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Chapter XXVIII

THEY walked together from the homestead along the straight wide track. Elaine, calm and subdued, wore a soft, grey silk frock, and her eyes looked beyond far horizons. On her left, Bob MacAndrew, four-square and solid, looked ahead at the green sweep of the paddocks to the hills, the tiny white dots of lambs among the grazing ewes, and along the wide, dusty road with its twin, parallel depressions patterned with car tracks.

On Elaine's right, with the long, supple thong of the stockwhip over the shoulder of his open-necked white shirt, Bill walked slim and straight, apparently watching two splendid bay horses, one carrying a pack-saddle with two swags, followed by Percy on a grey mare. Close at Bill's shoulder moved a beautiful brown mare whose eyes were also on the little cavalcade half-way up the narrow, winding track on the face of the hills.

At the white gate where the road crossed the creek and continued straight and broad on the other side to where a narrow winding track meandered off toward the rugged hills they halted, and turned toward one another.

Elaine broke the silence. “Are you sure you won't stay for another day, Bill? I'll take you on in the car to-morrow. We can easily catch up on Percy and the horses!”

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He shook his head with slow deliberation. “No, thanks. I'll keep going, Elaine!”

He stretched a brown hand toward the other man. “So long, Mac … good luck!”

“So long, Bill!” Then Mac turned and looked steadily out to the distant shimmer of the plains, and continued to gaze there.

“Good-bye, Lancelot!” The girl held out her hands to the horseman and he looked deep down into the dewy, grey eyes under the long lashes. And Elaine, looking past the twisted mask, saw nothing sardonic, nothing mocking under the drooping eyelid—only a great tenderness. And she slipped into his arms, gave her quivering lips to his, and closed her eyes tightly against the tide of tears she could not stay.

Two people stood silently at the white gate, watching the horseman ascending the final twist of the Bridle Track. He reached the summit, halted there a moment, the brown mare outlined against the sky, unconsciously paying farewell to the land of her freedom. The horseman looked back at the figures at the gate, raised an arm in farewell, and the summit was empty.

The girl and the man turned back toward the homestead, walking very slowly.

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