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   Chapter 17 No.17

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 11003

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"The saying that misfortunes never come singly seems to be verified in your case, Mr Gerrard," said Kate Fraser, as, a fortnight after he had received the news of Westonley's death, he was relating his disastrous experiences to her and her father.

"Looks like it, doesn't it? But there are lots of fellows who have had worse luck than me, and so I shouldn't 'make a song' over mine. Now, do you know the story of Knowles's life?"

"No, he has never told us."

"Well, he told it to me yesterday" (Gerrard had been to Kaburie to tell the dapper little overseer that he could not pay for the station, and that he, Knowles, must re-take possession as manager for Mrs Tallis), "and I think the poor little chap only related it out of pure sympathy for me when I explained to him how I was fixed, and how sorry I was for him-as well as for myself-for I had doubled the salary he was receiving from Mrs Tallis."

"He told me that," said Kate, and her eyes sparkled with fun.

"Naturally, he would tell you" and Gerrard, with a faint quiver of one eyelid, gave Douglas Fraser a sly glance. "I am sure you must be the recipient of the confidences of all the country side, and would never 'give any one away,' as vulgar persons like myself would say; so please don't 'give me away' to Knowles." Then his voice changed. "Miss Fraser, that little man is both a hero and a martyr. He was in the Naval Brigade at Sebastopol, and was recommended for the V.C. for distinguished bravery in one of the futile attacks on the Redan. Did you know that?"

"No! He only told us that he was with Peel's Naval Brigade and had seen most of the fighting, was severely wounded, and that after he came home he left the Navy through ill-health, and came to Australia."

"Well, he didn't get the Cross after all; that was his first bit of bad luck. Then his father, who was always looked upon as a very wealthy man, went smash for a huge amount, which ruined hundreds of people, and then shot himself; so poor Knowles left the Navy and took a billet as house-master at a boys' college. Six months after, his uncle, Lord Accrington, died, and left Knowles twenty thousand pounds. Of that twenty thousand pounds he kept only five hundred pounds; every penny of the rest he gave to his dead father's creditors."

"How noble of him," said Kate. "It was indeed, 'but you see,' he said to me, 'I didn't want the money. My mother had died years before, and I have no brothers or sisters, and it would have been a disgraceful thing for me to have kept the money after what had occurred. Lord Accrington was my mother's brother, and I was always a favourite of his (he did not like my father, and had not spoken to him for years). I never expected he would leave me a cent, and so it was no sacrifice on my part' And then he said that ten years ago he had saved enough money to buy a small sheep station in the Riverina District, and then came the drought of '72 which broke him."

"Poor fellow!" said Kate, "I shall like him now more than ever."

Gerrard nodded. "One doesn't often come across such men. And, as I was saying, I have no reason to make a song over my affairs when so many other fellows have had worse luck than me."

Douglas Fraser, who for the past few days had been depressed in spirits, said, as he rose from his seat:

"True, Gerrard. It is of no use any one girding at his misfortunes, if they are not caused by himself. Sometimes a man thinks in mining parlance that he has 'struck it rich,' and straightway begins building his Chateaux en Espagne. Then he finds he has bottomed on a rank duffer, and wants to swear, as I do now." He smiled and spread out his chest, "Kate, I'm going up to the claim to see Sam Young."

"And Mr Gerrard and I are going to the creek to catch some fish for supper."

"Very well! I shall come back that way and join you," and the big man strode off to the claim-half a mile away.

"Your father is not in his usual spirits, I think, Miss Fraser," said Gerrard, as he and Kate walked down to the fishing pool through the ever-sighing she-oaks which lined the banks of the creek.

"He is not; the reef has been gradually thinning out, and Sam Young told him yesterday that he is afraid it will pinch out altogether. Last Saturday's cleaning up at the battery only yielded ten ounces of melted gold-worth about forty pounds-and the week's expenses came to one hundred and forty pounds. I am afraid, Mr Gerrard, that father and I and all the men will have to leave Fraser's Gully, and set our faces to the North, and leave the old battery behind us to the native bears and opossums and iguanas and snakes," and her voice faltered, for she dearly loved the place where she had spent so many happy years.

"I am sorry," said Gerrard, musingly. "I suppose your father-if he does leave here-from what he said to me is thinking of going to the newly-opened gold fields on the Gilbert River?"

"Yes, in that direction at any rate, prospecting as we travel. That is the one thing that consoles me; I love the idea of seeing new country."

Gerrard made no answer for some minutes. He was thinking of a certain place on a creek, running into the Batavia River-the place "with a hunking big boulder standing up in the middle of a deep pool," of which he had spoken to Aulain, and he now half-regretted his promise to him to "keep it dark" for six months.

"Of what are you thinking, Mr Gerrard?"

"I was wondering if your father would care to make a prospecting

trip up my way instead of going to the Gilbert rush. When I left Ocho Rios there were several prospecting parties on Cape York Peninsula-some of them doing very well-and I myself got seven ounces of gold in a few hours from a creek about sixty miles from my station. Unfortunately, however, another man as well as myself knows of this place, and he asked me not to say anything about it for six months. He means to go there with a prospecting party."

"You mean Mr Aulain," and Kate turned her frank eyes to his.

"How did you know?"

She flushed. "You remember the letter you brought me from him. In that letter he told me that he was leaving the Native Police, and intended going in for mining, as he knew of some very rich auriferous country near your station, and that you, who also knew of it, had promised him to keep it secret from any other prospecting party."

"Yes, I did. I should like to see Aulain 'strike it rich' as your father says, Miss Fraser," and then he smiled. "If only for the sake of my kind, patient nurse of last month."

Again Kate's face flushed. "I know what you mean, Mr Gerrard, but--" she bent her head, and began to tie on a fishhook to the line she was carrying. "But you are mistaken. I like Mr Aulain very, very much, but I do not like any one enough to-to-oh, dear! I've broken the snooding."

"Never mind, I'll fix it for you," and as his hand touched her's, a new hope came into his life. He knew what she meant him to understand-that she was not going to marry Aulain-and then he went on quickly.

"I gabble like an old woman, do I not, Miss Fraser? Oh, this is what I was about to say, I believe that the Batavia River district is full of rich reefs and alluvial gold as well, and from what I hear from Lacey, I don't think the Gilbert will prove a permanent gold-field. Now, I will try to persuade your father to come to my part of the country instead of the Gilbert, which, by the time he reaches it, will probably be played out altogether, and abandoned."

"Ah! do persuade him, Mr Gerrard; I liked the thought of our going to the Gilbert, but I like better-oh, ever so much better-your suggestion of the Batavia River, for there we should be near the sea; and I love the sea and the beaches. I am horribly selfish, I am afraid."

Gerrard stroked his beard meditatively. "Yes, you'll be near the sea, Miss Fraser. But it is an awful country for a lady to live in; the fever is very bad there, and the blacks are a continual source of danger and trouble."

"Anything that my father can go through I can face too," she said proudly; "and besides that I have had fever, am not afraid of blacks or anything-except alligators," and she shuddered, as she smiled.

"Then you will be in a continual state of fear. All the rivers on the Peninsula are alive with them, and I have lost hundreds of cattle by the brutes." Then he laughed. "But they won't get many this year."

"How bravely he takes his misfortunes," she thought. Then she said, "Well, I shall take good care of myself, and not cross any creeks if the water is not clear. Now here we are at the pool. Isn't it lovely and quiet? I do hope we shall have caught enough fish by the time father comes."

Gerrard, as he filled his pipe, watched her smooth, slender brown hands baiting the hook of her line with a small grasshopper, and noted the beautiful contour of her features, and the intent expression in her long-lashed eyes as she surveyed it. She looked up.

"Now, Mr Gerrard what are you doing? Don't be so lazy. I'll have at least three fish before you have your line ready. Oh, I do wish I were a man!"

"Why?"

"Because then I could smoke a pipe when I am fishing. It must be delightful! When father and Sam Young and Cockney Smith come here with me to fish, and I see them all looking so placidly content with their pipes in their mouths, I feel as if I was missing something. Now, watch!"

She made a cast with her light rod of bamboo, and almost at the same moment that the impaled grasshopper fell upon the glassy surface of the pool it was seized by a fish of the grayling species; known to Queenslanders as "speckled trout."

"There you are!" she cried triumphantly, as she swung the silvery-scaled beauty out of the water, and deftly grasped it with her left hand. "First to me."

The music of her laugh, and her bright, animated features, filled Gerrard with delight as he watched her make a second cast. Then he too set to work, and, for the next quarter of an hour, they vied to make the greatest catch. Gerrard was a long way behind, when Douglas Fraser appeared. He was saying over and over again to himself: "There is nothing between her and Aulain! there is nothing between them!" Then, as he put his hand to his scarred face, the wild elation in his heart died away.

* * *

"Well, young people, what luck?" said the burly mine-owner, as with his hands on his hips, he leant against a she-oak.

"Splendid, father! thirty-five. How is the reef going?"

"Pinched out all together, chick. We can hang the battery up now."

Kate laid down her rod, and covered her face with her hands, and Gerrard saw the tears trickling through her fingers. For she loved the Gully, as she had loved no other place before.

Fraser stepped over to her, and placed his hand on her bent head.

"Never mind, little girl! We'll strike it rich some day."

"Yes, father!" she whispered, as she smiled through her tears, "we shall strike a patch some day."

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