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   Chapter 25 No.25

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 8879

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Oh, men who have, or have had fever as badly as Aulain has, often act very queerly, Lizzie, so don't be too hard on him."

"I know that, Tom. But at the same time there is something about him-those strange eyes of his-that made me afraid of him. When I told him last night that Kate Fraser was coming here on a long visit, he did not answer; his eyes were fixed on your face in such a strange, intense look that it made me feel quite 'creepy'."

Gerrard laughed. "Were they? I didn't notice it."

"No, of course not. You were too busy showing Jim how to unscrew the nipples of his gun, and perhaps did not even hear what I was saying."

"Oh, I did. But I didn't make any comment, as I noticed that at supper, whenever you or I spoke of the Frasers, he answered in curt monosyllables."

"Did you tell him she was coming here next month?"

"No. I daresay I should have done so if I had thought of it."

"Tom, I am not a female Lavater, but when I saw him looking at you like that, I disliked and distrusted him."

"Poor Aulain! Why, Lizzie, he's one of the straightest fellows that ever lived, and I am sure he has a sincere regard for me. You must never take notice of the queer looks and actions of men who have had fever badly."

"Tom! I'm a woman, and I know. He was thinking of Kate Fraser-and you. And he is suffering from another fever-the fever of violent jealousy."

Gerrard looked up-they were at breakfast. "Well, if that is the case, it is a bad complication of diseases, and I am sorry for him. He has no earthly reason to be jealous of me."

"He is jealous, Tom, 'deadly jealous,' as Jim would say, and I dislike him, dislike him intensely for it You have been so good to him, too."

"Only keeping things quiet about Big Boulder Creek, as I promised him I should. And then, you see, Lizzie, his not getting the Government reward of five thousand pounds, as he thought he should, has been a big disappointment to him."

Mrs Westonley rose, came over to him, and placed her two hands against his bronzed cheeks.

"Thomas Gerrard, Esquire?"

"Mrs Elizabeth Westonley!"

"You are to marry Kate Fraser!"

"Am I, old woman? You're a perfect jewel of a sister to find me such a charming wife. But you see there are one or two trifling formalities to be observed. First of all, I should have to ask her her views on the subject."

"You ought to have done that a year ago."

"And have met with a refusal like poor Forde and Aulain."

"No, you would not have been refused. I know that much," was his sister's emphatic observation. "But you are letting the time go by, Tom. And I am sure she is wondering why you don't ask. I know that she loves you."

"Do you really?" and he shook his head smilingly.

"Yes, I do. I'm certain. And I know you are fond of her."

"Been long in the clairvoyant business, Lizzie?"

"Don't talk nonsense, Tom. I am very serious-and it would make me very happy. Ask her this time, Tom. You must-else you have no right to be with her so much. It is not fair to the girl."

"We are very great friends, Lizzie. I like her better than any woman I have ever met. And I have sometimes thought-but anyway, I'm not in a position to ask her."

"Nonsense! Your affairs are improving every day."

Gerrard was silent for a minute, then he said:

"I think Aulain means to try again."

"I am sure of it. But he is wasting his time. High-spirited as she is, she is almost frightened of him. She told me so. She resented very much a letter she received from him in reply to hers telling him she could not marry him; and moreover she told me that even if she cared ever so much for a man, she would never marry a Roman Catholic."

"I don't think she will ever marry, Lizzie, so it is no use my indulging in ridiculous visions; she is too much attached to her father to ever leave him. And you will always be mistress of Ocho Rios and master of Tom Gerrard."

Mrs Westonley laughed, and pulled his short, dark-brown, pointed beard. "Silly man! I know better than that; and I know also that Douglas Fraser would be pleased to see Kate become Mrs Tom Gerrard, for he likes you immensely. Now, promise me you will ask her?"

Gerrard rose and made his escape to the door, then he turned.

"I'll think it over, you match-making creature," and then he went off to the stockyard, apparently unconcerned, but secretly delighted at what his sister had told him, and she

smiled to herself, for she knew that when he spoke of thinking about a matter, he had already decided.

Black Bluff Creek was a purely alluvial gold-field, and was in the very zenith of its prosperity when, towards sunset, Randolph Aulain looked down upon it from an ironstone ridge a mile distant from the workings. It had been given its name on account of a peculiar formation of black rock, which rose abruptly from the alluvial plain, and extended for nearly two miles along and almost parallel with the creek, from the bed of which so much gold was being won by two hundred diggers. The top of this wall of rock was covered with a dense scrub, and presented a smooth, even surface of green, which even in the driest seasons never lost its verdant appearance. Some of the diggers had cleared away portions of the scrub, and erected sun-shelters of bark, under which they slept when their day's toils were over, and enjoyed the cool night breeze-free from the miasmatic steam of the valley five hundred feet below. Almost on the verge of the steep-to wall of rock was a large and regularly built "humpy," in which Douglas Fraser and Kate lived. The ascent to the summit of the bluff was by a narrow path that had been found by Kate in one of the many clefts riven in the side of the black-faced cliff, and her father's mates had so improved it with pick and shovel that Aulain could discern it quite easily.

As he walked his horse down into the camp, the diggers had just ceased work for the day, and with clay-stained and soddened garments were returning to their various tents or "humpies" of bark, all of them contentedly smoking, and ready for their usual supper of salt beef, damper, and tea. Many of the stalwart fellows recognised the ex-officer of Black Police, and bade him a pleasant "good evening, boss," and presently he was hailed by Sam Young, Cockney Smith, and others of Fraser's party. He dismounted and shook hands with Young, and asked him where was the "pub," as he intended to put up there for the night.

Young protested against his going there. "There it is, Mr Aulain, over there," and he pointed to the bush public house, a low, bark-roofed structure on the edge of the creek; "but you can't stay there to-night It's Saturday, you see, and the boys will be there in force to-night, and you'll get no sleep. Besides, Mr Fraser would be real put out if you didn't go to him. He's just gone home. He and Miss Kate live up on the bluff."

"I know. I'll go and see them after supper, but I'd rather camp down here for to-night."

"Then come to our tent. There's plenty of room, and plenty of tucker, and any amount of grass along the creek for your horses."

Aulain accepted the offer, and after unsaddling and turning out his horses, he was provided with a piece of soap, an alleged towel, and a bucket of water, and made a hasty wash in company with Young and his mates. Then came supper and the interchange of the usual mining news. Two years before, not one of his present companions would have addressed him without the prefix of "Mister"; but now he was one of themselves, a digger, and would himself have felt awkward and uncomfortable if any one of them had had the lack of manners and good sense to "Mister" him.

Supper over he lit his pipe, and telling Young he would be back about ten and take a hand at euchre, he set out and took the mountain path to the summit of the bluff. It was a beautifully clear moonlight night-so clear that every leaf of the trees which stood on the more open sides of the rocky track showed out as if it were mid-day, and a bright sun was shining overhead.

When he was within sight of Fraser's dwelling, he heard two shots above him, and then Kate speaking.

"I've got four of the little villains, father."

The sound of her voice thrilled him, and he hastened his steps. In a few minutes he saw Douglas Fraser, who was seated outside smoking his after-supper pipe.

"How are you, Fraser?" he cried.

The big man sprang to his feet, and came towards him with outstretched hand.

"Aulain, by Jove! I am pleased to see you again. I saw some one leading a pack-horse coming into the camp below, but never dreamt it was you. Come inside. Kate will be here in a few minutes. We have a bit of garden close by, and the confounded bandicoots and paddymelons ravage it at nights, and she has just been knocking some over. She will be delighted to see you."

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