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   Chapter 30 No.30

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 11640

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"What a lovely spot!" thought Gerrard, as he caught sight of the Rocky Waterholes, whose calm, placid surfaces were gleaming like burnished silver under the rays of the sinking sun.

It was indeed a beautiful scene, for the five pools were surrounded by noble Leichhardt and wattle trees, the latter all in the full glory of their golden flowers, the sweet perfume of which scented the air for miles around. Close in to the bank of the largest pool were a number of teal feeding on the green weed, and chasing each other over the shining water. As they caught sight of the intruders, they rose with a whir and disappeared, followed a few seconds later by a pair of snow-white cranes, which, however, merely flew noiselessly upward, and settled on the branches of a Leichhardt.

The day had been intensely hot, and now, as the sun sank, there was presage of a thunderstorm, and Gerrard and Tommy quickly unsaddled, hobbled, and turned out the horses to feed upon the thick buffalo grass that grew in profusion around the bases of the vine-clad rocks which overlooked the pools. Then they hurriedly collected some dead wood for their camp fire, and threw it, together with their saddles, blankets, etc., under an overhanging ledge which would afford them complete shelter from the coming downpour.

A fire was soon lit, and whilst Tommy attended to making the tea, his master unrolled his own blanket and spread it out; then, from mere force of habit, he took his revolver from his saddle and strapped it to his belt, placed his Winchester and Tommy's Snider against the side of the rock, where they would be within easy reach, and then told the black boy that he was going to have a bathe before supper.

"No, no, boss!" cried Tommy, energetically, "baal you bogey longa that waterhole. Plenty fellow blue water snake sit down there-plenty. One bite you little bit, you go bung quick. Plenty fellow myall go bung longa baigan." {*}

* "Do not bathe in that waterhole. Many blue water-snakes

live in it. If one bit you, even a little, you would die

quickly. Many wild blacks have been killed by the baigan"

Gerrard could not repress a shudder. He had often seen the dreaded "baigan"-a bright blue snake which frequented waterholes and lagoons, and whose venom equalled that of the deadly fer-de-lance of Martinique and St Vincent. Years before he had seen a cattle dog swimming in a lagoon attacked by a "baigan," which bit it on the lip, and, although a stockman, as soon as the animal was out of the water, cut out a circular piece of the lip, it died in a few minutes.

"Very well, Tommy. I'll wait till after supper and have a bogey in the rain."

As he spoke, the low rumble of thunder sounded, and deepened and deepened until it culminated in a mighty clap that seemed to shake the foundations of the earth, then followed peal after peal, and soon the rain descended in torrents, beating the waters of the pools into froth, and making a noise as of surf surging upon a pebbly beach.

For twenty minutes the downpour held; then it ceased suddenly, and, like magic, a few stars appeared. The fire was now blazing merrily in the cave. Tommy had made the two quart pots of tea, and Gerrard was taking the beef and damper out of his saddle-bag when the black boy started.

"What is it, Tommy?"

"Horse neigh!"

Gerrard listened. The boy was right, for he, too, heard a second neigh, and their own horses, which they could see standing quietly under a big Leichhardt tree, undisturbed by the storm, pricked up their ears and raised their heads.

"Quick, take your rifle, Tommy!" and Gerrard seized his own, then taking up the two quart pots of tea, he threw the contents over the fire, and partly extinguished it-not a moment too soon, for almost at the same moment a volley rang out, and he knew he was hit; and Tommy also cried out that he was shot in the face. Seizing him by the hand, Gerrard dragged him outside, stooping low, and bullet after bullet struck the wall of the cave. As he and the black boy threw themselves flat on the ground a few yards away, they both saw the flashes of rifles less than a hundred yards distant, and knew by the sound of and the rapidity of the firing that their unseen foes were using Winchesters.

"Keep still, Tommy, don't fire. Wait, wait!" said Gerrard in an excited whisper. "Let them go on firing into the cave. Can you make out where they are?"

Pressing his hand to his cheek, which had been cut open by a bullet, the black boy watched the flashes.

"Yes, boss, I see him-four fellow altogether. You look longa top flat rock, they all lie down close together."

But keen as was his sight, Gerrard could see nothing but the flat moss and vine-covered summit of a huge granite boulder, from which the flashes came. Presently a bullet struck a piece of wood on the still smouldering fire, and scattered the glowing coals, then the firing ceased, and they heard voices.

"Keep quiet, Tommy. Don't move, for God's sake, or they'll see us. They are reloading. They think they have killed us. Is your Snider all right?"

"Yes, boss," was the whispered and eager reply, "rible and rewolber too."

"Are you much hurt, Tommy?"

"Only longa face, boss."

"And I'm hit too, Tommy, but not much hurt." A bullet had ploughed through the lower part of his thigh, and as he spoke he tore two strips from his handkerchief, and bidding Tommy watch their hidden foes, cut open his moleskin pants, and hurriedly plugged the holes. As he was doing this, the firing again began, and they could hear the bullets spattering against the granite rock, or striking the saddles. After about thirty shots had been fired it again ceased.

"Be ready, Tommy," whispered Gerrard; "they'll be here presently. Don't fire till they are quite close, then drop

rifle and take pistol."

"All right, boss. Look, look! You see one fellow now stand up-there 'nother, 'nother-four fellow."

The increasing starlight just enabled Gerrard to catch a brief glimpse of four figures moving about on the top of the boulder, then they disappeared, and he clutched his Winchester.

Five anxious minutes passed, and then one by one the four forms appeared coming round from the other side of the boulder. For a few moments they halted, then came boldly out of the shadows into the starlight, and then a deadly rage leapt into Gerrard's heart as he recognised two of them. First the man whom Kate's father had handled so roughly on board the Gambier, and then the tall, imposing figure of Forreste.

"Can you see their horses anywhere?" said the man who was in advance of his three companions, and they again stopped and looked about them.

"Oh, they are all right," said a second voice; "well find 'em easy enough in the morning. They're both hobbled, and won't be far away. Now come on, Pinky, and show us your nigger with the top of his head off. You're a great gasser, I know. Strike a match, Barney, and I'll get a bit of dry ti-tree bark to give us a light."

Gerrard pressed Tommy's arm. "Wait, Tommy, wait. Let them get a light. All the better for us. Listen!"

"I suppose they are properly done for, Cheyne?" said Forreste, who had a revolver in his hand.

"Oh, put your flaming pistol back into its pouch, you funky owl," snarled Barney Green, "they both dropped at the first time, as I told you. Gerrard fell on to the fire, and you'll find him cooking there, and that both of 'em are as full of holes as a cullender. We've wasted a hundred cartridges for nothing, but I daresay we'll get some more. He had a forty-four Winchester, and the nigger a Snider."

A match was struck, and the two motionless watchers saw Cheyne go to a ti-tree, which grew on the edge of the large pool, tear off the outer thin and wet bark, and then make a torch of the dry part, which lit easily. Pinkerton waved it to and fro for a few moments, and then held it up. It burst into flame.

"Now, Tommy, quick! Take the big man," and as Gerrard spoke he covered Green.

The two rifles rang out, and Forreste and the Jew fell. Pinkerton dropped the torch and tried to draw his revolver, but a second shot from Gerrard broke his leg, and he too dropped. Cheyne sprang off towards the pool, leapt in, and swam across to where their horses were hidden. Tommy, with all the lust of slaughter upon him, tomahawk in hand, ran round the pool to intercept him on the other side.

"Let him go, Tommy, let him go!" shouted Gerrard, who was now feeling faint from loss of blood. "Come back, come back!" and as he spoke, Pinkerton, who could see him, began firing at him.

The black boy obeyed just as Gerrard sank back upon the ground. The still blazing torch, however, revealed his prone figure to the American, who, rising upon one knee, reloaded his revolver. Then Tommy leapt at him, raised his tomahawk, and clove his head in twain.

"Did he hit you, boss?" he cried, as, still holding the ensanguined weapon in his hand, he darted to his master.

"No, Tommy, I'm all right, but bingie mine feel sick.{*} Get water for me, Tommy."

* "I feel faint"

The black boy ran down to the waterhole, filled his cabbage-tree hat with water, and Gerrard drank.

"Go and see if those two men are dead, Tommy, If they are not, take their pistols away. Then make a big fire, and I will come and look at them."

"All right, boss, but by and by." He raised and assisted Gerrard into the cave, laid him down upon his blanket, and placed his head upon one of the bullet-riddled saddles, re-lit the extinguished fire, took off his shirt, tore off the back, and bandaged his master's thigh with it.

"You like smoke now, boss?" "Yes, fill my pipe before you go." Five minutes later Tommy returned. "All three fellow dead," he observed placidly, as he stooped down to the fire and lit his own pipe with a burning coal. "Big man me shoot got him bullet through chest; little man with black beard and nose like cockatoo you shoot, got him bullet through chest too, close up longa troat."

Then he asked if he might go after the two horses, which, hobbled as they were, had gone off at the first sound of the firing, and were perhaps many miles away.

"All right, Tommy. We must not let them get too far away."

The black boy grunted an assent, made the fire blaze up, and taking up his own and Gerrard's bridles, disappeared.

In less than half an hour he returned, riding one horse and leading the other, and found that Gerrard had risen and was looking at the bodies of the three men, which lay stark and stiff under the now bright starlight. Tommy's face wore an expression of supreme satisfaction as he jumped off his horse.

"Other fellow man bung{*} too," he said in a complacent tone.

* Bung--dead.

"Did you shoot him?" cried Gerrard, aghast at more bloodshed.

"Baal me shoot him, boss. I find him longa place where all four fellow been camp in little gully. He been try to put saddle on horse, but fall down and die-boigan been bite him I think it, when he swim across waterhole."

"Come and show me," said Gerrard, and, suffering as he was, he mounted his horse, and followed Tommy. In a few minutes they came to the place where Forreste and his gang had hidden their horses, all of which were tethered.

Lying doubled up on the ground beside a saddle, was the body of Cheyne. He had succeeded in putting the bridle on his horse, and then had evidently fallen ere he could place the saddle on the animal.

Gerrard struck a match, and held it to the dead man's face; it was purple, and hideous to look upon.

"Boigan," said Tommy placidly, as he re-lit his pipe.

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