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   Chapter 26 No.26

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 8294

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Kate was not pleased to see Aulain, but did not show it; for she guessed why he had come, and could not but feel a little frightened. But after a little while she felt more at her ease, when he began to tell her father and herself of his mining experiences, and said laughingly that malarial fever was not half as bad as gold fever.

"You see," he said, turning to Kate, "the one only takes possession of your body: the other takes your soul as well. The more gold you get, the more you want; and one does not feel that he has a corporeal existence at all when he turns up a fifty or sixty ounce nugget-as I did on three or four occasions. You feel as if you belonged to another-a more glorious world; and before you, you see the open, shining gates of the bright City of Fortune."

The grizzled ex-judge laughed. "You have missed your vocation in life, Aulain. Man, you're a poet But I know the feeling, and so does Kate. Well, I am pleased that you have had such luck."

"And so am I," said Kate incautiously, "and I wish you better luck still at the new rush at Cape Grenville; but I think what has pleased me most, Mr Aulain, is that you have left the Native Police. Do you know that when the escort was here a few weeks ago with ten black troopers, and your successor came here to see us, I could hardly be civil to him, although he was very nice, and gave us some very late newspapers-only two months old."

"The Black Police are certainly your bêtes noire, Kate," said her father with a smile, as he pushed the bottle of whisky towards his guest.

"They are, dad. They are very especial black beetles to me-beetles with Snider rifles and murderous tomahawks for shooting and cutting down women and children."

Aulain's dark face flushed, and Kate reddened too, for she was sorry she had spoken so hastily. Then, to her relief, there sounded a sudden outburst of barking from Fraser's kangaroo dogs.

"Oh, those horrid paddy melons and bandicoots at the garden again!" and she rose and seized her gun.

"May I come and have a shot, too?" said Aulain.

"Do. It is as clear as noon-day. Take father's gun, Mr Aulain. I have plenty of cartridges in my pocket."

They stepped out together into the brilliant moonlight, and then Kate, driving the dogs away, led the way to the garden-a small cleared space enclosed with a brush fence. Peering over the top, the girl saw more than a dozen of the energetic little rodents busily engaged in their work of destruction. Indicating those at which she intended to fire, she motioned to Aulain to shoot at a group which were further away, and occupied in rooting up and devouring sweet potatoes. They fired together, and three or four of the creatures rolled over, dead. The rest scampered off.

"They will come back in ten or fifteen minutes," said Kate; "shall we wait? See, there is a good place, under that silver leaf ironbark, where it is rather dark. There is a log seat there."

Aulain eagerly assented. This would give him the opportunity to which he had been looking forward.

As soon as they were seated he took Kate's gun from her hand, and leant it with his own against the bole of the tree.

"Kate," he said, speaking very quickly, "I am glad to have this chance of speaking to you alone. I want to ask your forgiveness for that letter I wrote when--"

"I did forgive you, long ago, Randolph. I was very, very angry when I read it, and I daresay you too were angry when you wrote such cruel things to me, but then"-and she smiled-"you have such a very hasty temper."

He placed his hand on hers. "Only you can chasten it, Kate. And now you know why I have come to Black Bluff."

"It is very good of you, Randolph, but, as I have said, I forgave you long ago, and I am sorry that you have come so far just to tell me that you are sorry for what occurred, although both father and I are sincerely glad to see you."

"Ah, Kate! You don't understand what I mean. In asking for your forgiveness I ask for your love. I came here to ask you to be my wife."

"Don't, please, Randolph," and she drew herself away from him. "I cannot marry you. I like you-I alwa

ys liked you-but please do not say anything more."

"Kate," and the man's voice shook, "you cared for me once. Forget my mad, angry letter, and--"

"I have forgotten it. Did I not say so? But please do not again ask me to marry you. Come, let us go back to the house. You will only make me miserable-or else angry."

"Why have you changed so towards me?" he asked quickly.

"I have not changed in any way towards you," she answered emphatically with a slight accent of anger in her tones. "Please do not say anything more. Let us go in," and she rose.

"Kate," he said pleadingly, and he placed his hand on her arm gently, "just listen to me for a minute. I love you. I will do all that a man can to make you happy. I have left the Native Police, and I am now fairly well off--"

She made a swift gesture. "For your sake I am pleased-very pleased-that you have left the Police, and have made money. But, Randolph," and though she was frightened at the suppressed vehemence in his voice, and the almost fierce look of his dark, deep-set eyes, she smiled as she put her hand on his, "please don't think that-that-money, I mean-would make any difference to me. Come, let us go back to father. I am sure he wants you to play chess."

Aulain's face terrified her. He had lost control of himself, and his hand closed around her wrist.

"So you throw me over?" he said in almost savage tones.

"'Throw you over'! How dare you say such a thing to me!" and she tore her hand away from him, and faced him with blazing anger in her eyes. "What have I ever said or done that you can speak to me like this?"

"I know who has come between us--"

"Between us! What do you mean?" she cried scornfully. "What has there ever been 'between us'? And who do you mean?"

Aulian's face whitened with the anger of jealousy, and he gave full vent to the unreasoning passion which had now overmastered him.

"I mean Gerrard."

"Mr Gerrard-your friend?" she said slowly.

"Yes," he replied with a sneer; "my dear friend Gerrard-the man who, professing to be my friend, has steadily undermined me in your regard ever since he first saw you."

"Your mind is wandering, I fear," and the icy contempt with which she spoke brought his anger to white heat. "I shall stay here, no longer, Mr Aulain," and she stepped over to the tree, and took up her gun. Aulain was beside her in an instant.

"Do you think I do not know?" he said thickly, and the gleam of passion in his eyes struck terror to her heart, "It was he who made you leave Fraser's Gully to come here, so as to be near him. At first I thought that it was that Scotch hound of a parson-but now I know better."

Kate flushed deeply, then she whitened with anger. "Oh, I wish I were a man! I could strike you as it is! Ah, you should never have left the Black Police. I shall not fail to let the man who befriended you know how you have vilified him."

"You need not. I will tell him myself what I have told you. By --- he shall suffer for robbing me of you!" and it needed all Kate's courage to look into his furious eyes.

"Good-night, Mr Aulain," she said, trying to speak calmly; "I do not wish to-I hope I never may-see you again."

"No doubt," was the sneering response. "Mr Thomas Gerrard, the squatter, is in a very different position from Randolph Aulain, the digger, with a paltry three or four thousand pounds."

Kate set her teeth, and tried hard to choke a sob.

"My father and I thought that you were a gentleman, Mr Aulain. I see now how very much we were mistaken. And as far as Mr Gerrard is concerned, he will know how to deal with you. I will ask my father to write to him to-morrow."

"Why not expedite your proposed visit to him, and tell him personally?" said Aulain with a mocking laugh.

Kate made no answer, but walked swiftly away. Five minutes later, Aulain, without going to the house to say good-bye to Douglas Fraser, descended the rocky path to the main camp.

At daylight next morning, to the wonder of Sam Young and his mates, he was missing. He had risen at dawn, caught and saddled his horses, and gone off without a word of farewell.

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