no next

  ― 279 ―

Chapter XX


ABOUT four o'clock the next day we reached the western base of the mountains and found the six carriers patiently awaiting our arrival. They had felt the same shock, had also seen the great cloud of smoke and ashes, but had no conception of its meaning. When we related to them a complete description of the dreadful catastrophe which had befallen our pursuers, their horror and astonishment knew no bounds, and fearing something dreadful would happen to the village now it was no longer under the protection of the great idol, we had little trouble in persuading them to journey with us. This was a piece of unlooked-for good fortune, for with such fellows to carry the water and provisions, of which Ada had put up a goodly quantity, we felt our terror of the great plain rapidily diminish. The winter was now come, and if the rain-god proved propitious, we might reckon upon surmounting this last great trial. By rough calculation we had a distance of from four to seven hundred miles to go before we could reach the sea, but we hoped that half that distance would find us striking one of the outlying posts of some great station. It was a terrible undertaking, especially with a woman, but as there was no other or better way of getting out of the difficulty, we were forced to face it with what spirits we could command.

We decided to travel by night, as the heat was still too great to journey in during the day, and about six o'clock that very evening our little band set out to cross the great desert which stretched away before us into the illimitable glory of the setting sun.

To repeat the history of this march to the West

  ― 280 ―
Australian seaboard would be but to narrate, with slight variation, that which has been described so fully in the preceding chapters. There were the same vast stretches of desolation, the same cheerless and dreary prospects; though the farther west we advanced the better became the country, great forests and grassy plains appearing in the place of the awful sterility of the inner regions. Luckily the winter was, unlike its predecessor, a wet one, and though we suffered much inconvenience from cold, not once were we afflicted with those dreadful pangs of thirst which rendered the first part of our journey so terrible.

On the twentieth day out we struck a native camp and reckoned that at last we had left the great desert behind. Here our carriers took French leave, but as the country had every appearance of improvement, grass shrubs and occasional clumps of trees being met with, the loss of their companionship affected us but slightly. We attempted to discover from the natives the whereabouts of the nearest station, but they could give us no information, though when I asked in which direction the great city (Perth) lay, they unhesitatingly pointed to the S.W.

The heroic behaviour of our fair companion was beautiful to witness. No finer example of sheer downright pluck and tenacity of purpose did ever exist in man or woman. She never flinched, she never murmured, but struggled bravely on and on beneath the glaring sun, or across the dark, cold, rain-swept sands of the great solitude. We naturally husbanded her strength, for once let her break down and the horror of our situation would have been extreme. Consequently there were no forced or rapid marches and our progress was exceedingly slow. Yet on we went none the less steadily, and one day, with feet blistered, clothes torn and travel-stained, and all our physical energies thoroughly exhausted, we—Dick and I leading Ada between us—drew up at the door of a shepherd's hut through which stole the grateful odour of a meal.

The shepherd was none the less pleased than astonished at our appearance, and with true bush hospitality begged

  ― 281 ―
us to enter and eat. We stayed there that night, and after the meal I well remember how anxiously Dick asked the man if he had any tobacco in the hut, and with what joy he received an affirmative reply. For many a weary day we had smoked nothing but stringy bark, and to get a pipe of even bad tobacco was happiness inexpressible.

In the morning, having again partaken of a hearty meal, we set out for the home station, which was about six miles away. Before we departed, however, Dick made the shepherd a present of a ruby which would have brought him fifty pounds at least.

Walanala was the name of the station, and a Mr. James Mitchell its proprietor. He was a good-hearted man, and gave us a cordial welcome to his lonely homestead. His wife, a kind and gentle soul, no sooner heard our story than she took Ada in her arms and kissed and cried over her with all the affection of a mother. She also presented our dear companion with a complete outfit from her own wardrobe, Mr. Mitchell doing the same for us.

We stayed with those charming people a fortnight, and at the end of that time, our constitutions having regained their wonted vigour, we set out for the capital, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell accompanying us for ten miles of the journey. We wished to buy the splendid horses we rode, but the genial squatter would not hear of such a thing. He gave us the address of a livery stable in Perth, and to it we were to send the animals when we had finished with them, when in due time they would be returned to him. He also lent us twenty pounds in gold to help us along, our rubies not having yet been converted into that precious metal. Such great kindness in a stranger affected us deeply, and Dick before leaving pressed Mrs. Mitchell to accept one of the big rubies. Ada and she wept bitterly at parting, and as I wrung the good squatter's hand I felt a lump rise in my throat, and with difficulty I repeated my invitation to him should he ever come to England.

The journey from Walanala to Perth was soon covered, and the day after our arrival in the capital Ada and I were

  ― 282 ―
married, Dick and the landlord of our hotel witnessing the ceremony. Then I went to make inquiries concerning the former life of Harold Mayne. I found the commissioner of police a most agreeable gentleman, who, after I had given him my name and stated my business, at once gave the necessary orders for an investigation, telling me that he would send the report to my hotel as soon as it was ready.

That evening I received the following letter from the chief commissioner's office:—

“Sir,—Harold Mayne was the manager of S—— and M——'s bank in the City of London, and was convicted of robbing that institution to the extent of £15,000. He was tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to transportation to the Swan River Settlement for fifteen years. There were, we believe, many doubts of his guilt at the time, but circumstances proving against him, he was convicted as stated above. His career in the settlement was an exceptionally good one, he having spent ten years without once being reported for insubordination or any of those outbreaks so grievous to the welfare of that unfortunate class to which he belonged.

“One day he disappeared from the station to which he had been allotted, in company with another convict named Joseph Morton. It is also reported that they took with them a child of Mayne's. Nothing has been heard of them from that day to this, and it is presumed by the authorities that they either died of starvation in the bush or were attacked and killed by the natives.

“Six months after Mayne's escape we received information from England that the chief cashier of the bank to which he belonged had confessed, upon his death-bed, that he was guilty of the crime for which Mayne suffered. Accompanying the despatch was a free pardon for that unfortunate man.”

My eyes swam with tears.

“Thank God,” I murmured again and again.

Dick was equally affected. “God bless her,” said he. “I knew there was no criminal blood in her beautiful veins.”

He in the meantime had not been idle. He had sent the horses to the livery stables, sold six of the rubies, for which he only received £300 instead of so many thousands, and with the exception of half-a-dozen small ones and one eye of the great idol, which he meant for his sister Kate, he handed the rest to me to sell for him when I got to England.

  ― 283 ―
“Though mind,” he said, “half their value belongs to Ada.”

As there was no more business to detain us in the West Australian capital, we set out for King George's Sound, where we took steamer for our different destinations, I and my wife to England, Dick and the trusty Jimmy back to Melbourne.

Our parting was a dreadfully sad one. We shook hands time after time, and it was only when he promised to come and visit me in England that I could make up my mind to separate from him. Ada, poor thing, was as pale as death, and she wept bitterly.

“Good-bye, Ada,” he said, his voice choked with emotion, “good-bye, and may God bless you for ever and ever!” Then, as if he could bear the torture no longer, he clasped her in his arms with sudden fervour, printed his first kiss upon her lips, and was gone.

His ship steamed close to ours as she passed out on her way to the great eastern cities, and I saw him standing amid a crowd of gaping passengers waving his hat, while over the water came the strong accents of his voice—

“God bless you, Archie, God bless you!”

Little remains to be told. On my arrival in England I had no difficulty in disposing of the rubies, which, proving to be of the very first water, brought the splendid price of forty thousand pounds. A half of this I retained as commanded, and sent the balance to my cousin.

Several years have now passed since our separation at King George's Sound, but Dick has not yet kept his promise and visited me, though he writes that he is in excellent health and quite equal to undertaking another journey to the Golden Lake. When he arrived in Melbourne he discovered that his mother and sisters had given him up for lost. “Therefore,” he wrote, “you may imagine their amazement when I suddenly turned up with a history of our journey. My poor old mother was beside herself with joy, for however worthless a fellow others may think me, she knows me to be the very best son in the great wide

  ― 284 ―
world. Kate teases me no more. She says the ruby is too lovely for anything, and that I am the best brother a girl ever had. How these women do change to be sure! Jimmy, the ever worthy (I have sent you his photograph as desired), stayed with me for three months, at the end of which time he got so sick of town life that I had to pack him off to a station on his beloved Murrumbidgee. He is not a talker, but, like the illustrious parrot, he thinks a deal. Nevertheless, he has hinted that Ada is the most marvellous woman in existence, while you and I are a couple of very superior persons, &c.”

My wife is as beautiful as ever, and will ever remain so to my bewitched vision. She has presented me with a wonderful boy who is destined to bear through life the honoured name of Richard Hardwicke Martesque. That the spirit of his godfather may animate his breast and make him such a man, is the unceasing prayer of his devoted parents.

We often speak of the people of the Mandanyah, of Kalua the king and Wanjula the priest, and are longing for the time to come when dear old Dick shall sit with us round our own fireside, and talk of the old wild days we spent together while journeying to and from the Golden Lake.

no next