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   Chapter 28 No.28

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 9429

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The news that a small mob of cattle had been bought by Vale, and were to arrive on the following day, caused great satisfaction to the diggers, and that night the "Roan Pack-Horse" was crowded with diggers, who had not for many months tasted meat of any kind, except now and then a scrub wallaby. Game of any kind was scarce, and hard to shoot, and the diggers, although they cheerfully paid adventurous packers three shillings for a small tin of sardines, and five for a tin of American salmon, wanted beef of some kind-even if it were that of a worn-out working bullock-if such a treasure could have been found. Vale, for business and other purposes, had carefully avoided telling any one until the last moment that he had sent a letter to Gerrard, offering him ten pounds per head for one or two hundred young cattle, delivered to him in fair condition. A "cute" man of business, he had the idea of forming the nucleus of a herd with which to stock some adjacent country to "Hansen's Rush," and being also in his rough way a sentimentalist, he meant to give the diggers a surprise-for a satisfactory quid pro quo. He would sell them fresh beef at two shillings a pound, when they were willing to pay double, instead of eating "tinned dog," as they termed the New Zealand and American canned beef and mutton they bought from the packers at exorbitant prices, and often cast aside with disgust and much vivid language.

At nine o'clock on the following morning, Gerrard and his three black stockmen appeared, driving before them the mob of young cattle-steers, young heifers, and a few bulls; and the diggers gave him an uproarious welcome, for work on the claims had been stopped for that day at least, and they had been waiting for him.

"Good morning, boys," cried Gerrard, as the mob of cattle was rounded up by his black stockmen, and he, swinging his right foot up out of the stirrup, sat sideways on his saddle. "Just show me those you want for killing, Vale, and I'll cut them out for you right away. Then I'll turn the rest over to you to tail.{*} I've had enough of 'em, and want a drink."

* "Tail"-a drover or stockman who is set to keep a mob of

cattle from straying "tails" them-i.e., follows at their

tails.

"Here you are, Mr Gerrard," cried a big, hairy-faced digger, who was holding a bottle of beer in one hand, and a tin pannikin in the other; "a bottle of genuine Tennant's India Ale, acceptable to the most tender stomach, and recommended by the faculty for nuns, nurses, bullock drivers, and other delicate persons."

The crowd laughed, and then Gerrard, after satisfying his thirst, "cut out" (separated from the rest of the mob) three fat steers indicated by Vale; they were at once taken to the killing yard, and the remainder of the animals driven down to the creek to drink, and Gerrard's responsibility ceased.

Amongst those who watched the arrival of the cattle were Aulain and Forreste. They were on the outskirts of the crowd, leaning against the rough "chock and dog leg" fence which served to enclose an acre or so of ground used as a horse-paddock by the diggers. Early in the day as it was, Aulain's sallow face was flushed from drinking. He and Forreste had come to an understanding the previous night. The gentlemanly "Captain" did not take long to discover the cause of Aulain's hatred of Gerrard, and he inflamed it still further by telling him a well-connected series of lies about his frequently having seen Kate Fraser clasped in Gerrard's arms on the deck of the Gambier, when they imagined that they were unobserved, and Aulain, who was now hardly sane, believed him implicitly.

"Let me deal with him first," he had said; "you can have your turn after I have finished with him."

"You don't mean to kill him?" asked Forreste; "if you do, I'm out of it I have a score to settle with him, but not in that way."

"Settle it in any way you like," said Aulain savagely, "but don't interfere with me. I'm not going to kill him, but I am going to make him suffer for his treachery to me. But," and he turned to Forreste with a sneer, "you seem very diffident in the matter of killing any one just now. Perhaps you and your friends acted rather impulsively in the matter of Trooper Angus Irving."

"What do you mean?" cried Forreste hoarsely, and his face blanched with mingled rage and terror.

"I have not been five years in the Native Police without gaining some experience. And when you and your friends galloped after the black tracker, one of your number lost his moleskin saddle-cloth, did he not?"

Forreste made no answer, though his lips moved.

"I found that saddle-cloth two months ago, and recognised it as belonging to your mate

Cheyne, for he once lent it to me. It was a great mistake of his to gallop over rough country with loose girths-especially upon such an occasion as that. Fifty ounces of gold was not worth it."

Forreste, a coward at heart, collapsed. "We could not help it We were trying to unbuckle his valise from his saddle when he awoke, and--

"And-I understand. So please say no more of what followed. It does not concern me, and you need not look so ghastly white."

Then he walked away to his tent, for he did not wish to be seen by Gerrard-at that time.

But a few hours later the latter learnt quite accidentally from Vale that his one-time friend was at Hansen's, and had been one of the card-playing party of the previous night Vale was speaking of the great yields from some of the claims on the field, and mentioned that "Aulain, who had been in the Nigger Police," had a pretty rich one. Gerrard was surprised to hear of his being at Hansen's, for he and the Frasers thought he had gone to the new rush at Cape Grenville on the east coast. Of her quarrel with him Kate had told Gerrard but little, but her father had given him the story in detail, and it had angered him greatly.

"Would you care to go over to his claim, and have a yarn with him?" said Vale; "it's only about a mile away. I think he wants to sell out."

"No, I don't want to see him. I know him very well, and he was once a great friend of mine, but he is not now, and I don't think it would be advisable for us to meet. He nurses an imaginary grievance against me."

Vale nodded. "He's a queer fellow, and I am sure he's not quite right in the upper story. Sometimes he won't speak to a soul for a week at a time; then he has a drinking bout, and goes off his head entirely. I feel sorry for him, for it is a pity to see a gentleman come down so low, and associate with spielers and card-sharpers. The men he was playing with last night are a shady lot-a man called Forreste, and his mates Cheyne and Capel--"

"Ha!" cried Gerrard, "so that gang is here? I know a good deal about them," and he told Vale of what had occurred on board the Gambier when Fraser had thrown Capel across the deck.

"I thought they were a fishy crowd, and there are lots of men here who believe they are gold-stealers, but so far they have been too clever and have escaped detection."

"Well, I can tell you that Capel, otherwise Barney Green, is one of the most notorious gold thieves in Australia, and served a sentence in New South Wales."

"Can I make that known?"

"Certainly. It should be known. You can call upon me to repeat what I have told you to the whole camp."

"Very well, but not to-day. They'll be sure to be here to-night at the shivoo, and as some of the boys are certain to be pretty groggy they might half-kill the whole gang. But I'll go for them in the morning, if you'll back me up."

"Of course I will. But I don't think they will show up to-night, if they know I am here."

In this surmise Gerrard was correct, for Forreste and his companions kept away, being particularly anxious not to come into personal contact with him, and in pursuance of a plan of their own. After the cattle had been killed, they sent a neighbouring digger to buy some beef, and remained at their claim for the rest of the day. Forreste, however, went to several of the other claims, and told the owners that he and his mates thought of clearing out in a day or so, and would sell their claim cheap.

In an hour or two he came back, and found Cheyne outside the tent, repairing their saddles. Green and Pinkerton were busy at the claim, cradling the last of the wash-dirt taken out.

"What luck?" asked Cheyne.

"Better than I expected. Old Sandy MacParland and his party are coming here to-morrow morning, and are going to give the claim a day's trial. If they like it, they will buy us out for one hundred pounds."

"Pity we haven't got time to salt it,{*} and get a bigger price."

* "Salting" a gold mine is a common practice of dishonest

miners not entirely unknown even to magnates of the Stock

Exchange-as the records of the London Law Courts have shown

for many years past.

"MacFarland is too old a hand to be got at that way," replied the captain, as he walked on to the claim to tell Green and Pinkerton his news.

"We can get away to-morrow evening before sunset," he said, after he had told them the result of his negotiations with MacParland. "Cheyne says we can camp at Leichhardt Ponds that night, push on early in the morning, and wait for our man at Rocky Waterholes, where he is sure to camp for the night."

"He'll want a good rest if Aulain does him up to-night," said Capel with an evil grin.

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