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   Chapter 22 No.22

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 13330

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When the Gambier arrived at Cooktown at the mouth of the Endeavour River, a scene of the greatest activity presented itself, for several other steamers had just reached the port, some bringing European diggers from the southern colonies and New Zealand, and others from Hongkong with Chinese. The latter numbered over a thousand, and they landed amid a storm of execration and missiles from the white miners, who had preceded them to the shore. But the yellow men made no show of resistance, not even when some of their number were seized-and thrown into the water with their heavily weighted baskets; they crowded together like sheep, and gazed with stolid faces at the Customs officials remorselessly capsizing their baskets upon the ground, and kicking the contents apart in the search for opium. Bags of rice were cut open and the grain spilled upon the ground, to the delight of the white diggers, especially when a tin of opium was found, and the would-be smuggler had his pigtail tied to that of another until there were several groups of a dozen so secured to be driven to the roughly constructed jail and court-house, where justice was administered in an exceedingly expeditious manner by heavy fines. Had it not been that the angry diggers were anxious to get to the newly-discovered fields as quickly as possible, a riot would have taken place, for they knew that within a few weeks there would be thousands of Chinese alluvial diggers all over the country, enriching themselves and spending nothing, for they brought even the greater part of their food with them from China. But the fatuous Government of the day wanted to swell its depleted treasure-chest, and the Chinese poll-tax brought in money quickly. All over North Queensland the rich alluvial gold-fields were soon to be occupied by the yellow men, to the detriment of the white diggers who were hastening to them from all parts of Australasia to meet with bitter disappointment, for the swarms of Chinese would descend upon a newly opened rush like locusts, and in a few weeks work out a field that would have made hundreds of white miners rich, though perhaps each Chinaman might not have obtained more than a few ounces of gold, every penny-weight of which he sent or took back to his native country. Amongst other passengers on the quarterdeck of the Gambier who were watching the examination of the Chinese were Captain Forreste and his friends. Presently Capel, who was looking at Kate so impertinently that she turned her face angrily away, caught her father's eye, and in a moment the Jews features flushed. Where had he seen those keen grey eyes and that square-set face before? Fraser continued to gaze steadily at the man, for he had noticed the fellow's leering glance at his daughter, and meant to resent it.

Then the Jew's natural effrontery came back to him, and returning Fraser's look with an insolent stare, he walked up to him.

"I hope you'll know me again the next time you see me."

"I know you as it is, Mr Barney Green, and the next time you dare to even look at my daughter, I'll give you something to remember. Meantime, take this as an earnest of my intentions."

His right hand shot out and seized Capel by the collar, and twisting him off his feet, he spun him round and round, and then sent him flying across the deck with such violence that he struck the rail on the other side and fell in a heap.

For a few moments there was an astonished silence, and then cries of "What is the matter?" "What did he do?" resounded on all sides as Pinkerton and Cheyne rushed to the fallen man, who lay unconscious. Forreste, twisting his yellow moustache, strode up to Fraser, his face pale with anger.

"What is the meaning of this outrageous assault upon my friend?" he demanded fiercely.

Fraser eyed him up and down with cold contempt, and then Gerrard said with a pleasant drawl, as he stroked his beard:

"Run away and play, Mr-er-Mr-I really forget your name. Oh, Merriton, is it not?"

Forreste's face purpled with passion, and he took a step nearer to Gerrard, who was quite ready for him. Then he stopped and said hoarsely:

"My name is Forreste. I don't know yours, but I do know that if I catch you on shore I'll add some further adornment to your face."

"Oh, you contemptible creature, to say that!" and Kate looked at him with blazing eyes.

Forreste raised his immaculate Panama to her. "This is hardly a matter for a lady's interference."

"Better see to your friend for the present," said Gerrard in the same placidly pleasant manner, as he drew him aside. "But I may mention before you go that there is, on the lower deck, ample space if you wish to fulfil your promise to complete the adornment of my prepossessing features. I am quite at your service later on in the day."

Forreste uttered an oath and turned away, and in a few minutes was in state-room No. 16, where "Mr Capel" was being brought to by his friends.

"Who is the man that did it, Barney?" was Forreste's first question.

"I didn't know him at first, but knew him quick enough when I heard him speak," replied Capel; "he's the --- judge"-here he broke out into a torrent of blasphemy-"who gave me two years at Araluen."

"Ha!" and Forreste tugged his moustache. "The sooner we get that safe affair over the better. The fellow with the scarred face who is with him tackled me and called me 'Merriton.' Some one has blown upon us."

"Yes," assented the Jew, "the sooner the better." Then pouring out a glass of whisky he gulped it down. "And if I get the chance I'll get even with that Scotch swine. He's going to Somerset, and I'll get my knife into him some day. I'd not mind swinging for it."

"Don't talk rot," said Forreste, who yet knew that the Jew was a man who would not hesitate at murder, and that his expression about getting his knife into Fraser was meant in a very literal sense. "I mean to get even with my man if I come across him again. But I won't be such a fool as to attempt it here. Take a look outside and see if Snaky is about."

"Snaky" was the name by which Swires was known to the gang-and the Australian police; and in a few minutes that worthy appeared, and a further conference was held.

That evening, whilst Captain MacAlister was being entertained on shore, a collier came alongside, and the Gambier began to coal. Those of the saloon passengers who had remained on board sat under the after-deck awning, where they were not only secure from the invading coal dust, but where they could enjoy the cool sea-breeze. Among them were Kate and Jim, who had made themselves comfortable in two cane lounges, and at variou

s parts of the quarter-deck were groups of passengers-principally ladies-who were glad to escape from the confined atmosphere of the saloon, and intended to sleep in the open air. Gerrard and Fraser had gone on shore, leaving Jim "in charge of Kate," as Fraser had said.

At the extreme stern were Captain Forreste, Pinkerton, two or three other men, and several ladies, and from this group came much laughter, the "captain" being in great good humour, and winning the ladies' smiles by his skill as a raconteur.

"And so you are deserting us to-morrow morning, Captain Forreste," cried a vivacious young matron; "it is too bad of you. The rest of the voyage will be dreadfully triste-for me at any rate." Every one laughed.

The gallant captain smiled winningly. "Ah, Mrs Marriott, do not make me vain. Yes, we are going to leave you. In fact we should have all gone ashore this evening, but my unfortunate friend, Mr Capel, is not yet fully recovered from the brutal attack to which he was subjected."

"It was most disgraceful and wicked," chimed in a second lady.

"And cowardly as well," added a fat, sleepy-faced dame. "I believe poor Mr Capel was taken quite by surprise."

"And the way that horrid girl flew at you!" said Mrs Marriott; "but her father being such a horrible bully I suppose she has inherited some of his disposition. She is certainly pretty in a coarse kind of a way, I admit, but terribly gauche. And I really am quite angry with Captain MacAlister-he positively trots after her. She is continually on the bridge with him, and yet he has refused to permit any other ladies to go there, ever since we left Sydney. I think it is scandalous, for I know that Captain MacAlister is a married man with grandchildren."

The hours passed by, and then at eleven o'clock, to the anger of Forreste, Adlam sauntered up. He had been to the dinner, but had left early. Seating himself beside Kate and Jim, he pulled the boy's ear.

"So you are taking care of Miss Fraser, eh, Jim? Lucky man!"

"Just listen to that now!" said the fat lady to Mrs Marriott. "One would think that Mr Adlam would have more sense than to flatter that girl's vanity. He has quite deserted us since she came on board at Port Denison."

Kate, serenely unconscious of the criticisms being passed upon her, was listening to the purser's description of the excited state of Cooktown, when Swires appeared, and said to Adlam:

"When are you turning in, sir?"

"In a few minutes, Swires. You can leave my nip and bottle of soda on the table. I shall not want you any more to-night."

"Very good, sir."

Adlam remained with Kate a few minutes longer, then said good-night, and went to his cabin. Swires, as usual, had placed a tumbler with some brandy in it on the table, and beside it lay the soda. The purser took off his clothes, and got into his thinnest pyjamas, for the cabin was close; but he had made up his mind to stay in his cabin that night, for the sole reason that he was now very suspicious of Captain Forreste and his party, and had made up his mind to suffer the discomfort of a hot cabin, and the noise of the coaling going on as long as they were on board. Forreste had told him in the afternoon that he and his party were staying at Cooktown, much to his satisfaction.

Eight bells struck, and then noise of the falling coals suddenly ceased-the lumpers were taking the usual half-hour "spell." Adlam opened the soda, and the listening Swires heard the pop of the cork, and stole softly into No. 16, where he found the gang awaiting him.

"Well, he's taken his B and S," he said, "and that finishes my part of the contract." (Earlier in the evening he and Pinkerton had opened Adlam's door, and the latter had quickly cut the electric communication of the secret safe. The opening of it later on would not be a difficult matter to such an expert as the American.)

"And we'll do ours presently," said Capel, who was now quite recovered. "How long will that dose keep him quiet?" he asked of Forreste.

"Two hours. As soon as you have the work done, Pinky and Cheyne can take the stuff on shore. I've told the chief steward that we had all thought of going for a stroll on the beach, but that I did not care about leaving Mr Capel, and that as our cabin is not very hot, we should not sleep on deck. When will the coaling start again, Snaky?"

"Twenty minutes or so."

"Very well. Well wait until one o'clock, eh, Barney?"

The Jew nodded, and then Swires left them, and Forreste put out the electric light.

About half-past one Pinkerton and Cheyne appeared on the after-deck, and sauntered up and down for a few minutes. There were several other male passengers still awake, and with these the two men exchanged a few words.

"Will you come with us for a stroll on the beach?" said Pinkerton to a sleepy man who was lying on the skylight.

"No jolly fear; I'm too comfy as I am, and I know what the mosquitoes are on Cook town beach."

Cheyne made some laughing rejoinder, and then he; and his companion went to the gangway and walked leisurely along the jetty. An hour or so later they returned, and settled themselves comfortably with pillows on one of the long deck seats.

In state-room No. 16 Forreste and Capel were conversing in angry, whispered tones.

"How was I to know that he hadn't taken your cursed dose?" snarled the Jew; "and what else could I do but settle him when he awoke? Anyway, we have nothing to be afraid of. We have got the stuff, and by this time Pinky and Cheyne have it safely planted, and there will be no evidence to connect us with the job. Curse you! what are you funking it for? We'll be on shore at five o'clock, the steamer leaves at six, and the purser is never called until seven; and when he is called and doesn't answer, they won't break open his door for at least two or three hours. And by this time he has fifty tons of coal on top of him, and there's more coming down every minute. Listen!"

Forreste, criminal as he was, was not so callous as Green, and shuddered as he heard the coals rattling down into the bunkers.

"Was he quite dead when you dropped him down into the bunker?" he asked, as with shaking hand, he poured some whisky into a tumbler.

"Dead as you will be some day, you white-livered cur!" said the Jew with savage contempt. Then opening the port, he dropped Pinkerton's burglar's tools over into the water. "There! there goes Pinky's kit. All we have to do now is to go on deck-you to blarney with the women, who are awake, and me to play the interesting invalid who was subjected to a violent and unprovoked attack," and he leered evilly.

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