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Chapter IX

A Weighty Warning.

An syne he laughed, an’ syne he sang,
An' syne we thocht him fou,
An' syne he trumped his partner's trick,
An' garred his partner rue.

Then up and spake an elder mon,
That held the Spade its Ace
God save the lad! Whence comes the licht
That wimples on his face?” '
‘Departmental Ditties.’

   Rudyard Kipling.

IT was hardly part of Sergeant Sells' duty to accompany Jenny Carter back again to the Lucky Digger, but he made it so. He could not let her go down by herself, exposed as she would be to the rude curiosity of the rough diggers, so he walked down stern and solemn beside her. As for the girl herself, she hardly realized his kindness. She spoke not a word—indeed, never answered, unless an inarticulate sound when he addressed her could be called an answer. It contented him, however, and when they reached the store her voluble stepmother amply made up for her silence.

‘Lord! now, this is good of you, sergeant, to bring Jen back again! Why, poor old girl, how you have been cryin'! Go in an' lie down now, there's a dear! Now, sergeant,’ she added reproachfully, ‘didn't I ask you not to be hard on her, a soft little thing like her?’

‘I'm sure,’ he said apologetically, ‘I don't know what's the matter. I never did understand women, and the Commissioner was as kind as he could be. I


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wonder at that, too, for he hasn't the sweetest temper in the world, and he's very vexed about Black Anderson.’

‘Lord! men are fools. You just go on makin' an innocent girl bring a man to the gallows, and then you wonder that she should cry her heart out at havin' blood on her hands.’

‘Good heavens! is that what's the matter? I'm sure, then, Jenny needn't cry about that. All she did, as far as I can see, was to make out that vagabond as innocent as the babe unborn.’

‘Well, well, I'm glad o' that. He may be a jolly bad lot, but a girl don't want to have his death at her door, whatever she may think of him. Come, Jen, run away now, and lie down a bit. I'll mind the childer, an' the sergeant 'll be likely comin' in in the evenin'—won't you, sergeant?’

Jenny turned away without a word, and the sergeant stroked his whiskers doubtfully. He did not choose to look upon himself as a common habitué of the pub, and he did not like to think Mrs. Carter did so either, and yet there was Jenny. If he did not see her till to-morrow or the day after, what might not happen meanwhile? He had advanced farther in her good graces than he had ever gone before, and he felt he ought to follow up the advantage; still, he did not by any means approve of Sal Carter, so he said doubtfully:

‘H'm! I don't know. There's a good deal to be done, you see, about this affair. It'll never do to let this man get clean off.’

‘You can't be huntin' him day and night, sure; but do as you please. There's plenty glad enough to come here;’ and Mrs. Carter poured water into a tin


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basin and began washing up tumblers and pannikins with the cheerful conviction that she was a very important person, whatever opinion the sergeant of police might hold upon the subject.

He went back to the camp then, but he knew as well as possible that the evening would see him down in the bar shoulder to shoulder with the bearded, red-shirted diggers, anxious as they—nay, he was not the man to mince matters to himself, a thousand times more anxious than they—for a kind word, or even a smile, from Jenny Carter. But he was happier now than he had been for many a long day. Jenny had nothing—nothing in common with Black Anderson; he was sure of that. The camp might talk as it pleased, but he knew there was nothing between them, and what was more, he was not the only man who held that opinion. The Commissioner himself agreed with him. The usually stern sergeant unbent that day, and the troopers, wondering at his unwonted geniality, were not long in setting it down to its right cause. It was soon whispered round that since Jenny Carter had found out Black Anderson had shot the German, she had decided to throw him over and take up with the police sergeant instead.

This report gained credence all over the field that evening when, after the briefest of struggles with himself, the sergeant went down to the bar of the Lucky Digger, and was treated by Jenny, if not with cordiality, at least with toleration.

No one would have said she hated him now, though a keen observer, perhaps, might have thought she feared him. But there were no keen observers among the diggers, and as the days went on the sergeant's wooing progressed apace, and only Sal Carter, perhaps,


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guessed how distasteful it was to the girl. Indeed, if it had not been for her, the thing would have come to an abrupt ending, or, rather, would never have had any beginning at all, for Jenny, though she said to herself she would marry the sergeant for Dave's sake, had no idea of bringing about such a thing. If he had asked her, she would have said ‘Yes,’ but any further preliminaries she did not understand. She did not openly snub him as she had been wont to do occasionally, but of her own free will she never sought him, of her own free will she never addressed him. This, however, was the less noticeable as she had grown more silent than ever; and certainly, if she did not encourage him, he could not complain of her friendliness to other men. To the outside world it seemed she favoured the trooper, and only Sal Carter knew, and she kept her own counsel, that this was due to her judicious management.

At first Jenny used to look anxiously for news of Black Anderson, but he seemed completely to have vanished. She knew the police were still hunting for him; knew that they still believed he was in hiding in the ranges, helped probably by some friendly hand among the diggers; knew that they daily hoped to lay their hands, if not on the man himself, at least on the man who helped him; but she herself had lost touch of him. Not once or twice, but many a time, in the course of the month that followed, had she stolen out at dead of night, when all the camp was quiet, and gone away up the gully, where last she had seen him, in the vain hope of seeing him, or at least finding some trace of him, but there was never a sing. Once, indeed, in her midnight wanderings she had come across a man moving softly through the scrub, and


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her heart had beat high with hope; but on coming closer it had turned out to be only Pard Derrick in a very bad temper.

‘What the —— are you doin' here?’ he asked gruffly.

And Jenny told him the truth, first because she could think of nothing else to say, and next because she counted him Dave's friend, and thought he might bring her news of him.

‘I was lookin' for Dave,’ she said simply.

‘Oh! was you? What was you agoin' to do with him? Hand him over to your friend the trap?’

Jenny made a little inarticulate moan.

‘I dunno what's to do for the best,’ she sobbed—‘I dunno. I'm sorter hungerin' for Dave.’

The waning moon was just rising in the east, and sent a faint white light through the tangled scrub and ferns that fell full on the girl's tired face. These many hopeless vigils were beginning to tell on her, and she looked worn and thin: the great strong man looking down on her felt a sort of pity for her stirring at his heart; but he had no faith in any woman, and certainly was not minded to share his secret with her. Possibly, too, there was a slight feeling of jealousy in the business. He was friendly enough with Black Anderson; he took him food, he supplied him with all the news of the camp, but he was not going to bring this girl to him. It might be dangerous. And again, he, Pard Derrick, had to do without a woman's society, why not Black Anderson? Black Anderson had been first favourite for so long; let someone else have a turn now.

‘Hungerin' for Dave, are you? Don't you know where he is?’




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She shook her head.

‘Don't you?’ she asked piteously.

‘Me! How'd I know? If you don't know, I guess no one does. They do say he's hid in the ranges somewhere about. But if he takes my advice, he'll make tracks across the border soon as possible. The sergeant's mighty keen after him, an' he'll nab him sure as fate if someone don't put a stopper on him. Say, Jenny, you're mighty thick with the sergeant now, ain't you?’

The girl nodded her head. She only saw in the man's careless speech another injunction to marry the sergeant.

‘Well, likely he'll let drop at times suthin' o' what he's doin' an' where he's goin' to hunt next, an' if he does, you might just tip us the wink, eh?’

‘But he don't,’ she said, ‘not never.’

‘Get you home to bed, Jenny. 'Tain't good for a gal to be wanderin' about this way nights. You'll come to harm, you will. Go home now like a good girl; you just let Dave Anderson be, or I'll tell the boss, sure as my name's Pard Derrick.’

She was more careful after that. She still stole out, still made her way up the lonely gully, but she was afraid of being caught, and the merest breaking of a twig, or a slipping stone, made her crouch trembling on the ground. If she met Pard Derrick there she might meet others, and it never occurred to her to ask why Pard Derrick had taken to midnight rambles. She only felt she must be careful, and not let him see her again. She could not give up going entirely, though, once she had seen his mate, all hope of seeing Anderson himself died within her. She only crept away up the gully where she had spent the one


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happy evening of her life, and, kneeling down among the stones and ferns, shut her eyes and listened once again to the soft sound of the falling water, smelt once again the damp fresh earthy scent of the water-plants, listened to the weird sounds of the night all around her, and tried to fancy, as many a wiser woman than she has done, that her lover was by her side once more.

‘You're gettin' just worn out, Jen,’ said her stepmother to her one day when they had the store to themselves, and Jenny had flung herself wearily down on a pile of flour-sacks. ‘You're frettin', you know, frettin' after that chap, an' you that promised me to take up with the sergeant.’

‘Well, ain't I done it?’

‘Lord no! call that takin' up? If it warn't for me you'd be as far off as ever.’

‘What'll I do, then?’ asked the girl wearily.

‘Do! Smile at him once in a way. Go outside with him once in a way, an' he'll do the rest.’

‘I—I can't help it. I'm sorter hungerin' after Dave.’

‘Poor old girl!’ Mrs. Carter spoke kindly enough, but she had no remedy to offer. ‘An' you ain't seen nothin' of him since the night of the murder?’

‘No.’

‘Nary a sign?’

‘No.’

‘Men is brutes,’ said Sal with conviction, putting the baby down on the floor to make his way among the picks and shovels and the varied appurtenances of a digging store, and coming over to touch the girl's hair kindly; ‘best not to think of him, dear.’

‘I can't help it.’




  ― 100 ―

‘Why not take up wi' the sergeant? Anyhow, it'll give you something to think of. I know how 'tis myself. Soon as you begin to think of something else, it don't matter much what, you'll feel better.’

‘If they was to take him, what'd they do to him?’

‘Oh, hang him, certain sure! You bet your life on that.’

‘But — but — there's a many as say he never done it.’

Her voice sunk to a whisper, for she firmly believed she herself held the proofs of his guilt.

‘Oh, they'll hang him safe enough. The sergeant's mighty keen on catchin' him—keener, so they was sayin' in the bar last night, than the Commissioner himself. When the sergeant ain't lookin' at you, he's thinkin' out new schemes for takin' Black Dave. So if you want to help him you oughter be sweet to the sergeant. Maybe while he's lookin' in your eyes he'll forget everything else for a bit.’

‘I'll marry the sergeant if you like,’ said Jenny hopelessly, ‘only he hasn't asked me.’

‘I'll settle that,’ said Sal Carter quickly, ‘only mind you're naught but sweet to him if he speaks to you to-night.’

‘But I'd rather be dead; 'deed, Sal, I'd rather be dead.’

‘Eh, well,’ sighed the older woman, ‘but we can't choose. Maybe it's just as well. An' you know, Jen, you'd be a long sight better married to the sergeant than goin' on like this. Wouldn't you, now?’

Jenny shook her head.

To eighteen, however ignorant, philosophy of this sort does not recommend itself highly, and Sal Carter saw she would have to bring stronger arguments


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than this to bear if she was to attain the end which she honestly thought was best for her husband's daughter.

‘An' 'tis the best you can do for Black Dave, if you think about him still. Once the sergeant's married, or thinkin' about gettin' married, well, he won't be pokin' about the ranges an' gullies quite so much.’

‘All right,’ said Jenny, turning her face to the wall; ‘I told you I'd marry him.’

‘An' I'll—— Good Lord! there's that kid at the kerosene! Was ever such a child for mischief! Come on here, you brat! you'll be the death of your poor old mammy before you've done, you will. An', after all's said an' done, you see, Jenny, a woman gets a deal o' comfort out of her childer.’

The comfort might have seemed a doubtful quantity to an outsider as Mrs. Carter picked up her offspring, hands and face and pinafore smeared with kerosene, and shook him well for getting himself in such a mess, to say nothing of wasting the oil; and then, when he raised a loud, protesting wail, kissed him, in spite of the dirt he had accumulated.

‘He smells fine now,’ said Jenny.

Even in the midst of her own troubles, she was always interested in the children, which probably accounted for her friendship with the children's mother.

‘He's just as dear to his mammy, just as dear, ain't he, bless 'im!’ and Mrs. Carter carried him off to wash him, reflecting the while how she was to bring about the marriage she had set her heart on.

‘I think he's mighty gone,’ she said to herself; ‘but Jen's got no more life in her than a stone. Can't expect the man to go all ways. I'll just send her out


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in the evenin' an' give 'em a chance o' meetin' outside. Maybe she'll liven up a bit when they're alone.’

Accordingly that night, in pursuance of her newly-laid plan, when the bar was full of men, and the sergeant, as was now his regular custom, had installed himself close beside Jenny, Sal Carter tapped her gently on the shoulder.

‘Jen dear, you're lookin' that white,’ she said, in a low tone, ‘wouldn't you like to go out an' sit down by the creek a bit to cool?’

Jenny hesitated a moment.

‘Dad,’ she said, looking across to where Buck Carter was dispensing liquors and telling his experiences out on the plains of New South Wales to a select crowd of listeners.

‘Oh, get along with you; I'll settle him. Run on now, Jen, an' don't stop too late.’

Sergeant Sells was the only man who heard, and he took advantage of it, as Mrs. Carter had more than half hoped he would.

‘You oughtn't to send her alone,’ he said, watching her, as she stepped behind the canvas screen which divided the bar from the rest of the house, with the evident intention of going out quietly by the back way.

‘What'll I do? She looks pretty sick on it. You wouldn't have me send one of you chaps to look after her, I suppose?—an' I ain't got anybody else.’

‘Let me go,’ said the sergeant boldly.

Sal Carter looked at him a moment as if she were weighing in her own mind the wisdom of such a course; then she apparently relented.

‘You —you'd—oh, well, get along wi' you, then. But be gentle wi' her. She's a soft little thing. The


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boss bounced her mother a mighty lot, I reckon, and Jen's never got over it. Sorter shrinks up if you so much as speaks loud to her.’

Sergeant Sells required no second bidding. He went out and made his way quickly round to the back of the house, just as Jenny had started on her way to her favourite resort. She did not intend to go far, only to the mouth of the gully, where she would still be within sight and sound of the camp. She did not want any companionship, and was not pleased when the sergeant came up with her.

‘Where are you going?’ he asked.

She nodded in the direction of the creek.

‘May I go with you?’

She would rather have said ‘No,’ but she had promised her stepmother to encourage this man, and she was firmly imbued with the idea that by so doing she was shielding, in some measure, the man she loved; so she merely nodded her head again, and they walked on together side by side in silence. When they came to the stepping-stones across the creek, the sergeant put out his hand and quietly helped her across.

It was four weeks all but two days since the night she had gone there with Black Dave, and it had been just such another night as this. There was the same old moon looking down on them, the same clear, dark velvety sky, the same tangle of scrub and fern and rippling water. Such a still, hot night, so calm and quiet; and out of the bush, mingling with the damp, earthy smell of the water-plants, came a rich, subtle perfume. Who could describe it? Who has not noticed it? They walked along the gully a little way, partly because the girl was too shy to stop, and the


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man followed where she led. At last she sat down on a flat stone by the water-side, and leaned back against the steep hillside, and the sergeant flung himself on the ground at her feet.

Never before in all the five-and-forty years that went to make up his life had he gone out into the moonlight alone with a woman, and lain at her feet. The situation had all the charm of novelty for him, and the night had a softening, sensuous influence; and, as he looked up at her, the kindly moonlight, that must surely have been created for lovers, softened out all harsh outlines, and showed him a sweet, wistful face, with big dark eyes framed in quantities of yellow hair. What did it matter that that hair was untidy, that her dress was torn and ragged, that there was something—he could hardly have told what—wanting in her face? The moonlight softened all that, and showed him only the girl he desired more than his life.

It was so new to him to lie there and watch her that at first he could not make up his mind to break the silence. She did not look at him, but away down the gully; but surely she must care for him, or she would never have come here with him? No woman had ever done so much for him, not one. Then, as he looked again at her face, its youth forced itself upon him—so young she looked, so young and fair. For all that his figure was young and lithe still, for all that he knew he was an efficient man in a force where a life of activity was an absolute necessity, there passed across his mind like a sharp pang the thought of his five-and-forty years, the knowledge that would not be argued away, that he was old enough to be her father. Well, he would be all the more tender for


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that, he told himself, all the more careful, and she needed care. All the fond, foolish dreams he had indulged in for the last six months surged up, and would not be crushed down. She must be his, she must—she must, but she was so cold and far-away. If he looked any longer he would forget all else, and take her in his arms whether she would or no; and he put his head on his folded arms, and groaned aloud.

Jenny looked down, for her thoughts, too, had been of him. She was wondering what it would feel like to be always with this man, to know that never in this life would she see Black Dave again. He wanted her. She would have been blind indeed if the last month had not showed her that; but her thoughts had been so full of another man, she never for a moment gave a thought to his pain. She looked on him with fear and hate, and when hate gave place to toleration, the fear still remained; for might he not at any moment compass her lover's death? For herself she did not hate him—does ever any woman really hate the man she is assured loves her even to his own hurt?—but she hated him for the power he held.

Then she softened; she was sorry for him for a brief moment.

‘Are you sick?’ she asked.

‘Sick, child!’ he rose up and laid a trembling hand on her shoulder. ‘No, I'm not sick. Jenny, Jenny, won't you ever understand? How long are you going to keep me hanging on like this?’

She took one swift glance at the face bending over her, then she looked down again, and with restless fingers began pleating her skirt into folds, as she had done on the day the Commissioner had questioned


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her. It disagreeably reminded the man beside her of that day, and he dropped on his knees beside her and took both her hands in his own.

‘Jenny, Jenny!’

Still she was silent. She was hardly the woman to speak.

‘Jenny, can't I make you understand?’

‘What?’

‘That I love you, child—that I want you! That I love you, and want you more than anything in the world!’

He put his head down on her lap now and put her cool hands—her little toil-hardened hands—against his burning face; but though she did not resist, she sat silent and said nothing.

‘Jenny, won't you even be sorry for me?’

‘No one ain't ever happy,’ she said, out of the depth of wisdom she had learned the last few weeks.

‘Oh, child, you could make me the happiest man on earth! I should have nothing to wish for if you were my wife.’

‘You're wrong,’ she said, speaking a truth almost unconsciously—‘you're wrong. I couldn't make no man happy;’ and she sighed, for she knew that with all her passionate love Dave Anderson had never been content for long in her society. ‘I couldn't make no man happy, least of all you;’ and she thought of the only reason she had for marrying him, and for a moment with all her heart she pitied the man who loved her so well, and for all his love received but a stone.

‘You would, you would! Oh, Jenny, no woman has ever cared for me. Oh, Jenny, if you would but try! I don't want you to love me, dear, but just let


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me take you away and take care of you. I would be so good to you, my darling, so good; only let me try.’

He raised his face in the moonlight, and she saw how haggard and worn it looked. Ignorant as she was, she could have cried aloud at the contrast. This man loved her with his whole soul, and the other—the other—allowed her to love him sometimes; and yet—and yet—for the sake of this other man she was prepared to lay down her life, was fully prepared—if need were—to sacrifice for him the man who loved her. A great pity for him filled her soul; she would save him in spite of himself if she could. Instinctively she felt he was worth something better than this.

She touched his face gently with her hand, and pushed back his hair from his forehead.

‘Don't,’ she said, and for the first time in his ears her voice sounded infinitely kind and tender, ‘don't you be makin' a fool o' yourself lovin' me. I ain't worth it. Go away an' leave me.’

If she had deliberately set herself to win him, she could not have done better, could not have made herself more dear. This thought for him was more than he had ever expected, more than he had hoped for.

‘Hush, hush! I won't have you speak of yourself like that. Only be my wife, dear, only be my wife, and I will show you how I care.’

Still she shook her head.

‘Don't have no truck wi' me,’ she said, and there was distress in her tones; ‘I won't never bring you no good.’

Was ever man warned in this fashion?

He rose from his knees then, and caught her in


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his arms as he had been longing to do all the evening.

‘My sweetheart—my wife!’

She lay quiet there, only saying one more word of warning, but he closed her mouth with kisses—kisses such as he had given to no other woman; and the girl shut her eyes and wondered for a brief space if here she should find peace.

Then she thought again of Black Dave, and for his sake lay still and unresisting in this man's arms. He sat her down on the stone again, and looked down at her proudly.

‘You belong to me now.’

‘Yes,’ she said sadly; ‘but you'd be wiser to let me go.’

‘Leave me to judge that, my little sweetheart’—he put a caressing hand on her hair—‘you'll say different when we are married.’

He thought of her wretched home—thought how he would surround her with comforts, how he would teach her to appreciate better things. And she—she knew nothing of these things, wanted them not, wanted only to be with Black Dave again or to die.

‘It mun be nigh on time to go home,’ she said.

‘Yes, yes, to be sure. It would never do to keep you out here late.’

She had never thought of that, did not understand the thought and care for her which made him let her go. He put his arm round her as they walked, and she had to put a restraint upon herself and crush down a longing to shake it off. She had to remind herself that she belonged to him, that he had a right to put his arm round her. It was the price she was paying for Black Dave's freedom. When they came to the


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creek he helped her across the stones, laughing like a boy in his new-found happiness.

‘Must take care of you,’ he said; ‘you belong to me now, you know.’

On the other side she stood still a moment, and tried once again to make him see what he was doing.

‘Don't, don't, don't!’ she pleaded; ‘I ain't the sort for you—I ain't indeed!’

‘But, my little girl, can't you let me be the best judge of that? I'll be so good, dear; don't be afraid of that.’

‘I ain't afraid. 'Tisn't of myself I'm thinkin'. I'm all right; but I won't never make you the wife you think for.’

‘Jenny, Jenny’—no words of his could have told how good he thought her, could have possibly measured his happiness; that she should think for him, his tender little girl—‘dear, I want you, if you'll only take me; and, before God, I don't care what price I pay for you!’

She dropped her hands helplessly down beside her.

‘'Tain't my fault,’ she whispered; ‘'deed 'tain't my fault—remember that!’

He did not understand her, he hardly thought she understood herself; he saw she was desperately in earnest, but he was so intoxicated with success he cared little what she said, so long as she submitted to his caresses, so long as she agreed to be his wife.

‘I'll not forget,’ he made answer, as solemnly as she had spoken; ‘never, never!’ and he stooped and sealed it with a kiss on her lips.

In silence they walked back to the bar again, where a bull-dance was in full swing, and at the door, panting and hot, they met Sal Carter coming out to cool


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herself after a wild romp round with Pard Derrick for a partner.

‘Mrs. Carter,’ said the sergeant gravely, ‘your daughter's going to be my wife.’

Sal stopped short and flung her hands up above her head. She had hardly expected her plans to be so successful all at once.

‘My! Sakes alive! Who'd a' thought it? Well, Jen, you do surprise me! What 're you goin' to do now?’

‘Going to bed,’ said the sergeant with newborn authority. ‘Mrs. Carter, I can't have Jenny dancing here any more.’

‘Lawks-a-daisy me, ain't we gettin' stuck up! All right, sergeant; I'll see that she don't.’

Jenny went in, and the trooper, feeling as if he were walking on air, made his way back to the police camp.

Next morning, when he interviewed the Commissioner to receive the orders for the day, he had a request of his own to prefer.

‘Please, sir, the hut where we used to store the gold?’

‘Yes, sergeant.’

The Commissioner and his clerk were just sitting down to breakfast, and he was very intent on the well-cooked mutton-chop before him.

‘I—sir—would there be any objections to my building another room to it and living in it?’

‘You, sergeant! Why, aren't you comfortable enough where you are?’

‘Yes, sir; but the fact is, sir——’

The sergeant paused. He really was not equal to putting his happiness into words.




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‘Well, sergeant?’

‘Fact is, sir,’ he blurted it out hurriedly, ‘I was thinking of getting married, sir, if there's no objection.’

Mr. Anderson, who was young, and apt to express his feelings occasionally in an unseemly manner, gave vent to a long, low whistle, and the Commissioner laid down his knife and fork and looked his sergeant straight in the face.

‘It's a little unusual, certainly,’ he said gravely; ‘but no—really I can see no objection to your having the hut if you like. Who is the lady, may I ask?’

‘Thank you, sir. Jenny Carter, sir.’

‘I wish you luck, sergeant.’

‘Thank you, sir;’ and the sergeant saluted and turned on his heel.

‘Won, by all that's holy!’ cried young Anderson. ‘I never thought she'd have him. I suppose you'll stand the champagne, sir? My word! won't he be doing a big repentance before this time next year!’

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