Dave's Sweetheart by Mary Gaunt
Chapter I Jenny Carter.
'She will not hear my music? So!
Break the string; fold music's wing;
Suppose Pauline had bade me sing!'
'One Way of Love.'
JENNY CARTER leaned over the bar-counter, her elbows on the rough
planks among the glasses and tin pannikins, and her chin in her
hands. Her face was tanned and freckled by the strong winds and
fierce sun of Northern Victoria, and her yellow hair had a bleached
look as if that sun had stolen some of the colour from it. Still, she
was not counted pretty without reason, for her big brown eyes looked
out wistfully from under their long lashes, and the rare smile that
parted her red lips showed a row of milk-white teeth.
But Jenny Carter had not yet learned her own value in a land where
women of any sort were scarce, and a pretty unmarried one a valuable
commodity, and very evidently no thought of her personal appearance
had ever come either to trouble or to gratify her. Her yellow curls
had been tossed and tumbled by the wind all day long, and her lilac
cotton gown was buttoned all awry. It had seen service, too, that
gown, and was faded in some parts to a dull and dingy white, and the
rents and tears that were pretty numerous had been mended in a
fashion that could only be called slipshod. It was open at the neck a
little for coolness, for the January day had been a sweltering one,
and the line where the sun-tan ended showed as a dark ring round her
white neck; the sleeves, too, were rolled up to the elbows, but that
was evidently their normal condition, for the round young arms were
all one golden brown, like her face. The Lucky Digger hotel and store
was a poor enough place, half canvas tent, half bark and corrugated
iron shanty, and the counter, which ran the whole length of the room,
merely consisted of rough boards laid along the tops of casks, some
empty and some full. The floor was bare earth beaten hard by the
passage of countless feet. The stock-in-trade was stored in numerous
bottles on the shelves nailed up against the walls, wherever the
walls would bear shelves; and, for the rest, bags of flour, cases of
gin and brandy, boxes of tobacco, kerosene, matches--in fact, all the
necessaries of a digger's life--were piled up in the corners and on
the floor in seemingly hopeless confusion.
It was early yet, and the place was comparatively empty. One or
two idlers and loafers stood about, trying to cadge a drink or win a
smile from the proprietor's pretty daughter, but in a desultory,
half-hearted fashion. The business of the day would not fairly begin
till the sun had set over the ranges in the west and the diggers came
trooping in for a song and a chat, and, maybe, if Sailor Joe were
there, and was not too drunk to play his fiddle, a bull dance would
be attempted. Then, indeed, the competition for Jenny's hand would be
There were no other women besides Jenny and her stepmother within
many miles, and the men who did not succeed in getting them must
needs console themselves with each other; but there was no
hurry--that was three or four hours off yet. It was hopeless to think
of securing Jenny beforehand, for though she might promise readily
enough--but, again, she might not--it would all come to the same
thing if Black Anderson happened to be there. The sergeant from the
police camp on the plateau overlooking the diggings was bad
enough--he always regarded Jenny as his own property--but when Black
Anderson was there it was hopeless.
Not that the girl made any show of liking one way or another. It
was patent that she did care for Black Anderson, infinitely preferred
him to any of the many who nightly visited that shanty, though no man
could have told exactly how he knew it any more than he could have
said why he knew she hated the sergeant. She neither sought the one
nor avoided the other, but it was common talk on Deadman's that Buck
Carter's Jenny was 'dead nuts' on Black Dave Anderson, and that she
feared the police sergeant.
Neither of them was there at the moment. Buck Carter himself lay
along a pile of flour-sacks, his head a little lower than his heels,
sleeping heavily. He sampled his own liquor a little too often,
though in all probability he got it somewhat purer than he deemed
wholesome for his customers, taken as a body; still, it had its
effect on him, and, as a rule on hot afternoons his wife or daughter
looked after things while he slept the sleep, if not of the just, at
least of the full. His daughter glanced at him carelessly. It was
always the same every afternoon, and so long as he was right for the
evening she did not much care.
Outside was the busy hum of many voices, for there were two
thousand men on the new field, and their claims were pegged out as
close together as might be. Even the silence of two thousand men is
From the open tent-door the girl could see away down the gully to
the jutting shoulder of the hill, whereon stood the police camp, in
marked contrast, with its white tents and neat fence, to the rough
unkempt diggers' camp that lay below, and was the reason of its
existence. The hills opened out here into a little flat, and the
creek (Deadman's Creek) cut a way for itself, with many windings,
through the soft alluvium.
Such a pretty creek it had been six months ago, in spite of its
sinister name--ferns and mosses and flowering creepers clothed its
banks, and tall trees and tree-ferns and undergrowth grew on the
surrounding hills. Now the clear sparkling water had become of the
consistency of pea--soup; the trees--at least, for some distance
round the camp--were represented by blackened stumps; ferns, grasses,
and flowers were hidden under upturned heaps of yellow earth. Cradles
and tubs stood in double lines along the banks of the creek, and the
ramshackle dwellings of the diggers--sometimes tent, sometimes slab
hut, bark-roofed, sometimes only a miserable lean-to made out of
scraps of corrugated iron and old kerosene-tins--were dotted about as
close as possible to the windlass that stood over every man's own
Hot and ugly and uninviting the whole scene looked this January
day. Away over the hills yonder there might be cool and shaded nooks
where the hot sun did not penetrate, and where the graceful
tree-ferns dipped their long fronds in clear and sparkling water. But
here in the centre of the camp the garish sun held undisputed sway.
It was hot, hot everywhere. In the bar of the Lucky Digger, with
multifarious odours of the various stores and the reek of stale
liquor in the air, it was hottest of all.
The sunbeams grew longer and longer, and crept in through the
tent--door and up along the earthen floor till they touched the edge
of the counter. The girl watched them idly. She watched the motes
dancing in the doorway, watched the little swirl of dust that the
faintest breath of wind raised on the track outside, and hardly heard
the desultory conversation which the idlers who leaned over the bar
kept up with each other. It was a monosyllabic conversation with many
pauses, for the day was hot, and the long silences were filled in by
the deep snores of the sleeping man and the chatter of children which
came from behind the canvas screen dividing the living rooms from the
bar and store.
Presently the curtain was thrust aside, and a tall dark young
woman stood in the doorway. Handsome in a coarse sort of way, but as
untidy as Jenny herself, she swayed herself slowly backwards and
forwards, half mechanically, hushing to sleep the baby she held in
'You, Jenny!' she said sharply; 'ain't you ashamed of yourself,
a-loafin' there all the afternoon, an' me just worn out with this
Jenny crossed the room slowly and took the baby from the woman's
arms, then, drawing out a three-legged stool from beneath the
counter, she sat down thereon, and bent over the little morsel of
humanity with a world of tenderness in her attitude. Mrs. Carter
stretched out her arms as if glad to be rid of their load, and,
stepping into the centre of the room, looked round her with a frown;
then shook her sleeping husband to his feet with no gentle hand.
'You lazy, good-for-nothing, drunken----'
But here some man in the crowd ventured on an approving snigger,
and Sal Carter turned on him sharply.
'And what business is it of yours, I'd like to know?' she asked
viciously. 'Out you go, every man jack of you! I know you, sittin'
there waitin' till some fool 'll come along as 'll shout drinks for
the crowd. Out you go, I say!'
'Well, missus,' said one, bolder than the rest, 'ain't that good
'Mind your own business! I'm goin' to have the place to myself a
bit. Clear now!'
The man in the corner swore a good round swinging oath that even
commanded the respect of men who had graduated in the gaols of Sydney
and Van Diemen's Land, and, lifting up the edge of the tent, peered
'There's that trap comin' along.'
The gentlemen who favoured the Lucky Digger with their company,
though ostensibly honest as the day, evidently had a rooted objection
to meeting the police if it could be avoided. No drinks being
forth-coming, a bad-tempered woman to entertain them, and a sergeant
of police riding straight along the dusty track with the evident
intention of making this house his destination--the meeting silently
and unanimously concluded to adjourn till a more favourable
opportunity for continuing business presented itself, and one by one
the idlers slunk quietly away.
Mrs. Carter laughed grimly.
Then she turned to her husband.
He was sitting on a flour-sack, holding his head with both hands,
as if he feared it might break up into fragmentary pieces if he let
go for a moment. He was a little uncertain of his own identity too,
and gazed at his wife as if he rather thought he was one of the
loafers she had so unceremoniously dismissed.
'There's a bucket of water outside for you,' she said, 'and you'd
better get along quick--here's the sergeant a-comin'.'
The landlord stumbled away behind the curtain, and his wife turned
to her stepdaughter with the air of one who has thoroughly done her
'Trounced 'em well, didn't I? Give us over that kid, Jenny; here
comes the sergeant.'
Jenny looked out at the open door away down the track. A trooper
was riding slowly along it, and the dust that rose to his horse's
knees stained its four white feet red. A smart-looking man was
Sergeant Sells, who had been a non-commissioned officer in a cavalry
regiment once, and still retained the soldierly air which only years
of drill can give. The sun gleamed on his silvered shoulder-straps
and on the mountings of his cartouche-box, and, as he dismounted at
the door, showed up a gray hair or two in his neatly-trimmed whiskers
and the deep-red scar which ran right across his left cheek. It was
somewhat of a vexation to the sergeant when he reflected that he was
a middle-aged man in a community where most men were young, for he
was older, indeed, than Buck Carter; albeit, that gentleman had
somewhat undermined his constitution by the too careful sampling of
his own liquors, and the sergeant's figure was still trim and
youthful. But there was no doubt about it, crow's feet were beginning
to creep about the corners of his cold, steely-gray eyes, and more
than one or two gray hairs had grown in his coal-black hair and
Cold, stern, suspicious, a man who himself was the soul of
neatness, and who, up in the camp, succeeded in keeping things to the
very high standard Commissioner Jocelyn Ruthven set up for himself,
he was the last man in the world one would have expected to meet in a
low grog shanty; and seeing him there, not one in a thousand could
have suspected that the untidy, pretty girl so lovingly bending over
her stepmother's baby was the magnet that drew him thither. He hardly
acknowledged to himself that the attraction existed; and when he did,
it was only to make solemn vows that never again, save in the pursuit
of duty, would he enter the place--a vow he made as often as he left
the Lucky Digger, only to break it next day, or at most the day
What was this girl to him, he asked himself angrily, that she
should take possession of his very soul? He did not want her for a
wife, this slattern who stood all day long tending the bar, serving
with her own hands, listening to the conversation of men whose very
presence was an insult to a woman. He had dreamt his dreams; he had
had his hopes, and his ideal woman had been so different, so very
different. Besides, what need to think of this girl? She never gave
him a second thought.
And then he rode slowly down in the direction of the Lucky Digger,
and found that his heart beat high as he noted that, for once, the
only occupants of the place were Jenny and her stepmother; and Jenny
was bending over the child in her arms as tenderly and fondly as even
the spotless woman of his dreams might have done! She raised her eyes
as he entered, and he caught the glance--pathetic, wistful,
appealing, it seemed to him for the moment; the next, the cruel
thought came to him that it was dislike and fear he read in those
brown eyes. What matter? She was nothing to him; never should
'Well, Mrs. Carter,' he said awkwardly, 'is the mail in yet?'
'The mail! Lord bless the man! the mail ain't due till to-morrow,
and then like as not it won't be here till Saturday. What'll you
It was a sorry enough excuse he had felt as he asked the question;
but the sergeant was one of those men who are not ready with an
excuse, and he felt bitterly that this woman must know, as indeed she
did, that he had come here for no other purpose than to look once
more at her stepdaughter.
'Give me a nobbler, then,' he said, and he leaned over the
counter, cudgelling his brains for some remark that might make Jenny
lift her eyes to him again.
Mrs. Carter divined his wishes.
'Where's the brandy, Jen?' she asked. 'Here, give us over that
kid, and get it for the sergeant yourself.'
'It's on the shelf there,' said Jenny sullenly. 'You can get it
easy enough. I'll keep baby; he's goin' off at last.'
The sergeant drank his nobbler slowly, and Mrs. Carter, her arms
folded in luxurious idleness, leaned up against the wall and tried to
make conversation for the trio; but she had to do it all herself, for
neither of the others helped her in the least.
'Drat it all, sergeant!' she said at last, 'ain't you got a tongue
in your head?'
'Have you seen Black Anderson lately?' he asked. 'I saw a man who
said he was a brother of his last time I was down in Melbourne with
He noticed the flush mount slowly through the sun-tan to Jenny's
forehead--noticed, too, that she was all attention now, though she
never raised her head; and his blood boiled within him to think that
he was placing himself in the position of rival, and unsuccessful
rival at that, to Black Anderson--a man whose very reputation should
have forbidden him the society of any decent woman.
'Did you, now?' said Mrs. Carter, by way of taking a polite
interest in the conversation; 'well, I'm thinkin' now that it's not
the likes of Black Dave 'll be mindin' much about his kith an' kin.
It's all he can do to----'
'What?' asked the trooper suspiciously.
'Oh, nothen--only men can't be botherin' about their brothers with
the colony in between them. It's hard livin' these times.'
'Oh, gammon! you and the old man are making your fortune. You'll
be flitting one of these fine days, and going to Sydney to live like
a fine lady.'
'Mebbe,' she said indifferently; 'but there ain't much o' the fine
lady about me; as long as trade's brisk the bar 'll suit me. There's
Jen, now; she's got the makin' of a gran' lady in her. Sit an' do
nothin' but moon around all day long she will. An' she's pretty, too,
an' silks an' velvets 'll set her off.'
The sergeant looked at Jenny. A future in which Black Anderson had
no part held no interest for her, and she had bent over the baby
again. Assuredly, a career in which she had no part looked blank and
forbidding to him, and yet a future which she controlled--might it
not hold possibilities still more terrible?
No fear of that! She would not even look at him.
'Good-evening, Mrs. Carter,' he said, tossing off the last drops
in the bottom of his glass.
He would not trouble to speak to Jenny, he told himself. It was
time this foolish fancy was crushed right out, and it should die here
and at once. Then, by way of putting a finishing touch to his wise
resolutions, he crossed the room and stood looking down at the girl
as she swayed slowly to and fro with the child in her arms.
'Miss Jenny,' he said, and in spite of himself his voice, usually
somewhat harsh and dry, took a softer tone; 'aren't you going to say
"good-night" to me?'
She raised her eyes--beautiful eyes in which there lingered a soft
tenderness born of her love for the baby in her arms, or for the man
they had been speaking of, and the trooper knew what without her his
life might just as well end there and then. But the softness died as
she read the love in his face, and he turned without another word,
his spurred heels ringing as he walked away and mounted his
Chapter II A Bitter Schooling.
'What is [a girl of eighteen] to believe in, if not in this vision woven from within?'
'WELL, Jen,' said her stepmother, in a tone in which amusement and
vexation struggled for the mastery.
'Well,' repeated the girl.
She never had many words at her command.
'Are you goin' to marry him, Jen?'
'Who? Why, the sergeant, to be sure. You didn't think I meant
Black Dave, did you? No gal as calls herself respectable 'd so much
as look at Black Dave;' and she put on an air of mock modesty that
for a moment deceived the younger woman.
'You've no call----' she began hotly.
'There, there!' said Mrs. Carter soothingly; 'there, don' you an'
me row! Jen, though, it'd be a mighty fine thing for us if you'd
marry the sergeant.'
'He never asked me,' said the girl, taking refuge in the
stereotyped answer that comes first to all women's lips.
'Never asked you? Oh no. He's swearing to hisself now that he'll
never come here no more, but he ain't gone farther than Pard
Give him a cooey, an' he'll be back an' do the job!'
'I hate him! I hate him!'
'Lawks! what's that matter? You'd get used to him. Men is all
pretty much alike once they's spliced. Black Dave 'll beat you black
an' blue once he's got the drink in him.'
Jenny looked up with a shrinking terror in her eyes. Her whole
thoughts and her whole heart were given almost unconsciously to Dave
Anderson, and yet here was the only woman whose opinion she could ask
prophesying sorrow and woe to her. She believed in Sal Carter, too,
believed in her thoroughly; and indeed, according to her lights, Sal
Carter had been good to her husband's lonely daughter.
'He won't,' she protested; 'he wouldn't never hurt me. He's quite
different to me to other folks.'
'Oh, bless your sweet innocence! When you're his missus, you'll be
a bit worse nor any other woman. He'll beat you, sure enough. You
take my advice an' marry the sergeant. It's just the ways of
The sun was right across the counter now, and the row of tin
pannikins thereon caught and reflected his rays like silver; and
without the hum of busy life was louder than ever, as each man made
preparations to end the day. Mrs. Carter evidently bethought herself
that her brief spell of idleness was rapidly drawing to a close, and
stretched herself along the flour-sacks her husband had vacated, to
make the most of it.
'Every man doesn't?' she repeated. 'Lord, yes! they do, if they
'Dad don't beat you.'
The other woman settled her arms comfortably behind her head as a
support, and surveyed with complacency her feet shod with good
substantial carpet-slippers somewhat down at heel.
'No,' she said dryly; 'I rather reckon he don't. But he beat your
mother, I'll bet. Come, didn't he, now?'
When her father found this wife too much for him, as not
infrequently happened, he was wont to enlarge on the many virtues of
his late helpmate--virtues which Jenny remembered had not been so
present to his mind when she was with him. Whether she was a good
wife to him or not, there was no doubt about it he had found occasion
to beat her very often; and she hung her head as the remembrance of
her mother's tired, tear-stained face rose up before her.
'There, there!' said her stepmother, not unkindly, 'I didn't mean
to vex you, Jen. Lord! in course he beat her. Like you she was, I
guess; thought a sight o' him, an' he took it out o' her. Men is all
alike if you let 'em. You take my advice, Jen; marry the sergeant,
an' keep a tight hand over him.'
'But--but--I hate him!' repeated the girl helplessly.
'Hate, pooh! 'tis next door to lovin' him, an' it's a mistake any
'How do you know?' asked the girl timidly.
The subject interested her, as when did it not interest a
'Know--know! Well, I ain't lived in this world nigh on
twenty-seven year without knowin' somethin' about it.'
'Oh! but you don't--love dad.'
'Sweet on him? Lord! no, never was. He'd a-led me a nice life if
I'd a--been. He was mighty sweet on me when we got married; but
I--Lord, no! I wasn't set on him no ways. What sort o' time 'd I ha'
had if I had been?'
Thinking of her own mother, whom her childish recollections
pictured as being 'mighty set' on the brute she called husband, Jenny
acknowledged to herself that her stepmother was right. She certainly
managed her husband better than her predecessor; but dumbly in the
girl's untutored mind there struggled for utterance the thought that
comes to all good women once in their lives. Surely, surely there was
something higher and better in this world than to take a husband she
did not love, and manage him. But she was so ignorant she hardly knew
how to put her feelings into words; she hardly understood the
'But--but,' she asked, and though Jenny bent low over the child in
her arms, the woman who had tasted of life's bitterness to the very
dregs read in the hot flush that mounted to her forehead of whom and
what she was thinking, and pitied her from the bottom of her heart,
'ain't it no good ever to be set on a man? Not when he's mighty bad
on you?' There was a wistful ring in her voice. For one man she would
have given all she possessed, her very life; and was it to be of no
avail? 'Ain't it no good?'
'Well, Jen,' and there was a gentleness in Sal Carter's voice none
would have given her credit for, 'honour bright, I don't think it is.
When a man's set on a gal, he jest lays right down and she tramps
over him; and when a woman's set on a man, well, 'tis t'other way
about. 'Tain't right, somehow, but so it is.'
'But sometimes,' hazarded the girl, 'they're set on each
'Never more'n a week--no, a day at most. Then one gets the upper
hand, and t'other goes to the wall. Don't you go to the wall, Jen;
you marry the sergeant.'
The girl looked down at the sleeping child in her arms, and passed
her hand tenderly over its little face. Tears gathered slowly in her
eyes, hung for a moment on her long lashes, and fell on to her
sunburned cheeks. Was the world so hard a place to live in as all
this? Was this woman right? It had been her mother's experience; it
was this woman's experience. Must it be hers, too?
'I'd work my fingers to the bone to make him happy,' she
'You bet you would, an' then he wouldn't be happy, if you mean
Black Dave. Give over thinkin' about him, Jen; he ain't worth
Sal Carter dropped her head back on the flour-sacks, and let her
arms fall limply down beside her. A softened look crept over the bold
handsome face, and the dark eyes looked sadly out of the doorway.
Somewhere in her life, too, there was a tender memory. She, too, had
been a girl like this one; not always had she thought to be Buck
Carter's wife, content to rule her husband and keep a grog shanty on
a diggings camp. A cricket hidden under the earthen floor called
shrilly to his mate, and another answered from a few feet distant;
the whole place was filled with the sound, and Mrs. Carter listened
intently. Her eyes wandered to the row of tin pannikins, and their
brightness, as the sunlight fell on them, dazzled her eyes. A row of
pannikins in a low public-house; she had been accustomed to them all
her life; but she, too, had hoped for better things.
'Hark to the crickets, Jen. My father used to say if you listened
and listened, an' they both stopped at once, you'd have your wish,
'There, they've stopped, an' I wished. Will I get it?'
'Maybe, specially if you wished for Black Dave. Oh, Jenny, Jenny!
give over thinkin' about him. He ain't no good, deed an' deed he
ain't.' Jenny raised her head angrily. 'There, there!' said her
stepmother soothingly, 'you an' me mustn't quarrel, must we? Look
here'--she rose up, and, crossing over, put her hand kindly on the
girl's shoulder--'Jenny, you won't mind telling me--are you mighty
set on that chap?'
The girl raised her face for a moment, and the other woman saw
that her eyes were swimming with tears; then she caught at her skirts
with one hand, and hiding her face in them, burst out sobbing.
'I can't help it, I can't help it! an', Sal, Sal, he ain't so bad,
'deed he ain't; an' he says I'm all he's got.'
Her stepmother stroked her hair with no ungentle hand.
'Poor lass! I'm main sorry for you; but, Jenny, it's truth I'm
telling you. Don't ye be trustin' him too far. 'Tain't good for any
man, least of all Black Dave. I'm frighted for you sometimes out on
the hills at night. Don't you trust him, Jenny.'
But the girl sobbed on; what for she could hardly have told
herself. Black Dave filled all her heart, Black Dave was all the
world to her; but the greatness of her love did not prevent
misgivings from arising, and this well-meant advice did not tend to
calm her. If this man was not all her fancy painted him, then indeed
was the world a blank to her.
'So--so it's as bad as that. Will he marry you, Jenny?'
'I--I don't know,' sobbed the girl. 'He didn't never say. He ain't
got no place to take me to, on'y a bit of a bark hut in the gully
'And when a man wants a girl he makes shift to get some sort o' a
place to take her to,' said the other woman thoughtfully, winding a
lock of the yellow hair round her fingers. 'Tisn't as if you'd been
kept so mighty fine you couldn't stand roughin' it a bit;' and she
looked round at their rough surroundings. 'Take my advice, Jenny,
he's foolin' ye, an' if I was you I'd have naught to do with
'If you was me, Sal'--and Jenny in her agitation pressed the baby
so close to her breast that he stirred uneasily in his sleep, and she
had to rock herself backwards and forwards till he was quiet
again--'if you was me, you'd just love him ever so, an' long an' long
fit to break your heart. Sal, Sal, don't a man never want a woman
'Oh, whiles, if he can't get her; once he gets her, it sorter
wears off. That's why I'm wantin' you to have the trooper; he wants
you bad, Jenny. And--and, Jenny, he's respectable, mighty
respectable. I dunno how 'tis, but in the end I'm thinking it pays to
'An' on'y yesterday,' sobbed Jenny, 'you was tellin' me of your
sister Nan, the one as married a trooper down Deep Creek way on
Murderer's Flat. She runned away with Bullocky Charlie, an'--an' you
said she was a long sight happier for all she never went to church
'I clean forgot her,' said Mrs. Carter dubiously; 'but then, she
didn't go much on Charlie, neither. She was drove to it, she was, and
Charlie was main set on her. An' she ain't over-happy, neither,
though he is good to her. Don't you ever go with a man, Jen, as ain't
pretty nigh mad after you; if he ain't that before he won't be
afterwards, you can bet.'
The girl drew a long sobbing breath.
'Sometimes Dave's mad for me.'
'Oh, whiles, when you're by. But, Jenny, you mark my words: you're
too fond o' him to get any good out of him if he was the best man in
the world, and we know he ain't that.'
Jenny hid her face in her stepmother's skirt again. The world's
ways were cruelly hard as expounded by this teacher, and, worst of
all, she had not lived with this woman for the last five years
without knowing that she wished her well. So, like many another who
can find more words to express her pain, Jenny put her face down and
sobbed on helplessly. The ways of the world were too much for her.
Was there no comfort anywhere? was it of no avail to be honest and
Mrs. Carter answered her unspoken question.
'Jest about your age I was when Ben Higgins--Fly-away Ben they
called him--came makin' up to me. Handsome! there was a handsome man
for you, if you like, with hair the colour of that rope in the corner
there, and eyes as blue as them new chiny plates in the kitchen. But
he didn't take my fancy at first, the other girls thought too much of
him, an', when he saw that, nothin' would do but he must have me,
an', for all I held my head so high, I gave in after a little. Lord,
Lord, I was that happy, never thinkin' I'd end up nursin' Buck
Carter's brats for him away out here in the ranges! An' then the
minit I began to look for his comin' it seemed he began to cool
The girl moaned a little.
'One day hot an' mad after me, the next just as cool as you
please. Oh, Lord, Jen, it pretty nigh broke my heart! And then he got
sick, an' me slavin' to look after him, though there was but the
shadow of a promise between us. They hunched their shoulders an'
laughed, the men did, those days, when they see me goin' by, thinkin'
of nought but that my boy might die. If he had--oh, if he had' (the
woman's voice rose almost to a wail), 'I'd ha' been a better woman
this day, mebbe; but he didn't. He got well, an' swore there warn't
nobody in this world like his Sal, an' he wouldn't never forget it.
But the days went on, an' one day he was hot--for all the men wanted
me, but not as much as at first, because they counted I sorter
belonged to Fly-away Ben--and then, again, he was cold; I couldn't
ha' told how, but he raised up a kinder wall between us. And then I
heard as he was after another girl; an' I asked him, an' he said Mag
Smith wasn't nothin' to him. An' I was that happy till I seed 'em
down by the creek that very night. I was off my head with the shame
of it, I think. An' I took a knife to him next time I came across
him; but he was stronger nor me. Besides, hadn't I nursed him when I
thought he was dyin', an' how could I hurt him? But he just laughed
at what I said. He wasn't worth thinkin' about, says he, which was
true enough, and I went out heart broke, Jenny. It was like kickin'
agin a brick wall. An' your father come along, an' I took him,
an'--an'----There's the baby wakin', Jenny. Give him to his mammy.
Well, there's always the childer, thank God, though whiles I'm
thinkin' they're a plague!'
The girl gave the baby to his mother, and drew her hand across her
She was fond of her stepmother, and, not thinking much of her
father, she had often wondered how so good-looking a woman had come
to marry him.
So that was the story. And would a like fate be hers? No, no, a
thousand times no!
Yet deep down in her heart she knew there was some truth in what
her stepmother was saying--some truth, deny it as she would, in the
lesson she tried to teach. Her simple language held no words in which
she could show her love for this man they called Black Dave, no words
to show why it seemed to her that love must needs be all-embracing,
must demand nothing in return. Before her the lives of the only two
women she had known intimately stretched out in their dreary hopeless
length, and dumbly, with all her strength, her soul protested against
a like fate for herself. In all the busy, teeming life around her,
was there no man would make the woman who loved him truly happy?
Surely all the world was not bad.
She drooped her head drearily again, for in all the world there
was but one face for her, and already doubt was creeping in on her
The woman beside her put the baby to her breast, and found comfort
in the little helpless hands that wandered aimlessly across her
'Jenny,' she began, 'you think I'm that hard, but----'
A man in a red shirt and moleskin trousers all stained with yellow
clay rushed in.
'Give us a drink, missus, quick! Lord sakes! you don't mean to say
you haven't heard? Someone's shot German Max over there on the track
just on the rise of the hill! His bullocks are strayin' round there
Jenny started to her feet.
'Who?' asked Mrs. Carter, 'who?'
'Who? Well,' with a half-glance at Jenny's scared face, 'they do
say Black Anderson had a hand in it, and I'll take my colonial oath
they ain't far out.'
Chapter III The Murder of German Max.
'Heart of man--oh heart of putty! Had I gone by Kakahutti.
On the old Hill-road and rutty, I had 'scaped that fatal car;
But his fortune each must bide by, so I watched the milestones glide by.
To 'You call on her to-morrow!"--fugue with cymbals by the bar--
"You must call on her to-morrow"--post-horn gallop by the bar.'
--'Departmental Ditties.' Rudyard Kipling.
WHEN he left the Lucky Digger, the sergeant rode slowly along
therough track that wound its way among the claims and diggers' huts,
anddid duty for main road to Melbourne. It was, in fact, the main
road to Melbourne, for in those days shire councils were not, and the
roads weremarked out only by the passing of the mail-coach and the
bullock-draysthat took stores up country. The sun was sinking behind
the ranges. Already the tents and huts were throwing long shadows
across the track, whilst at the doors sat the inmates, some enjoying
a pipe, but mostengaged in preparing their evening meal. The open-air
fires, with the tinbilly hung over them, added to the heat of the
day; but the men tendingthem paid no attention to the trooper as he
In those days there was a good deal of friction between the police
andthe diggers, and in any case Sergeant Sells was not the sort of
man tohave been popular; he passed on among them in silence, and for
greetingreceived only silent scowls. They were men of all nations
under the sun, and it was a very babel of tongues that rose on the
evening air. Here wasa swarthy undersized little Spaniard; there a
tall fair-haired Swede, andbeside him a Shetlander, in speech and
face almost his brother; Frenchand Italians and Germans, and men from
the British Isles; nor were therewanting men from Africa and Asia,
slight and slender Hindoos and burlynegroes; but here on Deadman's
the Chinaman had not as yet found afooting, perhaps because the
neighbouring field of the Packhorse justacross the ranges was
peculiarly his own property. About six monthspreviously the roughs
and bad lots of the camp had made a desperateendeavour to oust the
aliens, but Commissioner Ruthven had ridden overthem with a high
hand, and the Chinamen were confirmed in their rights, and
consequently had thought it not worth while to cross the range.
Indeed, any attempts to immigrate were viewed with disfavour by those
already established at Deadman's.
At first, undoubtedly, their absence was a loss to the community,
for the Chinaman, as a rule, when he found that digging did not bring
fortune, turned his attention to other and surer, if slower, means of
gaining a livelihood. Wherever there was a little water to be got,
the Chinamen started a vegetable garden, and in camps where men lived
from week's end to week's end on mutton and damper, this was an
untold boon. The diggers abused the Chinamen, but bought their
cabbages all the same, and 'John' accumulated a competency far more
quickly, as a rule, than the men among whom he lived a despised
But at Deadman's there were no Chinamen, and the track across the
ranges from the Packhorse bore so evil a reputation that, though it
was only five miles as the crow flies, no Chinaman would venture
along it. So for the first few weeks of its existence the camp went
without vegetables. Then an old German settler, living a few miles
off, at the foot of a ridge of hills by the Wooragee Creek, dug up
some acres of his fertile pastureland, turned the course of the creek
aside to irrigate it, and found in his cabbage-garden a veritable
gold-mine. Twice a week his bullock-dray, laden with cabbages,
cauliflowers, beans, potatoes, and all sorts of garden produce,
creaked slowly down the dusty track to the diggers' camp, where
cabbages were worth in those days nearly three shillings apiece and a
cauliflower twice as much. Only a lucky digger could afford to buy;
but money come by lightly went lightly, and the digger was not
ungenerous: he that could afford such luxuries gave to his neighbour
who could not.
Anyhow, German Max's dray came down the track regularly every
Monday and Thursday well laden, and returned in the evening empty.
Everybody knew that the old man trudging along beside his bullocks,
swearing at them in broken English--for it is a well-known fact that
a well-regulated Australian bullock understands only English, and
then only when it is interlarded with curse-words of the warmest
description--had the chamois leather bag at his belt full to
overflowing with gold dust and small nuggets. Always he followed the
same routine, cleared his dray about three o'clock, went down to the
Lucky Digger for a drink, and started homewards about four. Sergeant
Sells thought about him as he noted the marks of his wheels on the
track in front of him. Wheeled vehicles were scarce in those days,
and the deep ruts reminded him of old Max.
How pleasant it must be to live among the hills, far away from the
contamination and filth of the camp! If--if he could take Jenny to a
place like that--so his thoughts wandered--what greater happiness?
They two alone, just they two! If he could teach those soft brown
eyes to look tenderly at him, could teach her and train her and show
her all that she lacked; if he could only have her all to himself!
The longing grew and grew as he rode slowly along. The very
hopelessness of it all made him drive his long spurs savagely into
the mare till she reared with pain.
'So, good mare, so, so!'
He bent forward in his saddle to pat her neck and soothe her, and
his eye caught sight of a ripe red cherry lying in the dust of the
roadway. A nugget would have astonished him less, and muttering to
himself that it must have fallen from the old German's dray, he
slipped from his horse and picked it up.
The sergeant stood there for a moment looking at the fruit as it
lay in his hand. All around him men were firing off rifles and
pistols, to clean and reload them for the coming night; the heat and
dust and noise of the rough camp were near at hand. Yet the touch of
the fruit took him back to his old home in the quiet English village,
to the days before he went for a soldier, when he wooed Farmer
Goodchap's pretty daughter in her father's orchard. How pretty she
was--Jenny Goodchap--something like this Jenny, and, like this Jenny,
too, she would have nothing to say to him! He wondered, would his
life have been different if she had? How was it, how was it? He was
fairly good-looking, he had borne a good character always, and yet
twice in his life had he set his heart on women who would have naught
to do with him. He had seen other men sought by women, not once or
twice, but twenty times, whilst he--whilst--Once in his youth, and
now again in his middle age, he had longed for a woman with all his
soul, and the result had been the same.
He mounted his horse again with a heavy sigh, in which once more
he renounced Jenny Carter for ever, and even as he did so the thought
came to him that he would ride after the old German and see if he
could get him to bring a small basket of ripe red cherries next
Monday. They would cost him something, he knew; but his pay was good
and his expenses light, and they would make a dainty present for
Jenny. He pictured to himself the pleasure in her dark eyes when he
should give her the fruit, and surely--surely there would be one
kindly gleam in those brown eyes for him? So he quickened the mare's
pace till a turn in the track took him quite beyond the camp.
The tents and huts and claims and windlasses were left behind him
now, and the bracken and messmate grew right to the edge of the
track. On the opposite hillside he could see the police camp quite
plainly, and though the diggers' camp itself was hidden from view,
the snapping of the firearms, the shouts and songs of the men, even
their voices in conversation, were plainly to be heard on the still
evening air. Then the creak, creak of the springless bullock-dray
broke in, and he listened to hear the old man's voice swearing at his
bullocks. He would order his cherries now, and the close-fisted old
chap might charge what he pleased so long as he brought them sweet
and fresh for Monday.
The sergeant was quite in love with the idea of buying the
cherries, and he hardly noticed the man who came out of the scrub and
stood for a moment in the middle of the track right ahead of him. He
was holding in his hand a small leathern bag such as miners put their
gold-dust and small nuggets in, and was just drawing a string tight
round the top as the trooper rode up.
'Good-evening,' said the sergeant civilly enough.
The other started as if taken by surprise, and answered the
greeting sullenly. He was a big black-bearded man, with a slouch hat
drawn down over his eyes, and the sergeant saw it was his successful
rival, Black Anderson.
Anderson's presence there hardly surprised him, for he knew that
the man had a claim a little beyond the camp, out among the ranges
here--a poor enough claim, too, report said, and, indeed, since he
was more than two miles from the creek, the washing of his stuff was
always a work of considerable difficulty.
But Black Anderson went his way unquestioned by any man. Whether
or not his claim was poor, the bag he held in his hand was fairly
well filled, although the face above it was scowling. The trooper
sighed heavily as he rode on. What could she see in this man, what
could she see in him?
And, like many another man who tries vainly to fathom the depths
of a woman's heart, he found no answer to his question. Ahead of him
he still heard the creak of the bullock-dray at irregular intervals,
as if every now and then the bullocks had stopped altogether.
The trooper knew what that meant.
'Drunk!' he said to himself contemptuously. 'Well, old Max is a
careful old beggar; but he'll be robbed some fine day, if he takes to
that sort of thing.'
And then the remembrance of the chamois leather bag he had seen in
the hands of the man he had just passed flashed across his mind, and,
with the suspiciousness natural not only to his calling, but to the
man himself, he at once decided that the old German had been already
robbed by Black Anderson, and began turning over in his own mind ways
and means of bringing home to him the crime. He thought the task was
a hopeless one, for of bags like German Max's there were hundreds on
the gold-field, and gold-dust and nuggets are pretty much alike all
the colonies over. It was not very likely the German had received
payment in coin, and even if he had, that did not lessen the
difficulty. There was no doubt about it, old Max would have to put up
with his loss this time. It would probably be a lesson to him for the
future, thought the trooper grimly.
Then he caught sight of the bullock-team off the track among the
messmate, and quickened his horse's pace to a sharp trot. In a moment
he was up with the dray, and shouting to the bullocks. He saw at a
glance it was as he had suspected; the bullocks were feeding along
the track on such dried-up grass as remained after the hot summer
days, and old Max was nowhere to be seen. Certainly he was not on the
dray. There was nothing there, only some empty cases in which the
vegetables had been packed; and two of those, he noticed, had fallen
off and lay in the dust. The long bullock-whip was sticking straight
up against a sapling, but nowhere could he see any signs of the
The bullocks had their heads towards home, but there were traces
as if they had turned back in their tracks; and the sergeant rode on,
looking to the right and left. About a hundred yards further on he
found what he sought--just a little old man in moleskin trousers and
grimy blue shirt, lying face downwards in the dusty track.
'Come, old man,' said the sergeant, dismounting and laying no
gentle hand on his shoulder; 'the evening's pretty hot, but I
wouldn't waste time here if I was you.'
There was no response, and the trooper stirred him contemptuously
with his foot. Then something in the stillness of the old man struck
him, and he bent down hastily and turned him over on his back. The
last rays of the setting sun fell on his face and on his clasped
hands. It did not want the ghastly wound on the temple and the
blood-stained gray hair to tell him the old German settler was
'So!' He was accustomed to violent deaths, for brawls and fights
were frequent on the gold-fields, and men were but too apt to count a
man's life as of but little value; but there was something specially
cruel and mean about this murder. Murdered the trooper could not
doubt for a moment the German had been--murdered for the sake of the
little chamois bag that hung at his belt. The bag was gone; but the
old fellow's pistol, a past-fashioned thing of foreign make, was in
its accustomed place. The poor old driver had been taken unawares;
evidently not a thought of danger had troubled him a moment before,
and even now, save for the ghastly wound in his right temple, he
seemed to be sleeping calmly.
In Sergeant Sells' mind there was not a shadow of a doubt as to
who had done this thing. It was a mean, low, cruel crime, and Black
Anderson was generally counted a dare-devil sort of fellow who would
stick at nothing, but not, indeed, as one who would shoot a
fellow-creature down for the sake of a handful of gold-dust. Yet he
had met Anderson there, on the track, with a bag such as the old
German possessed in his hand, not a quarter of a mile away. They were
quite close to the camp; no one else was about. His was the hand that
must have fired the shot. It was an easy thing to do--quite easy; no
one would notice a single isolated shot when pistols were popping off
all round, and the man had been killed at once; there could have been
no outcry. The murderer had simply stooped and taken the little bag,
and walked quietly away. What was there to prevent him? and what was
there to prevent him getting clean away with his booty?
The trooper rapidly turned things over in his mind, as he hitched
his horse to a sapling and went after the bullocks. Black Anderson,
of course, had done it; but could he convict him of the crime?
And, then, the thought again returned, Black Anderson was not
worthy of Jenny. Even the merest outsider would be justified in
stepping in and putting a stop to all intercourse between an innocent
girl--for innocent she was, he was convinced, in spite of her dubious
surroundings--and such a man. Round and round in a circle he
reasoned, as he tried to get the refractory bullocks back into the
track again. He cooeyed loudly for assistance, but no one took any
notice, though his shouts must have been plainly heard down in the
He would save the girl at any cost. It was not of himself he was
thinking--not of himself for one moment, but of the helpless girl. He
would do the same for any woman, no matter whether she were anything
to him or not.
The bullocks did not know his voice, but at length he got them
back into the track by dint of much shouting. Half dragging, half
carrying, the dead body, he put it on the dray; and, walking beside
the team, his own horse fastened behind the dray, he turned to
Once on the ridge where the road turned towards the creek, they
were plainly visible to the whole camp. The two big blue bullocks in
front were as well known as the old German himself, and curiosity
would have been excited had he come back in any case at that hour;
but when it was seen that the sergeant of police was driving the
team--driving very badly, for that matter--a crowd collected in a
moment, and the news ran through the camp like wildfire. More expert
hands, for it requires a long apprenticeship to drive a bullock team
properly, took charge of the team, the new driver merely remarking,
as the sergeant remounted his horse:
'Where to, boss?'
'The Lucky Digger,' said he laconically.
Then he beckoned to a trooper he saw dismounted among the
'Simpson,' he said, 'have you seen Black Anderson about? I want
you to keep an eye on him if you can. Mind you, I don't say he did
it; but I came across him with a little leather bag in his hand just
before I hit on this poor old beggar there. It looks mighty queer; he
never answered my cooeys, though he hadn't been gone out of my sight
five minutes, and must have heard them.'
'Looks mighty queer, sergeant,' said the man reflectively. 'No; I
haven't seen him, though I did hear tell he was over at the Packhorse
this day; but likely as not 'tain't true. I didn't think, though, as
he was that sort, somehow. What are you going to do now?'
'Isn't the Commissioner back yet?'
'No. He won't be back till eleven.'
'Oh, well, it can't be helped. Take the body to the pub, and he
can hold an inquest to-morrow; but there won't be much to tell, any
The troopers spoke aside; but it may be that the sergeant was not
over--anxious to hide his views, and in a moment it spread through
the crowd like wildfire that Black Anderson had shot and robbed the
old German; and it was then that a man ran ahead, and, bursting in on
the two women in the bar of the Lucky Digger, told them the news.
Jenny started to her feet with a half-suppressed cry.
'No, no,' she cried, "tain't true! You think I don't know!'
Chapter IV At the Lucky Digger.
'Hostess! clap to the doors: watch to-night, pray to-morrow.'
--King Henry IV., 11. 4.
THE bar was full in a second.
Then the creaking dray stopped right opposite, and the crowd made
a lane, up which the sergeant walked. He would not look, but even
though it was dark he was painfully conscious of Jenny's eyes being
fixed on him with an imploring, shrinking gaze, as if she thought her
lover's fate lay in his hands. There was a very babel of tongues
around, but he seemed only to hear the long sobbing breath she drew
as he went up to her stepmother.
'Old German Max has been shot, missus,' he said quietly. 'The
inquest must be held here.'
'All right.' Mrs. Carter spoke as if it were an everyday
occurrence hardly worthy of note, perhaps because she saw the look of
dread and terror deepening on her stepdaughter's face. 'You'll have
to put the poor old chap in the shed at the back though, sergeant.
We're chock full here.'
Then she turned to Jenny.
'Come, bustle up there, Jen! Don't look as scart as if all your
belongin's had been killed. The old German weren't nothin' to
'He warn't up to much, anyhow, miss,' said Pard Derrick
confidentially. 'There's lots as good as him about, though, mind you,
I'm not sayin' as the poor old beggar ever done any harm, even though
he were a no-account man. And somebody 'll swing for it, let's
Jenny seemed to be listening with all her ears, as through the
thin walls of the bar they could plainly hear the sergeant giving
directions for the disposal of the body. Then he came into the bar
again, the diggers parting to let him pass, although they resented
the calm air of authority which he assumed. He spoke a few words
quietly to Mrs. Carter, while Pard Derrick expressed his views in an
aside intended to reach the ears only of a chosen few.
'Says it was Black Anderson, does he? Much he knows about it!
Who's the sergeant? Thinks a mighty lot of himself, he do; but I've
seen better men than him swapped for sore-eyed dogs up where I come
from!' and the men next him laughed.
Not for one moment had Jenny believed her lover guilty, but she
had an exalted idea of the power of the police, and she feared for
him. If they had a down on a man, she knew well enough his career in
a mining camp was apt to be brief, and she never stopped to consider
that frequently this was decidedly for the public good. Dimly--for
hardly could she shape her own thoughts--the fear was growing on her
that in some indefinable way, guilty or not guilty (and most firmly
did she believe in his innocence), Black Anderson would suffer for
this. The sergeant loved her: she would have been less than woman had
she not known that; and--and would he not be likely to take every
advantage that he could over a rival? Her code of honour was not
high--how, indeed, should it be?--and now she felt that the sergeant
would take advantage of this accusation to drive Dave out of the
camp. Whether or not he believed the charge himself she did not stop
to question, but that he would take advantage of it she did not for a
moment doubt. She was as certain as if he had told her so that he
would hound Dave Anderson down to the very gallows. He would see but
one side of the case, and it would be her fault--hers--hers.
Jenny set no value upon herself; she knew nothing of her own
charms, even as the only girl on the field; but she did know--she
could not help knowing--that out of all the camp two men had singled
her out in a manner different from the others who haunted the bar,
and the fear she had always felt of the sergeant was intensified
tenfold as she thought of Black Dave in his power.
The jeering remarks of the men did not tend to reassure her, for
often enough had she seen the bar cleared by the police, and she saw
plainly that, though they scowled openly, they only grumbled and
jeered under their breath.
She could have wrung her hands and cried aloud in her fear and
terror, which was all the worse to bear that as yet it had hardly
taken definite form. If she could only see Black Anderson, and warn
him! If she might hear from his own lips a confirmation of his
innocence! Her head was aching, throbbing, and there was her
stepmother nodding and beckoning to her to pour out a nobbler for the
sergeant, and to attend to the other men waiting round.
'Upon my word!' said Mrs. Carter, bustling round, 'it's enough to
wear my life out! Look sharp, Jenny, there! Put the kid down on the
flour--sack. He'll be good; if he won't, he mun just cry. Carter!
Carter! Where the dickens have that man got to?'
Very reluctantly the girl laid down her charge, who raised a
shrill protest on the spot, and was promptly picked up by Pard
Derrick, to whom a baby was an agreeable novelty.
'Lord!' said he, 'makes me feel kinder young again'--he certainly
wasn't nearly thirty--'to hear a babby cry. A man sorter gets a
kinder craving to see a woman when he ain't seen one for a long
while, and I think mysel' it does a fellow good to see a kiddie now
and again--eh, missus?'
'I dunno. Seems to me I see a deal too much on 'em. Here, Jenny,
Jenny, what are you at? You might give the sergeant a clean tumbler,
any way; the pannikins aren't for the likes of him!'
Very sullenly she poured out a nobbler of brandy, and the trooper
looked at her attentively with an air of proprietorship, it seemed to
her, though she could not raise her eyes, and only saw him through
her long yellow lashes. And in very truth the sergeant did feel more
sure of her, and with the surety again rose the doubts. She stood
there before him--he in his spick-and-span neatness, she untidy,
unkempt--just what she was, a girl behind a low public-house bar. The
men around were making use of foul language, such as made him shudder
with a shame she did not feel. And this was the woman he would make
his wife? No, no, a thousand times no! Then she raised her soft eyes
and smiled at the baby crowing in its rough nurse's arms--soft,
sweet, tender eyes, worth a prince's ransom, and he swore an
oath--and meant to keep it--that if she could be no wife of his, to
no other man should she belong while he stood by. Black Anderson was
in his power; he had no compunctions now, no doubts whatever, and he
would take care to keep those two apart. He feared no other man; he
knew they counted for nothing in Jenny Carter's eyes. They never
entered her thoughts. Like her stepmother, he was inclined to think
that if hate was not love, it was, at least, nearer akin to it than
utter indifference. And he would make her care for him.
Mrs. Carter joined in the talk and laughter that went on in spite
of the dead man lying so close; his presence did not lower one voice
nor hush one single laugh.
Only Jenny was silent; her habitual quiet was deepened by fear and
anxiety for the man she cared for, not by any awe of the man cut off
so suddenly in the midst of life. Sergeant Sells sipped slowly at his
nobbler, and there grew a longing in him to hear Jenny's voice, to
make her speak. He was not a man to whom conversation came easily at
any time, and in the presence of this girl he was tongue-tied. The
men around the bar heartily wished him gone: his presence put a
restraint upon them; and the girl he never took his eyes off wished
him gone: it seemed to her excited imagination he was reading her
Still he lingered there, leaning over the counter just in front of
her, slowly shaking round and round the few drops that remained at
the bottom of his tumbler. What would he not have given for a ready
tongue--the power to make a remark lightly, to say something casually
that should make her raise those wonderful eyes of hers once again!
But no words would come, and he could not make up his mind to leave
her. He began to grow angry with himself, and to include Jenny in his
anger. He was making a fool of himself, and it was her fault. What
was he to say? The longer he kept silence, the more difficult it grew
to break it, and he felt that the men around him were laughing in
their sleeves. He made a desperate attempt.
'Miss Jenny!' and his own voice sounded strange in his ears, and
he wished he had kept silence. Jenny turned her face silently towards
him, and even then did not raise her eyes. 'Miss Jenny, I--I--do you
There was a suppressed murmur that to the trooper's sensitive ears
sounded suspiciously like laughter; but, having begun, he went
doggedly on. Why should these men laugh because he addressed a simple
query like that to a girl?
She did not answer, only stared stupidly at the leather strap of
Somebody had lighted a small oil-lamp; it burned dimly in the
heated atmosphere, making, with its reek of oil, the place ten times
as stifling as before, as the tin pannikins and the trooper's
accoutrements caught and reflected the bright spot of light.
'Do you like cherries?' asked the sergeant again, as if it were a
matter of life and death to which he must have an answer--'do you?'
And, in spite of himself, his thoughts went back to Farmer Goodchap's
orchard and the long-forgotten days of his youth, when once before he
had asked that question.
The soft, sweet wind of an English summer had rustled the leaves
overhead, had touched his forehead with its cool breath, had tossed
the fair hair of the girl beside him till it fell over his shoulder.
He had felt himself a fool then, and now nearly a quarter of a
century had gone by and he was asking the self-same question, with
the same--the same----Pooh! that was a boy's love. This--this was
something stronger, better--a thousand times more foolish. It was
simple madness to think of this girl, and yet he felt he could not go
without making her look at him just once more.
'Jen!' her stepmother spoke sharply, 'can't you answer a civil
'Yes'--the girl spoke with a slow drawl, which, whatever it might
sound in other ears, had a charm for the sergeant; 'I like 'em well
'Because I'm going over to Wooragee to-morrow, and--and I'd like
to bring you a basket.'
It seemed churlish even to the girl to refuse his offering; but
the other men were listening, and it seemed to her that, if she
accepted this present, she would bring herself a step nearer to the
man she feared and hated.
He was looking at her, devouring her with his eyes.
'Don't,' she said sullenly; 'I don't want none of your
There was a jeering laugh from someone behind him, someone who was
well pleased to see the trooper snubbed, and he turned with an oath
and flung his tumbler down on the counter with such force it broke
into pieces, and the few remaining drops of the brandy were spilt on
the floor. Then, without another word, he pushed aside the crowd,
made his way outside, and was lost in the gathering darkness.
In the bar Pard Derrick tossed the baby high over his head.
'The old cuss!' he remarked; 'but I guess that's rather up his
shirt, ain't it, youngster? Now, which of you chaps is going to stand
Sam to celebrate this great occasion?'
Chapter V A Message from Dave.
'For a woman, love is the supreme authority--that
which judges the rest and decides what is good or evil.'
THE languid young man of to-day who leans wearily against the
wallof the ball-room, as if the last thing in the world he
contemplated wasdancing, would be surprised at the energy put into a
dance at a public-house on the gold-fields forty years ago. True,
many of the dancersbelonged to a different rank of society to the
frequenters of a ball-room; but there was a sprinkling of all sorts,
and the spirit was worthy of notewith which men danced with each
other for partners, for Jenny and herstepmother were the only women
available. The landlord stood behindthe counter serving out drinks
(at a price) to all who had the wherewithalto pay for them; Sailor
Joe, mounted on a cask, fiddled with all hismight; and Jenny and her
stepmother were much sought after. Mrs. Carter tossed her head and
danced with a will. If she were not a veryhappy woman, she, at least,
had reached that stage when a woman haslearned to take the good
things that come in her way, looking neitherbackwards nor forwards.
And Sal Carter liked admiration, loved the rudecompliments her beauty
drew forth, enjoyed the excitement of thedancing. Her past was behind
her; her future--what could the futurehold of good or ill for her?
Her present--there was nothing in herpresent life that she should
hesitate for a moment to forget. Therefore shecast care to the winds,
and took the good that offered itself, and dancedwith a will.
Jenny danced too. Her father saw to that. Was she not one of the
greatattractions? for though only one man might have her at a time as
apartner, still, all might hope for her, and those hopes, whether
fulfilled ornot, required a good deal of liquid sustenance.
The counter, with its shining array of pannikins and glasses, was
drawnas much to one side as possible; the stores were piled up
against thewalls, and in the centre was a wide enough space for any
who desired tojog to the music of Sailor Joe's fiddle.
Jenny was probably the only unwilling dancer there. The diggers,
with their hands on each other's shoulders, twirled each other round,
shouting and singing in time to the music, till the dim light of two
reeking oil--lamps showed the perspiration standing in beads on their
hot faces; but Jenny found no pleasure in her enforced participation.
None of the troopers from the police camp were there, and neither was
Black Anderson. And she tormented herself fruitlessly with the fear
that there might be some connection between this double void. Always
silent, she was more silent than usual. No rude compliment brought
the colour to her cheek; nothing any man could say to her would
induce her to give more than monosyllabic replies to a direct
question, and even direct questions she oftener than not left
unanswered. How could she even pretend an interest in trivial matters
when so much, it seemed to her, was at stake? If Dave Anderson would
only come! An hour passed, and the fun grew fast and furious. Hotter
and hotter and more stifling grew the atmosphere, till even Sal
Carter herself suggested to a select circle of admirers that it would
be as well to go outside for a brief space. Sailor Joe, too, had
refreshed so often and so copiously there seemed some prospect of the
music becoming disabled altogether; indeed, towards the end of the
evening, Joe always became piously inclined, and hymn-tunes began to
mingle with waltz and polka, until it was somewhat difficult to
distinguish 'Sun of my Soul' from 'Pop goes the Weasel.'
'Come on, Jenny,' said her stepmother as she passed, 'come on
outside a bit. You look that white and washed out, like a bit of
paper. Come on. The moon's gettin' up.'
The man beside her caught her by the arm.
'Come on,' he said. 'I guess it will be sorter less crowded
outside. I likes to get my gal alone once in a way--eh, partner?'
But there was not much satisfaction for him when he did get her
alone, for though he, chuckling at his own good luck, led her right
away to the back of the building, she merely leaned up against the
rough slab wall, and, with unheeding eyes, watched the fiery red moon
rise up over the hills. Pard Derrick swore aloud in his vexation. It
was one thing to have the girl whom all wanted in your arms, whirling
her round in the bar before the envious eyes of all men; it was quite
another to be here alone with her, a silent statue, who had thrown
off all semblance of interest. He felt he was less than a stick or
stone to this girl beside him. She did not even care whether he went
or stayed; she was utterly indifferent.
The sound of the music came to them fitfully and in gusts, as if
Sailor Joe, waking from a doze suddenly, had remembered his duties
and had drawn his bow across the fiddle, only to be again overcome.
But the men inside were hilariously jolly. The murder had lent a
fillip to things generally; it gave them something to think about and
talk about, and the bar of the Lucky Digger was doing a big trade.
Personally Pard Derrick thought he would infinitely prefer to rejoin
his mates, but there was some amount of credit to be gained by being
alone in the evening with the only girl on the field; therefore,
seeing she would neither speak nor respond in any way to his
advances, he slipped down on to the ground at her feet, prepared to
await the issue of events.
At least it was not so hot as inside--a faint breeze had sprung up
in the east--and the girl above him, with her absorbed, wistful face,
was good to look at in the moonlight. He filled his pipe, and began
to feel a certain satisfaction with things as they were. There was
not another man in camp, he would swear, had gone so far with Buck
Carter's daughter. Then, to his infinite surprise, when he had given
up all hopes of such a thing, she looked him straight in the face and
'Who done it?' she asked.
He had for the moment quite forgotten the murder that was
occupying all her thoughts.
'That--that!' She jerked her hand impatiently towards the shed
wherein lay all that remained of the poor old German.
'Oh! potted old Max, you mean. I'm sure I don't know.'
'The sergeant says,' he said slowly, noting her anxious face the
while, 'it was Black Dave Anderson, and he swears he'll swing for
'It's a lie!'
Pard Derrick laughed. He would have something to tell the boys
after all. No need to draw upon his imagination, and he repeated her
statement with a few affirmatory adjectives calculated to strengthen
'It's a----lie,' he said, and the girl stooped down and held out
her hand to him. So startled and surprised was he at this unwonted
display of feeling on Jenny Carter's part that the pipe dropped from
between his teeth, and he rose to his feet and shook the outstretched
hand warmly. 'It's a----lie,' he repeated more warmly, for he was
holding her hand now in both his own, 'and the camp's agoin' to stand
by Dave, you can bet your life on that.'
'An', an' '--she felt she could stand the anxiety no
longer--'where is Dave?'
Derrick dropped her hand. He wasn't over-particular, and holding a
pretty girl's hand was rather pleasant than otherwise, but to be used
so much as a means to an end was more than even he could stand, and
he sat down on the ground again.
'Where is Dave?' she asked piteously.
'Wal,' said Derrick with a short laugh, 'if you can't tell us
He paused, and his silence was more expressive than any words
could have been. It seemed to the girl's excited imagination to
confirm her worst fears. If he should think Black Dave guilty--if the
camp should think him guilty! It might not have a high standard of
morality, it might not count human life very valuable--they would
have no dealings with the police as a rule; but for its own sake it
would see that a foul, cold--blooded murder like this did not go
unpunished. If only the camp thought Black Dave had done it, then for
once in their lives the diggers and the police would be at one, and
he would swing for it. Dimly Jenny realized this--realized that by
her very anxiety she might be putting the first strands of the rope
around his neck; and she tried, after a bungling fashion, to undo
what she had already done.
'He was sayin' '--she hesitated--'was sayin' he might be goin'
over to the Packhorse to-night; but I thought--I
'Don't you be makin' excuses to me, Jenny,' said Pard Derrick
roughly. 'If you thought an' thought he was over at the Packhorse,
what the----'s he a-doin' skulkin' agin' the wall over there?'
Jenny started forward and saw a figure of a man, hardly skulking,
as the other in his sudden anger had described him, but coming
cautiously out of the shadow of the buildings.
In a moment Jenny forgot her partner's presence. The man she had
been waiting for all the evening had come at last, and she started
'Oh, Dave, Dave!'
Pard Derrick rose up and shook himself solemnly. Somehow he didn't
feel quite so pleased with himself as he had done a very short while
ago, nor quite so certain of Black Anderson's innocence. As for his
companion, she had forgotten Derrick's very existence, and was
standing in the brilliant moonlight with her hands half stretched out
to the man before her. The gladness and love in her face made him
turn away and swear under his breath.
Black Anderson was a tall man with a heavy black beard, but his
face, with a slouch hat drawn down over it, was completely in shadow.
He was a powerfully built man, and Derrick had no doubt of his
identity, even if the girl's face had not told him who he was. He
thoroughly realized that two was company, three none; but as he
turned his back, the newcomer, utterly ignoring the woman who had
been longing for him all the evening, called to him gruffly:
'Hullo, Pard, old boy! Where are you off to? What's the news?'
The girl dropped her hands and turned wearily back to the wall
again, while Derrick paused and knocked the ashes out of his pipe. He
had been angry a moment ago because he thought Anderson would find
him one too many; now he was unreasonably angry because he had
quietly rejected the girl's advances, and was appealing to him for
He swore an oath that may not be repeated here, and said anything
'News? Well, I guess you've made all the news about these parts.
They're talkin' about it still inside there.'
'Me!' And he called down blessings in no measured terms on Pard
Derrick's eyes and various other organs. 'What have I been
'Oh, nothin'; been a little too free with that blanky revolver of
yours, that's all. Gammon you don't know about old Max, when the
camp's just ringin' with it!'
'I don't, then,' said the other shortly. 'Ain't you going to
'I'll see you d----d first,' said his late defender irately. 'Ask
your gal, there;' and he turned away and went back to the bar more
than half convinced that Black Anderson's hand, and no other, had
fired the fatal shot.
How much Jenny's attitude had had to do with his belief, he did
not stop to ask himself, but much as he hated Sergeant Sells, as he
entered the bar he felt himself far more in sympathy with him than
with his late companion and friend, Dave Anderson.
Chapter VI Down by the Creek.
'That is to say, in a casual way.
I slipped my arm around her;
With a kiss or two (which is nothing to you).
And ready to kiss I found her.'
LEFT alone, Anderson turned to the girl before him.
'Well, Jenny,' he said, in an aggrieved tone, 'ain't you got
anything tosay to a fellow?'
She came towards him, and put both her hands on his arms and
lookedup at him. The moonlight fell full on her, and showed him her
face wetwith tears. It was a sweet face, too, and full of love for
him. He softenedfor a moment, and, stooping, drew her towards him and
kissed her. Sheput one arm round his neck, and with the other
tenderly stroked hisface--so tenderly and fondly, as she might have
touched the baby shehad been nursing in the afternoon, but with a
world more of love and pityin her touch. They said he had done
murder; they might--what mightthey not do with him? She had no words
to express her love, and herpity, and her anxiety; she could only
dumbly touch his face as she wouldthat of the helpless baby.
'What is it, dear?' he asked more gently. 'You've been
'Old Max is shot, an', an'----'
'Well, what if he is? Old Max warn't much account, any way.
Plentymore as good as him knocking around.'
'Yes; but--but they're sayin'----'
'That you done it. An' I'm afeard, oh, I'm afeard!'
'I ain't had no hand in the darned business,' said Anderson
savagely,'though I ain't had no cause to love old Max. You don't
think that of me, Jen?'
'No, no, never--not never! But I'm afeard, I'm afeard the
He pushed her from him roughly.
'That's your doing,' he said with an oath. 'Why in the devil's
name did I have any truck with a woman?'
'Oh, Dave, Dave!' she moaned; 'oh, Dave, it ain't my fault, it
ain't indeed! I never had naught to do with the sergeant. I--I hate
him, 'deed I do!'
'He's for ever hanging round you--leaning over the bar there
looking at you. A man don't do that for naught, surely.'
'I ain't done nothin',' she said--'I ain't. I never speak to him.
Lots of others come to the bar.'
'Not like him. You know that yourself, Jen. A man like that don't
hang round a woman for nothing.'
Poor Jenny! The world had gone wrong with the man she loved, and
he selfishly visited his grievances on the woman who loved him, sure
that no other would feel it as she did. Not that Dave did not love
her after his own fashion, but, as her stepmother had warned Jenny,
his love was a selfish love, and no consideration for her entered
into his thoughts.
It was pleasant to have this girl, the only girl for miles, too,
looking into his face adoringly, hanging on his words, ready, he
felt, to lay down her life for him. He liked to hold her in his arms,
to feel that she was his alone; but he felt, too, that he must be a
fine fellow to inspire this devotion. There were two thousand men on
the field, and yet he had won this girl. Clearly the thought passed
though his mind occasionally, and gave him a feeling of intense
pleasure--he must be better than the rest of them.
But Anderson was a man who had had some little education, and the
disquieting idea would cross his mind now and again that the girl was
a fool; he himself had won her so easily, he was so convinced he
could do what he liked with her, that he often thought she was not
worth it all; the other men could surely not have tried to win her.
He would have wearied of her long ago, had it not been that it was
common talk on the camp that the sergeant of police was as keen on
winning the girl as he himself was indifferent. He made Jenny suffer
for that admiration; he never saw her without railing at Sergeant
Sells, without taunting her and blaming her as if she were doing him
a great wrong; but, nevertheless, deep down in his heart he knew that
it was the unlucky trooper's barely disguised admiration that kept
him by Jenny's side at all.
Anderson had always taken the lead among his comrades, had been
first without much effort, had been counted a jolly, careless,
daredevil sort of a fellow, whom men and women alike combined to
spoil and make much of; and, deny it who will, it is not men such as
these who make devoted lovers or are generous in their love. He
counted the girl's love too much as a matter of course.
In the old country many a woman had loved Dave Anderson's handsome
face, many bright eyes had been dim when he went away. It was an old
story to him. Much as Jenny loved him, he did not appreciate her love
at its true worth. Love was his due; he had been accustomed to it all
his life. In his heart he knew he had no cause for jealousy, but
whenever he was out of temper he made Jenny's life a burden by
railing at Sergeant Sells. All that a woman could do she did to
convince him she never encouraged the trooper, never guessing, poor
child--how could she?--that this was almost the only hold she had
over the man she adored.
Now she hid her face on his shoulder and cried helplessly.
'I done all I could,' she sobbed. 'Don't be angered wi' me, Dave.
I ha' been lookin' for you all the evenin'.'
'And you expect me to go in there, along with that God-forsaken
lot, to swell the score in your drunken father's bar, Is'pose,' he
She had not expected anything of the sort, and he knew it quite
well; but a sudden disgust of his surroundings had taken possession
of him, and he made the girl suffer for his fit of virtue. The arm he
had round her was so limp and cold she could hardly have told it was
there; her yellow hair was mingled with his dark beard, but he never
stooped to touch the fair face that was so close to his own. She
could not but feel his coldness; her stepmother's words of the
afternoon were coming bitterly home to her.
Never had she flouted him, never spoken one unkind word to him,
never--as far as in her power lay--given him cause for complaint; but
to-night she had waited for him so long, yearned for him so hungrily,
been so tender and pitiful over the accusation they had brought
against him, that this cold reception was more than she could bear.
Better be away, away, miles away, than in his arms, if he were like
this! She drew herself away very slowly, for she hoped against hope
that his arm would tighten with its old warmth and tenderness; but he
let her go, and she stood for a moment and looked at him mournfully
in the moonlight. She would have spoken, would have asked him why
this was, but her heart was too full for words. She touched his arm
lightly with her hand, then turned away towards the creek.
He looked at her in amazement. Never in all the course of their
acquaintance had she left him of her own accord before, and his first
thought was anger. She had brought him here, and now she was leaving
'Jenny!' he called, sure that she would come back at the sound of
his voice; but there was no tenderness in it, only sharp anger.
She never turned her head. She said to herself that she could not
stand being scolded any more, and she kept steadily on. He watched
her for a moment. She was going along the creek; in a very few
minutes she would be beyond the camp, out in the bush. Well, let her
go. But if she went, what was he to do with his evening?
He had come here expressly to see her. If he went into the bar,
where the men were singing and shouting, they would jeer, and ask him
if he had been flouted; besides----Well, he would go after her! She
was right out of sight now beyond the diggers' huts, and he heard
sounds as if some of the hilarious party inside were coming round.
They would find him alone. That decided him.
He made his way among the claims that lay at the back of the Lucky
Digger, among the huts and windlasses, without difficulty, for in the
clear white light everything was plainly visible. Making a short-cut
along the narrow paths that wound among the holes, and were used for
wheeling the barrow-loads of stuff down to the stream, there to be
washed, Anderson reached the creek just as Jenny was disappearing
into the bush on the other side. Here the hill rose up sharply from
the water's edge; it was still virgin forest undisturbed by the hand
of man. The creek came down out of the hills fresh and pure, and
trickled over the rocks that served as stepping-stones, and also as
the barrier beyond which no man, as yet, had searched for gold. Jenny
had crossed the creek, and he just caught a glimpse of her dress
moving among the tree-ferns in the gully down which it flowed. That
gully was like fairyland on a night like this. Through the fronds of
the tall tree-ferns and the clinging creepers came the brilliant
moonlight, making deep dark shadows and patches of brilliant white
light. It would have been possible to read print by the light of that
Dave Anderson crossed the stepping-stones and plunged into the
gully. He felt a better man away from the sights and sounds of the
camp--tenderer, kinder, more thoughtful. Ahead of him he could see
the girl pushing her way with down-bent head among the ferns and
creepers, and he followed in her track. The sound of the trickling
waters fell soothingly on his ears; the earthy smell of the plants,
the rushes, and tall flowering plants, with gorgeous flowers, purple
and pink, growing at the water's edge, was refreshingly cool on this
hot still night; there was another scent in the air, too, a heavy
indescribable perfume from some shrub or creeper that he could not
identify, but it added to the charm. There was a little rustling
underfoot as of small animals slipping away quietly, and overhead a
little gray bear was crying plaintively. Then the figure on before
him flung herself down on a log half covered with mosses and
creepers, and, hiding her face in her hands, rocked herself backwards
and forwards as if in pain. He was not exactly sorry for her, nor was
he exactly flattered--too many women had loved him for that--but he
felt softened and tender towards her, and he went quietly up to her
and laid his hand gently on her shoulder.
She started with a cry of affright, and he saw the tears hanging
on her lashes.
'Oh, Dave, Dave!'
She stretched out her hands, and he caught them in both his own.
Then he drew her into his arms, and there was no coldness about him
'How cruel you are, Jenny! How could you be so cruel!'
He meant to be tender and kind; but that was his way of relenting,
to throw all the blame on her, and she saw nothing wrong in it. No
matter what his words, his hand was stroking her hair, his arm was
round her, and his bearded face was close against hers. What more did
she want? He might rail as long as he pleased so long as he held her
in his arms.
She made a little murmur of contentment, and he went on:
'I come all the way over to see you, and you go straight away!
Wasn't it cruel?'
She might have answered that the distance was not so very
great--under two miles--and that most of the men on the field would
have done more for her than that, but she did not. She was too
thankful to feel his arms round her again to care what price she paid
for it. She only nestled closer to him, and drew her hand tenderly
down his face.
'You don't love me a bit, I do believe.'
'I do! I do!'
He kissed the ripe red lips so close to his own, and as she
murmured softly and contentedly he kissed them again.
'You don't like my kisses, Jen?'
For all answer she kissed his beard softly.
'Do you, do you?'
She pushed him away from her for a moment, and stood apart,
wringing her hands together, as one who vainly strives to give
expression to a thought too deep for words, and he saw in the
brilliant moonlight the traces of tears still on her cheeks and in
her pretty eyes.
'I do,' she said--'I do; you know I do. If I was dead and you was
to kiss me I should come back again.'
There was a sob in her voice that carried conviction of her
earnestness had he needed it; but he needed none. He was sure as man
could be of her love, and he made a step forward and took her in his
'An' yet--an' yet,' he said, 'you thought I'd a hand in the
shooting of the old German?'
'No, no, never--not never!'
'An' if I had, Jen--just s'posing I had?'
'I'd love you all the same,' she said, hiding her face on his
'I b'lieve you would. 'Pon my word,' he said, with some wonder in
his tone, 'I b'lieve you would! They'd hang me then, Jen,' he went
on, harping on the same theme. 'An' what 'd you do, then? Marry the
She shuddered, and made a movement of dissent.
'What! Not the sergeant, who'd keep you like a lady up on the
police camp there? Would you rather marry a poor devil like me, with
only a miserable bark hut alongside his claim that don't hardly pay
the license fee?'
He knew what her answer would be, but he put his hand beneath her
chin and turned her face to his own.
'Say "No," Jen, if you want to. I'm only a poor devil of a beggar
who they're all against. If you leave me----'
'I love you,' she said softly, but with some distress in her
tone--why would he seem to doubt her love?--'there isn't nothin' I
wouldn't do for you.'
'I'm poor,' he said--'poor as a bandicoot. Here's all I've got in
the world!' and he pulled out a small chamois leather bag full of
gold-dust and small nuggets.
These little bags all bore a strong family resemblance to one
another, but this one struck Jenny as specially familiar.
'Why,' she said on the spur of the moment, 'it's just like old
Black Anderson swore an angry oath.
'You'll be saying I did it next!' he said angrily; 'ain't there
hundreds of bags like this on the camp?'
'Yes, yes. I didn't mean that, you know, you know'--she was
distressed as he was angry--'only it minded me of Max's. His had a
join up the middle just like that.'
'An' if it minds you it'll mind other folks,' he said dubiously,
twisting it round and round in his hand.
'That don't matter,' she said, conscious of his innocence.
'How can you tell? A man's swung for less.' Then, with sudden
irritation, he added, 'You're that thick with the sergeant, and yet
I'll bet if a fellow wanted anything done you couldn't get it done
'I--I----' She hesitated. What could he mean? 'What--what?'
He read fear and what he took to be the first dawnings of doubt in
her true eyes, and he laughed as if he would reassure her, for he
found he preferred to be a god in her estimation.
'Look here, Jen, s'posing--just s'posing I did it, as they're all
'I just told you,' she said solemnly, 'I'd love you all the same.
'Twouldn't make no difference to me.'
'You'd have to marry the sergeant, then,' he said lightly, 'just
to stop him from hanging me.'
'That wouldn't do it,' she said, her woman's intuition truer than
'Oh yes, 'twould,' he said. 'I know more about these things than
you do. How'd a girl know? Don't you remember Conky Jim, up
She made a movement of assent. Her arm was round his neck again
now, and her face hidden in his beard.
'Well,' he went on, 'Conky was a deal too free with his barkers;
and one day he had a difference with a man about some gold-dust Conky
swore was his, and t'other swore was his. The end of it was t'other
was left for dead, and, as a matter of fact, did die that very night,
but not until these darned traps had found him and taken his dying
depositions, and 'twould have gone hard with Conky but that the
police-sergeant was sweet on his missus. She was a mighty fine gal,
and there warn't many round. Well, he took up with her, that sergeant
did, and the consequence was Conky got clean away across the Border.
She was a mighty fine gal that. You'll have to do that for me, Jen,
when they're after me for potting old Max. Will you?'
"Twouldn't be no manner of good,' she moaned; 'I know 'twouldn't.
An' you never done it--say you never done it!'
'Of course not. I'm only joking, you silly little thing!' he said,
for she was trembling. 'But would you take up with the sergeant to
'Oh, I would, I would! there isn't anything I wouldn't do to save
you; but don't tell me you done it, for 'twouldn't be any good--I
Then his mood changed.
'You're mighty keen on taking up with the sergeant, I notice,' he
said, in grumbling tones.
She felt it a little hard. He had almost forced her to say it, and
then when she did he grumbled; but she was accustomed to treatment of
this sort, and having him there with no one to interrupt, and the
soft warm moonlight night all around them, she set herself with all
the poor little arts at her command to coax him back into good temper
Then she had her reward, what she had waited for impatiently all
the evening. He forgot his fears and his ill-temper, forgot
everything save that she was a sweet, pretty woman, who loved him
better than her own soul; and she forgot her doubts and all else
The moon was high in the heavens before Jenny could bring herself
to remind her lover that she must go back home to-night, and when she
did, he walked part of the way back with her. When they came within
sight of the Lucky Digger again, he paused a moment, and drew out
once more the little chamois leather bag full of gold-dust.
'Will you keep it for me, Jenny?' he said. 'I'm main sure to spend
it if you don't, and it'll be something towards our getting spliced.
Don't tell anyone you've got it, but just keep it till I get a little
more to add to it. We'll have our shanty up in the gully there, won't
we--eh, my girl?' he said, looking tenderly down into her eyes with a
long, lingering glance, as if--as in truth he could not--he could not
make up his mind to let her go.
It was moments like these that bound her to him with bands of
iron. She took the bag, and hiding it in her bosom, stooped and
kissed his hand; then ran away to her home, the very happiest woman
in all the broad colony of Victoria.
Chapter VII A Woman's Counsel.
'It is when our budding hopes are nipped beyond
recovery by some rough wind, that we are the most
disposed to picture to ourselves what flowers they might
have borne if they had flourished.'
'Well, sir, that's all.'
'You've got the man, of course?'
'No, sir. We scoured the country, but he's vanished.'
'Are you vanished? You tell me you saw him last night five
minutesbefore you found the body, and you come to me this morning
with acock-and-bull story that you can't find him. You must find him.
Whydidn't you take him there and then?'
'I didn't know murder 'd been done, sir. As soon as I'd got the
bodydown to the Lucky Digger, I went after him down to his place, but
hewas gone. Will you make out the warrant, sir?'
'Warrant be hanged! There isn't much need of a warrant in a case
likethis. You've made a pretty mess of it among you. The man's
slippedthrough your fingers, I'll be bound. Confound your stupidity!'
and Commissioner Jocelyn Ruthven brought his clenched hand down on
thetable in front of him with all his force.
The tents of the police officers were certainly much more
comfortableplaces of abode than the tents and huts of the diggers.
The office tent wasneatly floored with hard wood, and lined with
green baize, and wellfurnished with chairs and a writing-table, at
which was seated the Commissioner himself, a good-looking little
blue-eyed man, who at thepresent moment had a heavy frown on his
usually good-humouredcountenance. He was very lame still, for it was
hardly a month since hehad been attacked and well-nigh killed by men
who considered theyowed him a grudge on account of the high hand with
which he had putdown the riot at the Packhorse over six months ago.
And now here wasanother outrage. Free fights and broken heads were
all in the day's work, but this was quite another thing, and it was
no wonder he looked grave, and was inclined, for once, to lose his
temper with his careful sergeant. Sergeant Sells stood before him,
his eyes on the ground, and his hands restlessly twisting a whip
round and round.
'When you were at the Packhorse last night, sir----' began the
'But I was not at the Packhorse last night,' said the Commissioner
angrily. 'I was over at Karouda, as you know very well, Mr.
Anderson,' he said, turning to the clerk; 'and as this murder took
place before sundown, I really fail to see why I shouldn't have been
told of it last night. Karouda is only three miles as the crow
Mr. Anderson, a tall, fair, somewhat callow young man, shuffled
his hands about among the papers on the table, looked across at the
diggers' camp, and finally muttered something incoherent about not
liking to disturb him. There was a dawning grin as of knowledge on
his face, for it was not unknown to him that his superior officer had
just become engaged to Miss Winifred Langdon, of Karouda, and he was
minded to say something on the subject. Another glance, however,
warned him that the moment was not propitious, so he hazarded another
remark to the effect that probably some of the diggers could say
where the man was.
'Your astuteness really does you credit, Mr. Anderson,' said the
Commissioner sarcastically, 'Probably they could, but the diggers,
perhaps you may not be aware, are not sufficiently imbued with
respect and admiration for this highly efficient force which I have
the honour to command, to volunteer information of any kind.'
'If you please, sir,' said the sergeant, 'some of them think a lot
of Black Anderson, as they call him, and I don't think they believe
he did it. If they did, in this case I think they'd speak up fast
enough. Most folks had a friendly feeling towards the old
'And you--what do you think, sergeant?'
'I--I'd stake my life he did it,' said the sergeant with unwonted
earnestness; 'what's he cleared out for else?'
'That's certainly a strong argument against him,' said the
Commissioner thoughtfully; 'but it's also a poser for us, for, guilty
or not guilty, if he only keeps up among the hills to the north-east,
we'll have no chance of getting at him. You ought to have taken him
'I heard,' said young Anderson, 'that he was at the Lucky Digger
Mr. Ruthven turned angrily on his sergeant, who said hastily:
'No, sir; I was there, sir, and I had a man on the look-out all
the evening. It didn't seem likely he'd go there, but I thought it
best to be on the safe side; but, of course, that would be the last
place he'd go to, sir. Why, the men 'd lynch him if they thought he
'But, you see, according to you, they don't believe he did do
'No, sir, they don't.'
Sergeant Sells looked dubiously on the ground. He was at the end
of his resources, and had no further suggestions to make; but young
Anderson took it up again:
'Well, I heard he'd been spoken to by a man they call Pard
Derrick, who's got that claim where you see that red shirt hung out.
Pard Derrick, I believe, says he spoke to him just behind the pub,
and he went off and left him alone with Jenny Carter--you know, Buck
Carter's pretty daughter.'
'You seem to know a good deal about it,' remarked the Commissioner
severely. 'It's a pity you did not make this communication about
twelve hours earlier.'
'Didn't know myself, sir,' said the young man serenely. 'But it's
common talk that Jenny Carter's Black Anderson's sweetheart. It was
most natural, anyhow, he should go to her to say good-bye. But you
know more about these things than I do, sir,' he added slyly.
But the Commissioner was in no mood for pleasantry.
'I wish to Heaven----' he began. Then the sergeant interrupted
'Begging your pardon, sir,' he said, 'I think Mr. Anderson's quite
wrong about Jenny Carter.'
'Oh, gammon, sergeant! you don't know anything about these sort of
things. Why, it's common talk that the girl is Black Anderson's
sweetheart. And a mighty pretty girl, too!' added Mr. Anderson
The sergeant moved uneasily from one foot to another. It was
torture to him to hear Jenny so lightly discussed. He would have
given anything to have kept her name out of it; but as he could not
do that, he strenuously denied all connection between her and the man
'I know it's common talk, sir,' he said respectfully, trying to
keep down the anger that was boiling up in his heart; 'but you know
as well as I do what common talk's worth. Of course the girl is civil
to him; how can she help it? I expect her father 'd have something to
say to it if she wasn't, and he's a masterful sort of fellow, always
going on about having his own way in everything; and, of course, as
she's the only girl on the field, the men talk; but there's nothing
in it. I'll go bail she knows no more where he's hiding than I
'Really, sergeant,' said young Anderson, 'you seem to have given
your mind to the matter. I presume we shall be invited to the wedding
'Mr. Anderson,' said the Commissioner sharply, 'this is not
'Certainly, sir, I understand; but in spite of the sergeant, I
still think that my friend Pard Derrick is right, and that pretty
Jenny Carter knows a deal more about my namesake than she chooses to
'I assure you, sir,' said the sergeant earnestly, 'you are quite
wrong. She is a thoroughly good girl. It's not her fault her father
keeps a disreputable shanty; she keeps herself as much to herself as
The Commissioner tapped his fingers impatiently on the table in
front of him.
'We didn't come here to discuss a girl,' he said; 'what I want to
arrive at is, where is this man?'
'And I know,' said Anderson confidently, 'that that girl saw him
last, and, as that was some time last night, he can't be very far
'I'm sure, sir----' began the sergeant again earnestly. He, too,
was almost convinced of the truth of Pard Derrick's story, but not
for worlds would he have owned it--he was more bent than ever on
keeping Jenny's name out of the business; but now the Commissioner
'This is simple waste of time,' he said angrily. 'There's nothing
to prevent the girl speaking for herself, I suppose. Go down,
sergeant, or send a trooper, and fetch her here.'
The sergeant saluted and turned away. He hardly knew whether to be
pleased or not at the turn affairs had taken. If Jenny denied she had
seen anything of Black Anderson, well and good--even he could ask no
more. But if she owned to having met him, well--he set his foot down
firmly--the girl was nothing to him, nothing in the wide world--he
did not care one way or the other. If with her own lips she spoke her
condemnation--and if she owned to having spoken to Black Anderson,
that's what she would be doing--what did it matter to him? He had
given up all thought of her last night, and this would just be
another reason to strengthen his resolution. Nevertheless, he did not
send a trooper to fetch her, as the Commissioner had suggested, but
went himself, and was surprised and angry to find that his heart was
beating disagreeably fast as he neared the Lucky Digger.
Meanwhile, if he had but known it, he had reached a pinnacle of
happiness compared to the feelings of the girl he was going to see.
And only last night she had been so happy, so blissfully happy, so
free from care, and now it seemed to her that she could not even look
forward to death itself as a relief. There was someone else to be
thought of, someone to be cared for, and she, so far as she read her
duty, must sacrifice her life for him.
When Jenny left her lover beside the creek, she ran as fast as she
could home, and quietly slipped into the bare little room which was
her bedroom. It was very bare indeed, with an earthen floor, and for
all furniture a couple of boxes and a low stretcher, which she shared
with a little half-brother. The moonlight streamed in through the
unglazed window, and showed her the little curly head on the pillow
sound asleep, and she stooped and kissed him fondly. He was very dear
to her, the little chap, but to-night she was specially tender; was
she not the very happiest woman in all the world? She sat on the end
of the bed, and put the chamois leather bag against her cheek and
kissed it for the sake of the dear hands that had held it. The gold
was dear to her, not for its own sake, not for the sake of what it
would bring, but for the sake of the hands that had worked for it,
for the man who had thought only of her, had worked for it for her.
Could there possibly be a happier woman in the world than she was?
She would not change, not she, with the great Queen in her palace;
she wanted nothing more than Black Dave, and he had promised to marry
her so soon as he had a little more money, and as an earnest of his
love had given her all his gold to keep. She would tell Sal
to-morrow--would tell her and triumph over her. She looked across at
the canvas screen that separated her room from Sal's and her
father's, then very softly, for fear lest they might hear, she opened
the bag and emptied the contents on to her lap.
There were about a dozen small nuggets, and quite a little heap of
gold--dust. Some of the corners caught the light and glittered in the
bright moonlight as she dreamily ran her fingers through them. Such
bright gold, such dear, bright gold; and it was buying her happiness!
Only she did not think in those words, because she had no words at
her command; she only thought that that gold represented to her Dave
Anderson's love, and accordingly she liked to touch it. She turned it
over again. How could she go to bed and to sleep on this night, the
whitest night of her life? Perhaps it was not wise to be looking at
so much gold so near the window. Someone might see, and be tempted.
Was it not only this very night the old German had been murdered for
the sake of a little bag, the very counterpart of this which she held
in her hand?
Jenny glanced out of the window--no one there--and then down in
her lap again, and her happy dream, the fair promise of her life,
vanished for ever.
For there, in the middle of the pile of gold-dust, lay a
curiously-shaped nugget she had herself paid over to the old German
only yesterday afternoon. There was not the very faintest doubt about
it. She knew it only too well. Pard Derrick had paid the nugget over
the counter in payment of his score, and he had remarked upon it, and
said he would not have parted with it if he had not been hard up, for
it ought to bring its owner good luck, seeing it was in the shape of
a cross with one arm missing. Sal Carter had seen it too, and had
opined it meant ill-luck, for, if it was the other way round,
wouldn't the blessed cross be perfect and not broken at all? Then
Pard Derrick had laughed, and said she need not take it, but might
give him tick if she liked. But Mrs. Carter had taken the nugget, and
then, when old Max came round with his vegetables and fruit, had told
Jenny to pay him with the little nugget.
'For it'll bring no luck,' said she, 'the blessed cross broke like
Apparently it had brought no luck, for old Max was dead, and--and
she shivered drearily as if it had been the depth of winter. What did
it all mean? This was not old Max's bag; it was Dave Anderson's, her
Dave's. And how had the fatal nugget got here? There was only one
answer to that question, only one answer; in her simplicity she only
thought of one. There was no possible explanation save the one, no
other interpretation save that the police themselves would put upon
This was old Max's bag; she herself had noticed the resemblance.
This was old Max's bag, and it was her lover's hand that had fired
the fatal shot. She hastily shook back the gold into the bag, and
then, standing on tiptoe, concealed it in the layers of bark that
made the roof of her wretched little room. She could not bear to have
the thing that was the price of blood close to her. Then she sat down
on the end of the bed again, where she had dreamed her dreams so long
ago--oh! so long ago--and tried to think it out.
Dave had done it--Dave! He had shot the poor old man who had never
harmed him, had shot him for the sake of that little bag, and
then--why had he given it to her to keep for him? She asked herself
the question again and again, but the answer was there already. That
was no argument for his innocence. He knew she would show no one his
gold, would tell no one she had it, and he knew he could trust her.
Had she not said herself she would love him just the same whether he
had done it or not? Had he not made her say that over and over again?
And she did--she did. She had not believed that of him; but now that
it was forced upon her, she loved him just the same.
Jenny wondered if the police would be after him. Dully she
remembered something Pard Derrick had said--what, she was not very
certain; Black Dave's presence had made her forget all else--but she
did remember Pard Derrick had said the sergeant suspected Dave, and
if he did, then--then----She remembered her lover's story of Conky
Bill's missus, and took it both as an added sign of guilt and as a
personal direction to herself. If the police were after Black
Anderson, then she was to marry the sergeant. She never thought of
disputing the fact. She would have to marry him. Dave expected it of
her, and never of her own free will, since she had known him, had she
It was as she had said it would be; no thought of her lover's
unworthiness had entered her simple soul, only the conviction that he
had done this thing, and that he must be saved at any cost, even at
the sacrifice of herself. No thought of the sergeant's interest in
the business entered her mind. Dave had as good as said she must
marry the sergeant if the police came after him, and she fully
intended to do so. She wished she were dead; but she was not dead nor
likely to die. Besides, Dave must be saved at any cost.
She sat there on the end of the bed the livelong night, trying
vainly to find some comfort where no comfort was. She was so dull, so
ignorant, so helpless. She could only repeat over and over again,
'Oh, Dave, Dave! I will help you, I will!' And the only way she saw
was the way he himself had insisted on. She never railed against him,
never thought bitterly of him for one moment. It is not in the nature
of women like her. He was her god, no matter what he might be to the
rest of the world, and she was prepared to do sacrifice.
The bright moonlight paled before the coming day; the sun rose up
in all his splendour. Another long hot day had begun. But still she
sat on, slowly rocking herself backwards and forwards like one in
pain. The baby in the adjoining room raised a pitiful wail, low at
first, then louder and louder, till its sleepy mother turned and put
it to her breast. Then the little boy in her own bed wakened and sat
up, rubbing his eyes and wondering to see his sister already dressed,
for the Lucky Digger kept things up so late at night, it was
impossible any of its inmates could be very early risers. She hastily
dressed him and sent him outside to play, and lay down dressed as she
was, and thought wearily of the things that had happened since she
had done the same thing yesterday morning. She felt as if a whole
lifetime had intervened; and she stared at the roof, at the spot
where the bag was hidden, till from very weariness her eyes closed,
and she slept and dreamed troubled dreams in which she, Black
Anderson, old Max, and the sergeant were inextricably mingled. She
awakened with a start to find her stepmother bending over her.
'Well, upon my word, a nice lazy thing you are! To go to sleep
again after you'd got your clothes on.' It never occurred to her that
the girl had been sitting up all night. 'Ain't you goin' to help me
with the breakfast this mornin'? There's that botherin' Pard Derrick
says he's goin' to have some here, and the childer are well-nigh
Jenny sat up rubbing her eyes. At first the events of the night
before were quite forgotten; only a dull feeling of some impending
misery, that we are all familiar with, was present in her mind. She
held out her arms mechanically for the baby, and, as she took him in
them, the whole thing came back to her.
'A nice hour you were in, madam!' went on her stepmother. 'I tell
you, Jen, it's just foolish you are! He's only foolin' you, he is.
Besides, what do you think? That Pard Derrick was along here just
now, an' he was sayin' the police are after him in real earnest on
account of old Max. Isn't it just what I'm tellin' you? He's a real
bad lot, an' I wouldn't have no truck with him if I was you.'
It was not all the reason Mrs. Carter had given yesterday; but
Jenny was in no mood to dispute with her. Indeed, the only thing she
heard clearly was that the worst had happened: the police were after
Black Dave, and she would have to marry the police sergeant. And even
then, to do her justice, all her anxiety was not for herself, but for
the man who today would be a hunted outlaw, with every man's hand
against him. His life, somehow, she felt, depended on her, so she
looked Mrs. Carter in the face, and moistened her dry lips in a vain
effort to speak.
But Mrs. Carter was well accustomed to her silence.
'My!' she went on, 'the boss was pretty mad last night! He'd have
trounced you well if he'd laid hands on you! I had that work to get
him to bed quiet! Where was you? Out with Black Dave?'
Jenny nodded. She had hardly made up her mind what it would be
best to say; she was too simple, too ignorant, to invent a likely
story, and it seemed to her assent could do her lover no harm.
'Well, is he goin' to marry you?'
Jenny shook her head. She would have to marry the sergeant, she
kept saying to herself--she would have to marry the sergeant.
'Poor old girl!' said her stepmother pityingly, 'he ain't worth
botherin' about; take my word for it, Jen, he ain't. Give him up, an'
take on wi' the sergeant. My word! wouldn't the boss be pleased!'
'Why?' Jenny found voice to ask.
'Oh, 'cos the place is gettin' a bad name, an he's took it into
his head 'tis all along of you being so thick wi' Black Anderson, an'
now there comes this murder. Once you take up with the sergeant, Jen,
it'll be all right.'
'But s'posin' the sergeant don't want me?'
'S'posin' pigs could fly! Course he wants you! Get along with you!
you know it as well as I do.'
'What'll I do then?' asked Jenny, and the other woman was so
pleased at her sudden complaisance she forgot to notice the dreary
hopelessness in the girl's voice, or, if she did, set it down to the
fact of her having found out the utter worthlessness of Black
'She'll get over it,' she thought to herself. 'Lord! girls don't
die of this sort of thing.' Then aloud she said: 'Do! why, just like
you always do; only be a little sweeter. I'll tell him you're shy
like. Come on, now; there's the boss callin', an' it's as much as my
life is worth to cross him this morning. Oh, my fine gentleman, I'll
make you pay for this by-and--by, or my name ain't Sal Carter! Fry
the chops, Jen, there's a dear.'
Jenny could hardly have told how the morning passed. She was dimly
aware that her father was out of temper, not only with her (that was
a thing of common occurrence), but with his wife, who was apparently
serenely unconscious of the fact, and was full of importance at the
knowledge that Jenny was going to take up with the sergeant. It
seemed to give her great pleasure, and whenever she approached the
girl she nudged her, and laughed confidentially.
'You'll like him right well, Jenny,' she said more than once, as
the girl's white face told her this was no matter of rejoicing to
her. 'Bless you, you'll be a right happy woman compared to me, and
t'other ain't worth thinkin' about! I'm certain sure o' that, or I
wouldn't ask you to do it.'
Then, about ten o'clock, there was the ringing of spurred heels in
the bar, and Sergeant Sells had come by Commissioner Ruthven's orders
to fetch Jenny up to the police camp. The girl grew whiter than ever
when she heard his errand, but her stepmother patted her
encouragingly on the shoulder.
'She's a bit shy, sergeant, you see. Jenny, put on your
sun-bonnet, dear, and smooth out your dress. Lord! sergeant, 'tis
nothing, is it? What's the Commissioner wantin' of her, now?'
Now, Sergeant Sells was perfectly aware that in the execution of
his duty strict silence was the proper course, but Jenny's tired
white face went to his heart, and he was only too anxious on his own
account to prove that she knew nothing of Black Anderson to do that
'Only to hear what she has to say about Black Anderson. I suppose
you know there's a warrant out against him for murder?'
'Oh yes,' said Mrs. Carter, smoothing back Jenny's hair, and
preparing to put her bonnet on for her. 'I don't go much on Black
Anderson myself--I'm always sayin' that to you, ain't I, Jen?--but I
misdoubt the Commissioner's wrong there. He ain't done murder.'
Jenny shivered. Only too well she knew she had the proofs in her
'Well, but was he here last night?' asked the policeman eagerly,
his eyes on the girl's face.
Jenny opened her mouth to reply, but no words would come; in very
truth, she hardly knew whether to deny it or not. If she were to deny
it, there was Pard Derrick to witness to her falsehood; but while she
hesitated Mrs. Carter saved her the trouble.
'Here! Of course he was here, hangin' round our Jen like the rest
of them, and that mad because she don't keep her smiles for him
alone. The conceit of the man!' said Sal Carter, tossing her head.
'But Jenny gave him as good as he gave, I'll warrant! She ain't
a-goin' to have any more truck with Black Dave Anderson, she ain't,
till this affair's cleared up. Honest women can't afford to have
their names messed about;' and Mrs. Carter looked to Jenny for
The girl only hung her head. It was true enough. She had given up
Dave Anderson for his own sake.
'But,' said the sergeant doubtfully, 'what was Miss Jenny doing
talking to him last night?'
'Oh, get along with you, do!' said Mrs. Carter playfully. 'How'd
she help talkin' to him, an' Black Dave more free wi' the coin than
any chap here? I guess her father 'd have somethin' to say if she
didn't do the civil! Not,' she added, with a remembrance of the stony
silence Jenny always maintained towards the sergeant himself, who
certainly, according to the ideas of the times, was well worth
propitiating, 'that Jen's ever given to much words, even with me an'
the childer; but she's been just bound to speak civil to Black
The words were balm to his ears. He had more than half a suspicion
that the landlady of the Lucky Digger was fooling him to the top of
his bent, but he thought it was for her own ends, and he was only too
thankful to hear that Jenny cared nothing for Black Anderson to
question very closely the authority whence he received the
'Jenny's but poorly this mornin',' said Mrs. Carter; 'don't you be
hard on her, now.'
'Indeed I won't!' he said fervently. Her white tired face gave him
a distinct pain to look at. 'And, indeed, she needn't be in the least
afraid. She's only got to say "Yes" or "No" to the Commissioner's
questions. He won't be hard on her.'
'Well, Jenny told me all about it, and she don't know nothing
about Black Anderson. She sat out there to cool by the creek with him
last night; but, Lord! that's nothin'. Anybody who'd danced with Pard
Derrick 'd a' done the same.'
There was no gainsaying that. Not that Sergeant Sells was desirous
of so doing. He was as anxious as even her stepmother could have been
to find an innocent reason for the hours Jenny had spent with Black
Anderson, and here was one ready to his hand.
'Yes,' he said thoughtfully--'yes. That's likely enough.'
'Likely, of course it's likely; ain't I just tellin' you? Lord
sakes, what an awfu' fuss! an' all because a girl talks to a chap, or
sits still an' lets him talk to her. That's more Jen's style, I
'And what did he say?' asked the sergeant eagerly.
Jenny raised her tired, frightened eyes to his face, but she never
uttered a word, and her voluble stepmother came to her rescue
'Say? Well, now, I wonder at you, sergeant, asking a question like
that. What does a chap say when he sits out alone with a girl in the
moonlight? You're not goin' to tell me you haven't done it yourself,
a handsome man like you. You've left many an achin' heart behind you,
The flattery was coarse, but he was unaccustomed to flattery of
any sort, especially from a woman; and, as far as he knew, no woman's
heart had ever beaten the faster for his presence, or ached for his
absence. He was thankful, too, to think that it might have been mere
admiration for her beauty that brought Black Anderson to see Jenny.
It made him wince to think of her listening to the coarse compliments
of such a man, but from her coldness to him he argued she would not
be too free with another man, and the thought gave him comfort. Now
this man was out of the way he would win her for himself, he would
take her away from these uncongenial surroundings, he would teach her
how a woman should bear herself; she would only want a little
teaching, she was so young--so young, almost a child--and he would be
so tender with her. There was nothing between her and Black Anderson,
he was convinced of that; any girlish fancy she might have had for
him would be crushed out before this terrible accusation; he had a
fair field, and now indeed he would win her. Happier than he had felt
for many a long day did the sergeant feel at this moment; he could
hardly have analyzed his own feelings, only in some indefinite manner
he felt that he might hope, and every prudent consideration was swept
away in a rush of uncontrolled passion. She looked so tired and
weary, the poor little girl! He would have spared her if he could,
and yet in his heart he was glad enough to take her before the
Commissioner and let her prove out of her own lips her innocence.
'The Commissioner will be waiting,' he said as a reason for
hurrying the women.
'And the Commissioner don't like to be kept waiting, do he, now?'
said Sal Carter. 'Now, don't you be rough wi' poor Jenny; she's that
poorly this mornin' she can hardly hold up her head.'
'It seems she could dance well enough last night,' said the
sergeant, his doubts for the moment getting the upper hand again.
'Her! dance!' cried Mrs. Carter in well-feigned astonishment.
'Lawks, sergeant, any fool 'd tell you Jenny was ready for her bed at
eight o'clock, just dyin' to go there. You might have seen for
yourself if you'd only used your eyes; she was mighty short with the
chaps, but, bless you! it's as much as her life's worth to ask the
boss to let her off, specially on a night like last night. The boss
is mighty hard on poor Jenny. There, go along with you, now, and
don't you be hard on her, too.'
'Are you ready?' he asked.
Jenny raised her eyes, and nodded her head, and they set off
together up the hot and dusty track that led to the police camp,
where the Commissioner was impatiently awaiting their arrival.
Chapter VIII In the Commissioner's Office.
'Some men must love my lady, and some Joan.'
--'Love's Labour's Lost.'
THEY walked along side by side in silence. The trooper was
cudgelling his brains for something to say, something to encourage
the tired girl beside him, something that should sound kind, and
which would assure her there was nothing to fear, for that she was
afraid he was convinced; but by nature he was a reserved, silent man,
and now that he desired them so earnestly the words would not come.
As for Jenny, she never even tried to speak; one thought only was
filling her mind, that she must marry the man beside her to save her
lover. He had said so, and his word was not to be gainsaid. Her
stepmother had smoothed the way for her; she had put into her mouth
the words she should say; she had given a reason for her
companionship with Dave Anderson, and all she had to do was to
remember that she knew nothing.
The hill was steep and the dust on the track ankle-deep; the
diggers bending over their cradles and tubs on the banks of the creek
looked in wonder at the two strange companions. The sergeant was a
man who cared little what his fellows thought of him, but the girl
felt instinctively that all eyes were upon her, and knew that if Dave
Anderson had a friend among those onlookers, and she did not doubt
for a moment that he had many friends, he would know she had been
sent for to the police camp. There was a certain amount of comfort in
that, too, for if he knew that much, he would know that she was doing
her best to save him; he would hear she was with the sergeant, he
'Are you very tired?' asked Sergeant Sells at last in despair.
'You look so, I'm sure,' he said, but it did not seem to Jenny
that that remark required an answer.
They reached the camp, and every trooper, it seemed to her
companion, looked curiously at Jenny. It annoyed him, this publicity,
while she never noticed it. She was accustomed to being stared at by
men, and whether they were diggers or troopers mattered little to
At the door of his tent sat the Commissioner, lolling back in an
easy-chair, with his hands behind his head, while young Anderson
leaned against the tent-pole smoking furiously.
'Here you are at last, sergeant,' said the Commissioner; 'you've
been a nice time about it! Do you think I've all day to waste over
this blessed thing?'
The sergeant felt he had nothing to say in excuse for his delay,
so wisely held his tongue, and the Commissioner went on:
'So this is the young woman? And what's she got to say for
This question also seemed not to require an answer, so the
sergeant stood at attention, and Jenny looked down and wondered that
they did not hear the beating of her heart.
The Commissioner looked at her curiously. He knew her, of course,
but he had never noticed her much before. She looked to him an untidy
little girl, in a shabby lilac frock, with a frightened pair of dark
eyes, a face that some might call pretty, and quantities of yellow
hair bunched up under a white sun-bonnet. Rather wistful-looking,
certainly, but a little simple, not at all the dark and dangerous
conspirator he had been led by his clerk to expect. In his own mind
he was convinced there and then she knew nothing about the
murder--very little, he thought, about the murderer.
'Don't be frightened,' he said kindly; 'we're only going to ask
you a question or two. We're not going to hurt you.'
Then he felt vexed that his manner did not reassure her more.
Personally he had a contempt for a weak woman, but he went on
'Are you the daughter of the man they call Buck Carter, the
landlord of the Lucky Digger?'
'Yes, sir.' And the sergeant and the Commissioner both noticed how
she trembled as she spoke.
'I'm told you were at the dance held there last night; is that
'Who were present?'
Jenny pleated her dress between her fingers, and looked helplessly
at the sergeant.
He hailed this proof of confidence with delight, and ventured to
nod encouragingly and say, 'Tell the Commissioner, Jenny.'
But Jenny could find no words, and her restless fingers folded the
skirt of her dress backwards and forwards as the Commissioner
repeated his question.
Then he altered it.
'Was there anybody there?'
'Good Lord!' said the Commissioner irritably; 'was a man they call
Pard Derrick there?'
Jenny trembled again, and her voice, as she answered 'Yes, sir,'
was hardly audible.
'Come, now, we're getting on. Did you dance with this Pard
'Yes, sir,' again in a whisper.
'Don't be afraid. There's nothing wrong in that. Do you know a man
named David Anderson?'
Jenny looked down and said nothing. She had never heard Black Dave
called David Anderson before, and it seemed to her that she would not
own to knowing him till she was obliged, and she did not know David
Commissioner Ruthven drummed his fingers on the table in front of
him. The girl was manifestly frightened out of her wits, and anything
she knew would have to be dragged out of her. He was not astonished
at that. He knew the reputation the police and all connected with
them had in the diggers' camp, and she was evidently ignorant and
'Try her with Black Dave, sir,' suggested his clerk, coming to the
'Do you know Black Dave, Jenny?' repeated the Commissioner.
'Yes, sir,' she answered in a whisper.
'Oh, you do. Come, that's satisfactory. And was he at the
Jenny hesitated a moment, then she said:
'But he comes to the Lucky Digger?'
'Lucid, certainly,' commented the Commissioner. 'Well, did he come
there last night?'
Again Jenny hesitated. He had certainly not come to the bar, she
had met him outside, so she answered.
'But you saw him last night?' went on the Commissioner, who was
'You went outside to meet him?'
'No, sir.' She could answer that truthfully enough, for she
remembered she had gone out reluctantly, dragged by Pard Derrick.
'What did you go outside for, then?'
'It was hot,' said Jenny in a whisper, 'an' Pard Derrick made
'But isn't Black Anderson your sweetheart?'
The sergeant looked at the girl narrowly, and saw her crimson
through the sun-tan on her face; then she drooped her eyes again,
and, much to his relief, said in a whisper so faint as hardly to be
'For Heaven's sake, girl, speak up! What in the world is there to
be afraid of? Didn't you leave Pard Derrick and talk to Dave
'Pard Derrick went inside.'
'Clearly the boot was on the other foot, then. And why didn't you
go in with Pard Derrick?'
Jenny looked down again, and was heard to murmur something about
its being 'too hot.'
'Then I'm to understand you stopped outside with the other
'Did you know he was suspected of the murder of German Max?'
'Pard Derrick told him so.'
'Oh! And so you stopped outside with a man who, you had been told,
was accused of murder?'
'Please, sir,' there was a sob in Jenny's voice as the thought of
last night came back to her--last night, so rich in promise of
happiness for her--'please, sir, I thought Pard Derrick was
'And what did you two do when Pard Derrick was gone?'
'Come, sir,' put in young Anderson, 'I call that a really cruel
question. You, of all people, might be sympathetic.'
The Commissioner silenced him with a contemptuous glance, and
repeated his question: 'Well, come now, what did you do?'
Jenny paused a long time, then said slowly: 'Sat down by the
It was the strict truth. No one had seen her go up the gully, and
she did not mention it, so the Commissioner naturally thought it was
the creek opposite the store.
'And after that?'
Again a long pause, and the girl's fingers restlessly twisting
themselves in and out of her dress.
'Well, what next?'
'I went home to bed, sir.'
'And Anderson, what became of him?'
'I don't know, sir.'
'But surely you made some arrangement for meeting again?'
Sergeant Sells looked at her narrowly.
'N-o-o, sir,' she said, with a pitiful quaver in her voice, for
though it was the strict truth, she had thought when they parted he
would come to the bar next evening like the rest of the diggers, and
now she had no hope of ever seeing him again.
'Didn't you ever think to see him again?'
'I--I thought he'd come to the bar if he wanted;' and her voice
had sunk to a whisper again.
'Evidently not so very keen, after all,' thought the Commissioner
to himself, 'or, maybe, somewhat ashamed of taking up with a
murderer,' while the undemonstrative sergeant could have flung his
cap in the air with delight.
'And Anderson didn't mention German Max?'
'Said he'd never done it,' whispered Jenny, 'an' that Pard Derrick
It seemed to her she had done all she could now, and that another
question must reveal the fact that she had the old German's bag of
gold in her keeping at that very moment. In her eyes the Commissioner
was all--powerful. She put up her hands to her face, and began
helplessly twisting the strings of her sun-bonnet.
'And that's all you know?' said the Commissioner.
'Yes, sir,' and her hands went up to her face and she burst into a
passion of tears.
Perhaps it was the best thing she could have done. Commissioner
Ruthven had decided in his own mind that she was a simple girl, very
ignorant and frightened, and he thought that thought Black Anderson,
in common with the rest of the diggers, might admire such beauty as
she had, she was the last person he would trust with a knowledge of
his movements or of his crime.
'Tut, tut, tut!' he said; 'what the dickens are you doing that
for? There, that's all, sergeant. You can take her away. Tell her not
to make such a fool of herself,' for, once the tears had come, Jenny
could not control herself, and was sobbing as if her heart would
'She's but poorly, sir,' said the sergeant, taking upon himself to
excuse her; 'Mrs. Carter was telling me so just now, asking me not to
be hard on her.'
'H'm! it seems she was equal to shaking a leg with a will last
night. That doesn't look very like being poorly.'
'It's all her father's fault, sir,' said the sergeant eagerly.
'Buck Carter's a hard man, and she can't call her soul her own.'
Young Anderson stepped back into the dining-tent and returned with
a glass of wine.
'Here, drink this,' he said, 'and for mercy's sake don't cry so!
You make a man feel a brute to look at you.'
The sergeant looked at him gratefully, but Jenny, with her face in
her hands, utterly refused the proffered refreshment.
'Don't be a fool!' said the Commissioner sharply, and, accustomed
to obey, she drank it between her sobs.
It steadied her shaken nerves, and she lifted her tear-stained
face and looked questioningly at the Commissioner.
'She can go, sergeant,' he said; 'I've done with her.'
Without a word he touched her arm and led her down the hill
The Commissioner watched them out of sight.
'H'm!' he said, 'not much to be got out of her. She's a little
simple, I think.'
'Well, it's pretty evident our man was there last night, after
all, and openly, too. But those blessed troopers failed to find
'Who was the man on the look-out at the pub?'
'Good Lord! No wonder he slipped through our fingers. The man's
next door to a fool!'
'Well, sir,' said the clerk apologetically, 'no one thought he'd
put so bold a face on it as to go to the pub. Besides, he didn't go
inside, and out in the moonlight one man's very like another, with
their red shirts and heavy beards.'
'The bird's flown now, any way,' said the Commissioner, preparing
to light his pipe. 'And as for that girl, I don't believe she knows a
thing about it. A simple little thing!'
'It's common talk, all the same, sir,' repeated Anderson, 'that
she's Black Anderson's sweetheart.'
'Pooh! As the sergeant says, you know what common talk's
'The sergeant? By Jingo, sir, I do believe your immaculate
sergeant's gone the way of all flesh! If he ain't badly hit with that
little girl, I'm a duffer!'
'It wouldn't take that to prove you a duffer, Mr. Anderson!' said
the Commissioner severely, for the escape of Black Anderson was still
rankling. 'The sergeant's a man of sense.'
'A man of sense or not, sir, I'll bet you anything you like before
the month's out the sergeant comes to you for permission to bring a
wife to live on the camp!'
'Pooh! he's old enough to be her father. He knows better. An
untidy little drab of a girl like that!'
'She's sweetly pretty--she is indeed, sir! You won't see it,
because you've got another face in your eye. And, after all, there's
no fool like an old fool. Take up my bet, sir. I'll stand a champagne
dinner if the sergeant hasn't come to you before the month's
'Done with you! But if I only catch Black Anderson, I'll stand
champagne whether the sergeant makes a fool of himself or not.'
Chapter IX A Weighty Warning.
'An syne he laughed, an' syne he sang.
An' syne we thocht him fou.
An' syne he trumped his partner's trick.
An' garred his partner rue.
'Then up and spake an elder mon.
That held the Spade its Ace--
"God save the lad! Whence comes the licht
That wimples on his face?"'
'Departmental Ditties.' Rudyard Kipling.
IT was hardly part of Sergeant Sells' duty to accompany Jenny
Carterback again to the Lucky Digger, but he made it so. He could not
let hergo down by herself, exposed as she would be to the rude
curiosity of therough diggers, so he walked down stern and solemn
beside her. As forthe girl herself, she hardly realized his kindness.
She spoke not aindeed, never answered, unless an inarticulate sound
when he addressedher could be called an answer. It contented him,
however, and when theyreached the store her voluble stepmother amply
made up for her silence.
'Lord! now, this is good of you, sergeant, to bring Jen back
again! Why, poor old girl, how you have been cryin'! Go in an' lie
down now, there's a dear! Now, sergeant,' she added reproachfully,
'didn't I ask younot to be hard on her, a soft little thing like
'I'm sure,' he said apologetically, 'I don't know what's the
matter. Inever did understand women, and the Commissioner was as kind
as hecould be. I wonder at that, too, for he hasn't the sweetest
temper in theworld, and he's very vexed about Black Anderson.'
'Lord! men are fools. You just go on makin' an innocent girl bring
aman to the gallows, and then you wonder that she should cry her
heartout at havin' blood on her hands.'
'Good heavens! is that what's the matter? I'm sure, then, Jenny
needn'tcry about that. All she did, as far as I can see, was to make
out thatvagabond as innocent as the babe unborn.'
'Well, well, I'm glad o' that. He may be a jolly bad lot, but a
girl don't want to have his death at her door, whatever she may think
of him. Come, Jen, run away now, and lie down a bit. I'll mind the
childer, an' the sergeant 'll be likely comin' in in the
evenin'--won't you, sergeant?'
Jenny turned away without a word, and the sergeant stroked his
whiskers doubtfully. He did not choose to look upon himself as a
common habitué of the pub, and he did not like to think Mrs.
Carter did so either, and yet there was Jenny. If he did not see her
till to-morrow or the day after, what might not happen meanwhile? He
had advanced farther in her good graces than he had ever gone before,
and he felt he ought to follow up the advantage; still, he did not by
any means approve of Sal Carter, so he said doubtfully:
'H'm! I don't know. There's a good deal to be done, you see, about
this affair. It'll never do to let this man get clean off.'
'You can't be huntin' him day and night, sure; but do as you
please. There's plenty glad enough to come here;' and Mrs. Carter
poured water into a tin basin and began washing up tumblers and
pannikins with the cheerful conviction that she was a very important
person, whatever opinion the sergeant of police might hold upon the
He went back to the camp then, but he knew as well as possible
that the evening would see him down in the bar shoulder to shoulder
with the bearded, red-shirted diggers, anxious as they--nay, he was
not the man to mince matters to himself, a thousand times more
anxious than they--for a kind word, or even a smile, from Jenny
Carter. But he was happier now than he had been for many a long day.
Jenny had nothing in common with Black Anderson; he was sure of that.
The camp might talk as it pleased, but he knew there was nothing
between them, and what was more, he was not the only man who held
that opinion. The Commissioner himself agreed with him. The usually
stern sergeant unbent that day, and the troopers, wondering at his
unwonted geniality, were not long in setting it down to its right
cause. It was soon whispered round that since Jenny Carter had found
out Black Anderson had shot the German, she had decided to throw him
over and take up with the police sergeant instead.
This report gained credence all over the field that evening when,
after the briefest of struggles with himself, the sergeant went down
to the bar of the Lucky Digger, and was treated by Jenny, if not with
cordiality, at least with toleration.
No one would have said she hated him now, though a keen observer,
perhaps, might have thought she feared him. But there were no keen
observers among the diggers, and as the days went on the sergeant's
wooing progressed apace, and only Sal Carter, perhaps, guessed how
distasteful it was to the girl. Indeed, if it had not been for her,
the thing would have come to an abrupt ending, or, rather, would
never have had any beginning at all, for Jenny, though she said to
herself she would marry the sergeant for Dave's sake, had no idea of
bringing about such a thing. If he had asked her, she would have said
'Yes,' but any further preliminaries she did not understand. She did
not openly snub him as she had been wont to do occasionally, but of
her own free will she never sought him, of her own free will she
never addressed him. This, however, was the less noticeable as she
had grown more silent than ever; and certainly, if she did not
encourage him, he could not complain of her friendliness to other
men. To the outside world it seemed she favoured the trooper, and
only Sal Carter knew, and she kept her own counsel, that this was due
to her judicious management.
At first Jenny used to look anxiously for news of Black Anderson,
but he seemed completely to have vanished. She knew the police were
still hunting for him; knew that they still believed he was in hiding
in the ranges, helped probably by some friendly hand among the
diggers; knew that they daily hoped to lay their hands, if not on the
man himself, at least on the man who helped him; but she herself had
lost touch of him. Not once or twice, but many a time, in the course
of the month that followed, had she stolen out at dead of night, when
all the camp was quiet, and gone away up the gully, where last she
had seen him, in the vain hope of seeing him, or at least finding
some trace of him, but there was never a sing. Once, indeed, in her
midnight wanderings she had come across a man moving softly through
the scrub, and her heart had beat high with hope; but on coming
closer it had turned out to be only Pard Derrick in a very bad
'What the----are you doin' here?' he asked gruffly.
And Jenny told him the truth, first because she could think of
nothing else to say, and next because she counted him Dave's friend,
and thought he might bring her news of him.
'I was lookin' for Dave,' she said simply.
'Oh! was you? What was you agoin' to do with him? Hand him over to
your friend the trap?'
Jenny made a little inarticulate moan.
'I dunno what's to do for the best,' she sobbed--'I dunno. I'm
sorter hungerin' for Dave.'
The waning moon was just rising in the east, and sent a faint
white light through the tangled scrub and ferns that fell full on the
girl's tired face. These many hopeless vigils were beginning to tell
on her, and she looked worn and thin: the great strong man looking
down on her felt a sort of pity for her stirring at his heart; but he
had no faith in any woman, and certainly was not minded to share his
secret with her. Possibly, too, there was a slight feeling of
jealousy in the business. He was friendly enough with Black Anderson;
he took him food, he supplied him with all the news of the camp, but
he was not going to bring this girl to him. It might be dangerous.
And again, he, Pard Derrick, had to do without a woman's society, why
not Black Anderson? Black Anderson had been first favourite for so
long; let someone else have a turn now.
'Hungerin' for Dave, are you? Don't you know where he is?'
She shook her head.
'Don't you?' she asked piteously.
'Me! How'd I know? If you don't know, I guess no one does. They do
say he's hid in the ranges somewhere about. But if he takes my
advice, he'll make tracks across the border soon as possible. The
sergeant's mighty keen after him, an' he'll nab him sure as fate if
someone don't put a stopper on him. Say, Jenny, you're mighty thick
with the sergeant now, ain't you?'
The girl nodded her head. She only saw in the man's careless
speech another injunction to marry the sergeant.
'Well, likely he'll let drop at times suthin' o' what he's doin'
an' where he's goin' to hunt next, an' if he does, you might just tip
us the wink, eh?'
'But he don't,' she said, 'not never.'
'Get you home to bed, Jenny. 'Tain't good for a gal to be
wanderin' about this way nights. You'll come to harm, you will. Go
home now like a good girl; you just let Dave Anderson be, or I'll
tell the boss, sure as my name's Pard Derrick.'
She was more careful after that. She still stole out, still made
her way up the lonely gully, but she was afraid of being caught, and
the merest breaking of a twig, or a slipping stone, made her crouch
trembling on the ground. If she met Pard Derrick there she might meet
others, and it never occurred to her to ask why Pard Derrick had
taken to midnight rambles. She only felt she must be careful, and not
let him see her again. She could not give up going entirely, though,
once she had seen his mate, all hope of seeing Anderson himself died
within her. She only crept away up the gully where she had spent the
one happy evening of her life, and, kneeling down among the stones
and ferns, shut her eyes and listened once again to the soft sound of
the falling water, smelt once again the damp fresh earthy scent of
the water-plants, listened to the weird sounds of the night all
around her, and tried to fancy, as many a wiser woman than she has
done, that her lover was by her side once more.
'You're gettin' just worn out, Jen,' said her stepmother to her
one day when they had the store to themselves, and Jenny had flung
herself wearily down on a pile of flour-sacks. 'You're frettin', you
know, frettin' after that chap, an' you that promised me to take up
with the sergeant.'
'Well, ain't I done it?'
'Lord no! call that takin' up? If it warn't for me you'd be as far
off as ever.'
'What'll I do, then?' asked the girl wearily.
'Do! Smile at him once in a way. Go outside with him once in a
way, an' he'll do the rest.'
'I--I can't help it. I'm sorter hungerin' after Dave.'
'Poor old girl!' Mrs. Carter spoke kindly enough, but she had no
remedy to offer. 'An' you ain't seen nothin' of him since the night
of the murder?'
'Nary a sign?'
'Men is brutes,' said Sal with conviction, putting the baby down
on the floor to make his way among the picks and shovels and the
varied appurtenances of a digging store, and coming over to touch the
girl's hair kindly; 'best not to think of him, dear.'
'I can't help it.'
'Why not take up wi' the sergeant? Anyhow, it'll give you
something to think of. I know how 'tis myself. Soon as you begin to
think of something else, it don't matter much what, you'll feel
'If they was to take him, what'd they do to him?'
'Oh, hang him, certain sure! You bet your life on that.'
'But--but--there's a many as say he never done it.'
Her voice sunk to a whisper, for she firmly believed she herself
held the proofs of his guilt.
'Oh, they'll hang him safe enough. The sergeant's mighty keen on
catchin' him--keener, so they was sayin' in the bar last night, than
the Commissioner himself. When the sergeant ain't lookin' at you,
he's thinkin' out new schemes for takin' Black Dave. So if you want
to help him you oughter be sweet to the sergeant. Maybe while he's
lookin' in your eyes he'll forget everything else for a bit.'
'I'll marry the sergeant if you like,' said Jenny hopelessly,
'only he hasn't asked me.'
'I'll settle that,' said Sal Carter quickly, 'only mind you're
naught but sweet to him if he speaks to you to-night.'
'But I'd rather be dead; 'deed, Sal, I'd rather be dead.'
'Eh, well,' sighed the older woman, 'but we can't choose. Maybe
it's just as well. An' you know, Jen, you'd be a long sight better
married to the sergeant than goin' on like this. Wouldn't you,
Jenny shook her head.
To eighteen, however ignorant, philosophy of this sort does not
recommend itself highly, and Sal Carter saw she would have to bring
stronger arguments than this to bear if she was to attain the end
which she honestly thought was best for her husband's daughter.
'An' 'tis the best you can do for Black Dave, if you think about
him still. Once the sergeant's married, or thinkin' about gettin'
married, well, he won't be pokin' about the ranges an' gullies quite
'All right,' said Jenny, turning her face to the wall; 'I told you
I'd marry him.'
'An' I'll----Good Lord! there's that kid at the kerosene! Was ever
such a child for mischief! Come on here, you brat! you'll be the
death of your poor old mammy before you've done, you will. An', after
all's said an' done, you see, Jenny, a woman gets a deal o' comfort
out of her childer.'
The comfort might have seemed a doubtful quantity to an outsider
as Mrs. Carter picked up her offspring, hands and face and pinafore
smeared with kerosene, and shook him well for getting himself in such
a mess, to say nothing of wasting the oil; and then, when he raised a
loud, protesting wail, kissed him, in spite of the dirt he had
'He smells fine now,' said Jenny.
Even in the midst of her own troubles, she was always interested
in the children, which probably accounted for her friendship with the
'He's just as dear to his mammy, just as dear, ain't he, bless
'im!' and Mrs. Carter carried him off to wash him, reflecting the
while how she was to bring about the marriage she had set her heart
'I think he's mighty gone,' she said to herself; 'but Jen's got no
more life in her than a stone. Can't expect the man to go all ways.
I'll just send her out in the evenin' an' give 'em a chance o'
meetin' outside. Maybe she'll liven up a bit when they're alone.'
Accordingly that night, in pursuance of her newly-laid plan, when
the bar was full of men, and the sergeant, as was now his regular
custom, had installed himself close beside Jenny, Sal Carter tapped
her gently on the shoulder.
'Jen dear, you're lookin' that white,' she said, in a low tone,
'wouldn't you like to go out an' sit down by the creek a bit to
Jenny hesitated a moment.
'Dad,' she said, looking across to where Buck Carter was
dispensing liquors and telling his experiences out on the plains of
New South Wales to a select crowd of listeners.
'Oh, get along with you; I'll settle him. Run on now, Jen, an'
don't stop too late.'
Sergeant Sells was the only man who heard, and he took advantage
of it, as Mrs. Carter had more than half hoped he would.
'You oughtn't to send her alone,' he said, watching her, as she
stepped behind the canvas screen which divided the bar from the rest
of the house, with the evident intention of going out quietly by the
'What'll I do? She looks pretty sick on it. You wouldn't have me
send one of you chaps to look after her, I suppose?--an' I ain't got
'Let me go,' said the sergeant boldly.
Sal Carter looked at him a moment as if she were weighing in her
own mind the wisdom of such a course; then she apparently
'You--you'd--oh, well, get along wi' you, then. But be gentle wi'
her. She's a soft little thing. The boss bounced her mother a mighty
lot, I reckon, and Jen's never got over it. Sorter shrinks up if you
so much as speaks loud to her.'
Sergeant Sells required no second bidding. He went out and made
his way quickly round to the back of the house, just as Jenny had
started on her way to her favourite resort. She did not intend to go
far, only to the mouth of the gully, where she would still be within
sight and sound of the camp. She did not want any companionship, and
was not pleased when the sergeant came up with her.
'Where are you going?' he asked.
She nodded in the direction of the creek.
'May I go with you?'
She would rather have said 'No,' but she had promised her
stepmother to encourage this man, and she was firmly imbued with the
idea that by so doing she was shielding, in some measure, the man she
loved; so she merely nodded her head again, and they walked on
together side by side in silence. When they came to the
stepping-stones across the creek, the sergeant put out his hand and
quietly helped her across.
It was four weeks all but two days since the night she had gone
there with Black Dave, and it had been just such another night as
this. There was the same old moon looking down on them, the same
clear, dark velvety sky, the same tangle of scrub and fern and
rippling water. Such a still, hot night, so calm and quiet; and out
of the bush, mingling with the damp, earthy smell of the
water-plants, came a rich, subtle perfume. Who could describe it? Who
has not noticed it? They walked along the gully a little way, partly
because the girl was too shy to stop, and the man followed where she
led. At last she sat down on a flat stone by the water--side, and
leaned back against the steep hillside, and the sergeant flung
himself on the ground at her feet.
Never before in all the five-and-forty years that went to make up
his life had he gone out into the moonlight alone with a woman, and
lain at her feet. The situation had all the charm of novelty for him,
and the night had a softening, sensuous influence; and, as he looked
up at her, the kindly moonlight, that must surely have been created
for lovers, softened out all harsh outlines, and showed him a sweet,
wistful face, with big dark eyes framed in quantities of yellow hair.
What did it matter that that hair was untidy, that her dress was torn
and ragged, that there was something--he could hardly have told
what--wanting in her face? The moonlight softened all that, and
showed him only the girl he desired more than his life.
It was so new to him to lie there and watch her that at first he
could not make up his mind to break the silence. She did not look at
him, but away down the gully; but surely she must care for him, or
she would never have come here with him? No woman had ever done so
much for him, not one. Then, as he looked again at her face, its
youth forced itself upon him--so young she looked, so young and fair.
For all that his figure was young and lithe still, for all that he
knew he was an efficient man in a force where a life of activity was
an absolute necessity, there passed across his mind like a sharp pang
the thought of his five-and-forty years, the knowledge that would not
be argued away, that he was old enough to be her father. Well, he
would be all the more tender for that, he told himself, all the more
careful, and she needed care. All the fond, foolish dreams he had
indulged in for the last six months surged up, and would not be
crushed down. She must be his, she must--she must, but she was so
cold and far-away. If he looked any longer he would forget all else,
and take her in his arms whether she would or no; and he put his head
on his folded arms, and groaned aloud.
Jenny looked down, for her thoughts, too, had been of him. She was
wondering what it would feel like to be always with this man, to know
that never in this life would she see Black Dave again. He wanted
her. She would have been blind indeed if the last month had not
showed her that; but her thoughts had been so full of another man,
she never for a moment gave a thought to his pain. She looked on him
with fear and hate, and when hate gave place to toleration, the fear
still remained; for might he not at any moment compass her lover's
death? For herself she did not hate him--does ever any woman really
hate the man she is assured loves her even to his own hurt?--but she
hated him for the power he held.
Then she softened; she was sorry for him for a brief moment.
'Are you sick?' she asked.
'Sick, child!' he rose up and laid a trembling hand on her
shoulder. 'No, I'm not sick. Jenny, Jenny, won't you ever understand?
How long are you going to keep me hanging on like this?'
She took one swift glance at the face bending over her, then she
looked down again, and with restless fingers began pleating her skirt
into folds, as she had done on the day the Commissioner had
questioned her. It disagreeably reminded the man beside her of that
day, and he dropped on his knees beside her and took both her hands
in his own.
Still she was silent. She was hardly the woman to speak.
'Jenny, can't I make you understand?'
'That I love you, child--that I want you! That I love you, and
want you more than anything in the world!'
He put his head down on her lap now and put her cool hands--her
little toil-hardened hands--against his burning face; but though she
did not resist, she sat silent and said nothing.
'Jenny, won't you even be sorry for me?'
'No one ain't ever happy,' she said, out of the depth of wisdom
she had learned the last few weeks.
'Oh, child, you could make me the happiest man on earth! I should
have nothing to wish for if you were my wife.'
'You're wrong,' she said, speaking a truth almost
unconsciously--'you're wrong. I couldn't make no man happy;' and she
sighed, for she knew that with all her passionate love Dave Anderson
had never been content for long in her society. 'I couldn't make no
man happy, least of all you;' and she thought of the only reason she
had for marrying him, and for a moment with all her heart she pitied
the man who loved her so well, and for all his love received but a
'You would, you would! Oh, Jenny, no woman has ever cared for me.
Oh, Jenny, if you would but try! I don't want you to love me, dear,
but just let me take you away and take care of you. I would be so
good to you, my darling, so good; only let me try.'
He raised his face in the moonlight, and she saw how haggard and
worn it looked. Ignorant as she was, she could have cried aloud at
the contrast. This man loved her with his whole soul, and the
other--the other--allowed her to love him sometimes; and yet--and
yet--for the sake of this other man she was prepared to lay down her
life, was fully prepared--if need were--to sacrifice for him the man
who loved her. A great pity for him filled her soul; she would save
him in spite of himself if she could. Instinctively she felt he was
worth something better than this.
She touched his face gently with her hand, and pushed back his
hair from his forehead.
'Don't,' she said, and for the first time in his ears her voice
sounded infinitely kind and tender, 'don't you be makin' a fool o'
yourself lovin' me. I ain't worth it. Go away an' leave me.'
If she had deliberately set herself to win him, she could not have
done better, could not have made herself more dear. This thought for
him was more than he had ever expected, more than he had hoped
'Hush, hush! I won't have you speak of yourself like that. Only be
my wife, dear, only be my wife, and I will show you how I care.'
Still she shook her head.
'Don't have no truck wi' me,' she said, and there was distress in
her tones; 'I won't never bring you no good.'
Was ever man warned in this fashion?
He rose from his knees then, and caught her in his arms as he had
been longing to do all the evening.
'My sweetheart--my wife!'
She lay quiet there, only saying one more word of warning, but he
closed her mouth with kisses--kisses such as he had given to no other
woman; and the girl shut her eyes and wondered for a brief space if
here she should find peace.
Then she thought again of Black Dave, and for his sake lay still
and unresisting in this man's arms. He sat her down on the stone
again, and looked down at her proudly.
'You belong to me now.'
'Yes,' she said sadly; 'but you'd be wiser to let me go.'
'Leave me to judge that, my little sweetheart'--he put a caressing
hand on her hair--'you'll say different when we are married.'
He thought of her wretched home--thought how he would surround her
with comforts, how he would teach her to appreciate better things.
And she--she knew nothing of these things, wanted them not, wanted
only to be with Black Dave again or to die.
'It mun be nigh on time to go home,' she said.
'Yes, yes, to be sure. It would never do to keep you out here
She had never thought of that, did not understand the thought and
care for her which made him let her go. He put his arm round her as
they walked, and she had to put a restraint upon herself and crush
down a longing to shake it off. She had to remind herself that she
belonged to him, that he had a right to put his arm round her. It was
the price she was paying for Black Dave's freedom. When they came to
the creek he helped her across the stones, laughing like a boy in his
'Must take care of you,' he said; 'you belong to me now, you
On the other side she stood still a moment, and tried once again
to make him see what he was doing.
'Don't, don't, don't!' she pleaded; 'I ain't the sort for you--I
'But, my little girl, can't you let me be the best judge of that?
I'll be so good, dear; don't be afraid of that.'
'I ain't afraid. 'Tisn't of myself I'm thinkin'. I'm all right;
but I won't never make you the wife you think for.'
'Jenny, Jenny'--no words of his could have told how good he
thought her, could have possibly measured his happiness; that she
should think for him, his tender little girl--'dear, I want you, if
you'll only take me; and, before God, I don't care what price I pay
She dropped her hands helplessly down beside her.
"Tain't my fault,' she whispered; "deed 'tain't my fault--remember
He did not understand her, he hardly thought she understood
herself; he saw she was desperately in earnest, but he was so
intoxicated with success he cared little what she said, so long as
she submitted to his caresses, so long as she agreed to be his
'I'll not forget,' he made answer, as solemnly as she had spoken;
'never, never!' and he stooped and sealed it with a kiss on her
In silence they walked back to the bar again, where a bull-dance
was in full swing, and at the door, panting and hot, they met Sal
Carter coming out to cool herself after a wild romp round with Pard
Derrick for a partner.
'Mrs. Carter,' said the sergeant gravely, 'your daughter's going
to be my wife.'
Sal stopped short and flung her hands up above her head. She had
hardly expected her plans to be so successful all at once.
'My! Sakes alive! Who'd a' thought it? Well, Jen, you do surprise
me! What 're you goin' to do now?'
'Going to bed,' said the sergeant with newborn authority. 'Mrs.
Carter, I can't have Jenny dancing here any more.'
'Lawks-a-daisy me, ain't we gettin' stuck up! All right, sergeant;
I'll see that she don't.'
Jenny went in, and the trooper, feeling as if he were walking on
air, made his way back to the police camp.
Next morning, when he interviewed the Commissioner to receive the
orders for the day, he had a request of his own to prefer.
'Please, sir, the hut where we used to store the gold?'
The Commissioner and his clerk were just sitting down to
breakfast, and he was very intent on the well-cooked mutton-chop
'I--sir--would there be any objections to my building another room
to it and living in it?'
'You, sergeant! Why, aren't you comfortable enough where you
'Yes, sir; but the fact is, sir----'
The sergeant paused. He really was not equal to putting his
happiness into words.
'Fact is, sir,' he blurted it out hurriedly, 'I was thinking of
getting married, sir, if there's no objection.'
Mr. Anderson, who was young, and apt to express his feelings
occasionally in an unseemly manner, gave vent to a long, low whistle,
and the Commissioner laid down his knife and fork and looked his
sergeant straight in the face.
'It's a little unusual, certainly,' he said gravely; 'but
no--really I can see no objection to your having the hut if you like.
Who is the lady, may I ask?'
'Thank you, sir. Jenny Carter, sir.'
'I wish you luck, sergeant.'
'Thank you, sir;' and the sergeant saluted and turned on his
'Won, by all that's holy!' cried young Anderson. 'I never thought
she'd have him. I suppose you'll stand the champagne, sir? My word!
won't he be doing a big repentance before this time next year!'
Chapter X His Wife.
'There was a man, and his wife, and a tertium quid.'.
'WELL, sergeant, and what do you think of matrimony now you've had
a month of it?'
The Commissioner stopped his horse at the door of Sergeant Sells'
hut, and looked down at the untidy girl sitting on the doorstep
slowly peeling potatoes. It was Jenny's morning's work, and she was
taking her time about it. There was nothing to hurry for that she
knew of. Her husband stood beside her, and put his hand to his cap in
'Thank you, sir,' he said, with a grave smile; 'I find it very
He could have wished that Jenny had not chosen her front doorstep
on which to peel her potatoes, that she had done her hair that
morning, and that she would rise when the Commissioner spoke to her.
But she took no notice of him, and the trooper felt it incumbent on
him to make up for her want of manners by being more respectful
'Well, well, you're a lucky beggar! The only man on the camp who's
got a wife to look after him. Good-morning, Mrs. Sells.'
Then he rode off, and the sergeant said a little sharply:
'Jenny, why didn't you stand up when the Commissioner came
'Did I oughter?' she asked submissively. 'Next time I will.'
Her husband muttered something inaudible, and went off to the
stables in anything but an amiable frame of mind.
It was a month now since he and Jenny had been married, fully two
since that memorable night when he had gone up the gully with
There had been nothing to wait for--nothing. Once it was settled
they were to be married, he had been anxious to get it over. He was
keen on getting the girl he loved, and taking her away from the
surroundings of a public-house, and such a one as the Lucky Digger.
Sal Carter was as eager as he. The girl was tired and weary, out of
health and out of spirits, fretting, as she knew right well, for
Black Anderson, and she honestly believed that marriage was the best
thing for her.
As for Jenny herself, she was indifferent. If she was to marry the
sergeant to-morrow, or a year hence, the marriage would be equally
distasteful to her, and she was only reconciled to it by the thought
that the preparations for the event kept the sergeant so busy he had
not nearly so much time to give to the hunting down of Black
Anderson, who, she thought, occupied as much of his thoughts as he
did of hers. That she might help this man just as effectually by not
marrying the sergeant never occurred to her. Her mind was only
capable of holding one idea at a time, and this was firmly fixed
there. She must marry the sergeant, and when her stepmother hastened
on the marriage she neither hindered nor aided.
Sergeant Sells was very busy. He employed a rough Bush carpenter
to add another room to the hut, and a sort of lean-to, which was to
serve as a kitchen. He sent to Beechworth, and even to Melbourne
itself, to get furniture that should be both good and comfortable;
indeed, so many preparations did he make that both the Commissioner
and his clerk were wont to smile at the thought of his considering so
much necessary for a girl accustomed only to the rough living and
rougher accommodation of the Lucky Digger. But he was very much in
earnest about it, very determined that his wife should be comfortable
and happy and lack for nothing. Possibly, too, this steady hard work
might keep down any misgivings that might arise as to the wisdom of
the step he was taking. Once the matter was settled, he did not have
many opportunities of seeing Jenny alone. Sal Carter saw to that. She
saw plainly enough that the marriage was distasteful to Jenny, but,
like many another woman, she held the faith that she would be happy
enough once she was married, and so she took care that the sergeant
should have no opportunity of making that discovery for himself. It
chafed him to find Jenny always busy whenever he wanted her to
himself, to find that she was called away after she had been in his
society for ten minutes, when he did manage to get her, and it made
him all the more determined to push on the marriage.
And yet misgivings would arise--misgivings he stifled as soon as
they were born. Why was she so apathetic and silent in his company?
She had nothing to say to him--nothing. She submitted to his
caresses; was it not his right? But she never returned them. She
answered his questions, but she never made a remark; only when he got
on the subject of Black Anderson and the murder of German Max did she
ever show any interest at all, and then if his capture were spoken of
as at all probable, she would get excited and declare with hot tears
that she had brought him to the gallows. Sergeant Sells soon found
there was only one way to soothe her--to pretend that he had all but
abandoned the search. He did not wonder at her agitation. He thought,
as her stepmother said, she was an innocent little thing, who could
not bear the thought of being instrumental, even in the smallest
degree, in bringing a murderer to justice. She was infinitely dear to
him--infinitely dear; just to call her his own seemed to him all he
would want. And so he stifled all misgivings, and told himself that
once they were married it would be quite different.
And so they had been married quietly one morning in March, and he
had brought his wife home to the little house he had spent so much
time and trouble and money over for her sake, and now this bright
sunny morning in April, as he walked slowly towards the stables, he
asked himself over again the question the Commissioner had put to
him. What did he think of matrimony? Had it brought him all the
happiness he hoped for? The men grooming their horses behind the
gold-tent noted the frown on the sergeant's face, and put extra
vigour into their arms, and drew long sibilant hisses between their
teeth to show their zeal and ardour. But they might have spared
themselves the trouble; it was not on them he was sitting in
judgment, but upon himself and his wife. And the frown deepened, as
he admitted to himself that his dreams were but as the false mirage,
and that he had made a mistake. Yes, he had made a mistake, and there
was no undoing it. Not that Jenny was not dear to him; he had fallen
in love with her against his better judgment, and she was
passionately dear to him still. But--and the knowledge was very
bitter to him--though she was his wife, she was absolutely apart from
him. He was no nearer to her, nay, he was farther away from her than
he had been that night down in the gully when she had agreed to be
She had told him then, with a burst of passion he sometimes
thought he would give the rest of his life to see again, that she was
not the wife for him, and he had insisted on having her in spite of
her warning. He had thought to make her so happy, and she shrank away
from him as if she were afraid. He had thought to make her
comfortable, and she gave no thought to comfort, but let her three
little rooms get into a state of untidiness that tried his neat soul
sorely. It brought him into bad repute with the men, too. If he
reproved a man--as he not infrequently did--for not keeping his tent
in order, or his accoutrements in the high state of perfection the
sergeant and the Commissioner thought proper, even if the man did not
say anything, he read in his grin, as he looked up, that he was
thinking that the sergeant's wife had thrown all her potato-parings
and beef-bones out at her front-door, and that all his shirts were
hanging out of the parlour window. He would go home then and look
reproach at his wife.
He was never harsh to her, whatever he might be to others--he
dreaded so to see her shrink away from him; he only prayed her to
amend, and she would promise dully, stupidly, and next day things
would be as bad as ever. He had dreamt they might hold sweet
communion together: he would teach her to care for the things he
cared for; what delights had he not dreamt of? And behold, before a
week had gone over his head, he had learned that his dreams were
She was only eighteen, but she went about like a woman who was
tired of her life. He could not interest her in anything that
interested him. It seemed hopeless to try. She persisted in regarding
herself as his drudge, the woman who cooked for him, washed for him,
mended for him. He had bought her at a price, though he did not know
it, and she shrank away from his society as much as possible. That
she should keep him company was not in the bargain at all, and as
long as she served his meals regularly she felt she had done all that
was required of a wife. It was the whole duty of a wife, as she had
learned it from personal observation, and her father had always
seemed satisfied enough. Her husband, a lonely man always, a lonelier
man now than ever he had been before, used to come and stand over her
as she worked, would offer to help her wash up the dishes, would
carry in the wood for her fire. He watched her till she grew uneasy
under his gaze; he would gladly have made her talk: he would have
given all he was possessed of to hear her laugh happily; but he could
do no more. If he spoke--and the effort it was to find conversation
none but himself knew--she answered him in monosyllables, if possible
just by a movement of her hand or head, and he would puzzle his
brains for something more to say.
She was not at her ease; she was longing always, it seemed to him,
to slip away down to the Lucky Digger, there to lie down on the
flour-sacks and talk to her stepmother, or, rather, listen to her
stepmother talking. She looked happier then--not very happy, but at
least much happier, for he, searching for her, had come upon them
once or twice, and had seen her face cloud when he appeared on the
scene. He grew jealous of Mrs. Carter. No man could have felt more
bitterly against his mother-in-law than did this man who was at least
eighteen years older than she. He laid all his dissatisfaction and
unhappiness at her door. He thought she prejudiced his wife against
him, whereas poor Sal Carter grieved in her heart for Jenny's
unhappiness, and in her own rough way pointed out his good qualities,
and preached patience to his wife. But he did not know this, and it
was always with a deep frown that he entered the place and harshly
ordered his wife off home. Jenny hated him then, and Mrs. Carter was
apt, as she put it herself, to feel 'wrathy.'
'If he only knowed it, I'm the best friend he's got,' she said to
'I'm afeard o' him,' said the girl wearily. 'He sets there o'
nights an' looks an' looks at me till I'm fair mazed.'
'Don't he talk, then?'
'Oh, whiles. But what'll I do, Sal, if it's allus goin' to be like
this? He just sets there glarin' at me, an' no matter what I'm about
I can feel he's lookin'.'
'Lord!' sighed the other, 'what'd some women give to have a man as
was that set on them! I'd jump up if I was you, an' put my arms round
him and give him a soundin' smack. He'd like it a lot, mebbe, an' it
sorter rouses things up a bit.'
But Jenny would not follow Sal Carter's well-meant advice, and her
husband, never knowing she gave it, hated her cordially, and ended up
by telling his wife he couldn't have her going down to her father's
place so often, which made her hate him, and even caused his champion
to opine that 'he was a bit harder than she thought for.'
And all Jenny's sacrifice, it seemed to her, had been for nothing,
for the very day after her wedding she heard from her husband's own
lips that Black Dave Anderson, as far as he knew, had got away across
the border nearly a month before, soon after the murder, in fact, and
was heard of as having shipped in a barque bound from Sydney to San
'And we worked ourselves to death all through the hot weather
scouring the ranges, and all the while he was safe on the high seas.
It's enough to make a man swear. Of course, it mayn't be him; but I
think it's very likely.'
And Jenny made no answer. She never did answer if she could help,
but that random speech of the trooper's spoilt the last feeble chance
of happiness he had had in his married life. It had all been in vain,
the sacrifice she had made--all in vain. She had married the man she
feared; the thing was done, and could not be undone; and--and--she
supposed she'd got to live through her life somehow. She never
thought of her husband--never thought it was hard on him, never
thought that his love and care for her deserved at least some
gratitude. He was a cold, reserved man, who inspired her with awe and
fear; his very love for her made her afraid, and though she listened
patiently to her stepmother's remonstrances, they had no effect upon
her. Always in her mind there was the thought that he had wanted her,
and he had got her, and if he was not satisfied, that was not her
Jenny was a gentle, tenderhearted little thing, and if she had
only guessed the agony of longing in the weary man's heart, her own
would surely have gone out to him in pity, if not in love; but she
did not understand, she could not see, and every day they drifted
farther and farther apart. There were lines in the trooper's face
that had not been there a month ago; there were more gray hairs in
the black hair, and he was sterner than ever. The general opinion of
the police camp was that he was too hard on his wife, she was such a
quiet, crushed little thing; while down among the diggers all sorts
of absurd stories of his cruelties were rife. Probably the only
person on Deadman's who thoroughly understood and sympathized with
him was Sal Carter, and if she had only had a free hand she might
possibly have brought about an understanding in the very first
fortnight. But she was sorely handicapped. Once married, the sergeant
would have nothing to do with her, hardly even could he bring himself
to speak civilly to her; and Jenny, though she listened to her good
advice, never even attempted to put it into practice. And so the days
went on, crawled on, it seemed sometimes to him, and here they were
half-way through April; there was a pleasant sharpness in the air
sometimes--a herald of the coming winter; and the heat of the summer
was past and gone. Jenny sat on her doorstep and peeled potatoes in
the sunshine. It was the very perfection of a day, with a warm sun
and a cool, gentle breeze; and the girl sitting there could not but
feel the young blood stirring in her veins. Surely it was good to be
alive on a day like this, good to be just alive. Why should she be
unhappy? She listened to the noise and bustle of life all round her;
the men were singing cheerily enough at their work--why should she
alone, among all these people, be unhappy? She rebelled against her
destiny for a moment, and, once her husband was out of sight, began
humming a little tune to herself.
'"Hard times" '--she sang cheerfully--' "hard times, come again no
She wished she could go down and see Sal and have a game of romps
with the children. She would go down that very evening when she had
got her husband's tea ready; he shouldn't stop her, why should he?
She watched ten or twelve red-shirted men going up to the
Commissioner's tent with leathern bags in their hands. They were
lucky diggers, she knew--men who had found gold over and above what
sufficed to keep them straight at the store, and were coming to
deposit it in the gold-tent for safe keeping, for, jeer as they might
at the 'beak' and the 'traps,' there was not a man among them did not
feel more comfortable with his superfluous gold-dust safe in the
gold-tent and the Commissioner's receipt in his pocket. She watched
them with interest, for they were all personally known to her, mostly
by some ridiculous nickname. There was Chinky Jack, Sailor Joe,
Chunky Smith, and Bull Parkins, and last of all her old friend Pard
Derrick. The others looked at her, nodded to her, and gave her
'Good-day' as they passed; but none ventured to approach the sacred
precincts of the sergeant's hut except Pard Derrick. He strolled away
from the others, and came towards her with his hands in his
'Good-day, missus,' he said.
Jenny smiled up in his face, and Pard was emboldened to settle
himself comfortably up against her door-post.
'Where's the boss?' he asked, nodding his head in the direction of
the interior of the hut.
'Gone out,' she said.
'Lor, yes! I saw him over there by the gold-tent. He won't be back
'Anybody else in the house?'
'Yes, in course.'
'No one listenin'?'
'No, in course not,' she said again, a little impatiently this
time; 'ain't I just looked? Besides, whoever should there be?'
'I dunno. But I'm wantin' to speak to you about a matter of life
'Go ahead,' she said indifferently.
'Look inside first.'
Obediently she rose from her lowly position and went through the
little house. Then she came back and sat down again.
'I told you so. There ain't nobody.'
'You won't be scart, mind. You won't holler out an' bring the
whole boilin' about our ears?'
She looked up at him through her thick yellow lashes, and a look
of fear crept into her brown eyes.
'No, I won't,' she said determinedly. 'Only be quick, now.'
'Black Dave wants to see you.'
Her face was white as ashes now, and Derrick went on
'He said he guessed you wouldn't go back on him, if you had
married a trap, and he wants to see you real bad. I don't hold with
it all mysel'. It's playin' it a bit low down on the sergeant, an' I
wouldn't a' come anigh you only the blanky cards was agin me. The
joker an' the two bowers twice runnin', and then the right bower,
ace, king, queen, and another ace, and me wi' nothin' better nor a
king an' sevens an' eights. What was a feller to do?'
Jenny pushed away the tin basin in which were her potatoes, and
folded her hands tight in her lap. Pard Derrick might have doubts as
to the fairness of his conduct, she had no doubts about her own. Her
whole soul was filled with a great gladness--she would see Black Dave
again; he wanted to see her 'real bad.' He was not gone away into
unknown countries, where she should never see him again; he was here
close at hand in the ranges.
For the moment, in her gladness, she never even thought of the
danger for both of them. She certainly never thought of her husband,
save as a difficulty to be got out of the way, as she had thought of
her father two or three months ago, when he was in a bad temper, and
threw difficulties in the way of her meeting her lover. She never
thought what a wrong she was doing him. She had always felt, ever
since she had known him, that she belonged to Black Anderson, and his
lightest wish was law to her. She had not seen him, had not even
heard of him, for two long months, and the thought of stopping away,
the thought that it would be right to stop away, never occurred to
Pard Derrick went on, since she did not speak:
'I ain't sayin' you oughter go. I'm thinkin' you'd much best not.
There ain't no need for it any way. He was sayin' you had gold o'
his, not much, but a little, an' you was to bring that. But you can
give it to me. I'll take my Bible oath, if you like, I'll give it 'im
'I'll go,' she said quietly. 'Where is he?'
'He'll be waitin' for you in the old place any time to-night. He
ain't in any hurry now the trap has taken to lettin' him alone; but
now I've told you, missus, you'd much better not go. I'll be there
an' tell 'im you couldn't come. You give me his bag an' I'll see he
gets it safe enough.'
'You don't know what you're talkin' about, Pard Derrick,' said the
girl; 'I'm goin', you just tell him that. If I can't get to-night,
it'll be to-morrow night, or the night after; but I'll come sure as
fate. Tell him that.'
'You won't let on to the traps?' he said, a new thought striking
She looked him up and down scornfully.
'He knows me better'n that,' she said. 'You tell 'im I'll be at
the old place by the creek to-night, an' he must jest look out for
me. The p'lice ain't lookin' for him now. They sorter think he's
clean off to Frisco.'
'It's playin' it mighty low down on your man, missus,' ventured
this messenger of love; but Jenny took no notice, only the thought
passed through her mind that she would warn Black Dave not to trust
Pard Derrick; it seemed to her he took too much interest in the
'I wish I hadn't promised to do the blanky thing,' he muttered
remorsefully; 'but two bowers an' the joker! Lordy! what could a
Chapter XI To This Last.
'The loftiest and purest love too often does but inflame the cloud of life
with endless fire of pain.
--'Sesame and Lilies.' Ruskin.
JENNY'S face looked innocently happy, as he had not seen it look
since the day the German was murdered, and he saw that any
remonstrance of his would be thrown away. She would go to her lover
if a dragon stood in the way, and he turned away with a muttered
'Won't you have a nobbler?' she asked, with ready hospitality, for
women in little things are meaner than men, and it never occurred to
her that he would refuse.
'No,' he said, and with a muttered curse, whether for the
falseness or the faithfulness of women he could not himself have
told, he turned away and went back to his claim again; and when on
the road he saw Sergeant Sells advancing towards him, he moved out of
his path as a man who had done him a great wrong.
The sergeant certainly never gave a second thought to Pard
Derrick. He was wondering if they two would get on better if they
were not so much alone. Suppose he asked a comrade in to tea
occasionally; perhaps, under cover of his presence, he would find
himself able to speak more easily to his wife, possibly she might get
to address him as a matter of course. It was rather a forlorn hope,
and he laughed a little cynically to himself as he thought how it
would sound that a man who had been married just a month should ask a
comrade in in order that he might the more easily get acquainted with
his own wife. No, he would, not like his mates to know that. Still,
there was nothing else to be done, and when he dismounted at his own
door, he had quite made up his mind as to his future course.
'Jenny!' he called, 'Jenny!'
'Have something nice for tea, will you? I'm going to ask Tom Clark
It would be a good thing, she thought, if he had a friend to keep
him company; he could not watch her so closely. She would be able to
slip away so much the more easily; and she set the mid-day meal so
cheerfully, moved so differently from her usual listless manner, that
her husband would have been blind if he had not noticed it. He set it
down to pleasure at the prospect of company other than his, and the
reflection gave him so much pain he had half a mind not to ask Tom
Clark, and to abandon his project altogether.
But he did not like to go back on his word, so that night Trooper
Clark sat down to tea with his sergeant and his wife.
And the experiment was not a success. Hardly had they sat down
before he saw that for himself. If he could not speak to his wife
alone, he could find no words at all with the big, shy trooper
sitting alongside him. His wife was evidently not interested in
Clark, though she looked brighter than he had seen her for many a
long day. He addressed a remark to her now and then shyly, and she
smiled back in reply, but did not speak, and it was always some time
before he could summon up courage to try again. As for the host, he
racked his brains for some trivial remark to make in vain, and
relapsed into stony silence with an uncomfortable feeling that his
guest must see how the land lay, and must be reading him through. As
a matter of fact, Trooper Clark did no such thing. He was so much in
awe of the sergeant himself that he did not wonder at the silence of
his wife. He only wished her husband would go out and let him have 'a
go in' with her alone. She had never taken any notice of him down at
the Lucky Digger, but he felt sure that, after having lived alone
with Sergeant Sells for one whole month, she would be only too glad
to vary the monotony. But Sergeant Sells did not express the least
intention of going away.
Jenny cleared the table when they had finished, and he called to
his guest to fill his pipe and come and sit by the open window. The
evening was fresh and cool, the sky cloudless, and the rising moon
made the whole of the camp visible. From where they sat they could
plainly see the Commissioner and his clerk at dinner in their
dining-tent, and knew that the lamp Jenny had lighted and put on the
table before she went out into the kitchen must make them also
plainly visible to any looking on. They had nothing to say to each
other, those two, and they listened to the sounds of the washing-up
coming through the thin wall from the kitchen beyond.
Trooper Clark wished he was there helping to wash those plates and
dishes instead of smoking his pipe in state in the parlour, and
Sergeant Sells wished he was there too. He was not going to take Tom
Clark there. He wished he would go; he wished he had never asked him.
And the washing-up went on apace, and Jenny even crooned a little
song to herself, a song her husband had heard her sing when first he
had made her acquaintance, nearly eight months ago now. She had never
sung since she had been his wife. He wished his guest would go, that
he might take advantage of this unwonted cheerfulness. Perhaps she
would have talked to him to-night, if there had not been a stranger
But Trooper Clark could not possibly know how ardently his absence
was wished for; so he smoked stolidly on, deriving a certain amount
of pleasure from watching the progress of the Commissioner's dinner,
and listening to the soft singing in the next room. Presently a young
lady rode up to the Commissioner's tent, a young lady and another
man; and Trooper Clark chuckled as he pointed out to his host that
they were Miss Winifred Langdon and her brother Bob, a fact which the
sergeant knew as well as he did. Then the curtain of the tent was
suddenly drawn, as if to keep out prying eyes, and there was nothing
left for Tom Clark to do but listen to the singing and watch for
stray troopers to cross the moonlit square among the white tents, and
the sentry pacing slowly up and down in front of the gold-tent. Then
the singing stopped, the last plate was put away, and Jenny entered
the room where the two silent men were sitting. She did not sit down;
she did not even look at them. She only entered the bedroom, and came
out with a shawl over her head. Trooper Clark felt a twinge of
disappointment, for he had thought she had smiled pleasantly on him;
but her husband was fairly astonished.
'Why, Jenny!' he said.
She felt some sort of explanation was due. She knew he would not
be pleased, but she hardly thought he would stop her with the trooper
'I'm goin' down to father's,' she said.
Sergeant Sells looked at her. He could hardly forbid her before a
stranger, and she had reckoned on that.
'But--but,' he began clumsily enough, 'you wouldn't be so rude as
to leave Tom Clark here all alone?'
'Oh, he's got you! I ain't goin' to be long. Peter's that sick,
an' I promised 'im a bit of puddin'. Sal ain't got much time for
cookin'; she's got her two hands pretty full now I'm gone.'
It was true enough, he knew, that the child was ill. Might she not
mean to be back soon? Should he not be making matters worse by making
a fuss before a stranger, making himself out a thorough tyrant, who
would not even let his wife go and see her little brother? So he said
nothing, and his guest watched his hostess out of the room, puffed
away resignedly at his pipe, and turned his attention once more to
the sentry in front of the gold-tent. The sergeant pushed his
tobacco-pouch towards him, and he filled another pipe and calmly
smoked on; after all, it did not make much difference whether he
smoked here or in his own tent: he was getting accustomed to the
sergeant's silence, and he began to wonder how long it would be
before Mrs. Sells came in, and whether he should stop till then or
not. He rather thought he'd stop; the tobacco was uncommonly good,
and it was a good thing to be on such friendly terms with his
sergeant. It would look well before the other fellows.
Then Sergeant Sells got up, and began to walk restlessly about the
room, and he wondered again if he'd better go. There was a frown on
his face, too, and he kept looking at the clock. His wife had not
been gone half an hour yet; he surely could not be expecting her back
already. Then another thought struck him.
'I s'pose you'll be goin' down to meet the missus, an' bring her
eh, sergeant?' he said.
Sergeant Sells looked relieved.
'Yes, yes, of course; I must do that, if you don't mind, Clark,'
he said. 'She won't like coming up by herself. The child was sick,'
he added, vainly trying to make excuses for what he felt was her
unpardonable rudeness, 'and of course she had to go. If you'll excuse
me, I'll go down and fetch her home.' How he wished with all his
heart he could have said she would be expecting him, she would be
disappointed if he did not come! 'But you stop here, I won't be
'All right,' said Trooper Clark, settling himself back comfortably
in his chair.
One of the other chaps would come across and talk to him, he
thought, when the sergeant was gone, and it wouldn't be bad, and he
watched him out of his own front-door with an easy mind. As a guest
he felt more comfortable in his absence than in his presence.
Once outside, it did not take Sergeant Sells long to make his way
down to the Lucky Digger. It was crowded with diggers, as usual, but
only Buck Carter and a barman (engaged since Jenny's marriage) were
serving out drinks. Neither Jenny nor her stepmother was there. He
was glad of that. It gave him a comfortable sensation all over. He
had forbidden her ever to go into the bar again, but he had not been
at all sure that his wishes or commands would have any effect. So he
was a happier man than he had thought, and he crossed the bar and
spoke quite pleasantly to Buck Carter.
'Where's the missus?'
'Inside o' there, a-nursin' the kid,' growled his father-in-law.
'You kin go in if you want.'
He needed no second invitation, but, lifting the canvas screen,
entered the living-room of the Carters. Sal was sitting by the window
softly crooning to the child on her knee, but there was no one else
in the room. He looked around anxiously as Mrs. Carter looked up.
'Eh, sergeant,' she said, 'is that you? Why, Jen's been gone this
quarter o' an hour. In a mighty hurry she seemed, an' lookin' quite
perky, she was.'
The sergeant's stern face lighted up with pleasure. So she had
only gone for a few minutes, just to take the child the pudding she
had promised him. What on earth had he feared? He snapped his fingers
for the benefit of the tired, white-looking little chap on his
mother's knee, and said pleasantly:
'I've come straight down, and I didn't see her. It's bright
moonlight, too. Wherever can she have got to?'
'Oh, likely as not you passed her on the road! If you was lookin'
the other way she wouldn't say nothin'. She's home before you, I
He rose up hurriedly. What a fool he should look in Clark's eyes
if his wife got home before him!
'Good-night, Mrs. Carter;' and he went outside again.
Then, as he stood on the dusty track that led up to the police
camp, misgivings once more took possession of his soul. It was bright
as day; his eyesight was clear as ever; he could not possibly have
passed her. A man was leaning idly against the wall of the store,
with an empty pipe between his teeth. His luck was bad, his
tobacco-pouch was empty, and there was no more credit for him at the
'Say, partner,' he said, addressing the sergeant, as he paused and
looked around him, 'was you lookin' for your old woman?'
The trooper nodded. He shrunk from discussing Jenny with a
stranger; but, at least, there could be little enough harm in hearing
from this man where she had gone.
'Because I seen her,' said the man--'I seen her a-makin' for the
creek. Gone to set down by them steppin'-stones, I guess. It's mighty
purty down there, I've heard; but I ain't had no time for such
luxuries mysel'. But women likes 'em, bless you! I guess that's where
you'll find her, partner; but don't you go for to tell her 'twas I
set you on. It may be she's got a little game o' her own on, an' I'd
be spoilin' sport.'
The sergeant recognised the man now; he was a digger the others
called the Bandicoot, from his persistent ill-luck; but he was not
going to listen to remarks on his wife, even in chaff, and with
muttered thanks he turned away in the direction of the creek.
His pleasure had all gone. He was hardly uneasy as yet. She had
been accustomed to cross the creek for quiet and coolness before she
was married. Had he not found her there more than once? There was
surely nothing to be alarmed about, nothing even to be vexed about,
and yet, vaguely, he felt both alarmed and vexed. He made his way
among the windlasses by the long line of cradles and tubs that lined
the muddy creek--it was bright as day in the moonlight--and reached
the stepping-stones. There was no sign of her there; but she might
already have crossed, and if so, the thick scrub would hide her from
view. He crossed the creek and entered the gully, and--he could
hardly have told why himself--made his way very quietly along the
narrow track that someone's feet had worn among the scrub and
He set down each foot very carefully, and moved aside the branches
with his hands, so that not a snapping twig nor a rolling stone
should betray his presence. Then he had qualms. Was it not mean so to
spy on his own wife? And he answered himself at once, it was not. Why
had she said she was going down to see her little brother, and,
instead of coming home, come here? With every precaution he took, his
fear that something was wrong grew apace, and with it arose jealousy
and anger. If there were anything wrong, and he found it out now,
here, where he had wooed and won her, he would kill her, he knew he
would, and prudence called on him to turn back, to turn back and rest
content with questioning her in the morning. There was nothing wrong,
he told himself again and again: what should there be? She was little
more than a child, an unhappy child, whom he had married, and whose
love he had failed to gain; what more likely than that she, feeling
no companionship in him--he acknowledged it to himself bitterly--had
stolen away to the place she had always chosen when she wished to be
alone? Why should he doubt--why? He asked himself the question as he
went on, and tried to answer it; but he failed utterly. He only felt
that he must find out what had brought his wife here, and if it were
only just to be alone in the quiet moonlit night, then would he beg
her pardon with all his heart. Then another thought arose and
If he found her here alone, as he had found her once before, might
he not come to a better understanding? Perhaps here in the open he
could beg her not to fear him and shrink from him, could tell her of
his boundless love, could try to bring her a little closer to
himself. The new hope took firm possession of him, and he found
himself wildly longing for the moment when he should come up with
There was a slight sound in front of him, and he paused and peeped
through the ti-tree scrub and overhanging creepers. It was a little
more open just in front, and the moonlight showed him a break in the
scrub where the soft grass grew free from all undergrowth. The creek
ran down one side, and beside it cropped out a huge granite boulder,
and stooping down beside this boulder, not ten feet away from him,
was Jenny, his wife.
The shawl had fallen from her head, and lay in dark folds on the
ground behind her, and with a small stick she was digging at the base
of the rock. There was no mistaking her; the moonlight showed him
every outline quite plainly, her yellow hair, with the stray curls
falling over her shoulders, making her look younger and more childish
than ever, and the pink frock, the first frock he himself had given
her. It was getting untidy now, but it was not yet as ragged and torn
as the lilac he had wooed her in. She looked a trim little figure
stooping there, and not unhappy either, only somewhat anxious.
But what could she be doing--what could she be doing? The unhappy
man watching her leaned back against the steep hillside, and covered
his face with his hands. Something was wrong, but what--what? He put
up a passionate prayer to his God that he might find her out in no
wrong, and then he looked again. So great was his love for her he was
almost tempted to call aloud to her and warn her of his presence; but
he restrained himself. He would never be happy now till he knew what
it was she had come here for; it was hopeless to think of any such
thing--he must find out the very worst; and he sank on his knees in
the brushwood, and watched with all his eyes.
He had not to watch very long. She stood upright in a moment, and
carefully looked all round her. Apparently she was satisfied that she
was all alone, for she bent down again, and from the hole she had dug
took out a little bag.
One glance showed him it was a bag, a leather gold-bag, such as
every digger on the field used. It was full, too, and he wondered
with a pain at his heart what his girlish wife was doing with a
hidden store of gold, and where she could possibly have got it from.
She did not look as if it had brought her any happiness; in truth,
she handled it as if the very touch were repugnant to her, as indeed
it was. It brought back to her all the shame and the sorrow she had
well-nigh forgotten. It told her that in very truth her lover had
been guilty of a cruel crime, for which she with all her tenderness
could find no excuse. She had almost forgotten this in his absence.
She had felt so tender and pitiful towards the hunted man, she had
been so anxious for his safety, she had forgotten how richly he had
deserved his punishment; but now the sight of the chamois leather bag
brought it all back to her. She had hidden that bag out of sight as
soon as she had the chance; she had felt she could not keep it near
her, and she had stolen away and hidden it down beside the big
granite boulder in the lonely gully, and there it had lain for the
past two months, and now Dave wanted it. She sat down on a low stone,
and turned the bag over and over in her lap, totally unconscious,
poor child! of the eyes that watched her. Dave was to meet her here,
but she supposed she must be too early; anyhow, he was not here, and
she must wait a little for him.
All day long her soul had been full of the thoughts of seeing him
once again. He was so much to her--so much; and she never gave a
single thought to her husband. She had married him against her will,
she had married him for Dave's sake; not all in vain might be her
sacrifice, since he was still hiding in the ranges; and she never
thought for a moment of the wrong she was doing, never thought that
he might suffer. He was cold, stern, impassive; he was miles away
from her; what did it matter about him so long as Dave was all right?
She did not understand that her husband might suffer, she did not
comprehend that he felt at all; if she had, she would have been
pitiful, as she had been the day she warned him she was not the wife
for him, down in this very gully. He had come out of his shell that
day; even her half-developed mind had seen a little behind the screen
of cold reserve, and she had done her best for him.
But that was two months ago, and she had forgotten all about it,
or if she remembered at all, remembered only she herself had been too
excited, too overcome, to understand rightly what had happened to
her. No, there had never been room in her heart for anyone but Black
Dave, and there was none still. She owed no duty to anyone in the
world but him, her marriage was nothing to her, and now at the very
first opportunity she came to him again.
She had not much fear of being followed. She would be supposed to
be down with Sal, and the sergeant would be sitting with his friend.
That he would leave him to come after her she never for a moment
supposed. The minute she had heard Trooper Clark was coming to tea
she had felt her difficulties were ended. Her husband would suppose
she was at the Lucky Digger, and her stepmother would suppose she was
back at the police camp. If she were late, she would say she had gone
and sat by the creek because the night was so fine; and if he were
angry--well, she did not care for that. One way or another, it did
not make much difference to her what he thought. She would have seen
Black Dave again, and that was all her soul longed for.
Chapter XII A Dead Love.
'Ah! you that have lived so soft, what should you know of the night.
The blast and the burning shame, and the bitter frost and the fright?'
AND now she sat here waiting for Dave, turning over the gold-bag
inher lap. She hated that gold-bag. She would gladly have thrown it
intothe deepest waterhole and forgotten its existence; but Dave
wanted it, and that was enough for her. His word was law. She asked
no questions; she took the gold from its hiding-place and waited for
him; and herhusband--close beside her, so close he could hear her
very breathing, he could see every line, every curve of her figure,
the dimples on hercheeks, the curling rings of her yellow hair, her
restless sunburned hand, turning over the bag in her lap--watched and
waited too. The time waslong enough to her, Heaven knows, but to him
it was an eternity. He hadlost hope now; how could he dare hope? She
was waiting--waitingpatiently--for someone else!
All he had hoped for but a few minutes before stood out in his
mindclear and bright; there had been a chance of happiness then,
howeverfaint, but now was there the ghost of such a thing? His wife,
this innocentchild as he had thought her, in spite of her evil
surroundings, wasfalse--false! It kept ringing in his ears:
false--false--and withoutexcuse--utterly false! His life had not been
a happy one. He had beenunloved and alone always, but at least no
whisper of dishonour ordisgrace had come nigh him. This woman, whom
he had loved with allhis strength, was dragging that good name in the
She stood up in the moonlight and stretched out her arms, as if
wearywith long waiting. What a winsome thing she was! what a tender,
lovablething! The thought flashed through his mind that he would be
content todie there and then only to know that so she was waiting for
him. Shouldhe step out and take her in his arms? Would it do the
least good? If hewent to her while she had that soft, tender, dreamy
look on her face, if hetold her again how he loved her, if he begged
and prayed her to comeback to him!
He cursed himself for a fool, for was she not waiting for another
man? That tender look on her face was called into being by her love
for him; he, her husband, was but as a cipher in her life. But a
month since her wedding-day, and she was waiting here alone at night
for another man. It was not ignorance, it was not innocence; any
woman, however ignorant, any girl-child not twelve years of age,
would know better than that. Should be wait and see the play played
out, or should he take her home there and then? Either way, there was
no more hope of happiness for him--or for her, either.
He thought of that pitifully all through his anger and his sorrow
as he watched the lithe, slender young figure pace up and down,
slowly at first, then faster and faster, as if the waiting were
becoming unbearable. Only eighteen, and she had spoiled her life, or
a man had done it for her! The seven-and-twenty years that stretched
away between them made him think pitifully of that; and he could do
nothing--nothing; all his love and tenderness was powerless now!
Up and down she walked--up and down; then she stood still and
stretched out her arms again.
'Oh, Dave! Dave!' she cried, with a cry that was almost a wail;
'ain't you never comin'?'
And the man kneeling, hidden by the screen of ti-tree and scented
creeper, heard and comprehended, saw as by a flash of lightning the
whole story laid bare before him. He had forgotten now the necessity
of being quiet or lying hid. Still he knelt on there, trying to put
together what he had just learned. It was true, then, what the camp
had all said--it was true.
'Dave! Dave!' There was only one Dave--there could be only one
A lizard scuttled out into the open, right across her shawl, by
the accursed gold-bag, right under her very feet, and into the creek
on the other side. He heard the splash, or perhaps it might have been
a water--rat; but he was sure he heard the splash. There was an owl
hooting somewhere overhead--it had been hooting at intervals all the
evening, but he had not noticed it before--and an owl hooting always
meant trouble. The curlews, too, were crying, wailing mournfully like
creatures in pain, and the wail came plainly over the hills.
Yes; it was Dave Anderson--Black Anderson--it must be he! there
was no other Dave that he knew of; and so he had been
tricked--tricked all through. He tried to arrange his thoughts, to
remember the day when he himself had brought her to be questioned by
the Commissioner, and had gone away glad and happy at the result.
What had she said that day?
He tried to remember, but his brain was on fire; he could think of
nothing but that Mr. Anderson had maintained she was Black Dave's
sweetheart, and the Commissioner had pooh-poohed the very idea, and
he had agreed with the Commissioner; and what had she said? What had
she said? He could not think; he could only remember how happy he had
felt as he took her down to her father's home again. And Mr. Anderson
had been right. He had scorned him in his heart as a mere boy, who
knew nothing of women, nothing of life. And he had been right, after
all. He had seen through her more clearly than the Commissioner, more
clearly than he himself had done.
And now the owl was prophesying disaster, the curlews' wailing cry
was in his ears, and they cried that the girl he had believed in had
tricked him cruelly; had given not one thought to him; had tricked
him for her own ends, or, worse still, for the ends of another man.
He understood her cold, frightened indifference now--understood it
only too well. Then she turned in her quick walk and faced him again.
Standing there in the bright moonlight, her hands behind her head as
if for support, he saw again how fair she was--this false wife of
his; the brown eyes were wide open, gazing straight at him, love and
tenderness in her face that were not for him; and she parted her red
lips once more in a long sobbing sigh, 'Oh, Dave! Dave!'
He parted the brushwood then, crushed down the stiff ti-tree and
the scented creeper, and in a second was beside her, with both his
strong hands on her shoulders--cruel hands that held her hard, and
bruised her soft flesh--and her gentle brown eyes were looking
straight into his dark ones.
'Jenny!' his voice was so hoarse with passion she did not know
It seemed at first he could do nothing but repeat her name, and
slowly sway her backwards and forwards with the pressure of his
sinewy hands. And she was too terrified to speak. She feared him for
herself--she feared him still more for Dave. The very worst that
could happen had happened, and she was dumb and paralyzed before
She had no excuse to offer, none; she felt, looking into those
dark eyes, no excuse would avail her; they read her through. His
hands were bruising her shoulders, but she did not cry out; she only
looked straight into his face, and wondered what would happen next.
She should never see Black Dave again--never, never--and she cared
little what became of her. One gleam of comfort she had: Dave had not
come. He would not come now; the sergeant should never take him,
whatever he did to her. He should never know she had come here to
meet Black Dave; he should never know, and then he would be as safe
as ever, free to go where he would. Not a grain of pity was there in
her heart for the stern man bending over her, not one grain. That he
suffered she never thought. She knew she would suffer, and was
prepared for it. Was not Black Dave's welfare dearer than aught else
to her? She cared for nothing in all the world beside. She set her
lips firmly together, and looked her husband straight in the face
with the calmness of despair.
'So,' he said, 'so,' and it seemed he spoke with difficulty, 'I
have caught you. And who is he?'
She dropped her eyes and looked at the ground.
'Tell me, who is he?'
Still there was no answer. She could not frame any excuse; she
could think of nothing but the exact truth, and that she would not
tell. She simply stood like a statue, dumb and powerless in his
'That--that'--he stirred the chamois leather bag of gold lying on
her shawl with his foot as if it had been some noisome, pestilent
thing--'that--where did you get it? It is old Max's bag.'
A shudder ran through her frame, a shudder not caused by the
strong hands that held her so tight; but she gave no other sign, and
he wanted no other. He had known it all along. He thought her worse
than she was. He counted her an accomplice; he thought she was
sharing the spoils with her partner in guilt. And she was so dear to
him, so very dear, all his life. Everything he possessed he would
have given to prove her innocent, and he had just proved her guilty;
and yet he loved her, with all his soul he loved her, even as she
loved this other man.
'Oh, Jenny!' and the cry of pain went to her heart; 'and I loved
She raised her eyes to his then.
'I told you I weren't no wife for you,' she said drearily, in
He hardened again.
'Where is Black Anderson?' he asked, and he might as well have
spoken to empty space. 'Where? where? Jenny, I will kill you if you
don't tell me!'
But she gave no sign.
Kill her! He could kill her; he had a right to kill her. Would not
any other man do so under the circumstances? And he took his hand
from her shoulder and put it to his belt. She saw the movement, but
she did not shrink; perhaps she hardly noticed it. Something else had
caught her eye, and he saw the face in front of him light up as it
had never lighted up for him.
She opened her mouth then.
'Run for your life, Dave! run, run! Never mind me.'
Sergeant Sells glanced over his shoulder then, and just caught a
glimpse of a man's head and shoulders among the ferns and scrub; and
then he raised Jenny up in his arms a moment, flung her from him with
all his force, and the next she was lying white and still at his
He dropped down on his knees beside her, and took one quiet hand
in his. She was dead--dead; and he had killed her, the woman he
loved! He forgot all else--the man he had seen in the scrub, her
perfidy, everything but that she was the one creature in the world he
cared for, and he had killed her: he had struck her head against the
rock, and she was dead. He had said a moment ago he would kill her,
and he had done it; and now, looking down at the white face, he fully
realized what he had done. He chafed the small hand gently, and noted
the marks of toil upon it.
'Oh, my poor little girl! my poor little girl! What a hard life it
has been for you, and to end this way!'
He put his face down beside her quiet one, and kissed her again
and again. Then he rose up quietly, took up the bag of gold which had
brought such disaster on all who touched it, and went away back to
the camp, straight across the creek, up the dusty track, and on to
the Commissioner's tent. The lights shone through the closed
curtains, and sounds of laughter smote on his ear, but he took no
note of them. He pushed aside the curtains, and, without a word,
stepped into the midst of the four people assembled there round the
'Sir,' he said, and they started to their feet as he came in
hatless and with wild, bloodshot eyes, 'sir, I have killed my
Young Bob Langdon put his hand on his shoulder, and the sergeant
without being bidden dropped into a chair, and bowed his head on his
'Oh, my God! I have killed my wife!'
Chapter I Disappearance.
'The day goeth down red darkling.
The moaning waves dash out the light.
And there is not a star of hope sparkling
On the threshold of my night.
'The waves of a mighty sorrow
Have whelmed the pearl of my life;
And there cometh to me no morrow
Shall solace this desolate strife.
'Gone are the last faint flashes.
Set is the sun of my years;
And over a few poor ashes
I sit in my darkness and tears.'
THE little company assembled in the Commissioner's tent looked
atone another in astonished silence. Miss Langdon was just on the
point ofsaying 'Good-night,' when the sergeant startled them with
hisintelligence, and now she stood there, tall, dark, and handsome,
her habitgathered up in one hand, looking down at him pitifully.
'Oh, Jocelyn, there must be something awfully wrong!'
'Wrong!' interposed young Anderson--'I should just think there
must be! Never saw the sergeant knocked so completely off his chump
before! The only thing is, what the dickens can it be? He can't have
murdered hiswife, you know. He ain't been married a month.'
'Sergeant!' said the Commissioner.
At the sound of his voice the habits of a lifetime came to his
aid, andthe sergeant rose to his feet.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' he said in a low, monotonous voice, out
ofwhich all life and passion seemed to have gone; and the four
onlookerssaw that his face was of a gray, ashy pallor, and his
shoulders werebowed like those of an old man.
'What is this, sergeant?' asked the Commissioner kindly.
'I'--it seemed he had to moisten his dry lips before the words
would come--'I have killed my wife, sir!'
'Nonsense, man!--you're dreaming!'
The girl standing by the table laid down her whip, and took up the
chamois leather bag the sergeant had flung there on his entrance, and
turned it slowly round. He watched her with fascinated eyes. Then
young Langdon, who had his own ideas of what was the best thing to be
done in an emergency, poured out a nobbler, filled it up with water,
and pushed it across the table to him.
'Drink it, sergeant; it'll steady your nerves. And then tell us
what's the meaning of all this.'
He took the proffered glass with a hand he vainly strove to keep
still, and drank its contents.
'I've killed my wife, sir.'
His voice sounded monotonous, hopeless. Evidently that was the
only fact that had impressed itself upon him. All else would have to
be dragged out of him by cross-examination.
The other three stood there listening, and the Commissioner
motioned them with his hand to be silent.
He looked helplessly in his questioner's face, and then his eyes
wandered off to the gold-bag Miss Langdon was fingering again.
'Come, sergeant, did you kill her on purpose?'
'No, no; I said I'd kill her, but, before God, I didn't think to
'I said he'd repent before the year was out,' muttered Anderson in
Bob Langdon's ear; 'but, by heaven, I never thought it 'd come to
'Where's your pistol?' asked the Commissioner, going on asking
questions with what seemed to the woman beside him cruel
His hand wandered aimlessly to his belt. The pistols were there
'No, I didn't shoot her.'
'What did you do, then? Come, sergeant, this is waste of
'I--I took her up in my arms. I--I don't know how it happened--her
head must have hit against the rock, I think--I saw her lying there
white and dead. I saw her--I saw her, sir--my little girl, that
The four listeners could say nothing for a moment. Whatever it
was, there had been a desperate tragedy in this man's life. But it
was necessary to come to the bottom of this, and the Commissioner
'Where were you, sergeant?'
'Up in the gully at the head of the creek, sir.'
'At this hour of the night? What the devil were you doing
'I----' The sergeant paused; but the whole shameful truth had to
come out sooner or later, there was no hope of saving her good name,
and he went on with a visible effort: 'I followed my wife, sir.'
'Your wife?' The Commissioner hesitated. Officers of the law are
but men, after all, and it seemed a cruel thing to ask this crushed
and broken man what his wife had done that he should have felt it
necessary to follow her. 'I am sorry for you, sergeant; but what did
your wife go up the creek for?'
'I don't know for certain,' hesitated the sergeant, and his eyes
were still on the gold-bag.
'You had some idea, though?'
'I thought--I mean--I think----'
'Take your time, sergeant. Yes, well, you followed her up the
gully? And what do you think she went there for?'
'I think--I think she went for that bag of gold.'
'Oh!' The Commissioner took up the bag as if its touch would
elucidate the mystery. 'And where was the bag?'
'Buried by a big granite boulder, sir. I watched her dig it
'Did she know you were watching?'
'You were hidden in the scrub, I suppose?'
It seemed to the wretched man only yesterday that he had stood by
and listened to the Commissioner questioning his wife--who was not
his wife then, and never ought to have been his wife--and heard her
monosyllabic replies. And now she was dead, lying there at the foot
of that great boulder, white and still in the bright moonlight, with
her pretty yellow hair spread out across the soft, cool grass. And he
had killed her--he, who loved her better than his life, had laid her
there. The owl overhead was hooting the shameful truth; he heard it
in the mournful wail of the curlews that came fitfully over the
ranges. Then he started, for he was in the Commissioner's tent. In
front of him was the dining-table, with a disorderly array of
tumblers and glasses and decanters on it; the Commissioner was
speaking to him with a ring of pity in his voice, and a woman was
looking at him with pitiful dark eyes.
'What did she want the gold for?'
'I--I don't know, sir.'
'But you must have some idea, else why----'
'I thought,' his voice was sunk to a hoarse whisper hardly under
his own control--'I thought she was going to give it to Black
The Commissioner started, and dropped the gold-bag, and his clerk
gave vent to a long, low whistle, his favourite method of expressing
'Black Anderson's got clean away to Frisco, man!' he said.
'I saw him to-night, though,' said the sergeant, like a man for
whom the worst has passed. It mattered not now what he said or did.
He had told the very worst. 'I saw him to-night for a minute standing
up among the fern, and I heard her say, "Run, Dave, run!" Then
He put one hand on the table, and leaned heavily on it. Then he
put his two hands together and wrung them like a woman in unspeakable
'So it was true, after all, what they said about her and Black
Anderson!' said Anderson impetuously.
'Oh, hush, hush!' cried Winifred Langdon pitifully.
She felt that the boy standing there could not realize this man's
Then the Commissioner asked one more question:
'Do you think she went there to meet Black Anderson,
His head drooped on his breast. He stood there before them, those
happy young people, a shamed and disgraced man. The Commissioner's
future wife stood beside him, a tall, handsome, happy woman. His
wife, younger by several years than she, lay out there in the gully,
dead; and he had killed her, and worse still, oh, worst of all! he
read in the eyes of these people, even in the pitiful eyes of the
girl opposite, that they thought he had had a perfect right to kill
'Whose was this bag of gold?' asked the Commissioner sharply; and
he opened it and poured out a little heap of yellow gold-dust and
shining nuggets on to a newspaper in front of him.
'I don't know, sir.'
He ran his fingers through it as Jenny had done one fatal night,
and turned up the little nugget in the shape of the cross with one
'Now, that's peculiar,' said the Commissioner; 'any man who found
that nugget would remember it.'
But no man there had seen it before.
'I remember,' said young Anderson, 'Pard Derrick telling me some
time ago he ought to have the devil's own luck, for he'd found the
Holy Cross with but a wee bit broke off. Could he have meant that, do
'We'll see about that in the morning. Winny, it's getting late,
and I must----'
'And I must go home,' she said.
Their horses were being walked up and down outside by an impatient
and curious trooper, who had seen Sergeant Sells go in, and wondered
what on earth he could have to say to the Commissioner at that hour
of the night, that he should have dashed in so unceremoniously.
Bob Langdon mounted, and the Commissioner helped his sweetheart
into her saddle in dead silence. Then she put her hand on to his
'Jocelyn, what are you going to do? What will be done with that
'I'm off at once to see if his story's true. He's so shaken and
off his head that as likely as not he's exaggerating. I don't suppose
she's dead. He knocked her down. I expect that's about the long and
the short of it.'
'But, Jocelyn--that girl--and that other man?'
'Yes. I'm afraid there's not the shadow of a doubt she's been
playing a double game. She's played the sergeant false,
and--and----Well, what is there to be said?'
'He looked like a man who had broken his heart,' mused the
'Poor beggar!' said the man. Then, under pretence of seeing to her
stirrup-leather, he stooped and managed to impress a lover-like kiss
on her hand. Her brother called to her, and they rode off
The Commissioner went back to his tent again, where his clerk and
Sergeant Sells were still standing.
'Now, sergeant,' he said, 'do you think you can take me and one or
two troopers up the gully to where this occurred?'
'All right. We'll start at once. Anderson, you'll see to the
safety of that gold? Wynne'--he called his orderly--'get Jackson,
will you, and be ready to start up the gully at the head of the creek
with the sergeant and me in five minutes.'
Outside the tent again, the sergeant felt it cruelly strange that
all things should be so unaltered. There was the round full moon
sailing up in the sky, the white tents, the deep dark shadows. He
looked behind him at his own house, the only wooden building on the
camp. The light was still burning in the little parlour, and
silhouetted in the open window he still saw his guest. What a
lifetime he had lived through since he had sat opposite Tom Clark at
Then they went down through the diggers' camp, passed the Lucky
Digger, where the men were still shouting and singing in the bar, and
crossed the creek. They were in the gully now, and the sergeant led
the way without a word. Over rocks and logs, crushing the fern and
water--plants and creepers, straight on in silence he led them, till
at last they came to the opening, the little break where he had
enacted the tragedy of his life. Then he drew back. He could not, he
would not, look at her dead face.
'There!' he said hoarsely, and he pointed ahead with his
The Commissioner pushed aside the ti-tree and creeper as he
himself had done an hour before.
'Why, man--God bless my soul, sergeant! there's nothing here!'
In a moment the sergeant stood beside him, and the other two men
quickly followed. It was light as day, but no sign was there of the
girl he had left there dead.
'Sergeant, you've been dreaming. It was only a bad nightmare after
He leaned up against the granite boulder for support. There--there
he had seen her lying dead. The men were looking at him curiously.
They did not understand what they had been brought here for, and the
Commissioner was searching round the little break in the scrub for
some confirmation of his sergeant's extraordinary story.
'You see, sergeant, there is nothing.'
He silently pointed to the little heap of up-turned earth close at
'Any animal might have done that--a wombat, a bandicoot.'
'I wish to God, sir. I thought so! I saw her myself turning up the
earth with that stick.'
It was lying there, a small stick broken off the ti-tree. Yes,
looking again, the Commissioner thought that little hole was the work
of human hands. But where was the girl? There was certainly no sign
of her. One of the men picked up a uniform-cap on the edge of the
'Hallo, sergeant! Here's your cap.'
Evidently he had been here, thought the Commissioner, looking at
him as he sat there on a ledge of rock, his arms resting listlessly
on his knees, and his head drooped forward on his breast. He took the
cap mechanically from the man, and dropped it on the ground beside
him. The evening was cool, and the wind which came up the gully was
quite chilly, but his head was too hot to bear a cap.
The Commissioner was at fault. He was thoroughly sorry for the
sergeant, but he hardly knew what else to do. He certainly could not
stop there much longer, and yet a certain delicacy made him hesitate
before exposing his non-commissioned officer's private affairs to the
two troopers standing by. He crossed over and stood beside him, and
the sergeant rose to his feet wearily.
'It's true, sergeant, what you have been telling me? You don't
think you could have imagined it? You haven't been drinking?'
The other shook his head.
'And where did you last see your wife?'
'Here, sir. Lying at my feet here, sir.'
'For Heaven's sake, man, let's get a clear understanding of the
thing. Now, tell me, how did it all happen? Where did she hit her
'I--she----' He hesitated, then went on more calmly: 'I was
standing just here, and with my hand on her shoulder, when she called
to the man behind me among the fern there! My God! I didn't care much
what I did, and I lifted her up, and I flung her against the rock
there. I think so. I can't say rightly what happened. I know I saw
her lying white and still there. And I'd done it.'
'And the man?'
'I don't know. I don't rightly remember. I never thought of
Commissioner Ruthven took a puzzled turn or two up and down the
small clearing; then he turned to his orderly.
'Wynne,' he said, 'you don't see any traces of anybody having been
about here, do you? The sergeant swears he saw Black Anderson here
among that clump of fern not an hour ago, and he declares he left his
wife here. Where the dickens have they got to?'
Trooper Wynne's countenance was a study. To express all he felt
would, he thought, hardly be consistent with the respect due to his
superior officer; and with the sergeant within earshot--though, to be
sure, he did not look as if he were paying much attention--it hardly
seemed to him decent to give his true opinion of the sergeant's
'No, sir. We haven't seen any sign, sir. But if he left those two
together--well, sir, it isn't for me to give an opinion, but all the
camp knows she was always Black Anderson's girl. It's hard luck on
the sergeant, but everyone knew how it would be!'
'But the sergeant says she was dead when he left her--lying there
dead on the ground by the rock there!'
'Says he killed her, does he, sir?' Trooper Wynne grasped the
situation at once. 'I thought there was something very wrong with the
sergeant. Well, if he killed her, she'd be there; and if he didn't,
perhaps the other man took her away with him. The sergeant's so off
his head, he doesn't look as if he knew much about it.'
'Possibly she might have gone back to her father's,' said the
Commissioner thoughtfully, but Wynne shook his head.
'Not she, sir, if it was Black Anderson. She was always "dead
nuts," as they used to say, on Black Anderson. The sergeant oughtn't
to have married her; but he was just mad after her; and they do say
Sal Carter made the match. She was a good enough girl, to my
thinking, was Jenny Carter--a little simple, perhaps, and wild about
Black Anderson. If he was up here in the ranges--and likely as not he
is--and she got wind of it, he'd but to hold up a finger and I'll bet
the sergeant might go to pot, for all she'd care!'
'The sergeant swears he killed her.'
'It's a curious fact, sir,' went on Trooper Wynne, emboldened by
the puzzled Commissioner's thus discussing the matter with him, 'how
mighty fond some men are of saying that sort of thing. Now, I'll bet
she was up the minute his back was turned, and off after the other
man. It's hard luck on the sergeant, anyhow. He looks pretty well
broken by it, doesn't he, sir?'
He did indeed look a broken man, thought the Commissioner, as he
glanced at him; but much as he pitied him, this man's sorrow was not
his sorrow, and if Black Anderson was anywhere about he must be
followed up immediately.
'I believe you're right, Wynne,' he said. 'I'm pretty nearly sure
you're right. But now, the next thing is to take Black Anderson. He
can't be far off, and a woman 'll hamper him.'
'No woman's going to hamper Black Anderson, sir. He'll stick to
her just so long as she's useful to him, and it must be deadly work
all alone in the mountains. Then, when he's tired of her, he'll drop
her like a hot potato. They count him a jolly sort of fellow, Black
Anderson, but he's got no works. Don't you believe it, sir; no
woman's going to hamper him!'
'Poor girl!' said the Commissioner pitifully. 'Well, he can't have
got far in an hour, anyhow. Do you know this place at all,
Wynne glanced round. The steep, high hills shut them in on every
side. The gully up which they had come was narrow enough, and it
seemed to end in an impassable barrier of rocks which formed a wall
right across. A little to the left, however, the steep rocks split
into a narrow gorge, down which trickled the creek, but it was
impossible any man could have come down that.
'Seems a pretty stiff sort of place, sir, doesn't it?' said Wynne,
after his survey. 'Easy as rolling off a log for the man that knows
it, but a hard nut to crack for anyone else. He'll be miles
away--miles away--while we're fooling round for a track.'
'That's true enough,' said the Commissioner. 'Still, we must just
look round for that track. If we can't find it, we'll get the
trackers from Yackandandah to-morrow. Look alive now, you and
Jackson, and see if you can't find a way they might have gone.'
Then he walked over to where the sergeant was standing.
'Look here, sergeant, it's no use your distressing yourself like
this. I don't think you killed her. Knocked her insensible, maybe;
but you were too excited to notice the difference. Come, now, don't
you think that's likely?'
The wretched man raised his face, and a gleam of hope shot athwart
'My God, sir! If--if----But where is she?'
The Commissioner looked away. Why was the moon so cruelly bright?
It would have been easier to tell a thing like this in the dark.
'She--I'm afraid, sergeant, she must have followed Black Anderson,
if you're sure it was he you saw. Of course, she may have made her
way down to the Lucky Digger; but from what the men say, I would not
buoy myself up with any false hopes, if I were you.'
It seemed brutal thus to show him, thought the Commissioner, that
he had been discussing his wife with the troopers; but put it as
gently as he could, it would come to the same thing in the end, and,
looking at his face, he did not think the misery could deepen
'I would rather she was dead!' he whispered to himself. 'My God!
even if I killed her myself!'
Chapter II Foiled.
'But pleasures are like poppies spread.
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snowfall in the river.
A moment white--then melts for ever.'
SELLS dropped down on the ledge of rock again, his arms hanging
listlessly over his knees. Physically and mentally he was done, and
the Commissioner, recognising that fact, turned away and went
searching along the gully with the two troopers for some place where
the two fugitives might possibly have passed or hidden. There was no
getting further up the creek, that was soon seen, and a careful hunt
along the hillside having failed to show a path of any sort, there
was nothing for it but to scramble through the scrub where it seemed
thinnest. But it was everywhere close and dense, and having reached
the top of the hill the Gold Commissioner and his two troopers paused
'A mighty good place this for hide and go seek, sir, especially
for those who hide. We couldn't see them if they were within a yard
'You're about right, Wynne, I think.' The Commissioner had just
got his face badly scratched by a bough of the stiff ti-tree
springing back and hitting him in his headlong career, and he saw
plainly they might hunt there for a week without finding anyone who
was desirous of keeping his whereabouts hidden. 'We'll go back,
They scrambled back into the gully again, and picked up the
sergeant, still sitting as they had left him on the ledge of rock,
with his weary eyes fixed on the ground.
'Come, sergeant. We'll call in at the Lucky Digger on our way
back.' He rose up, and stood there looking as if he did not
understand. His clothes hung on him as if he had shrunk somehow, and
the bright moonlight, shining on his bared head, showed up the gray
streaks in the black hair. Was it only the Commissioner's fancy, that
there were so many more gray hairs to-night? Wynne picked up his
uniform-cap and handed it to him.
'Come on, sergeant. It must be getting on for twelve o'clock.'
'Only twelve o'clock. I thought----'
He stopped. Years and years had passed for him since he had
entered that gully first that evening, but it would do no good
talking about it. Some of the reserve he had always wrapped himself
up in was coming back to him, and he followed quietly behind the
others. At the Lucky Digger they stopped. But the Lucky Digger had
got a virtuous fit on it for once, and every light was out, and the
place shut up.
Trooper Wynne, at the Commissioner's order, shouted for the
landlord, and a sleepy voice much muffled by bedclothes replied.
'Here, I say!' went on the trooper, 'look alive there! The
Commissioner wants to know if your daughter's come home.'
'Who? What? Here, missus, I say! Missus--Sal!'
But Sal was up and at the bar-door, a ragged gown thrown round
her, and a guttering candle in her hand.
'Lord sakes, sir! what's this about Jenny?'
'Isn't she here?'
'But she was here.'
'Early in the evening, sir--only for a minute or two, sir. She
said as her husband wouldn't let her stop.'
'And she went straight back to the police camp, as far as you
'Yes, sir. Ain't she there, sir?'
'No. Have you any idea where she would be?'
'Lord no, sir! There's her husband. Don't he know?'
'Is there anyone she'd go to if she was in trouble?'
'Her, sir? There ain't a soul Jenny cared a straw about 'cept me
an' the childer, an'--an'----'
'Well, who else?'
'Her husband, of course--the sergeant. Ain't he standin' alongside
'Now, Mrs. Carter, do you mean to tell me Jenny cared for her
'Why, in course she did. Who else 'd she care for?'
The Commissioner looked at the woman. It was not much good
questioning her; she was not going to own to anything.
'Now, Mrs. Carter, look here! Whether Jenny cared for her husband
or not, she's run away from him, and we want to get some clear idea
of where she has gone to. Believe me, it's only for her good I'm
Sal Carter pondered, and with her disengaged hand made an effort
to twist up her rough dark hair.
'I allus done the best I could for Jen,' she said; 'if she'd been
my own sister I couldn't ha' done different, I was that fond o' her,
I was. A bit simple little thing, wantin' someone to look after her,
an' I thought when she married the sergeant it 'd be all right.'
'What's this talk I hear about Black Anderson?' said the
Commissioner, going straight to the point.
'Get along with you!' said Sal Carter, who was no respecter of
persons; 'as if the whole camp didn't know Black Anderson was away
over the seas to California, an' a mighty good thing, too, for Jen.
She done a sight better marryin' the sergeant.'
There did not seem much use prolonging the conversation, and the
Commissioner turned away. The sergeant paused a moment, however.
'If she comes to you, Mrs. Carter,' he said hoarsely, 'do what you
can for her, for God's sake! It's true enough what you say: she's a
simple little thing, and she doesn't understand what she's doing. She
may want a woman's help. She's left me.'
Sal Carter raised her guttering candle; the grease was running
down her fingers, and the light fell full on the man's white
'Eh, but the world's a hard place, sergeant,' she said. 'She's
left you, has she? And she'll rue the day bitter, I'll warrant. Eh!
eh! it's the women like her an' the men like you's just made to
suffer. Hard luck on you, ain't it? You was worth somethin' better
nor that. And me thinkin' she'd be quite safe once Black Dave was
away! I'd a' took my Bible oath she'd a' gone wi' no man but
'If she comes to you,' repeated the sergeant, in a dull,
monotonous voice, 'do what you can for her. She's only a child.'
He turned away then; he had nothing more to say. And the
Commissioner, looking back, saw the woman still standing in the
doorway, shading the guttering candle from the wind with her
'I'm afraid your eyes did not deceive you, sergeant. It must be
Black Anderson,' he said in a low tone.
'I know they did not, sir,' said the other.
'We'll have the black trackers out to-morrow. It won't be long
before we lay hands on them now we know whereabouts they are.'
But the other man said nothing. What comfort would there be for
him if they did bring his wife back!
Next morning the story flew through the camp with all sorts of
absurd exaggerations. Only on one point was everybody agreed. Black
Anderson had not got away to Frisco at all, and now the sergeant's
wife had taken up with her old lover, and joined him in the ranges.
The sergeant himself said nothing whatever about it. Next morning he
had set about his work as usual, and none dared question the silent,
stern man on his domestic affairs. The men who had seen him the night
before wondered that he had pulled himself together so well; the
others merely thought, as Wynne had said of Black Anderson, that he
had 'no works,' and therefore he did not feel it.
The Commissioner gave his mind to finding out who had originally
possessed the nugget in shape like a cross with one arm missing, and
had little difficulty in tracing it to Pard Derrick. That gentleman
came up himself to identify it, and give his views on things
'Yes, that's the very identical piecy,' he said. 'Kep' the blanky
thing a long time, I did, thinkin' the Holy Cross 'd sure an' bring
me luck. Maybe I couldn't hold on long enough. Anyhow, Buck Carter he
wouldn't trust any longer, an' the blanky thing it had to go.'
'How long ago was that?' asked the Commissioner.
'It was just afore Snaky Bill struck pay gravel, I know. Snaky he
was about travellin' on his uppers, and his luck come afore
Snaky Bill's luck did not fix the time very determinately for the
Commissioner, though Pard Derrick felt he had been most accurate, and
scratched his head with the calm air of a thoroughly businesslike
'How long ago was that?'
Pard Derrick took both hands to his head now, and scratched with
all his might. This probably stimutated his intelligence and his
memory, for he added, after a moment's deep thought:
'Lemme see. It was the very day as poor old German Max was shot
upon the hill there. No, it wasn't; it was the night afore, for Sal
Carter she says, "Guess I ain't agoin' to keep the thing in the
house. Guess it'll bring us bad luck," says she. An' next day, sure
enough, she paid it away to old Max, an' sure enough bad luck it did
'Are you sure old Max had it?'
'Oh, sure enough. Because that night Sal Carter she was
'There, that'll do. Wynne, go and fetch Mrs. Carter here.'
And Sal Carter had the same story to tell. She was certain she had
passed that little nugget to the old German in payment of her
account, which had been running on for some time. She had sent Jenny
to the till specially to get it, lest it should bring ill-luck. She
sorter thought it might bring ill-luck, it was kinder uncanny. If it
'd been a whole cross, now, there might a' been somethin' in it; but
broke--and she held up her hands and called on them all to witness
that Pard Derrick had done much better since he parted with it, and
the old German hadn't had it in his possession above half an hour
before he was shot dead, and the thing itself stolen from him.
'You're quite sure, Mrs. Carter, Jenny did give the old German the
'Oh, certain sure! I seed her myself. An' she said, too--Jenny
allus was a bit simple--as I thought it'd bring bad luck, an' she was
partin' wi' it for that reason; but he didn't seem to mind. And,
Lord! see what it brought him to!'
Mrs. Carter's evidence was not to be shaken, and it proved beyond
a doubt that the old German had had the little nugget very shortly
before his death. The man who had shot him and stolen his gold-bag
had taken the nugget in it, and the probabilities were that that man
was Black Anderson. But how had it come into the possession of the
The Commissioner questioned Sergeant Sells on the subject.
'I can't tell you any more, sir--I really can't,' he said wearily.
'I saw her dig up the bag from beside the rock, that's all I can tell
'Clearly the bag must have been in Black Anderson's possession if
he did the murder,' mused the Commissioner. 'The question is, What
was the girl doing with it?'
Sergeant Sells had lain awake all the live-long night trying to
solve that problem, but it had refused to be solved. There had been
some sort of communication, some connection, between his wife and
this outlaw, but what or when he could not tell. The Commissioner
knew as much as he.
'Are you sure, sergeant,' he asked somewhat reluctantly, looking
away so that he might not see the look of pain on the other man's
face, 'your wife held no communication with this man before?'
There was a pause.
'I am sure of nothing, sir,' said the sergeant quietly. 'Till last
night I thought her innocent as--as----'
'Well, I suppose the trackers will be here before mid-day. But,
confound the weather! who'd have expected it to rain like this?'
It certainly was raining with a will, as if it never intended to
leave off again, and the bright skies of yesterday were clouded over
and dull and gray. Sergeant Sells hardly noticed it, or, if he did,
it was to feel that this foretaste of winter was but in keeping with
It troubled the Commissioner, however. Good trackers as the
Australian blacks undoubtedly are, it was not likely that even they
could follow up a track after six hours of steady rain had turned the
whole gully into one big mud-puddle. He swore at his ill-luck in no
measured terms. The trackers were very seldom away from the camp,
and, if he had only had them, he might have followed by moonlight;
but they had been lent to his brother Commissioner at Yackandandah,
and were not yet returned. It was four o'clock when they did come,
and still raining heavily.
'Confound it!' said the Commissioner, looking up at the gloomy
sky; 'they wouldn't follow now if it was a track as broad as a main
Jimmy Crow and Bill Bunting fully justified his anticipations.
They rode into camp huddled on their horses' necks, wet and
'Too much big fellow rain,' muttered Jim Crow. 'How can make 'em
light along a track?' and his mate was quite of his opinion.
But the Commissioner was obdurate; they were his last resource,
and go to the gully they should; and go they accordingly did. But the
old proverb about taking a horse to water stood good. He might take
the blackfellows there, but he could not make them 'make a light a
track.' It was very probable the rain had washed away all traces of
last night's work; but the blacks gave up the task after what the
Commissioner chose to consider a very perfunctory search, and
squatted down on their haunches shivering and whining in the
'Blackfellow no make a light,' they said. 'White-fellow sit down
along a humpy. Blackfellow sit down along a humpy. Big fellow rain;'
and with this very ambiguous explanation he had to be content, for an
Australian black at the best of times is never more than half
civilized, and these men were all but savages.
When they had decided not to do a thing, not even the all-powerful
Commissioner himself could compel them to try.
'After all, sir,' said the sergeant, 'I don't think they could
possibly do any good on a day like this. They are quite right; even
the tracks we know we made are all washed away.'
'You take it very coolly, sergeant.'
The sergeant winced.
'Nothing can make any difference to me now, sir.'
Young Anderson watched him cross the square in the pouring rain to
his own hut.
'By Jove!' he said, 'I believe the men are right. The sergeant
ain't got no works.'
Commissioner Ruthven looked at him a little scornfully. He had no
very high opinion of his clerk at any time.
'Possibly, Mr. Anderson----' he began, and then left off
Why should he discuss his non-commissioned officer with his clerk?
Anderson calmly filled his pipe, and thought what a nuisance it was
that the day should be wet and his superior officer permanently out
of temper for the rest of the evening.
Chapter III Dave's Girl.
'By the brand upon my shoulder, by the gall of clinging steel.
By the welt the whips have left me, by the scars that never heal.
By eyes grown old with staring through the sun-wash on the brine.
I am paid in full for service--would that service still were mine!'
--'Departmental Ditties.' Rudyard Kipling.
THE disappearance of the sergeant's wife was but a nine days'
wonder in the camp. The following week the Bandicoot, whose ill-luck
had become proverbial, found a nugget in an abandoned claim weighing
over four hundred ounces, and the diggers talked of nothing else. It
touched them far more nearly than the disappearance of a girl who had
been known to the majority by sight alone. On the police camp, of
course, the remembrance of her was kept alive by the necessity the
whole force was under of keeping a bright look-out for Black
Anderson; but no man dared mention her name to the cold, silent man
who was her husband. They patrolled between the various camps, they
scoured the ranges, daily the black trackers were on the look-out,
but there was no sign of thefugitives. And yet they were not so very
Any day, had she so pleased, half an hour's walk would have
brought Jenny to her old home; another ten minutes would have taken
her to the police camp. By mounting the hill which rose steeply up
from the lonely little gully wherein Black Anderson had built himself
a rough shelter, she could see the white tents of the police camp and
look down on the collection of shanties that made up the mining camp
on the banks of the creek. She did not often do it, though. She was
morbidly afraid of being seen--afraid not only of betraying her
lover, but that Sergeant Sells would insist on taking her back to
live with him, so little did she understand his character or the
position in which she had placed herself. Jenny's last remembrance of
her husband was of the passionate anger in his eyes as he lifted her
up in his arms. There was love in those eyes, too, could she but have
seen it; but she could not, and when she awakened from her
unconsciousness another pair of black eyes were looking straight into
her own, and somebody was tenderly bathing her face withcool
The sergeant's eyes had not deceived him. It was Black Anderson he
had seen for a moment among the fern. He had come down the hill, as
he had told Pard Derrick he would, and before going straight to the
meeting--place he had himself appointed, he thought fit to
reconnoitre. First he had seen only the girl alone, and his impulse
was to rush out to her, for he had been alone for the last two
months; he loved her after his own fashion, and he was very sure she
loved him. Then prudence stepped in. She was married to the
police-sergeant; who could tell what changes that might have wrought
in her? He had too high an opinion of himself and his power with
women to fear much, but, still, he would lose nothing by being
careful; and when the sergeant stepped out of the scrub, he was
thankful for his own forethought.
For one moment Dave's self-confidence received a shock. Had Jenny
betrayed him, after all? But it was only for a moment. It was plainly
to be seen what sort of terms husband and wife were on; besides, he
could hear every word that was said.
Then, when the sergeant's back was towards him, he rose up among
the fern with some vague notion of signalling to Jenny. It never
occurred to him that she would be so foolish as to betray his
presence to her husband, and when she called his name he sank down
slowly among the tangled scrub and fern again, undecided whether to
make himself scarce as promptly as possible, or whether to stay and
see it out. He was no coward, and he resolved in a moment to stay
where he was. There were only the sergeant and Jenny, and Jenny would
be on his side. The situation recommended itself to him. There was a
certain amount of sensation in it, and his life for the last two
months had been unbearably dull. Besides, he wanted the gold, and,
after all, if it came to a fight, he had little doubt which was the
better man. So he stooped down low and, with one hand on the revolver
in his belt, he parted the ferns and made a peep-hole for himself. He
was surprised at what he saw. He had pictured to himself the sergeant
keenly on the alert, looking for him; instead, he seemed to have
forgotten his very existence; his wife was on the ground, and he was
kneeling beside her, chafing her hands, and covering her face with
'A rum go!' muttered Black Anderson to himself, and in his
astonishment he stood upright in full view of any who might come
along. But no one else was there to see, and as for the sergeant,
Black Anderson might have stood right in his very path without his
noticing him! Anderson watched Sells get up slowly, take a lingering
look at the girl at his feet, and then go back through the scrub in
the direction of the camp.
Dave Anderson waited a few moments; then he came out from among
the fern and made his way to the side of the unconscious girl. The
moonlight fell full on her fair face, and she looked pathetic in her
helplessness, lying there with her long yellow hair spread out over
the soft green grass. Dead! yes, he too for the moment thought she
He had loved her after his own fashion, and he felt a righteous
anger against the man who had done this thing. She was so fair, so
dainty a thing, lying there in the moonlight, and she had loved him;
this had befallen her for his sake. The thought softened him. He
knelt down beside her as her husband had done--the man who had killed
her, and the man who had surely done her to death. How pretty she
looked--how pretty! And she had loved him! Lower and lower he stooped
over her till his face touched hers, and then he started back.
Surely the moonlight had deceived him: she was not dead, surely
not dead; he had felt her breath on his cheek. He started to his
feet, uncertain what to do. Then he stooped down again, and,
gathering her up in his arms, carried her down to the water's edge.
He looked over his shoulder every minute, half fearful he would be
interrupted; but he felt he could not leave her. She was his now, and
he would not give her up. Only how long dared he wait? how long
before the police would be here? for he never doubted that they would
come, never for one moment. The sergeant would want his wife again,
and, he swore an oath to himself, he should not have her. Then
Jenny's eyes opened and looked straight into his own.
'Why, Jen!' he said tenderly.
'Oh, Dave, Dave! Where am I, Dave?'
'All right, Jen. Lie still a bit.'
She closed her eyes again, content to feel his arms round her. She
was too dazed and confused to ask any questions, and, after all, what
did she care? The man for whom she had been longing for the last
three months was beside her, and what more could she ask? The cold
water felt cool and refreshing against her temples, and she was
content to lie and await the course of events; if it were only a
dream, it was too happy a dream to awaken from.
But the man had no time to spare. He waited a few moments, looking
over his shoulder at every sound; then he spoke again.
'Jen, where 're you goin'? What's to become of you?'
She opened her eyes then wearily.
'Oh, Dave! I--I----What'll I do? Run, Dave, run! Don't let me
He drew her a little closer.
'I can't leave you, Jen. He'll be back soon.'
She put her hand up to his face.
'Dave, Dave, you're but poorly.'
'Poorly! It's the life that's killing me. Alone in the ranges
here, hunted from morning to night. You don't know what it's
Still she said nothing. What had she to say? Only her hand stole
softly across his face as if she would help him if she could.
'Oh, Jen, Jen, and you played me false!'
Tired as she was, she half raised herself from his arms.
'You! Ay, you that was promised to me, and the minute there's so
much as a whisper against me, you go off and marry that trap.'
'Me!' she repeated reproachfully--'me! An' you tellin' me yourself
to marry him!'
'Tell you that! I'll be hanged----'
A slight stirring in the scrub behind made him look round quickly,
and roused in her a sense of his danger.
'You--you!' she sobbed in affright. 'If they come back
'They will come back,' he said, rising to his feet, and pulling
himself together grimly. 'I must be making tracks inside of two
minutes. Come with me, Jen. I'm that lonely!'
She looked up at him with love and tenderness in her eyes. To be
always with him, had it not been her dream ever since she knew him?
There was not a thought in her mind of the duty she owed to another
man. Her simple soul was capable of but one idea of duty, and her
very marriage had been for love of this man. She struggled to her
feet, and, leaning against him, put her hand to her head. She smiled
up faintly in his face, but the exertion was too much for her, and
but for his protecting arm she would have fallen.
He looked down doubtfully for a moment at the fair face resting
against his arm. Should he lay her back on the grass again, or should
he take her with him? So much simpler it would be to leave her here,
so much easier to get away without her. But she was so dainty and
fair and pretty, he was so terribly lonely, she loved him with a
mighty love, and he, if he did not love her as she did him, at least
wanted her for the time being, and he was not the man to let any
small thing stand in the way of his desires. Besides, there was the
gold, the bag she was to have given him--if he left her now, he would
lose sight of it altogether. Which thought it was that decided him he
could hardly have told himself as he stooped down and took her up in
his arms. He looked over his shoulder anxiously once more, but there
was no sign of any pursuers as yet, and he turned into the scrub on
the hillside on the left. The way was steep, and the inanimate girl
was no light weight. He was obliged to stop and rest more than once
on his upward course, but the ti-tree and fern were thick; he had set
the police at defiance for the last three months, and he had little
fear that they would find him now.
Once on the brow of the hill, he turned to the right, pushed his
way through the scrub, and descended into another narrow gully on the
other side, which trended away to the north-east, almost at right
angles to the one they had just left. Indeed, in the moonlight it
seemed an exact reproduction; nothing could have been more alike than
the tall ferns and the everlasting ti-tree; even the creek down at
the bottom was not wanting to complete the illusion. There were
hundreds of similar gullies up among those ranges; it was no wonder
that the police had failed to find a man hidden among them, and
Anderson smiled grimly to himself as he began the steep descent with
the girl still in his arms.
'Now, if it don't rain,' he said to himself, 'and they get out
those black devils, I'm a gone coon, or else I'll have to leave Jenny
here for a dead certainty. But it's agoin' to rain hard, I think;'
and he looked away to where a faint white cloud was beginning to
gather in the west, and was gradually creeping over the moonlit sky.
It was such a faint cloud another man would hardly have noticed it,
but this one had lived alone among the hills for the last three
months, a hunted man, and he was beginning to know their signs.
So it was with a quiet mind he scrambled slowly down to the bottom
of the gully, and made his way to what, in the moonlight, looked like
a heap of dead branches and scrub piled against the hillside. One
might have passed close beside it, even in broad daylight, and failed
to recognise it for anything else, but Anderson went straight up and,
pushing aside a heavy branch, lifted a strip of sacking that did duty
as door, and made his way into a tiny hut beyond.
It was quite dark there, for the moonlight did not come beyond the
threshold; but he knew his way, and he stepped across the hard mud
floor and laid his burden on the strip of sacking stretched on four
pointed sticks which formed his bed.
Jenny was more than half conscious--she had been all the time--but
it was sweet and new to her to have Black Dave caring for her, and
she simply lay still in his arms, contented to let him do what he
would with her. She heard him fumbling about for a light, and when he
had lighted a candle-end she sat up and looked about her with
wondering eyes. It was a very humble abode indeed the candle-light
showed. Part of the hillside had been cut away to make one wall, and
already the grass was sprouting on it, and the stumps of the ti-tree
that had been left were beginning to put forth tiny green shoots. The
man saw Jenny's eyes wander towards it, and he laughed.
'Got your garden handy, you see;' and he held the candle high
above his head, that she might the better take in all her
Truly there was little enough to see. The other three walls were
of logs laid together so roughly that there were great gaps in
between them, and over everything had been piled up branches and
brushwood to hide all semblance of human habitation from prying eyes,
if such there should be in this lonely gully. And the furniture
matched the hut. There were two rough three-legged stools and a table
made of two planks, roughly hewn with an axe; that was all, unless a
sort of shelf cut out of the earth along the hillside, and the bed
already described, could be counted as furniture. Jenny took it all
in, smiled up in her companion's face with a look of happiness that
could not have been greater had he shown her a palace, and then, with
a sigh of utter content, sank back on the bed.
'It's a hole, Jen,' only he said something stronger than that;
'will you stop?'
'Will I?' She put out her hand and took his as he stood beside
her. 'Will I? Why didn't you bring me here long ago, Dave? I told you
it 'd be no good to marry the sergeant, an' you see it weren't. Why
didn't you bring me here afore?'
He knelt down beside her then, murmuring incoherent words of
tenderness--and he could be tender when he pleased; the emotions that
sealed Sergeant Sells' tongue loosened his, and he did feel tender at
this moment. He had been so alone for the last three months, so
utterly cut off from human companionship, and now this girl was
looking up in his face adoringly, was content, and more than content,
with what little he had to give, was only wondering why he had not
brought her long ago. Her husband was nothing to her--less than
nothing; she had married only to please him, only to save him; so
much he gathered from her incoherent murmurs. She loved him above all
things, and he would have been less than human had he not been tender
to her in his turn.
And for a week that wretched little hut was simply heaven on earth
to Jenny. She was a new toy, and no one could have been more tender
and loving than Black Dave. What if the rain did come down steadily
for three days without stopping, if their floor became a mud-puddle,
and the wind whistled chill and cool through the interstices of the
logs, and in the hut they could not possibly make a fire? These
things were trifles to Jenny so long as Black Dave was beside her, so
long as he cared for her, so long as their pursuers did not find
them. Not that she feared that much. The police had failed to catch
Black Anderson before; why should they take him now that she was with
him? And, oh! she would be so careful. So it came about that she
seldom left the narrow gully, seldom walked to the top of the hill
that overlooked the camp.
Chapter IV An Innocent Traitress.
'The dear small Known amongst the Unknown Vast.'
THE weeks passed on, and to any other woman it would have been an
utterly dreary, hopeless life. The sun rose up over the ranges in the
east in the morning and set behind the ranges in the west at night,
and nothing happened all the livelong day. It was deadly dull, and
the man found it so. The diversion created by Jenny's presence made
him happy for at least three days, kept him content for a whole week;
then he wearied of her, and at times showed Jenny he wearied of
After the first flush of possession died out, it was but natural
he should find out what a simple little girl his companion was. And
Black Dave did not like simple, innocent women under any
circumstances: he would have wearied of Jenny's love under the most
favourable circumstances in a month. It was his way; no woman, not
the cleverest, could have kept him for six months. The girl's tender
adoration counted for less than nothing in his eyes now that there
was no one to envy him his conquest. She was his drudge and his
slave--she gathered wood for their fire, she carried water, she
washed and cooked and mended for him, glad and thankful if as a
reward he would lie with his head in her lap or lavish on her a
caress now and then. She mourned a little in her own silent way over
the loss of the tender lover who had brought her to this gully; day
by day she hoped by her patience and her willing drudgery to bring
him back again (as if man in this world were ever won back by slavish
love), and she was content and happy when he spoke one kind word to
her. Still he kept her love; partly it had grown to be a fixed habit
to love him, and partly because he did choose sometimes to exert
himself to exercise his old fascination over her.
She did not expect to be always dealt tenderly with; all her life
she had been accustomed to rough, rude men, who counted a woman as of
little moment in their lives. She herself had never been of much
account except to her husband, and him she did not understand; so
that now, when Black Dave was good to her by fits and starts, she was
content--it was all she asked.
He was a moody man, who, when the sun shone, spent his days lying
in the sunshine; and when the cold weather came, huddled over a small
fire built close against the hut door, and as near to the hillside as
possible, lest its smoke should betray their presence to prying eyes.
Often as not Jenny went out into the pouring rain in her thin cotton
gown--the only one she possessed--to gather sticks for it, while he
sat warming himself and meditating ways and means of escape; but it
seldom occurred to him to thank her--it certainly never occurred to
him to be grateful to the love which made her, as far as in her lay,
take the burden of life upon her own shoulders.
Often he was away all night, and she lay awake in an agony of
terror lest he should have fallen into the hands of the police; but
he never told her where he had been, only, as he always brought back
provisions of some sort (generally flour and mutton), she concluded
he had gone for them. Even then she never knew whether a friend had
supplied him, or whether he had stolen them from one of the diggers'
huts round about. Generally, she thought, from the regularity of the
supplies, some friend in the diggers' camp who still believed in him
probably planted them in a place where he could get them; but he
never enlightened her.
One day he brought home a bundle of woman's clothes, of which she
was sorely in need--a warm petticoat, and stout boots, and other
things that the cold damp weather now upon them made imperatively
necessary for her comfort; and then, though he said no word, she was
more than ever convinced that he held regular communication with the
camp, for who could have put up those things--her own things, as she
saw at a glance--but Sal Carter's self?
At first he would not enlighten her; he did not believe in taking
women into his confidence, in trusting a woman, as he said, farther
than you could see her. But she was unfeignedly thankful for the
clothes, so grateful for the thoughtfulness (which was all someone
else's). At last he was graciously pleased to unbend, and in a moment
of unwonted confidence he told her that Pard Derrick brought him the
supplies, and hid them in a neighbouring gully, for not even to him
would he confide the exact secret of his whereabouts. Sometimes he
met him there, but more often he fetched the things after he had
gone, for it was dangerous, he thought, to make the links of the
chain quite unbroken. Next day he repented him of his weakness, and
she suffered for his repentance; but she looked at the bundle of
clothes, and thinking that they were the outcome of his thoughtful
love for her, she was happy.
April was sunny and bright, and only the nights began to get a
little chilly; but in May they had a week or two of bitter cold,
wintry rain. The weather cleared, and they had bright sunshiny days
again, for no one can complain of the winter in the north-eastern
district; but that pinch of cold weather laid the foundation of a bad
cold that Jenny could not shake off. She grew thin and weary-looking,
and a cough she could not control racked her night and day. That
cough irritated her companion. She could not help seeing that.
There are people, selfish folk, whom the sight of another's pain
fills with a certain sense of discomfort, and tends to make them
visit with their severe displeasure those who have been so
inconsiderate as to discommode them. And Jenny's cough irritated and
worried Black Dave. She saw it, and it added another trouble to her
life to try and hide her sickness from him. If he were good-tempered
and smiling for a change, she suffered agonies trying to suppress the
cough, and often and often, when the paroxysm would be suppressed no
longer, went out into the cold outside air rather than disturb him;
but he generally guessed why she had gone, and the knowledge only
made him angry.
'It's your own fault, Jen,' he said sullenly one day as she leaned
up against the earthen wall, pressing her hand to her side, and
exhausted after a fit of coughing she had been utterly unable to
suppress--'it's your own fault. If we'd got that gold I gave you,
we'd be away over the border long before this.'
'I--I dunno what become of it,' she gasped. 'It'll be better when
it's a bit warmer. It's this cold weather done it.'
'Warmer!' he repeated, with an oath. 'If you think I'm goin' to
fool round here in this God-forsaken dog-hole listening to a woman
bark, bark, bark, you're mightily mistaken!' and he got up and flung
himself out of the hut into the pouring rain and gathering dusk with
an injured air.
'Oh, Dave, Dave!' she called after him, 'come back, come back!
You'll get wet;' but though he heard her he went straight on, and was
soon lost in the scrub.
She drew a long sobbing sigh. What could she do now? Nothing
seemed to please him, and he was so dear to her. The fire was built
of little sticks and small logs right in the doorway, so as much as
possible to warm the interior of the wretched hut and yet let the
smoke escape; and now that Black Dave was gone, Jenny sat down on the
hard earthen floor, and with the door-post for some sort of support
and the sacking that served as a door fixed as a screen from the
wind, she crouched over the fire for warmth like a blackfellow. She
shivered even then, for the wind found its way from all corners; but
it was not the cold that sent the tear-drops down her pale cheeks;
They were thin and hollow now, those cheeks; her face had lost all
its girlish freshness, though she was not nineteen. She knew that,
though she had no mirror, for Black Dave was not sparing in his
comments on her altered appearance, and as she sat there she wondered
if that were the reason of his changed demeanour towards her.
She was ugly and sick, and he did not love her any longer; that
was the tenor of her thoughts as she sat there shivering over the
little fire. He had loved her when he brought her there, nearly two
months ago now, but she was beginning to think he did not care for
her any longer; and he was so dear to her that she, like all women of
her kind, never thought of blaming him--it was her fault, entirely
her fault, and what was she to do to bring him back again? She firmly
believed he could be brought back, he was so tender sometimes; she
judged him by herself. She was content to live this life from year's
end to year's end, if only he were good to her, and he would be the
same if only she were like she was when first he had brought her
here. But how was that to be accomplished--how, how?
She was ill--she knew she was ill; try and hide it from him as she
would, she could not hide it from herself, and there seemed no chance
of getting better. She remembered when first she had come there, how
easy it seemed to gather sticks for the fire, to bring up water from
the creek, even though she had to go many times in the course of the
day, for all her household utensils were comprised in two tin billies
and a frying-pan. Now, she sighed, how different it was! She ached in
every limb, and the walk down to the creek was only accomplished with
many stoppages, and the walk back was more formidable still, while
her task of gathering wood--for which daily she had to go farther and
farther afield--became such a heavy burden that she would wake at
night with the fear strong upon her that next day she would not be
able to accomplish it, and what would the tyrant she had chosen for
her lord and master do then? She feared him, yes, she feared him; but
not in her inmost heart did she blame him. If he had been kind and
sympathetic she would have been grateful, but as he counted her
sickness her own fault, and let her see that he so counted it, she
more than half agreed with him, and as much as possible hid her
suffering from him.
And now he had gone away angry with her, and she blamed herself
that she felt relieved at his absence. She might cough without fear
of angering him; she was thankful to be able to let the fire down
low, and so save her scanty store of wood for the time when he should
be home. The rain came down steadily, the darkness was closing round,
and the whole landscape was hidden in a misty rain, which hissed and
frizzled on the hot logs; but crouching close over the fire there, a
warmth was diffused through her chilled frame, and she grew drowsy in
spite of tormenting thoughts, and the cough which every now and then
shook her wide awake again with the fear strong upon her--a fear born
of love--that she was disturbing her tyrant's rest. She dozed and
woke, and dozed and waked again.
Still he did not come back, and the fire died down so low she was
obliged to put another log on from her rapidly diminishing store. The
wood was dry, for she kept it in a little stack in a corner of the
hut; but there was very little left now, and how was she to replenish
it when the very exertion of crossing the hut and carrying it to the
fire exhausted her? She lay back panting against the door-post, and
the flames leaped up cheerfully round the log, and lighted up the
little hut. It was not much, but it was her all; and she could have
been very happy there if only--if only Dave was always like he was
that first week, and if she were only well again. She felt faint with
the effort of carrying the log, though she did not recognise the
feeling, and when that passed off, she dozed and woke with a sudden
start to find a man standing over her. He was dressed in the usual
digger costume, but his butcher boots were covered in mud, his heavy
blue flannel shirt was soaking wet, and the rain was running in
little streams off his long beard. But that did not discommode him at
He leaned against the opposite door-post with a nonchalant air,
his arms folded on his breast, and regarded her steadily from under
the brim of his sopping slouch hat. At first she rubbed her eyes; she
had seen no one since the middle of April, and it was now the first
week in June. Was she dreaming; could someone have betrayed them; was
this man the advance-guard of the police who would presently rush in
and drag her Dave away? She gave a little cry, and rubbed her eyes,
and the man stepped forward, and, pushing back his hat, she saw it
was her old friend Pard Derrick.
He kicked the fire with his foot, so that the brightening flames
might throw a little more light on the scene, for it was quite dark
now. He swore a good round string of oaths by way of relieving his
'Holy Moses, Jenny! Is it really you? Well, you have brought your
pigs to a pretty market, you have.'
But a gust of bitter wind dashed round the wet canvas screen, and
she was speechless till the paroxysm of coughing it brought on had
Pard Derrick stepped over and patted her on the back by way of
helping her, and repeated: 'A fine market, a d----d fine market!' So
strongly did he feel on the subject of that market, that he added
several more adjectives by way of giving weight to his opinion of it;
but he patted her back as gently as if she had been a child. The
unwonted kindness brought the tears to her eyes.
'You won't--you won't,' she panted between sobbing and coughing,
'hurt Dave. You won't--promise you won't.'
'I've a mind,' he began--'there, there! I ain't agoin' to hurt
him. Ain't I been totin' him tucker across them blanky ranges the
last five months now, an' is it likely I'd let up on him to the traps
'I--I----You never came before.'
'Dave's that pertikler--never would let on where he was. If he
can't trust a mate----Well, last time I up and followed him, and I
come along as soon as I'd time. It's a almighty cheerful spot,' he
said, kicking the fire again in order to show off its beauties; 'and
I don't wonder he was so anxious to keep it to himself.'
She took it as a reproach to herself.
'I done the best I could,' she said humbly; 'but I know it's a
poor place for Dave. It'll be nicer in the warm weather.'
Derrick gave a low whistle.
'Calkilate on stopping till the warm weather, do you? Seems to me
the claim's about worked out. Are you reckonin' on your humble
servant, may I ask, for the totin' of that there tucker into the
ranges here all the winter?'
She had been reckoning on it, evidently, for she only moaned, 'Oh,
Pard, Pard!' reproachfully.
'Well, I'm gettin' a bit tired of the blanky game,' he said,
turning his head away from her sad, tired eyes; 'and you have played
it mighty low down on the sergeant.'
'I belonged to Dave allus,' she said, not as if defending herself,
merely making a statement of which he must recognise the
'Then, why in the devil's name did you marry the sergeant?'
'Dave told me to,' she said simply.
'Then, by all that's holy, why didn't you stick to him?'
She looked at him with wonder in her eyes. How could he ask such a
question--he of all men?
'You told me yourself,' she said, 'Dave wanted me.'
The kick that he administered to the fire was a vicious one this
time, and sent the sparks flying in all directions.
'Oh,' she sighed, 'don't waste the wood! I dunno how I'm goin' to
get more when that's gone.'
He looked down at the frail worn-out woman, half sitting, half
lying on the hard, cold ground; he noted her panting breath and her
sunken cheeks, and he swore another good long string of oaths.
'An' what's that hulkin', good-for-nothin'----' He hesitated for a
word, and she divined his thought, and hastened to clear away all
blame from the man she loved.
'Dave, you mean; but Dave helps all he can. I come here to help
him. I don't want him to do nothin'.'
'She's mad,' said Derrick, apostrophizing the drenched and
dripping hillside; 'she's clean gone off her head. Now, here's a
decent handy sort of fellow like me, with nothin' agin me, an' no
woman intermates she'd like to work her life out for me. There's the
sergeant, a decent sort o' chap for a trap, pervides a palatial
residence for her, an' she comes here;' and he swept his hand round
as if showing off the advantages and beauties of the hut to an
But Jenny was loyal.
'Dave done all he could,' she said. 'If I hadn't a' lost his bag
o' gold, we'd a' been away acrost the ranges long ago.'
'Look here, Jenny,' Pard Derrick was desperately in earnest now,
'that bag o' gold the sergeant picked up in the gully the night you
run away, how did you come by it?'
Subsequent events had driven the former history of that bag
completely out of her head. In her pity for Black Dave, she had lost
sight of the fact that he was but suffering for a crime which richly
deserved punishment; and as for the gold, he had reviled her so often
for its loss, that she had come to look upon it as a calamity for
which she alone was to blame. Now, when Pard Derrick asked her about
it, she answered without hesitation:
'Dave gave it me to take care of for him.'
'Oh, he did, did he? By the 'Tarnal! That bag was old Max's.'
'No, no, no!'
She saw in a flash what she had done. But even then she did not
fully recognise the extent of the mischief. Dave was so dear to her,
she had been so accustomed to putting him before all else, she hardly
realized that his mate would be his mate no longer now this foul
crime was, as it were, sheeted home to him.
'Yes, yes, yes!' said Pard Derrick, and his language for the next
few minutes can only be expressed by a series of dashes, so strong
and resonant was it. 'And to think,' he added, going back to his
former place by the doorpost, 'I've been such an almighty fool as to
tote tucker across them ranges for--for a----'
'But, Pard, you'll--you'll----'
'Will I? I'll see him hanged first, an' you can tell him so.
Jenny, you come back with me to-night.'
'No, no. I couldn't leave Dave. He's only got me.'
'Don't be a blanky fool. How long 'll he stick to you when he
ain't got no tucker, an' the traps are after him?'
'Dave 'll never slip me up,' she managed to gasp out, for another
fit of coughing took her breath away.
The man was silent a moment, gently stirring the fire with his
foot. The little flames, as they leaped into life, fell full on the
girl's white, worn face; and even he, a careless, dare-devil fellow
not given to noticing anything much, saw that a very little more of
life like this would finish her life-story. Another week of weather
like this up among the ranges, and no one need trouble his head about
pretty Jenny Sells. He wondered almost she did not know it
Black Dave must have seen it, and then he seemed to realize all at
once what an utterly selfish brute this whilom mate of his was. He
had taken the girl away for his own selfish pleasure; he had had no
thought even for her physical comfort. He had begged a warm shirt for
himself when the weather grew chilly. He had begged fresh blankets;
but it was he, Pard Derrick, who, knowing the girl was with Black
Anderson, had managed to persuade Sal Carter to put her up a few
necessary clothes--he, an outsider. What sort of a life could the
girl be leading with this man? Cruelly hard, to judge by her face,
and yet she seemed never to blame him; her every thought was for him.
Sergeant Sells had surrounded her with every comfort, and yet--and
yet----Pard Derrick threw up his chin into the air. He gave it up, as
many a wiser man than he had done before him.
'Why do you sit shiverin' there?' he asked roughly. 'There's a
blanket on the blanky stretcher there. Why don't you wrap it round
She looked up at him wearily.
'Dave----' she began.
'D----n Dave!' he swore through his teeth.
Then he marched into the hut, and came back with all the blankets
from the stretcher in his arms. He stooped down and wrapped them
round her with no ungentle hand. Passively she suffered him to do it;
she even felt grateful for the kindness which thought for her
comfort. Even to herself it was evident she was very ill, and growing
worse every moment. Still she hoped, as she had hoped before, that
the morning would see her better.
'You are good, Pard,' she said gently, touching his arm as he bent
over her--'too good.'
He made up his mind rapidly to tell her the exact truth. He
thought she was dying, and he was not going to have her death on his
conscience if he could help it.
'See here, Jenny, you're mighty sick. Much better come back with
me, an' get Sal to look after you.'
He cut her short.
'You'll just kick the bucket if you stop here a week longer, I'll
take my colonial on that. An' what good 'll you be to Dave then, I'd
like to know?'
'I couldn't slip up Dave,' she said.
'Dave 'll slip you up like a shot when you ain't any more good to
him. Dave ain't agoin' to hang round here a-nursin' of a sick woman.
The sergeant might a' done it, but it ain't in Dave.'
'Dave won't never slip me up,' she said monotonously, 'not never.
He said so over an' over again. Dave won't. I know Dave.'
'An' so do I now,' said the man grimly. 'Well, then, Jenny, if you
won't look out for yourself I'm agoin' to do it for you. Your husband
the sergeant 'll be here afore this time to-morrow. A husband's the
proper person to look after a woman when she's sick;' and he laughed
at his own humour.
'No!' she struggled to her feet, and flung off the blankets he had
so carefully wrapped round her; but the exertion and the excitement
combined brought on another violent fit of coughing, and though she
leaned against the doorpost for support, she could only speak in
gasps; 'you wouldn't--be--so--mean. You wouldn't--go back--on a
'Mate!' he spat in the fire as if to show his disgust--'mate! He
ain't no mate o' mine. I toted tucker acrost the ranges to my old
mate as the traps had a down on and were after; but I ain't agoin' to
tote no tucker for a man as shot old Max down in his tracks like a
bullock, an' I'm going to send your husband to look after you.'
She could only shake her head and clutch his arm in protest, for
she was speechless from coughing, and when he wrapped the blankets
round her again she was too helpless to resist. He laid her down by
the fire, and pushed it together with his feet.
'There,' he said, 'I reckon you can hold out till mornin'. I'll be
back then along with the sergeant, so you can tell your friend Dave
to make himself scarce.'
He marched out into the darkness, and in a minute returned bearing
a log which lay close by, but which had been too heavy for her
slender strength. It was drenched with wet, and hissed as he piled
the fire up round it; but she knew its heart was dry, and it would
keep the fire in till morning. Still, she could not be grateful. Was
he not going to put the police on Dave? She was to blame. She had
betrayed him, and Dave would hate her for ever.
The one idea was uppermost in her mind. She kept repeating it over
and over to herself; she said it aloud, as Pard Derrick came and bent
over her before going away.
'Dave'll hate me.'
'By the 'Tarnal! I don't think it'll be much worse than 'tis now.
So long, Jenny!' and he stepped across the fire, and was swallowed up
in the misty darkness.
Chapter V Slipped Up.
'The worldly hope men set their hearts upon
Turns ashes,--or it prospers, and anon.
Like snow upon the desert's dusty face.
Lighting a little hour or two, is gone.'
WHETHER she lost consciousness or not she could not tell, but it
seemed to her his place was immediately taken by Black Dave, with a
heavy scowl on his face.
She made an effort, and sat up, and then, remembering she was
wrapped up in all the blankets the hut contained--his blankets--began
hastily to take them off.
'Pard----' she began, and her voice trembled, and the cough came
and choked her. How was she to tell him such terrible news? Of the
urgent necessity for flight she was convinced, but how was she to
tell this man? how tell him, too, she had brought it upon him?
But he seemed to divine it for himself without her aid, and,
stooping down, took her by the shoulders and shook her hard.
'So Pard was here, was he?' he said between his clenched teeth.
'What'd he come here for?'
'He says--he says,' she gasped, 'he's going to put the police on
the track to-morrow.'
He asked no questions--it seemed as if he had guessed the
unfriendly nature of his old mate's feelings towards himself; only
his grip tightened on her shoulders.
'You did it!' he said. 'You did it! Curse me for a fool for ever
trusting a woman!'
'Oh, Dave, Dave!' She struggled to turn round, and laid her face
tenderly against the strong hands that were holding her so cruelly
'Oh, Dave, Dave!'
He let her go with a movement that sent her reeling against the
doorpost, and when she recovered sufficiently from the shock she saw
that he was hastily gathering together such few things as he might be
able to carry with him. She folded the blankets into a swag, but when
she would have tied a cord round them, her strength gave way, and he
pushed her aside and did it himself. There was so little to be done
it hardly took him five minutes, and he never spoke a word. Then,
when his preparations were complete, he kicked the fire to pieces and
trampled with his heavy boots on the embers till not a spark
remained. If anyone were to try and find that hut again in the
darkness, he certainly would not be able to do so now that the
guiding fire was out.
Jenny huddled her shawl about her shoulders and stood in the
She wondered dimly how she was to bear up in a night tramp across
those ranges; but the worst was over when she had told him of his
mate's treachery, and he had not been nearly so hard as she feared.
She felt she deserved all she had got, and her only anxiety now was
that she should be able to keep up with him and not hamper him. It
would only be to another gully, only a little way among this maze of
gullies, and ranges, and gullies; they could make as good a shelter
again as this they were leaving in a very short time, and the rain
would destroy their track. The cleverest black tracker could not
follow them up, given a few hours' start, in weather like this. If
only she could keep up and not trouble him, not be a burden on
It never occurred to her that he intended to leave her behind. Had
he not sworn to her a thousand times that he would never desert her,
that she was all in all to him? and in spite of everything she had
hugged that belief to her breast. His misfortunes had bound them
together, and even if he did not care for her, he would not leave
her. Besides, he did care--he would never have brought her there if
he had not cared; and she prepared to follow him.
He saw her standing there dimly through the darkness, and even in
his anger--his righteous anger as he thought--her faithfulness was a
reproach to him. Why will not women see when a man has had enough of
He started off at a brisk pace without a word, and felt her hand
on his arm, heard her panting breath beside him.
'Where--where? Which way, Dave?'
He shook her off angrily.
'I play a lone hand this game,' he said with an oath.
'But, but----Oh, Dave! you ain't goin' to leave me! Dave,
Where was the use of words? And he had no time to waste. He shook
her off, or would have done, but she clung with both hands round his
arm. He quickened his pace to a run, and she tripped and fell to her
knees, dragging him down with her. The rain was coming down steadily;
the earth was sodden, and the grass and bracken were drenched.
Jenny's shawl had fallen off in the struggle, and her thin cotton
gown was wet through and through. He felt her icy cold hands put up
to clasp him round the neck in one last despairing prayer, and her
voice, choked by the cruel cough, rang in his ears.
'Oh, Dave, Dave! you said you'd never leave me!'
Without a word he scrambled to his feet again, and she clung so
tight that she, too, stood beside him. But he was tired of her--he
had tired of her in the first week of possession; he had wearied of
her utterly in the second. She had been his patient drudge ever
since, but now she would simply be a drag on him. He was sick to
death of this life; he must get away from it at any cost; and for
her----Well, she could not travel; she could stop behind, and
to-morrow the police would find her, for he never doubted that Pard
Derrick would keep his word. Pard Derrick had suspected him for some
time; he had known this could not go on long, and now he had come to
the hut and got the truth out of Jenny. It did not require any
explanation on her part to tell him that little story. She had
betrayed him, and she must suffer for it.
And, after all, what did his desertion mean? Only a night alone in
the hut. To-morrow the police would find her. And he would be
free--free to go where he pleased. Perhaps the last thought was
uppermost in his mind as he stood there in the darkness and pouring
rain, feeling her icy cold hands creeping round his neck, listening
to her panting breath; the other thoughts came afterwards, when he
was striding through the bush alone. He stood silent one instant, and
a glad glow came to her heart, for she thought her prayer was
'Oh, Dave! my Dave!' she gasped; 'I knew---
Then he caught her wrists in both his hands and forced her back
into the thick ti-tree scrub. The heavy branches, laden with
moisture, sprang back, and hit her on the face and shoulders; the
dripping points of a long fern frond swept her hair almost pitifully,
it seemed; she could not see his face through the gloom, but she
could hear him breathing hard. What was he going to do? Was he going
to kill her because she had betrayed him?
'Oh! but Dave, Dave----'
With a sudden jerk he let go her wrists and she fell backwards
amid the thick wet scrub, and when she struggled to her feet again
she could hear his heavy footsteps crushing through the ti-tree
scrub, and knew that he had left her for ever; that she could not
possibly overtake him; that even if she could, he would have none of
her; that all her devotion and love counted for nothing in his
'Don't you trust him, Jenny, don't you trust him!' she seemed to
hear her stepmother's warning--a warning that even now, when he had
left her, angered her. 'One gets the upper hand, and t'other goes to
She had gone to the wall. But surely it was her own fault. She had
betrayed him to Paul Derrick, and--and--one thing she was sure of, he
would miss her to-morrow, he would want her to-morrow.
It was cold, cold, bitter cold, and the rain had soaked her to the
skin. She could not draw a breath now without coughing, and there was
a pain in her side and across her chest which every moment grew more
unendurable. She leaned against a tree-trunk for a little in the
half-hope that the momentary rest would give her power to go on. Go
where? It was useless to think of following in Black Anderson's
track. But shelter she must have somewhere, and the wretched hut
close against the damp hillside rose up before her eyes as a vision
of comfort and rest. How cheerily the fire danced and crackled in the
doorway! How the hot logs hissed and steamed when the rain-drops fell
on them! Yes, she must get back there. The blankets wrapped round her
so carefully were cosy and warm. Who wrapped them round her? Pard
Derrick? Who said it was Pard Derrick? It was Dave, of course. Who
but Dave would do that for her? She must get back--she must, she
But first she must find her shawl. It would be spoilt lying out
here in the pouring rain, and then what should she do without her
shawl when it rained and she had to go out and gather wood? She
fumbled about a little in the dark, but she could not find it, and
the hut with its cheerful fire was before her eyes, beckoning her
back with friendly hands. She was cold, so cold, and she could hardly
breathe for her cough; besides, might not Dave be there before her?
If she coughed and disturbed him! The thought troubled her as she
stumbled on mechanically, taking the right path in the darkness and
pouring rain. It was such a short distance--such a very short
distance, not two hundred yards--but it seemed to the weary woman she
could never reach it. There was a tiny rent in the thick clouds. They
broke for a moment and showed her a bright star right overhead, a
brilliant point of light amidst the surrounding gloom. Then the
clouds closed over it again, and it was gone, and she found herself
leaning against the doorpost of the wretched shanty she had called
'home' for the last two months.
There was no bright fire, no dancing firelight, no warm blankets.
Everything was desolate and deserted. Among the scattered ashes there
was not a live coal; the fire was dead and cold, through the gaps
between the logs the wind was whistling mournfully, and the cold
winter rain was beating, the water was trickling down the hillside
across the earthen floor, and was falling from the roof in great
heavy drops. She could hardly draw a breath now, but she crept across
to the stretcher and sank down wearily on it, drawing her wet things
close round her in a half--mechanical effort to get warm again. She
was worse than ever now--worse than ever--and how was she to get wood
for Dave's fire in the morning? It was her last conscious thought, if
it could be called conscious, when she had entirely forgotten that he
had left her, that she need take thought for his comfort no longer;
then she drifted off into delirium and unconsciousness.
And outside the wind blew dismally down the gully, and the rain
fell heavily, and the creek that had been but a chain of waterholes
when she came there rose and rose, till it was a rushing river within
a few feet of her door. Even she would have found no difficulty in
getting water now. But it made no difference to Jenny Sells; nothing
in this world would ever make any difference to her again.
Chapter VI Pard Derrick's Ghosts.
'The wine of life is oozing drop by drop.
The leaves of life are falling one by one.'
WHEN Pard Derrick left Jenny he walked very slowly through the
pouring rain back to camp again. Not that he at all desired to get
wet, quite the contrary; he had lived long enough in sunny Australia
to avoid a wetting as if he had been a cat; but to-night he was
seriously disturbed in his mind.
Gradually a conviction of his mate's unworthiness had been forcing
itself upon his unwilling understanding, and to-night he was sure of
it--sure as a man could be of anything--that Black Anderson had
murdered old Max, cruelly shot him down in his tracks for the sake of
the gold he carried, and he was determined that he should suffer for
his crime in some way or another. He had threatened to inform the
police in his first righteous anger, but now he remembered he was not
on very good terms with the police. Like most of the diggers in the
fifties, he had a grudge against them; and then, too, he would have
to explain his own connection with the criminal--explain that for the
last five months he had kept him supplied with food, and so enabled
him to elude his pursuers. Yet it was 'blanky awkward,' as he
described it to himself. Wouldn't it be better to confide in the boys
in the morning and go down in a body and take Black Anderson, and
then either hand him over to the police, or, well--he thought to
himself--they could take it out of him as well as any blamed judge in
This last scheme greatly recommended itself to him. It did away
with all necessity for explanation; he had come from California,
where such summary justice was of not infrequent occurrence, and with
forty men concerned in it, he was inclined to think not much harm
could come to any single individual. He was so pleased with the idea
that, instead of going straight to the police camp, as he had at
first intended, he went to his own tent, where his mate was already
snoring, and turned in. Next morning the weather had in no way
cleared, and by the rushing and roaring of water he guessed that the
creek was coming down a banker. A good sort of day to send a man to
his long account; but somehow his great scheme did not look so well
in broad daylight. He began to think that the boys would not join,
and they must have at least forty, or the thing would not do at all.
After all, he ought to have informed the police last night. It would
be more difficult to do it now. Then the thought came to him he would
not do it at all: he would let them find out for themselves. Having
arrived at which sage conclusion he turned over in his blankets and
called to his mate:
'Hallo, Bill! I say, you lazy lubber, show a leg there! You won't
earn no tucker at this rate.'
'Lazy yourself,' muttered the other man between his teeth, adding
an appropriate adjective which made his mate laugh.
'But rouse out, Bill--do rouse out! I say, you horse-faced old
fossil, I seen a ghost last night.'
Bill, thus apostrophized, sat up lazily, stretched out his arms to
their fullest extent, and indulged in a loud, long, luxurious
'You seen what?'
'A ghost. An' hearn him, too.'
'Mixed your drinks, I guess! That was powerful strong brandy of
Buck's last night. Friar's balsam with a dash of painkiller an' just
a touch o' kerosene to give it a bite. I guess there were forty
d----d ghosties in it;' and he lay back again with the air of one who
has disposed of a simple matter satisfactorily.
But Pard Derrick was not going to have his just and lawful schemes
so easily disposed of as all that. He wanted Black Anderson caught;
he began to feel now as if he had wanted him caught all along; he
wanted help to go to the girl, and he did not want to appear in the
matter, so, spite of his mate's openly expressed scorn, he launched
out into a description of the ghost he had seen 'way out on a ridge
at the headwaters of the creek more'n a mile an' a half from here.'
The 'blanky thing,' it seemed, was perfectly orthodox, had appeared
before him as a great white thing, had waved its long arms, and then,
when he tried to approach it, had turned and fled down the gully
wailing and crying 'fit to make the marrow in your bones freeze
'Rats!' said Bill, when the story had reached its thrilling
'Rats yourself!' said the discomfited story-teller indignantly.
'I'll bet I seen old Max's ghost.'
'Old Max's ghost knows a sight better'n to be cavortin' around on
them ranges in the pourin' rain. Say, what was you doin' there
But to that question Pard Derrick did not feel it incumbent on him
He kicked off his blankets slowly, and, crossing the hut, took
from its hiding-place beside the hearth the small store of gold-dust
he and his mate had accumulated during the past week.
'I'm agoin' to hand this over to the Commissioner,' he said,
turning his back on his mate.
'Jumping Moses! there ain't more'n enough to pay Buck Carter's
'I'm agoin' to hand it over to the Commissioner,' said Pard
Derrick stolidly. 'I seed a ghost last night, an' I was a-dreamin' I
seen you a-lyin' with your blanky throat cut. It's a sure sign o'
evil--a sure sign; an' I'm agoin' to hand over the gold to the
Bill, who was distinguished from Snaky Bill by the epithet
'Horse--faced,' appeared in no wise disconcerted by his unpleasant
end, and merely grunted in assent. If his mate liked to make a fool
of himself, it was no business of his. The gold would be safe enough
with the Commissioner, and, any way, there was so little of it it
wasn't worth while making a fuss about.
'But you ain't agoin' now?' was all he said. 'Why, the
Commissioner 'll be abed, and he ain't agoin' to rouse out for a
handful of gold like that, you can bet!'
This last argument was unanswerable. There was no doubt about it:
the Commissioner would not turn out at so early an hour, and Pard
Derrick set to work to prepare the morning meal, glancing every now
and then at the driving rain, and thinking uneasily of the poor girl
dying up there among the ranges.
Jenny was very bad, he was sure of that; she ought to have help as
soon as posible; but, after all, he consoled himself, he had had no
hand in bringing her there. She had brought it on herself. He
intended to do the best he could for her, but there was no sense in
putting himself in an awkward hole for a girl who would never so much
as say 'Thank you' for his pains. Besides, after all, he had left her
pretty comfortable, and even Black Dave, bad as he knew him to be,
could not be cold-blooded enough to disturb a sick woman. After all,
if he did wait an hour or two, it could not make much difference. So
he reasoned, not unnaturally, and with a quiet mind set about the
preparation of their breakfast.
Nevertheless, he made haste to finish, and then, in spite of
another remonstrance from his mate, set off for the police camp. It
looked wet and dreary in the pouring rain, and the curtains of the
Commissioner's tents were closely drawn; but he felt he was in luck
all the same, for the sergeant was standing fully dressed at the door
of his hut contemplating the weather.
Pard Derrick noted how white his hair had got of late, how stern
and solemn he looked; he remembered the great wrong he had helped to
do him two months ago, and he hesitated for a moment to address him.
Only for a moment, though--the need was pressing; then he stepped up
'Good-morning,' replied the trooper, without even looking at
'Sergeant, I've got some gold for the Commissioner. When can I
hand it over?'
The sergeant glanced carelessly at the Commissioner's tent.
'He isn't up yet.'
'Darn it all! I s'pose I'll have to wait,' and, feeling that he
had broken the ice, he leaned up against the sergeant's doorpost and
prepared to lead up gently to the subject nearest his heart.
'D' you b'lieve in ghosts, sergeant?'
'Ghosts? Who? I? No!'
The sergeant was evidently meditating a retreat into his hut, but
Derrick plunged into his subject there and then.
'I seen a ghost last night.' And he began to describe the vision
as he had to Horse-faced Bill, and was about to add a few more
dramatic touches, when his hearer cut him short.
'Where did you see this?' he asked, and the tone satisfied Pard
that he had succeeded in rousing all the interest he desired, and
whether to be pleased or not he hardly knew.
'Atop o' the hill--the spur there, as they used to call Digger's
Point. Just by that almighty big gum I was a-standin', when I seed
the blanky thing, an' pretty nigh scart the life outer me!'
'Last night was it? And what were you doing up there on a night
That was a most inconvenient question, and Pard Derrick passed it
over in silence.
'I was thinkin',' he said meditatively, 'it'll maybe be old Max's,
as can't rest quiet in his grave; or maybe 'tis Black Anderson has up
'But what were you doing up there last night?'
'Or maybe, you know, sergeant, 'twas your own wife--little Jenny.
'Tis a blanky hard life for her, an' she may have died. Now I come to
think of it, 'twas more like a female ghost----'
The sergeant cut him short and laid a heavy hand on his
'Look here, Derrick,' he said hoarsely, 'what's your little game?
You don't go much on traps, I know; but I've always found you a
decent, honest sort of chap, and never thought any evil of you; but
there's something behind this. Come, isn't there, now?'
'I tell you I seen a ghostie,' said Derrick sullenly. He was
wondering whether it wouldn't, after all, be better and safer to take
the sergeant of police into his confidence. Wouldn't it save trouble
'Don't be a fool, Derrick. Come, tell me fairly what you mean. I
won't use it against you.'
'I ain't the sort o' chap as goes back on a pal,' said Derrick,
working out his own thoughts aloud rather than addressing the
'No one ever thought that of you,' said the sergeant. 'I know
you're all on the square; but if you're screening a murderer like
Black Anderson, you won't be long.'
'I allus said as he knew naught o' that,' said Derrick.
'The man that had old Max's bag is likely the man that murdered
him, don't you think so?' said the sergeant quietly.
'D----n it all, in course!' said Derrick with fervour; 'but--but
how's I to know Black Dave had the blanky thing?'
'Not till last night. You found it out last night,' said the
sergeant quickly, a sudden idea striking him.
'Sergeant,' said Pard Derrick, turning his honest face full on the
trooper, 'it's playin' it mighty low down on a man to let on you know
where he's hid when the traps is after him; but I'm bein' reg'lar
druv to it. I never thought he'd done it--s'help me God I didn't! I
guessed you'd a down on him, 'cos--well, 'cos o' Jenny. And then
little by little I thought maybe you was right, an'--well, last night
I was sure of it.'
The sergeant put his hand to his face and restlessly fingered his
'I--Derrick, where is he?'
'I can't, sergeant--'deed I can't! It's playin' it too mighty low
down--an' what 'd the boys think?'
'Black Anderson isn't worth considering. They'd think as I do.
There's a reward, you know.'
'I don't want none o' your d----d blood-money,' he said sullenly.
'If 'twasn't for the gal I wouldn't a' troubled my head. But I done
the best I could for her, an' Lord knows that warn't much.'
Angry as he was at the suggestion of blood-money, he, with a
delicacy one would hardly have given him credit for, turned his eyes
away when he spoke of the sergeant's wife, though he felt
instinctively he winced and quivered at the mention of her name. The
wound was still raw.
'Look here, sergeant, will you hold your tongue and not drag me
into the plaguey business? I don't want the whole camp about my
'Of course I'll hold my tongue. Not a soul shall know from me
you've been near me.'
'Not the Commissioner?'
'Not the Commissioner himself.'
'Well,' said Pard, still somewhat reluctant, 'if you an' a mate
was to ride to the top o' Digger's Point, an' stand under that
almighty big gum--tree an' look away down the gully on t'other
side--the little narrer gully, I mean; sorter wedged in it is between
the two others--I'm thinkin' you never took much note o' that there
gully--well, if you was to look away down that there gully, I'm
thinkin' you might come acrost the self-same ghostie as I seen last
'I'm off,' said Derrick, with a sigh of relief. 'I guess I won't
trouble the Commissioner this mornin'. Give him my compliments, an'
say he's so mighty late I couldn't wait. An' look here, old man, if
you was real keen on seeing' that ghostie, I'd be off at once if I
was you. So long;' and before the sergeant could ask him another
question, Pard Derrick had started for the diggers' camp again.
It did not take Sergeant Sells long to draw his conclusions.
Derrick, he thought, had at last become convinced of his friend's
guilt, and was ready to hand him over to the law; but at the same
time, not unnaturally, was anxious not to appear in the affair. He
thoroughly sympathized with him, and if he could make the capture
look the result of accident, or of the unceasing vigilance of the
police--well, so much the better for all concerned.
He called two of the men, and had the horses saddled. It still
wanted half an hour to the Commissioner's breakfast-hour, and there
was no sign of life about his tent. Time enough to tell him all about
it when the capture was made; or, at least, when the capture was
made, there would be no need to assign reasons.
The three set out through the driving rain, and the sergeant, as
his horse slowly climbed the hillside, sticky and slippery now,
thought again, as he often did, of his spoiled life and the woman who
had done it.
If he found Anderson would she be with him? and if she were, what
should he say to her--what should he do with her? He shrank from
seeing her unspeakably, and yet he felt it would be worse to let
another go on this errand, and then to have to hear all that happened
second--hand. Whatever came of it, he must see it through
The day was in keeping with his mood. What had he to do with blue
skies and bright sunshine? His life had been dull and dreary always,
and this was a fitting climax. Such a day, such a day! The driving
cold rain shut them in on every side, and once on top of the hill
beside the 'almighty big gum-tree' Pard Derrick had made such a point
of, looking down into the narrow gully, nothing was visible save
scrub and fern, looming large close to and beyond the thick gray mist
of rain. There was a sound of rushing water not far below, but it was
impossible to distinguish anything.
'The creek below's a banker,' said one of the troopers. He was wet
and cold; he had been hurried away without his breakfast, and the raw
cold morning made him hungry, and he was anxious to find some excuse
to turn back again. 'Are you going on, sergeant? We can't ride down
there. It's too slippy.'
'We'll leave the horses here. You can stop with them. Ottaway 'll
come along with me. I'm going to search this gully thoroughly.'
The discomfited one swore under his breath. It was bad enough to
ride breakfastless through the bitter cold rain. It was worse still
to stand here on top of the hill holding three horses, while that
lunatic--he called his superior officer a lunatic in his own
mind--was making an exhaustive survey of that wretched gully. He
almost envied them as they went slipping and sliding down the steep
The sergeant was more explicit with his companion than he had been
to the grumbler he had left above.
'I was hearing a cock-and-bull ghost-story about this gully,' he
said; 'and it occurs to me the ghost may very likely be the man we're
after, though what the dickens he can be playing ghost for I don't
know! Possibly it was only the other man's fancy. Anyhow, I'm going
through this gully carefully; so just see that your pistols are all
right, Ottaway. I don't suppose Black Anderson 'll hesitate a moment
if he gets the chance of making a ghost of one of us.'
'All right, sergeant.'
The creek had risen so high it was a mass of tumbling brown water
roaring among the scrub and trees, but apparently finding an outlet
to the north, for it rose no higher; still, it formed an effectual
barrier that prevented them crossing to the other side of the
'Wouldn't he most likely hide at the head of the gully?' asked
Ottaway, after they had skirted along the water's edge for about ten
minutes, carefully examining the scrub.
'I think so, too,' said the sergeant. 'We'll have to work back
that way, and get round to the other side of the creek. There's no
Then they went on again in silence for a little. Suddenly Ottaway
stopped, and laid his hand on the sergeant's arm.
That was a woman's shawl, sodden and soaking, lying there on the
ground to their left. Soaked with the wet though it was, the sergeant
recognised it at a glance. That Rob Roy plaid--had he not himself
given it to his wife? He knew it, and he felt with a pang that the
man beside him knew it too. A woman's shawl was not such a common
thing on Deadman's in those days as to be unrecognisable.
'They must be somewhere hereabouts,' said Ottaway, picking up the
shawl and noting its condition; 'this thing ain't been here long;'
and the sergeant noticed with pain the 'they.'
A little farther on and they came upon the charred and blackened
logs of a trampled-out fire.
'Warm!' said Ottaway; and then laughed aloud at his own grim
humour, for anything more dreary and cold than that trampled-out fire
alongside a heap of rotting wet branches it would be difficult to
The sergeant caught him by the shoulder.
'Look out!' he said, and he wondered if the man could hear the
beating of his heart; 'it's a hut, I think.'
'By the Lord!' said Ottaway, and stood stock still.
From the hut came a murmuring sound as of someone talking
hoarsely, and both men dropped at once to their knees.
'Gently now,' said the sergeant, drawing his revolver; and the
other man noticed that his hand was trembling, and that even his
They crept along softly on hands and knees through the pouring
rain, until they were close against the branches; and the sound of a
voice inside--talking so loud it almost rose to a scream--was plainly
to be heard, interrupted frequently by violent fits of coughing. They
lay still a moment listening. Then the sergeant, impatient of delay,
rose to his feet, and prepared to push back the strip of sacking and
enter boldly at the door.
'You're mad!' whispered the other man, holding him back; 'he'll
shoot on sight.'
'I'm sick of this!' said the sergeant bitterly. 'What's my life
And, indeed, at that moment he would have thrown it away without a
murmur, for it seemed to him it was his wife's voice he heard, and
she was calling on another man in accents of tenderest love. What did
it matter if a chance shot ended his life there and then? He would
have an equal chance, and if he shot Black Anderson down in his
tracks--well, it would be well. He drew his revolver and threw aside
the curtain, and his companion, not to be outdone, stood beside
'Now for it!' he muttered between his teeth, for it seemed to him
this was a very rash proceeding on the sergeant's part, and he fully
expected one of them would pay the penalty.
'Throw up your hands!' said the sergeant mechanically, as they
entered the hut.
There was no rush, no commotion, no singing bullet, no man
standing with raised hands in token of surrender--only a cold,
desolate, empty hut, with the wind and rain beating through it, and a
stretcher on which lay a woman tossing her arms about, and moaning
incoherently in delirium.
The sergeant stood stock still, and Ottaway stamped his feet on
the muddy floor.
'Jumping Jehosaphat,' he said, 'the bird's flown! And he's left
behind your--your----And he's deserted the girl,' he added, as an
Chapter VII Better So.
'At the Door of Life, at the Gate of Breath.
There are worse things waiting for men than Death.'
THE sergeant said nothing. What could he say? He went slowly up to
the wretched stretcher whereon the girl lay, and stood looking down
on her--the girl who was his wife, the fair-haired, soft-eyed woman
who had been all in all to him, whom he had loved so intensely, and
who had cared for him so little, she had dragged his good name in the
dust, and had made him the laughing-stock of the diggers' camp. And
all for what? For a man who left her to die like this!
With the quick eye of a man accustomed to notice everything, he
took in all the surroundings, saw the marks of the clayey soil and
the green grass on her damp wet clothes, and mentally calculated how
long she must have been lying there. A violent paroxysm of coughing
shook her, and after a momentary hesitation he dropped his revolver,
put his arms round her, and held her till it had passed, the other
man meanwhile looking on in silence.
'I think I'll light a fire, eh, sergeant?' he asked. 'Is she very
bad? Will she get over it?' and his tone was as matter-of-fact as if
it were an everyday occurrence.
'Light a fire if you can,' said the sergeant. 'The man's cleared
out some time last night, I suppose; the blankets are all gone. I
don't know, Ishould think she was dying.'
'He was a d----d skunk to leave her like that,' ventured the
trooper; but the look on the sergeant's face did not encourage him to
continue the conversation, and he went outside and began searching
round for a dry stick or two to kindle the fire.
It took some time, but at last a tiny flame sprang up, and he
tended it carefully, building his fire close to the doorway, where it
had evidently been built before. Soon it was crackling and glowing in
spite of the damp wood, and the dancing flames lit up the interior of
the hut. The trooper went out and fetched in the wringing wet shawl,
and, fastening it on two sticks, hung it before the fire to dry.
'Is it any good looking round for the man?' asked Ottaway, coming
and standing on the other side of the stretcher, and looking down on
'No, he's got clean away, I think.'
'What'll I do? You ought to have a doctor,' as a fresh paroxysm of
coughing seemed to wrench the last spark of life from the girl's
'Go back to camp,' said the sergeant with an effort. 'Tell the
Commissioner how it is, and get blankets and anything else you can
from my place. She can't last long, I think.'
'Won't you have a doctor? Snaky Bill's new mate, Chunky Smith they
call him, was a full-blown doctor in the old country; he's got all
the papers quite right, they say.'
'All right. Fetch him along if you can. But it's too late to do
'And you--what'll you do?'
'Black Anderson might come back.'
The fire was crackling and dancing cheerfully now. The sergeant
felt as if his hearing were become on a sudden preternaturally acute,
as if he must perforce listen to every dropping coal and breaking
twig, to the sound of the wind and rain outside, to the restless
footsteps of the trooper, to the panting, sobbing breath and
incoherent murmurs, broken perpetually by the cruel cough, of the
girl he looked down on. He would gladly have put up his hands and
shut out these disturbing sounds, but it seemed to him he must be
unmoved before the other man.
'And if he does?'
'He might shoot you down like he did the old German.'
'Well,' said the sergeant bitterly, 'after all, wouldn't that be
the best thing that could happen? Go on, Ottaway; make haste, like a
good fellow. Anderson won't come here again. It's the last place he'd
Ottaway turned away, and the sergeant felt himself compelled again
to listen intently to his retreating footsteps. When he was gone he
lifted the girl--how light a weight she was now, like a child in his
arms!--and carried her to the fire. She was icy cold, and he took off
his long dragoon cloak, warmed it at the fire, and, taking off her
damp wet dress, wrapped her in it. The shawl was soon dry, and he
chafed her cold feet and put it over them. Then he bethought himself
of the brandy in his flask, and though it made her cough terribly, it
seemed to put a little life into her.
'Dave, Dave!' she panted, 'I knew you'd come back.'
The man bending over her drew back a moment. Then he steeled
himself. What did it matter? He had known all along how it would be,
and she was dying.
He stooped down again, and she seemed to recognise him, and put up
her hands out of the enfolding wraps to push him away.
'Run for your life, Dave, run, run! Never mind me.'
He had not minded her; he had never given her a thought; but she
was past knowing that now.
She was so frightened, so frantic, so desperately anxious, and so
near to death, he could not but try to soothe her last moments.
'Hush, hush! He's right safe away. I'll not hurt him. Jenny,
Jenny, don't you know me?'
'The fire! the fire!' she moaned, 'the fire! Pard, you're usin' up
all the wood, an' what'll I do to-morrow? Oh, it's that heavy, an'
what'll I do to--morrow?' The cough choked her then, but she
struggled to make herself heard. 'Dave, Dave, I mustn't let
'Jenny, Jenny, my poor little child!'
'It's you,' she said, 'you,' looking at him for the first time
with some gleam of reason in her eyes. 'You didn't ought to come
He chafed her hands gently. They were burning hot now, and the
terrible cough was worse than ever. It seemed as if she could not
bear it, and, reluctant as he was, he felt he must hold her in his
arms; how could he leave her lying there on the cold ground?
Consciousness was coming back to her for a brief space, and
certainly she had some brief respite from the cough. Was it because
he held her in his arms, or was it the last flicker before death?
Her eyes were closed, and he noted the long sweep of the thick
eyelashes on her cheek, the blue veins in her eyelids and on her
temples. The sun-tan was gone, and the sunken cheeks were white as
marble; her yellow hair had fallen all across his arm. And this was
his wife--the girl he had loved so madly, the girl he had married
only three months ago! He had longed often to hold her like this, had
hoped in time she would understand his love. But she had always moved
away from him, had shaken off his hand; she had--what had she not
done? and now, surely, it was the irony of fate that he should hold
her in his arms to die.
She opened her eyes, her soft brown eyes, and looked up in his
face, and he remembered in the old days, when first he knew her, how
he had tried to make her look at him like that, and she never
had--no, never, not once.
She seemed to understand a little what he was doing for her: that
he was brushing away her damp hair from her face, that he was
pillowing her head on his arm, and a look of gratitude crept into her
tired eyes. Dimly at last she seemed to understand.
'I'm dreamin',' she gasped--'I'm dreamin' all along.'
But the theory of dreams did not satisfy her, and she put up her
hand and touched his beard.
'You'--and the wonder deepened in her eyes--'you are good!'
'Good! oh, my child, my child! I wanted always to be good to you,
but you wouldn't let me. Oh, Jenny, Jenny!'
Even in his own ears the words sounded feeble and useless--only a
confession of helplessness; it was somehow a fitting conclusion to
the whole story.
'I--I,' she said, as if at last she had thoroughly grasped the
situation, 'I'm main sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you, but I told
you--I told you--not to have no truck with me. I warn't the wife for
you. I was Black Dave's girl--always--always.'
'And now,' he could not resist the taunt, 'he's left you.'
"Twas my fault,' she said with a sob; "twas my fault. I let on to
Pard about the gold. I--I----' The cough came again, and when it had
passed she lay back in his arms utterly exhausted. He began to be
cramped and dizzy from the awkward position in which he knelt, and
though he sheltered her from the wind and rain, it beat pitilessly on
She opened her eyes and looked straight into his, as if she had
been a child. Did she understand? Or was she delirious again? There
was perplexity and trouble in her eyes.
'He swore he'd never leave me--he swore he wouldn't slip me up!
Isn't a man never set on a woman that way? Isn't it never no good to
be set on a man?'
'Oh, Jenny, Jenny! my poor little girl!'
'Isn't it? Isn't it?' she asked persistently, and he saw that she
was drifting off into unconsciousness again.
'Yes, child--yes,' he answered, and the answer seemed to soothe
Her restless fingers plucked feebly at the cloak in which she was
wrapped. It was the last sign, he thought; would she last till the
doctor came? He began to doubt it. And she was not nineteen. Poor
little girl--oh, poor little girl! A great pity swept over him. Such
a child as she was, and she had never had a chance! Even he himself,
when he had loved her most, when he had had her welfare most at
heart, had but given a helping hand to destroy her.
He saw it all now so plainly--now that it was too late. How
clearly the warm moonlight night came back to him--the night when he
had asked her to be his wife! She had warned him--yes, plainly as she
could; he saw it now; she had warned him, and he had paid no heed to
her warning. She had dishonoured and disgraced his name; but if he
had suffered, she was paying the penalty too. Dying--dying, and not
With his handkerchief he wiped her damp forehead gently. Oh, the
pity of it! the pity of it! And they might have been so happy. It
seemed to him that never till now had he realized how he loved her.
And yet surely it was best she should die. Could he who had loved her
so wish her to live?
She opened her eyes again and looked straight up in his face, and
there was such a world of love in those dying eyes he was startled.
Never in all his loveless life had a woman looked at him like that.
Had this love he craved so passionately come to him at last--at
last--when it was too late?
But no, she did not recognise him; she was thinking of another
'Oh, Dave!' she sighed; 'oh, Dave, Dave! I love you, Dave, I love
you; an' I had a bad dream. I dreamt you left me, Dave. An' I knew
all along you wouldn't never do that;' and her restless fingers stole
up and gently touched his beard--so gently, oh, so gently! crept up
and softly stroked his face. So had he seen her touch Sal Carter's
baby in the days that seemed so far away now. And now she took him
for another man, and he did not dare disturb her last moments by
putting her away from him. It seemed somehow a fitting climax to the
'Dave'--she went on in gasps, for she was almost past speech
'Dave, I love you so! I'm main sorry if I hampered--you. I'm so
tired--I'm--so--tired. Won't--you--kiss me--Dave?'
He could not, he could not. Much for her he would have done, but
this was asking too much. Insensibly his hold on her loosened, and
almost gone as she was, she noticed it.
'Oh, Dave, Dave!' Such a pitiful wail as it was, it went to his
heart. 'Kiss me, Dave. I wouldn't--hamper--you--Dave. Kiss me--kiss
There was no one to see. It was a matter between himself and her,
and she took him for another man. Her life was over. What could it
matter if he did soothe her last moments?
He drew her close to his breast again and stooped and kissed her
gently, and she put up her lips to meet his. She had never done so
before--never, never. And that was the way women loved! She nestled
closer to him, and tried to put a feeble arm round his neck.
'Hold me tight. Hold--me--tight. What is it? Oh, what is--it?
He tried to pour some more brandy down her throat, but she had
lost the power to swallow. The cough came again, and he thought, as
she lay back after it had gone, that she was dead; but no, she
Her hands stole to his face again, and rested on the deep scar
which seamed his left cheek. It was something new to her, and pity
and perplexity came into the dying eyes.
'Oh, Dave, Dave! does--it--hurt?
'Hurt! Oh, child! My God! my God!'
She tried to put her arms up again, but her strength was all gone,
and he could but put his face down to hers and try and soothe her.
Then there was a brief struggle for breath, and he held her up so
that the cold wind blew right on her face; but it was the last
struggle. She was going, going fast. One more look of infinite love
from the dying eyes, one more incoherent tender murmur of 'Dave,
Dave!' and it was all over.
The brief sad life was done--the tragedy had been played out to
its bitter end.
He carried her back to the stretcher, drew his cloak close round
her, and spread the bright Rob Roy plaid over all. Then he went
outside into the pouring rain, and leaned against the doorpost of the
hut, looking down into the crackling flames.
So it was all over--all over--he kept repeating to himself. It was
better so--better so; there could be no other ending; he would not
have had it different; but--but--she was dead, and it was best, best,
best. Not nineteen, and it was best she should be dead! The words
were whirling through his brain, they were written in letters of fire
before his eyes. His wife lay dead in the wretched hut alone
there--his wife, his wife, he repeated the words again; and every man
would speak of her with contemptuous pity.
Chapter VIII Weeds upon the Grave.
'I have set my life upon a cast.
And I will stand the hazard of the die.'
How long he stood there he never knew, but he was roused at length
bya hand on his arm, and, raising his eyes, saw the Commissioner
standingbefore him, and behind him one or two troopers, and a man he
dimlyrecognised as the doctor spoken of by Ottaway.
'Hallo, sergeant!' The Commissioner's voice had a ring of pity in
it.'Why, you're wet through! Where's your flask?'
He looked about him vaguely, dimly remembering he had dropped iton
the ground when the girl died. The Commissioner picked it up, but
thebrandy had all been spilt.
'Here's mine!' He took it mechanically, and it seemed to put a
little lifeinto him. 'Come, tell me, what's the meaning of this?'
'He's got clean away.' He heard his own voice as if someone else
werespeaking. 'He's got clean away, and'--that other man seemed to
havegreat difficulty in speaking at all--'and----'
'And Ottaway says you found your----He deserted the girl.'
He moved aside as if to let them pass.
'Come, let me look at the girl,' said the man they called Chunky
He turned round then, and led the way into the hut, the
Commissionerand the doctor following; for he was a doctor, a member
of the Royal College of Surgeons, London; but when the troopers would
have cometoo, Commissioner Ruthven waved them back. It would be quite
hardenough if they two strangers looked on the end of this man's
'The trooper told me she was very ill,' said the doctor.
'She's dead, sir,' said the sergeant quietly, and he turned back
the shawland opened his heavy cloak. So gently he did it. The
Commissioner, looking down at the still, white, peaceful face, could
not but rememberthe frantic man who had rushed into his tent two
months ago, accusinghimself of the murder of his wife.
'You did not, sergeant, you----'
'No, sir; I did what I could. I--I----My God! she was dying when I
The doctor bent down and examined her, and the two men stood
quietly looking on.
'H'm,' he said at last, 'inflammation of the lungs, failure of the
heart's action--call it what you will. It was exposure, really--it
all comes to the same thing in the end. She was ill before, and last
night without any shelter--you can't call this humpy
shelter--finished her. Only a shawl like that between her and the
weather! It must have been a cruel hard night.'
'Ottaway found the shawl this morning out by the creek,' said the
'You wrapped her up, then?'
'It was too late. Nothing could have saved her. After all, it was
best. Such a child as she was;' and he drew the covering over the
fair dead face again.
There was nothing for it but to go back to camp again.
'I'll send down four men with a stretcher for the body,' said the
'Couldn't we bury her here, sir?' said the sergeant. 'What
'Well, yes, if you like. I'll send down a burying party this
evening. Come along, sergeant.'
The sergeant hesitated.
'If you please, sir,' he said with an evident effort, 'if you have
no objection, I'd rather stay. I can't leave--I mean, I----'
'As you please, sergeant.'
Then they left him with his dead, which was all his now, and went
back up the slippery steep hillside in the wintry rain.
'Good Lord!' said the Commissioner, 'to think of his stopping,
after all! I'll send that burying party along pretty smartly. I can't
have my sergeant knocked up. And the pity of it is, she wasn't worth
a second thought from any man.'
'He looked fit to cut his throat when he turned down that shawl,'
said the young fellow beside him pitifully; 'that's always the way,
isn't it? A man always comes a cropper over a woman who ain't worth a
tuppeny cuss. It's the way of the world, I suppose. Will you catch
'Who can tell?' said the Commissioner. 'It's evident he don't
allow much to stand in his way. The brute made off with the blankets
on a night like last night. I'm afraid he may be trusted to save his
That was much the opinion at the Lucky Digger.
Buck Carter said he could not afford to close the place simply
because his daughter, who wasn't any daughter of his since she'd run
off with a man like Black Anderson, had up and died, and so things
were even more lively than usual. There was so much to be discussed,
and everybody required so much liquid sustenance to aid in that
discussion. Of the poor girl lying out in her grave in the gully,
very few thought, any more than they thought of the solitary man up
in the police camp sitting over his lonely fire reviewing bitterly
his life. What they talked of was the probability of Black Anderson's
capture, and the possibility of his guilt.
Pard Derrick sat silently by the fire. He was not keen on his
share of the business being made known, and he was bitterly repentant
that he had not gone to the sergeant the night before. He might have
saved the girl's life, though, indeed, she was better dead. Careless
fellow as he was, he felt she was better sleeping quietly down in
that lonely gully, with the earth piled up above her face; but,
still, what a night she must have passed, what a cruel, hard night
before it ended! And the talk went on all around him; no one thought
of her, only Sal Carter's eyes were red, and she was extra snappy,
and was very sure that lynching was too good for Black Anderson.
'Never fear, missus,' said Snaky Bill soothingly; 'we'll lynch 'im
sure as fate, if the sergeant don't shoot him on sight, which I
reckon he will. He ain't goin' to get away. If he didn't get clear of
those ranges an' gullies in the hot weather, I reckon he ain't agoin'
to do it now.'
'Tell you what it is, mates,' said Pard Derrick, speaking for the
first time, 'the man as took that poor sick gal's blankets a night
like last night is just the sort of mean skunk as 'd shoot a man down
in his tracks, ain't he, now?'
There was a general chorus of assent.
Chunky Smith had told of the scene down in the gully. Public
sympathy was with the sergeant, for all he was a 'trap,' and public
opinion was very much against Black Anderson. He had taken away the
only girl on the camp, the girl they had most of them never dared to
lift their eyes to, and if he had not murdered her, he had certainly
left her to die; had taken away the blankets--he, a strong powerful
man--and had left her sick, dying, without so much as a shawl to
Yes, public opinion was very much against Black Anderson. The
police need fear no obstacles in their way now, and even had Pard
Derrick proclaimed there and then his share in the betrayal, not much
harm would have been done. But he kept his own counsel, and went
'But he ain't agoin' to be took; bless you! he knows a sight
more'n that. Bet you what you like, the man as murdered old Max ain't
'I'll bet you what you like,' said Chunky Smith, 'if there's a
rope in the colony that 'll hang him, the sergeant is going to find
it. What else has he got to live for? I reckon he'll track him down,
if he's anywhere in the colony. Lord! if I were Black Anderson, I
wouldn't reckon myself safe as long as Sergeant Sells was
'My colonial, Chunky,' said Pard Derrick, turning round, 'you seem
to be pretty cock-sure. Now, to my mind, the sergeant was that broke
when he came back to camp, he was just about fit to turn up his
'It'll make an old man of him, maybe,' said the doctor
thoughtfully. 'But there's a lot of go in him yet, and he's not like
you young fellows who can afford to forgive and forget. I saw his
face when he turned down the shawl and showed me the dead girl's
face, and I knew he was going to remember it, and to remember it to
some purpose, though I dare say he doesn't think so yet.'
The sergeant sat in his house, and thought the self-same thoughts.
His fire had died down to the tiniest spark, the wind howled round
the chimney and whistled through the crack beneath the door, and the
rain beat drearily against the window-panes. Such a night, just such
a night it had been last night, and that frail girl had battled
through it all alone. And now she was dead--dead before she was
nineteen; and he--an old man--was left. Such a brief life hers had
been, so brief and so unhappy. She had spoiled his life for him--oh
yes, she had spoiled his life; but he had not met her till that life
had more than run half its course, and he--he had stepped in and
helped to spoil hers at the very threshold. It was no excuse to say
he had meant well; he judged himself by the result. And the wind,
that beat in stormy gusts against the window and shook the door, said
to him plainly that his very love had sacrificed her. He should have
known, he should have seen that a child like that was no fit wife for
him, that the seven-and-twenty years that lay between them was too
great a gulf even for his mighty love to bridge.
And so she had fallen, as he might have known she would--poor
little ignorant, loving girl!--and she had paid the penalty.
Out there she lay, out in the cold wet gully, the girl he would
have surrounded with every comfort; and he laid his head down on the
table as he thought of what she must have suffered first, of how he
had found her deserted and dying. He blamed himself--blamed himself
bitterly; but he was not alone to blame--there was that other man. If
it had not been for him--if it had not been for him, would she not
have been in time a happy wife, might he not have sat his children
upon his knee? No, no--a thousand times no!--wailed the wind round
the roof; but the thought would come that it might have been, and now
he could only wish that he, too, were lying in that gully at rest.
Life held nothing for him--no hope, not the faintest chance of
happiness. He had staked all, and he had lost--miserably lost.
There was one thing only he had to do, and then--and then----He
drew out his revolver and looked at it longingly. Why not? What use
to go on living?
But no, not yet. One thing more he had to do before he had done
with life, and he pushed back the chair and walked up and down the
hut. He would track down the man who had done him this foul wrong; he
would have vengeance! No vengeance--nothing, he felt--could ever
right the wrong, could ever bring back to life the girl he had laid
down in her grave that afternoon, could make her his stainless wife
again. Nothing could do that--nothing could undo what had been done;
but there only remained to him vengeance, and he would have it. Up
and down he marched half the livelong night, listening to the howling
wind and the pitiless rain, thinking of it all, till he flung himself
on his bed and, worn out with very weariness, slept.
Chapter IX On the Track.
'Let a man contend to the uttermost
For his life's set prize, be it what it will.'
AND the next day the spell of wet weather had passed, and it was
fine again. Overhead was a cloudless blue sky, the earth looked fresh
and green, and the air was light and fresh, like champagne. It was a
beautiful world. So thought Commissioner Ruthven. His promotion was
sure; the woman he loved loved him with all her heart, and her love
was well worth having. His wedding-day was close at hand, and he was
pretty sure now of taking the Wooragee murderer. The man had baffled
all his vigilance for the last five months; but now--now this last
sin had raised the country against him. There would be none to help
him, and he must be taken. He thought of the girl--well, well, poor
little soul! such women as she were better dead--and of the sergeant.
The man's face haunted him. It was cruel--cruel! He was not a man to
make any moan. He would wrap himself in his reserve, and they would
respect it; but 'he looked fit to cut his throat,' the doctor had
said, and the Commissioner wondered if he had done so. Many a man
would; he couldn't have much to live for. But at least he would be
interested in the tracking down of his enemy. It would be kindness to
interest him so, if it were possible; and he thought, with a shudder,
of the long day the man had spent down in the gully alone with his
dead, of the dreary night alone in his desolate home. It was not as
if he had not cared--oh, he had cared enough! Commissioner Ruthven
never doubted that for a moment.
Then he called his orderly, and sent him for the sergeant,
wondering a little to himself whether he would be fit for duty. And
he lighted his pipe, and, drawing aside the tent-curtain, sat in the
sunshine drinking in the fresh, clear air. Such a beautiful day--such
a bright, clear day! It hardly seemed possible that anyone could be
unhappy such a day as this.
Sergeant Flynn came along and saluted.
'Was yer honour askin' for me?'
'No, Flynn; it was Sells I sent for.'
'Oh, the crathur'! Sure it's broke up he is, I'm thinkin',
'Nonsense! Hold your tongue! Here he comes.'
Sergeant Sells came very quietly across from his hut to the
Commissioner's tent. The ground was sloppy and muddy, and he picked
his way from force of habit, so as not to dirty his clean
riding-boots. For very nearly thirty years he had been accustomed to
keep his boots spotless, and now, even though it seemed to him he had
almost done with life, that it held nothing for him, he still thought
of keeping his boots clean.
He spoke very quietly, but the Commissioner saw a great change had
come over the man. He was upright and soldierly as ever, but his face
was drawn and lined, and the black hair was nearly white now; his
eyes seemed sunken with long watching, and there was a gray look on
his face, while the livid scar stood out on his cheek more marked
than formerly. This was an old man who stood before him, a strong man
still, but one who had lived his life. And a woman had done this, a
little slatternly girl, whom half the camp counted simple.
Commissioner Ruthven racked his brains to know what to say next.
It was only kindness to ignore the past where it was possible, and
yet to expect this man to go on with the every-day duties of life
seemed hardly considerate; but what else could he do? And while he
was silent and disturbed, the man he was thinking of came to his
'There was a free fight last night, sir, I hear, down at the Lucky
Digger, and a man was rather badly hurt.'
'Oh! does he accuse anybody?'
'I hear it was only a drunken brawl, but he's like to die. Will
you take his deposition?'
'Yes,' said Ruthven indifferently.
If these men would drink and fight, well, they must take the
Then there was a pause, and it seemed to the Commissioner that the
sergeant was fearing, dreading the moment when his own particular
sorrow should be touched on; but it had to come. The name of Black
Anderson could not well be ignored in the camp when it was in
everybody's thoughts, on everybody's lips.
'We must make it our business to take old Max's murderer now. The
creeks are all up, they'll be worse in a day or two, and it'll be a
slur on the camp if we don't get him now. If he didn't get away
before, he can't possibly do it now that the country side's against
'Against him, sir?'
'Against him! Good Lord, yes! They were with him before, or
someone must have helped him from Deadman's; but I don't think he's
got any friends left now. This last--well, anyhow, it was a brutal
murder, just as cold-blooded as they make 'em, and we're bound to
The Commissioner would not look, but he felt rather than saw that
the sergeant was flinching as one who had been touched on the
He said 'Yes, sir,' mechanically, and Ruthven went on:
'Have you any idea which way he went when he left the hut the
night before last?'
He thought of the wet and sodden shawl Ottaway had found by the
creek. Had she been trying to follow him and dropped it, or had he
carried it away with him and dropped it? Anyhow, either he or she
must have passed that way, and the gray look deepened on his face. He
knew his officer was trying to spare him, but what matter whether he
spoke of it or not? that rain-soaked gully, that cold and dreary hut,
were ever in his mind, ever before his eyes.
'He's probably,' said the Commissioner thoughtfully, 'made his way
to the gullies over between Karouda and the Packhorse; they're the
loneliest;' and he thought of a certain terrible night, six months
ago now, he had spent up among those hills.
But the sergeant thought of that sodden Rob Roy plaid, and the
footsteps that had passed that way had been going northwards.
'I think, sir, he's making for the Murray. He wants to cross the
border. He won't be so well known on the Sydney side.'
'Well, but he'd never be such a fool as that! Why, we'd nab him
the minute he got clear of the gullies; they're his only
'He'll starve in them now--that--that'--the sergeant remembered he
had promised not to betray Pard Derrick--'he can't get--he won't
expect any help from the creek.'
'No, but to go north! He'd have a much better chance of losing his
identity among the station-hands and making his way to the diggings
to the south. I think we must keep the main look-out that way.'
'Well, sir,' said the sergeant reluctantly, 'Ottaway picked up the
shawl, and--and the person who dropped that was making in the other
'That--that was the girl's;' and the Commissioner looked away over
the camp and watched intently the men who were pulling goods and
chattels out of the way of the swollen waters of the creek.
'He might have taken it,' said Sells monotonously, 'or--or--she
might have followed him--and----'
'Any way, you think someone passed that way. Thank you, sergeant;
I agree with you. We'll keep a good look-out, and we'll catch him and
hang him as high as Haman. You are not ill?' and the Commissioner
scrutinized him carefully.
'Feel fit for duty?'
'Because----Oh, well, perhaps you're right. Take a couple of men
and ride down towards Mitalagong. There's a shepherd's hut along that
way, and one or two hatters in the gullies there where he might get
So the sergeant called his men, and had the horses saddled, and
they set off in the direction of Mitalagong, which was away past
Wooragee and by the garden of old Max. Some Chinamen had got it now,
and as he rode slowly along the road with down-bent head he thought
of the dusty day when he had ridden that way six months before--the
day he had thought to give Jenny Carter a basket of cherries; the day
old Max was murdered; the day his sorrows had begun.
It was winter now, a bright, clear, sparkling winter's day; the
cold air fanned his cheek, but the sunshine was warm and bright--a
perfect day. If he had not done with life, he might have found
enjoyment in it; but as it was, he rode on, wrapped in his own
thoughts, and heard dimly the voices of the two men as they rode
behind him, talking quietly to each other. They were discussing his
affairs, probably--it was the camp talk; but it did not seem to him
to matter much. They would not address him. He had one thing to do,
and then he would quit the mounted police.
At Wooragee the Chinamen had heard nothing and seen no one, and
the troopers crossed the ridge and went down into the gully beyond.
Here were some abandoned claims, and among them worked that lonely
being known as a hatter, just making his living on the little that
more grasping men had left behind. Opposite his cradle, which he was
slowly and discontentedly rocking beside a dam, for there was no
creek here, the troopers drew rein.
'Hallo, mate!' said the sergeant.
'Hallo, yourself,' said the man sullenly, with the regular digger
suspicion of 'traps' and all connected with them.
'Has anyone passed this way to-day?'
'Lord, yes!' said the digger, scratching his head; 'mighty
sociable place this is! There was a bandicoot, and two crows, and I
seen a flight of rosellas, and I heard no end of dingoes in the
The sergeant took his cap off impatiently and let the cold wind
blow through his hair. How could the man fool after this manner?
'We are looking,' he said gravely, 'for the murderer of German
Max, and we have reason to believe he passed this way.'
'That's a mighty old story,' said the digger, letting go the
cradle-handle and sitting down on a mound of earth. 'Take your time,
gentlemen. You've been at that little game to my certain knowledge
for the last six months. I'll have no hand in the business. Hounding
down an innocent man!'
'Go into the camp at Deadman's,' said the sergeant quietly, 'and
ask the boys there if we're hounding down an innocent man.'
'Well, I'm out of flour, and I'm agoing this very night,' said the
digger. 'Now, just you look here: Black Dave ain't passed this way,
and if he had, Peter Grimes ain't the man as 'd go back on a pal as
the traps have a down on. But he ain't passed this way.'
'Go down into the camp,' repeated the sergeant monotonously, 'and
ask them there what they think of Black Anderson, and then see if
you'll help him.'
'You're getting an old man, sergeant,' scoffed the digger, who had
nothing to lose, and so feared no man. 'Your beard's got white since
last I seen you. They'll be running you out of the force right smart,
if you don't look out.'
'See to yourself,' said the sergeant. 'If you help him, you're
harbouring a criminal, and are liable to imprisonment. Come, men! If
he hasn't passed this way, and I don't think he has,' he went on,
speaking over his shoulder as they rode away, 'he must be still
somewhere between here and the gully over under Digger's Point. We'll
camp over on the ridge there, and keep a sharp look-out.'
So they camped out in the open to get the benefit of the sunshine,
and the troopers built a fire and cooked the mid-day meal, while
their superior officer sat on a log with his hands before him and
pondered how he could best lay hands on this man. Steadily, steadily
the little ants at his feet took advantage of the fine day to repair
the damage the rain had done to their home, and to bring in fresh
provisions against another rainy day, and he watched them intently.
As they worked, so he would work till he had accomplished his object,
and then--and then--well, then he would be old and broken--the
mounted police force would want him no more.
And if he had only known it, close within pistol-shot lay hidden
the very man he wanted, watching eagerly the troopers' dinner.
Chapter X The Flight of Black Anderson.
'Ah, hark! the fatal followers do pursue;
And I am faint and cannot fly their fury;
The sands are number'd, that make up my life;
Here must I stay, and here my life must end.'
--'Henry VI.' Shakespeare.
WHEN Dave had flung off Jenny down in the gully as a useless
encumbrance, it had been, as Sergeant Sells was right in thinking,
with the intention of crossing the border into New South Wales. And
for the first hour he made his way steadily up the hill in the
pouring rain, a fierce anger boiling in his heart against the man who
would betray him, and the woman who had put the means into his hands.
Had he not loved her and trusted her, had he not taken her to share
his home with him, given her half of all he himself possessed? And
the first moment she is tempted she has betrayed him. Never trust a
woman--never, never! It is a good old adage, whose worth has been
proved a thousand times: she'll betray you because she hates you,
she'll betray you because she loves you, she'll betray you for no
reason, or for a thousand reasons. The man who has any truck with a
woman is bound to come to grief.
The hillside was slippery with the pouring rain, and as his feet
slid from under him, he laid that to her score too. But for her, he
would not have been out in this rain; but for her, he would have been
sleeping comfortably between the blankets in his hut, with a
comfortable fire in the doorway; but for her, Pard Derrick would have
gone on supplying him with provisions till the hue and cry should be
forgotten, and he could have slipped away down south to the fields of
Ballarat or Bendigo; but for her----And as his foot slipped again,
and he came down on his face, he swore an oath to be revenged on
She would go back to her husband; let him take her back. She was
enough to weary any man; it was better to be out here in the rain, a
hunted man, than alone in the hut with her, with nothing to do but
listen to her trying to suppress that cough, or watching the patient
smile upon her face that wore out his patience. These last few weeks
had been enough to kill any man; he was glad they were over. She
would be cold, too, without a fire and without any blankets. Well,
let her; she would realize then something of what he was suffering
The ground was so slippery it was with difficulty he kept a
foothold, and at each slip that he made he swore an oath, for he felt
that he was making a path it would not take a black tracker to
follow. But, still, there was safety in the rain. They would never
get the trackers to work in the rain, and if it only held on another
day and night they would be useless.
At the top of the hill he sat down to rest, panting. The hill was
covered with close-growing scrub and timber, so light it hardly
formed any shelter; but at last, when he was drenched to the skin,
and more than certain that the rain had got under the oil cloth that
covered his blankets, he found a hollow tree, and getting inside,
built a small fire outside at which to warm and dry himself. He did
it in fear and trembling, for he knew well enough how far the light
of a fire will carry even on a night like this; but it was so wet and
wintry, and he was so done with the unaccustomed exertion, that he
felt he must risk something. Then, cosy and warm, he dozed for two or
three hours, though even in his dreams the thought haunted him that
Pard Derrick knew he was a murderer, and would put the police on his
track, and that even now they might be hunting up the gully.
He woke wide awake more than once, and listened intently, but
there was nothing to be heard but the fizzing of the fire as the
rain-drops fell upon it, and the sound the rain made trickling down
the tree which sheltered him. Occasionally, too, there came out of
the depths of the bush strange and weird sounds that struck on his
ear fearsomely as he listened intently. A branch broke, weighed down
by a weight of water; some night-bird cried; a stone dislodged by the
rain went crashing down through the brushwood. Pooh! he had heard
these same sounds a thousand times, only to-night--to-night, with the
thought that the police would have more knowledge of his whereabouts
and his habits than they had yet had--they struck on him
About three o'clock in the morning he could stay no longer, but,
gathering up his blankets, started out into the rain again. He was on
the top of the ridge now; he fully intended to make north. Once
across the border he thought he would be safe. He ought to have gone
long ago, when he had Pard Derrick to help him, and he cursed his
folly in bringing the girl to be a plaything who proved a weight
round his neck. Well, he was rid of her now--now, when his old mate
would raise the country against him!
He could not make south; he could not dream of such a thing. He
could only go northward by Wooragee and Mitalagong; in the lonely
gullies there the stray diggers would likely know nothing about him,
or if they did they would not recognise him, or, again, even if they
did, it would be a fair fight--a man against a man--and it would go
hard with him if he could not get his tucker. He was a desperate man,
and nothing should stand in his way.
That was his difficulty--food; he had none--none at all. In his
hasty flight he had omitted to take so much as an ounce of tea or a
pannikin of flour, and to-morrow morning he must try for some food.
He might stick up the Chinamen at Wooragee; but no, that was too
risky--too near Deadman's. Far better to go into the gully beyond,
where he knew Peter Grimes hung out--Surly Pete, as they had called
him at Deadman's--and beg, borrow, or steal from him enough tucker to
carry him across the Murray.
The idea pleased him. Surly Pete, though he might not give
graciously, would give, especially when he knew the 'traps' were
pressing him hard, and there was no need to tell him Pard Derrick had
gone back on him and slipped him up. Once beyond Mitalagong, it
seemed to him his difficulties would be almost over. Why, oh why,
when it was so easy, had he not made a bid for freedom before?
Bitterly he blamed himself. He might have done the same thing almost
any time the last five months; but he had feared, he had feared, and
he had trusted Pard Derrick's judgment. Well, at any rate he had been
driven to it now, and he felt it was a good thing.
His spirits rose as he walked on and felt that every step was so
much gained. Once away from Mitalagong, it would be hard if he could
not steal a horse somewhere to carry him across the border. If
that----girl had not lost the gold-bag, he would have had gold in
plenty, and would not have needed to steal, but she had driven him to
this; it was her sin, not his; it was an added grievance against
And the rain came down as steadily as ever; the wind blew in
stormy gusts, and more than once he had to turn aside because of the
water--courses the rain was wearing in the hillside. He must have a
horse, certainly; the creeks would be almost impassable in many
places, and without a horse he would never get away, though certainly
a horse would not be much good in a place like this. It was almost
worse coming down hill than going up. There was only one consolation:
it was going down; there was the high ridge he had just crossed
between him and his enemies. But it was pitch dark and bitterly cold;
it was midwinter, and the day would not break much before seven, and
he had ten long miles through scrub and brushwood before he reached
Surly Pete's hut in the gully below there.
The present prospect was not invigorating. He shook his fist
angrily as he slipped again; then in the darkness his foot caught in
a root which was above-ground, and in a moment he was thrown forcibly
on his face, twisting his ankle so, in the endeavour to keep his
balance, that he could not repress a cry of pain. For a moment he lay
there head downwards on the hillside, his hands grasping at the
clayey soil--at the shrubs and brushwood that grew so close around
him. Then he scrambled to his knees, and found to his horror and
dismay, when he tried to put his right foot to the ground, that not
only was he unable to walk, but that every movement gave him such
exquisite pain he could only sit down and rock himself backwards and
forwards, moaning, and groaning, and cursing the man, and above all
the woman, who had driven him to this.
Again he tried, and again, for if he failed to reach Pete's, then
he was indeed lost; and if he stayed here, even if he were not found,
he must perish miserably of hunger and cold. Again and again the pain
made him sit down with a moan, and the rain beat pitilessly down on
him. He was wet before; sitting now on the damp clayey soil, he was
soaked through and through, and yet in an hour's time he had not gone
ten yards. He gave up at last, and, crawling about painfully on his
hands and knees, managed in the darkness to rake together enough
brushwood to give himself a little shelter from the rain. Sitting
down, he took out his knife and cut off his boot. It gave him too
much pain to try and pull it off, and his ankle was all swollen, and
his foot was swelling rapidly. He thought he must have broken a bone
somewhere, and a cold fear came over him as he thought how impossible
it would be to elude the police with a broken leg.
Even if he managed to crawl as far as Surly Pete's, what then? He
could not hope to lie hidden there for long; the police must find him
eventually; and in any case he could not reach there before the day
broke; now he would not have a chance before the next night, and he
had not a scrap of food. Already he was hungry almost beyond bearing,
he was starved with the cold, and his box of matches was soaked with
the rain; everything he possessed had got wet through in that last
fall. There was no prospect of its clearing; it rained as hard as
ever. He could not stop here another twenty-four hours, and he
started up and struggled on down the hill, sometimes hopping on one
leg, sometimes scrambling along on hands and knees.
But his progress was painfully slow. After he had been at it it
seemed the livelong night, Dave had got but a very little farther
down the hill: his hands were torn and scratched, his bones were
aching with the unaccustomed exertion, and, above all, the scrub
seemed to shut him in and close down on him on every side. He
endeavoured to keep a downward direction, but every now and then he
found himself turning upwards, and at last, utterly worn out, he lay
down under the lee of a log where there was some little protection
from the rain, and from very weariness he slept. It was a disturbed
and troubled sleep, for again and again the pain in his foot awoke
him, and again he dreamed that the police were upon him, and once,
for the first time since he had done the murder, the gory face of old
German Max came to him through the misty rain threatening him. It
seemed to him that the old man had tied his gold--bag--that bag which
had cost him his life--to his leg, and the pain of it was weighing
him down, while the mounted police were coming over the hill with the
sergeant he had wronged at their head. Nothing, nothing could save
him, and he started up in wild affright, crying aloud, only to find
that dull gray day was breaking through the rainclouds, that the rain
was coming down as steadily as ever, and, though the police were not
upon him, his foot was cruelly painful, and here he must stay for
another twelve hours at the very least.
He felt about in his pocket for tobacco, and found a little; but
his pipe was useless, for his matches would not light, and he could
only cut off a piece and chew it to keep off hunger, and lie there
feeling the cold water trickle under his shelter, and watching the
light grow broader and broader. And it rained on pitilessly, and the
wind every now and then came up in great gusts that tore off branches
from the forest trees and pierced through his very bones. Not much
fear of his being found so long as he lay still, but he would die of
cold and exposure if he lay here long, and even if he had had the
means, he would hardly have dared light a fire.
Colder and colder he grew, till he rose to his knees with the
intention of at least making an effort to get on a little way, when a
crashing in the scrub above made him sink down in his lair again, and
then through the brushwood he saw two troopers scrambling, swearing
to each other as they shook the rain off their heavy cloaks and
pushed the dripping branches away from their faces. Between them was
a black tracker, his head sunk between his shoulders, looking as
miserable as only a blackfellow can in the cold and wet. The other
two were pushing him before them, but it was evident to the quarry,
who saw it with no little satisfaction, that the blackfellow was most
unwilling, and was certainly not making the faintest effort to help.
Even in this rain he might have seen the track had he so pleased; but
he did not please; he whined like a child, and wrung his hands
because it was cold and wet.
Quite close they came, closer a great deal than the listening man
liked, and he could hear every word they said.
Chapter XI At Fault.
'There is no creature loves me.
And, if I die, no soul shall pity me.'
'IT'S no go, Ottaway,' said one of the troopers, shaking the wet
out of his beard; 'this beggar's worse than useless. And I don't see
any sign, do you?'
'Well, no,' said Ottaway, looking around; 'the Commissioner never
thought it was much good coming this way. But I can't help thinking
ofthat there shawl I found. That was on the road.'
'The gal was foolin' around looking for the skunk in the dark, and
she dropped it, and being pretty nigh gone then, didn't take much
notice, poor little beggar!'
'That's about it, I guess,' said Ottaway reluctantly. 'Well, it's
not much good foolin' about here. Besides, likely as not we wouldn't
see him if he were close handy drawing a bead on us.'
The other man laughed.
'Pleasant suggestion that for a rainy day! However, he wouldn't be
such a fool as that. He'd have to reckon with the other man, even if
this son of a sea-cook here didn't come up to scratch;' and the
trooper hit Bill Bunting a heavy smack in the back that made him
Closer they came--closer, closer--till the man crouching beneath
the log felt they must see him if they were only in earnest and used
their eyes. The sergeant would have seen him, he felt that; but the
sergeant was a man with a bitter wrong to avenge; these men were cold
and wet, and sure they had been sent on a fool's errand.
'It's no go,' said Ottaway, coming to a standstill within twenty
feet of where the fugitive crouched. 'We'll lay it into that beggar's
hide, Jackson, for skulking so, and go back. It ain't no go.'
'It's jolly cold, I know that,' said Jackson, enjoying Bill
Bunting's terror, 'and a good hiding 'd warm Bill, wouldn't it? Oh,
d----the sergeant, say I, and the sergeant's wife, and the sergeant's
Come on, old man!'
Then they turned up the hill again, and Black Anderson hugged
himself on his narrow escape. And then he burst out into loud curses
against Pard Derrick. He had betrayed him, then, he had; he would get
away; he would get well; he would come back some day and take
vengeance to the uttermost out of his false friend. All that he was
suffering now--and he was suffering--Pard Derrick should suffer
And the day wore on, and the cold grew worse, and the hunger was
almost more than he could bear. The time seemed to pass so slowly,
and after the experience of the morning he did not dare to move. Of
course, it was hardly likely any more troopers would come that way,
but, still, there was no knowing. He knew there were plenty in camp,
he knew the Commissioner was vigilant, he knew he would leave no
stone unturned to capture him, and the least thing might send them
back to search this gully again; they might find the ashes of his
last night's fire; they could see for themselves how new it was, even
if Bill Bunting had not sufficient energy to point it out.
And if they found that--he shivered in his impotent
helplessness--they would have no difficulty in following up the track
he had made; it was as easily to be distinguished as a main road.
Then he strained his ears and listened, till he could hear his own
heart beating, till every little dropping leaf or breaking twig was
magnified a thousand-fold. A crash, as of some breaking branch, sent
him scrambling down hill regardless of the foot which he could not
put to the ground. Then, ten yards further on he changed his mind:
his safety lay in stillness, they might pass him by as they had done
before; and he listened again and all was silent, save for the
tapping of some bird or insect in the tree overhead.
He saw a hollow tree, and painfully made his way to it; at least,
inside it was fairly dry, and he spread his damp blankets and tried
to instil a little warmth into his frozen body. Worse and worse grew
his foot--he thought he must have given it another wrench, for even
to touch it gave him pain--and he groaned and moaned as he crouched
in the hollow tree there and looked out on the pouring rain.
He had no idea of the time, and there was no sun to guide him; it
might equally easily be ten o'clock in the morning or five in the
evening, only he was so hungry. He had had nothing since yesterday
afternoon, and then not much--Jenny, d----her! had cooked it so
badly. He had done better without her. Then he thought of what the
troopers had said, 'Pretty nigh gone then, poor little beggar!' Was
she dead, then? Looked like it. But why should she die, when he had
done everything he could for her, too? And he took it as a personal
insult to himself that she should even think about dying. Dead? Not
Still the thought haunted him; the pain in his foot seemed to make
him think of it. And when he dozed--as he did doze in spite of the
fear, and the pain, and the cold--her face rose up before him, hers
and that other gory face which he could only see dimly through the
mist, and they watched beside him, and he could not drive them away.
It seemed to him the day would never end--it seemed to him he had
been lying here years; then the rain grew worse, and the darkness,
driven before a howling wind, closed down upon him suddenly.
It was night again, nearly four-and-twenty hours since he had left
the hut down under Digger's Point, and they had not searched the
gully again; or if they had, they had not found him. And now was his
chance to get away to Mitalagong, now or never. He must do it
He set about the business in a systematic way. With infinite
difficulty he succeeded in breaking off a small sapling which might
serve as a stick to support him, and he tore a strip from his blanket
and made a sort of sling to rest his lame foot in, and slowly and
painfully hobbled off. It was steep and rough, and he could only go
very slowly--very slowly; every now and then he had to pause and
rest; every now and then he went down on his hands and knees and
tried that mode of progression. And it was ten miles to Surly
Pete's--a good ten miles--over rough country. Should he ever
He was very soon wet to the skin, and soon he was obliged to
abandon his blankets as an intolerable burden, and as the night wore
on he lost consciousness from very weariness. His only care was to
keep in the general direction; he managed that, and then sometimes it
seemed to him, as he hobbled along painfully, that someone came and
walked along beside him, mocking him, calling attention to his
helplessness, and jeering him. Was it Jenny? Or the sergeant? Or,
worst of all, German Max, with his face all covered with blood? He
shut his eyes to bar out the vision; he shouted to drive it away. But
it was there--it was there; it clutched at him in the darkness, as
Jenny had clutched the night before, and he could not undo the
clinging hands. Then he knelt down, he grovelled on the ground, and
made the gully ring with his shouts. What did he care if it brought
the police down on him? He would be glad, thankful; anything would be
better than this loneliness--anything that would take away those
Again he would rouse himself, tell himself it was all fancy, born
of the cold night, of his hunger, of the pelting rain and bitter
wind, and he would be quiet, and crawl on again a little way, fearing
only lest he should be going in the wrong direction, lest he should
be losing himself amongst this maze of hill and gully. And then a new
fear grew upon him, lest as he groped along he might put his hand on
German Max's dead face. What was the good of his lying out there, so
long after, too? It had done him no good, that gold; Jenny had lost
it for him, curse her! and Max was dead; and--and she was dead--they
said she was dead! and they both came crying to him--to him--who
could hardly move with the pain in his foot.
He could hardly have told how he reached the foot of the hill,
only he knew he did so at last, and then slowly and painfully made
his way along the gully. Once over the next ridge he would be able to
see Surly Pete's hut--would be within reach of succour. And Pete
would not refuse him; even if old Max insisted on coming with him,
his old mate would not refuse him. Would he, though? Would he take
him in if old Max insisted on coming too? He shuddered and sobbed and
moaned to himself; surely he would help him, surely he would, when he
found how cold and wet and hungry and ill he was--surely, surely, he
would help him! He would drive away these haunting faces, he would
remove these clinging hands. He would----And then another day was
A winter's day, truly, but a bright, fresh winter's day. The
wretched fugitive, crouching down among the scrub and bracken, could
not but feel the genial influence of the sunshine. Hungry, weary,
worn as as he was, it put fresh life into him, it drove away the
shadows that had haunted him the livelong night, it gave him fresh
strength and courage to struggle up the opposite hillside, and then,
as he fell faint and weary among the bracken, he could just see the
abandoned claims in the gully beyond, and the hut where dwelt the man
on whom all his hopes were staked--Surly Pete. There was the hut,
there was the dam, there was the man himself slowly rocking his
cradle, and--an oath broke from his lips as he saw it--there were
three mounted troopers coming slowly up the hill in his
For a moment it seemed to Dave that the troopers must have seen
him and were making straight for him, and in a panic he turned to
flee: then a moment's reflection convinced him he had no chance in
They could not possibly have seen him yet, crouching down among
the bracken, and if he lay still they might pass along the track, and
he would be all the safer because they had been there. But no, they
came right on, right up the hill, and he saw quite plainly that the
man who rode ahead was Sergeant Sells. Straight on they came--could
they possibly have seen?--and on the top of the ridge they
dismounted, hitched their horses to a tree, and the two men proceeded
to light a fire, while the sergeant moved a little apart and sat down
on a log within a stone's-throw of him.
So the clutching hands and the bloody face had led him to this,
and here was his enemy, and there was no escaping him. The bright day
had dawned so full of promise, but the promise mocked him, and now
there was no escape.
Chapter XII A Post of Observation.
'The spirits I have raised abandon me--
The spells which I have studied baffle me--
The remedy I recked of tortures me.'
WHEN the billy was boiling, one of the men made the tea, and
'Dinner's ready, sergeant.'
Sergeant Sells raised his head. He had forgotten all about his
dinner, had forgotten everything, save that he must find Black
Anderson, and that his next move must be to search the gully which
Ottaway and Jackson swore they had thoroughly searched the day
before. And Ottaway was a good man, though Jackson was not so
brilliant. Still, Ottaway could not be trusted to search as he
The fragrant smell of the warm tea came to his nostrils and he
paid no attention, though it made the cold, hungry man lying so close
to him wild with longing.
'Ain't you going to have no dinner, sergeant?'
'All right, Jackson, I'm coming.'
He stood up and looked around him. Down by his claim Surly Pete,
too, had built a fire, but he had left it and was coming up the hill
towards them. Why? wondered Sergeant Sells. Then he saw he had an axe
in his hand, and concluded he wanted more wood for his fire, and from
a sort of bravado, a certain desire to show he cared nothing for the
'traps' he hated, was coming up to cut it close to where they had
camped. The sergeant came a little closer to the fire, and drank his
tea and ate the damper and cold mutton the men offered him in
silence, watching mechanically Surly Pete's movements. The men
watched him too, as they lay along the ground by the fire. They
couldn't possibly talk with that silent man sitting between them; he
put an effectual stopper on all conversation, and it was so still
they could hear the crackling and splitting of the damp wood and the
ashes as they dropped down in the fire. There was nothing to do but
watch Peter Grimes move about among the bracken, giving a chop here
and there in an aimless sort of fashion that convinced the sergeant
more than ever it was all bravado on his part. Why should he come to
the top of the hill for his wood, when he might just as easily have
got it at the foot?
And, in truth, Peter Grimes could hardly have told himself why he
had come. He saw the smoke of their fire, and the idea came to him
that he would go and see what the 'traps' were doing and why they had
camped there. Why not? He had as good a right on the ridge as they
had, an honest man like him; and maybe he might pick up some
information that would be useful to Black Dave, whom he knew but
slightly, but whom he fully intended to help should he come that way.
So he shouldered his axe and marched bravely up the hillside till he
came abreast of the fire with the three silent men around it. They
all three looked at him; they followed his every movement simply
because there was absolutely nothing else to watch, and without any
sinister intention whatever. The sergeant, indeed, hardly thought
what he was doing, but the scrutiny troubled Pete. He slashed wildly
at the poor little messmate saplings, he chopped at old logs that
were hard as iron, he turned the edge of his axe, and then he swore
to himself, for he remembered he could not carry very much wood down
the hill, and that his actions must look suspicious to those watching
He found a log he might lift, and he laid it down not far from
them; that was the beginning of his stack, and he looked round for
another. A small messmate among the bracken attracted his attention;
he would have that, and he shuffled across--he was a little lame--and
raised his axe to strike.
Then he saw something that made him drop it with a loud grunt that
the troopers heard quite plainly, for down there, crouching among the
bracken, with only that messmate as shelter between him and the men
from whom he was so evidently hiding, was a man lying perfectly flat,
lifting up wild, bloodshot, appealing eyes to him. His lips moved,
but dared make no sound, and he shrank down with a shudder as Pete,
with ready presence of mind, raised his axe again and struck lightly
at the sapling, as he had done at half a dozen other trees on the
hillside. Pete knew very well who it was, sodden with the rain,
covered with the light clayey soil, his hat gone, his black hair and
beard matted and tangled with grass and pieces of brushwood, his face
and his hands torn and scratched, his terrified eyes all bloodshot.
There was little doubt who it was, and the troopers had all but run
him to earth.
Surly Pete knew him quite well, and pitied him from the bottom of
his heart. There was a faint sense of triumph, too, for Peter was not
young, had never been handsome, and before he had turned hatter was a
man of no account on the camp, where Black Anderson, with his flash
ways, and his handsome face, and the gold-dust he slapped about so
freely, was first favourite. And he had come to this, and was mutely
asking a man he would never have noticed in his palmy days not to
betray him to the enemies that were so close--only to hold his
tongue, to go away quietly, and not draw attention to him.
Pete made another chop at the sapling, that made it bend visibly;
then he stooped forward and put his hand to his belt. He saw the eyes
that were watching him dilate with a new fear as he drew out his old
horse--pistol. So he thought he was going to shoot him, and he
chuckled grimly to himself at the thought that Black Anderson had
come to this; then he gave a reassuring grunt, and dropped the pistol
just within reach of the crouching man. It was hardly likely he would
be unarmed, and yet he looked so wet and forlorn it seemed not
improbable that the priming of his pistols should be damp.
Then with another grunt of infinite satisfaction Peter passed on,
left that tree as he had left the others, and making for one on the
opposite side of the camp, cut it down, and added that to his other
log with the air of a man who had made up his mind on a weighty
matter at last, and intended to see things through. He chopped down
about half a dozen saplings, and then began stripping them of leaves
and branches. That was best, he decided--the troopers would think he
needed them for his claim--and so he steadily worked on, expecting
every moment to hear a scuffling and a shouting, and a snapping of
pistol-shots. But nothing happened; the three men sat silent still by
the fire, and turning their backs on the man they were seeking,
watched the hatter at work as if it were a matter of great
importance; and when at last Pete shouldered his half--dozen props
and shuffled down the hill to his hut again, he heard the sergeant
give the order to mount and go down the hill into the gully on the
Anderson heard it too, and drew towards him the pistol that had so
opportunely come into his hands, with some dim idea of making a fight
for it; but the sergeant was thinking of the gully beyond: it was
there he expected to find his enemy, and he never thought of looking
on the hill--top.
At the foot of the hill he paused. Up the opposite hill no horse
could possibly go.
'You stop here with the horses, Cook,' he said, 'and Jackson and
I'll search on the hill there. Now mind you keep a sharp look-out. A
horse 'll likely be mighty useful to him, and if he comes along he'll
stick at nothing to get it.'
Then the two men plunged into the thick scrub and bracken with
their revolvers in their hands. But the rain and blustering wind of
the night before had stood the fugitive in good stead. He had made a
track, it is true, and the troopers crossed it, but did not recognise
it. The scrub was torn and broken in so many places; and the rain had
made the ground so slippery, washing it into holes and hollows; the
wind had broken off branches. The shambling track that Anderson had
made in his helpless lameness was hardly recognisable as having been
made by man's agency. The rain had come and washed it away, had drawn
obliterating fingers over it. A black man might have known better,
but certainly not a white man.
Still, the sergeant was loath to give up his faith, and by-and-by
his search was rewarded by the discovery of last night's fire. It
might have been made by Black Anderson, again it might not; he was
strongly of opinion it had, and the feeling came over him he had all
but accomplished his object, he had run his enemy to earth, and, much
to the disgust of Jackson, who was getting tired of this sort of
work, he retraced his footsteps down the hill again. Very carefully
he went; it seemed to him he was following a track of some sort; but
when the bushes began to get more broken, and there was only a mark
on the clayey soil as if a log had fallen downhill, slipping over the
ground and making heavy dents in it, he was again at fault.
The short winter's day was drawing to a close, the wind grew cold
and keen, and the flecked sunshine that came through the leaves had
no warmth in it. It was no good; another day was gone, and he had not
found him, and he came down the hill again, followed by Jackson, who
was ready to swear he had searched every inch of the hillside, and
knew every hollow tree, and stump, and log, and branching tree-fern
It was dark by the time they returned to the horses, and Cook was
beating his arms against his sides to keep himself warm, very ready
indeed to lend a sympathetic ear to Jackson's complaints.
'We'll go round the shoulder of this hill,' said the sergeant
quietly, for all the world, grumbled Jackson under his breath, as if
it was nine o'clock in the morning and they were just setting out.
'I'm going to look up that hatter again. He must have been signalling
on the hill this morning.'
But though there was a bright little fire burning in Surly Pete's
hut, a fire they could see gleaming through the panes of the small
window, the door was fast and the inmate was not there. They searched
round a little, but they failed to find him, and then Jackson, who
was cold and hungry, remonstrated:
'He said this morning he was out of flour, sergeant. He'll be gone
into Buck Carter's to get it.'
Without a word the sergeant turned, and they rode back to
Chapter XIII The Last of It.
'Here burns my candle out, ay, here it dies.'
BUT as the sergeant sat that night over his solitary meal, he
thought of Peter Grimes and his unaccountable behaviour on the
hill-top. There certainly was no sense in it; even as bravado, it
hardly explained itself, and at length he got up and went down to the
Lucky Digger, where Buck Carter, as usual, was serving out drinks
behind the bar, and his wife was helping him. He had been to the
store very little of late, and as he marched in, stern and grave, the
buzz of conversation hushed as if he was, as indeed he had been, the
subject of it.
'Carter,' he said, 'has that hatter--Surly Pete they call him,
from Mitalagong--been in here this evening?'
Buck Carter spat on his hands as if he were about to lift a heavy
weight; he was afraid of his son-in-law, and always had to brace
himself to meet him. Then he swore a good round oath, and declared he
had not set eyes on him for a month past.
'He told me he was coming over this evening,' said the sergeant,
doubtfully looking round.
'Well, he ain't been here, sergeant,' put in Sal; 'he ain't been
here. You can take your Bible oath of that.'
The sergeant walked slowly outside again. It was a frosty night,
and in the dark sky the stars looked cold and bright, and he looked
up at them and wondered what should be his next move. He did not seem
to have done very much, and, after all, it was more than probable
that his enemy would escape him. He went slowly back to his own hut,
and then suddenly decided to go back to Mitalagong, and investigate
further the mysterious carryings-on of the old hatter there. It was a
long ride, and he had been hard at it all day long; but that did not
matter, almost anything was better than sitting alone thinking. So he
called a trooper, and, heedless of his surprised remonstrance, had
his horse saddled and rode slowly away up the hill towards
He did not ride fast, there was no necessity for it. He hardly
hoped to get anything out of Surly Pete, only the remembrance of last
night was strong upon him; he could not risk such another. He must do
something to drive away thought. So he rode on quietly. In the
starlight he could only see things dimly--the trees by the wayside,
the fallen logs, the hut where Black Anderson had once lived; there
was his claim close by the roadside, and the windlass was still
standing. Farther on came the Chinamen's garden; their hut stood out
dark against the sky, and old Max's neat fence was getting untidy
now. He could see that even by this light. But they were thrifty
folk. They did not burn candles or even slush--lamps; there was not a
spark in their windows; the whole place was wrapped in slumber. Well,
it was no good rousing them, they would not be likely to know
anything about it; and he rode on. It was very lonely; the cold
seemed somehow to intensify the loneliness. There was not a hut, not
a living creature, apparently, stirring abroad. Now and then a
night-bird cried, now and then he heard the croaking of frogs loudly
proclaiming their gladness at the return to fine weather, and every
now and then from the ranges came the mournful whimper of the
dingoes. He speculated idly about them. He wondered that the near
presence of the diggers' camp had not driven them further into the
mountains. Their day must be nearly over, as nearly over as his own.
No one seemed afraid of them, and yet they must be dangerous
sometimes to a solitary or a wounded man, and their whimper was very
mournful. It died right away sometimes, till there was only his
horse's hoof-beats to listen to on the hard, rough track. Then at
last he breasted the hill, and down below in the gully saw a
twinkling light. That was Surly Pete's hut. There was no one else
here, and the door must be open. Sells turned a little aside from the
track, and hitched his horse to a tree. Better to go on foot; he
could get closer without being observed. And yet he took very little
precaution to hide his presence. In the clear dry air his footsteps
might easily be heard; and the thought came to him that if Black
Anderson were there, it would be two to one--two armed men, and one
of them in the very prime of life.
But, then, possibly Black Anderson might not be there. Sells had
very little reason to suppose he was there, and if he was--well, what
matter? He had been reckless enough the other might when he had
approached the hut; he cared less now--far less. He was an older man
by many years. What did it matter what happened to a man who had
lived his life?
Sells walked quietly down the hill. He skirted round the claim and
dam; the cradle and windlass loomed large in the uncertain light, and
at last he found himself right opposite the uncurtained little
window. It was only a tiny pane of glass, but the firelight from the
wooden chimney danced on it cheerily. It had such a pleasant,
homelike look against the dark background.
He paused a moment, debating whether or not he should look in and
ascertain whether his enemy was there. It seemed to him he could hear
people talking; but so it had seemed the other night, and it had only
been the sick girl raving. The firelight beckoned so cheerily; it
looked so homelike; it spoke of so many things; it was almost sacred
to him, that firelight.
Why should he spy on this man, who was an honest man according to
his lights, and very probably knew as little as he himself of the
doings of Black Anderson, and even if he did help him, was helping
him out of the kindness of his heart, as one always feels inclined to
help a hunted creature? No, he would not look through the window, he
would enter by the door; and he walked round quietly and stopped
opposite it. It was fast closed now; but through the cracks streamed
the cheerful light, as if it would not be shut out. Sergeant Sells
laid his hand on the door and knocked loudly, and the murmur of
voices that came from inside ceased immediately. Truly, he thought to
himself, it was a lonely place, and an uncanny hour to come knocking.
He would not open lightly if he were Surly Pete.
There was no answer to his knock, save a faint sound of shuffling
feet and the crackling of the fire; then he knocked again and
'Open the door!'
'And who the blazes are you?' came back the answer.
'Mounted police! Open the door!'
'Mounted police be d----d!'
He put his shoulder to the frail boards; he was a strong man yet,
and they were very lightly put together. One push--it seemed to shake
the whole hut; another! The door had given way, and he was standing
looking into the hut, facing the blazing fire and two men who were
opposite him with drawn pistols.
Right--after all he was right. His judgment had not misled him.
Here was Black Anderson, and he and his enemy were face to face at
There was a whizz and a whir and a puff of blinding smoke--a
bullet had gone through his uniform cap. Then the smoke cleared, and
he saw Pete standing a little aside, his pistol in his hand, as if a
little uncertain what to do. In truth, Peter hardly bargained for
shooting a man down in cold blood, even though he were a 'trap';
while, leaning against the rough table, his smoking pistol still in
his hand, was Black Anderson. He dropped the pistol hastily, and
tugged at the other in his belt; but the sergeant had him covered
with his revolver, and said sternly:
'Throw up your hands!'
'Throw up your hands, or I'll shoot, by God!'
He raised his revolver, and Anderson cast one hasty appealing
glance at Pete; then, without one word, dropped forward, with his
arms extended over the table, as if he could not possibly stand
upright any longer, and Sergeant Sells very quietly, almost
reluctantly, walked forward and took the remaining pistol from
'He's most broke,' said Surly Pete. 'He's had an awful time in the
gullies there. You're a-houndin' him to death! A innercent man, too;
an',' he added threateningly, for the sound of his own voice gave him
courage, 'we're two to one, sergeant.'
'You're a decent man, I've always heard, Peter Grimes,' said the
sergeant, and his own voice sounded strange in his ears; 'you won't
gain anything by going against the law. If that man's innocent, he'll
have every chance to prove it. Anyhow, he shot at me just now, and it
wasn't his fault the shot didn't go home.'
'Well, what are you going to do?' asked Peter Grimes, somewhat
mollified. 'You're here by yourself. What's to prevent me, I'd like
to know, agoin' straight away to Deadman's an' raisin' the boys?
They'll be along in two shakes of a fly's leg, an' they'll raise
Cain, I can tell you!'
'That's just what you will do,' said the sergeant quietly. 'You'll
find my horse hitched to a tree on the hill just behind there. You'll
take him and ride straight into Deadman's. You ought to ride straight
to the police camp and inform the Commissioner that Sergeant Sells
has taken the man that's wanted for German Max's murder; but if you
don't like to do that, just go to the Lucky Digger and tell your own
mates; they'll settle the rest for you.'
Peter looked surprised. He certainly had not expected to be free
to bring his mates to the rescue, but he hesitated doubtfully. What
was the sergeant up to?
'You'm took his girl,' he said.
Sergeant Sells winced.
'Go!' he said, 'go! go! You're getting off easily. I'm not asking
you to betray a mate. Just tell the diggers at Deadman's. They don't
love me, but I guess they'll know this man'll have fair play.'
'Will that do you, mate?' asked Surly Pete, bringing his hand down
heavily on the table, and knocking a pannikin of tea on to the
Anderson's shoulders shook, and Pete saw he had heard him, but the
man gave no other sign. He was run to earth at last. Then Pete took a
ragged old coat from a peg, spit thoughtfully into the fire, went
outside, and then came back to the broken door again.
'Behind the hut, sergeant, is the moke?'
'Behind the hut on the hill there.'
'Couldn't show me, I reckon?'
But the sergeant vouchsafed no answer, and he heard the shuffling
footsteps going round by the side of the hut, and wondered to himself
whether Peter would take his mate's part and shoot him through the
window. It would be very easy, very simple--it would end everything.
He held his revolver and glanced up at the window, only to see Peter
Grimes' face disappearing. So he, too, had thought of it; but, after
all, he was a decent old chap, and would not like to have blood on
his hands. He would bring his mates--that would be justice according
to his lights. They would see fair play. Then he listened to the
footsteps till they went out of hearing, he listened to the heavy
breathing of the man before him, to the crackling of the logs, to the
Now he and his enemy were face to face--face to face; and if he
slew him, as he had a mind to do, as he had sworn to do, there would
be none found to blame him.
There was no other light in the hut save that of the blazing fire,
but it lighted up every cranny with its ruddy light. There was a
stretcher in the corner--a rude stretcher made of sacking and forked
sticks; there was a shelf or two against the wall, a tin plate and
two or three pannikins, a frying-pan, two deal boxes to sit upon, and
nothing else--unless one counted the pictured almanacs that were hung
against the wall by way of ornament. One was right in the
firelight--the head of a woman, of a young girl, rather, with her
hair blowing about her face. It was torn and soiled, but it
fascinated him, and he kept taking his eyes from his prisoner and
looking at it. It reminded him so of the girl who for one brief month
had been his wife. And this man--this man---
He was seated on an upturned box, and half his body was laid along
the table in an attitude of utter abandonment, and one foot and leg
his captor saw had been injured. It was bare up to the knee, and he
could not fail to see how swollen and red was the leg. So that was
the reason of it--at last he had only run to earth a wounded beast.
He set his teeth together in his anger and disappointment. He had
counted on this, he had lived for this; man to man it should be, and
a fair fight, and now he was balked of his revenge. The man had tried
to shoot him, but that was nothing, nothing; he lay there before him
like a helpless log, and he, whose dearest hopes he had blighted,
looked on in helpless impotence. Anything rather than this--anything;
he wished with all his heart that bullet had found its billet. He
leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes; a sudden weariness
of life had come upon him. He wanted nothing, he had done with life;
then a stirring made him open them again, and he saw that Black
Anderson had raised his head on his hand and was looking at him,
shiftily avoiding meeting his eye. He stretched out his hand and
caught at a pannikin.
'Drop it,' said the sergeant sternly.
'Let me get a drop of water,' begged the prisoner.
'I'm parched with thirst, and my leg's that bad 'tisn't
'A drop, for God's sake!'
'If you were in hell,' said the sergeant through his clenched
teeth, 'it's nothing to me.'
The man dropped down his head on the table again with a moan. He
had been no coward, for all his careless cruelty, or he had not been
the admired of Deadman's; but his leg was very bad, and the day and
night's exposure seemed to have brought on a fever which was
consuming him. Water, water, it seemed to him the only thing that
would relieve his pain, and he did not need to look at the relentless
man opposite to know that he would be shot if he so much as moved. If
only he would move, thought the sergeant; if he would only do
something--something that would call for action!
It was killing work standing here with his back to the wall
watching him, listening to his moans, thinking thinking, thinking of
all that lay between this man and him. The pensive face on the wall,
with the wind--blown hair, seemed appealing to him, reminding him, as
if he were ever for one moment likely to forget, of all that lay
between them. Taken together, they two--he ground his teeth as he
thought of it--had spoiled her life, the little innocent girl. He had
not spared himself, he would not spare this man. No; she had died
only two nights ago, wet and cold and lonely. Let him suffer--let
him! She had died loving him, and calling on him, thinking only of
him for such love Sergeant Sells would cheerfully have borne untold
agony. Let him suffer; it was his due.
The fire died down, and he pushed it together with his foot; he
laid on another log, and it blazed up again; the room looked so
cheerful and bright he felt as if it must be all a dream. He could
not have lived and suffered; he was not standing over his enemy, a
man maimed and broken; he was not waiting to hand him over to
justice; it was all a dream, it must be all a dream. Oh, God! the
things men suffer and believe are real! The girl was dead, and this
man should die; but he--he, what was there for him?
Outside an owl hooted softly and monotonously, and inside the fire
crackled cheerfully. How long it was before they came--how long, how
long! Would the night never end? And he could not kill a maimed man,
he could not. He could only wait there and hand him over to the
Commissioner because it was his duty, and after--well, after, he had
done with life.
Again the fire died down, and again he pushed it together. He
wanted the fire; he wanted to guard his prisoner; he wanted the
light; but the night was so long it seemed to him it must be close on
the dawn, and yet through the open door he could see the stars bright
as ever. His prisoner moved a little uneasily, but he did not ask
again for water; he, too, was wondering if the night would never
pass; he, too, knew how relentless was this enemy who had tracked him
down at last.
Then there came a faint sound--the sound of men's voices, and they
came nearer and nearer. The sergeant heard them, and the prisoner
heard, but neither took any notice; what difference could their
coming make to either of them? Only each was thankful that the long
watch was ended. Nearer they came, nearer, and three bearded miners
stood in the open doorway, peering in like children who had no
business to be there. They had heard the news, and had come the short
cut across the hills.
Black Anderson raised his head for a last effort. Perhaps his
heart held still a faint hope that these, his whilom mates, would
'Boys,' he said huskily--'boys, ain't you going to help a poor
beggar against the traps?'
But there was no response; they were content to look on like
children. Apparently they counted it no business of theirs, and the
sergeant said not a word.
If they had overpowered and killed him, the sergeant would not
have cared. This man had ruined his life, and now he was balked of
There was a sound of trotting horses: the troopers had come.