― 88 ―

The Second Flash.

The lightning seemed to split the sky from arch to horizon in one awful jagged tear, through which the impossible glory of heaven looked out.

For a moment the wide paddock was light as day, and they could see the surrounding wire fences, and the huddled shapes of the stud sheep in the far corner; the galvanised iron roofs of the station buildings, and the great black entire behind the sliprail, his head thrown back, as he snorted with terror. They could see the line of tea-trees beyond the swamp, and the ragged bark on the stems, the main road stretching between the gums towards the town; and they wondered if anyone from the door of the men's hut had seen them, as they stood hand in hand near the paling fence of the vegetable garden.

Then all was dark again, and the whole world blotted out. She drew near to him and shivered.

“I am afraid of the lightning, Tom,” she said. “You had better let me go.”

“Wait a minute, dear,” he said. “It won't hurt you. One more flash, and then I promise you shall go home. I wish to God we could go home together,” he added, passionately, gnawing his underlip and tugging at his moustache.

She could not see his face, but she slipped her band back into his as a cold wind began to rise among the trees by the creek, and blew her hair across her face. One drop of rain, sullen and large, fell on her upturned mouth, and he kissed it away.

“I will never see you any more,” she said, resting her cheek on his crushed holland coat-sleeve. “I wonder if I shall forget when—I marry Jim.”

“I wonder,” he said, sharply, and she felt his shoulders straighten and stiffen.

She knew he was angry again.

“Don't be cross the last time we have together,” she said. “Leave me something nice to think about, in case I should not forget.”

He kissed her lightly, and laughed a little. “What would Jim say if he saw us now?” he said.

“I wish he could,” she answered, very low, “if that would make him give me up for good and all—but it's no use going over the old ground. If I wasn't bound, you are, so it would come to the same thing in the end; and she has refused to let you go… Noblesse oblige. I don't feel very noble to-night!”

  ― 89 ―

They heard the hammer of hoofs on the hard main road.

“There's the mailman, trying to get in before the storm,” she said. “I really must go now, Tom.”

“You promised to stay until after the next flash,” he said, holding her hands tightly.

As they stood side by side, she leaning her head against his cheek, and he with one hand caressing her heavy hair, the second flash came. Again the heavens were rent and God looked out. The ringbarked trees seemed outlined with silver. A flight of wild duck passed with harsh quackings and cries over the roof of the station house, and a mob of cattle in the branding yards bellowed hoarsely. For a moment they looked on a transfigured world, and then without a sound they fell together, the girl half across the body of the man.

There was a smell of singed garments in the air, and the entire galloped neighing across the paddock.

The thunder reverberated in the ranges, and down came the rain like a waterspout.

The second flash had come, and they had gone home—together.