Chapter 160172224

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Chapter NumberXVI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160172224
Full Date1886-12-04
Page Number44
Corrections0
Word Count1799
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

THE NOVELIST.

A LIFE'S PUNISHMENT.

By E. Davenport Cleland.

CHAPTER XVL

The force! inactivity of our position bore very hardly upon the two men. If they could have found some outlet for their feel ings in physical labour of any kind: if they

had been obliged to be on tbe watoh for a renewed attack) anything, in fact, would have been a relief to them. But as it was they had simply to lie abont and wait and helplessly watch the strong young life of the boy slipping silently and slowly away like mist wreaths on the hills.

In the afternoon McPherson sent them do wn the creek to see if the blacks were still in the

neighbourhood, bat they fonnd the camp

silent and deserted, and climbing the hill, coald see in the distanoe what they took to be natives crossing an open spaoe in the sornb and returning towards the back country.

Neither McPherson nor myself made any effort to talk, but sat beside Walter and paid him all the attentions—poor as they were— that lay in our power. Towards sundown he became feverish and his mind began to wander, going back to biB sohooldayB and bis life with his mother in the old home. But never once did my name cross his lips. How eagerly I listened for it! Hoping that he might recall some little incident of the days when he knew me as his father, and that he would speak lovingly of me, perhaps in the same breath that he whispered his mother's

name.

The shadows of tree and rock grew in length, and the sun sank below the horizon away beyond the deBert, in the direction of the home which would never again bB brightened by the sound of Walter's laagb, or oheered by the tone of his voice. For a minute or two after tbe Ban had set the sky remained colourless, and then the heavens blazed with the gorgeous colours of an Australian sunset. The sky was brilliant to mid-heaven, and the glow falling on the face of the dying boy lit it up with celestial radianoe. This lasted for a while, and then the glow began to pale and fade away, until nothing of its splendour remained but a long narrow streak of crimson on the horizon. We were in darkness, except lor the flickering light of the oamp-fire. Away out from tbe hill we could see the scrub tightened op by the soft white light of the moon. Gradually it rose higher and higher, and the great field of light crept along the bushes nearer and nearer until the moon herself overtopped the hill and shone down upon us. The sky was cloudless, the wind had died away, and perfect etillness reigned supreme. It seemed as if Nature was waiting silently and reverently the fulfilment of one of her inexorable laws; as if, having passed sen tence of death upon one ot her higher crea tions, she wished that he should pass away undisturbed by outward commotions.

As the small hours of the morning crept away Walter became quieter, and seemed as if he was sleeping. But when the first light of the coining day fell upon our camp, and

growing etronger enabled ub to Bee Walter ] more clearly we noticed that bis eyes were open, and that over his face had come that mysterious expression which eo often pre cedes death. I made some remarks to MoPherson in an undertone, but Walter caught the sound of my voice and recognised it. He turned his eyes towards me, and a

gentle, happy emile brightened his face for j an instant, bat he kept his gaze fixed npon me, and I felt consoled by the thought that at the last moments of his life my boy recog nised me as a friend.

The dawn grew brighter and brighter, and the eky above the hill flushed rose colour at the sun's approach. But aB tbe light of day grew in strength so the shadow of death crept closer and closer, and as the sun rose and his beams gilded the scene a slight tremor passed through Walter. He partly arose from bis bed, and then as he fell back we knew that he had gone down into the valley of the shadow and there rested upon his face " that sweet other-world emile."

We made his grave at the foot of a rock close to the camp. We had no tools, and the ground was bard, but the men, glad of the relief, worked with a will, and with knives, and hands and stioks, scooped out a resting-place for my boy.

We had no prayer-book with us, and none

knew by heart any portion of the burial j

service. We laid tbe body in the grave wrapped in a blanket, and strewed gum boughs over that, and then the earth. As soon as this was done I went away down the

creek. £ could endure no more and wished |

to be alone.

When I returned I found that Walter's

initials bad been scratched upon the rock, , and that a fire had been lit above the grave so that the ashes might conceal the newly moved earth from the natives, and thuB pre vent them from disinterring thebody.asother wise they would do according to their

custom.

We might resume onr journey now, there was nothing more to be done, and in two

hours' time the horses had been saddled and I packed, and with one last look at the I smonldering ashes which covered Walter's |

remains, we rode away.

Onr homeward journey was simply a repe tition of the chief characteristics of our out

ward, with the exception that we were un molested by natives. But we became very weak for want of proper food, and found that the long day's travelUng exhausted ns more than formerly. My recollection of those days iB dim and uncertain. I felt as though oppressed by nightmare, and rode along as in

a dream. Would that it had been so; that 1 might at last have awakened to find my boy alive and well, and talking to me as of old on the snbjects we loved in common.

In due time we arrived at the first oattle station—the one which had before hospitably treated ns—and were warmly and heartily welcomed. And we stood in need of good treatment and a few day e' rest. Had we been forced to journey much further under the same conditions others of onr party would have been left behind. Even McPherson confessed that this trip had tried him more severely than any be had ever undertaken.

The letters from this station were sent

once a fortnight to a station about 40 mileB |

farther south to meet a mail which then carried them on towardB the city. It hap pened that the day following our arrival was the one on which the maffboy left to meet the ooach, and MoPherson wrote to Mr. Hardinge giving him a report of onr journey, and of the death of Walter. This was a great relief to him; he said that he could not have told the story in the presence of Mrs. Hardinge. This having been done there was no reason for us to harry back to Pamatta; we could take a week's rest to re cruit our strength. The following week wonld be tbe mail day, and McPherson pro posed that we shonld catch the ooach, leaving the two men to follow leisurely with the packhorses. We oarried out this plan, and arrived at Pamatta late one evening. The coach passed 5 miles to the west of the

station, and as Hardinge did not know of our plans, there was no one to meet us at the nsnal point But we got over this difficulty by walking to the hut of a boundary-rider, who lived not far from the road, and taking his horses rode into the station. Everybody welcomed on. but not so oheerfully as would have been the case if Walter had also re turned. He had made himself liked by the men, and one and all expressed their sorrow

at his fate.

Word of our arrival was sent np to Hardn^e, and before we had finished supper he came in. At first he only referred to our trip in regard to the description of oountry we had met with, but afterwards when the table was cleared and we were alone he sought full details about Walter. McPher bod was the narrator, and I was able to keep in the background. Hardinge was more deeply moved by the recital than I had expected, and I experienced a stronger liking for him than hitherto, for the sake of the affection he had evidently felt for my boy.

Hardinge told us, when McPherson had concluded, that Mary was very ill indeed. It appeared that «he had never thoroughly reoovered her last illness, she had remained delicate ever since, and when McPheraon's letter came with its fateful story she had broken down completely. The doctor bad visited her, but could apparently do nothing. As soon as she reoovered sufficiently to stand the journey Hardinge intended to take her to Adelaide. At piesent she was confined to her room.

I think I almost felt a sense of relief on hearing thiB last remark. Daring the journey my attention dad been occupied by the hard ship and dangers we endured, and I had had no time to dwell npon the peculiar position in which I stood with regard to Hardinge and Mary. But now that I had returned all the old feeling came back, and I knew that the sight of Mary and Hardinge together would nrodnee the same jealous pangs that had formerly tortured me. I felt that I had not gained strength in tins respect, and once again began to consider if it would not be the better plan to leave the station and endeavour to live oat the rest of my days elsewhere. But there was time enough to consider that idea. At present I should not meet Mary face to faoe; I should not see Hardinge with her; and lastly I could not have gone away until I knew that she was recovering. And so I put off from day to day the thing which 1 should have done at first.

In a day or two after our return we re snmed our respective duties, and ^everything went on as UBual in as mnoh as concerned the

working of the station. Weeks and months passed away, shearing was again at hand, but Mary was not recovering, nor was I more reconciled to the loss of my companion.