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   Chapter 9 No.9

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 9104

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In less than half-an-hour the new-comer, who was walking his horse, slowly rode up to the bluff, and raised his hat to Miss Fraser and her companion.

"Good-morning!" he said, as he dismounted. "I saw you as I was coming along the beach and so turned off. Am I on the right track for Kaburie, and Fraser's Gully?"

"Yes," replied Forde, "this is the turn off here for both Kaburie and the Gully; the main track goes on to Boorala. Will you have some tea?"

"Thank you, I shall be very glad of a drink." Then again raising his hat to Kate, he said, "My name is Gerrard. Are you Miss Fraser?"

"Yes," replied Kate smiling, "and you are Mr Gerrard of Ocho Rios, I am sure, for I have seen your photograph. But how did you guess I was Kate Fraser?"

"I really could not tell you; but somehow I felt certain that you were the young lady whom Mr Lacey described so admiringly to me a day or two ago."

"Did he? The dear old man! How nice of him," and she laughed merrily. "Mr Gerrard, this is my friend, the Reverend Mr Forde, of Boorala-and hundreds of other towns as well."

The two men shook hands, and in a few minutes Gerrard was conversing with him and his fair companion as if he had known them for years, and both Forde and Kate were much interested in learning the object of his visit to Kaburie.

"I do hope you will buy Kaburie, Mr Gerrard," said Kate; "it is a really splendid station, and I am sure that you will like it better than your place away up on Yorke's Peninsula. Of course," she added, with her usual serene frankness, "I am very, very sorry that Mrs Tallis is not coming back, for we are great friends, and always exchanged visits once a week, and now I shall miss going there very much. And, oh, the garden of which she was so proud! I suppose now--" she stopped, and reddened slightly.

"Go on, please," said Gerrard with assumed gravity, though his eyes were smiling.

"I was about to be rude enough to say that most men don't care much for flowers."

"If I buy Kaburie, Miss Fraser, I will come to you, cap in hand, and humbly beg you to instruct me what to do; and furthermore, I promise that when you say 'do this' it shall be done."

"You are undertaking a big contract, Mr Gerrard," said Forde with a laugh, as he rose to go to his horse; "you will have to send to Sydney for a Scotch gardener."

As soon as the clergyman was out of hearing Gerrard, who had remembered Lacey's remark about "a parson being in the running," said quietly, "I certainly am a most forgetful man, Miss Fraser, and ask your forgiveness. Here is a letter for you, which my friend Aulain asked me to deliver to you."

The girl blushed deeply as she took the letter, for she instinctively divined that Gerrard had purposely deferred giving her the letter whilst Forde was with them. And from that moment she liked him.

"Thank you, Mr Gerrard," she said, as she placed the letter in the pocket of her skirt. "Is Mr Aulain any better?"

"Yes, but he won't be 'fit' for another six weeks or so. He has had a very bad attack of fever this time. Of course you know that he and I are old friends?"

"Oh, yes, indeed! He always writes and speaks of you as 'old Tom-and-Jerry.' And I am so really, really glad to meet you, Mr Gerrard. Randolph says that you are the finest scrub rider in Australia, and he is next."

"Ah, no, he is the first, as I told Lacey a couple of days ago. His own troopers can hardly follow him when--"

"Don't, Mr Gerrard! I know what you were about to say," and she shuddered; "but please do not ever speak to me of Mr Aulain in connection with the Native Police. I loathe and detest them, and would rather he were a working miner or a stockman, than a leader of such fiends."

"Randolph Aulain is a different stamp of a man from the usual Inspector, Miss Fraser. No one has ever accused him of cruelty or unnecessary severity in discharging his duties."

"It is an ignominious duty, I think, to shoot and harass the blacks in the manner the police do," persisted Kate. "When the brig Maria was lost here on the coast some years ago, and some of the crew killed by the blacks, the Government acted most cruelly. The Native Police not only shot the actual murderers, but ruthlessly wiped out whole camps of tribes that were hundreds of miles away from where the vessel was lost."

Gerrard nodded. "So I heard. But I can assure you, Miss Fraser, that the Native Police under men like Aulain, can, and do, good service. The blacks in this part of the colony are bad enough, but on Cape York

Peninsula, they are worse-daring and ferocious cannibals. The instinct to slay all strangers is inborn with them. Some of the tribes on the Batavia River district I believe to be absolutely untamable."

"Would you shoot a black-fellow, Mr Gerrard, for spearing a horse or bullock?"

"No, certainly not! But you see, Miss Fraser, we squatters would not mind them killing a beast or two for food occasionally, but they will spear perhaps thirty or forty, and so terrify a large mob of cattle that they will seek refuge in the ranges, and eventually become so wild as to be irrecoverable. I can put down my losses alone from this cause at over a thousand head. Then, again, two of my stockmen were killed and eaten three years ago; and this necessitated inflicting a very severe punishment."

The girl sighed, but said no more on the subject.

"You will stay with us to-night, will you not, Mr Gerrard?" she said as Forde returned. "It will be so pleasant for father and me to have both Mr Forde and you with us for the night."

"Thank you, I will, with pleasure. Perhaps your father-and you too-will come on to, Kaburie with me in the morning, show me the ropes, and tell me something about the country. And then you can see how the garden looks as well."

Kate's eyes brightened. "Indeed, we will I I love Kaburie. When we heard that it was to be sold, father tried to lease it from poor Mrs Tallis, but she wanted to sell outright, so father has to keep 'pegging away' at the claim, and our old rattle-trap of a crushing mill. But some day, perhaps, we shall 'strike it rich' as the miners say."

The horses were again saddled, and the party set out on their way, riding single file along the narrow bush track towards the ranges in which the little mining camp was situated. The sun was well towards the west when they came in sight of the rough, bark-roofed shed with uncovered sides, which contained the battery plant, and Fraser's equally unpretentious dwelling, which, with three or four miners' huts constituted the camp. A bright, brawling little mountain stream, with high banks lined with the graceful whispering she-oaks, gave a pleasant and refreshing appearance to the scene, and the clash and rattle of the heavy stampers as they crushed the golden quartz, echoed and re-echoed among the rugged tree clad range.

A big, broad-shouldered man of about sixty years of age, who was engaged in thrusting a log of ironbark wood into the boiler furnace, turned as he heard Forde's loud coo-e-e! and came towards them. He was bareheaded, and clad in a coarse flannel singlet, and dirty moleskin pants, with knee-boots; and his perspiring face was streaked with oil and grease from the engine. Taking a piece of cotton-waste from his belt, he wiped his hands leisurely as the three travellers dismounted.

"Father," said Kate, "I couldn't find the horses. But I 'found' Mr Forde, and this is Mr Gerrard, who is going to Kaburie, and who has promised to camp here to-night."

"Glad to see you," and the big man shook hands with Gerrard; "how are you, Forde? Get along up to the house, Kate, and I'll follow you soon. Give Forde and Mr Gerrard towels. I daresay they'll be glad of a bathe in the creek before supper. You know where the whisky is, parson. Help yourself and Mr Gerrard."

"How is she going, father?" asked Kate.

"Oh! just the same, about half an ounce or so."

("She", in miners' parlance, was the stone then being crushed-a crushing is always a "she." Sometimes "she" is a "bully-boy with a glass eye; going four ounces to the ton." Sometimes "she" is a "rank duffer." Sometimes "she" is "just paying and no more.")

Simple as was the girl's question, Gerrard noted the grey shadow of disappointment in her dark eyes, as her father replied to it, and a quick sympathy for her sprung up in his heart. And to Fraser himself he had taken an instantaneous liking. Those big, light-grey Scotsman's eyes with their heavy brows of white overshadowing, and the rough, but genial voice reminded him of his brother-in-law Westonley.

"I'll give the old man a lift," he said to himself, as he walked beside Kate to the house.

"What are you thinking of, Mr Fraser?" asked Kate, "I really believe you are talking to yourself."

"Was I?" he laughed, "it is a habit of mine that has grown on me from being so much alone. What a splendid type of a man your father is, Miss Fraser."

The glance of delight which shone in her eyes made Tom Gerrard's heart quicken as it had never before to the voice of any woman.

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