Chapter 142935386

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Chapter Number
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142935386
Full Date1910-12-03
Page Number55
Corrections0
Word Count2746
IllustratedN
Last Corrected1970-01-01
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitleThe Gulf
article text

THE STORYTELLER.

THE GULF.

By II. FORREST.

Wave out of wave gurgled and plashed against the black jetty. It was a soft, dark night, wjth a fresh breeze springing sea wards. A sky full of stars, and the treds am

orphous blots against the hill-elopes.. Here and there a loom of white, traces of picnic* kers now departed citywards, picknickera who neglected the injunction boarded on $Ue trunks of the ironbark trees over the ever? empty boxes "Put rubbish here," end moon light would .have shown the unsightly remnants of cheerful meals, banana-skins, empty fish-tins, cast-by bottles; but a kindly Bhadow hid all, with mystery, and softened the outlines of familiar or sordid things. -

It. was Sunday night', so there was no lantern swinging on the long pier, no strident gramophone quarrelling with the sob of winds in the cotton trees, or rivalling the occasional shrilling of a flying-fox in the untidy wide-spreading Moreton Bay figs. In the shelter of the branches a woman's voice rose gently, in duet with a deeper tone. A night for lovers, a night for tender con fidences, hard to utter in the glaring light of day. Near to where the sand made a trail of grey-white against the inky cliff two figures, indistinct in outline, but at a formal distance from each other, sat silent. The man was smoking a cigarette, and the tiny reel circle was visible to the 6tray passers-by. Otherwise, they might have been upward-striking branches of the fallen tree, so Btill they were.

Presently the girl unclasped her linked iiands, turned her face towards the ruddy

ring.

"Have vvou heard anything of—him?"

Him—he was just the man to her—the

one in the world.

Her companion threw away his cigarette, and instantly fumbled for another. "I al ways told vou I would be straight with you—" he hesitated.

"You are his friend—and mine," she said, imply.

Tney could hear the sough of the waters against the posts of the jetlv, and the dis tant note of an organ in the little wind

swept church.

"Well—Marsden, of our firm, saw him when he was up the line. He is running the place for the old folk—things have gone wrong somehow — he told 51 arsden he meant to stay there—"

"Meant to stay there." A long shiver shook her from the curve of her small, dented chin to the soles of her bronze-clad

f cct

And now the organ ceased, and the sound of the waves was very loud. They called

her— . '

The man smoked that cigarette through, then he began to whistle softly to himself. Still she did not move, and the rattle of wheels on the road abot-e their heads grew and died again^nto the piglit. A motor

cnr hooted past, some,.girls laughed on the pier, and a fish Splashed ndisiiy, J "

"Meant to stay there!"

"Well, I've told you now—but perhaps he p ill change his mind," This avhb a practi cal man. He had few soft'WaiyB with wo men. He was loyal to his friend, hut he reamed over the girl with a manly man's hatred of a woman'B hurt.

"That is all I can tell you." He flung the end of the cigarette into the shadow, began to whistle again, checked himself, and sat in uncomfortable silence. Her head pas between her hands. She looked out where the grey uncertainty, meant shoreless waters. How the sea' called! Out there were the tides of Oblivion—out there—be yond the twisted mangrove tree, beyond the jut of rocks—0, Godl Forgetfulnesa—

The man was thinking more than he ubu nlly did, for he always told her she "went too deep for him," of the unfairness of life; life, whtch, in a measure, he had found good. JJere was himself—only too ready to com fort her—the woman whom Holbrooke, his friend, seemed to have left unaccountably comfortless— and there was she—

"What is the matter?" He laid a hand

gently on her shoulder, "turned her face to bis, but it was too dark to see more than

silhouettes.

"Why didn't he write to me—any way but this— this is a coward's trick, to Jet nie hear through.a third person—"

"You asked me for the truth," restless, for he hated to wound her.

"Oh, yes, I know. You are good and kind —and I am—how ungrateful—but, oh! why —why—why " .

She was back wbere his thought, his fancy, could not follow her back in a little l oom, smelling of roses, a great blaze of sun thrown in from a white wall shining in a square on Die an^ be. with the sun on hip hair, and the lovelighf.

, in his eyes, she only guessed at, for her face was hidden on his heart, and the tender voice whisper ing in her ear, "Dear love, dear love! Only have faith. 1 am coming back—I am coming back!"

She had believed him, raised her face to his, and given him her lips in full measure, blie had believed him even when the sound of his feet died on the wooden stair, even

when the days passed, and found her still

alone. She nad not been really unhappy, for was he not coming back—he had said so—his father had sent for him—the old man was breaking up—he wanted his only boy, and so he had chucked his job in the city, and gone west, but only for a time, lie was coming back when he had made suitable arrangements for the old couple. He was coming back.

Could he stay away from her? And she must have faith.

There had been a few hastily-scrawled1 letters—he was up to his eyes in work

there was much ne could not write—he would tell her some day—sop6 for a hungry woman to live on. Then the sops had ceased—weeks passed. His friends did all thc-y could to cheer her, but Holbrooke did not write to him either. Silence bad fallen, and a woman cannot live on memory—at least not such a woman as she—starving for the written word—the slow caress, the hand clasp, the sympathy—for she was so much alone—untended ivy with no oak to cling to. And now the end had come. It seemed to her that she was slipping into a great gulf with no human hand to aid her—and how the sea called.

When hi6 friend returned to the city to night—leaving her to Jier week-end in the big weather-stained hotels-would the sea still call as insistently—and no one to hold her back.

O! God! What a big wolf the world was;' greedy to devour our happiness, lying in wait" outside our frailly-barred doors of Eden, licking his chops, squatting lithe on liis haunches, ready to spring. ,

She baa known such a little taste of Eden.*] Iler days ha4 been such work-a-day ones, Her nights. ao> cruelly, lonely—cramped, stifled, .ner* lavish nature getting no free, nlav, the capacity f&r love in her passionate heart starved by environment, unsuitabili'ty, the jealousy of other women, until she met

Holbrooke.

A star fell.with a trail of glory in the west. The red glow of the revolving pile light Hipped, disappeared, leapt up again. She shuddered down on.to the inky bulk of the log, the man beside her put his arms about her, raised, and then gently released her,

"Dear," he 6a id,,, "it may all come right—? have patience-^-" - •;

"Patience!" she swung fiercely erect.

"Patience! I have Jived and slept and fedi

ujion patiencg :for, the last six weeks/i My doctor warns me I am breaking down; and asks what is troubling me—gives me tonics and can't account for my 'thready*! pulse'—my work is full of errors—my nights; spell despair—my d&ye endurance—and I am young—I have every bit as much right;, to be happy as any girl could have—Oh!, forgive me—I have never told anyone but you—one cannot talk to women—they sym{J pathise to one's face .and snigger behind; one's back—women are the foes of women

all the world over—happy Women the foes of unhappy -ones—I don t ipvite sympathy, so they hate me more for what they can

not understand—''

She choked, 'gripping he* fingers to gether— ' vL. '

He wore a puzzled frown and wished him self a glib-tongiied fellow who could say the right thing^he dreaded to open his mouth in fear;.-of. suddenly emitting the

wrong one, > -

And the waves sang a requiem to the jetty—the requiem of young faith—

"You know I would do anything in the world for you."

. Her eyes pierced the dark. He was look ing out into' the. menace of the waters. He had & googsprofile, It had often

struck her when sne saw him "with Hoi? brooke that be 'was . the handsomer mani She would have given all the ^orld that he should have been the'one to wid-her love. But Nature Works gtrangely, . ? How black the' gulf w;as. He* body

' • «r, A

burned, her eyes smarted, find1 then a hand of ice grasped'her heart, and slowly she felt, the blush of bitter humiliation fading from her 6kin. Cold: she. was cold for ever

now. 1

. And the gulf; how It yawned at her feet help—help—

She must have human contact — human sympathy—what matter what wrong it in volved. She could not fight any longer alone. Patience—endurance—and the gulf laughing widely there—laughing to suck its victim down into that rapacious maw. She \yas sliding—slipping—and away in the west under the night stars she pictured Hol brooke's complacent pipe, thoughts on stock land .'wool—anything hut the woman eating bqf heart out for him.

She leaned towards the man sitting rigid

beside her. .

Her voice was strange and hurried. '

"Hold me!" she said. "Close—ther—no, both your arms tightly—oh—save me—I am slipping away. Oh! don't leave me—don't

leave me now." „ |

Quickly—he was a practical man, and took what he could get of the crumbs cast to him —he folded her in his arms, and she let her head Bink with a little sigh against his

shoulder.

He was a practical man. He was I&Ibo a gentleman. With Bet lips and bard eyes he resisted savagely the inclination to kiss her. But, as someone says, man is an older word than gentleman, ana when she lifted her face to his, nestling closer to him, he forgot everything but her lips; yet, when he touched her, he wondered that any living face could be so cold. But the temp tation assailed him to make his situation a more or less permanent one, and now his way seemed clear, Holbrooke having with drawn from the field with none too much honour. And there were only his arms to keep her out of the gulf. So she stayed in them. For the waves crept nearer, aud called horribly—syren calls—she cowered to him to silence. I

Holbrooke took his valise from the rack , of the first-class smoker, jostled the guard in his eagerness to get on to the platform, and catch the first glimpse of the blue sparkle between the lanky swamp gums. The red road twisted in and out among the iron roofed houses; a flag flew from one of the new cottages. There was evidently some local reason for rejoicing on a small scale, and a merry-go-round noisy with children on

the flat.

Holbrooke could have whistled from sheer joy as he crossed the platform and out through the little white gate. Someone told him at the boardinghouse in town where she lodged that she had gone to the seaside for a week-end some ten days ago, and had not returned: that her letters were being forwarded there. He had not written to say he was coming. The stroke of luck in the selling of the stock which had enabled him to leave his harassed position, and take a run down to see her had been such a quick thing that he found he could arrive almost as soon a6 a letter, and he was no penman. It would be an

added pleasure to surprise her. To see the slow red chase the lily from her face, the 'deepening blue of her eyes—the look she 'kept only for him—the touch of whose hand

[turned her to throbbing flame.

[ He was not a very imaginative man, and he was a fatalist. This combination has produced mUeh evil—and always uninten tionally. He swung across the close-cropped green common, up Dy the ironbarks and on to the cliff. He knew her well enough to guess he would find her out' of doors in view of the sea, and probably hatless under the open sky, for' she loved sun and air with the love of the bush-born. Of course he was not mistaken. She was there, in a white froclc, bare-headed, beneath a red um brella, with an unopened book in her lap. There was none in sight save a few non descript children, playing aimlessly on the s£nd, and a blind man with a concertina and

3 lie tiptoecl" behind her, dropped his valise,

•put his hands over her eyes.

"Darling!'4 be whispered to her little ear, remembering his privilege to kiss it once in

a room full of roses.

He had never seen her look _ like t that. Her face was ashen, and her lips—surely she had been ill; quick compunction seized him. He itept round, sealed himselfbe side her, took her gloved hands in his. "Did I startle you? Oh, Mimi, I have wanted you so desperately—not a. word of welcome —Girl—there I have been working myself silly—things were in a horrible muddle up there. I've scarcely had time for meals— or minutes to 6leep—there was a ghastly mistake about a mortgage, and a scoundred of a lawyer. I've hardly had time even to tliink of anything else—and I suppose you and Keith—by the way, have you seen him? I askea him to look after you be fore I left—I hope he has done so." With a laugh as the colour crept back in two scarlet spots to her cheeks—

"Yes." Her voice seemed to her as something cold and aead trailing cerements in the air. "Yes," he has looked after

me.'

"Right. But tell me, sweetheart, are you cross with me for not writing? I don't think so, you know that I make no fist at letters, and I told you I would come back. So I did!" Smiling boyishly, all the care of the last few months dissolving like mist in her presence. "You are just a little angrv? Well, I will make it up to you tenfold." , , ?

There were a thousand things she had to tell him—things that Keith with all his honest loving could never understand. A thousand things, but she knew if she opened her lips t upon them she would only babble meaninglessly.

Slowly she began to pluck the gloves from her hands. Then she crossed their white ness in her lap. The left above the right. The sun slid down and caught it and danced like a'mocking eye on the gold,but the lover, with his gaze on her face, where the colour came and went, did not see. *

He was telling her of all he had been doing: telling her with the eagerness of a man in whom speech has been locked for weeks of the*bookkeephig1*under the miser able'oil lamp in the snider-haunted office up at the grazing farm, hands stiff from axe or rain. "Post-holes, everything, dear. I've worked like a nigger, but I think they are straight now; anyway for a time; and I have a whole fortnight to give to you. What would you like to do, Minii?"

He told himself he had forgotten" bow deeply blue her eyes #erO, for agony is as beautifying as rapture to some eyes. Then evyiftjy she put her hands over her ears, and once again the slanting suti mocked him frtnrthe gold. * - ' ~

. l"yhe seal!' she cried. The seal

He -was grave witb a warning, of guick MhdB into triuch his feet had unconsciously

' '" ' ' " " — VI

st&yfed'r^guriph Vent the treachery^ 1

ehiWjpg'whfaV88-luck the syren mppth. flP'P'WriNto Ja

btmr in-the Voiceless wed. v .. ?

' Then he saw the new ring-^plam and gold,

Wdhsjphol»cal.of:the;lifelikd union—op bprl

" 'And ihe knew what had happened to]

Mimi,