Chapter XII

A Dead Love.

Ah! you that have lived so soft, what should you know of the night,
The blast and the burning shame, and the bitter frost and the fright?

   ‘Rizpah.’ Tennyson.

AND now she sat here waiting for Dave, turning over the gold-bag in her lap. She hated that gold-bag. She would gladly have thrown it into the deepest waterhole and forgotten its existence; but Dave wanted it, and that was enough for her. His word was law. She asked no questions; she took the gold from its hiding-place and waited for him; and her husband—close beside her, so close he could hear her very breathing, he could see every line, every curve of her figure, the dimples on her cheeks, the curling rings of her yellow hair, her restless sunburned hand, turning over the bag in her lap—watched and waited too. The time was long enough to her,

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Heaven knows, but to him it was an eternity. He had lost hope now; how could he dare hope? She was waiting—waiting patiently—for someone else!

All he had hoped for but a few minutes before stood out in his mind clear and bright; there had been a chance of happiness then, however faint, but now was there the ghost of such a thing? His wife, this innocent child as he had thought her, in spite of her evil surroundings, was false—false! It kept ringing in his ears: false—false—and without excuse—utterly false! His life had not been a happy one. He had been unloved and alone always, but at least no whisper of dishonour or disgrace had come nigh him. This woman, whom he had loved with all his strength, was dragging that good name in the dust.

She stood up in the moonlight and stretched out her arms, as if weary with long waiting. What a winsome thing she was! what a tender, lovable thing! The thought flashed through his mind that he would be content to die there and then only to know that so she was waiting for him. Should he step out and take her in his arms? Would it do the least good? If he went to her while she had that soft, tender, dreamy look on her face, if he told her again how he loved her, if he begged and prayed her to come back to him!

He cursed himself for a fool, for was she not waiting for another man? That tender look on her face was called into being by her love for him; he, her husband, was but as a cipher in her life. But a month since her wedding-day, and she was waiting here alone at night for another man. It was not ignorance, it was not innocence; any woman, however ignorant, any girl-child not twelve years of age, would know better than that. Should be wait and see the play played out, or

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should he take her home there and then? Either way, there was no more hope of happiness for him—or for her, either.

He thought of that pitifully all through his anger and his sorrow as he watched the lithe, slender young figure pace up and down, slowly at first, then faster and faster, as if the waiting were becoming unbearable. Only eighteen, and she had spoiled her life, or a man had done it for her! The seven-and-twenty years that stretched away between them made him think pitifully of that; and he could do nothing—nothing; all his love and tenderness was powerless now!

Up and down she walked—up and down; then she stood still and stretched out her arms again.

‘Oh, Dave! Dave!’ she cried, with a cry that was almost a wail; ‘ain't you never comin'?’

And the man kneeling, hidden by the screen of ti-tree and scented creeper, heard and comprehended, saw as by a flash of lightning the whole story laid bare before him. He had forgotten now the necessity of being quiet or lying hid. Still he knelt on there, trying to put together what he had just learned. It was true, then, what the camp had all said—it was true.

‘Dave! Dave!’ There was only one Dave—there could be only one Dave!

A lizard scuttled out into the open, right across her shawl, by the accursed gold-bag, right under her very feet, and into the creek on the other side. He heard the splash, or perhaps it might have been a water-rat; but he was sure he heard the splash. There was an owl hooting somewhere overhead—it had been hooting at intervals all the evening, but he had not noticed it before—and an owl hooting always meant trouble.

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The curlews, too, were crying, wailing mournfully like creatures in pain, and the wail came plainly over the hills.

Yes; it was Dave Anderson—Black Anderson—it must be he! there was no other Dave that he knew of; and so he had been tricked—tricked all through. He tried to arrange his thoughts, to remember the day when he himself had brought her to be questioned by the Commissioner, and had gone away glad and happy at the result. What had she said that day?

He tried to remember, but his brain was on fire; he could think of nothing but that Mr. Anderson had maintained she was Black Dave's sweetheart, and the Commissioner had pooh-poohed the very idea, and he had agreed with the Commissioner; and what had she said? What had she said? He could not think; he could only remember how happy he had felt as he took her down to her father's home again. And Mr. Anderson had been right. He had scorned him in his heart as a mere boy, who knew nothing of women, nothing of life. And he had been right, after all. He had seen through her more clearly than the Commissioner, more clearly than he himself had done.

And now the owl was prophesying disaster, the curlews' wailing cry was in his ears, and they cried that the girl he had believed in had tricked him cruelly; had given not one thought to him; had tricked him for her own ends, or, worse still, for the ends of another man. He understood her cold, frightened indifference now—understood it only too well. Then she turned in her quick walk and faced him again. Standing there in the bright moonlight, her hands behind her head as if for support, he saw again how fair she was—this false wife of his; the

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brown eyes were wide open, gazing straight at him, love and tenderness in her face that were not for him; and she parted her red lips once more in a long sobbing sigh, ‘Oh, Dave! Dave!’

He parted the brushwood then, crushed down the stiff ti-tree and the scented creeper, and in a second was beside her, with both his strong hands on her shoulders—cruel hands that held her hard, and bruised her soft flesh—and her gentle brown eyes were looking straight into his dark ones.

‘Jenny!’ his voice was so hoarse with passion she did not know it—‘Jenny! Jenny!’

It seemed at first he could do nothing but repeat her name, and slowly sway her backwards and forwards with the pressure of his sinewy hands. And she was too terrified to speak. She feared him for herself—she feared him still more for Dave. The very worst that could happen had happened, and she was dumb and paralyzed before it.

She had no excuse to offer, none; she felt, looking into those dark eyes, no excuse would avail her; they read her through. His hands were bruising her shoulders, but she did not cry out; she only looked straight into his face, and wondered what would happen next. She should never see Black Dave again—never, never—and she cared little what became of her. One gleam of comfort she had: Dave had not come. He would not come now; the sergeant should never take him, whatever he did to her. He should never know she had come here to meet Black Dave; he should never know, and then he would be as safe as ever, free to go where he would. Not a grain of pity was there in her heart for the stern man bending over her, not one grain. That he suffered

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she never thought. She knew she would suffer, and was prepared for it. Was not Black Dave's welfare dearer than aught else to her? She cared for nothing in all the world beside. She set her lips firmly together, and looked her husband straight in the face with the calmness of despair.

‘So,’ he said, ‘so,’ and it seemed he spoke with difficulty, ‘I have caught you. And who is he?’

She dropped her eyes and looked at the ground.

‘Tell me, who is he?’

Still there was no answer. She could not frame any excuse; she could think of nothing but the exact truth, and that she would not tell. She simply stood like a statue, dumb and powerless in his hands.

‘That—that’—he stirred the chamois leather bag of gold lying on her shawl with his foot as if it had been some noisome, pestilent thing—‘that—where did you get it? It is old Max's bag.’

A shudder ran through her frame, a shudder not caused by the strong hands that held her so tight; but she gave no other sign, and he wanted no other. He had known it all along. He thought her worse than she was. He counted her an accomplice; he thought she was sharing the spoils with her partner in guilt. And she was so dear to him, so very dear, all his life. Everything he possessed he would have given to prove her innocent, and he had just proved her guilty; and yet he loved her, with all his soul he loved her, even as she loved this other man.

‘Oh, Jenny!’ and the cry of pain went to her heart; ‘and I loved you so!’

She raised her eyes to his then.

‘I told you I weren't no wife for you,’ she said drearily, in half-protest.

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He hardened again.

‘Where is Black Anderson?’ he asked, and he might as well have spoken to empty space. ‘Where? where? Jenny, I will kill you if you don't tell me!’

But she gave no sign.

Kill her! He could kill her; he had a right to kill her. Would not any other man do so under the circumstances? And he took his hand from her shoulder and put it to his belt. She saw the movement, but she did not shrink; perhaps she hardly noticed it. Something else had caught her eye, and he saw the face in front of him light up as it had never lighted up for him.

She opened her mouth then.

‘Run for your life, Dave! run, run! Never mind me.’

Sergeant Sells glanced over his shoulder then, and just caught a glimpse of a man's head and shoulders among the ferns and scrub; and then he raised Jenny up in his arms a moment, flung her from him with all his force, and the next she was lying white and still at his feet.

He dropped down on his knees beside her, and took one quiet hand in his. She was dead—dead; and he had killed her, the woman he loved! He forgot all else—the man he had seen in the scrub, her perfidy, everything but that she was the one creature in the world he cared for, and he had killed her: he had struck her head against the rock, and she was dead. He had said a moment ago he would kill her, and he had done it; and now, looking down at the white face, he fully realized what he had done. He chafed the small hand gently, and noted the marks of toil upon it.

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‘Oh, my poor little girl! my poor little girl! What a hard life it has been for you, and to end this way!’

He put his face down beside her quiet one, and kissed her again and again. Then he rose up quietly, took up the bag of gold which had brought such disaster on all who touched it, and went away back to the camp, straight across the creek, up the dusty track, and on to the Commissioner's tent. The lights shone through the closed curtains, and sounds of laughter smote on his ear, but he took no note of them. He pushed aside the curtains, and, without a word, stepped into the midst of the four people assembled there round the table.

‘Sir,’ he said, and they started to their feet as he came in hatless and with wild, bloodshot eyes, ‘sir, I have killed my wife!’


Young Bob Langdon put his hand on his shoulder, and the sergeant without being bidden dropped into a chair, and bowed his head on his clasped hands.

‘Oh, my God! I have killed my wife!’