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   Chapter 7 No.7

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 11805

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"How do you do, Mr Gerrard?" he said, as with outstretched hand he met his visitor at the door. "I am glad to meet Ted Westonley's brother-in-law at last. How is he?"

"Very well, indeed, when I last saw him," replied Gerrard, as he sat down, and Lacey rang the bell.

"I have not seen him for ten years," said the editor. "Ah, here you are, M illy! What will you take, Mr Gerrard? You must excuse my rig" (he was in his pyjamas); "but it's so infernally hot that I always get into these the minute I'm back in my room. When did you arrive?"

"Only an hour ago, in the Tinonee."

"Going back to your station, I suppose? By the way, aren't you-or is it Jardine?-who is the 'furthest north' cattle man?"

"Jardine; but his station is on the east side. I'm on the west; the Gulf side, between the Batavia River and Duyfhen Point."

Lacey looked admiringly at the well-knit figure and handsome, tanned face of his visitor. "Well, the climate up there can't be as bad as it is painted. I never saw a man look better than you do."

"Oh! the climate doesn't hurt me now. I've had my share of fever of course; so has everyone on Ocho Rios. The niggers are our chief trouble."

"Ah! no doubt. By the way, Aulain, of the Black Police is down here on sick leave. He'll be glad to see you."

"And I him. He's a fine fellow, isn't he?"

"A whiter man-or a better gentleman-never put foot in a stirrup. I've got to like him very much. And he thinks no end of you. Says you're the best scrub rider he ever saw."

Gerrard laughed. "'Praise from him is praise indeed.' All I can say is that I have never seen anyone who can go through scrub or thick timber like Randolph Aulain. Where is he staying?"

"Here-at the Queen's. He's had a terrible time with fever, and can't do more than sit up. We'll go and see him presently."

"Oh, yes! But I want to speak to you on a matter of some importance first. That is why I have ventured to come to your hotel. I did go to the Clarion office, but just missed you."

"I'm only too delighted to see you, even if you were not Westonley's brother-in-law. You know that he and I were at Rugby together, and then at Oxford? But, before I say anything else, when does your steamer leave?"

"This afternoon at four o'clock; but I am not going on in her. I'm in somewhat of a hole, and I felt sure you would assist me."

"Indeed I will. I'm not flush. This blessed rag of mine doesn't pay, but I can raise a hundred from the bank here."

Gerrard laughed. "No, not that, Mr Lacey. I'm not 'broke,' and it is not money I want. At the same time I appreciate your generosity. Ted has often told me you would do any mortal thing for a friend in need." He paused, and then began, "Mr Lacey--"

"Drop the 'Mr' please."

"Well, then, Lacey, I want your advice and assistance. Do you know any decent family here who would take care of a boy of eleven years of age for about a fortnight?"

The editor of the Clarion tugged thoughtfully at his long, white moustache for a few moments. "Yes, I think I do know of such a family. I used to board with them when I first came to this infernal hole. Their name is Woodfall. The father is a dairyman here, and a very decent hard-working man. His wife is a thoroughly, good honest woman, and they have no children. I think they would be suitable people; and I'm sure would look after the boy very well. Where is he?"

"On board the steamer, just now, waiting for me. I'll tell you how I'm fixed. The youngster is an orphan who was living with my brother-in-law at Marumbah. I took a great fancy to him, and as my sister did not care much for the young 'un, though Ted did, I persuaded Ted to let me have him to 'father.' I should have liked to have had my poor sister Mary's little girl-you know that my sister died soon after her husband and my father and mother all went together in the Cassowary-but, of course, I couldn't bring her away from civilisation-there's no white woman within two hundred miles of Ocho Rios." Then he went on telling his host the history of Jim, from the time Westonley had brought him away from Newcastle to the present. Lacey listened with interest.

"Well, a few weeks ago in Sydney I met a Mrs Tallis, a widow. Her husband was a squatter, and died a few months ago in Sydney."

"I knew him. His station is called Kaburie-it is between here and Mackay-and is a rattling good cattle run."

"Yes. She wants to sell it. I suppose the poor little woman doesn't like going back to the place now. However now I'm coming to the point I've an idea that it might suit me as a breeding station, and told her I would stop at Bowen, and go and look at it. Now it would suit me very well if I could leave my protégé here for a couple of weeks, as the young scamp has managed to sprain his wrist on board, and so can't very well come with me, though I should like to take him very much."

"The Woodfalls will take him, I'm sure. And I will look after him as well. Now, will you come and see Aulain for a few minutes? Then I'll take you up to Mrs Woodfall."

Aulain, a strikingly handsome, slightly-built, olive-faced man, with jet-black beard and moustache, was delighted to see Gerrard.

"Hallo! old 'Tom-and-Jerry,' I'm glad to see you again. Sit down and tell me o' the wondrous sights o' Sydney and Melbourne. Heavens, man, I wish I could get away down South for six months."

They remained talking for half an hour, during which time Gerrard told Aulain the reason of his stopping at Bowen.

"By Jove! old fellow, I shall be glad if you buy Kaburie, for you'll have to put in some of your time there, of course, and I've applied for a removal from the Cape York District to Port Denison. I'm sick to death of nigger chasing in the Far North, and want to be somewhere where I can feel I'm not entirely an outcast from the world, with no one to talk to but my own black trooper

s, any one of whom would put a bullet into my back if I turned rusty."

"Oh, well, I think it is pretty certain I shall buy Mrs Tallis's station. I like Ocho Rios very well, but now, since this last trip of mine South, I feel as you do-I want to be a little less out of the world. I might, perhaps, sell Ocho Rios, and fix myself at Kaburie. If I don't, I'll put a manager there, and keep the place going, for I have a great belief that there will be some rich gold discoveries in the Batavia River country before long-and thousands of meat-hungry diggers means pots of money to a cattleman."

"I'm certain, too, that there will be some big fields opened up that way soon," said Aulain. "In that valise of mine, there under the bed, are three or four ounces of alluvial gold which my troopers and I washed out in one day at the head of a little creek running into the Batavia."

"Place with a hunking big boulder standing up in the middle of a deep pool, with a lot of fish in it?" queried Gerrard.

"Yes; but how the deuce did you come across it? I've never seen a beast of yours within fifty miles of it-the country is too rough even for cattle-and I thought that my troopers and I were the first that ever saw the place."

"When were you there?"

"About a month after you left Ocho Rios for Sydney."

"Well, my dear little laddie, I was there a year ago, camped there for a couple of days, and did a little washing out-with two quart billy cans for a dish."

"Get anything?"

"Seven ounces, sonny; mostly in coarse gold too."

Aulain whistled. "And you never went back there?"

"No! I never had the time for one thing; another reason was that it would not have paid me to have left my station for the sake of a few hundred pounds' worth of gold, and thirdly, although I know a little about alluvial mining, I don't know anything about reefing-wouldn't know a gold-bearing reef from a rank duffer, unless I saw the gold sticking up in it in lumps. And there are several parties of prospectors up in Cape York Peninsula now, and some of them are sure to make their way to the Batavia River country in the course of time. If any come to my place I'll give them all the help I can. I'd like to see a really good gold-field discovered near Ocho Rios; it would mean thousands of pounds to me."

"Of course it would. But, I say, Gerry, old fellow," and here Aulain paused. "Will you do me a favour? Oh, no, hang it!" and he stopped suddenly.

"What is it, Aulain?"

The Inspector's sallow face flushed. "I don't think it is fair to ask you, as it will perhaps affect your interests."

"Don't be an ass! What is it?"

Lacey rose, thinking that Aulain hesitated to speak on account of him being present, but Aulain begged him to stay, and then said:

"Well, I'll tell you what it is, Gerry. Will you keep it dark about that little creek up there; for six months anyway."

"Certainly, I will."

"You see, Gerry, it's this way. I'm sick to death of life in the Black Police, and as soon as I get over this fever, I think I'll resign and try my luck at mining. I can't live on my salary, and I have no backstair's influence in Brisbane to get me anything better in the Government service; and only this morning I was thinking of that very place where we both got gold. There are reefs all about the head of that creek, and every one of them carries payable gold. And so if you will keep it dark I stand a good chance of not only getting the usual Government reward of five thousand pounds for the discovery of a payable gold-field, but can peg out my reward claim beforehand."

"My dear old chap, I shall be only too pleased. And, look here, why not send in your resignation right away, and then after I've finished this business at Kaburie, come away with me. There will be a steamer here in a fortnight, which will take us to Somerset, and from there we can get to Ocho Rios in one of the pearling luggers. We shall find plenty of them lying up at Somerset at this time of the year, and it will be a better and easier way of getting to my place than having to buy horses at Somerset, and travelling a hundred and fifty miles across the peninsula."

Aulain shook his head. "It is a very tempting offer, Gerry; but I can't accept it. I am obliged to wait six months after sending in my resignation before I can leave the service; it is a hard and fast rule."

"I'm awfully sorry, Aulain," said Gerrard; "however, when you do come, you will, of course, make my place your headquarters. Don't buy any horses when you get to Somerset; I can lend you all you want. Now I must be off with Lacey. I'll see you when I get back from Kaburie in a week or ten days, and we'll have long yarns together, as I shall remain in Bowen until the next steamer for Somerset calls."

"Right! Oh, by-the-way, Gerry, on your way to Kaburie you will have to pass a little mining camp called Fraser's Gully. Will you leave a letter there for me? I'll have it written by the time you come back from Woodfalls."

As soon as Lacey and Gerrard were out in the street, the latter returned to his companion with a smile. "So you are to play Mercury for Aulain?"

"Am I? Who is she?"

"A Miss Kate Fraser. Her father is a friend of mine, and Aulain and she are engaged-at least I think so. But I have heard that there is a parson in the running, and I don't wonder-for she is a splendid girl."

A walk of a mile brought them to Wood fall's house. Both Woodfall and his wife were at home, and Lacey at once entered into the subject of Jim.

"Certainly, Mr Gerrard, we'll take the boy and be glad to have him. But we won't take payment," said Mrs Woodfall, a big-shouldered woman with a pleasant, sunburnt face. "Joe, get the buggy, and I'll drive down to the steamer at once with Mr Gerrard."

Two hours later, Jim was installed at the Woodfall's, and Gerrard was on his way to Kaburie.

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