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Chapter VIII

In the Commissioner's Office.

 ‘Some men must love my lady, and some Joan.’

   ‘Love's Labour's Lost.’

THEY walked along side by side in silence. The trooper was cudgelling his brains for something to say, something to encourage the tired girl beside him, something that should sound kind, and which would assure her there was nothing to fear, for that she was afraid he was convinced; but by nature he was a reserved, silent man, and now that he desired them so earnestly the words would not come. As for Jenny, she never even tried to speak; one thought only was filling her mind, that she must marry the man beside her to save her lover. He had said so, and his word was not to be gainsaid. Her stepmother had smoothed the way for her; she had put into her mouth the words she should say; she had given a reason for her companionship with Dave Anderson, and all she had to do was to remember that she knew nothing.

The hill was steep and the dust on the track ankle-deep; the diggers bending over their cradles and tubs on the banks of the creek looked in wonder at the two strange companions. The sergeant was a man who


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cared little what his fellows thought of him, but the girl felt instinctively that all eyes were upon her, and knew that if Dave Anderson had a friend among those onlookers, and she did not doubt for a moment that he had many friends, he would know she had been sent for to the police camp. There was a certain amount of comfort in that, too, for if he knew that much, he would know that she was doing her best to save him; he would hear she was with the sergeant, he would understand.

‘Are you very tired?’ asked Sergeant Sells at last in despair.

‘No.’

‘You look so, I'm sure,’ he said, but it did not seem to Jenny that that remark required an answer.

They reached the camp, and every trooper, it seemed to her companion, looked curiously at Jenny. It annoyed him, this publicity, while she never noticed it. She was accustomed to being stared at by men, and whether they were diggers or troopers mattered little to her.

At the door of his tent sat the Commissioner, lolling back in an easy-chair, with his hands behind his head, while young Anderson leaned against the tent-pole smoking furiously.

‘Here you are at last, sergeant,’ said the Commissioner; ‘you've been a nice time about it! Do you think I've all day to waste over this blessed thing?’

The sergeant felt he had nothing to say in excuse for his delay, so wisely held his tongue, and the Commissioner went on:

‘So this is the young woman? And what's she got to say for herself?’

This question also seemed not to require an answer,


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so the sergeant stood at attention, and Jenny looked down and wondered that they did not hear the beating of her heart.

The Commissioner looked at her curiously. He knew her, of course, but he had never noticed her much before. She looked to him an untidy little girl, in a shabby lilac frock, with a frightened pair of dark eyes, a face that some might call pretty, and quantities of yellow hair bunched up under a white sun-bonnet. Rather wistful-looking, certainly, but a little simple, not at all the dark and dangerous conspirator he had been led by his clerk to expect. In his own mind he was convinced there and then she knew nothing about the murder—very little, he thought, about the murderer.

‘Don't be frightened,’ he said kindly; ‘we're only going to ask you a question or two. We're not going to hurt you.’

Then he felt vexed that his manner did not reassure her more. Personally he had a contempt for a weak woman, but he went on kindly:

‘Are you the daughter of the man they call Buck Carter, the landlord of the Lucky Digger?’

‘Yes, sir.’ And the sergeant and the Commissioner both noticed how she trembled as she spoke.

‘I'm told you were at the dance held there last night; is that so?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Who were present?’

Jenny pleated her dress between her fingers, and looked helplessly at the sergeant.

He hailed this proof of confidence with delight, and ventured to nod encouragingly and say, ‘Tell the Commissioner, Jenny.’




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But Jenny could find no words, and her restless fingers folded the skirt of her dress backwards and forwards as the Commissioner repeated his question.

Then he altered it.

‘Was there anybody there?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Who?’

‘Diggers, sir.’

‘Good Lord!’ said the Commissioner irritably; ‘was a man they call Pard Derrick there?’

Jenny trembled again, and her voice, as she answered ‘Yes, sir,’ was hardly audible.

‘Come, now, we're getting on. Did you dance with this Pard Derrick?’

‘Yes, sir,’ again in a whisper.

‘Don't be afraid. There's nothing wrong in that. Do you know a man named David Anderson?’

Jenny looked down and said nothing. She had never heard Black Dave called David Anderson before, and it seemed to her that she would not own to knowing him till she was obliged, and she did not know David Anderson.

Commissioner Ruthven drummed his fingers on the table in front of him. The girl was manifestly frightened out of her wits, and anything she knew would have to be dragged out of her. He was not astonished at that. He knew the reputation the police and all connected with them had in the diggers' camp, and she was evidently ignorant and prejudiced.

‘Try her with Black Dave, sir,’ suggested his clerk, coming to the rescue.

‘Do you know Black Dave, Jenny?’ repeated the Commissioner.

‘Yes, sir,’ she answered in a whisper.




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‘Oh, you do. Come, that's satisfactory. And was he at the dance?’

Jenny hesitated a moment, then she said:

‘No, sir.’

‘But he comes to the Lucky Digger?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Often?’

‘Whiles.’

‘Lucid, certainly,’ commented the Commissioner. ‘Well, did he come there last night?’

Again Jenny hesitated. He had certainly not come to the bar, she had met him outside, so she answered.

‘No, sir.’

‘But you saw him last night?’ went on the Commissioner, who was getting impatient.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Where?’

‘Outside.’

‘You went outside to meet him?’

‘No, sir.’ She could answer that truthfully enough, for she remembered she had gone out reluctantly, dragged by Pard Derrick.

‘What did you go outside for, then?’

‘It was hot,’ said Jenny in a whisper, ‘an' Pard Derrick made me.’

‘But isn't Black Anderson your sweetheart?’

The sergeant looked at the girl narrowly, and saw her crimson through the sun-tan on her face; then she drooped her eyes again, and, much to his relief, said in a whisper so faint as hardly to be audible:

‘No, sir.’

‘For Heaven's sake, girl, speak up! What in the world is there to be afraid of? Didn't you leave Pard Derrick and talk to Dave Anderson?’




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‘Pard Derrick went inside.’

‘Clearly the boot was on the other foot, then. And why didn't you go in with Pard Derrick?’

Jenny looked down again, and was heard to murmur something about its being ‘too hot.’

‘Then I'm to understand you stopped outside with the other gentleman?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Did you know he was suspected of the murder of German Max?’

‘Pard Derrick told him so.’

‘Oh! And so you stopped outside with a man who, you had been told, was accused of murder?’

‘Please, sir,’ there was a sob in Jenny's voice as the thought of last night came back to her—last night, so rich in promise of happiness for her—‘please, sir, I thought Pard Derrick was fooling.’

‘And what did you two do when Pard Derrick was gone?’

‘Come, sir,’ put in young Anderson, ‘I call that a really cruel question. You, of all people, might be sympathetic.’

The Commissioner silenced him with a contemptuous glance, and repeated his question: ‘Well, come now, what did you do?’

Jenny paused a long time, then said slowly: ‘Sat down by the creek.’

It was the strict truth. No one had seen her go up the gully, and she did not mention it, so the Commissioner naturally thought it was the creek opposite the store.

‘And after that?’

Again a long pause, and the girl's fingers restlessly twisting themselves in and out of her dress.




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‘Well, what next?’

‘I went home to bed, sir.’

‘And Anderson, what became of him?’

‘I don't know, sir.’

‘But surely you made some arrangement for meeting again?’

Sergeant Sells looked at her narrowly.

‘N-o-o, sir,’ she said, with a pitiful quaver in her voice, for though it was the strict truth, she had thought when they parted he would come to the bar next evening like the rest of the diggers, and now she had no hope of ever seeing him again.

‘Didn't you ever think to see him again?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘How?’

‘I—I thought he'd come to the bar if he wanted;’ and her voice had sunk to a whisper again.

‘Evidently not so very keen, after all,’ thought the Commissioner to himself, ‘or, maybe, somewhat ashamed of taking up with a murderer,’ while the undemonstrative sergeant could have flung his cap in the air with delight.

‘And Anderson didn't mention German Max?’

‘Said he'd never done it,’ whispered Jenny, ‘an' that Pard Derrick was foolin'.’

It seemed to her she had done all she could now, and that another question must reveal the fact that she had the old German's bag of gold in her keeping at that very moment. In her eyes the Commissioner was all-powerful. She put up her hands to her face, and began helplessly twisting the strings of her sun-bonnet.

‘And that's all you know?’ said the Commissioner.




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‘Yes, sir,’ and her hands went up to her face and she burst into a passion of tears.

Perhaps it was the best thing she could have done. Commissioner Ruthven had decided in his own mind that she was a simple girl, very ignorant and frightened, and he thought that thought Black Anderson, in common with the rest of the diggers, might admire such beauty as she had, she was the last person he would trust with a knowledge of his movements or of his crime.

‘Tut, tut, tut!’ he said; ‘what the dickens are you doing that for? There, that's all, sergeant. You can take her away. Tell her not to make such a fool of herself,’ for, once the tears had come, Jenny could not control herself, and was sobbing as if her heart would break.

‘She's but poorly, sir,’ said the sergeant, taking upon himself to excuse her; ‘Mrs. Carter was telling me so just now, asking me not to be hard on her.’

‘H'm! it seems she was equal to shaking a leg with a will last night. That doesn't look very like being poorly.’

‘It's all her father's fault, sir,’ said the sergeant eagerly. ‘Buck Carter's a hard man, and she can't call her soul her own.’

Young Anderson stepped back into the dining-tent and returned with a glass of wine.

‘Here, drink this,’ he said, ‘and for mercy's sake don't cry so! You make a man feel a brute to look at you.’

The sergeant looked at him gratefully, but Jenny, with her face in her hands, utterly refused the proffered refreshment.

‘Don't be a fool!’ said the Commissioner sharply,


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and, accustomed to obey, she drank it between her sobs.

It steadied her shaken nerves, and she lifted her tear-stained face and looked questioningly at the Commissioner.

‘She can go, sergeant,’ he said; ‘I've done with her.’

Without a word he touched her arm and led her down the hill again.

The Commissioner watched them out of sight.

‘H'm!’ he said, ‘not much to be got out of her. She's a little simple, I think.’

‘Well, it's pretty evident our man was there last night, after all, and openly, too. But those blessed troopers failed to find him!’

‘Who was the man on the look-out at the pub?’

‘Simpson, sir.’

‘Good Lord! No wonder he slipped through our fingers. The man's next door to a fool!’

‘Well, sir,’ said the clerk apologetically, ‘no one thought he'd put so bold a face on it as to go to the pub. Besides, he didn't go inside, and out in the moonlight one man's very like another, with their red shirts and heavy beards.’

‘The bird's flown now, any way,’ said the Commissioner, preparing to light his pipe. ‘And as for that girl, I don't believe she knows a thing about it. A simple little thing!’

‘It's common talk, all the same, sir,’ repeated Anderson, ‘that she's Black Anderson's sweetheart.’

‘Pooh! As the sergeant says, you know what common talk's worth.’

‘The sergeant? By Jingo, sir, I do believe your immaculate sergeant's gone the way of all flesh!


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If he ain't badly hit with that little girl, I'm a duffer!’

‘It wouldn't take that to prove you a duffer, Mr. Anderson!’ said the Commissioner severely, for the escape of Black Anderson was still rankling. ‘The sergeant's a man of sense.’

‘A man of sense or not, sir, I'll bet you anything you like before the month's out the sergeant comes to you for permission to bring a wife to live on the camp!’

‘Pooh! he's old enough to be her father. He knows better. An untidy little drab of a girl like that!’

‘She's sweetly pretty—she is indeed, sir! You won't see it, because you've got another face in your eye. And, after all, there's no fool like an old fool. Take up my bet, sir. I'll stand a champagne dinner if the sergeant hasn't come to you before the month's out.’

‘Done with you! But if I only catch Black Anderson, I'll stand champagne whether the sergeant makes a fool of himself or not.’

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