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   Chapter 11 No.11

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 9638

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Just as dawn broke, the deep note of a bell-bird awakened Kate from a somewhat restless and troubled slumber; but quickly dressing, she took up a bucket and set off to the milking-yard.

The ground and the branches of the trees above were heavily laden with the night-dew, and in a few minutes her feet were wet through, and then, ere she had walked half the distance to the yard, several long-legged, gaunt kangaroo dogs, who were watching for their mistress, made a silent and sudden rush to welcome her, leaping up and muddying her shoulders with their wet paws, and making determined efforts to lick her hair and face.

Presently a loud whistle sounded from somewhere near, and "Cockney Smith" appeared driving before him two cows, and in an instant the dogs darted off to him, and let the girl enter the yard in peace.

"Why, Miss Kate, them 'ere dorgs will bite the 'ed off'n you if you don't use a whip on 'em when they get prancin' around like that," and he lashed out at them with the whip he carried.

Kate laughed. "Poor doggies! they badly want a day's kangarooing, so I must not mind their roughness. I think, Smith, if we can only find the missing horses this week we'll have at least half-a-day's run with the dogs on Sunday. To-day I am going with my father to Kaburie."

"Right you are, Miss!" said the young miner, who, like his mates, revelled in a kangaroo hunt. "On'y yesterday near the claim, I seed an old man kangaroo as big as a house, but er course, bekos I was on foot, and hadn't got no dorgs with me, 'e took no more notice of me than if I was a bloomin' howl. 'E just stood up on 'is 'ind legs, and looked at me for about five minutes with a whisp o' grass hangin' outer 'is mouth; then 'e goes on feedin' has if 'e didn't mind dorgs or 'orses, or men, and hadn't never heerd o' kangaroo-tail soup in 'is life."

"Perhaps we may get him next Sunday, Smith. Now, bail up, Maggie, and if you try to kick over the bucket you'll feel sorry, I can assure you," and she smacked a jet black little cow on the ribs with her strong, shapely brown hand. The beast put her head through the bail; "Cockney" quickly pinned her in, then secured her "kicking" leg with a green hide leg rope, and the Goddess of the Gully began to milk. "Cockney" stood by watching, pipe in mouth, and waiting till Kate was ready for the second cow to be put in the bail.

"Here's Jackey and 'is missus, as usual, Miss Kate," he said, pointing to the slip rails of the milking yard, on which a large "laughing jackass," and his mate had perched, and were regarding Kate with solemn attention.

"Oh, the poor things! I forgot their bread this morning. I was thinking about something else."

"Don't you worry about 'em, Miss," said Smith, with a grin, "they can take care 'o themselves, Miss Kate."

"Yes, Smith."

"I went to look at that 'ere guinea hen what was sittin' on eleven eggs under that sort o' cotton bush in the 'orse paddock."

"Did you? The chicks will be out in three or four days."

"They are out already, Miss; them two laughin' jackasses 'as heaten up every blessed egg, and on'y the shells is lef. I thought I saw 'em flying about the nest, and went to see."

"Oh, the wretches!" cried Kate in dismay.

"Next ter halligaters, laughin' jackasses his the mischievioustest, and cunnin'est things hin creation," observed Mr Smith; "hif I 'ad my gun 'ere now I could take 'em both hin a line. Look at 'em setting there like two bloomin' cheerybims, who 'adn't never seen a hegg o' any kind but their own."

"Oh, no, don't shoot them, Smith. I feel very mad with them, but wouldn't hurt them for the world. They kill and eat such a lot of snakes-bad snakes, 'bandy-bandies' and 'black necks.'"

"So I believe, Miss. And perhaps that is wot fills 'em with such willianly; they himbibes the snakes' cunning after they 'as digested 'em. I onct heerd a naturalist cove as was getting birds on the Diamantina River say that he was dead certain there wasn't no laughin' jackasses in the Garden o' Eding, which was a smokin' great pity."

"Why?" asked Kate, as she rose, put the milk bucket aside, and let Smith bail up the second cow.

"Oh, he says, says he, as he was skinnin' a jackass which had a two foot whip snake inside him, 'if one o' you fellers 'ad a been in Eding, poor Heve wouldn't 'ave got hinter no trouble, hand we 'uman bein's 'ud go on livin' for hever like Muthusalum. The old serpant,' says he, 'wouldn't a 'ad the ghost of a show hif han Australlyian laughin' jackass 'ad copped him talkin' to Heve, and tellin' 'er it was orlright, and to go ahead an' heat as much as her stomach would accomydate.'"

"Oh, I see!" said Kate gravely, "I must tell that to Mr Forde."

"'E won't mind-'ell on'y larf," said Mr Smith, who was a talkative young man for an Au

stralian bushman, native to the soil. (The nickname of "Cockney" had been bestowed upon him on account of his father being a Londoner, who, like a true patriot, had left his country for his country's good.) He was a good-natured, hard-working man like the rest of the hands at the camp, but was the "bad boy" of the community as far as liquor was concerned. Every three months, when Fraser "squared up" with his miners, and handed them their share of the proceeds from the gold obtained, he gave them all a week's leave to spend in Boorala, or any other township in the district. Not more than two or three would elect to go, but of these Cockney Smith was always one. On such occasions Kate would stand at her father's door on the look-out-to see that Mr Smith did not ride off without being interviewed.

"How much have you this time, Smith?" she would ask.

"Forty-five quid, Miss."

"I'll take ten."

"Thirty-five pound don't go far in Boorala, Miss," he would plead, uneasily.

"It will go far enough for you to see the Police Magistrate, and be fined five pounds, or take fourteen days for disorderly conduct, and also enable you to pay that wicked wretch of a Hooley for the poisonous stuff he gives you to drink, and keep him from taking your horse and saddle. In fact I think you might go with thirty pounds this time."

"Oh, 'Eavens, Miss!" and Cockney's features would display horrified astonishment as he hurriedly handed her ten one-pound notes. "Why it's the winter meetin' of the Boorala Jockey Club, and I'll want an extra ten quid to put on a couple o' 'orses; one is a bay colt that won--"

"That will do, Smith. You are a bad lot. You tell me horrible stories. Instead of going sober to the race-course, you go drunk, and are robbed, or lose your money, or fight the police, and--"

"Didn't I pull it orf, larst Christmas, Miss, with Banjo in the 'urdle race? Didn't I collar a hundred and five quid from that Melbourne bookie?"

"Yes. And what became of it? How much of it did you bring back? Just thirty shillings! And you couldn't do any work for nearly two weeks; and you had delirium tremens. Now, go away, and if you come back as you did last time father won't have any more to do with you-and neither will I."

Smith would ride off with his companions. "She made me ante up ten quid this time," he would observe-expecting sympathy.

"Well, it's ten pound to the good for you, you boozing little owl," would be the reply. For all the men at the camp knew that during two years Kate had placed various sums to the credit of Smith at the Boorala bank, and had extorted a solemn promise from him not to attempt to write a cheque for even one pound without her consent. But, as she felt she could not trust Cockney, she had also taken the bank manager into her confidence, and asked him to refuse to honour any cheque drawn by "the bad lot" unless it had her endorsement.

The bank manager, who was another of Kate's adorers, promised to observe her wishes. "It's not banking etiquette, Miss Fraser, but that doesn't matter in North Queensland. We do many things that we ought not to do, and if Smith draws a cheque you may be sure that I will refuse to pay it as 'signature illegible'-as it is sure to be. But I'll lend him a few pounds if he breaks out again, and is laid up in this abode of sin, so that he may get home again to your protecting care."

The milking was finished, and Smith, taking up the heavy bucket of milk, was just about to carry it to the house, when he set it down again.

"My word, Miss," he said admiringly, "look there; there's that Mr Gerrard a-gallopin' 'is 'orse down to the creek for a swim bareback. My oath, 'e can ride."

Kate turned just in time, and saw Gerrard, who was in his pyjamas with a towel over his shoulders, disappearing over the ridge at a full gallop. She did not know that he had risen long before she had, walked in the grey dawn to the horse paddock through the dew-soaked grass, caught his horse, and had been an interested spectator of her dairy work.

"Yes, Smith, he can ride, as you say. And his horse wanted a swim after such a hot ride from Port Denison."

As they walked back to the house, Kate saw her father coming towards them, and let Smith go on.

"Father," she said, "I am glad to see you before breakfast as I shall not perhaps have a chance to speak to you if we are going to Kaburie to-day with Mr Gerrard."

"What is it?"

"Mr Aulain has written to me. He wants me to marry him."

"So does Forde, who asked me for you last night."

Kate laughed.

"We'll talk about it by and by, my girl," said Fraser gravely, as he stroked her head.

"There will not be much to talk about, father," was the decisive answer. "I am never, never going to leave you for any man-no matter who he is."

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