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   Chapter 18 No.18

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 8719

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On their way home, Gerrard and Fraser discussed the position, and Kate's heart beat quicker when her father said, "I think you are right, Gerrard. Ill give up the idea of the Gilbert, and shall try my luck on the Batavia."

"Very well, it is settled. We can leave by the next steamer for Somerset."

"I meant to overland it."

"Don't think of it. It is over a thousand miles, and you would have to pass through some fearful country, full of poison bush, and would perhaps lose all your horses. Then, too, the blacks are bad, very bad."

"Some of my men will be sure to come with me; especially Young and Smith."

"Don't think of overlanding it," persisted Gerrard. "It would take you, even with the best of luck, two months to get to the Batavia. Come with me to Somerset. I think we can get all the horses we want there, and then we can go across country-only one hundred and fifty miles-to the Gulf side; if not, I'll hire one of the pearling luggers to take us round by Cape York."

So Douglas Fraser yielded, and when they reached the house, he sent word to the claim and battery for all the men to come to him.

"Boys," he said, as the toil-stained, rough miners filed into the sitting-room, "we'll have to clear out of the Gully now that the reef has pinched out. Now, Mr Gerrard tells me that there is both good reefing and alluvial country up about the Batavia River; all the creeks carry gold; so I am going there with him, Will any of you come in with me?"

Every one of them gave a ready assent.

"Why, boss," said Sam Young, "we coves ain't agoin' to leave you an' Miss Kate as long as we can make tucker and wages-or half wages, as fur as that goes. What say, lads?"

"Of course you can't leave us," said Kate with a laugh; "you all know what it is to have a woman cook."

"An' a lady doctor for them as have jim-jams," said one of them, looking at Cockney Smith, who shuffled his feet, and stared at something he pretended to see outside.

The matter was soon concluded, and the few following days were spent in crushing the last of the stone from the claim, and having a final clean-up of the battery. And Douglas Fraser could not help a heavy sigh escaping him, as he looked at the now silent machinery, and the cold, fireless boiler, to be in a few years hidden from view by the ever-encroaching forest of brigalow and gum trees.

Knowles, when he heard they were going, came to say good-bye. He looked so dejected that Kate felt a real pity for him; especially now that she knew the story of his life.

"I'll be as lonely as a bandicoot after you go," he said frankly, as he twisted his carefully-waxed moustache; "and, by Jove, if I were not bound to stay at Kaburie for Mrs Tallis, I would ask your father to let me make one of his party. I don't know anything about mining, but I could make myself useful with the horses-sort of a cow-boy, you know."

"I really do wish you could come with us, Mr Knowles. We shall miss you very much. Father, when he looked at his chess-board yesterday, heaved such a tremendous sigh, and I knew that he was thinking of you, and wondering if he will ever find any such another player."

"Ah! I shall miss my chess, too. Still, one never knows what may happen, and it is possible that some day you may see me up on the Batavia, looking for a billet on some cattle station. I would go now if I could. But I must stick to Mrs Tallis, at least until she gets another manager."

"She won't let you leave Kaburie, Mr Knowles. She likes you too much; she told me so." The little man's face suffused with pleasure. "It was very good of her. But I should like her ever so much more if she would give me a better salary."

"Ask her-she won't refuse you."

"Ah! I wouldn't have the courage; a lady, you see, is different from a man."

"Write-that is easy enough. Now, promise me. And I can positively assure you that she will only be too glad." She put her hand on his. "Do promise me."

"I can refuse you nothing. But I need not write, for I think it very likely that now the sale of Kaburie is 'off' with Mr Gerrard, she will come back there to live. I had a telegram from her yesterday, in which she said that she might come back next month."

"Then, Mr Knowles, you will have to propose to her-that will be ever so much better than asking her for a bigger salary," and

Kate laughed.

The ex-sailor blushed like a girl, then he tugged furiously at his moustache. "By Jove, Miss Fraser, I-I-you don't know-I-if I were not so old, and not so beastly poor-I was going to ask you to marry me. There, it's out now, and you'll think me an ass."

Kate's manner changed. What she had feared he would one day say, he had now said, and she felt sorry for him.

"I think that you are such a man that any woman should be proud to hear what you have said to me, Mr Knowles," she said softly. "I know more about you than you think I do. But I shall never marry. I am going to stick to my father, and grow up into a nice old maid with fluffy white hair."

"You are not offended with me?"

"Offended! No, indeed. I feel proud that you should think so much of me as to have thought of asking me to be your wife," and she put out her hand to him. He raised it quickly to his lips, and then saying something incoherent about his wanting to see Cockney Smith's kangaroo pups, hurriedly left the room.

"That was over soon," breathed Kate, as she watched his well-set little figure striding across the paddock to Smith's humpy. "He is a gentleman, if ever there was one in the world."

"What is the matter, little one?" asked her father, as he entered the room.

"Nothing, dad. I was only looking at Mr Knowles going over to Smith's humpy to look at the new kangaroo pups."

Fraseras eyes twinkled. He guessed what had occurred. "I suppose Charlie Broome," (the bank manager at Boorala) "will be the next, Kate. I had a letter from him this morning, saying he would be here to-morrow. You had one also, I saw."

"Oh, he is concerned about Cockney Smith's account," said Kate serenely; "that is why he is coming, now that he knows we are going away."

"Exactly," said Fraser, stroking his beard. "It's wonderful the interest he takes in Cockney Smith-an extraordinary-ordinary interest."

"Father, don't make fun of me-I can't help it. And his letter to me was so silly that I was ashamed to show it to you-I really was."

"Oh, well, I don't want to see it, my child. I've read too many love-letters when I was on the Bench-some of them so 'excessively tender,' as that old ruffian of a Judge Norbury used to say in Ireland, more than a hundred years ago, that I had to handle them with the greatest care, for fear they would fall into pieces. Now, who else is there that is going to solicit your lily-white hand-which isn't lily-white, but a distinct leather-brown-before we get away? Lacey, I suppose, will be the next."

"Not he, dad-the dear, sensible old man! He is wedded to his 'rag,' as he calls the Clarion. But, at the same time, I do look forward to seeing him again, and hearing his beautiful rich brogue-especially when he is excited."

Gerrard came to the door.

"May I come in?" he asked His eyes were alight with subdued merriment, as he displayed an open letter. The mailman from Port Denison had just arrived.

"I have had a letter from my sister, Miss Fraser. She is leaving Sydney with my niece Mary, and coming to Ocho Rios. That is a bit of good luck for me, isn't it? And I am sure you and she and Mary will become great chums. She tells me that "-he hesitated a moment-"that as her affairs are in such a bad state she would like to come to me. And I am thunderingly glad of it Of course she doesn't know that Ocho Rios station has gone-in a way; but by the time she gets to Somerset-three months from now-she will find a new house, and we'll all be as happy as sandboys. Now, Miss Fraser, are you ready for an hour or two's fishing? You'll come too, Fraser?"

"Won't I? Do you think I would miss the last chance of fishing in Fraser's Creek?" and the big man took down his fishing-rod and basket from a peg on the rough, timbered sides of the sitting-room.

"Fill your pipe, dad, before we start."

"Fill it for me, Miss," and Fraser threw a piece of tobacco upon the table, together with his pocket-knife.

"And yours too, Mr Gerrard. I am a great hand at cutting up tobacco; I wish I were a man, and could smoke it. Oh, Mr Gerrard, I'm 'all of a quiver' to know that I shall see your little Mary."

"So am I, 'quite a quivering," and then as Gerrard looked at her beautiful face, he remembered his own scarred features, and something between a sigh and a curse came from his lips.

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