“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.”
“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 Cordon,” 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 lankylegged, 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.”