Chapter X

His Wife.

‘ There was a man, and his wife, and a tertium quid.’.

   Rudyard Kipling

‘WELL, sergeant, and what do you think of matrimony now you've had a month of it?’

The Commissioner stopped his horse at the door of Sergeant Sells' hut, and looked down at the untidy girl sitting on the doorstep slowly peeling potatoes.

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It was Jenny's morning's work, and she was taking her time about it. There was nothing to hurry for that she knew of. Her husband stood beside her, and put his hand to his cap in salute.

‘Thank you, sir,’ he said, with a grave smile; ‘I find it very pleasant, sir.’

He could have wished that Jenny had not chosen her front doorstep on which to peel her potatoes, that she had done her hair that morning, and that she would rise when the Commissioner spoke to her. But she took no notice of him, and the trooper felt it incumbent on him to make up for her want of manners by being more respectful himself.

‘Well, well, you're a lucky beggar! The only man on the camp who's got a wife to look after him. Good-morning, Mrs. Sells.’

Then he rode off, and the sergeant said a little sharply:

‘Jenny, why didn't you stand up when the Commissioner came along?’

‘Did I oughter?’ she asked submissively. ‘Next time I will.’

Her husband muttered something inaudible, and went off to the stables in anything but an amiable frame of mind.

It was a month now since he and Jenny had been married, fully two since that memorable night when he had gone up the gully with her. There had been nothing to wait for—nothing. Once it was settled they were to be married, he had been anxious to get it over. He was keen on getting the girl he loved, and taking her away from the surroundings of a public-house, and such a one as the Lucky Digger. Sal Carter was as eager as he. The girl was tired

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and weary, out of health and out of spirits, fretting, as she knew right well, for Black Anderson, and she honestly believed that marriage was the best thing for her.

As for Jenny herself, she was indifferent. If she was to marry the sergeant to-morrow, or a year hence, the marriage would be equally distasteful to her, and she was only reconciled to it by the thought that the preparations for the event kept the sergeant so busy he had not nearly so much time to give to the hunting down of Black Anderson, who, she thought, occupied as much of his thoughts as he did of hers. That she might help this man just as effectually by not marrying the sergeant never occurred to her. Her mind was only capable of holding one idea at a time, and this was firmly fixed there. She must marry the sergeant, and when her stepmother hastened on the marriage she neither hindered nor aided.

Sergeant Sells was very busy. He employed a rough Bush carpenter to add another room to the hut, and a sort of lean-to, which was to serve as a kitchen. He sent to Beechworth, and even to Melbourne itself, to get furniture that should be both good and comfortable; indeed, so many preparations did he make that both the Commissioner and his clerk were wont to smile at the thought of his considering so much necessary for a girl accustomed only to the rough living and rougher accommodation of the Lucky Digger. But he was very much in earnest about it, very determined that his wife should be comfortable and happy and lack for nothing. Possibly, too, this steady hard work might keep down any misgivings that might arise as to the wisdom of the step he was taking. Once the matter was settled,

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he did not have many opportunities of seeing Jenny alone. Sal Carter saw to that. She saw plainly enough that the marriage was distasteful to Jenny, but, like many another woman, she held the faith that she would be happy enough once she was married, and so she took care that the sergeant should have no opportunity of making that discovery for himself. It chafed him to find Jenny always busy whenever he wanted her to himself, to find that she was called away after she had been in his society for ten minutes, when he did manage to get her, and it made him all the more determined to push on the marriage.

And yet misgivings would arise—misgivings he stifled as soon as they were born. Why was she so apathetic and silent in his company? She had nothing to say to him—nothing. She submitted to his caresses; was it not his right? But she never returned them. She answered his questions, but she never made a remark; only when he got on the subject of Black Anderson and the murder of German Max did she ever show any interest at all, and then if his capture were spoken of as at all probable, she would get excited and declare with hot tears that she had brought him to the gallows. Sergeant Sells soon found there was only one way to soothe her—to pretend that he had all but abandoned the search. He did not wonder at her agitation. He thought, as her stepmother said, she was an innocent little thing, who could not bear the thought of being instrumental, even in the smallest degree, in bringing a murderer to justice. She was infinitely dear to him—infinitely dear; just to call her his own seemed to him all he would want. And so he stifled all misgivings, and

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told himself that once they were married it would be quite different.

And so they had been married quietly one morning in March, and he had brought his wife home to the little house he had spent so much time and trouble and money over for her sake, and now this bright sunny morning in April, as he walked slowly towards the stables, he asked himself over again the question the Commissioner had put to him. What did he think of matrimony? Had it brought him all the happiness he hoped for? The men grooming their horses behind the gold-tent noted the frown on the sergeant's face, and put extra vigour into their arms, and drew long sibilant hisses between their teeth to show their zeal and ardour. But they might have spared themselves the trouble; it was not on them he was sitting in judgment, but upon himself and his wife. And the frown deepened, as he admitted to himself that his dreams were but as the false mirage, and that he had made a mistake. Yes, he had made a mistake, and there was no undoing it. Not that Jenny was not dear to him; he had fallen in love with her against his better judgment, and she was passionately dear to him still. But—and the knowledge was very bitter to him—though she was his wife, she was absolutely apart from him. He was no nearer to her, nay, he was farther away from her than he had been that night down in the gully when she had agreed to be his.

She had told him then, with a burst of passion he sometimes thought he would give the rest of his life to see again, that she was not the wife for him, and he had insisted on having her in spite of her warning. He had thought to make her so happy, and she

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shrank away from him as if she were afraid. He had thought to make her comfortable, and she gave no thought to comfort, but let her three little rooms get into a state of untidiness that tried his neat soul sorely. It brought him into bad repute with the men, too. If he reproved a man—as he not infrequently did—for not keeping his tent in order, or his accoutrements in the high state of perfection the sergeant and the Commissioner thought proper, even if the man did not say anything, he read in his grin, as he looked up, that he was thinking that the sergeant's wife had thrown all her potato-parings and beef-bones out at her front-door, and that all his shirts were hanging out of the parlour window. He would go home then and look reproach at his wife.

He was never harsh to her, whatever he might be to others—he dreaded so to see her shrink away from him; he only prayed her to amend, and she would promise dully, stupidly, and next day things would be as bad as ever. He had dreamt they might hold sweet communion together: he would teach her to care for the things he cared for; what delights had he not dreamt of? And behold, before a week had gone over his head, he had learned that his dreams were vain.

She was only eighteen, but she went about like a woman who was tired of her life. He could not interest her in anything that interested him. It seemed hopeless to try. She persisted in regarding herself as his drudge, the woman who cooked for him, washed for him, mended for him. He had bought her at a price, though he did not know it, and she shrank away from his society as much as possible. That she should keep him company was not in the

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bargain at all, and as long as she served his meals regularly she felt she had done all that was required of a wife. It was the whole duty of a wife, as she had learned it from personal observation, and her father had always seemed satisfied enough. Her husband, a lonely man always, a lonelier man now than ever he had been before, used to come and stand over her as she worked, would offer to help her wash up the dishes, would carry in the wood for her fire. He watched her till she grew uneasy under his gaze; he would gladly have made her talk: he would have given all he was possessed of to hear her laugh happily; but he could do no more. If he spoke—and the effort it was to find conversation none but himself knew—she answered him in monosyllables, if possible just by a movement of her hand or head, and he would puzzle his brains for something more to say.

She was not at her ease; she was longing always, it seemed to him, to slip away down to the Lucky Digger, there to lie down on the flour-sacks and talk to her stepmother, or, rather, listen to her stepmother talking. She looked happier then—not very happy, but at least much happier, for he, searching for her, had come upon them once or twice, and had seen her face cloud when he appeared on the scene. He grew jealous of Mrs. Carter. No man could have felt more bitterly against his mother-in-law than did this man who was at least eighteen years older than she. He laid all his dissatisfaction and unhappiness at her door. He thought she prejudiced his wife against him, whereas poor Sal Carter grieved in her heart for Jenny's unhappiness, and in her own rough way pointed out his good qualities, and preached patience

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to his wife. But he did not know this, and it was always with a deep frown that he entered the place and harshly ordered his wife off home. Jenny hated him then, and Mrs. Carter was apt, as she put it herself, to feel ‘wrathy.’

‘If he only knowed it, I'm the best friend he's got,’ she said to Jenny.

‘I'm afeard o' him,’ said the girl wearily. ‘He sets there o' nights an' looks an' looks at me till I'm fair mazed.’

‘Don't he talk, then?’

‘Oh, whiles. But what'll I do, Sal, if it's allus goin' to be like this? He just sets there glarin' at me, an' no matter what I'm about I can feel he's lookin'.’

‘Lord!’ sighed the other, ‘what'd some women give to have a man as was that set on them! I'd jump up if I was you, an' put my arms round him and give him a soundin' smack. He'd like it a lot, mebbe, an' it sorter rouses things up a bit.’

But Jenny would not follow Sal Carter's well-meant advice, and her husband, never knowing she gave it, hated her cordially, and ended up by telling his wife he couldn't have her going down to her father's place so often, which made her hate him, and even caused his champion to opine that ‘he was a bit harder than she thought for.’

And all Jenny's sacrifice, it seemed to her, had been for nothing, for the very day after her wedding she heard from her husband's own lips that Black Dave Anderson, as far as he knew, had got away across the border nearly a month before, soon after the murder, in fact, and was heard of as having shipped in a barque bound from Sydney to San Francisco.

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‘And we worked ourselves to death all through the hot weather scouring the ranges, and all the while he was safe on the high seas. It's enough to make a man swear. Of course, it mayn't be him; but I think it's very likely.’

And Jenny made no answer. She never did answer if she could help, but that random speech of the trooper's spoilt the last feeble chance of happiness he had had in his married life. It had all been in vain, the sacrifice she had made—all in vain. She had married the man she feared; the thing was done, and could not be undone; and—and—she supposed she'd got to live through her life somehow. She never thought of her husband—never thought it was hard on him, never thought that his love and care for her deserved at least some gratitude. He was a cold, reserved man, who inspired her with awe and fear; his very love for her made her afraid, and though she listened patiently to her stepmother's remonstrances, they had no effect upon her. Always in her mind there was the thought that he had wanted her, and he had got her, and if he was not satisfied, that was not her fault.

Jenny was a gentle, tenderhearted little thing, and if she had only guessed the agony of longing in the weary man's heart, her own would surely have gone out to him in pity, if not in love; but she did not understand, she could not see, and every day they drifted farther and farther apart. There were lines in the trooper's face that had not been there a month ago; there were more gray hairs in the black hair, and he was sterner than ever. The general opinion of the police camp was that he was too hard on his wife, she was such a quiet, crushed little thing; while down

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among the diggers all sorts of absurd stories of his cruelties were rife. Probably the only person on Deadman's who thoroughly understood and sympathized with him was Sal Carter, and if she had only had a free hand she might possibly have brought about an understanding in the very first fortnight. But she was sorely handicapped. Once married, the sergeant would have nothing to do with her, hardly even could he bring himself to speak civilly to her; and Jenny, though she listened to her good advice, never even attempted to put it into practice. And so the days went on, crawled on, it seemed sometimes to him, and here they were half-way through April; there was a pleasant sharpness in the air sometimes—a herald of the coming winter; and the heat of the summer was past and gone. Jenny sat on her doorstep and peeled potatoes in the sunshine. It was the very perfection of a day, with a warm sun and a cool, gentle breeze; and the girl sitting there could not but feel the young blood stirring in her veins. Surely it was good to be alive on a day like this, good to be just alive. Why should she be unhappy? She listened to the noise and bustle of life all round her; the men were singing cheerily enough at their work—why should she alone, among all these people, be unhappy? She rebelled against her destiny for a moment, and, once her husband was out of sight, began humming a little tune to herself.

‘ “Hard times” ’—she sang cheerfully—‘ “hard times, come again no more.” ’

She wished she could go down and see Sal and have a game of romps with the children. She would go down that very evening when she had got her husband's tea ready; he shouldn't stop her, why

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should he? She watched ten or twelve red-shirted men going up to the Commissioner's tent with leathern bags in their hands. They were lucky diggers, she knew—men who had found gold over and above what sufficed to keep them straight at the store, and were coming to deposit it in the gold-tent for safe keeping, for, jeer as they might at the ‘beak’ and the ‘traps,’ there was not a man among them did not feel more comfortable with his superfluous gold-dust safe in the gold-tent and the Commissioner's receipt in his pocket. She watched them with interest, for they were all personally known to her, mostly by some ridiculous nickname. There was Chinky Jack, Sailor Joe, Chunky Smith, and Bull Parkins, and last of all her old friend Pard Derrick. The others looked at her, nodded to her, and gave her ‘Good-day’ as they passed; but none ventured to approach the sacred precincts of the sergeant's hut except Pard Derrick. He strolled away from the others, and came towards her with his hands in his pocket.

‘Good-day, missus,’ he said.

Jenny smiled up in his face, and Pard was emboldened to settle himself comfortably up against her door-post.

‘Where's the boss?’ he asked, nodding his head in the direction of the interior of the hut.

‘Gone out,’ she said.

‘Certain sure?’

‘Lor, yes! I saw him over there by the gold-tent. He won't be back till dinner-time.’

‘Anybody else in the house?’



‘Yes, in course.’

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‘No one listenin'?’

‘No, in course not,’ she said again, a little impatiently this time; ‘ain't I just looked? Besides, whoever should there be?’

‘I dunno. But I'm wantin' to speak to you about a matter of life and death.’

‘Go ahead,’ she said indifferently.

‘Look inside first.’

Obediently she rose from her lowly position and went through the little house. Then she came back and sat down again.

‘I told you so. There ain't nobody.’

‘You won't be scart, mind. You won't holler out an' bring the whole boilin' about our ears?’

She looked up at him through her thick yellow lashes, and a look of fear crept into her brown eyes.

‘No, I won't,’ she said determinedly. ‘Only be quick, now.’

‘Black Dave wants to see you.’


Her face was white as ashes now, and Derrick went on hurriedly:

‘He said he guessed you wouldn't go back on him, if you had married a trap, and he wants to see you real bad. I don't hold with it all mysel'. It's playin' it a bit low down on the sergeant, an' I wouldn't a' come anigh you only the blanky cards was agin me. The joker an' the two bowers twice runnin', and then the right bower, ace, king, queen, and another ace, and me wi' nothin' better nor a king an' sevens an' eights. What was a feller to do?’

Jenny pushed away the tin basin in which were her potatoes, and folded her hands tight in her lap. Pard Derrick might have doubts as to the fairness of his

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conduct, she had no doubts about her own. Her whole soul was filled with a great gladness—she would see Black Dave again; he wanted to see her ‘real bad.’ He was not gone away into unknown countries, where she should never see him again; he was here close at hand in the ranges.

For the moment, in her gladness, she never even thought of the danger for both of them. She certainly never thought of her husband, save as a difficulty to be got out of the way, as she had thought of her father two or three months ago, when he was in a bad temper, and threw difficulties in the way of her meeting her lover. She never thought what a wrong she was doing him. She had always felt, ever since she had known him, that she belonged to Black Anderson, and his lightest wish was law to her. She had not seen him, had not even heard of him, for two long months, and the thought of stopping away, the thought that it would be right to stop away, never occurred to her.

Pard Derrick went on, since she did not speak:

‘I ain't sayin' you oughter go. I'm thinkin' you'd much best not. There ain't no need for it any way. He was sayin' you had gold o' his, not much, but a little, an' you was to bring that. But you can give it to me. I'll take my Bible oath, if you like, I'll give it 'im safe!’

‘I'll go,’ she said quietly. ‘Where is he?’

‘He'll be waitin' for you in the old place any time to-night. He ain't in any hurry now the trap has taken to lettin' him alone; but now I've told you, missus, you'd much better not go. I'll be there an' tell 'im you couldn't come. You give me his bag an' I'll see he gets it safe enough.’

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‘You don't know what you're talkin' about, Pard Derrick,’ said the girl; ‘I'm goin', you just tell him that. If I can't get to-night, it'll be to-morrow night, or the night after; but I'll come sure as fate. Tell him that.’

‘You won't let on to the traps?’ he said, a new thought striking him.

She looked him up and down scornfully.

‘He knows me better'n that,’ she said. ‘You tell 'im I'll be at the old place by the creek to-night, an' he must jest look out for me. The p'lice ain't lookin' for him now. They sorter think he's clean off to Frisco.’

‘It's playin' it mighty low down on your man, missus,’ ventured this messenger of love; but Jenny took no notice, only the thought passed through her mind that she would warn Black Dave not to trust Pard Derrick; it seemed to her he took too much interest in the police.

‘I wish I hadn't promised to do the blanky thing,’ he muttered remorsefully; ‘but two bowers an' the joker! Lordy! what could a feller do?’