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- An Outback Marriage - 10/39 -


on. Push along, Mr. Gordon, and tell Martin I'm coming."

With some reluctance Blake got into the waggonette; before long they were at Donohoe's Hotel, and Mary Grant was soon rigged out in an outfit from Mrs. Donohoe's best clothes--a pale-green linsey bodice and purple skirt--everything, including Mrs. Donohoe's boots, being about four sizes too big. But she looked by no means an unattractive little figure, with her brown eyes and healthy colour showing above the shapeless garments.

She came into the little sitting-room laughing at the figure she cut, sat down, and drank scalding tea, and ate Mrs. Donohoe's cakes, while talking with Father Kelly and Blake over the great adventure.

When she was ready to start she got into the waggonette alongside Hugh, and waved good-bye to the priest and Blake and Mrs. Donohoe, as though they were old friends. She had had her first touch of colonial experience.

CHAPTER VII.

MR. BLAKE'S RELATIONS.

As soon as Hugh got his team swinging along at a steady ten miles an hour on the mountain road, Mary Grant opened the conversation.

"Mr. Gordon," she said, "who is Mr. Blake?"

"He's the lawyer from Tarrong."

"Yes, I know. Mrs. Connellan called him the 'lier.' But I thought you didn't seem to like him. Isn't he nice?"

"I suppose so. His father was a gentleman--the police magistrate up here."

"Then, why don't you like him? Is there anything wrong about him?"

Hugh straightened his leaders and steadied the vehicle over a little gully.

"There's nothing wrong about him," he said, "only--his mother was one of the Donohoes--not a lady, you know--and he always goes with those people; and, of course, that means he doesn't go much with us."

"Why not?"

"Well, you see, they're selectors, and they look on the station people as--well, rather against them, you know--sort of enemies--and he has never come to the station. But there is no reason why he shouldn't."

"He saved my life," said Mary Grant.

"Certainly he did," said Hugh. "I'll say that for Blake, he fears nothing. One of the pluckiest men alive. And how did you feel? Were you much frightened?"

"Yes, horribly. I have often wondered whether I should be brave, you know, and now I don't think I am. Not the least bit. But Mr. Blake seemed so strong--directly he caught hold of me I felt quite safe, somehow. If you don't mind, I would like to ask him out to the station."

"Certainly, Miss Grant. My mother will only be too glad. She was sorry that we did not get down to meet you. The letter was delayed."

Mary Grant laughed as she looked down at Mrs. Donohoe's clothes. "What a sight I am!" she said.

"But, after all, it's Australia, isn't it? And I have had such adventures already! You know you will have to show me all about the station and the sheep and cattle. Will you do that?"

Hugh thought there was nothing in the world he would like better, but contented himself with a formal offer to teach her the noble art of squatting.

"You must begin at once and tell me things. What estate are we on now?" she asked.

"This is your father's station. All you can see around belongs to him; but after the next gate we come on some land held by selectors."

"Who are they?"

"Well," said Hugh, a little awkwardly, "they are relations of Mr. Blake's. You'll see what an Australian farmer's homestead is like."

They drove through a rickety wire-and-sapling gate and across about a mile of bush, and suddenly came on a little slab house nestling under the side of a hill. At the back were the stockyards and the killing-pen, where a contrivance for raising dead cattle--called a gallows--waved its arms to the sky. In front of the house there was rather a nice little garden. At the back were a lot of dilapidated sheds, leaning in all directions. A mob of sheep was penned in a yard outside one of the sheds; and in the garden an old woman, white-haired and wrinkled, with a very short dress showing a lot of dirty stocking and slipshod elastic-sided boot, was bending over a spade, digging potatoes.

The old woman straightened herself as they drove up.

"Good daah to you, Misther Gordon," she said. "Good daah to you, Miss."

"Good day, Mrs. Doyle," said Hugh. "Hard work that, this weather. How's all the family?"

"Mag--Marg'rut, I mane--she's inside. That's her playin' the pianny. She just got it up from Sydney."

"And where's Peter?"

"Peter's shearin' the sheep. He's in that shed there beyant. He's the only shearer we have, so we tell him he's the ringer of the shed. He works terr'ble hard, does Peter. He's not--" and the old woman dropped her voice--"he's not all there in the head, is Peter, you know."

"And where's Mick?"

"Mick, bad scran to him! He's bought a jumpin' haarse (horse), and he's gone to hell leppin! Down at one of the shows he is, some place. He has too much sense to work, has Mick. Won't you come in and have a cup of tay?"

"No, we must get on, thank you," and Hugh and Mary drove off, watched by the old lady and the lanky-legged, shock-headed youth--Peter himself--who came to the door of the big shed to stare at them.

As they drove off Hugh was silent, wondering what effect the sight of the selectors might have had on Miss Grant.

She seemed to read his thoughts, and after a little while she spoke.

"So those are Mr. Blake's poor relations, are they? Well, that is not his fault. My father was poor once, just as poor as those people are. And Mr. Blake saved my life."

Hugh felt that she was half-consciously putting him in the wrong for having more or less disapproved of Mr. Blake; so he kept silence.

As the team bore them along at a flying trot, they climbed higher and higher up the range; at last, as they rounded a shoulder of the hillside, the whole valley of Kiley's River lay beneath them, stretching away to the far blue foothills. Beyond again was a great mountain, its top streaked with snow. At their feet was a gorgeous scheme of colour, greens and greys of the grass, bright tints of willow and poplar, and the speckled forms of the cattle, so far down that they looked like pigmy stock feeding in fairy paddocks. Across the valley there came now and again, softened by distance, the song of the river; and up in the river-bend, on a spur of the hills, were white walls rising from clustered greenery.

"How beautiful!" said the girl, half standing up in the waggonette, "and is that--"

"That's Kuryong, Miss Grant. Your home station."

CHAPTER VIII.

AT THE HOMESTEAD.

Miss Grant's arrival at Kuryong homestead caused great excitement among the inhabitants. Mrs. Gordon received her in a motherly way, trying hard not to feel that a new mistress had come into the house; she was anxious to see whether the girl exhibited any signs of her father's fiery temper and imperious disposition. The two servant-girls at the homestead--great herculean, good-natured bush-girls, daughters of a boundary-rider, whose highest ideal of style and refinement was Kuryong drawing-room--breathed hard and stared round-eyed, like wild fillies, at the unconscious intruder. The station-hands--Joe, the wood-and-water boy, old Alfred the groom, Bill the horse-team driver, and Harry Warden the married man, who helped with sheep, mended fences, and did station-work in general--all watched for a sight of her. They exchanged opinions about her over their smoke at night by the huge open fireplace in the men's hut, where they sat in a semicircle, toasting their shins at the blaze till their trousers smoked again, each man with a pipe of black tobacco going full swing from tea till bedtime. But the person who felt the most intense excitement over the arrival of the heiress was Miss Harriott.

For all her nurse's experience, Ellen Harriott was not a woman of the world. Except for the period of her hospital training, she had passed all her life shut up among the mountains. Her dream-world was mostly constructed out of high-class novels, and she united a shrewd wit and a clever brain to a dense ignorance of the real world, that left her like a ship without a rudder. She was, like


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