MoboReader> Literature > Tom Gerrard

   Chapter 29 No.29

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 10821

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Nearly a hundred noisy but contented diggers filled Vale's hotel and store, all talking at once; and outside in the yard, seated on boxes, barrels, etc., were as many more, equally as well satisfied as those within. The impromptu and "free feed" of freshly-killed beef had been a great success, and now at seven o'clock, what Vale called "the harmony" began-to wit, music from a battered cornet, an asthmatic accordion, and a weird violin. There were, however, plenty of good singing voices in the company, and presently a big, fat-faced American negro, with a rich fruity voice, struck up a well-known mining song, "The Windlasses," and the diggers thundered out the chorus:

"For I love the sound of the windlasses, And the cry, 'Look-out, below.'"

At its conclusion there was much applause, and then the negro, who was an ex-sailor, was pressed, very literally, for another song. One digger gripped him around the waist, and another seized his woolly poll and shook him.

"Sing, you beggar, sing! Give us the 'Arctic Fleet.'"

"Don' you be so familiar, sah! You common digger pusson! How dah you take liberties with a gentleman!" and the negro laughed good-naturedly as he was forced on his feet again. "And don' se singist get some refreshment fust?"

It was at once supplied, and then "Black Pete's" rich tones sounded out in their full strength as he began the whaleman's ditty:

"Oh, its advertised in Noo York town,

Likewise in Alban-ee,

For five hunder and fifty Yankee boys,

To join de whaling fleet

Singing, blow ye windy mornin's,

And blow ye winds, heigho,

Clear away de marnin' dews,

To de Arctic we mus' go,

To de Arctic we mus' go."

The song was a lengthy one, and when it was finished, there was a pause; then some digger called out through the cloud of tobacco smoke that filled the room:

"Won't you give us a song, Mr Gerrard?" Gerrard, who was talking to Vale, and some other men, turned and shook his head smilingly, when suddenly there was a slight commotion near the open door, and Randolph Aulain pushed through the crowd into the centre of the room. He was booted and spurred, and carried a short, heavy whip of plaited greenhide.

"I should like to have a few words with you, Mr Gerrard, before you sing."

In an instant there was a dead silence-the diggers saw that Aulain meant mischief, for his usually sallow features were now white with ill-concealed fury. Gerrard kept his seat, but leant back a little so as to look Aulain full in the face.

"I am not going to sing," he said quietly. "If you have anything to say to me, say it."

"This filthy den is somewhat too crowded for a private discussion-unless you wish to let every one here know what you are. Come outside."

"You want me to fight you, Aulain, do you?" The steady, unmoved tone of his voice sounded clearly through the crowded room.

"Yes, you treacherous hound, I do. I'll make you fight."

"You shall not. I do not fight with lunatics-and you speak and act like one. Come here to-morrow morning-or I will come to you if you wish."

Vale put his hand on Aulain's arm, with rough good-humour. "Get back to your tent, my lad, or sit down and keep quiet This is my house. You can see Mr Gerrard in the morning. I'll engage he won't run away."

Aulain thrust him aside with savage determination, and again faced Gerrard. "Are you coming outside?" he asked hoarsely.

"No, I am not. But don't try my patience too long, Aulain."

"Will you come or not?" he almost shouted, and he drew back a step, amidst a hot, expectant silence.

"No, you are not in a condition to speak to any one, let alone fighting," was the contemptuous answer.

"Then take that, you wretched cur!" and he swung his heavy whip across Gerrards face, cutting the flesh open from temple to chin, and sending him down upon the earth floor.

In an instant the maddened man was seized by Vale and another man, and borne to the ground. Then amidst oaths and curses, he was dragged outside, struggling like a demon, and carried to his horse, which was tied up to the fence. He was hoisted up into the saddle, and at once tried to take his pistol from its pouch, but the diggers took it away, and then seized his Winchester carbine.

"Here, take your reins, you murderous dog!" cried Vale, putting them into his hands.

"Stand back, boys, and well start him off to blazes."

"He has a Derringer inside his shirt," cried one of the men, "I've seen it."

"Let him keep it," and Vale raised the whip which he had torn from Aulain's hand, and gave the horse a stinging cut on the flank, and with a snort of pain and terror the animal leapt forward into the darkness.

Never again was Randolph Aulain seen alive, but weeks afterwards his horse wandered back to Hansen's Rush, and began to graze outside his master's tent. And all that was left of Aulain was found long after in a gully in the ranges, with a rusted Derringer pistol lying beside some bleaching bones.

Gerrard had a great send-off when he left Hansen's for the coast. The terrible cut on his face had been sewn up by a digger known as "Pat O'Shea," who, ten years before, had had on his brass door-plate in Merrion Square, Dublin, the inscription, "Mr Vernon O'Shea, M.R.C.S."

"Take care of yourself, boss," cried Vale, as Gerrard swung himself up into the saddle, and made a grimace intended for a smile as he

waved his hand to the assembled diggers, and trotted off, followed by his black boy, a short, wiry-framed aboriginal from the Burdekin River country, who was much attached to his master, and eyed his bound-up face with much concern. He, like Gerrard, carried a revolver at his saddle-bow, and a Snider carbine in a becket-Native Police fashion. Gerrard, in addition to his revolver, had a 44° Winchester carbine slung across his shoulder.

"Well, Tommy, here we are off home again. How do you feel? Drunk last night?"

"Yes, boss. Last night and night before, too. Mine had it fine time longa Hansen's."

Gerrard laughed, and began to fill his pipe, though smoking just then gave him as much pain as pleasure. Then he and Tommy rode on in silence for many hours, until they came to where the beaten track ended at a lagoon, known as Leichhardt Ponds. Here they noticed that a party had been camped the previous night, and had evidently been shooting and eating duck, for the ground was strewn with feathers.

From Leichhardt Ponds there was not even a blazed tree line, but both he and the black boy kept steadily on, their bushmen's knowledge guiding them in a bee line for the particular part of the coast they wished to reach.

As they rode along, Tommy's eyes scanned the ground, which was strewn with a thick carpet of dead leaves and bark from the forest gum trees.

"Four fellow men been come along here yesterday, boss," he said, as he pulled up and pointed downward.

Gerrard bent over in his saddle, and looked at the tracks indicated by Tommy.

"Some fellow stray horse perhaps, Tommy?"

The black boy grunted a disapproval of the suggestion. No horses would stray so far from Hansen's, where there was good grass country, into "stunted ironbark" country where there was none. And presently to prove his contention, he pulled up and pointed to a small white object on the ground.

"Look, boss. Some fellow been light pipe and throw away match."

In an instant Gerrard's suspicions were aroused. What could a party of four men be doing so far away from Hansen's-and making towards the coast? Vale had told him that there were scores of notoriously bad characters on the field, and that it was known that he (Vale) was paying him for the cattle in gold, and had advised him to keep a sharp look-out for any strangers.

For another two hours he and the black boy saw the tracks still going in the same direction, till open country was reached-a wide plain covered with clay pans. Here the tracks turned off sharply to the right, and Gerrard pulled up.

"Which way Frenchman's Cap, Tommy?"

Tommy pointed to the right.

Frenchman's Cap was a small mining camp, sixty miles distant, and Gerrard was satisfied that the four horsemen were diggers, bound for that spot, and Tommy agreed with him.

But he was wofully mistaken in his conclusions.

Cheyne was one of the cleverest bushmen in Australia, and when Forreste and his party reached this spot, they too had stopped, at Cheyne's bidding.

"Gerrard has a nigger with him who most likely will see our tracks. If we turn off here, and cross the clay pans, he will think we are going to Frenchman's Cap. It will mean us making a half circle of sixteen miles, but we will get to Rocky Waterholes a long way ahead of him."

"How do you know he'll camp there?" asked Forreste.

"He's sure too, even if only for an hour or two to spell his horses, and we'll get him as easy as falling off a log."

Forreste moved uneasily in his saddle. He knew what "get him" meant Barney Green turned on him, and savagely asked if he was "funking" again.

"No," was the sullen reply, "I'm not. I've given my promise, and I'll keep it. But you must remember that the policeman's tracker got away from us, and Gerrard's nigger may do the same."

"I'll see to that," said Pinkerton. "If there is one thing that I can't miss when I shoot, it's a nigger. If I had been with you that day, I guess that that tracker wouldn't have got away."

The plan they had arranged was a very simple one. The Rocky Waterholes were deep pools situated in the centre of a cluster of wildly confused and lofty granite boulders and pillars, covered with vines and creepers and broken up by narrow gullies. Cheyne knew the place, and knew almost to a certainty the particular spot at which Gerrard would camp, either for a few hours or for the night. It was in an open grassy space, almost surrounded by giant boulders. It was their intention, after disposing of Gerrard and the black boy, and securing the gold, to strike across country for Somerset, and there await a steamer bound for either London or Hongkong. At that place, where the steamers only remained for an hour or two, they would attract no more than the casual notice taken of lucky diggers; at Townsville or Port Denison they might be recognised. Already they had nearly a thousand ounces of gold between them-some little of it honestly earned from their own claim at Hansen's, but most of it gained by robbery; and with the two thousand pounds' worth that they knew were in Gerrard's possession, they calculated that they might leave the hardships of mining life, and enjoy themselves for a considerable time in England or America-without, however, the society of "Snaky" Swires, who had left them at Cooktown, fearful of being arrested in connection with the robbery on the Gambier.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares