birds, and the lowing of
cattle and the whinnying of horses were as mate calling unto mate to
reproduce their kind. The manhood in him called out to the womanhood
of Lola-Sue. It was nature's law, and therefore, God's law. He was no
anchorite but a dominant male crying out instinctively for a no less
dominant female.

The questing after cattle had lost its force and he became restless and
perturbed. Lola-Sue noticed his moodiness and his disinclination to
leave the homestead when she remained at the head station. He could not
bear to let her out of his sight. If she divined his purpose, she gave
him no encouragement. The time for her was not yet ripe. Having given
herself once to a man with disastrous results, she was not in a hurry
to repeat the experience. She felt that she must not only be sure of
herself, but sure of the man who desired to possess her. She would not
yield her body until she felt that she could yield her soul, until she
felt that she could go to him and say with certitude: "Here I am. Take
me. I am yours, body and soul."

Humphrey Pryor had resolved to honour his "gentleman's agreement,"
but the strain upon him was becoming too great. He felt that he must
get away from the present environment or he would not answer for
himself. Though Lola-Sue appealed to his senses more than any woman
had hitherto appealed to him, he would commit any act rather than
force himself upon her. In view of her past suffering, it would be
sacrilege to force himself upon her. If he broke faith with her, he
would deserve to be damned for all time. He couldn't get away with it
without retribution in some shape or form overtaking him. He wondered
why something terrible had not happened to Billy Stinson for casting
aside and trampling upon the love and affections of such a splendid
girl. But he, was he fair to her in asking her to live this lonely,
unconventional life at Contraband? His conscience began to lash him.
She was fitted to grace any society, and he had brought her to these
uncouth surroundings, she who was a beautiful flower, some gorgeous
desert pea, making heavenly the drabness of this austere and lonely
desert of his life. He must end all this. He must give her a taste of
real life, a peep of the world of unbounded pleasure. "Lola, beloved
pal," he said to her one evening, when he had finally made up his mind,
as they sat together on the wide veranda of the station bungalow in the
cool of the evening, he smoking and she drinking in the beauty of the
star-studded cup of the sky, content to be with her self-chosen mate,
"I'm taking some blood yearlings to Brisbane to sell and would like you
to come with me for a good holiday. What say?"

"I'm quite content to remain here with you, mate mine; but if you must
go, I should be happier to be with you, though I've no very great
desire to live the gay life."

"Perhaps not, heart's desire, but I want to exhibit you. I'm proud of
you and want to make men envy me the possession of you."

"Yes, but you know, my mate, what an uncharitable old world it is.
It will name me your mistress. That I am no such thing will not be
believed for a moment. It's not the men I'm thinking of, but the women.
Is it fair to you to have yourself talked about?"

"Oh, damn! I've no reputation to lose. What little I may have had has
vanished long ago. I'm regarded as little less than a bushranger. What
I am or what I do is really of no moment to any one. Is it to you?"

"No, Humphrey," replied Lola-Sue seriously. "I've already vowed:
Whither thou goest I will go. Your ways will be my ways."

"Then that settles it, and I'm glad. We'll leave here as soon as
everything is ready. We'll have a holiday together in Brisbane, and
return in time for the Longreach carnival."

"But Granny Hutton has become so dependent upon me, Humphrey, I shall
hate to leave her. Though the gins can do all the heavy work, she must
have some reliable white woman to stand by her."

"Then I'll ride over to Tambo and wire Wright's Agency at Charleville
to send me a reliable woman at once. I can trust old Dan Wright." So
everything was arranged for carrying on Contraband temporarily during
their absence. The men who were spoken of as the Pryor gang, were left
in charge of Jack Crane; but as they were all old retainers of Humphrey
Pryor's, and well treated by him, no trouble was feared from them
during the absence of their chief. No adventure was ever entered upon
unless Pryor was there to lead it himself, consequently he knew there
would be no raiding whilst he was away.

When the woman arrived from Wright's Agency, they left for Charleville
to catch the western mail for Brisbane, but before leaving Contraband,
Lola-Sue handed over Battle to Boompa, with strict instructions to look
well after him. In bidding Granny Hutton good-bye, she took her two
hands in hers--hands like withered autumn leaves--and said: "I'll come
back again, Granny, never fear."

"I'll be very lonesome without you, dearie," said the poor old soul
of 80, kissing Lola-Sue, "but, I've been left alone before, so often,
I shall not mind so long as we have no visit from the police. When
they're about trouble is not far away."

"The police have nothing on you, Granny, never fear," replied Lola-Sue,
encouragingly, "Good-bye."

All hands had assembled to wave them good-bye as if they were off on
their honeymoon. Boompa and Minns knelt down at the outer rails.

"What you two doing?" asked Humphrey Pryor.

"Wese preyin' boss for Missie Lolum to come back to Coonaband."

Tears came to Lola-Sue's eyes at this incident of love and faithfulness.

"I'll come back all right and bring you plenty fellow presents you two.
So long."

The four fast ponies drawing the station buckboard went away at the
word of command with a rattling trot. Bill Shuttlewood went with them
as far as Charleville to bring the turnout back.

When Humphrey Pryor and Lola-Sue arrived at Brisbane, they put up at
the Australian, where Humphrey Pryor was well known.

"Now, mate mine, the first thing I want you to do is to go to Walker's
and order whatever gowns or frocks you want. Never mind the expense,
I'll see to that. And don't forget evening frocks and wraps. When we
go back to Longreach for the carnival, I want to dazzle the western
merinos and their women folk with your charm and beauty."

It was a novel experience and a fascinating one for Lola-Sue to be in a
position to order what she wanted and considered appropriate regardless
of expense; and in Mrs. Walker's capable hands, allied with her own
good taste and natural aptitude, the costumes that were designed were
to work a transformation. Then she went to a beauty specialist, and had
her hair dressed and her face made perfect by the magic touch of an
artist which made a surprising difference in her appearance. When she
returned to the hotel for lunch, Humphrey Pryor, who had been to Story
and Ramsays to arrange for the stalling of his thoroughbreds when they
arrived, was startled by the difference in her appearance.

"Beloved," he whispered, in ecstasy, "you were beautiful before, but
you are now positively ravishing. What will you look like when your
frocks are ready?"

In the afternoon they went out together, she superlatively neat and
sweet, and he in a suit of grey, well made and fitting him perfectly.
She liked the misshapen soft felt hat that he wore and the careless
ease with which he, all deference, walked beside her. He was just
as much at home in the city as in the bush, and she appreciated his
cosmopolitanism. There was nothing bushy about him, and this pleased
her. "This is our day of shopping, matey," he said pausing before
Hardys, "and I want you to come in and choose for yourself a few little
gifts to cement our mateship."

Almost reluctantly she went into the shop with him for she was afraid
of his liberality. If he loaded her with jewels, it would seem as if
he were buying her. She loathed an over display of jewellery. It would
make her look like his mistress rather than his pal, and that would be
intolerable. But she misjudged his good taste and miscalculated his
sense of the fitness of things.

"You do the choosing, Humphrey, but please permit me to have the final
decision," she pleaded.

"Then for that lovely neck of yours, what about a string of pearls?"

"I should like that. In this your taste coincides with mine."

"Then what about one of these diamond rings?"

"No, please, Humphrey, not diamonds--not yet."

"Very well. Just as you wish. But you must have a ring to bind our
mateship. Do your own choosing."

"Well, then," she said, entering into the earnestness of his mood. "I
choose this ring with the beautiful black opal."

"But are you not suspicious? Opals are reputed to be unlucky."

"Not black opals from Lightning Ridge. Am I not right?" she asked the
attendant.

"Quite right, miss, all our best black opals come from Lightning Ridge."

"Now, nothing more, Humphrey, please."

"Let me show you this necklace, sir," said the attendant, noticing
Lola-Sue's violet blue eyes. He took out of a showcase a magnificent
necklace of lapis lazuli alternately strung with small cut and polished
crystals.

"Just the thing to match your eyes, Lola. You must have that."

So that was settled.

When they had left the shop, Lola-Sue said, placing her hand on her
mate's arm:

"You are really too good to me, Humphrey. You have made life seem so
different, so brilliant, so full of sunshine to me. How can I ever
repay you?"

"In pleasing you, dear, I am more than repaid," was his answer.

Their holiday in the city lasted three weeks. To Lola-Sue it was three
weeks of supreme happiness. Races, theatres, motor tours, it was for
her all one whirl of pleasure. She had never spent such a pleasant time.

She was introduced to many of Humphrey Pryor's acquaintances, men
of standing, who invited them to their homes. Her unconventional
relationship with her friend was never questioned. They knew he was
an eligible bachelor, wealthy, and a keen sportsman. His western
reputation was not dominant in the city. There he was appraised at
his proper worth, and his manly independence gained for him a host of
friends. Whom he saw thought fit to honour by his friendship was his
concern and Lola-Sue was accepted as his cherished, if not fortunate,
fiancée and he did not disabuse their minds on that point. He was proud
to see her so well received by the women folk, and their taking it for
granted that she was engaged to him, made the circumstance of their
holiday in the city all the more pleasurable.

Though the time flew on rapid wings, Lola-Sue was not altogether sorry
when the day arrived for their return to Contraband. The yearlings
auctioned at Story and Ramsay's brought excellent prices on account of
their classic breeding, and Humphrey Pryor determined to make his mate
one more present before he left Brisbane for the West. He purchased for
her a six cylinder British touring car which he had insisted on her
learning to drive before he had it railed to Longreach.

There was another gift which he had purchased unknown to Lola-Sue
and which he held in reserve. It was an exquisite diamond engagement
ring. That he had anticipations, signified his prophetic soul. Before
returning to Contraband, Humphrey Pryor determined to see the Longreach
carnival through. Now that Lola-Sue was well stocked with fine clothes,
and all the exquisitely beautiful feminine things which gladden a
woman's heart, he wanted to show her off to the aristocrats of the
west. In his opinion (it may be that he was prejudiced) she would be
incomparable. If the pure merinos of the outback wanted to stage a
beauty competition with their wives and daughters as exhibits he would
nominate Lola-Sue and give her his backing. It was this pride of him in
her that urged her to have her photo taken before leaving Brisbane, and
he was more than gratified by the result. The glory of her hair, her
wide apart eyes, her well-shaped nose, her sweet mouth, her determined
rounded chin, her full neck, curving gracefully from her shoulders, and
her superb bust, all were faithfully reproduced from the original. It
was a picture that pleased him and he was proud to have the original
under the aegis of his protection. She was his beautiful outlaw.




CHAPTER XIV.--THE RIVAL.

Longreach, the capital centre of a great squatting district, was en
fete. Within a circle whose radii reached out to Townsville in the
north, Rockhampton in the east, Charleville in the south, and Boulia
in the west, some of Queensland's wealthiest wool kings had their
stations, and few of them cared to miss the annual carnival. Their
wives and daughters, resplendent in jewels and costly apparel of the
latest vogue, vied with one another in the elegance of their attire.
Though the appointments of the racecourse and show grounds were not
those of a Flemington, a Randwick, or an Ascot, the beauty and fashion
of western femininity at the gay carnival would not have disgraced a
meeting at any of the capital cities.

On the third day of the carnival, the great race meeting of the
Longreach Jockey Club was held. The attendance was a record one, and it
was estimated that as many motor cars were parked within the vicinity
of the course as were parked at Brisbane's Ascot on a holiday race day.
Owing to the comparatively flat surface of the western downs and the
long distance to be travelled, motor cars enter largely into the life
of the people of the west, and there was more than one Rolls Royce
among the number parked at this annual carnival.

If the women vied with one another in the richness of their apparel,
men, rich with the wealth of a record wool clip, vied with one another
in the lavishness of their hospitality. Champagne was the fashionable
drink, and its sparkle was only equalled by the flashing light in
women's eyes and the twinkling of western stars.

The day was perfect, rich with the richness of summer, but cooled
by the breezes of spring, and there was every prospect of a most
successful meeting.

"Lola, dear, you must look your best to-day," remarked Humphrey Pryor
to his beloved mate at breakfast on the morning of the meeting.

"The Stinsons are in town and old Major Poingdestre. You're bound to
meet them, if not on the course, at the race ball to-night."

"I'm not afraid, my pal. I shall do you justice, I hope."

"I am sure you will. But there's another matter I haven't mentioned.
Unknown to you, I've entered my mare Minerva in your name for the
Ladies' Bracelet."

"My name, Humphrey! Which one?" Lola-Sue said, surprised, but laughing.

"Not the one that was lent to you for a time and then taken away. To
me, until you see fit to change it again, you are Lola Conway, my
unconventional mate."

"And who's riding her?"

"I am. It's a condition of the race that horses entered for the
Bracelet must be ridden by amateur riders approved by the committee."

"But will you not be too heavy?"

"No; I can ride 11.7 and that's Minerva's weight."

"Can she carry it? What's the distance?"

"A mile, and she can do it."

"But have you had her in training?"

"Yes. I've had her in training at Rockhampton. Though she has never won
a race, she's made some wonderful gallops, so my trainer tells me. I
rode her myself yesterday morning and she's in splendid nick."

"What's the field against her?"

"Ten, unless some are scratched. Look, here's a race book. Read for
yourself the names of the horses and the ladies entering them."

Taking the book, Lola-Sue, who was very interested, scanned the page.
Then she gave a sudden start.

"Why, look here, Humphrey. You didn't tell me. Here's a horse, 'The
Galah,' entered in the name of Mrs. W. B. Stinson. That must be Billy
Stinson's horse."

"Yes, looks like it, doesn't it?" answered Humphrey Pryor dryly.

"Did you know?"

"No, not until I arrived here. It's going to be interesting."

"Who's riding The Galah, I wonder?"

"I don't know, but I think Stinson will ride him himself. He can ride,
you know."

"Oh, I know he can. And look! The Galah is carrying the same weight as
Minerva." After a meditative pause Lola-Sue continued, "But I don't
think Billy can ride 11.7."

"I think he can, since he's come west he's reduced his weight
considerably. We're about the same build, you know."

"Oh, Humphrey, I should hate him to beat you. To me it would be a
humiliation."

"You won't be humiliated if horsemanship can help it. For your sake, my
pal, I'll ride the race of my life."

"I think I shall be too excited to watch the race. If you are beaten,
Billy's wife, the Stinsons, will arise triumphant. Oh, Humphrey, I
don't think you should risk it."

"I'd risk more than that for you, dear. If I thought I had no chance, I
would scratch 'Minerva.' I know the other horses pretty well, but 'The
Galah' I do not know. Anyhow he'll have to be pretty good to beat my
mare."

"Don't think I haven't faith in you, Humphrey, I have. If it will help
you to win, you have it in armsful, my mate."

"Then your faith, my beloved, will be my whip and spur. It will give
the mare stamina and me courage. I'm not riding stiff, cheer up."
When Billy Stinson learnt, as he soon did learn, when he was handed
a race book, that the top weight in the Ladies' Bracelet was a brown
mare named "Minerva" and that she was entered in the name of Miss Lola
Conway he was so surprised that he stopped dead as if shot through the
heart.

"What the devil does it mean?" he asked himself. He was walking from
the Club to the hotel where he and his wife and his father and mother
and Major Poingdestre had taken rooms. "Must be some mistake, or
someone with the same name, surely," he thought. In perplexity he
accosted one of the committee.

"I say, Kershaw, who's this Miss Lola Conway who has entered 'Minerva'
for the Bracelet?"

"I've never met her, Stinson; but the mare is owned by Humphrey Pryor,
and I believe he's riding her. Why do you ask?"

"I knew a girl of that name once, and I was just wondering whether it
could be the same. However, it doesn't matter, I'll soon find out," and
Billy Stinson walked on to his hotel. Arriving there, he found his wife
with a puzzled expression on her face and his mother with a still more
puzzled look. They had been discussing the Bracelet.

"I'm sure that was the maiden name of Billy's first wife. He called her
Lolo-something. I can't just remember, but it was like the name of a
Chinaman."

"Wasn't it Lola-Sue, mother?" asked her daughter-in-law, Muriel Stinson.

"Yes, that was it, Lola-Sue Conway."

"But, mother, it can't be possible that she's the same. How
ridiculous!" exclaimed Mrs. Billy Stinson, trying to make herself
believe it was ridiculous.

"It certainly does seem preposterous, my dear, but we'll soon find out."

At this juncture Billy Stinson strolled into the lounge, and his mother
called to him.

"Come here, Wilfred, I want you. Who is this Lola Conway who is entered
in the Bracelet as the owner of Minerva?"

"I don't know, mother; I haven't seen her."

"But who is the real owner of Minerva?"

"Humphrey Pryor."

"Humphrey Pryor!" almost shouted Muriel Stinson. "Where on earth did he
pick her up?"

"Ask me something easy, Muriel. Blowed if I know. But we're not sure
she is identical with Lola-Sue."

"Who is riding the mare?" asked his wife almost fiercely.

"I'm told Humphrey Pryor is," answered her husband.

"Then you are riding for me, and Humphrey Pryor for Lola Conway?" she
volunteered incredulously.

"It looks like it," was the laconic reply of Billy Stinson.

"The mystery thickens, mother. What are we going to do about it?"
questioned Muriel Stinson.

"Do about it!" answered Mrs. Seymour Stinson. "What can we do about it?
It's an outrage! An impertinence! Is she his mistress or what?"

"Stop, mother! You mustn't talk like that. You mustn't jump to
conclusions. In any case, we're not sure yet that she is--is Lola-Sue,"
said Billy Stinson indignantly. Then he continued, to change the
subject, "If you want to be in time for the first race, you'd better
get a move on. I must be off."

Seymour Stinson and Major Poingdestre with two other squatters, Mr.
Ashton and Mr. Nagel, came into the lounge and joined Mrs. Stinson
and her daughter-in-law. They were all known to one another and
conversation became general.

"We've just come from the club," remarked Mr. Ashton, "and we found
Mrs. Stinson, that your son's horse, The Galah, is favourite. Nagel
here put £100 on him at five to one. What do you think of his chances,
Mrs. Muriel?" he asked, turning to Muriel Stinson.

"Well, with my husband riding him, what should I think? He'll win, of
course."

"Good girl! That's the way to talk," interpolated Mr. Dick Nagel from
the Cunnamulla district.

"Well, we'll see you on the course. Good-bye for the present," said Mr.
Tom Ashton from Windorah, as he and Dick Nagel raised their hats and
took their departure.

When the Stinsons and Major Poingdestre arrived in their car at the
parking area, and were leaving for the saddling paddock, they passed
Humphrey Pryor who had just handed Lola-Sue out of her Vauxhall. He was
immaculately dressed for the occasion, and Lola-Sue looked her very
best. This was his moment of triumph. The Stinsons couldn't very well,
without being absolutely rude, ignore him altogether, so they bowed in
recognition. Raising his hat, Humphrey Pryor stopped them.

"Permit me to introduce to you my protégée, Miss Lola Conway," and he
named each in turn. Mrs. Stinson senr. bowed frigidly; Mrs. Stinson,
jun., bit her lip and bowed haughtily. Seymour Stinson and Major
Poingdestre looked on puzzled. Lola-Sue smiled charmingly and bowed
graciously. In the supreme consciousness of being well gowned, this was
her moment of triumph. No one spoke for the space of a moment. Then
Mrs. Stinson, sen. said icily, "You are--er--a stranger to the west,
are you not--Miss--er--Conway?"

"Not exactly, Mrs. Stinson. I've lived in the Charleville district for
some time."

"Yes, that's where I met her and we chummed," interjected Humphrey
Pryor with grim satisfaction.

"Oh you chummed, did you?" remarked Mrs. Stinson, jun., "Is that what
you call it?"

"Well, at the time we met, Miss Conway was sorely in need of
protection, and I gave her what protection I could--the protection of
Contraband."

"Indeed, and I'm very grateful to Mr. Pryor for it," said Lola-Sue,
backing him up. "To me he's been the kindest, the most generous, and
the most loyal friend in the world. I can I never repay him for his
goodness."

"Then I'm glad Mr. Pryor has made the amende honorable where women
are concerned."

This remark made Lola-Sue furious, but old Major Poingdestre, who was
keenly watching the situation, and was apprehensive of a scene, said
gallantly, "No man, not even Mr. Pryor, with his reputation, could act
dishonourably towards such a charming young lady. I congratulate Mr.
Pryor on his most admirable taste."

"Thank you, Major. That's very nice of you. Miss Conway has confided
to me the story of her life, and I now want to succeed with her where
others have failed. I'd be more than a brute to betray her trust and
confidence." Major Poingdestre, if he dared, would have chuckled.
He, too, knew the story of Lola-Sue's life, and a great deal of his
sympathy went out to her.

He thought to himself:

"I wonder would Pryor have said that if Billy Stinson had been present.
Anyhow, it was a smashing reply to the old girl."

In her heart Muriel Stinson felt that the remarks of Humphrey Pryor
were in a sense justified, and she felt humiliated; but all the same,
she considered it bad taste on his part to give expression to such
thoughts when he knew that she was Billy Stinson's wife. Making the
best of the situation, she turned to Lola-Sue and said:

"I congratulate you with all my heart, Miss Conway, in finding such a
staunch and honourable friend (she emphasised honourable). Mr. Pryor
can be a firm friend. He can also be a deadly enemy. You don't know him
like we people in the west do."

"Mrs. Stinson. I know him well enough to trust myself with him,"
replied Lola-Sue, bowing. "Good-bye. Perhaps we shall meet again." She
took Humphrey Pryor's arm with all the sense of possession, and walked
away as the men raised their hats. Involuntarily, they paid a tribute
to her freshness and beauty. Major Poingdestre felt that Lola-Sue was
pure, and it must be confessed he had a genuine feeling of satisfaction
that Humphrey Pryor had made himself her protector and champion. It
was quite otherwise, however, with Mrs. Seymour Stinson. She measured
the standards of others by her own meticulous code of morals, and the
sniff with which she expressed her disapproval of Humphrey Pryor's
relationship with her son's divorced wife was eloquent disapproval of a
conduct that did not satisfy her pecksniffian code. Her husband was of
the same opinion. He had never had much time for Humphrey Pryor, and he
had less for his son's first wife. He had disapproved of her entirely,
and her present relations with Pryor meant only one thing. She was his
mistress, and his daughter-in-law, although she did not say so, had
come to the same conclusion.

"So she's living at Contraband with him. Well, all I can say is, she
seems perfectly satisfied with herself," remarked Muriel Stinson,
with a suspicion of jealousy in her tone of speech. It was not too
flattering to her that Humphrey Pryor, for whom she once had a genuine
affection, had so soon forgotten her. But the most amazing thing was
that he should have come across Lola-Sue--her husband's first wife--and
have become so infatuated with her. With her womanly instinct, she
divined that Humphrey Pryor's attitude towards Lola-Sue was that of a
lover. What Lola-Sue's attitude towards Humphrey Pryor was, well, her
thoughts in that direction were expressed by her mother-in-law when she
said:--

"That girl's an adventuress if there ever was one. You can't make me
believe, my dear, that her friendship with Humphrey Pryor is purely
platonic. She snared Wilfred and now she has snared him."

"If he marries her, then I'll believe his story of honourable
protection," vouchsafed Muriel Stinson, as they walked towards the
grandstand.

"Stuff and nonsense, Muriel. Men like Humphrey Pryor do not marry the
girls that they pick up by the wayside. Notwithstanding his reputation,
he with the glamour of romance around him, and with his wealth, could
pick and choose from among the fairest girls of the west. What do you
say, Major?"

Major Poingdestre, who was walking on the right of Mrs. Seymour
Stinson, was not paying much heed to the catty conversation of her and
his daughter, but when appealed to so directly, said, bluntly:--

"Gad, I'm not so sure. Muriel turned him down, anyway. Though he may be
a sinner in some respects, he may be a saint in others, you know."

"Muriel turned him down when a better man appealed to her, Major,"
interposed Seymour Stinson. "Isn't that so, Muriel?"

"Oh, of course, Mr. Stinson," answered Muriel Stinson, laughing. "I was
always a bit afraid of Humphrey Pryor. He's too much of an outlaw for
my liking."

By this time the crowd on the racecourse and the grandstand had become
too dense for further conversation of a private nature, and interest
centred on the different races. The Longreach Jockey Club had catered
well for its patrons, and a splendid list of racing events had been
provided. The Longreach Grassfed Racing Club and the Longreach Amateur
Grassfed Racing Club had combined with the Jockey Club to make this
year's carnival a tremendous success, because it was the first occasion
in the history of the township, that the Governor and his suite had
honoured it with their presence. But the race that interested the
ladies most was that for the Ladies' Bracelet. All the riders in
that event were well known amateurs, the minimum weight being ten
stone. When the saddling bell rang, the excitement among the ladies
became intense, and when the horses with their riders, each in their
registered colours, were paraded before the grandstand, speculation was
rife as to which horse would win.

As there were no scratchings a full field of ten did their preliminary
canters and faced the barrier.

Considerable amusement was caused by the several riders riding jockey
fashion, a style which they were not used to. But as all the riders
were superb horsemen, who were as much at home in the saddle as on
foot, the ladies knew that the race would be well ridden, but to two of
the ladies present and to two of the riders, the race meant something
more than a mere event. Lola-Sue and Muriel Stinson looked upon it
from the point of view of rivals, and Billy Stinson on The Galah and
Humphrey Pryor on Minerva, both gentlemen riders of repute, were
surcharged with a feeling or jealous hatred. Whoever lost would regard
it as a humiliation, whoever won a triumph over a despised rival. Owing
to the want of practice at the barrier, there was considerable delay
in the riders lining their mounts up, and Lola-Sue, who watched the
race from a front seat on the grandstand with a few of Humphrey Pryor's
more intimate friends to whom she had been introduced, and who were
not acquainted with their relationship, was nervously excited. If she
were asked then if she loved Humphrey Pryor, she would have answered
"Yes." In a daze and almost reeling, she heard the shout "They're off!"
Then she controlled her agitation and watched the squadron of horses
sweeping on. They flashed past her and were gone. As she watched, tense
and thrilled, she seemed to hear a far away murmur punctured with a
running staccato of hoof strokes. Then she heard over all the shouts
of the ring, the bookmakers' roar: "Three to one, Minerva!" "Four to
one, The Galah!" This was when Minerva was leading the field by a head
at the half-mile, with The Galah running at her girth.

The murmur of the crowd swelled to a roar, when a horse on the outside,
"Silver Chimes," ridden by Geoffrey Ware of Moonjarrie, crept up foot
by foot and passed both Minerva and The Galah. A length in front he
thundered along, but Lola-Sue, who knew how to ride and whose eyes were
glued on Humphrey Pryor, noticed that he had Minerva well in hand.
The mare was running strong, and the reins were taut. It seemed as if
Humphrey Pryor had difficulty in curbing her pace.

"Damn it, Pryor's pulling Minerva's head off. Why the hell doesn't he
let her out?" shouted a backer of Minerva standing next to Lola-Sue.

In her excitement Lola-Sue forgot herself and hit back. She turned half
round and said: "Who's riding Minerva, you or Mr. Pryor?"

"Sorry, miss, but she's carrying my money."

"She's carrying more than my money; she's carrying my heart's desire."

And the man beside her wondered.

"Even money Silver Chimes! Even money Silver Chimes!" was shouted
by a raucous bookmaker. Lola-Sue went pale, but she never for one
moment lost faith in her judgment of Humphrey Pryor. At the start of
the race she saw that he kept well in the background; but after the
first furlong he began to forge ahead. Billy Stinson was then leading
him, Geoffrey Ware on Silver Chimes was half a length behind Minerva,
and other good riders and fine horses were close up, all racing to
win. Every rider had a fair favourite whose wrist was waiting for the
bracelet and for the look and hand pressure that went with it.

As the horses entered the straight, Lola-Sue heard behind her an
excited voice shouting "Ride, Billy! Ride for your life!"

Looking behind her for one instant, and flashing a look, she saw that
the voice was Muriel Stinson's. Turning to the field, all her soul
within her burning, all her being aflame with rivalry, she saw that
Silver Chimes was still leading. The Galah a length away behind, and
Minerva going strong on the rails, right in front of The Galah.

"If they cut him off, Pryor's cake's dough!" yelled the man who had his
money on Minerva.

"Oh, shut up for God's sake!" flashed Lola-Sue in the tenseness of her
feelings.

Then the judgment of Humphrey Pryor manifested itself. It seemed as if
he had heard the warning shout and saw what would happen if he did not
let Minerva have her lean game head. Still on the rails, with his horse
a head clear, he leaned forward, slackened the reins slightly, and let
the mare have her head. The effect was instantaneous. Minerva shot
along the rails, passed The Galah, and was soon running neck and neck
with Silver Chimes.

"Minerva! Minerva."

"Silver Chimes! Silver Chimes!"

The excitement was intense. The crowd shouted itself hoarse.

But Billy Stinson was not beaten yet. With whip and spur he urged The
Galah on till his girth was at the shoulder of Silver Chimes.

"The Galah! The Galah!"

"Ride Billy! Ride!"

It was magnificent horsemanship. Neck and neck! Head and head! Hoofs
beating lightning strokes on the sandy course. The Galah and Silver
Chimes raced, stride for stride, barely half a length behind Minerva.
The pace was terrific, the yells frantic. White faces of women stared.
Parched tongues attempted to lick dry lips. Nails cut into soft palms.
Eyes ached with the tenseness of the staring.

Twenty yards from the winning post it was anybody's race. A dozen yards
from it, Humphrey Pryor with hands down, in a final urge, shot to the
front. Silver Chimes and The Galah were a dead heat for second place.

There was a wonderful glory on the face of Lola-Sue as she hurriedly
left the stand and hastened to the lawn where his Excellency, Lord
Leamington, with the chairman of the Jockey Club, was waiting to
congratulate the rider of Minerva. As Humphrey Pryor dismounted from
the reeking mare, her brown chest dappled with flakes of white foam,
Lola-Sue ran forward and with the impetuousness of her impulsive
nature, threw her arms around Humphrey Pryor's neck and unabashed
before thousands kissed him in the presence of the cheering crowd.

His Excellency, smiling as he shook hands with Humphrey Pryor, said
"Faith, Mr. Pryor, the Bracelet was worth winning for that kiss alone.
I congratulate you."

Humphrey Pryor, sweat stained, dirty and with blood-shot eyes, replied:
"Thank you, your Excellency. It is an unexpected reward for a hard
race. Permit me to introduce to your Excellency, Miss Conway, in whose
name I entered my mare."

"I've met many charming girls in Queensland, Miss Conway, since my
arrival here, may I add you to the list?" said his Excellency, shaking
her hand. "And if you're at the ball to-night," he continued, "may
I claim the privileges of the first dance with the wearer of the
bracelet?"

Lola-Sue, smiling, looked appealingly to Humphrey Pryor. His Excellency
noticed the look. "Er--that is--of course, if Mr. Pryor permits," said
his Excellency, laughing.

"Your wish is a command, your Excellency. Miss Conway will, I am sure,
regard it as such."

"You do me too much honour, your Excellency. I had thought that Mr.
Pryor would have claimed that privilege, but as he waives it, then, so
be it," said Lola-Sue flushing with pleasure.

The Governor, Humphrey Pryor and Lola-Sue were the cynosure of all
eyes, and when Billy Stinson saw her for the first time since she
had come west, he was startled to find her more beautiful than ever.
Whether it was her clothes, or the way in which she wore them, or her
elation over Humphrey Pryor's win, he could not say, but his glance of
appreciation was unmistakable. It revolted him, however, to see her so
friendly with a man of Humphrey Pryor's reputation, and instinctively
he resented it. He wondered what the feeling was between them. Though
he had divorced Lola-Sue in the firm belief that she would never again
be a wife to him, he marvelled at the trick fate had played him, and at
the million to one chance that had thrown her in the way of Humphrey
Pryor. Their close relationship, the apparent fondness of her for him
was gall and wormwood, not only to him but to his wife as well, for
Muriel Stinson was not happy at the appearance of Lola-Sue in this
drama of the west. She almost hated her husband for being the unwitting
cause of her humiliation, for, indeed, she felt deeply humiliated. That
her husband's divorced wife should now turn up and parade her beauty
and her apparent fondness for a man who had been her lover, before her
was intolerable. If she hadn't looked such a little aristocrat, she
would not have minded so much. And now the triumph of Humphrey Pryor in
winning the Bracelet in a race in which her husband was a competitor,
and his evident fondness for Lola-Sue, was an additional insult to her
outraged feelings, and she resented exceedingly the turn of events,
so galling to her patrician pride. After witnessing the defeat of The
Galah, the Stinsons had had enough of the races and were about to take
their departure when their party was joined by Mrs. Coleraine O'Neill
of Kurrajong Downs.

"Now, sure, it's too bad that Billy was beaten at the post," she said
in her rich Irish brogue, "and me puttin' a tenner on his mount, bad
cess to it. But I might have known, sure, that it would take the divil
himself to beat Humphrey Pryor. Did yer ever see such wonderful riding?"

She would have gabbled on good-humouredly, but Mrs. Stinson, whose
nerves were in shreds, cut in with:

"I would rather have seen any one win than that man. He should have
been barred by the club. He's not respectable."

"Not respectable, is it? But then, yer know, Mrs. Stinson, he's got
lashing's of oof. But wirrah! Any unmarried man with tons of money is
always rispictable. And d'yez know who the bould colleen was who kissed
him? Oh, yes, I know the race book says she's Lola Conway, but let me
enlighten yez, she's the 'Ernigmur.'"

"The what, Mrs. O'Neill?" interjected Muriel Stinson, now all attention.

"The 'Ernigmur, at laeast, that's what they called her in Charleville."

"Then you know her, Mrs. O'Neill?"

"The divil a bit. But no wan could mishtake the beautiful 'Ernigmur.'"

"She owned a little place down on the Ward called 'Goatlands,' where
she lived all by herself, and owned a broth of a horse. Och! All the
girruls hated her, the proud little divil, and they do be sayin' she's
Irish, with the name of her and the eyes of her. But shure yer know the
men they all fell for her, and that's why all the girruls ticked her
off."

"Then she's not respectable, Mrs. O'Neill?" questioned Mrs. Stinson.

"Shure now, as to that, Mrs. Stinson, I've niver heard that she wasn't.
If she's Irish she is," and Mrs. O'Neill laughed, good humouredly, as
they walked towards their respective cars. "But the only thing agin her
is her takin' up the 'Yaller Streak.' Faith, where did she pick him up,
anyhow?"

"You mean, where did he pick her up, Mrs. O'Neill?" said Muriel Stinson.

"Sure; isn't it the same thing, anyhow? That's the only thing agin her
reshpectability. But yer talk as if yer don't like her, Mrs. Billy?"

"No, I do not, Mrs. O'Neill. And I may as well tell you--you'll find it
out sooner or later--she's Billy's divorced wife."

"Glory be to God, yer don't tell me?"

"I do tell you, Mrs. O'Neill. She was picked up in the street when she
was a baby by a constable named Conway, and that's how she got her
name."

"Well I niver! Begorrah, it's quite a rhomance. And now she's lobbed out
here among yez all. Well I niver!"

"You may well be surprised, Mrs. O'Neill, but it's damnable, damnable!"
exclaimed Muriel Stinson.

"Muriel, Muriel, control yourself," remonstrated her mother-in-law.

"Oh, mother, how can I? Don't you realise my position?"

"Faith an' I do. Anyway, me dear," said Mrs. O'Neill sympathetically.
"It is dahmnable and the girruls too dahmnable attractive, anyhow.
Yer son has an oye for beautiful women, Mrs. Stinson, meaning Muriel,
here, and--and--that other wan there, begorrah. How-an-iver she's Mrs.
Stinson too! Arrah now, what do yez think of that?"

At the race ball that night, the story of Lola-Sue was on everyone's
lips. Some were for, but many were against, her. The fact of her
living at Contraband with Humphrey Pryor told heavily against her. But
when she entered the ballroom, simply but beautifully costumed, the
exquisite daintiness of her took the breath away from most. That she
was adorably pretty, everyone admitted.

When Humphrey Pryor introduced her to his fellow clubmen, men whom
he regarded as his friends, they were a little self-conscious, but
they filled her dance programme nevertheless. They sought to cover
their embarrassment by an exaggerated cordiality towards both her and
Humphrey Pryor. But later, when they were with their wives or lady
friends, and met Humphrey Pryor and Lola-Sue, they felt awkward when
their wives gave her a frigid stare or a patronising nod, though the
women-folk were friendly enough towards Humphrey Pryor.

When Lord Leamington redeemed his promise and opened the ball with her,
the tide of envy and malice rolled heavily against her. Though Lola-Sue
was aware that there was a feeling of antagonism towards her, she kept
her head and affected not to notice it. Her conduct in the ballroom
was irreproachable, and many had to admit that not even the beautiful
Muriel Stinson, who had supplanted her, and who also had danced with
the Governor, was her peer. Though they were rivals in beauty, they
were not rivals in love. Lola-Sue, knowing the manliness of Humphrey
Pryor and his goodness to her, would not have exchanged him for Billy
Stinson, even if that were possible.

If Muriel Stinson had obeyed the dictates of her heart and not her
mother-in-law's reasoning, she would not have attended the ball.

"It would never do, dear," her mother-in-law said to her, "to let
people see that you cared. Probably after to-night we shall not see her
again. She can't be up to much if Humphrey Pryor will not marry her.
Men of his reputation soon tire of their favourites. So look your best,
and be your brightest for all our sakes."

But the most serious and the most subdued man at the ball that night
was Billy Stinson. When he saw Lola-Sue, exquisite and beautiful, enter
with Humphrey Pryor, a surge of jealously flooded him. Though she had
borne a child to him, she still had a virginal appearance, and he
marvelled. A child to him!

This face now rose up and faced him, and he saw the nakedness of his
soul.




CHAPTER XV.--THE HUNTED.

Though Lola-Sue was not aware of it, Humphrey Pryor had used her as
an instrument to further his schemes of revenge, and so far, he had
been successful. He had desired not only to rise triumphant over Billy
Stinson and his wife, but he had desired to make Billy Stinson realise
that in casting aside Lola-Sue for Muriel Poingdestre, he had, so to
speak, backed the wrong horse.

He had reasoned that if Lola-Sue's life had so affected him, it would
also affect most right-thinking persons, and that a tide of human
sympathy would flow towards her. In this, his reasoning was correct.

When the story of Lola-Sue's life became known (and Humphrey Pryor saw
to that) there would be a revulsion of feeling against Billy Stinson
and his wife, and a corresponding feeling of pity for Lola-Sue. The
beauty of her, the engaging impulsiveness of her, and the sweet
simplicity of her, allied with the cruel circumstance that brought
about the dissolution of her marriage, won for her many kind and
pitying hearts, than whom none was kinder and more sympathetic than
Mrs. Coleraine O'Neill, who championed her cause, notwithstanding she
was a personal friend of the Stinsons.

During a heart to heart talk with Mrs. Seymour Stinson the day after
the ball she said:

"Mind yez, I don't say as Billy was roight, and I don't say as he was
wrong, but I sez to O'Neill, sez I, that Billy was a bit too 'ager to
claim the roights of the law to divorce his wife and to marry Muriel.
Shure, she may have been a nobody, but look at me and look at O'Neill.
Faith, wer'n't we nobodies, but is there wan of yer pure merinos who
ain't proud to be welcomed at Kurrajong Downs by the O'Neills."

And this was true, as Tim O'Neill, by hard work and shrewd speculation
in sheep and country in drought time, was now the owner of one of the
largest stations in South West Queensland, and he was also the owner
of Kumbarilla, in the Riverina district of New South Wales. He was a
huge man with a large red face surrounded by a ring of sandy whiskers,
but he and his eloquent Irish wife, who was almost as largely built
as her husband, had hearts of gold. And the sentiments they expressed
in regard to Lola-Sue were the sentiments of many of those within the
circle in which they moved.

In winning the Bracelet, Humphrey Pryor had triumphed over such a
well-known rider and racehorse owner as Billy Stinson. In bringing
Lola-Sue under the aegis of his companionship into the very heart of
western society at the time of its greatest carnival, where her grace
and charm would be noticed and commented upon, he triumphed over the
Stinsons, and most of all over Muriel Stinson. But he had done more
than this, though he was not aware of it at the time. He had made
Lola-Sue look so attractive, that Billy Stinson was again enamoured
of her and he almost regretted his second marriage. If he could have
reversed the revolving wheel of time and have brought it back to the
period before filing his petition for divorce, he would have done it.
But now, he must go on with the tragedy of his life. Lola-Sue was to
him a living reproach. His present marriage was to him a disastrous
error. The laughter and joy had gone out of his life, and his present
wife felt her position more keenly than he ever realised.

The honours were added up in favour of Lola-Sue.

That, at any rate, was the feeling of Humphrey Pryor when he brought
her back to Contraband.

He was more in love with her than ever, but she still denied him though
her obstinancy was beginning to crumble. Since her return from the
Longreach Carnival she clung to him more and more, and when he informed
her not long after their return, that he had to take his men to the
Gulf to lift a thousand head of steers and spayed cows from Vanrock,
she pleaded with him to let her go with him. This, however, he refused
to do. Though he was loth to deny her anything he would not let her
share the hardships of the undertaking. He loved her too well. Besides,
in this expedition, he had certain objects in view which, for reasons
he did not want her to know. When she realised that he must go without
her, and that he would be away for some time, she threw herself on
her bed and wept like a spoilt child. It was the first time that he
would be away from her for weeks at a stretch, and she would miss him
terribly. "Oh Minns," she said, wiping away her tears when her gin came
into her room to see what was the matter, "I hate the boss to go away
and leave us. There'll be only Granny left and the blacks."

Then Minns slipped silently away like a prowling dingo and jumping on a
horse that she took from the stable, rode, bare-backed, after Humphrey
Pryor who was riding north with his men and the droving outfit, and
said, when she caught up to him.

"My word, boss, that fellow Lolum-Sue, she bin lub you all right. She
bin cry, cry. Mine tinkit, she bin no cry you come back." Without
hesitation, Humphrey Pryor said to his men.

"I'm going back to the homestead, you go on. I'll catch you up."

When Lola-Sue realised that he had returned, she was ashamed of her
weakness.

"It was silly of me to give way, my mate, but I am realising already
how lonely I shall be without you. I shall punish Minns for a
traitress," she said, smiling again, without any intention of doing
anything of the kind.

When Humphrey Pryor drew her to him, she made no effort to resist.
Words came easily, swiftly to his aid, words which made her realise his
desire for her. In spite of her resolve to be firm, to stand by her
theory of mateship, she moved to him, thrilling, and he was conscious
that his desire for possession was mutual.

"When I return, Lola," he said seriously, pressing her to him, "this
farce must end. You must marry me. To go on living together like this
is impossible. I cannot stand it. I'm only human."

Acknowledging each vibrating sentence he addressed to her, realising
his strong love for her, she replied, "I too am beginning to realise,
Humphrey, that there is a power stronger than our framed resolutions.
If I could only learn that I am entitled to a name I may claim as a
right, I should hesitate no longer."

"Well, my beloved you must learn that before I return," he said,
placing his cheek against hers. "If not, then I claim you absolutely,
name or no name, marriage or no marriage."

Not daring to trust himself with her any longer, he kissed her
passionately and went swiftly away, mounting his waiting horse, and
riding as if furies possessed him. For a minute after he had gone,
Lola-Sue swayed as if intoxicated. There was a radiant look on her
flushed face, and she pressed her hands to her bosom as if to ease the
rapturous pain within her.

A fortnight after the droving party had gone north, Lola-Sue was
standing with Granny Hutton on the broad veranda of the homestead
looking down the long narrow valley that ran to the offing of
Contraband. In the far distance she saw a horseman riding up the
valley, and cross the silver sand at the ford near the slip-rails of
the homestead enclosure.

"There's someone coming, granny. I wonder who he can be?"

"It's not a policeman, is it, dearie?" asked Granny Hutton with some
trepidation. "You know I hate the police, dear. I hate the sight of
khaki."

"I'm not sure, granny, I'll run and get the glasses."

Returning almost immediately, Lola-Sue focussed the glasses on the
stranger. "It's not a policeman, granny. It's someone who is familiar
to me, but I can't just make out who it is."

"Thank--thank God it's not the police," quavered Granny Hutton. "It
would be just like them coming here prying when Mr. Pryor and his men
are away."

"But surely, granny, you have now no fear of the police. What could
they possibly do to you?"

"You can never tell. I've been chased by them all my life. When I'm
face to face with one of them, he always looks at me, as if he's going
to say, 'Granny Hutton, what's at the back of your mind? What are
hiding from me? Come, out with it?'"

"Oh, yes, I know what the third degree means."

"Nonsense, granny. You mustn't think such things," said Lola-Sue,
reassuringly, but in her own mind, she had come to the conclusion that
Granny Hutton's fear of the police was a form of insanity.

By this time, the stranger had ridden nearer, and Lola-Sue, looking
through the glasses, exclaimed suddenly.

"Goodness! It's Billy Stinson!"

"Now what does he come here for when the boss is away?" asked Granny
Hutton. "It's not right that he should do so." Granny Hutton had been
told the story of Lola-Sue's life and had no love for Billy Stinson for
treating her "child," as she termed Lola-Sue, so badly.

"We'll soon learn the reason of his visit, granny," remarked Lola-Sue
as she stepped off the veranda to walk towards the slip-rails to meet
her former husband.

"Billy, this is a surprise, but Mr. Pryor is not at home," said
Lola-Sue going up to him.

"I didn't come to see Pryor, Lola. I came to see you."

"Indeed," replied Lola-Sue, with hauteur. "Are you still interested in
me?"

"I am, Lola. May I come in?"

"Certainly," Lola-Sue coo-eed for Boompa, who came running. "Boompa,
take Mr. Stinson's horse round to the stable, unsaddle him, and rub him
down. Give him a drink and a feed."

"Yowi, Missy Lolum," grinned Boompa, as he led the horse away.

As they stepped on to the veranda, Lola-Sue introduced Billy Stinson to
Granny Hutton, who said:

"But you have no call to come here, Mr. Stinson, when Mr. Pryor is
away."

"Well, that's why I have come. If I hadn't learnt that he had gone to
the Gulf district, I shouldn't have been here."

"Well, you're here for no good then, Mr. Stinson. I would just as soon
see a policeman as you."

"You're very candid, Granny, but I've called to see Lola-Sue for old
time's sake, but I'd like to see her alone if you don't mind."

Granny Hutton took the hint and went inside, growling like an old watch
dog.

"Sit down, Billy, you've had a long ride."

"I'd ride longer and further to see you, Lola. I'm not happy."

Billy Stinson did not look happy as he dropped wearily into a
squatter's chair.

"You look tired. Let me give you a nip."

Presently Lola-Sue returned with a cut-glass bottle of whisky out of a
tantalus and a glass jug of cold water.

"Help yourself," she said, handing him the whisky and a glass. "Feel
better?"

"Much, thanks. It's a little like old times, Lola. It's good to see you
again."

"Is that what you're here for, Billy?"

"Candidly, yes. I'm disturbed about you."

"But why? You needn't be."

"What sort of life are you living here with Pryor?"

"Does that concern you?"

"My God, yes. Since the Longreach Carnival I seem to have wakened from
a nightmare. You are in my thoughts by day and in my dreams at night. I
love you. I want you back again. I want to atone."

"But that's impossible. Are you mad?"

"Sometimes I think I am. I'm mad when I see you with that fellow Pryor.
You're too beautiful, too white-souled to be his mistress."

"How dare you say that. I'm not his mistress. No man has been familiar
with me since you had that privilege."

"No one would believe that Lola. Pryor is not the man to live with a
woman like you without taking his full of you."

"And you want me, knowing in your heart that I am Humphrey's mistress?"

"Yes, even though you were steeped in sin to the uttermost. I want to
take you away from that man."

"That man, as you call him, is nobler than you. He wants me, but he is
waiting until I am prepared to go to him in infinite surrender. When I
do go to him I will give him everything, my love, my soul, my body. You
think you know what love is? You don't. What you imaging is love, is
physical desire of possession. You've always been the same."

"No. I'm changed Lola. The old lure of you has overwhelmed me. When
I think of the nights when I held you in my arms, when I devoured
you with my love, when, exhausted after passionately kissing me, you
said, 'If this is love, Billy, may it continue for ever.' God, Lola, I
want all those nights back again. I want to start loving you all over
again, to be your Billy once more as if no tragedy of years had passed
between--dearest Lola."

"It's no use, Billy. That sort of feeling that I had for you once, is
dead. The memory of it doesn't even thrill me, doesn't even appeal to
me. The old heart in me is dead. You killed it. A new heart has grown
to take its place, and in it you have no place. Go back to your wife,
Billy. I am content to remain here."

Billy Stinson got up and walked up and down the verandah. He had an
appalling feeling of defeat. In the fondness of his conceit he believed
that if he offered to Lola-Sue all the old love that he had had for
her, she would relent and give herself back to him. Even now, the
thought came back to him that if he could induce her to break with
Humphrey Pryor she would remember the early happy days of their married
life, and go away with him. If she did, he would clear out and take her
away from the west, go to another State--anywhere. He would strive to
that end. It was only her environment here with Pryor that influenced
her. She could not love him. In time he would grow tired of her and
throw her over.

In this he judged Humphrey Pryor by his own standard. He had grown
tired of Muriel. She had given him a hell of a time since Lola-Sue had
out-rivalled her at the Longreach carnival and he contrasted her sullen
ill-tempered mood with the refreshing, sparkling, impulsive nature of
Lola-Sue, the alluring fairness of her with the swarthy features of his
present wife. It was now the nature of Lola-Sue called to him, not the
nature of his wife.

"Then you won't come with me, Lola? I can give you all and more than
Pryor can give you. We will travel and see the world together."

"What you ask, Billy, is impossible. There's your wife. I'm not going
to come between you and her. Besides, I owe ever so much to Humphrey
Pryor. I couldn't be disloyal to him now. He trusts me so."

"But if in time he throws you over?"

"He'll never do that, Billy. I've learnt a lot since I was Mrs. Wilfred
B. Stinson. In my wider experience of men I have learnt that a sensible
woman can make herself indispensable to a man she loves."

"Then you do love him?"

"Yes, with all my soul."

"Then there's nothing more to be said. I am going."

"Oh, no you're not. I'm not so inhospitable as to let you go on your
long lonely ride back to Moonburra without resting. Stay her for the
night and return in the morning."

"Do you really wish me to?"

"Of course I do. Let us now be sensible and be like old friends. Take
a look round the place and inspect the stables and the garden. If you
would like a bathe, there's a pool over here in the gorge where the
creek falls down from the rocks above. In the meantime, I'll run in and
see to things."

"Thanks, I will have a dip, Lola. I feel grimy."

"Minns, Minns," called Lola-Sue.

"Yes, 'um," said Minns appearing as if from nowhere.

"Get Mr. Stinson a bath towel and soap."

"Yes, 'um."

In the evening Billy Stinson and Lola-Sue sat down together to a dainty
meal, waited on by Minns, who had been well trained. Dining together,
as they had in the past done so often, the memory of the past came
most poignantly back to Billy Stinson, and Lola-Sue, in a spirit of
mischief, seemed to interpret his thoughts.

"This seems like old times, Billy," said she smiling.

She was dressed daintily in a soft blouse of georgette, her beautiful
bust and arms and shoulders gleaming in the light of the incandescent
lamp hanging overhead.

"Don't remind me, Lola. If you do, I shall forget myself and take an
old time privilege of kissing you, you look so lovely. You don't seem
to have aged a bit. A little fuller, a little riper, and a little more
brown perhaps, but still the same pretty dainty Lola-Sue."

"This western life agrees with me, Billy. Up here in the ranges, the
temperature is delightful. In fact, I haven't time to grow old. There's
so much to do to look after Contraband."

"I suppose so," replied Billy Stinson. Then suddenly he asked:

"What's become of the old snort?"

"Oh, granny," laughed Lola-Sue. "She goes to bed with the fowls. She's
such an interesting old dear, but I'm afraid she's breaking up. She
hasn't been at all well lately."

"She seems to have me set."

"Oh, well, you know, Billy, she knows the story of my life, and I'm the
apple of her eye. The only time she is cross with me is when I tell
her to mind her own business, when she suggests that I should marry
Humphrey."

"The damn old matchmaker. I hope you'll never do that."

"Do what, Billy?"

"Marry Pryor."

"Well, we won't discuss that, since the subject is so disagreeable to
you. We won't mar the serenity of the only evening that, perhaps, we
shall ever have together again."

"Then you don't bear me any ill-will?"

"Not the slightest."

And so they sat together talking until Lola-Sue suggested to Billy
Stinson that as he had ridden long and far, he would probably like to
turn in. Then she went inside, but returning presently with a suit of
Humphrey Pryor's pyjamas, said:

"I've made you a shakedown on the camp bed on the veranda. I think
you'll find it comfortable, Billy. There are no mosquitoes at
Contraband."

"Where do you doss, Lola?"

"In the little veranda room on the north side of the bungalow."

Then, after a formal good-night, they retired.

But Billy Stinson could not sleep. He was consumed by the Devil of
self-contemplation. Introspectively he held an inquest over Lola-Sue's
dead love. His self-conceit had received a severe shock, yet he
couldn't make himself believe that his power over her had gone for
ever. He had had his surfeit of pleasure of her in the days when
his desire for her was strong, but, his appetite sated, he turned
elsewhere. It had not grown with the feeding, and the lust of his eyes
had fastened on others. From Margaret Deering it had fallen on Muriel
Poingdestre. In each case, the joy of attainment was comparatively
brief. He was unstable in his love. With him it was a passion to be
gratified, then the desirableness died. Then he had again looked upon
Lola-Sue and had seen that she was fair and his old love for her and
his desire for her blazed forth anew. Now it consumed him. In the
fondness of his conceit he could not believe that his kisses would fall
on a passionless mouth. He could not believe that she had forgotten all
the supreme moments of bliss that she had had with him.

When he thought of her all alone in her little room clad in her silken
night attire (she was always dainty and sweet in her robes of night) he
became restless and feverish. His mouth was parched and he threw out
his arms as if to enfold her. His desire for her was a flaming hell--a
hell that could only be quenched by his absolute possession of her.

"What damned nonsense," he muttered to himself. What if he had divorced
her! It was all a mistake. She was still his wife. He had married
her. What matter if the law had separated them. Surely there was no
impropriety in a man taking up again with his divorced wife. A married
woman could not be a prude, and Lola-Sue was no prude. If she were, she
would not have thrown in her lot with Pryor. If he could enjoy her, why
could not he, her own husband? Damn him and her too. For this night at
any rate he would claim her as his.

Hoodwinking himself with the belief that his reasoning was
unanswerable, he got up quietly and walked round the veranda to
Lola-Sue's room. He found the door partly open but kept in position by
a wedge. It was easy for him to pass through.

"Perhaps she expected me," he thought, entering softly. He knew by her
breathing that she was sleeping peacefully. Kneeling down by the bed he
put his left arm across her and kissed her on the half open mouth. The
kiss wakened her. Startled and alarmed she sat up and exclaimed in her
fear.

"Who's that?" For answer she got:

"For God's sake, please, don't make a noise. It is I--Billy."

"Oh, go away. Please! Please! Billy are you mad?"

"Almost. I can't sleep for thinking of you. I want you, Lola."

"No, no, you must go, Billy. What do you take me for?" she urged and
pleaded as she jumped out of bed.

"For my own wife whom I want back again."

"No, no, that's impossible. You must go--go. You mustn't touch me."

"Don't be a fool, Lola. Where's the harm?"

"Harm! Are you a madman or a beast?"

"Madman, if you like, but I want you more than anything on earth," and
he made as if to take her in his arms.

"No, no, stand back or I'll shoot." In an instant she picked up her
revolver from her dressing table which was near the bed, and pointed it
at him.

"You'd shoot me like you tried once before, would you?"

"Yes," she said, with deadly composure, "and there's no Margaret
Deering to get in the way this time." And he knew that she meant it and
that she was not afraid.

"Put that damn thing down," he said fiercely. "I'll go."

When Lola-Sue saw him turn as if to go, she lowered the revolver.

Instantly, Billy Stinson swung round and with a sudden rush, caught her
in his arms and the revolver exploded.

"Now I've got you, you beautiful devil," he said.

"No? my God, you haven't," said a determined voice behind him.

Turning in alarm, he faced Granny Hutton and a levelled carbine.

"A nice nest of bushrangers this is," he sneered, leaving the room.

"I've been a bushranger's wife and take nothing for granted. I
suspected what you were after and like all bushrangers, slept with
one eye open. Now you clear out before I drill you, you coward," said
Granny Hutton, determinedly, still covering him with the carbine.

Billy Stinson, dressing himself, cleared out. He went to the stable and
saddled his horse. When later, he faced the "opaline deeps of the dawn"
he was miles away.

When he had gone, Lola-Sue broke down and sobbed in Granny Hutton's
arms.

"Oh, Granny, what did he take me for?"

"Not for an honest woman, my darling. You must have a man give you his
name to protect you, or men will hunt you."




CHAPTER XVI.--THE NEXT OF KIN.

It was a very sober Lola-Sue that faced the dawn following the night of
Billy Stinson's attempted raid.

Granny Hutton had gone back to her own room after satisfying herself
that there was no longer any danger to her favourite, and collapsed.

Away in the distant ranges a bull roared and cows bellowed. Nature
was awakening. A butcher bird from the topmost branch of a dead tree
piped its melody to the new born day. It flew away and its place on the
branch was taken by three Kookaburras, who laughed a roulade to the
rising sun. Outside the opened casement of Lola-Sue's bedroom, a willy
wag-tail, hopped and cheeped in sprightly fashion, for all the world
like a fussy little gentleman in a dressy suit. It seemed to be calling
to her, to get up to revel in the glory of the awakening.

And for Lola-Sue it was a great awakening, but not in the sense of the
breezy call of incense breathing morn. As she lay awake with a soft
breeze coming through the casement, gently swaying the curtains, she
looked out into the beautiful morning, into the glory of the empurpling
sky, and murmured in her heart-ache, "Where every prospect pleases, and
only man is vile."

And so she lay thinking desperately until Minns brought to her her
morning tea. Rousing herself she surveyed her disordered room, and
rearranged her disorded night attire. Her revolver lay on the floor and
she shuddered as Minns picked it up and put it on her dressing table.

What if she had shot Billy Stinson! Would her mind have given way as it
had done when she had shot Margaret Deering? She placed her hands over
her face as if to obliterate the horror of such a thought.

"Cripes, Lola-Sue you bin look scared," remarked Minns. "What you bin
do with that fellow gun?"

"Oh, nothing, Minns. How's Granny this morning?"

"She bin bad but say not wake you. Where that pfeller Boss Stinson?"

"He's gone home, Minns. Went away early."

Having made a hasty toilet, Lola-Sue went to see how it fared with
Granny Hutton. She found her very ill and in a state of collapse.

"Oh, Granny, dear," she said as she knelt down by her bed and took her
withered hand like dry parchment in hers. "Are you not well?"

"No, my child. The shock of last night's happening has been too much
for me. I'll be all right by and bye. Just leave me, dear. How are you
after last night?"

"Oh, I'm all right, Granny," replied Lola-Sue smiling cheerfully. She
did not desire that the poor brave old soul should see that she was any
the worse for the horrible disturbance. "You just lie still and I'll
bring you your breakfast."

But as the day advanced she got worse instead of better, and Lola-Sue
suggested that she should send Boompa to Augathella for the doctor.
This, however, Granny Hutton would not countenance.

"No, dear," she said. "No doctor on earth can do me any good now. I
know this is the end, and the time has come when I must tell you the
story of my life. I have kept my past a secret because I've been afraid
of the police--always afraid of them, dear."

"No, no, granny. You mustn't talk. Just lie still and rest."

"I tell you, child, I must talk before it is too late. I must tell you
who you are. I was afraid, for fear of the police, to tell you before.
When I am dead it will be too late."

The day had been hot, and it was drawing to a close. Storm clouds
were gathering in the west and fitful flashes of lightening slashed
the gathering darkness as if cleft by twisted scimitars. In the room
an old-fashioned clock ticked on with the relentless swing of its
pendulum, and each tick, tock seemed to pulse the staccato heart beats
to eternity.

"The police, Lola! The police. Don't let them come near me! Promise me!"

"I promise you, Granny," said Lola-Sue with tears in her eyes, sitting
by the bedside holding the boney hand of Granny Hutton tightly as if to
reassure her.

"Listen then, dear, and mark what I say."

Then she paused as if to gather her scattered thoughts. Time was ending
for her, or was it about to begin? Who knows. But we know this (because
Lola-Sue had typed out the story of Granny Hutton's life after it was
told to her) that she had lived an eventful life--a life that was now
drawing to its close. Her life's ledger had been posted up to the last
page and its invisible folios were inscribed with deeds of romance that
have helped to make Australia's history. The debits and credits ran
side by side and her ledger of life was about to be balanced by the
Great Accountant. Whether it would show a profit or a loss is for the
Supreme Auditor to say when the seas are called upon to give up their
dead.

When, eighty years ago at Kidgate, England, a day in June launched her
on the sea of existence, the first page of her life's ledger was a
clean and unsullied as the soul of a new born babe.

Now, looking back down life's corridors the years seemed to unroll
like a veil from the face of time. She visioned the past with all its
stirring events which were indelibly etched on the tablets of her
memory. Eighty years ago she, too, was a little girl with the violet
blue eyes of Lola-Sue. As she grew to maidenhood she became a romping
little Lincolnshire lass of a midland farming country, roguish, and
bubbling over with mischief. She loved horses even as Lola-Sue loved
them and hankered after excitement. To her, the story of Robin Hood and
Little John and all their merry men in Lincoln Green was the greatest
and most enthralling romance that was ever told. Now, as she lay dying
at Contraband, her mind carried her back to the past, and she plucked
bright flowers from the fields of her memory. She saw herself at
twenty years of age, a bush beauty, a superb horsewoman and a fearless
adventuress.

In the early sixties, all Australia, or the fringe of it that was
people, rang with the exploits of Frank Gardiner, bushranger. In the
backward flash of her memory she saw herself as Annie Elizabeth Janny
at Burrangong. A ball was being held at the Lambing Flat Arms and she,
young, gay and twenty, was the acknowledged belle. Frank Gardiner was
there, too, and he had a marvellous fascination for this high-spirited
and impetuous bush beauty.

As a young native-born, Gardiner at that time, had earned notoriety
by his exploits at the Victorian diggings. He was arrested for
horse-stealing, tried and found guilty at Geelong, and sentenced to
five years' penal servitude in Pentridge Stockade.

Escaping, he turned up in the Tarago district, where he was again
arrested and convicted for horse-stealing. He was sent to Goulburn
gaol for seven years. On the termination of this sentence he opened a
butcher's shop at Womba Flat, where he gathered around him the worst
characters of the young native-born, who afterwards became notorious as
the Gardiner Gang.

One of the gang, Michael Lawler, had learnt that a warrant had been
issued for Gardiner's arrest for cattle stealing. Learning that he was
at the ball at the Lambing Flat Arms, he rode in galloping haste to
warn him to clear out. Dismounting and reconnoitring in the moonlight,
he saw and recognised Annie Janny with a man he did not know. It
subsequently turned out that he was a detective in disguise, who had
gone to the dance for the purpose of obtaining information that would
lead to the arrest of Gardiner for obtaining certain cattle "on the
cross." Waiting his opportunity, Lawler whispered to Annie Janny to let
Gardiner know quietly that the police were on his tracks.

"I remember it all so well," quavered the poor old voice of eighty.
"I found Gardiner at the bar, drinking, telling of his escape from
Pentridge, and laughing at prison bars. When he saw me making signs he
understood and came to me. I was his bush telegraph. When I whispered
what Lawler had told me, he just turned to the men at the bar and said
with his whimsical smile, 'Excuse me, boys, going for a moonlight ride
into the ranges.'"

"Then the Robin Hood of my girlish dreams took me in his strong arms,
and calling me his little 'Bush Telegraph' kissed me on the eyes, and
mouth and neck, as only a strong man can kiss, and said, 'Good-bye for
the present, my Annie, we shall meet again.'"

"The boys wondered why he had left so suddenly, but when they asked me
for news I merely laughed, though there were tears welling up behind my
laughter, and I ran out into the road to wave him a fond good-bye as he
rode away into the night. I can see him now, turning on his galloping
black horse and waving his hat as the hoof beats died away on the road,
leading to the Abercrombie Ranges."

There was a knock at the door, and Granny Hutton stopped suddenly in
her recital. Looking furtively towards the door with a scared look in
her wrinkled face, she said:

"Don't let the police in. I know they're waiting for me somewhere, but
I'll cheat them yet." But it was only Minns who had knocked to inquire
if Granny Hutton or Lola-Sue needed anything.

When Minns had gone and the door was again closed, Granny Hutton
resumed her life's story, and told of the robbery of the Government
gold escort from the Lachlan diggings in '62. The incidents connected
with this hold-up were photographed so vividly on her memory that
it appeared to Lola-Sue, who was listening intently, as an event of
yesterday.

"That was the saddle," she said, looking towards a side-saddle on
a wooden peg sticking out from an ironbark stud in a corner of the
room, "that I used on my long ride from Forbes to Gardiner's camp in
the Weddin ranges. I had heard when the escort in charge of Sergeant
Condell and three troopers was to start and thought Gardiner should
know. The police knew that I was intimate with Gardiner and I was
closely watched. They thought they would get him through me. But love
is a great strategist and I loved Gardiner, dearie. I rode out from
Forbes on a thoroughbred that Gardiner had given me. Day had not yet
dawned, and the morning star shone brightly in the east. By its light
alone I made my way through the trackless bush. The country was an open
page to me and I knew my way through the bush better than the police.
For two years I had been the gang's spy and bush telegraph. When I
reached Gardiner's camp in the ranges, I had to be lifted from the
saddle, I was too exhausted to get off my horse. Gardiner was delighted
with the news I brought. 'Annie,' he said, holding me in his arms and
kissing me, 'if we pull this off I'll marry you.'

"The gang was composed of Gardiner and seven men. The escort was held
up at the Engowra Rocks close to the crossing over Mandagery Creek. The
road had been blocked by two bullock teams which had been held up. When
the escort reached the spot, the gang fired from behind the rocks. Two
constables fell wounded. The sergeant and remaining constable fired
their carbines and rode off into the bush. The coach horses bolted and
the coach was capsized. The gang secured the gold and rode off into
the ranges. At the Pinnacle the gold was divided. After this hold up,
Gardiner retired and married me under an assumed name.

"In the corner over there is an old trunk. Remove it, Lola, dear, and
you will find a loose board. Take it up and underneath there is an iron
box. Bring it to me, but be sure there're no police about. Waking and
sleeping they haunt me. If they knew what's in that box, they'd arrest
me. But they'll never know now. The jewels, they are mine, mine, every
one of them. Each is a gift from Gardiner for a letter delivered or
a warning received. Pottinger and his police were everywhere. But it
was owing to my watchfulness that Gardiner was never captured. Through
storm and tempest, cold and heat, down the Lachlan and over the ranges,
along the gorges and across the ravines I rode bringing news of the
police and of coaches to be held up. It was only when he deserted me
that he was captured. I had shielded him with my love. He was good to
me and the gang were my subjects. They, too, were good to me, and I
was loaded with jewels that had been taken from passengers in the old
coaching days.

"Take this key dear, and open the box for me," continued the old soul,
buoyed up and made strong by the memories of the past, removing a key
attached to a piece of black braid from around her neck.

"In the box there are, besides jewels, old letters from my daughter
Frances, the only child I ever had, and Gardiner was her father. She
was a beautiful girl, fearless and independent. When she was old enough
I sent her to a boarding-school at Toowoomba, where she was well
educated. Leaving school at eighteen, she, on the recommendation of the
principal, went as governess to two young children of a squatter who
had a station on the Maranoa. His name was Richard Garrick. She had
been at Lannercost, Garrick's station, two years, when Mrs. Garrick
broke her neck riding her hunter over the hurdles at the Roma Show.
Garrick then married Frances, but when, later, it became known that
he had married the daughter of a bushranger, a gaol-bird, his pure
merino friends cut her. This infuriated her and marred the happiness
of her life. She loved Garrick, and though he stuck to her in spite of
all, things seemed to go wrong. Garrick, whose station was mortgaged
to the bank, suffered heavy losses in the great drought and the bank
foreclosed. Not long after he was found dead near a wire fence, shot
through the heart. It was given out that the hammer of his gun had
caught in the wire as he was getting through the fence, and that his
death was an accident, but Frances in a letter to me that you will
find in the box, believed that he had committed suicide. There was
very little left when his estate was wound up, and Frances with a baby
a few months old was left destitute. Garrick's people took charge of
his children by the first marriage but they refused to do anything
for Frances and her child. They accused her of trapping Garrick into
marrying her. This uncharitableness hurt her deeply, and she cleared
out with her child and went to Brisbane. At the time I could do nothing
for her. She wouldn't let me if I could. You see, dear," and Granny
Hutton's eyes were dimmed with tears, "when Gardiner, in disguise and
under an assumed name, left New South Wales for Queensland, he deserted
me and cleared out with the wife of John Byrnes Brown, one of his own
gang. We, Brown and I, followed him him to Queensland, but we could not
find him. Brown was good to me and always loved me, but I preferred
Gardiner. When he ran away with Brown's wife, I became Brown's
mistress, and shared his fortunes. We kept a shanty at Hell Hole, near
Chinchilla. There we made money, and I could afford to educate my
daughter. She was the living link that still chained me to Gardiner,
but she was not aware that I was living with Brown. I couldn't let her
know that.

"Then we heard of Gardiner's capture under the name of Christie at Apis
Creek on the road from Rockhampton to Peak Downs where he and Mrs.
Brown kept a store. He was brought to Sydney and committed for trial,
but as no murder could be proved against him, he was convicted of
highway robbery and sentenced to 32 years' imprisonment, the first nine
years of it in irons.

"God, how I raved when I heard of that terrible sentence. Gardiner was
still my hero. It is hard to kill a woman's love for a man, dear. Even
his unfaithfulness was forgiven, blotted out by that savage sentence.
I knew only too well what it meant to a man of his mettle. But I have
one consolation. Gardiner had broken prison before. He would do it
again. He was incorrigible. If he could not get free he would die or
rebel. But he was too well guarded. When he had served eight years of
his sentence, his friends, for he had many, got up an agitation for his
reprieve. They were successful, but his freedom was conditional on his
leaving Australia. He was taken to Newcastle, and placed on board the
Charlotte Andrews. Thence all trace of him was lost. It was said he
found his way to California, where he kept a saloon and was killed in a
gambling brawl."

Granny Hutton ceased speaking and closed her eyes. She was becoming
weaker. Lola-Sue, who, through this long narrative, had sat as if
entranced by the romantic story of the old woman's life, fearing to
speak lest she break the continuity of her story, leaned forward and
placed her cool hand on Granny Hutton's brow. At this, she opened her
eyes.

"Water, water, give me a drink, my mouth's parched. I feel choking."

Lola-Sue held a glass of whisky and water to the failing woman's lips,
and she, having drunk a few mouthfuls, continued:

"I haven't told you all yet, dear. With the passing of Gardiner, the
romance of my life ended. Though I still lived with Brown, Gardiner
lived in my heart. Brown, too, was afraid of the police. He feared
discovery as one of Gardiner's gang. It was this fear that made him
give up the shanty at Hell Hole. Then we moved on to the goldfields
at Eidsvold, Cania, and Monal Creek. He bought a bullock team and
carried loading from Rockhampton and Gladstone to the mining camps.
Then he, too, passed out of my life. Loading timber for the sawmill at
Gladstone, he was crushed by a log and died in the Gladstone hospital."

Granny Hutton again paused. Her eyes were closed as if in sleep. The
old wooden clock in her room ticked on. The day had ended and the
thunder of the rising storm shook the windows of Contraband. A sudden
crash of thunder made her open her eyes again and Lola-Sue induced her
to sip some more of the whisky and water.

"Open the window, dear. I want to see the quivering lightning and to
hear the roar of the wind in the gums. I know I am dying. There! Did
you see those flashes? They seem like golden slip-rails let down for my
waiting soul to pass through to the green fields of eternity."

"To the Land O' Everlastin', Granny, where we must all go," remarked
Lola-Sue with tear-dimmed eyes. "But don't talk any more. Just rest
awhile."

"No no, my child. I must finish. When Brown died, I took up with George
Steele Hutton. Men were my mates always. Hutton married me but Brown
didn't. His wife was still living. Life with Hutton was hard. I made a
mistake in marrying him. He drank and gambled and we were very poor. He
got to know somehow that I had jewels hidden, and tried to force me to
give them up. I denied that I had any jewellery. I was afraid of the
police getting to know, so I lied. The jewels in that iron box were too
valuable to be seen. If people got to know I had them, they would start
questioning, and the police would hear of it."

The storm was now at its height, and peal upon peal of thunder
reverberated through the ranges.

"The police won't come on a night like this, dear. I'm not afraid now.
Open the box and you will find a letter which you must read. It was the
last I had from my Frances."

Lola-Sue opened the box and was started to see the jewels it contained.
In her amazement she forgot all about the letter. Taking them out one
by one she held up a priceless necklet of diamonds and rubies.

"That," said Granny Hutton, "was taken from the strong box belonging
to the Bank of New South Wales at the time of the great gold escort
robbery, and that," she said feebly, pointing to a gold locket
encrusted with diamonds, set in the shape of a dove, "was taken from
a lady when the mail coach was robbed on the Cowra road in '62. Oh,
child, if each one of those rubies were drops of my heart's blood, and
each of those diamonds my last dropping tears, I would give them all to
live those days over again when I was queen of the road and the bush,
and the secret messenger of Gardiner. But the letter, the letter, read
it again to me before I die."

Minns had come in with some tea for Lola-Sue and had lit the lamp. But
so absorbed was Lola-Sue in the drama that was being unfolded before
her that the tea remained undrunk, and the food untasted. Taking a
letter out of a soiled and faded envelope, Lola-Sue read slowly by the
light of a kerosene lamp:--


Oh Mother,

I have learnt the story of your life. As the daughter of Gardiner the
bushranger, I am not ashamed, but as the daughter of a mother who goes
by the name of Mrs. Brown, I am. In losing faith in you, I have lost
faith in God--in everything. I feel that I am thrown on the world as
a waif of shame. Destitute and alone with my baby girl, with no one
caring what becomes of us, I am desperate. I have resolved to end it
all. But how, or by what means, no one will ever know. I will leave no
trace by which I can be tracked. But my baby girl, my little blue-eyed
darling, I will leave to the world. It is all I have to leave to it or
to anyone.

To-night I lose my present identity for ever. In the morning my baby,
my little Mavis, will be found in the street by someone. The world is
sometimes charitable to foundlings, and I know that my baby will be
cared for.

You will think me mad. Perhaps I am. I have suffered so much. In the
room where I am writing this, I have found a card-board medallion
inscribed 'Loyal Orange Lodge of Australia.' I am hanging this around
my baby's neck, with the green ribbon to which the medallion is
attached. That will be a clue if you wish to follow it up. I also
enclose the certificate of my darling's birth.

Good-bye for ever.

Your desperate Frances.


Lola-Sue, white, silent, and paralysed, dropped the letter and its
enclosures, and looked at Granny Hutton. In the flash of a thought
than which nothing is more instantaneous, she realised what that
letter meant to her--name, parentage, legitimacy. Then in a paroxysm,
she threw her body across the dying woman. "Oh, Granny, Granny, it is
unbelievable," she sobbed. "You belong to me and I to you. We are akin,
you and I, just we two in all the world. You are my real Granny and you
never knew it. Oh, it's wonderful, wonderful!" and Lola-Sue kissed the
wrinkled face of the old woman, who just looked vacantly and stared.
Then she spoke, jerkily as if in unison with the tick, tock of the old
clock.

"I did--know it. From the time--I heard your story--I knew you were my
Frances' child."

"But, Granny, why did you not tell me?" asked Lola-Sue with a puzzled
questioning look.

"Because, because, I was afraid. Yes, afraid. It was--a story--that
couldn't be--hidden and--and I was afraid, afraid of the police. That's
why. That's why in all--these years--I never--claimed you--never let on
who--was--your mother. If--I--had--the police,--the police would have
hunted me--down--as they--had hunted--Gardiner."

The last word was spoken in a gasp, like a dying exclamation and
Granny Hutton who had raised herself up on one elbow as if to give
greater emphasis to the climax of her story, fell back on the pillows,
exhausted, and apparently, lifeless. Lola-Sue thought she was dead and
cried out as she took the lifeless body in her arms.

"Granny, granny, don't die now just as we've found each other."

Lola-Sue's pleading voice brought the dying woman back to a bitter
realisation.

"The police! The police!" she wailed. "Don't tell them--anything.
Let--me die--in peace. It's too late now. The jewels--the jewels,--the
jewels will never be claimed. My--little girl. My--darling. Forgive me.
It's so long--so long ago."

Outside the storm was dying away in the distance and the distant
thunder still rumbled. Then death, with soft, silent, invisible fingers
drew a sable curtain across the stage of Granny Hutton's life and shut
out the mirrored years.




CHAPTER XVII.--"THE AVENGERESS."

When Billy Stinson, defeated, rode away from Contraband the morning
after his expulsion, he swore that he would leave no stone unturned to
take Lola-Sue away from Pryor.

His desire for repossession of her was characteristic of him. He was
always after the unattainable. Besides, it hurt his pride, his sense
of ownership, to think that Lola-Sue should now prefer to consort with
Pryor than with him even though he had divorced her.

What if he had married Muriel Poingdestre! Damn it all, what difference
did that make! Lola-Sue had been his wife. For decency's sake, he could
not, on that account, abandon Lola-Sue to Pryor. She must be reclaimed,
and the only way to do that was to get Pryor out of the road. At
present she was infatuated with him. Well, the infatuation must be
broken.

These thoughts occurred to Billy Stinson over and over again, until he
made himself believe that it was his duty, that it was up to him, to
bring about Lola-Sue's reclamation, or her redemption, or both.

Then he began to consider how this was to be brought about. He thought
hard and long until an idea, a scheme, occurred to him. He would frame
him, and on the faked evidence have him arrested.

He was aware of Pryor's hobby for thoroughbred horses, and as he was a
noted horse stealer and cattle duffer, he, Billy Stinson, would steal
some colts from Consuelo, the stud station of the Commissioner of
Police, and plant them on Contraband.

No sooner had he decided on this scheme than he set about to carry it
out. From the Brand's directory he learnt what Pryor's brand was and
got his blacksmith to make a set of branding irons. When everything
was ready, he and two of his men whom he had taken into his confidence
with an undertaking to stand by them in case of trouble, rode over to
Consuelo to reconnoitre. This took some days, as they had to hide in
the bush and to keep away from beaten tracks.

When they had carefully explored the country and had marked the colts
that they would steal, they waited for a night when the sky was clear
and the moon at its best. They had not long to wait, for cloudless,
moonlit nights are not uncommon in Central Queensland. They decided to
make the steal after midnight, and by splendid horsemanship and hard
riding they rounded up three colts that had been partly broken in and
branded and cornered them in a paddock in a secluded part of the run,
where they had improvised with saplings and wire a small stockyard.
Fixing a strong halter on each, they rode quickly away across country
keeping to the bush as much as possible, until they reached Contraband.
There, in one of the gorges of the ranges they blotched the Consuelo
brand and put Pryor's brand on the colts. But Lola-Sue, on Battle, was,
with Boompa, also riding the ranges in search of straying cattle, when
they came across the horse thieves at their work. Billy Stinson and
his men, however, were always on the alert, and when they heard ridden
horses coming up the gorge, they mounted and and cleared out, taking
care to hide the branding irons.

Lola-Sue was too far away to recognise the men, but she rode up to the
spot where they had camped to fake the brands and saw the three colts,
which she knew did not belong to Contraband.

The keen-visioned Boompa, however, noticed the new brand and said:--

"By cripes, them pfella, make plenty gammon. Him Yarraman no belonga
boss. Put boss brand on, make gammon, belonga boss. Too plenty gammon,
my word."

Lola-Sue was puzzled. Who were these men and what were they doing on
Pryor's horses, but as she could not solve the problem, she rode back
home.

Arriving at the station homestead, one of Humphrey Pryor's black boys
gave her a message from his boss.


"Beloved mate," he wrote on a leaf torn from his pocket book. "By
to-morrow evening I hope to be at Contraband. Ride out to meet me. Am
coming by way of Babbiloora. Trip to the Gulf a great success. Am
bringing fourteen hundred of steers to stock up Contraband. Longing
to see you again. Men all well but dead beat. 

With all of my love,

Humphrey."


When the black boy had been given a good feed and a fresh horse,
Lola-Sue sent him back with a note in reply.


"My Pal,--Have been so lonely without you. Have missed you terribly.
Will ride to meet you as desired. Lots to tell you. Granny Hutton is
dead and buried. I miss her very much, but she told me a wonderful
story. I am somebody after all. Will tell you all when we meet. Am
counting the hours until then,

Your own mate,

Lola-Sue."


When the black boy was ready to start back, Lola-Sue, in giving him the
note, asked:

"Boss, him bin all right, Jacky?"

Jacky, grinning and wiping his nose, replied, "Yowi, Lolum-Sue, him bin
budgeree." Then looking at the note, he asked, "What this pfella talk?"

"Him bin say you good Jackey. Plenty bacca belongum you by and bye."

Jackey grinned as he put the note in the pocket of his shirt--then
Lola-Sue asked:

"Boss, him bin come with plenty cattle, Jackey?"

"My word, cripes, millions!"

"Millions, Jackey?"

"Well, close up fifty."

When Humphrey Pryor received Lola-Sue's note, he wondered--wondered
what the great news was to which she alluded. That it was something
momentous, he guessed.

That night as he camped beneath the stars, his love for her became
overwhelming, and in the surge of it, he took stock of himself. Was
he, a cattle duffer and horse thief, a fit mate for her, the flawless.
Was it meet that he, who was watched with more than suspicion by the
police, should link the pureness of her, the sweetness of her, with
such a life as he had been leading, and was still leading. Though
he had bought a thousand head of cattle he was now droving, on the
square, he and his men by means of a faked bang-tail muster, and other
means, had got together five hundred more on the cross. Each run that
they passed on the stock route, they had gleaned by the way, picking
up a number of the Contraband stock from the runs nearest, to save
long droving. Meteor Downs, Babbiloara, Bogarella, Hoganthulla, all
paid unconscious toll to his expert generalship and the skill of his
stockmen.

Along the barren stock routes, he had nursed the starving stock,
droving skilfully and carefully, but now he was growing impatient. He
longed to be back at Contraband.

In the still watches of the night when he took his turn with his men
in watching the cattle lest some sudden noise, the fall of a limb, the
hop of a frightened kangaroo rat, would start a rush, his thoughts were
always of Lola-Sue. With the memorised words of her note ever before
him, he came to a firm resolve. This would be his last venture on the
cross. In future he would go straight for her sake and he sealed the
resolution with an oath.

When he neared Contraband, he was concerned to find that a bush fire
had started, and the country around him was ringed with fire. It had
not rained for some time, and the intense heat of the day was added to
by the heat from the fire. The situation was dangerous in the extreme.
Though he knew there were water and grass in plenty on Contraband among
its gorges and valleys, still he had not yet reached there. The cattle
were tired, thirsty, and restless. From experience he knew that tired
and thirsty cattle were more prone to rush than when rested and well
fed and watered, consequently he warned his men to be on the alert.
If the cattle smelt water and were startled, they would rush in all
directions, and there would be no holding them. It was, therefore, with
a sigh of relief that he kept the stock in hand until they neared the
long valley that ran between the ranges through which ran Silversand
Creek. Then the unexpected happened. As if by instinct the mob stopped,
with heads up and nostrils pointed, they sniffed and became restless.
The stockmen spoke to them encouragingly. "Whoa there! Whoa there!" as
they rode behind and beside the herd. All might have been well, but at
that inopportune crisis, a dingo, probably driven from the hills by the
bush fires, ran in front of the cattle and startled them. Instantly
they were off in a mad wild rush, heading up the valley towards
Contraband.

Lola-Sue, on Battle, had left the homestead some hours previously to
meet her beloved pal. Riding leisurely along with her thoughts on her
meeting with Humphrey Pryor, she suddenly heard a sound like muffled
thunder. Reining up in startled wonder, she looked at the sky, but
there was no sign of a storm. She couldn't make it out. Urging Battle
into a canter, she rode ahead, and turning round the point of a spur,
she saw a sight that instantly galvanised her into action. Rushing
straight towards her in a mad stampede was the maddened, frenzied mob
of fifteen hundred cattle, blind, senseless, irresistible. Turning,
she spurred Battle forward. The cattle were almost upon her. It was a
race for life and the horse knew it. No whip or spur was now needed.
Lola-Sue leant forward and spoke with a voice that the horse knew. He
gamely responded as he led the charging steers in a race of life or
death.

Humphrey Pryor saw the danger that his Little Wonder was in, and with
his men rode as if pursued by demons in their brave endeavour to turn
the rushing mob. With stock whips cutting, searing, like the lightning
strokes of fate, the men galloped their horses heedless of danger or
death in their desperate attempt to head the panic. Down the steep
banks of the Silversand they rushed and there the stockmen gained on
the mob. On the opposite bank they headed the cattle and stopped the
rush, but not before a hundred or more had been killed or so badly
maimed that they had to be shot.

When the rushing madness had been turned and stopped, Humphrey Pryor
looked for Lola-Sue and saw her riding back to meet him, her horse
reeking with sweat and foam, and she pale and shaking from the terrible
race. When he knew that the danger was over and that she was safe, he
sighed with a fearful gladness. Dismounting he held out his arms, and
she slid off her horse into them.

"Thank God, you're safe, my Lola-Sue," he said passionately, as he
crushed her to him.

And there came to Lola-Sue as her lover held her in his close embrace,
peace and contentment, and a knowledge that was now above and beyond
all questioning, the knowledge that she had a legal name to proclaim to
the world, and there was no further obstacle in the way of her marrying
the man whom she loved in a measure beyond all understanding.

Leaving his men to bring on the sobered cattle and the droving outfit,
Humphrey Pryor rode on to Contraband side by side with Lola-Sue. They
were intensely happy in their reunion. Riding slowly homeward both felt
that their mateship was made eternal by the sharing of a common danger.

In Humphrey Pryor there was a sense of an all-abiding love, almost
too deep for words. He saw in Lola-Sue's eyes a hundredfold welcome,
and all that he craved for now was the peace and quiet of Contraband
with his beloved ministering to him with her impulsive yet dainty
ministrations.

In Lola-Sue there was a new assertiveness born of the consciousness
that she was not, after all, base born. This gave her a rapturous
outlook on life and filled her with a jubilant wonder.

As they rode together on their tired horses through thickets of
dogwood, Lola-Sue told Humphrey Pryor all that Granny Hutton in
her dying hours had said to her, and he marvelled at the strange
coincidences that were revealed to him.

"Truly, Lola, mine," he said, "there's a Divinity that shapes our ends."

But of one thing Lola-Sue made no mention. That was of the visit of
Billy Stinson to Contraband. She, however, told him of the three
colts and of the three unknown men whom she and Boompa had surprised,
branding them, away in a remote gorge of the run.

This news caused him considerable concern. He questioned Lola-Sue
closely.

"Think, dear. Had you seen the men before? Were they at all familiar?"

"No, Humphrey. They were too alert. Before we could get near them in
the thick dogwood, they rode up the gorge and were soon lost to sight
round the bend of a spur. What do you think of the matter?"

"I think it is an attempt by the police at a frame up. You will
remember that I mentioned to you if they could not catch me red-handed
at horse stealing or cattle duffing, they would frame me. This looks
like my surmise coming true."

"Oh, but I'm sure the men weren't the police, Humphrey. They looked
more like expert stockmen."

"Oh, well, we'll wait and see. But I don't like the looks of things.
I'm sure it's a plant."

"Well, neither you nor your men planted those colts on Contraband.
You can prove an alibi, and Boompa and I can swear that the men were
strangers."

"No use, Lola. Neither you nor I would be believed. The men who planted
those colts on Contraband had an object in doing so--to get me--and
they'd swear anything to do that."

Then Lola-Sue saw red.

"My God Humphrey if the police attempt to arrest you, there'll be
something doing. If they attempt it they won't get away with it. So
there!" And her little white teeth snapped together like a steel trap.

"My Beauty," said Humphrey, laughing in spite of his concern, when he
saw the fighting glint in Lola-Sue's eyes. "What on earth could you do?
The majesty of the law is unassailable."

"Is it! Well the men who seek to uphold it are not. I have heard the
story of Granny Hutton's life. I am a grand-daughter of the bushranger
Gardiner. If you're arrested, your past record will go against you. You
might be sent up for years. If you're taken, what's to become of me? I
could not live if you were gaoled. We've been happy together, you and
I, and there is only one thing left to consummate that happiness--our
marriage. Now that I'm no longer a nameless nobody, I'll marry you
whenever you like. Do you think I'd let them take my man from me? My
God, no. You've been more than good to me, and more than patient.
You've played the game. You've honoured your agreement. Now I am yours
whenever you like to claim me."

Humphrey Pryor was amazed at this vehement outburst on the part
of Lola-Sue, and was overwhelmed by her passion, by her terrible
earnestness. He was more than glad that he had not forced her love.
This filled him with immeasurable happiness. Riding close up to her, he
put his right arm around her and almost drew her out of her saddle.

"You beautiful, fair-minded, loyal little soul, how I love you! To-day
is the copestone of my happiness. I believe you would fight with tooth
and claw for the man you love, and I am proud to be that man. It is
love such as yours that raises man above the brutes and makes him akin
to God."

Humphrey Pryor had not long to wait before his fears concerning the
matter of the colts were realised.

A few days after he had returned from his droving trip, he and Lola-Sue
rode out to inspect a bore that showed a diminished flow, and were
riding back to the homestead when, some distance away, they saw riding
up the valley towards them, two constables, in khaki, accompanied by a
black boy leading a pack horse.

A sense of deadly danger instantly impelled itself upon Humphrey Pryor
when he saw the trio cross the Silversand, making for the homestead.
Perhaps it was because his conscience was not clear. If not in the
matter of the colts of which he knew he was not guilty, then, possibly
as regards the cattle that he had recently lifted from Bogarella
and Babbiloara. However, he would wait and see. Whatever it was the
officers of the law required of him, he would stand his ground.

Lola-Sue, concerned for the safety of her mate, turned pale, but she
was deadly calm. Her lips were pressed closely together, and she
screwed her eyes half shut, which was a bad sign. Then she hissed out
between her teeth:--

"My God, if they dare arrest you, the fighting blood of Gardiner the
bushranger will avenge you."

"No, Lola, beloved, you mustn't take the law in your own hands. You
must not interfere. It will be better to keep cool. Wait and see."

When the constables came closer, Humphrey Pryor and Lola-Sue both
recognised Sergeant Conway, and with him was Constable Treloar, both
armed with rifles.

"Mr. Pryor," said the sergeant, riding up. "I've a warrant for yer
ahresht," and he proceeded to read it.

The sight of Sergeant Conway, whom she had never forgiven for the
slaughter of her goats, turned Lola-Sue's brain, and she became
homicidal. If it had been any other officer but Sergeant Conway who had
been deputed to arrest her lover, she might not have taken the matter
to heart so much. But that he of all men should dare to take her mate
into custody was beyond the limit of her understanding. She assailed
him with a torrent of abuse. Then turning Battle she galloped to the
homestead in a race for love and mate. She did not spare the noble
horse. When some of the men saw her ride up on a steaming foam-flecked
horse, they anxiously inquired what was up. Lola-Sue briefly told them
as she dismounted quickly, ran to her room, and took her rifle down
from its hide-loops on the wall, loaded it with hate, and threw her
cartridge bandoleer across her left shoulder. The men ran for their
rifles and wanted to come, too, but she forbade them.

"No--you men keep out of this," she commanded. "This is a matter that
concerns me and Mr. Pryor only."

The men did not like the look of things. There was madness in the
terrible earnestness of their "Little Wonder," and they knew that if
she shot she would shoot to kill.

Returning with the faithfulness of a dog for its master, she noticed
that Billy Stinson had, during her short absence, ridden up and joined
the police. Instantly, with a lover's unerring intuition, she now knew
who had planted the colts, and was responsible for the frame up, Billy
Stinson was jealous of Pryor and wanted to get him out of the way for
good.

"Well that was the way of it, was it?" she said to herself. Then
smiling a smile in which there was no mirth, she continued her
soliloquy. But he reckoned without considering Lola-Sue. That was
the weak link in his chain of scheming. Well now he must take the
consequence. How dare he interfere with her Humphrey! "He had been
taught his lesson when he interfered with her. Now it was a more
serious matter. God damn and blast his soul!"

Dismounting and letting Battle's bridle trail, she took up a position
behind a boulder. Looking carefully, she saw that Humphrey Pryor had
moved as if handcuffed. Raising her rifle, she sighted carefully and
shot Billy Stinson dead.

Sergeant Conway turned swiftly, but before he had time to raise his
rifle or speak, he too fell, shot through the head. Constable Treloar
slipped behind a tree and raised his rifle.

"Great God! Don't shoot, Treloar!" yelled Humphrey Pryor, who knew
that it was Lola-Sue who had fired. But the command came too late. His
rifle cracked, and its bullet sped across the Silversand, chipping
the boulder behind which, only half concealed, crouched Lola-Sue, and
pierced her left shoulder below the collar bone and above the heart.
The blackboy, feeling his presence there an error, gave a frightened
yell and bolted into the timber. He ran, and kept on running, as he
dodged with native cunning like a sinner chased by demons, down the
corridors of hell.

Constable Treloar unlocked the handcuffs, and he and Humphrey Pryor ran
to where Lola-Sue lay bleeding. She was badly hurt, but she looked up
with a beautiful smile when she saw Humphrey Pryor leaning over her and
holding her in his arms. Bending down and kissing her, he said, with a
voice of intense agony:--

"Lola, Lola, my own darling, why did you do it?"

Then turning to Constable Treloar he said, with snarling bitterness,
"May you be damned beyond forgiveness. You've shot the most loyal and
faithful little soul that ever lived."

"But I did not mean to hit her," said the penitent constable, as he and
Humphrey Pryor between them tried to stop the flowing blood. Lola-Sue
had fainted, and Constable Treloar ran to the creek and brought some
water in his hat. Taking out his handkerchief, he dipped it in the
cool water and bathed her face. Opening her eyes, she said weakly, "I
could not bear to see you . . . but . . . I did my best to free you, my
heart's mate. . . . . Kiss me once again, dear."

Humphrey Pryor, pressing her to him, kissed her softly, tenderly on
lips that were turning blue.

"Look, Lola, your engagement ring," he said, trying to speak
cheerfully, notwithstanding the agony of his soul, and he placed the
diamond loop on her finger.

She looked at it and smiled wistfully. "You darling," was all she said.
After a pause, she continued slowly, scarcely above a whisper, "We
were to be married, my mate . . . but to die . . . loving is, perhaps,
better. Who knows? They who have . . . wronged me, I might . . . in
the joy of your love . . . have forgiven. But, Humphrey . . . . there
is no forgiveness . . . for those who wrong you . . . . I'm sorry,
dear. . . . The hate in me . . . . is dead. Only love for you remains
through . . . . Eternity . . . in the Land O' Everlastin'."



THE END.



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