Chapter IV

An Innocent Traitress.

The dear small Known amongst the Unknown Vast.’


THE weeks passed on, and to any other woman it would have been an utterly dreary, hopeless life. The sun rose up over the ranges in the east in the morning and set behind the ranges in the west at night, and nothing happened all the livelong day. It was deadly

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dull, and the man found it so. The diversion created by Jenny's presence made him happy for at least three days, kept him content for a whole week; then he wearied of her, and at times showed Jenny he wearied of her.

After the first flush of possession died out, it was but natural he should find out what a simple little girl his companion was. And Black Dave did not like simple, innocent women under any circumstances: he would have wearied of Jenny's love under the most favourable circumstances in a month. It was his way; no woman, not the cleverest, could have kept him for six months. The girl's tender adoration counted for less than nothing in his eyes now that there was no one to envy him his conquest.

She was his drudge and his slave—she gathered wood for their fire, she carried water, she washed and cooked and mended for him, glad and thankful if as a reward he would lie with his head in her lap or lavish on her a caress now and then. She mourned a little in her own silent way over the loss of the tender lover who had brought her to this gully; day by day she hoped by her patience and her willing drudgery to bring him back again (as if man in this world were ever won back by slavish love), and she was content and happy when he spoke one kind word to her. Still he kept her love; partly it had grown to be a fixed habit to love him, and partly because he did choose sometimes to exert himself to exercise his old fascination over her.

She did not expect to be always dealt tenderly with; all her life she had been accustomed to rough, rude men, who counted a woman as of little moment in their lives. She herself had never been of much

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account except to her husband, and him she did not understand; so that now, when Black Dave was good to her by fits and starts, she was content—it was all she asked.

He was a moody man, who, when the sun shone, spent his days lying in the sunshine; and when the cold weather came, huddled over a small fire built close against the hut door, and as near to the hillside as possible, lest its smoke should betray their presence to prying eyes. Often as not Jenny went out into the pouring rain in her thin cotton gown—the only one she possessed—to gather sticks for it, while he sat warming himself and meditating ways and means of escape; but it seldom occurred to him to thank her—it certainly never occurred to him to be grateful to the love which made her, as far as in her lay, take the burden of life upon her own shoulders.

Often he was away all night, and she lay awake in an agony of terror lest he should have fallen into the hands of the police; but he never told her where he had been, only, as he always brought back provisions of some sort (generally flour and mutton), she concluded he had gone for them. Even then she never knew whether a friend had supplied him, or whether he had stolen them from one of the diggers' huts round about. Generally, she thought, from the regularity of the supplies, some friend in the diggers' camp who still believed in him probably planted them in a place where he could get them; but he never enlightened her.

One day he brought home a bundle of woman's clothes, of which she was sorely in need—a warm petticoat, and stout boots, and other things that the cold damp weather now upon them made imperatively

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necessary for her comfort; and then, though he said no word, she was more than ever convinced that he held regular communication with the camp, for who could have put up those things—her own things, as she saw at a glance—but Sal Carter's self?

At first he would not enlighten her; he did not believe in taking women into his confidence, in trusting a woman, as he said, farther than you could see her. But she was unfeignedly thankful for the clothes, so grateful for the thoughtfulness (which was all someone else's). At last he was graciously pleased to unbend, and in a moment of unwonted confidence he told her that Pard Derrick brought him the supplies, and hid them in a neighbouring gully, for not even to him would he confide the exact secret of his whereabouts. Sometimes he met him there, but more often he fetched the things after he had gone, for it was dangerous, he thought, to make the links of the chain quite unbroken. Next day he repented him of his weakness, and she suffered for his repentance; but she looked at the bundle of clothes, and thinking that they were the outcome of his thoughtful love for her, she was happy.

April was sunny and bright, and only the nights began to get a little chilly; but in May they had a week or two of bitter cold, wintry rain. The weather cleared, and they had bright sunshiny days again, for no one can complain of the winter in the north-eastern district; but that pinch of cold weather laid the foundation of a bad cold that Jenny could not shake off. She grew thin and weary-looking, and a cough she could not control racked her night and day. That cough irritated her companion. She could not help seeing that.

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There are people, selfish folk, whom the sight of another's pain fills with a certain sense of discomfort, and tends to make them visit with their severe displeasure those who have been so inconsiderate as to discommode them. And Jenny's cough irritated and worried Black Dave. She saw it, and it added another trouble to her life to try and hide her sickness from him. If he were good-tempered and smiling for a change, she suffered agonies trying to suppress the cough, and often and often, when the paroxysm would be suppressed no longer, went out into the cold outside air rather than disturb him; but he generally guessed why she had gone, and the knowledge only made him angry.

‘It's your own fault, Jen,’ he said sullenly one day as she leaned up against the earthen wall, pressing her hand to her side, and exhausted after a fit of coughing she had been utterly unable to suppress—‘it's your own fault. If we'd got that gold I gave you, we'd be away over the border long before this.’

‘I—I dunno what become of it,’ she gasped. ‘It'll be better when it's a bit warmer. It's this cold weather done it.’

‘Warmer!’ he repeated, with an oath. ‘If you think I'm goin' to fool round here in this God-forsaken dog-hole listening to a woman bark, bark, bark, you're mightily mistaken!’ and he got up and flung himself out of the hut into the pouring rain and gathering dusk with an injured air.

‘Oh, Dave, Dave!’ she called after him, ‘come back, come back! You'll get wet;’ but though he heard her he went straight on, and was soon lost in the scrub.

She drew a long sobbing sigh. What could she do now? Nothing seemed to please him, and he was so

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dear to her. The fire was built of little sticks and small logs right in the doorway, so as much as possible to warm the interior of the wretched hut and yet let the smoke escape; and now that Black Dave was gone, Jenny sat down on the hard earthen floor, and with the door-post for some sort of support and the sacking that served as a door fixed as a screen from the wind, she crouched over the fire for warmth like a blackfellow. She shivered even then, for the wind found its way from all corners; but it was not the cold that sent the tear-drops down her pale cheeks; They were thin and hollow now, those cheeks; her face had lost all its girlish freshness, though she was not nineteen. She knew that, though she had no mirror, for Black Dave was not sparing in his comments on her altered appearance, and as she sat there she wondered if that were the reason of his changed demeanour towards her.

She was ugly and sick, and he did not love her any longer; that was the tenor of her thoughts as she sat there shivering over the little fire. He had loved her when he brought her there, nearly two months ago now, but she was beginning to think he did not care for her any longer; and he was so dear to her that she, like all women of her kind, never thought of blaming him—it was her fault, entirely her fault, and what was she to do to bring him back again? She firmly believed he could be brought back, he was so tender sometimes; she judged him by herself. She was content to live this life from year's end to year's end, if only he were good to her, and he would be the same if only she were like she was when first he had brought her here. But how was that to be accomplished—how, how?

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She was ill—she knew she was ill; try and hide it from him as she would, she could not hide it from herself, and there seemed no chance of getting better. She remembered when first she had come there, how easy it seemed to gather sticks for the fire, to bring up water from the creek, even though she had to go many times in the course of the day, for all her household utensils were comprised in two tin billies and a frying-pan. Now, she sighed, how different it was! She ached in every limb, and the walk down to the creek was only accomplished with many stoppages, and the walk back was more formidable still, while her task of gathering wood—for which daily she had to go farther and farther afield—became such a heavy burden that she would wake at night with the fear strong upon her that next day she would not be able to accomplish it, and what would the tyrant she had chosen for her lord and master do then? She feared him, yes, she feared him; but not in her inmost heart did she blame him. If he had been kind and sympathetic she would have been grateful, but as he counted her sickness her own fault, and let her see that he so counted it, she more than half agreed with him, and as much as possible hid her suffering from him.

And now he had gone away angry with her, and she blamed herself that she felt relieved at his absence. She might cough without fear of angering him; she was thankful to be able to let the fire down low, and so save her scanty store of wood for the time when he should be home. The rain came down steadily, the darkness was closing round, and the whole landscape was hidden in a misty rain, which hissed and frizzled on the hot logs; but crouching close over the fire there, a warmth was diffused through her chilled

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frame, and she grew drowsy in spite of tormenting thoughts, and the cough which every now and then shook her wide awake again with the fear strong upon her—a fear born of love—that she was disturbing her tyrant's rest. She dozed and woke, and dozed and waked again.

Still he did not come back, and the fire died down so low she was obliged to put another log on from her rapidly diminishing store. The wood was dry, for she kept it in a little stack in a corner of the hut; but there was very little left now, and how was she to replenish it when the very exertion of crossing the hut and carrying it to the fire exhausted her? She lay back panting against the door-post, and the flames leaped up cheerfully round the log, and lighted up the little hut. It was not much, but it was her all; and she could have been very happy there if only—if only Dave was always like he was that first week, and if she were only well again. She felt faint with the effort of carrying the log, though she did not recognise the feeling, and when that passed off, she dozed and woke with a sudden start to find a man standing over her. He was dressed in the usual digger costume, but his butcher boots were covered in mud, his heavy blue flannel shirt was soaking wet, and the rain was running in little streams off his long beard. But that did not discommode him at all.

He leaned against the opposite door-post with a nonchalant air, his arms folded on his breast, and regarded her steadily from under the brim of his sopping slouch hat. At first she rubbed her eyes; she had seen no one since the middle of April, and it was now the first week in June. Was she dreaming; could someone have betrayed them; was this man the

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advance-guard of the police who would presently rush in and drag her Dave away? She gave a little cry, and rubbed her eyes, and the man stepped forward, and, pushing back his hat, she saw it was her old friend Pard Derrick.

He kicked the fire with his foot, so that the brightening flames might throw a little more light on the scene, for it was quite dark now. He swore a good round string of oaths by way of relieving his feelings.

‘Holy Moses, Jenny! Is it really you? Well, you have brought your pigs to a pretty market, you have.’

‘Oh, Pard!’

But a gust of bitter wind dashed round the wet canvas screen, and she was speechless till the paroxysm of coughing it brought on had passed.

Pard Derrick stepped over and patted her on the back by way of helping her, and repeated: ‘A fine market, a d——d fine market!’ So strongly did he feel on the subject of that market, that he added several more adjectives by way of giving weight to his opinion of it; but he patted her back as gently as if she had been a child. The unwonted kindness brought the tears to her eyes.

‘You won't—you won't,’ she panted between sobbing and coughing, ‘hurt Dave. You won't—promise you won't.’

‘I've a mind,’ he began—‘there, there! I ain't agoin' to hurt him. Ain't I been totin' him tucker across them blanky ranges the last five months now, an' is it likely I'd let up on him to the traps after that?’

‘I—I—— You never came before.’

‘Dave's that pertikler—never would let on where he was. If he can't trust a mate—— Well, last time I

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up and followed him, and I come along as soon as I'd time. It's a almighty cheerful spot,’ he said, kicking the fire again in order to show off its beauties; ‘and I don't wonder he was so anxious to keep it to himself.’

She took it as a reproach to herself.

‘I done the best I could,’ she said humbly; ‘but I know it's a poor place for Dave. It'll be nicer in the warm weather.’

Derrick gave a low whistle.

‘Calkilate on stopping till the warm weather, do you? Seems to me the claim's about worked out. Are you reckonin' on your humble servant, may I ask, for the totin' of that there tucker into the ranges here all the winter?’

She had been reckoning on it, evidently, for she only moaned, ‘Oh, Pard, Pard!’ reproachfully.

‘Well, I'm gettin' a bit tired of the blanky game,’ he said, turning his head away from her sad, tired eyes; ‘and you have played it mighty low down on the sergeant.’

‘I belonged to Dave allus,’ she said, not as if defending herself, merely making a statement of which he must recognise the justness.

‘Then, why in the devil's name did you marry the sergeant?’

‘Dave told me to,’ she said simply.

‘Then, by all that's holy, why didn't you stick to him?’

She looked at him with wonder in her eyes. How could he ask such a question—he of all men?

‘You told me yourself,’ she said, ‘Dave wanted me.’

The kick that he administered to the fire was a vicious one this time, and sent the sparks flying in all directions.

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‘Oh,’ she sighed, ‘don't waste the wood! I dunno how I'm goin' to get more when that's gone.’

He looked down at the frail worn-out woman, half sitting, half lying on the hard, cold ground; he noted her panting breath and her sunken cheeks, and he swore another good long string of oaths.

‘An' what's that hulkin', good-for-nothin' ——’ He hesitated for a word, and she divined his thought, and hastened to clear away all blame from the man she loved.

‘Dave, you mean; but Dave helps all he can. I come here to help him. I don't want him to do nothin'.’

‘She's mad,’ said Derrick, apostrophizing the drenched and dripping hillside; ‘she's clean gone off her head. Now, here's a decent handy sort of fellow like me, with nothin' agin me, an' no woman intermates she'd like to work her life out for me. There's the sergeant, a decent sort o' chap for a trap, pervides a palatial residence for her, an' she comes here;’ and he swept his hand round as if showing off the advantages and beauties of the hut to an imaginary audience.

But Jenny was loyal.

‘Dave done all he could,’ she said. ‘If I hadn't a' lost his bag o' gold, we'd a' been away acrost the ranges long ago.’

‘Look here, Jenny,’ Pard Derrick was desperately in earnest now, ‘that bag o' gold the sergeant picked up in the gully the night you run away, how did you come by it?’

Subsequent events had driven the former history of that bag completely out of her head. In her pity for Black Dave, she had lost sight of the fact that he was

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but suffering for a crime which richly deserved punishment; and as for the gold, he had reviled her so often for its loss, that she had come to look upon it as a calamity for which she alone was to blame. Now, when Pard Derrick asked her about it, she answered without hesitation:

‘Dave gave it me to take care of for him.’

‘Oh, he did, did he? By the 'Tarnal! That bag was old Max's.’

‘No, no, no!’

She saw in a flash what she had done. But even then she did not fully recognise the extent of the mischief. Dave was so dear to her, she had been so accustomed to putting him before all else, she hardly realized that his mate would be his mate no longer now this foul crime was, as it were, sheeted home to him.

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ said Pard Derrick, and his language for the next few minutes can only be expressed by a series of dashes, so strong and resonant was it. ‘And to think,’ he added, going back to his former place by the doorpost, ‘I've been such an almighty fool as to tote tucker across them ranges for—for a——’

‘But, Pard, you'll—you'll——’

‘Will I? I'll see him hanged first, an' you can tell him so. Jenny, you come back with me to-night.’

‘No, no. I couldn't leave Dave. He's only got me.’

‘Don't be a blanky fool. How long 'll he stick to you when he ain't got no tucker, an' the traps are after him?’

‘Dave 'll never slip me up,’ she managed to gasp out, for another fit of coughing took her breath away.

The man was silent a moment, gently stirring the fire with his foot. The little flames, as they leaped

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into life, fell full on the girl's white, worn face; and even he, a careless, dare-devil fellow not given to noticing anything much, saw that a very little more of life like this would finish her life-story. Another week of weather like this up among the ranges, and no one need trouble his head about pretty Jenny Sells. He wondered almost she did not know it herself.

Black Dave must have seen it, and then he seemed to realize all at once what an utterly selfish brute this whilom mate of his was. He had taken the girl away for his own selfish pleasure; he had had no thought even for her physical comfort. He had begged a warm shirt for himself when the weather grew chilly. He had begged fresh blankets; but it was he, Pard Derrick, who, knowing the girl was with Black Anderson, had managed to persuade Sal Carter to put her up a few necessary clothes—he, an outsider. What sort of a life could the girl be leading with this man? Cruelly hard, to judge by her face, and yet she seemed never to blame him; her every thought was for him. Sergeant Sells had surrounded her with every comfort, and yet—and yet—— Pard Derrick threw up his chin into the air. He gave it up, as many a wiser man than he had done before him.

‘Why do you sit shiverin' there?’ he asked roughly. ‘There's a blanket on the blanky stretcher there. Why don't you wrap it round you?’

She looked up at him wearily.

‘Dave——’ she began.

‘D——n Dave!’ he swore through his teeth.

Then he marched into the hut, and came back with all the blankets from the stretcher in his arms. He stooped down and wrapped them round her with no ungentle hand. Passively she suffered him to do it;

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she even felt grateful for the kindness which thought for her comfort. Even to herself it was evident she was very ill, and growing worse every moment. Still she hoped, as she had hoped before, that the morning would see her better.

‘You are good, Pard,’ she said gently, touching his arm as he bent over her—‘too good.’

He made up his mind rapidly to tell her the exact truth. He thought she was dying, and he was not going to have her death on his conscience if he could help it.

‘See here, Jenny, you're mighty sick. Much better come back with me, an' get Sal to look after you.’


He cut her short.

‘You'll just kick the bucket if you stop here a week longer, I'll take my colonial on that. An' what good 'll you be to Dave then, I'd like to know?’

‘I couldn't slip up Dave,’ she said.

‘Dave 'll slip you up like a shot when you ain't any more good to him. Dave ain't agoin' to hang round here a-nursin' of a sick woman. The sergeant might a' done it, but it ain't in Dave.’

‘Dave won't never slip me up,’ she said monotonously, ‘not never. He said so over an' over again. Dave won't. I know Dave.’

‘An' so do I now,’ said the man grimly. ‘Well, then, Jenny, if you won't look out for yourself I'm agoin' to do it for you. Your husband the sergeant 'll be here afore this time to-morrow. A husband's the proper person to look after a woman when she's sick;’ and he laughed at his own humour.

‘No!’ she struggled to her feet, and flung off the blankets he had so carefully wrapped round her; but

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the exertion and the excitement combined brought on another violent fit of coughing, and though she leaned against the doorpost for support, she could only speak in gasps; ‘you wouldn't—be—so—mean. You wouldn't—go back—on a mate.’

‘Mate!’ he spat in the fire as if to show his disgust—‘mate! He ain't no mate o' mine. I toted tucker acrost the ranges to my old mate as the traps had a down on and were after; but I ain't agoin' to tote no tucker for a man as shot old Max down in his tracks like a bullock, an' I'm going to send your husband to look after you.’

She could only shake her head and clutch his arm in protest, for she was speechless from coughing, and when he wrapped the blankets round her again she was too helpless to resist. He laid her down by the fire, and pushed it together with his feet.

‘There,’ he said, ‘I reckon you can hold out till mornin'. I'll be back then along with the sergeant, so you can tell your friend Dave to make himself scarce.’

He marched out into the darkness, and in a minute returned bearing a log which lay close by, but which had been too heavy for her slender strength. It was drenched with wet, and hissed as he piled the fire up round it; but she knew its heart was dry, and it would keep the fire in till morning. Still, she could not be grateful. Was he not going to put the police on Dave? She was to blame. She had betrayed him, and Dave would hate her for ever.

The one idea was uppermost in her mind. She kept repeating it over and over to herself; she said it aloud, as Pard Derrick came and bent over her before going away.

‘Dave'll hate me.’

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‘By the 'Tarnal! I don't think it'll be much worse than 'tis now. So long, Jenny!’ and he stepped across the fire, and was swallowed up in the misty darkness.