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   Chapter 13 No.13

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 10080

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Two days had passed, and Gerrard was still at Kaburie, though Kate and her father had left the previous day; they were, however, to return, bringing with them three or four stockmen to assist Knowles and Gerrard to muster the cattle, for he had decided to buy the station and leave Knowles there as his manager. Although there were but four thousand head of cattle on the run, they were widely separated in small mobs of a few hundreds each-some high up in the ranges, and some haunting the low-lying littoral, and frequenting the flat marshy land about the mouths of the numerous creeks debouching into the sea, where they eagerly ate the lush, saline grasses and creepers that lined the coast above high-water mark-and to "round up" all these scattered mobs on their various camps, and count every beast, meant very hard work. Then too, Gerrard intended to have a general branding at the same time, and he felt a thrill of pleasure in his veins, when Kate had said to her father: "Father, why cannot we help, too? You can safely leave the battery and claim to Sam Young for a few days. And as you and I know the country so well, I am sure we should be of some use to Mr Gerrard."

Douglas Fraser had never said "No" in his life to any request of Kate's since she was fifteen, and he smiled assent. And then in addition to that he had taken such a strong liking to Gerrard that it gave him pleasure to afford him all the assistance in his power.

"All right, Gerrard!" (men in the Australian bush do not "Mister" each other after a few hour's acquaintance) "we shall be here. And I'll send over to Boorala for three or four good men to help in the mustering."

So Kate and her father had ridden away and left Gerrard and Knowles to themselves for a few days; and Gerrard and the dapper little overseer planned all sorts of improvements that were to be effected in the way of making Kaburie a crack breeding station.

As father and daughter rode side by side along the track back to their home, through the darkening shadows of the coming night, they talked about Forde and Aulain, Fraser resting his big brown hand on her knee, and looking wistfully into her face.

"And you see, my child, that I well know that there will come a time when you and I must part Some man--"

"Never, father, never! I liked Mr Forde very much, but not well enough to marry him, and part from you. And I kissed him, dad, when we said good-bye. Do you mind much? I couldn't help it. I felt that I must kiss him." (Then tears.) "I thought I had better tell you, for I feel so horribly ashamed of myself."

"There is nothing for you to be ashamed of, child," said her father tenderly; "Forde is a man, and, as I told you, he would take your refusal like a white man and a gentleman."

"He did. And I could not help crying over it."

For some minutes they rode on in silence, then Fraser said:

"When is Aulain coming?"

"As soon as he is able to sit a horse, he said," and then her face flushed. "I wish he would not come, father, and yet I do not like the idea of writing to him and telling him so-especially when he is ill."

Fraser nodded. "I understand. Still I think it would be the better course to take. I had imagined, however, Kate, that you thought more of Aulain than you cared to admit, even to me."

"So I did; and so I do now, but I would never marry him, father, no matter how much I cared for him."

Her father looked at her inquiringly.

"I think I am afraid of him, dad, sometimes. He is so dreadfully jealous, and he has no right whatever to be jealous of me, for we were never engaged. And then there is another thing that is an absolute bar to my marrying him, though I fear I am too much of a coward to tell him so; he is a Roman Catholic. And whenever I think of that I remember the awful tragedy of the Wallington family."

"I think you are quite right, Kate," said the mine-owner gravely. "Frankly, whilst I think Aulain is a fine fellow, and would make you a good husband, I must confess that the thought of your marrying a Roman Catholic has often filled me with uneasiness."

"Don't be afraid, dad," she said decisively. "In the first place, I am not going to marry anyone, and shall grow into a pretty old maid; in the second, if I was dying of love, nothing in the world would induce me to marry a Roman Catholic. Whenever I think of poor Mr Wallington as we saw him lying on the grass with the bullet hole through his forehead, I shudder. I loathe the very name of Mrs Wallington, and consider her and Father Corregio the actual murderers of that good old man."

She spoke of an incident that had occurred when she was sixteen. Wallington, a wealthy Brisbane solicitor, had gone to England on a six months' visit When he returned, he found that his wife and only daughter, a girl of five and twenty, had fallen under the influence of a Father Corregio, and had entered the Roman Catholic Church, and his long and happy married life was at an end. A week later he shot himself in his garden.

"I

am afraid that poor Aulain will cut up pretty roughly over this, Kate," said her father presently.

"I can't help it, father. And I think, after all, I had better write to him to-morrow. I really do not want him to come to the Gully."

And she did write, and Aulain's face was not pleasant to see as he read her letter.

"By ______! if it is the parson fellow, I'll shoot him like a rat," he said, and then he cursed the fever that kept him away from Kate.

He went over to the Clarion office and saw Lacey, who was quick to perceive that something had occurred to upset the dark-faced sub-Inspector.

"How are you, Aulain? Any 'shakes' to-day?" he asked, referring to the recurring attacks of ague from which Aulain suffered.

"Oh! just the usual thing," replied his visitor irritably, as he sat down on a cane lounge, and viciously tugged at his moustache. "I thought I would come over and worry you with my company for a while, and get you to come across to the Queen's and share a bottle of fizz with me. They have some ice there I hear-came up by the Sydney steamer last night."

Lacey's eyes twinkled, "I'm with you, my boy. I've just finished writing a particularly venomous leader upon mine adversary the Planters' Friend, and a nice cool drink, such as you suggest, on a roasting day like this, will tend to assuage the journalistic rage against my vile and hated contemporary."

Arriving at the Queen's Hotel the two men went upstairs and sat down on comfortable cane lounges on the verandah, and in a few minutes the smiling Milly appeared with a large bottle of champagne, and a big lump of the treasured ice, carefully wrapped up in a piece of blanketing. As Lacey attended to the ice, Aulain began to cut the cork string.

"Oh! by the way, Lacey," he said carelessly, "I saw in the Clarion yesterday that Forde, the sky pilot, is leaving the Church. Are you ready with the glasses."

"I am. Faith, doesn't it look lovely. Steady, me boy, these long sleever glasses hold a pint. Here's long life to ye, Aulain. Heavens! but it is good," and he sighed contentedly as he set down his glass again.

"Ye were asking about Forde?" he said as he wiped his red, perspiring face. "Yes, he is giving up parsonifying. I had a letter from him by the mailman yesterday from Fraser's Gully. He was staying there for the night with our friend Gerrard."

Aulain's black brows knit, and his hand clenched under the table, as Lacey went on,

"His mother has died, and left him some money. And very glad it is I am to hear it, for a finer man I don't know."

"Much?"

"He didn't say; but I know that his mother was pretty well off. He merely wrote me asking me to mention in the Clarion that he was leaving the Church, and was going South. Ye see, he has a power of friends all over the country, and he just asked me to write a bit of a paragraph saying he was going away, and regretted that he could not come to Port Denison to preach next Sunday fortnight."

Aulain re-filled Lacey's and his own glass, "Lucky fellow! When is he leaving Fraser's place?"

"He was leaving that morning for Boorala, and Fraser and his daughter and Gerrard were going with him as far as the turn-off. By a bit of good-luck, Gerrard-who also sent me a few lines-met Forde and Miss Fraser on his way to the Gully. Here is his note," and he took a letter from his pocket and handed it to Aulain, who read:

"Fraser's Gully.

"Dear Lacey,-As the Boorala mailman is calling here this

morning, I send you a line. I had the good fortune to come

across Miss Fraser and Mr Forde at Cape Conway, and we all

came on to her father's place together. I like Fraser. He's

a fine old cock. The parson, too, is a good sort As for Miss

Kate Fraser, she is a modernised Hotspur's Kate-a

delightfully frank and charming girl. I envy the lucky man

who wins her. I hope the boy has not got into any mischief,

and is giving you no trouble. Give Aulain my regards, and

tell him I delivered his letter sooner than I anticipated. I

leave for Kaburie this morning, and am to have the pleasure

of being accompanied by Fraser and his daughter. Tell Jim

that if he gets into any mischief whilst I am away, I'll

make it hot for him.-Sincerely yours,

"Tom Gerrard."

Aulain handed the letter back to Lacey. He was outwardly calm, but his heart was surging with passion. What business had that d---d parson fellow and Kate to be together at Cape Conway, fifteen miles away from her home? And then his receptive brain conjured up the blackest suspicions. Forde had come into money, and Kate had written to him saying that she could not marry him, "because she would never marry and leave her father." He set his teeth.

"I think we could do another bottle, Aulain," said Lacey presently.

"Right, old man!" replied the sub-Inspector mechanically, and then Lacey noticed that his bronzed face had become pallid.

"'Shakes' coming on?" he asked, sympathetically.

"Just a bit; but the fizz is doing me good."

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