|Newspaper Title||The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)|
|Trove Title||His Especial Fear|
Barbara was alone on the station one Saturday afternoon except for the com- pany of the little half-caste help and a traveller who had arrived the night before from the township, and was resting in one
of the huts—recovering from the horrors, probably—at any rate he had seemed too
ill to move on.
A big bush fire having broken out un- expectedly, every man jack, from the boss to the chinaman cook, was away helping to put it out. Being Saturday the girls were busy for, in spite of cook'a absence, dinner ust be cooked for the jolliest night of the station week, and Barbara, with sleeves rolled up over her white rounded arms, was deep in the mysteries of pastry. The shadows were lengthening in the tangled, sweet scented garden, ana the station was so still that one could hear the splash of water as the colony of coots bathed in the rushy shallows of the creek, and the coo- ing voice of a scrub dove in the plantation of she-oaks near the stable. The half-caste girl was crooning to herself in the back kitchen—singing her swan song, although she did not know it. Her mistress looked
in the fire, and called out to the girl to
bring some wood, and she obediently pat- tered out into the yard. Then Barbara
heard a scream; not an ordinary shriek at all, but the sort you may hear if you ever happen to be on a sinking ship at the mo-
ment the deck slopes before the final plunge into the waters of death. Barbara had never been in a shipwreck, but she knew the worst, whatever it was, had hap- pened. Her heart leapt, and then seemed
to stand still, as she ran to the door.
The tall young half-caste lay in a tumbled heap beside her scattered armful of wood,
her head strained unnaturally backwards, and a long, deep gash across the lean, yellow
throat, from which the red blood was gushing. There was blood, too, on the long, sharp blade of the butcher's knife in the hands of the powerful-looking man who was stooping over her. He was a young fellow, with a negroish cast of features and lint- white hair, and she recognised him as the man who had begged a night's shelter the evening before, but he was changed now by the unmistakable glare of madness in the red-rimmed eyes.
The girl did not faint or scream; she knew that she was alone with the murderer on the station, and that her only safety lay in flight. Like most old station houses, Maxworlh bolts and bars existed in name only. There was not one room which could be closely fastened in the whole building. No; she must try and reach the garden, and hide in the rushes of the creek until she could get unseen to the road, along which the men would soon be coming. The half-caste was quite dead, she could see that, and with the icy weight still at her heart Barbara turned to steal away, and would have managed it successfully had not her pet kangaroo, who had been lying in the
shade of the wood-heap, made a spring to-
wards her, and so attracted the madman's
Barbara fled towards the scullery, and banged the door, and with the strength born of despair dragged the big safe across it; but she knew that her case was hopeless unless help came speedily—knew that be- fore another half-hour was over mistress and maid would be on a more equal footing than ever before; that her beautiful white body could claim nothing better from the earth than the lean, unlovely one of the daughter of a despised race. The man laughed wildly, and chattered to himself of spirits and the sacrifice. Before she could reach the one high window the safe fell in with a crash, and the strange, white face, with its bloodshot eyes, was close to her. She ran behind the wide table, all her senses seemingly doubly alert, for she heard with out noticing the splashing and twittering of the coots in the reedy shallows, and then the faint, even thud of horses' hoofs on the road which wound over the hollow ridge. Ah! if she could only keep him at bay a little longer. He seemed about to spring across the table, but, after a moment of in- decision, changed his mind, and, with a snarl of rage, threw his weight against it, striving to crush her against the wall, at which Barbara found her voice and sent a scream ringing through the house, for through the open window she had seen Jeff Wardlaw spring off his horse at the gate of the back-yard.
The madman made a sudden spring on to the table, and, seizing the girl by her hair,
dragged her head backwards just as Ward- law burst open the scullery door.
"The knife, the knife," shrieked Barbara. "Take it from him."
With the inconsistency of his kind, the lunatic turned and made a rush at Ward- law. The latter saw Barbara's terrified ap- pealing eyes, but he saw also the sharp up- lifted knife, and a vision of that lean throat with its horrible gash he had seen in the back yard blotted out the living woman's face. He only knew that the madman was coming to kill him, to pull back his head with more than human strength—to cut deep into the stretched skin with that sharp knife!
Long afterwards he remembered how the look of terror in the girl's blue eyes was overlaid by a slow wonder and bitter scorn —as he fled in an overmastering panic—the lunatic close behind him, to where his horse was standing at the gate. He threw himself into the saddle, dug his spurs into the animal's sides, and urged it at full speed away—from the long sharp knife and bloodthirsty eyes of that brute in human shape—and away also from the defenceless woman whom he loved.
Barbara was not killed after all, for Wardlaw's flight kept the madman gesticu- lating and dancing after, him for a minute or so, as he disappeared, in a cloud ol dust up tne road, and the girl had time to steal away into the garden, and through the plantation on to the road at the back of the house, for with a thrill of joy she re- membered that Rodwell was due from town at any moment, and her trembling limbs had not carried her far when she saw him riding leisurely along with the over- seer, whom he had picked up at the boun- dary gate. I don't know whether his sur- prise or joy was the greater when he saw her ruuning to meet him, but he knew that something distressing had happened when he saw her wild looks. Boor Barbara's over-strained nerves gave way when she saw his kindly face. "The madman," she gasped; "he is at the house; he has killed poor Rosie," and then she fainted in Rodwell's protecting arms.
The two men carried her to the overseer's cottage, where she soon recovered, and then they went on to the house and succeeded in disarming the mad traveller and shutting him up in the harness-room until the ar- rival of Barbara's father, who despatched a man to town for the police.
Wardlaw did not return to Maxworth Downs except once to get his things and receive his cheques. Urgent news had met him in town recalling him to the south, so he said, and as Barbara kept a silent tongue no one in Maxworth knew the real reason of his sudden departure. Years
afterwards the weekly paper brought ex- citement to the old station, for it told how Jeff Wardlaw had received the Humane Society's medal for saving life under cir- cumstances calling for unusual courage. And Barbara's plain-faced husband felt vaguely jealous as he watched her read the account; he could not interpret the look of mingled scorn and regret—as for a lost ideal—in those clear blue eyes.
And to his dying day Jeff Wardlaw will
remember that same look in those same eyes, when he left the one woman he cared for to her fate—the one person on earth who knew him for a coward!
And yet Wardlaw knows that he was the sport of fate—of circumstances—call it what you will, and had the madman chosen any other weapon but cold steel Barbara would have been his beloved wife, and his "special fear" unknown to anyone but himself.