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Chapter VI

Down by the Creek.

That is to say, in a casual way,
I slipped my arm around her;
With a kiss or two (which is nothing to you),
And ready to kiss I found her.’
‘Departmental Ditties.’

   Rudyard Kipling.

LEFT alone, Anderson turned to the girl before him.

‘Well, Jenny,’ he said, in an aggrieved tone, ‘ain't you got anything to say to a fellow?’

She came towards him, and put both her hands on his arms and looked up at him. The moonlight fell full on her, and showed him her face wet with tears. It was a sweet face, too, and full of love for him. He softened for a moment, and, stooping, drew her towards him and kissed her. She put one arm round his neck, and with the other tenderly stroked his face—so tenderly and fondly, as she might have touched the baby she had been nursing in the afternoon, but with a world more of love and pity in her touch. They said he had done murder; they might—what might they not do with him? She had no words to express her love, and her pity, and her anxiety; she


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could only dumbly touch his face as she would that of the helpless baby.

‘What is it, dear?’ he asked more gently. ‘You've been crying!’

‘Old Max is shot, an', an'——’

‘Well, what if he is? Old Max warn't much account, any way. Plenty more as good as him knocking around.’

‘Yes; but—but they're sayin'——’

‘What?’

‘That you done it. An' I'm afeard, oh, I'm afeard!’

‘I ain't had no hand in the darned business,’ said Anderson savagely, ‘though I ain't had no cause to love old Max. You don't think that of me, Jen?’

‘No, no, never—not never! But I'm afeard, I'm afeard the sergeant——’

He pushed her from him roughly.

‘That's your doing,’ he said with an oath. ‘Why in the devil's name did I have any truck with a woman?’

‘Oh, Dave, Dave!’ she moaned; ‘oh, Dave, it ain't my fault, it ain't indeed! I never had naught to do with the sergeant. I—I hate him, 'deed I do!’

‘He's for ever hanging round you—leaning over the bar there looking at you. A man don't do that for naught, surely.’

‘I ain't done nothin',’ she said—‘I ain't. I never speak to him. Lots of others come to the bar.’

‘Not like him. You know that yourself, Jen. A man like that don't hang round a woman for nothing.’

Poor Jenny! The world had gone wrong with the man she loved, and he selfishly visited his grievances


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on the woman who loved him, sure that no other would feel it as she did. Not that Dave did not love her after his own fashion, but, as her stepmother had warned Jenny, his love was a selfish love, and no consideration for her entered into his thoughts.

It was pleasant to have this girl, the only girl for miles, too, looking into his face adoringly, hanging on his words, ready, he felt, to lay down her life for him. He liked to hold her in his arms, to feel that she was his alone; but he felt, too, that he must be a fine fellow to inspire this devotion. There were two thousand men on the field, and yet he had won this girl. Clearly the thought passed though his mind occasionally, and gave him a feeling of intense pleasure—he must be better than the rest of them.

But Anderson was a man who had had some little education, and the disquieting idea would cross his mind now and again that the girl was a fool; he himself had won her so easily, he was so convinced he could do what he liked with her, that he often thought she was not worth it all; the other men could surely not have tried to win her. He would have wearied of her long ago, had it not been that it was common talk on the camp that the sergeant of police was as keen on winning the girl as he himself was indifferent. He made Jenny suffer for that admiration; he never saw her without railing at Sergeant Sells, without taunting her and blaming her as if she were doing him a great wrong; but, nevertheless, deep down in his heart he knew that it was the unlucky trooper's barely disguised admiration that kept him by Jenny's side at all.

Anderson had always taken the lead among his comrades, had been first without much effort, had been counted a jolly, careless, daredevil sort of a


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fellow, whom men and women alike combined to spoil and make much of; and, deny it who will, it is not men such as these who make devoted lovers or are generous in their love. He counted the girl's love too much as a matter of course.

In the old country many a woman had loved Dave Anderson's handsome face, many bright eyes had been dim when he went away. It was an old story to him. Much as Jenny loved him, he did not appreciate her love at its true worth. Love was his due; he had been accustomed to it all his life. In his heart he knew he had no cause for jealousy, but whenever he was out of temper he made Jenny's life a burden by railing at Sergeant Sells. All that a woman could do she did to convince him she never encouraged the trooper, never guessing, poor child—how could she?—that this was almost the only hold she had over the man she adored.

Now she hid her face on his shoulder and cried helplessly.

‘I done all I could,’ she sobbed. ‘Don't be angered wi' me, Dave. I ha' been lookin' for you all the evenin'.’

‘And you expect me to go in there, along with that God-forsaken lot, to swell the score in your drunken father's bar, Is'pose,’ he said contemptuously.

She had not expected anything of the sort, and he knew it quite well; but a sudden disgust of his surroundings had taken possession of him, and he made the girl suffer for his fit of virtue. The arm he had round her was so limp and cold she could hardly have told it was there; her yellow hair was mingled with his dark beard, but he never stooped to touch the fair face that was so close to his own. She could not but


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feel his coldness; her stepmother's words of the afternoon were coming bitterly home to her.

Never had she flouted him, never spoken one unkind word to him, never—as far as in her power lay—given him cause for complaint; but to-night she had waited for him so long, yearned for him so hungrily, been so tender and pitiful over the accusation they had brought against him, that this cold reception was more than she could bear. Better be away, away, miles away, than in his arms, if he were like this! She drew herself away very slowly, for she hoped against hope that his arm would tighten with its old warmth and tenderness; but he let her go, and she stood for a moment and looked at him mournfully in the moonlight. She would have spoken, would have asked him why this was, but her heart was too full for words. She touched his arm lightly with her hand, then turned away towards the creek.

He looked at her in amazement. Never in all the course of their acquaintance had she left him of her own accord before, and his first thought was anger. She had brought him here, and now she was leaving him alone.

‘Jenny!’ he called, sure that she would come back at the sound of his voice; but there was no tenderness in it, only sharp anger.

She never turned her head. She said to herself that she could not stand being scolded any more, and she kept steadily on. He watched her for a moment. She was going along the creek; in a very few minutes she would be beyond the camp, out in the bush. Well, let her go. But if she went, what was he to do with his evening?

He had come here expressly to see her. If he went


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into the bar, where the men were singing and shouting, they would jeer, and ask him if he had been flouted; besides—— Well, he would go after her! She was right out of sight now beyond the diggers' huts, and he heard sounds as if some of the hilarious party inside were coming round. They would find him alone. That decided him.

He made his way among the claims that lay at the back of the Lucky Digger, among the huts and windlasses, without difficulty, for in the clear white light everything was plainly visible. Making a short-cut along the narrow paths that wound among the holes, and were used for wheeling the barrow-loads of stuff down to the stream, there to be washed, Anderson reached the creek just as Jenny was disappearing into the bush on the other side. Here the hill rose up sharply from the water's edge; it was still virgin forest undisturbed by the hand of man. The creek came down out of the hills fresh and pure, and trickled over the rocks that served as stepping-stones, and also as the barrier beyond which no man, as yet, had searched for gold. Jenny had crossed the creek, and he just caught a glimpse of her dress moving among the tree-ferns in the gully down which it flowed. That gully was like fairyland on a night like this. Through the fronds of the tall tree-ferns and the clinging creepers came the brilliant moonlight, making deep dark shadows and patches of brilliant white light. It would have been possible to read print by the light of that midsummer moon.

Dave Anderson crossed the stepping-stones and plunged into the gully. He felt a better man away from the sights and sounds of the camp—tenderer, kinder, more thoughtful. Ahead of him he could see


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the girl pushing her way with down-bent head among the ferns and creepers, and he followed in her track. The sound of the trickling waters fell soothingly on his ears; the earthy smell of the plants, the rushes, and tall flowering plants, with gorgeous flowers, purple and pink, growing at the water's edge, was refreshingly cool on this hot still night; there was another scent in the air, too, a heavy indescribable perfume from some shrub or creeper that he could not identify, but it added to the charm. There was a little rustling underfoot as of small animals slipping away quietly, and overhead a little gray bear was crying plaintively. Then the figure on before him flung herself down on a log half covered with mosses and creepers, and, hiding her face in her hands, rocked herself backwards and forwards as if in pain. He was not exactly sorry for her, nor was he exactly flattered—too many women had loved him for that—but he felt softened and tender towards her, and he went quietly up to her and laid his hand gently on her shoulder.

‘Jenny!’

She started with a cry of affright, and he saw the tears hanging on her lashes.

‘Oh, Dave, Dave!’

She stretched out her hands, and he caught them in both his own. Then he drew her into his arms, and there was no coldness about him now.

‘How cruel you are, Jenny! How could you be so cruel!’

He meant to be tender and kind; but that was his way of relenting, to throw all the blame on her, and she saw nothing wrong in it. No matter what his words, his hand was stroking her hair, his arm was


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round her, and his bearded face was close against hers. What more did she want? He might rail as long as he pleased so long as he held her in his arms.

She made a little murmur of contentment, and he went on:

‘I come all the way over to see you, and you go straight away! Wasn't it cruel?’

She might have answered that the distance was not so very great—under two miles—and that most of the men on the field would have done more for her than that, but she did not. She was too thankful to feel his arms round her again to care what price she paid for it. She only nestled closer to him, and drew her hand tenderly down his face.

‘You don't love me a bit, I do believe.’

‘I do! I do!’

He kissed the ripe red lips so close to his own, and as she murmured softly and contentedly he kissed them again.

‘You don't like my kisses, Jen?’

For all answer she kissed his beard softly.

‘Do you, do you?’

She pushed him away from her for a moment, and stood apart, wringing her hands together, as one who vainly strives to give expression to a thought too deep for words, and he saw in the brilliant moonlight the traces of tears still on her cheeks and in her pretty eyes.

‘I do,’ she said—‘I do; you know I do. If I was dead and you was to kiss me I should come back again.’

There was a sob in her voice that carried conviction of her earnestness had he needed it; but he needed none. He was sure as man could be of her love, and


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he made a step forward and took her in his arms again.

‘An' yet—an' yet,’ he said, ‘you thought I'd a hand in the shooting of the old German?’

‘No, no, never—not never!’

‘An' if I had, Jen—just s'posing I had?’

‘I'd love you all the same,’ she said, hiding her face on his shoulder.

‘I b'lieve you would. 'Pon my word,’ he said, with some wonder in his tone, ‘I b'lieve you would! They'd hang me then, Jen,’ he went on, harping on the same theme. ‘An' what 'd you do, then? Marry the sergeant?’

She shuddered, and made a movement of dissent.

‘What! Not the sergeant, who'd keep you like a lady up on the police camp there? Would you rather marry a poor devil like me, with only a miserable bark hut alongside his claim that don't hardly pay the license fee?’

He knew what her answer would be, but he put his hand beneath her chin and turned her face to his own.

‘Say “No,” Jen, if you want to. I'm only a poor devil of a beggar who they're all against. If you leave me——’

‘I love you,’ she said softly, but with some distress in her tone—why would he seem to doubt her love?—‘there isn't nothin' I wouldn't do for you.’

‘I'm poor,’ he said—‘poor as a bandicoot. Here's all I've got in the world!’ and he pulled out a small chamois leather bag full of gold-dust and small nuggets.

These little bags all bore a strong family resemblance to one another, but this one struck Jenny as specially familiar.




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‘Why,’ she said on the spur of the moment, ‘it's just like old Max's bag!’

Black Anderson swore an angry oath.

‘You'll be saying I did it next!’ he said angrily; ‘ain't there hundreds of bags like this on the camp?’

‘Yes, yes. I didn't mean that, you know, you know’—she was distressed as he was angry—‘only it minded me of Max's. His had a join up the middle just like that.’

‘An' if it minds you it'll mind other folks,’ he said dubiously, twisting it round and round in his hand.

‘That don't matter,’ she said, conscious of his innocence.

‘How can you tell? A man's swung for less.’ Then, with sudden irritation, he added, ‘You're that thick with the sergeant, and yet I'll bet if a fellow wanted anything done you couldn't get it done for him.’

‘I—I——’ She hesitated. What could he mean? ‘What—what?’

He read fear and what he took to be the first dawnings of doubt in her true eyes, and he laughed as if he would reassure her, for he found he preferred to be a god in her estimation.

‘Look here, Jen, s'posing—just s'posing I did it, as they're all saying.’

‘I just told you,’ she said solemnly, ‘I'd love you all the same. 'Twouldn't make no difference to me.’

‘You'd have to marry the sergeant, then,’ he said lightly, ‘just to stop him from hanging me.’

‘That wouldn't do it,’ she said, her woman's intuition truer than his.

‘Oh yes, 'twould,’ he said. ‘I know more about these things than you do. How'd a girl know?


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Don't you remember Conky Jim, up Yackandandah way?’

She made a movement of assent. Her arm was round his neck again now, and her face hidden in his beard.

‘Well,’ he went on, ‘Conky was a deal too free with his barkers; and one day he had a difference with a man about some gold-dust Conky swore was his, and t'other swore was his. The end of it was t'other was left for dead, and, as a matter of fact, did die that very night, but not until these darned traps had found him and taken his dying depositions, and 'twould have gone hard with Conky but that the police-sergeant was sweet on his missus. She was a mighty fine gal, and there warn't many round. Well, he took up with her, that sergeant did, and the consequence was Conky got clean away across the Border. She was a mighty fine gal that. You'll have to do that for me, Jen, when they're after me for potting old Max. Will you?’

‘ 'Twouldn't be no manner of good,’ she moaned; ‘I know 'twouldn't. An' you never done it—say you never done it!’

‘Of course not. I'm only joking, you silly little thing!’ he said, for she was trembling. ‘But would you take up with the sergeant to save me?’

‘Oh, I would, I would! there isn't anything I wouldn't do to save you; but don't tell me you done it, for 'twouldn't be any good—I know 'twouldn't.’

Then his mood changed.

‘You're mighty keen on taking up with the sergeant, I notice,’ he said, in grumbling tones.

She felt it a little hard. He had almost forced her to say it, and then when she did he grumbled; but


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she was accustomed to treatment of this sort, and having him there with no one to interrupt, and the soft warm moonlight night all around them, she set herself with all the poor little arts at her command to coax him back into good temper again.

Then she had her reward, what she had waited for impatiently all the evening. He forgot his fears and his ill-temper, forgot everything save that she was a sweet, pretty woman, who loved him better than her own soul; and she forgot her doubts and all else beside.

The moon was high in the heavens before Jenny could bring herself to remind her lover that she must go back home to-night, and when she did, he walked part of the way back with her. When they came within sight of the Lucky Digger again, he paused a moment, and drew out once more the little chamois leather bag full of gold-dust.

‘Will you keep it for me, Jenny?’ he said. ‘I'm main sure to spend it if you don't, and it'll be something towards our getting spliced. Don't tell anyone you've got it, but just keep it till I get a little more to add to it. We'll have our shanty up in the gully there, won't we — eh, my girl?’ he said, looking tenderly down into her eyes with a long, lingering glance, as if—as in truth he could not—he could not make up his mind to let her go.

It was moments like these that bound her to him with bands of iron. She took the bag, and hiding it in her bosom, stooped and kissed his hand; then ran away to her home, the very happiest woman in all the broad colony of Victoria.

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