― 149 ―


THE two men sat after their evening meal (which had been indifferent, a descent from the feasts of Milly's reign) in the silence which had come to characterize their association. Lady Henrietta was with them. She had eaten nothing. The glasses at her right hand all were empty, as were those set by Flusky; only in Mr. Adare's were dregs of amber and garnet still to be seen, and by him stood a pair of decanters. The twilight had none of the calm of an English day's ending; a southerly breeze was relieving one of the hottest twelve hours the Colony had ever known, and clouds the colour of lead and blood were driving before it. The evening had a restless threatening quality, not brooding mischief but marching towards it, as though night were to be the signal for outbreak. All three persons at the table were aware of this uneasiness in the atmosphere, and two at least were glad of it, since it afforded a physical explanation for the apprehensions which beset them.

A cry, sudden and abandoned as the yelp of an animal, made Adare set down the glass he was twisting; Lady Henrietta clapped hands to ears, her mouth for an instant drawn square. Flusky, looking indifferently down towards the bay, said:

“One of the gins. Ketch is back; uses up a lot of wives.”

“What use is an infernal savage like that to any one?” said Adare, sharply. “Why d'you let them camp there?

  ― 150 ―
Why don't they gaol all these murdering devils, and keep them in gaol?”

“Well,” said Flusky, with composure, “he don't do no harm. He has his uses, Ketch.”

Adare was becoming conscious, through his irritation, of the ugliness of the thing he had said. He took some more wine, aware that he did not want it, and that the heat of the evening made drinking unwise, because he was at a loss for a movement to cover discomfort.

“He's come back with a yarn,” Flusky went on; then, as if checking a confidence: “but you can't believe all these coves say.”

Adare said idly: “I don't know how you make out their yabber. Worse than Irish. What's the yarn, as you call it?”

Flusky took a sip of water; then rose, and going to the window put two fingers fork-shaped to his lips. The whistle carried; it ran down the wind as down a slope. The cooee that acknowledged it sounded robust but far, so that it was astonishing to see, within fifty seconds of its utterance, the black outside the window, greased, and reflecting their table's light from cheeks and shoulders. His face was so marred with confluent small-pox that such skin as had escaped the sores stood up here and there in ridges like scars; his teeth were gapped as the ritual of his tribe prescribed; the whites of his eyes were bloodshot with dust. He stared eagerly at Lady Henrietta, who looked away from him. Flusky, standing square, tossed him a cigar, which the black immediately stowed in his mouth to roll and suck at. Adare had seen

  ― 151 ―
enough of the aborigines to find them repulsive rather than strange, and he had no great hopes of the promised yarn. Still, since his chair faced that way, he continued languidly to survey Ketch, whom Flusky addressed:

“You tella where you done been, what you find, Ketch, you sabby tell budgery.”

“Yuna bo ta bang wiyunnun tuloa,”note the black began.

Flusky interrupted roughly:

“Stow that, nobody sabby's that talk. Piyalla English, you sabby plenty. Say out what you told me.”

“Kabo, kabo,” the black answered, making placatory movements of his hands. “Ketch bin gone mountain, long, long——” He indicated illimitable distance with a hand pushed forward three or four times. “You gib Ketch lush?”

Flusky poured from the decanter by Adare's elbow a tumbler of wine, stirred a spoonful of mustard in it, and handed it to the black fellow, who swallowed it unquestioning, glared a moment as the mustard bit his throat, then rubbed his seamed chest, nodding and grinning, approving the power of the draught.

“Plenty budgery. Plenty strong. You gib?”

He held out the tumbler again, which Flusky put back on the table.

“That's enough. Get on, talk.”

The black rolled his eyes piteously upon the other two white persons, but perceiving that they were in no mood for almsgiving, began his story. It sounded, from

  ― 152 ―
the scurry of the words and the lively movements of the teller, to be one of continuous adventure; sentences tripped over each other, the hands continually eking out their meaning, sketching the flight of a bird, the cast of a spear, the shape of a mountain, the twists of a river. Adare understood nothing of it, and soon ceased the sport of trying to catch words. Lady Henrietta looked at her husband, then past him to the burdened racing clouds.

Ketch at last checked his story, and fumbled among the necklaces he wore, a medley of animal's teeth, corks, and the handles of cups strung on sinews from a wallaby's tail. He found something and held it forward between two fingers for inspection. Adare cast an indifferent glance, then straightened in his chair. The object was a flake of quartz; one side glinted as he turned it.

“God, Flusky,” said the young man, keeping his voice low, “surely that's gold?”

“You gib,” said Flusky to the black; and when Ketch hung back, made a movement towards the tumbler as though to refill it, at which promise of a bribe he untwisted his treasure.

“It's gold all right,” Flusky answered after deliberate examination.

“Ask him where he found it. Ask him if this was all.”

“Near the Fish River. Some gully near there.”

“You gib,” Ketch clamoured. “Minnung bullin bi? note You gib lush.”

  ― 153 ―

Flusky filled the glass with the same mixture, while Adare turned the scrap of stone and metal this way and that under the light, inviting Lady Henrietta to admire it. She looked troubled, could find nothing to say in wonder at the white stone veined with gold. The young man at Flusky's side asked for more details with an eagerness he was now at no pains to conceal. Flusky shook his head, and taking the quartz from him, casually returned it to the black with a jerk of dismissal. Adare kept silence while Ketch retreated, imagining this indifference to be part of a plan; then broke out with suggestions and devices.

“There must be more. Let's get an interpreter to question him—no, that won't do, of course, we don't want the whole Colony to know. How are we to get it out of him? How far is this river, has it been surveyed, are there roads?”

Flusky answered soberly:

“I only brought him up for the lark of the thing; something to do. You don't want to take it for gospel.”

“But it's gold. It must be gold!”

“It's gold all right.” He paused. “Did ever you hear about a cove called Parker?”

“Who, Nosey? Does that mean I'm asking too many questions?”

“Parker was a prisoner, got away from a road gang. When they found him, he had a lot of this stuff, stowed inside his shirt. They took the shirt off him, and the hide, too. He died, not so long after.”

  ― 154 ―

Adare stared at the square white face, the motionless hanging hands; looked to Lady Henrietta for enlightenment, but she was frowning; came back to the charge.

“But why? How long ago? Gold means wealth to a country, surely?”

“But it don't mean wealth where it's wanted, see, and that's why.” Adare, incredulous, was beginning to argue; the thick hand cut off his words. “Gold's found; as soon as that gets about, what happens? All the population goes after it, shepherds, farmers, useful men out of the towns. It pulls away all the labour. Land's no good without labour. And there's a lot of people here own land. Government included. I go in for land myself.”

His explanation ended with that sentence. What followed was in the nature of a commentary. “So, you see, they don't let it get about.”

“You mean, this man Parker was killed to silence him?”

Flusky did not answer. A sheet of lightning blanched the room and all three faces for a moment.

“It's coming,” said Lady Henrietta under her breath, beginning to reckon on the table with fingers the seconds that heralded thunder. Ten, twelve, fifteen——

“But a private individual—if you were to find it, or I, for instance; they couldn't touch a private individual. Parker was a prisoner. What could they do?”

Twenty. Thunder began to rip and mutter, coming up, like a discoverer blown by storm, along the coast

  ― 155 ―
from the south. Adare gave a laugh when it ceased.

“The Government! I don't believe it. It's money in their pockets, too.”

“I only know what I've heard. Parker wasn't the only one. Surveyor McBrian found gold in the river up near Bathurst. And there's a road there never got finished; improperly surveyed, they said, and shifted the road gang to Newcastle. I'm only telling you.”

“I can't believe they're such damn fools. I'm seeing the Governor to-morrow——”

“Charles! Are you?”

“A message, this afternoon.” He returned to Flusky. “Have you any objection to my making enquiries? Discreetly, of course?”

Flusky, hands in pocket, shook his head, and poured out water into a tumbler. Adare called:

“Look out, that's the glass the black fellow used.”

“So it is,” Flusky answered, rinsing out the dregs of claret and mustard before he filled it again and drank; then said, mildly raising his eyes: “If you want, you could come and look at my map.”

The map, a white space on which black symbols indicated the fall of water, lift of mountains, and those places where men had set temporary hearthstones, was coloured by Adare's imagination as a child fills in with chalks the line-drawings in a book. He had talked to men who knew the country, remembering their casual descriptions. He had turned over drawings in the Surveyor's office, and ridden towards the Blue Mountains

  ― 156 ―
with some of His Excellency's young men. With pleasure his mind projected the details of a journey. Plains first of all, yellow in the rainless autumn weather, whirlwinds of dust stalking on them, tall as the fisherman's jinn. Then ranges, similar as ridges left upon sand by the outgoing tide, above which crows flew level and eagles soared spiralling. Storms moved high above these hills with an escorting rattle of barren thunder. Winds from the north-west, constant as compass-needles, pointed towards country known as yet only to the black hunters, rich only in their food; grubs, snakes, tree creatures. Beyond this the rivers sank to links of ponds, or failed altogether, the earth gaped in broad cracks ancient and lifeless as craters of the moon. In such country, destitute of everything that gold could buy, gold reflected the sun unheeded; in piles of dirt scratched up by dingoes, in rocks whereon the blacks scrawled with soot and clay the hieroglyphics of their priesthood, in the roots of lean trees overturned by wind.

Adare, gazing at the map, went forward to the beckoning of this imagined thirst-defended gold. Flusky's voice came to him as though from a distance.

“Gold means trouble. Gold don't do nobody any good.”