Read CHAPTER - IV of In The Far North 1901 , free online book, by Louis Becke, on

It was nearly midnight as Harrington took down the slip-rails and led his horse through the paddock up to the house, which, except for a dimly burning lamp in the dining-room, was in darkness.  The atmosphere was close and sultry, and the perspiration ran down his skin in streams as he gave his horse to the head-stockman, who was sitting on the verandah awaiting him.

“Terrible night, sir, but I’m thinking if it keeps on like this for another hour or two we’ll get a big thunderstorm.  ‘Sugar-bag’” (one of the black boys) “was here just now and says that the ant-heaps about are covered with ants ­that’s a sure sign, sir.”

“God send it so, Banks!  If no rain comes within two days, you’ll have to start away for Cleveland Bay with Mrs. Harrington and Miss Alleyne and the children.  We must find horses somehow to take them there.”

Before Banks led the horse away for a drink, he stopped.

“Miss Alleyne went to Canton Reef, sir, this morning with little Sandy.  She ought to have been here before dark, but I expect the horses knocked up.  There’s a couple of cows with young calves there, so Sandy says, and Miss Alleyne said she would try and bring them in if I would let her take Sandy.  We’ve had no milk, sir, for the children since Tuesday, and Miss Alleyne said that you would be vexed.  I would have gone myself, sir, but I couldn’t well leave, and I know Miss Alleyne will manage ­it’s only fifteen miles, and Sandy says that the two cows and calves are pretty fat and can travel; there’s a bit of feed at those waterholes about the Canton.  Most likely she and the little black boy have yarded the cows at the Seven-mile Hut and are camping there for the night But I’ll start off now, sir.  I’ve got Peter the Pig already saddled.”

“Yes, yes, Banks, certainly.  Why didn’t you start long ago?”

“Mrs. Harrington said I must wait for you, sir,” the man answered somewhat sullenly.

Harrington nodded.  “Hurry up, Banks; but here, take a glass of grog first.”

He watched the stockman disappear down the dusty track to the slip-rails, then he went inside, and sitting down at the table buried his face in his hands.  Then, booted and dusty, and tired in mind and body, he slept.

An hour had passed, and no sound disturbed the hot oppressive silence of the night but the heavy breathing of the wearied man.  Then through his dreamless slumber came the murmur of voices, and presently three figures walked quickly up from the milking-yard towards the house.

“He’s asleep, miss,” whispered Banks, “he’s dog tired But the news you have got for him will put fresh life into him.  Now just you go to him, miss, and tell him, and then as soon as I have given them cows a drink, I’ll bring you in some tea.  Sandy, you little black devil, light a fire in the kitchen and don’t make a noise, or I’ll tan your hide, honest.”

For a minute or so the girl stood in the doorway of the dining-room, holding a heavy saddle-pouch, in her hand, her frame trembling with emotion and physical exhaustion; and trying to speak.  As soon as she could speak, she walked over to the sleeping man and touched him on the shoulder He awoke with a start just as she sank on her knees, and leaning her elbows on a chair beside him, burst into a fit of hysterical weeping.  He waited for her to recover herself.

“Oh, I am so glad, so glad, Mr. Harrington!  Now you need not give up Tinandra... and the drought doesn’t matter... and oh, I thank God for His goodness that He has let me help you at last!” She broke off with a choking sob, and then, with streaming eyes, placed her hand in his.

Harrington lifted her up and placed her on a couch.  “Lie there, Miss Alleyne.  I will call Mrs. Harrington ­”

She put out her hand beseechingly.  “Please don’t, Mr. Harrington.  She is not at all strong, and I think I made her very angry this morning by going away to look for the milkers....  But look, Mr. Harrington, look inside the saddle pouch.”  Then she sat up, and her eyes burnt with feverish expectation, “Quick, quick, please,” and then she began to laugh wildly, but clenching her hands tightly together she overcame her hysteria, and attempted to speak calmly.

“I shall be better in a minute... empty it out on the table, please...  Banks says it is another outcrop of the old Canton Reef.”

Harrington picked up the saddle-pouch, and putting it on the table, turned up the lamp, and unfastened the straps; it was filled with pieces of rough weather-worn quartz thickly impregnated with gold.  The largest piece contained more gold than quartz, and an involuntary cry of astonishment and admiration burst from his lips as he held it to the light.

Nellie’s eyes sparkled with joy.  “Isn’t it lovely!  I can’t talk, my lips are so dry.”

Harrington dashed outside to the verandah filled a glass from the canvas water-bag hanging from a beam overhead, and gave it to the exhausted girl.

“Now don’t you attempt to speak for five minutes.”

“No, I won’t,” she said, with a faint smile, as she drank off the cold water ­and then at once began to tell him of her discovery.

“Sandy and I found the two cows and calves a mile this side of the Canton Reef in a gully, but before we could head them off they had got away into the ironbark ridges.  Sandy told me to wait, and galloped after them.  I followed him to the top of the first ridge, and then pulled up, and there, right under my horse’s feet I saw a small ‘blow’ of quartz sticking up out of the baked ground, and I saw the gold in it quite plainly.  Of course I was wildly excited, and jumped off.  The stone was quite loose and crumbly, and I actually pulled some pieces away with my hands, and when I saw the thick yellow gold running all through it I sat down and cried.  Then I became so frightened that Sandy might not find me again, for it would be dark in another hour, and so I ran up and down along the ridge, listening for the sound of his stockwhip.  And then I went back towards the outcrop of the reef again, and half-way down I picked up that big lump ­it was half buried in the ground....  And oh, Mr. Harrington, all that ridge is covered with it...  I could have brought away as much again, but Sandy had no saddle-pouch... and I was dying to come home and tell you.”

She breathed pantingly for a few minutes.

“It was nearly dark when Sandy came back.  He had run the cattle on to a camp about three miles away....  I don’t know which pleased me most, to get the cows so that poor Mable and Harry can have some milk in the morning, or the gold....  Banks met us half-way from the Seven-mile Hut, and took me off my horse and put me in front of him.”

Banks came to the door, carrying a tray with a cup of tea and some food.  “Here ye are, Miss Alleyne; ye’re a born stockman, an’ a prospector, an’ ­God bless you, miss, you’ve brought the rain as well.”

For as the rough, hairy-faced stockman began to speak, a low rumbling sound of thunder smote the silence of the night, followed by a loud appalling clap, and then another, and another, and presently a cooling blast of wind came through the open door, and stirred and shook the Venetian blinds hanging outside.  Banks almost dropped the tea-tray, and then darting outside, dashed his cabbage-tree hat on the ground, and began to dance as the first heavy drops of the coming deluge fell upon his head.

In less than ten minutes, Harrington, with silent joy in his heart, was standing at the doorway, watching the descending torrents of rain ­that rain which to his bushman’s heart meant more than all the gold which lay beneath the earth.  He had, as it first began to fall, rushed into his wife’s bedroom, and kissed her and the terrified children.

“The rain has come, Myra, thank God,” he said, and then he added quietly, “I have more good news for you in the morning.”

Mrs. Harrington said she was quite aware of the rain having come ­the disgusting noise of the thunder had made the children scream.  Had Miss Alleyne come back?  And brought the cows?  His other good news could keep till the morning.

Harrington turned away from her with a feeling of dulled resentment. He knew what the girl had suffered, and his wife’s heartlessness cut him to the quick.

As he stood watching Banks and the black boys filling every available tank and cask on the station from the downpour off the roof, Nellie rose from the couch on which she had been lying, and touched his arm timidly.

“Don’t you believe in God’s goodness now, Mr. Harrington?  See, He has sent the rain, and He has granted my daily prayer to Him that I, too, might help you.  And Banks says that this is not a passing thunderstorm, but that the drought has broken up altogether ­for see, the wind is from the south.”

Harrington raised her hand to his lips.  “I have always tried to believe in God and in His mercy, Miss Alleyne.”

“Not always, Mr. Harrington,” she said softly.  “Don’t you remember when all the Big Swamp! mob were bogged and dying, that you said that if He would not hear the moans and see the agonies of the beasts He had created, that He would not listen to the prayers of human beings who were not suffering as they suffered?  And to-day, as Sandy and I rode along to the Canton Reef, I prayed again and again, and always when I passed a dying beast I said, ’O God! have mercy upon these Thy dumb creatures who suffer much agony!

Harrington’s chest heaved.  “And I prayed as you prayed, Miss Alleyne; but I said, ‘O God! if there is a God.’”

She put out her hand to him and her dark eyes filled with tears.  “He has answered our prayers....  And now, good night...  I wish I could go out into the rain; I feel I could dance for joy....  Mr. Harrington, do let me go to the Canton Reef with you to-morrow.  Everything will be all right to-morrow, won’t it?  But there, how thoughtless I am....  I am going to milk those two cunning cows till they are dry; poor little Harry does so want some fresh milk.  Good night, Mr. Harrington; I shall sleep happily to-night ­everything will be all right to-morrow.”

At breakfast-time next morning the rain was still falling steadily, and Mrs. Harrington decided to join her husband at the morning meal.

Harrington rode up to the door and smiled brightly at his wife.  “Waiting for me, dear?  I won’t be long.  The river is running now, Myra ­running after two years!  I’m off to Miss Alleyne’s reef as soon as I’ve had a bit of tucker.  Where is she?”

“In bed, I presume,” said Mrs. Harrington acidulously.  “She might have remembered that I was very much upset last night by that horrible thunder, and have risen earlier and attended to the children.”

A look of intense disgust came over her husband’s face.

“Myra, the girl was done-up, dead beat!  Won’t you go and see if she is able to get up?”

Mrs. Harrington rose stiffly.  “Oh, certainly, if you wish it.  But I think it is a great mistake.  She really ought to have considered the children, and ­”

“Miss Alleyne is dead, sir!”

Harrington sprang from his chair.  “Dead, Mrs. Banks!”

“Yes, sir.  I was only just in time.  She on’y sez, ’Tell Mr. Harrington that I am so glad that everythink will be all right now.’  An’ then she smiled, sir, and sez as I was to kiss Master Harry and Miss Mabel for her, as she was agoin’.  And then she sez, ’Isn’t God good to send the rain, Mrs. Banks?  Everything will be all right now for poor Mr. Harrington ­rain and gold.’  Then she just laid quiet for a minute, an’ when I looked at her face again, I saw she was dead.”

A year later, Jack Harrington, again one of the wealthiest cattle men in North Queensland, and the owner of one of the richest gold mines in the colony, was riding home to his station.  Behind him he heard the clatter and clash of the twenty-stamper battery that on the “Canton Ridge” was pounding him in so many thousands of pounds a month; before him lay the sweeping grassy downs and thickly timbered creeks of a now smiling country.  His wife and children had long before returned to the cooler South, and in his heart was a great loneliness.  Not, perhaps, for them, but because of the memory of the girl whose prayer to the Almighty had been answered, and who was resting on the bank of the Gilbert under the shade of a big Leichhardt tree.