“Ought we not to have dispersed the heap?” said Mrs. Heathcote at last. The minds of all of them were full of the matter, but these were the first words spoken.
“I’ll leave it as it is,” said Harry, giving no reason for his decision. He was too full of thought, too heavily laden with anxiety, to speak much. “Come, let’s get on; you’ll want your dinner, and it’s getting dark.” So they cantered on, and got off their horses at the gate, without another word. And not another word was spoken on the subject that night. Harry was very silent, walking up and down the veranda with his pipe in his mouth—not lying on the ground in idle enjoyment—and there was no reading. The two sisters looked at him from time to time with wistful, anxious-eyes, half afraid to disturb him by speech.
As for him, he felt that the weight was all on his own shoulders. He had worked hard, and was on the way to be rich. I do not know that he thought much about money, but he thought very much of success. And he was by nature anxious, sanguine, and impulsive. There might be before him, within the next week, such desolation as would break his heart. He knew men who had been ruined, and had borne their ruin almost without a wail—who had seemed contented to descend to security and mere absence from want. There was his own superintendent, Old Bates, who, though he grumbled at every thing else, never bewailed his own fate. But he knew of himself that any such blow would nearly kill him—such a blow, that is, as might drive him from Gangoil, and force him to be the servant instead of the master of men. Not to be master of all around him seemed to him to be misery. The merchants at Brisbane who took his wool and supplied him with stores had advanced money when he first bought his run, and he still owed them some thousands of pounds. The injury which a great fire would do him would bring him to such a condition that the merchants would demand to have their money repaid. He understood it all, and knew well that it was after this fashion that many a squatter before him had been ruined.
“Speak a word to me about it,” his wife said to him, imploringly, when they were alone together that night.
“My darling, if there were a word to say, I would say it. I must be on the watch, and do the best I can. At present the earth is too damp for mischief.”
“Oh that it would rain again!”
“There will be heat enough before the summer is over; we need not doubt that. But I will tell you of every thing as we go on. I will endeavor to have the man watched. God bless you! Go to sleep, and try to get it out of your thoughts.”
On the following morning he breakfasted early, and mounted his horse without saying a word as to the purport of his journey. This was in accordance with the habit of his life, and would not excite observation; but there was something in his manner which made both the ladies feel that he was intent on some special object. When he intended simply to ride round his fences or to visit the hut of some distant servant, a few minutes signified nothing. He would stand under the veranda and talk, and the women would endeavor to keep him from the saddle. But now there was no loitering, and but little talking. He said a word to Jacko, who brought the horse for him, and then started at a gallop toward the wool-shed.