previous
no next



  ― 145 ―

Book II.

Chapter I

Disappearance.

The day goeth down red darkling,
The moaning waves dash out the light,
And there is not a star of hope sparkling
On the threshold of my night.

The waves of a mighty sorrow
Have whelmed the pearl of my life;
And there cometh to me no morrow
Shall solace this desolate strife.

Gone are the last faint flashes,
Set is the sun of my years;
And over a few poor ashes
I sit in my darkness and tears.’

   Gerald Massey.

THE little company assembled in the Commissioner's tent looked at one another in astonished silence. Miss Langdon was just on the point of saying ‘Good-night,’ when the sergeant startled them with his intelligence, and now she stood there, tall, dark, and handsome, her habit gathered up in one hand, looking down at him pitifully.




  ― 146 ―

‘Oh, Jocelyn, there must be something awfully wrong!’

‘Wrong!’ interposed young Anderson—‘I should just think there must be! Never saw the sergeant knocked so completely off his chump before! The only thing is, what the dickens can it be? He can't have murdered his wife, you know. He ain't been married a month.’

‘Sergeant!’ said the Commissioner.

At the sound of his voice the habits of a lifetime came to his aid, and the sergeant rose to his feet.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ he said in a low, monotonous voice, out of which all life and passion seemed to have gone; and the four onlookers saw that his face was of a gray, ashy pallor, and his shoulders were bowed like those of an old man.

‘What is this, sergeant?’ asked the Commissioner kindly.

‘I’—it seemed he had to moisten his dry lips before the words would come—‘I have killed my wife, sir!’

‘Nonsense, man!—you're dreaming!’

The girl standing by the table laid down her whip, and took up the chamois leather bag the sergeant had flung there on his entrance, and turned it slowly round. He watched her with fascinated eyes. Then young Langdon, who had his own ideas of what was the best thing to be done in an emergency, poured out a nobbler, filled it up with water, and pushed it across the table to him.

‘Drink it, sergeant; it'll steady your nerves. And then tell us what's the meaning of all this.’

He took the proffered glass with a hand he vainly strove to keep still, and drank its contents.




  ― 147 ―

‘Now, sergeant?’

‘I've killed my wife, sir.’

His voice sounded monotonous, hopeless. Evidently that was the only fact that had impressed itself upon him. All else would have to be dragged out of him by cross-examination.

‘How, sergeant?’

The other three stood there listening, and the Commissioner motioned them with his hand to be silent.

‘I—I——’

He looked helplessly in his questioner's face, and then his eyes wandered off to the gold-bag Miss Langdon was fingering again.

‘Come, sergeant, did you kill her on purpose?’

‘No, no; I said I'd kill her, but, before God, I didn't think to do it!’

‘I said he'd repent before the year was out,’ muttered Anderson in Bob Langdon's ear; ‘but, by heaven, I never thought it 'd come to this!’

‘Where's your pistol?’ asked the Commissioner, going on asking questions with what seemed to the woman beside him cruel persistency.

His hand wandered aimlessly to his belt. The pistols were there right enough.

‘No, I didn't shoot her.’

‘What did you do, then? Come, sergeant, this is waste of time!’

‘I—I took her up in my arms. I—I don't know how it happened—her head must have hit against the rock, I think—I saw her lying there white and dead. I saw her—I saw her, sir—my little girl, that I—that I——’

The four listeners could say nothing for a moment. Whatever it was, there had been a desperate tragedy


  ― 148 ―
in this man's life. But it was necessary to come to the bottom of this, and the Commissioner asked again:

‘Where were you, sergeant?’

‘Up in the gully at the head of the creek, sir.’

‘At this hour of the night? What the devil were you doing there?’

‘I——’ The sergeant paused; but the whole shameful truth had to come out sooner or later, there was no hope of saving her good name, and he went on with a visible effort: ‘I followed my wife, sir.’

‘Your wife?’ The Commissioner hesitated. Officers of the law are but men, after all, and it seemed a cruel thing to ask this crushed and broken man what his wife had done that he should have felt it necessary to follow her. ‘I am sorry for you, sergeant; but what did your wife go up the creek for?’

‘I don't know for certain,’ hesitated the sergeant, and his eyes were still on the gold-bag.

‘You had some idea, though?’

‘I thought—I mean—I think——’

‘Take your time, sergeant. Yes, well, you followed her up the gully? And what do you think she went there for?’

‘I think—I think she went for that bag of gold.’

‘Oh!’ The Commissioner took up the bag as if its touch would elucidate the mystery. ‘And where was the bag?’

‘Buried by a big granite boulder, sir. I watched her dig it up.’

‘Did she know you were watching?’

‘No, sir.’

‘You were hidden in the scrub, I suppose?’

‘Yes, sir.’

It seemed to the wretched man only yesterday that


  ― 149 ―
he had stood by and listened to the Commissioner questioning his wife—who was not his wife then, and never ought to have been his wife—and heard her monosyllabic replies. And now she was dead, lying there at the foot of that great boulder, white and still in the bright moonlight, with her pretty yellow hair spread out across the soft, cool grass. And he had killed her—he, who loved her better than his life, had laid her there. The owl overhead was hooting the shameful truth; he heard it in the mournful wail of the curlews that came fitfully over the ranges. Then he started, for he was in the Commissioner's tent. In front of him was the dining-table, with a disorderly array of tumblers and glasses and decanters on it; the Commissioner was speaking to him with a ring of pity in his voice, and a woman was looking at him with pitiful dark eyes.

‘What did she want the gold for?’

‘I—I don't know, sir.’

‘But you must have some idea, else why——’

‘I thought,’ his voice was sunk to a hoarse whisper hardly under his own control—‘I thought she was going to give it to Black Anderson.’

The Commissioner started, and dropped the gold-bag, and his clerk gave vent to a long, low whistle, his favourite method of expressing astonishment.

‘Black Anderson's got clean away to Frisco, man!’ he said.

‘I saw him to-night, though,’ said the sergeant, like a man for whom the worst has passed. It mattered not now what he said or did. He had told the very worst. ‘I saw him to-night for a minute standing up among the fern, and I heard her say, “Run, Dave, run!” Then I—I—then I——’




  ― 150 ―

He put one hand on the table, and leaned heavily on it. Then he put his two hands together and wrung them like a woman in unspeakable pain.

‘So it was true, after all, what they said about her and Black Anderson!’ said Anderson impetuously.

‘Oh, hush, hush!’ cried Winifred Langdon pitifully.

She felt that the boy standing there could not realize this man's sorrow.

Then the Commissioner asked one more question:

‘Do you think she went there to meet Black Anderson, sergeant?’

‘Yes, sir.’

His head drooped on his breast. He stood there before them, those happy young people, a shamed and disgraced man. The Commissioner's future wife stood beside him, a tall, handsome, happy woman. His wife, younger by several years than she, lay out there in the gully, dead; and he had killed her, and worse still, oh, worst of all! he read in the eyes of these people, even in the pitiful eyes of the girl opposite, that they thought he had had a perfect right to kill her.

‘Whose was this bag of gold?’ asked the Commissioner sharply; and he opened it and poured out a little heap of yellow gold-dust and shining nuggets on to a newspaper in front of him.

‘I don't know, sir.’

He ran his fingers through it as Jenny had done one fatal night, and turned up the little nugget in the shape of the cross with one arm.

‘Now, that's peculiar,’ said the Commissioner; ‘any man who found that nugget would remember it.’

But no man there had seen it before.

‘I remember,’ said young Anderson, ‘Pard Derrick


  ― 151 ―
telling me some time ago he ought to have the devil's own luck, for he'd found the Holy Cross with but a wee bit broke off. Could he have meant that, do you think?’

‘We'll see about that in the morning. Winny, it's getting late, and I must——’

‘And I must go home,’ she said.

Their horses were being walked up and down outside by an impatient and curious trooper, who had seen Sergeant Sells go in, and wondered what on earth he could have to say to the Commissioner at that hour of the night, that he should have dashed in so unceremoniously.

Bob Langdon mounted, and the Commissioner helped his sweetheart into her saddle in dead silence. Then she put her hand on to his shoulder.

‘Jocelyn, what are you going to do? What will be done with that poor man?’

‘I'm off at once to see if his story's true. He's so shaken and off his head that as likely as not he's exaggerating. I don't suppose she's dead. He knocked her down. I expect that's about the long and the short of it.’

‘But, Jocelyn—that girl—and that other man?’

‘Yes. I'm afraid there's not the shadow of a doubt she's been playing a double game. She's played the sergeant false, and—and—— Well, what is there to be said?’

‘He looked like a man who had broken his heart,’ mused the woman.

‘Poor beggar!’ said the man. Then, under pretence of seeing to her stirrup-leather, he stooped and managed to impress a lover-like kiss on her hand. Her brother called to her, and they rode off together.




  ― 152 ―

The Commissioner went back to his tent again, where his clerk and Sergeant Sells were still standing.

‘Now, sergeant,’ he said, ‘do you think you can take me and one or two troopers up the gully to where this occurred?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘All right. We'll start at once. Anderson, you'll see to the safety of that gold? Wynne’—he called his orderly—‘get Jackson, will you, and be ready to start up the gully at the head of the creek with the sergeant and me in five minutes.’

Outside the tent again, the sergeant felt it cruelly strange that all things should be so unaltered. There was the round full moon sailing up in the sky, the white tents, the deep dark shadows. He looked behind him at his own house, the only wooden building on the camp. The light was still burning in the little parlour, and silhouetted in the open window he still saw his guest. What a lifetime he had lived through since he had sat opposite Tom Clark at tea!

Then they went down through the diggers' camp, passed the Lucky Digger, where the men were still shouting and singing in the bar, and crossed the creek. They were in the gully now, and the sergeant led the way without a word. Over rocks and logs, crushing the fern and water-plants and creepers, straight on in silence he led them, till at last they came to the opening, the little break where he had enacted the tragedy of his life. Then he drew back. He could not, he would not, look at her dead face.

‘There!’ he said hoarsely, and he pointed ahead with his finger.

The Commissioner pushed aside the ti-tree and creeper as he himself had done an hour before.




  ― 153 ―

‘Why, man—God bless my soul, sergeant! there's nothing here!’

In a moment the sergeant stood beside him, and the other two men quickly followed. It was light as day, but no sign was there of the girl he had left there dead.

‘Sergeant, you've been dreaming. It was only a bad nightmare after all.’

He leaned up against the granite boulder for support. There—there he had seen her lying dead. The men were looking at him curiously. They did not understand what they had been brought here for, and the Commissioner was searching round the little break in the scrub for some confirmation of his sergeant's extraordinary story.

‘You see, sergeant, there is nothing.’

He silently pointed to the little heap of up-turned earth close at his feet.

‘Any animal might have done that—a wombat, a bandicoot.’

‘I wish to God, sir. I thought so! I saw her myself turning up the earth with that stick.’

It was lying there, a small stick broken off the ti-tree. Yes, looking again, the Commissioner thought that little hole was the work of human hands. But where was the girl? There was certainly no sign of her. One of the men picked up a uniform-cap on the edge of the scrub.

‘Hallo, sergeant! Here's your cap.’

Evidently he had been here, thought the Commissioner, looking at him as he sat there on a ledge of rock, his arms resting listlessly on his knees, and his head drooped forward on his breast. He took the cap mechanically from the man, and dropped it on


  ― 154 ―
the ground beside him. The evening was cool, and the wind which came up the gully was quite chilly, but his head was too hot to bear a cap.

The Commissioner was at fault. He was thoroughly sorry for the sergeant, but he hardly knew what else to do. He certainly could not stop there much longer, and yet a certain delicacy made him hesitate before exposing his non-commissioned officer's private affairs to the two troopers standing by. He crossed over and stood beside him, and the sergeant rose to his feet wearily.

‘It's true, sergeant, what you have been telling me? You don't think you could have imagined it? You haven't been drinking?’

The other shook his head.

‘No, sir.’

‘And where did you last see your wife?’

‘Here, sir. Lying at my feet here, sir.’

‘For Heaven's sake, man, let's get a clear understanding of the thing. Now, tell me, how did it all happen? Where did she hit her head?’

‘I—she——’ He hesitated, then went on more calmly: ‘I was standing just here, and with my hand on her shoulder, when she called to the man behind me among the fern there! My God! I didn't care much what I did, and I lifted her up, and I flung her against the rock there. I think so. I can't say rightly what happened. I know I saw her lying white and still there. And I'd done it.’

‘And the man?’

‘I don't know. I don't rightly remember. I never thought of him.’

Commissioner Ruthven took a puzzled turn or two up and down the small clearing; then he turned to his orderly.




  ― 155 ―

‘Wynne,’ he said, ‘you don't see any traces of anybody having been about here, do you? The sergeant swears he saw Black Anderson here among that clump of fern not an hour ago, and he declares he left his wife here. Where the dickens have they got to?’

Trooper Wynne's countenance was a study. To express all he felt would, he thought, hardly be consistent with the respect due to his superior officer; and with the sergeant within earshot—though, to be sure, he did not look as if he were paying much attention—it hardly seemed to him decent to give his true opinion of the sergeant's wife.

‘No, sir. We haven't seen any sign, sir. But if he left those two together—well, sir, it isn't for me to give an opinion, but all the camp knows she was always Black Anderson's girl. It's hard luck on the sergeant, but everyone knew how it would be!’

‘But the sergeant says she was dead when he left her—lying there dead on the ground by the rock there!’

‘Says he killed her, does he, sir?’ Trooper Wynne grasped the situation at once. ‘I thought there was something very wrong with the sergeant. Well, if he killed her, she'd be there; and if he didn't, perhaps the other man took her away with him. The sergeant's so off his head, he doesn't look as if he knew much about it.’

‘Possibly she might have gone back to her father's,’ said the Commissioner thoughtfully, but Wynne shook his head.

‘Not she, sir, if it was Black Anderson. She was always “dead nuts,” as they used to say, on Black Anderson. The sergeant oughtn't to have married her; but he was just mad after her; and they do say


  ― 156 ―
Sal Carter made the match. She was a good enough girl, to my thinking, was Jenny Carter—a little simple, perhaps, and wild about Black Anderson. If he was up here in the ranges—and likely as not he is—and she got wind of it, he'd but to hold up a finger and I'll bet the sergeant might go to pot, for all she'd care!’

‘The sergeant swears he killed her.’

‘It's a curious fact, sir,’ went on Trooper Wynne, emboldened by the puzzled Commissioner's thus discussing the matter with him, ‘how mighty fond some men are of saying that sort of thing. Now, I'll bet she was up the minute his back was turned, and off after the other man. It's hard luck on the sergeant, anyhow. He looks pretty well broken by it, doesn't he, sir?’

He did indeed look a broken man, thought the Commissioner, as he glanced at him; but much as he pitied him, this man's sorrow was not his sorrow, and if Black Anderson was anywhere about he must be followed up immediately.

‘I believe you're right, Wynne,’ he said. ‘I'm pretty nearly sure you're right. But now, the next thing is to take Black Anderson. He can't be far off, and a woman 'll hamper him.’

‘No woman's going to hamper Black Anderson, sir. He'll stick to her just so long as she's useful to him, and it must be deadly work all alone in the mountains. Then, when he's tired of her, he'll drop her like a hot potato. They count him a jolly sort of fellow, Black Anderson, but he's got no works. Don't you believe it, sir; no woman's going to hamper him!’

‘Poor girl!’ said the Commissioner pitifully. ‘Well, he can't have got far in an hour, anyhow. Do you know this place at all, Wynne?’




  ― 157 ―

‘No, sir.’

Wynne glanced round. The steep, high hills shut them in on every side. The gully up which they had come was narrow enough, and it seemed to end in an impassable barrier of rocks which formed a wall right across. A little to the left, however, the steep rocks split into a narrow gorge, down which trickled the creek, but it was impossible any man could have come down that.

‘Seems a pretty stiff sort of place, sir, doesn't it?’ said Wynne, after his survey. ‘Easy as rolling off a log for the man that knows it, but a hard nut to crack for anyone else. He'll be miles away—miles away—while we're fooling round for a track.’

‘That's true enough,’ said the Commissioner. ‘Still, we must just look round for that track. If we can't find it, we'll get the trackers from Yackandandah to-morrow. Look alive now, you and Jackson, and see if you can't find a way they might have gone.’

Then he walked over to where the sergeant was standing.

‘Look here, sergeant, it's no use your distressing yourself like this. I don't think you killed her. Knocked her insensible, maybe; but you were too excited to notice the difference. Come, now, don't you think that's likely?’

The wretched man raised his face, and a gleam of hope shot athwart it.

‘My God, sir! If—if—— But where is she?’

The Commissioner looked away. Why was the moon so cruelly bright? It would have been easier to tell a thing like this in the dark.

‘She—I'm afraid, sergeant, she must have followed Black Anderson, if you're sure it was he you saw. Of


  ― 158 ―
course, she may have made her way down to the Lucky Digger; but from what the men say, I would not buoy myself up with any false hopes, if I were you.’

It seemed brutal thus to show him, thought the Commissioner, that he had been discussing his wife with the troopers; but put it as gently as he could, it would come to the same thing in the end, and, looking at his face, he did not think the misery could deepen there.

‘I would rather she was dead!’ he whispered to himself. ‘My God! even if I killed her myself!’

Chapter II

Foiled.

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snowfall in the river,
A moment whitethen melts for ever.’

   Robert Burns.

SELLS dropped down on the ledge of rock again, his arms hanging listlessly over his knees. Physically and mentally he was done, and the Commissioner, recognising that fact, turned away and went searching along the gully with the two troopers for some place where the two fugitives might possibly have passed or hidden. There was no getting further up the creek, that was soon seen, and a careful hunt along the hillside having failed to show a path of any sort, there was nothing for it but to scramble through the scrub where it seemed thinnest. But it was everywhere close and dense, and having reached the


  ― 159 ―
top of the hill the Gold Commissioner and his two troopers paused breathless.

‘A mighty good place this for hide and go seek, sir, especially for those who hide. We couldn't see them if they were within a yard of us.’

‘You're about right, Wynne, I think.’ The Commissioner had just got his face badly scratched by a bough of the stiff ti-tree springing back and hitting him in his headlong career, and he saw plainly they might hunt there for a week without finding anyone who was desirous of keeping his whereabouts hidden. ‘We'll go back, men.’

They scrambled back into the gully again, and picked up the sergeant, still sitting as they had left him on the ledge of rock, with his weary eyes fixed on the ground.

‘Come, sergeant. We'll call in at the Lucky Digger on our way back.’

He rose up, and stood there looking as if he did not understand. His clothes hung on him as if he had shrunk somehow, and the bright moonlight, shining on his bared head, showed up the gray streaks in the black hair. Was it only the Commissioner's fancy, that there were so many more gray hairs to-night? Wynne picked up his uniform-cap and handed it to him.

‘Come on, sergeant. It must be getting on for twelve o'clock.’

‘Only twelve o'clock. I thought——’

He stopped. Years and years had passed for him since he had entered that gully first that evening, but it would do no good talking about it. Some of the reserve he had always wrapped himself up in was coming back to him, and he followed quietly behind


  ― 160 ―
the others. At the Lucky Digger they stopped. But the Lucky Digger had got a virtuous fit on it for once, and every light was out, and the place shut up.

Trooper Wynne, at the Commissioner's order, shouted for the landlord, and a sleepy voice much muffled by bedclothes replied.

‘Here, I say!’ went on the trooper, ‘look alive there! The Commissioner wants to know if your daughter's come home.’

‘Who? What? Here, missus, I say! Missus—Sal!’

But Sal was up and at the bar-door, a ragged gown thrown round her, and a guttering candle in her hand.

‘Lord sakes, sir! what's this about Jenny?’

‘Isn't she here?’

‘No, sir.’

‘But she was here.’

‘Early in the evening, sir—only for a minute or two, sir. She said as her husband wouldn't let her stop.’

‘And she went straight back to the police camp, as far as you know?’

‘Yes, sir. Ain't she there, sir?’

‘No. Have you any idea where she would be?’

‘Lord no, sir! There's her husband. Don't he know?’

‘Is there anyone she'd go to if she was in trouble?’

‘Her, sir? There ain't a soul Jenny cared a straw about 'cept me an' the childer, an'—an'——’

‘Well, who else?’

‘Her husband, of course—the sergeant. Ain't he standin' alongside you?’




  ― 161 ―

‘Now, Mrs. Carter, do you mean to tell me Jenny cared for her husband?’

‘Why, in course she did. Who else 'd she care for?’

The Commissioner looked at the woman. It was not much good questioning her; she was not going to own to anything.

‘Now, Mrs. Carter, look here! Whether Jenny cared for her husband or not, she's run away from him, and we want to get some clear idea of where she has gone to. Believe me, it's only for her good I'm asking.’

Sal Carter pondered, and with her disengaged hand made an effort to twist up her rough dark hair.

‘I allus done the best I could for Jen,’ she said; ‘if she'd been my own sister I couldn't ha' done different, I was that fond o' her, I was. A bit simple little thing, wantin' someone to look after her, an' I thought when she married the sergeant it 'd be all right.’

‘What's this talk I hear about Black Anderson?’ said the Commissioner, going straight to the point.

‘Get along with you!’ said Sal Carter, who was no respecter of persons; ‘as if the whole camp didn't know Black Anderson was away over the seas to California, an' a mighty good thing, too, for Jen. She done a sight better marryin' the sergeant.’

There did not seem much use prolonging the conversation, and the Commissioner turned away. The sergeant paused a moment, however.

‘If she comes to you, Mrs. Carter,’ he said hoarsely, ‘do what you can for her, for God's sake! It's true enough what you say: she's a simple little thing, and she doesn't understand what she's doing. She may want a woman's help. She's left me.’




  ― 162 ―

Sal Carter raised her guttering candle; the grease was running down her fingers, and the light fell full on the man's white face.

‘Eh, but the world's a hard place, sergeant,’ she said. ‘She's left you, has she? And she'll rue the day bitter, I'll warrant. Eh! eh! it's the women like her an' the men like you's just made to suffer. Hard luck on you, ain't it? You was worth somethin' better nor that. And me thinkin' she'd be quite safe once Black Dave was away! I'd a' took my Bible oath she'd a' gone wi' no man but him.’

‘If she comes to you,’ repeated the sergeant, in a dull, monotonous voice, ‘do what you can for her. She's only a child.’

He turned away then; he had nothing more to say. And the Commissioner, looking back, saw the woman still standing in the doorway, shading the guttering candle from the wind with her hand.

‘I'm afraid your eyes did not deceive you, sergeant. It must be Black Anderson,’ he said in a low tone.

‘I know they did not, sir,’ said the other.

‘We'll have the black trackers out to-morrow. It won't be long before we lay hands on them now we know whereabouts they are.’

But the other man said nothing. What comfort would there be for him if they did bring his wife back!

Next morning the story flew through the camp with all sorts of absurd exaggerations. Only on one point was everybody agreed. Black Anderson had not got away to Frisco at all, and now the sergeant's wife had taken up with her old lover, and joined him in the ranges. The sergeant himself said nothing whatever about it. Next morning he had set about his work as usual, and none dared question the silent, stern man


  ― 163 ―
on his domestic affairs. The men who had seen him the night before wondered that he had pulled himself together so well; the others merely thought, as Wynne had said of Black Anderson, that he had ‘no works,’ and therefore he did not feel it.

The Commissioner gave his mind to finding out who had originally possessed the nugget in shape like a cross with one arm missing, and had little difficulty in tracing it to Pard Derrick. That gentleman came up himself to identify it, and give his views on things generally.

‘Yes, that's the very identical piecy,’ he said. ‘Kep' the blanky thing a long time, I did, thinkin' the Holy Cross 'd sure an' bring me luck. Maybe I couldn't hold on long enough. Anyhow, Buck Carter he wouldn't trust any longer, an' the blanky thing it had to go.’

‘How long ago was that?’ asked the Commissioner.

‘It was just afore Snaky Bill struck pay gravel, I know. Snaky he was about travellin' on his uppers, and his luck come afore mine.’

Snaky Bill's luck did not fix the time very determinately for the Commissioner, though Pard Derrick felt he had been most accurate, and scratched his head with the calm air of a thoroughly businesslike man.

‘How long ago was that?’

Pard Derrick took both hands to his head now, and scratched with all his might. This probably stimutated his intelligence and his memory, for he added, after a moment's deep thought:

‘Lemme see. It was the very day as poor old German Max was shot upon the hill there. No, it wasn't; it was the night afore, for Sal Carter she says, “Guess I ain't agoin' to keep the thing in the house. Guess it'll bring us bad luck,” says she. An' next


  ― 164 ―
day, sure enough, she paid it away to old Max, an' sure enough bad luck it did bring him.’

‘Are you sure old Max had it?’

‘Oh, sure enough. Because that night Sal Carter she was saying——’

‘There, that'll do. Wynne, go and fetch Mrs. Carter here.’

And Sal Carter had the same story to tell. She was certain she had passed that little nugget to the old German in payment of her account, which had been running on for some time. She had sent Jenny to the till specially to get it, lest it should bring ill-luck. She sorter thought it might bring ill-luck, it was kinder uncanny. If it 'd been a whole cross, now, there might a' been somethin' in it; but broke—and she held up her hands and called on them all to witness that Pard Derrick had done much better since he parted with it, and the old German hadn't had it in his possession above half an hour before he was shot dead, and the thing itself stolen from him.

‘You're quite sure, Mrs. Carter, Jenny did give the old German the cross?’

‘Oh, certain sure! I seed her myself. An' she said, too—Jenny allus was a bit simple—as I thought it'd bring bad luck, an' she was partin' wi' it for that reason; but he didn't seem to mind. And, Lord! see what it brought him to!’

Mrs. Carter's evidence was not to be shaken, and it proved beyond a doubt that the old German had had the little nugget very shortly before his death. The man who had shot him and stolen his gold-bag had taken the nugget in it, and the probabilities were that that man was Black Anderson. But how had it come into the possession of the sergeant's wife?




  ― 165 ―

The Commissioner questioned Sergeant Sells on the subject.

‘I can't tell you any more, sir—I really can't,’ he said wearily. ‘I saw her dig up the bag from beside the rock, that's all I can tell you.’

‘Clearly the bag must have been in Black Anderson's possession if he did the murder,’ mused the Commissioner. ‘The question is, What was the girl doing with it?’

Sergeant Sells had lain awake all the live-long night trying to solve that problem, but it had refused to be solved. There had been some sort of communication, some connection, between his wife and this outlaw, but what or when he could not tell. The Commissioner knew as much as he.

‘Are you sure, sergeant,’ he asked somewhat reluctantly, looking away so that he might not see the look of pain on the other man's face, ‘your wife held no communication with this man before?’

There was a pause.

‘I am sure of nothing, sir,’ said the sergeant quietly. ‘Till last night I thought her innocent as—as——’

‘Well, I suppose the trackers will be here before mid-day. But, confound the weather! who'd have expected it to rain like this?’

It certainly was raining with a will, as if it never intended to leave off again, and the bright skies of yesterday were clouded over and dull and gray. Sergeant Sells hardly noticed it, or, if he did, it was to feel that this foretaste of winter was but in keeping with his mood.

It troubled the Commissioner, however. Good trackers as the Australian blacks undoubtedly are, it


  ― 166 ―
was not likely that even they could follow up a track after six hours of steady rain had turned the whole gully into one big mud-puddle. He swore at his ill-luck in no measured terms. The trackers were very seldom away from the camp, and, if he had only had them, he might have followed by moonlight; but they had been lent to his brother Commissioner at Yackandandah, and were not yet returned. It was four o'clock when they did come, and still raining heavily.

‘Confound it!’ said the Commissioner, looking up at the gloomy sky; ‘they wouldn't follow now if it was a track as broad as a main road.’

Jimmy Crow and Bill Bunting fully justified his anticipations. They rode into camp huddled on their horses' necks, wet and dispirited.

‘Too much big fellow rain,’ muttered Jim Crow. ‘How can make 'em light along a track?’ and his mate was quite of his opinion.

But the Commissioner was obdurate; they were his last resource, and go to the gully they should; and go they accordingly did. But the old proverb about taking a horse to water stood good. He might take the blackfellows there, but he could not make them ‘make a light a track.’ It was very probable the rain had washed away all traces of last night's work; but the blacks gave up the task after what the Commissioner chose to consider a very perfunctory search, and squatted down on their haunches shivering and whining in the rain.

‘Blackfellow no make a light,’ they said. ‘White-fellow sit down along a humpy. Blackfellow sit down along a humpy. Big fellow rain;’ and with this very ambiguous explanation he had to be content, for an Australian black at the best of times is never more


  ― 167 ―
than half civilized, and these men were all but savages.

When they had decided not to do a thing, not even the all-powerful Commissioner himself could compel them to try.

‘After all, sir,’ said the sergeant, ‘I don't think they could possibly do any good on a day like this. They are quite right; even the tracks we know we made are all washed away.’

‘You take it very coolly, sergeant.’

The sergeant winced.

‘Nothing can make any difference to me now, sir.’

Young Anderson watched him cross the square in the pouring rain to his own hut.

‘By Jove!’ he said, ‘I believe the men are right. The sergeant ain't got no works.’

Commissioner Ruthven looked at him a little scornfully. He had no very high opinion of his clerk at any time.

‘Possibly, Mr. Anderson——’ he began, and then left off abruptly.

Why should he discuss his non-commissioned officer with his clerk? Anderson calmly filled his pipe, and thought what a nuisance it was that the day should be wet and his superior officer permanently out of temper for the rest of the evening.




  ― 168 ―

Chapter III

Dave's Girl.

By the brand upon my shoulder, by the gall of clinging steel,
By the welt the whips have left me, by the scars that never heal,
By eyes grown old with staring through the sun-wash on the brine,
I am paid in full for service—would that service still were mine!

   ‘Departmental Ditties.’ Rudyard Kipling.

THE disappearance of the sergeant's wife was but a nine days' wonder in the camp. The following week the Bandicoot, whose ill-luck had become proverbial, found a nugget in an abandoned claim weighing over four hundred ounces, and the diggers talked of nothing else. It touched them far more nearly than the disappearance of a girl who had been known to the majority by sight alone. On the police camp, of course, the remembrance of her was kept alive by the necessity the whole force was under of keeping a bright look-out for Black Anderson; but no man dared mention her name to the cold, silent man who was her husband. They patrolled between the various camps, they scoured the ranges, daily the black trackers were on the look-out, but there was no sign of the fugitives. And yet they were not so very far away.

Any day, had she so pleased, half an hour's walk would have brought Jenny to her old home; another ten minutes would have taken her to the police camp. By mounting the hill which rose steeply up from the lonely little gully wherein Black Anderson had built himself a rough shelter, she could see the white tents


  ― 169 ―
of the police camp and look down on the collection of shanties that made up the mining camp on the banks of the creek. She did not often do it, though. She was morbidly afraid of being seen—afraid not only of betraying her lover, but that Sergeant Sells would insist on taking her back to live with him, so little did she understand his character or the position in which she had placed herself. Jenny's last remembrance of her husband was of the passionate anger in his eyes as he lifted her up in his arms. There was love in those eyes, too, could she but have seen it; but she could not, and when she awakened from her unconsciousness another pair of black eyes were looking straight into her own, and somebody was tenderly bathing her face with cool water.

The sergeant's eyes had not deceived him. It was Black Anderson he had seen for a moment among the fern. He had come down the hill, as he had told Pard Derrick he would, and before going straight to the meeting-place he had himself appointed, he thought fit to reconnoitre. First he had seen only the girl alone, and his impulse was to rush out to her, for he had been alone for the last two months; he loved her after his own fashion, and he was very sure she loved him. Then prudence stepped in. She was married to the police-sergeant; who could tell what changes that might have wrought in her? He had too high an opinion of himself and his power with women to fear much, but, still, he would lose nothing by being careful; and when the sergeant stepped out of the scrub, he was thankful for his own forethought.

For one moment Dave's self-confidence received a shock. Had Jenny betrayed him, after all? But it was only for a moment. It was plainly to be seen


  ― 170 ―
what sort of terms husband and wife were on; besides, he could hear every word that was said.

Then, when the sergeant's back was towards him, he rose up among the fern with some vague notion of signalling to Jenny. It never occurred to him that she would be so foolish as to betray his presence to her husband, and when she called his name he sank down slowly among the tangled scrub and fern again, undecided whether to make himself scarce as promptly as possible, or whether to stay and see it out. He was no coward, and he resolved in a moment to stay where he was. There were only the sergeant and Jenny, and Jenny would be on his side. The situation recommended itself to him. There was a certain amount of sensation in it, and his life for the last two months had been unbearably dull. Besides, he wanted the gold, and, after all, if it came to a fight, he had little doubt which was the better man. So he stooped down low and, with one hand on the revolver in his belt, he parted the ferns and made a peep-hole for himself. He was surprised at what he saw. He had pictured to himself the sergeant keenly on the alert, looking for him; instead, he seemed to have forgotten his very existence; his wife was on the ground, and he was kneeling beside her, chafing her hands, and covering her face with kisses.

‘A rum go!’ muttered Black Anderson to himself, and in his astonishment he stood upright in full view of any who might come along. But no one else was there to see, and as for the sergeant, Black Anderson might have stood right in his very path without his noticing him! Anderson watched Sells get up slowly, take a lingering look at the girl at his feet, and then go back through the scrub in the direction of the camp.




  ― 171 ―

Dave Anderson waited a few moments; then he came out from among the fern and made his way to the side of the unconscious girl. The moonlight fell full on her fair face, and she looked pathetic in her helplessness, lying there with her long yellow hair spread out over the soft green grass. Dead! yes, he too for the moment thought she was dead!

He had loved her after his own fashion, and he felt a righteous anger against the man who had done this thing. She was so fair, so dainty a thing, lying there in the moonlight, and she had loved him; this had befallen her for his sake. The thought softened him. He knelt down beside her as her husband had done—the man who had killed her, and the man who had surely done her to death. How pretty she looked—how pretty! And she had loved him! Lower and lower he stooped over her till his face touched hers, and then he started back.

Surely the moonlight had deceived him: she was not dead, surely not dead; he had felt her breath on his cheek. He started to his feet, uncertain what to do. Then he stooped down again, and, gathering her up in his arms, carried her down to the water's edge. He looked over his shoulder every minute, half fearful he would be interrupted; but he felt he could not leave her. She was his now, and he would not give her up. Only how long dared he wait? how long before the police would be here? for he never doubted that they would come, never for one moment. The sergeant would want his wife again, and, he swore an oath to himself, he should not have her. Then Jenny's eyes opened and looked straight into his own.

‘Why, Jen!’ he said tenderly.

‘Oh, Dave, Dave! Where am I, Dave?’




  ― 172 ―

‘All right, Jen. Lie still a bit.’

She closed her eyes again, content to feel his arms round her. She was too dazed and confused to ask any questions, and, after all, what did she care? The man for whom she had been longing for the last three months was beside her, and what more could she ask? The cold water felt cool and refreshing against her temples, and she was content to lie and await the course of events; if it were only a dream, it was too happy a dream to awaken from.

But the man had no time to spare. He waited a few moments, looking over his shoulder at every sound; then he spoke again.

‘Jen, where 're you goin'? What's to become of you?’

She opened her eyes then wearily.

‘Oh, Dave! I—I—— What'll I do? Run, Dave, run! Don't let me hamper you.’

He drew her a little closer.

‘I can't leave you, Jen. He'll be back soon.’

She put her hand up to his face.

‘Dave, Dave, you're but poorly.’

He laughed.

‘Poorly! It's the life that's killing me. Alone in the ranges here, hunted from morning to night. You don't know what it's like.’

Still she said nothing. What had she to say? Only her hand stole softly across his face as if she would help him if she could.

‘Oh, Jen, Jen, and you played me false!’

‘Me!’

Tired as she was, she half raised herself from his arms.

‘You! Ay, you that was promised to me, and the


  ― 173 ―
minute there's so much as a whisper against me, you go off and marry that trap.’

‘Me!’ she repeated reproachfully—‘me! An' you tellin' me yourself to marry him!’

‘Tell you that! I'll be hanged——’

A slight stirring in the scrub behind made him look round quickly, and roused in her a sense of his danger.

‘You—you!’ she sobbed in affright. ‘If they come back they'll—they'll——’

‘They will come back,’ he said, rising to his feet, and pulling himself together grimly. ‘I must be making tracks inside of two minutes. Come with me, Jen. I'm that lonely!’

She looked up at him with love and tenderness in her eyes. To be always with him, had it not been her dream ever since she knew him? There was not a thought in her mind of the duty she owed to another man. Her simple soul was capable of but one idea of duty, and her very marriage had been for love of this man. She struggled to her feet, and, leaning against him, put her hand to her head. She smiled up faintly in his face, but the exertion was too much for her, and but for his protecting arm she would have fallen.

He looked down doubtfully for a moment at the fair face resting against his arm. Should he lay her back on the grass again, or should he take her with him? So much simpler it would be to leave her here, so much easier to get away without her. But she was so dainty and fair and pretty, he was so terribly lonely, she loved him with a mighty love, and he, if he did not love her as she did him, at least wanted her for the time being, and he was not the man to


  ― 174 ―
let any small thing stand in the way of his desires. Besides, there was the gold, the bag she was to have given him—if he left her now, he would lose sight of it altogether. Which thought it was that decided him he could hardly have told himself as he stooped down and took her up in his arms. He looked over his shoulder anxiously once more, but there was no sign of any pursuers as yet, and he turned into the scrub on the hillside on the left. The way was steep, and the inanimate girl was no light weight. He was obliged to stop and rest more than once on his upward course, but the ti-tree and fern were thick; he had set the police at defiance for the last three months, and he had little fear that they would find him now.

Once on the brow of the hill, he turned to the right, pushed his way through the scrub, and descended into another narrow gully on the other side, which trended away to the north-east, almost at right angles to the one they had just left. Indeed, in the moonlight it seemed an exact reproduction; nothing could have been more alike than the tall ferns and the everlasting ti-tree; even the creek down at the bottom was not wanting to complete the illusion. There were hundreds of similar gullies up among those ranges; it was no wonder that the police had failed to find a man hidden among them, and Anderson smiled grimly to himself as he began the steep descent with the girl still in his arms.

‘Now, if it don't rain,’ he said to himself, ‘and they get out those black devils, I'm a gone coon, or else I'll have to leave Jenny here for a dead certainty. But it's agoin' to rain hard, I think;’ and he looked away to where a faint white cloud was beginning to gather in the west, and was gradually creeping over


  ― 175 ―
the moonlit sky. It was such a faint cloud another man would hardly have noticed it, but this one had lived alone among the hills for the last three months, a hunted man, and he was beginning to know their signs.

So it was with a quiet mind he scrambled slowly down to the bottom of the gully, and made his way to what, in the moonlight, looked like a heap of dead branches and scrub piled against the hillside. One might have passed close beside it, even in broad daylight, and failed to recognise it for anything else, but Anderson went straight up and, pushing aside a heavy branch, lifted a strip of sacking that did duty as door, and made his way into a tiny hut beyond.

It was quite dark there, for the moonlight did not come beyond the threshold; but he knew his way, and he stepped across the hard mud floor and laid his burden on the strip of sacking stretched on four pointed sticks which formed his bed.

Jenny was more than half conscious—she had been all the time—but it was sweet and new to her to have Black Dave caring for her, and she simply lay still in his arms, contented to let him do what he would with her. She heard him fumbling about for a light, and when he had lighted a candle-end she sat up and looked about her with wondering eyes. It was a very humble abode indeed the candle-light showed. Part of the hillside had been cut away to make one wall, and already the grass was sprouting on it, and the stumps of the ti-tree that had been left were beginning to put forth tiny green shoots. The man saw Jenny's eyes wander towards it, and he laughed.

‘Got your garden handy, you see;’ and he held the candle high above his head, that she might the better take in all her surroundings.




  ― 176 ―

Truly there was little enough to see. The other three walls were of logs laid together so roughly that there were great gaps in between them, and over everything had been piled up branches and brushwood to hide all semblance of human habitation from prying eyes, if such there should be in this lonely gully. And the furniture matched the hut. There were two rough three-legged stools and a table made of two planks, roughly hewn with an axe; that was all, unless a sort of shelf cut out of the earth along the hillside, and the bed already described, could be counted as furniture. Jenny took it all in, smiled up in her companion's face with a look of happiness that could not have been greater had he shown her a palace, and then, with a sigh of utter content, sank back on the bed.

‘It's a hole, Jen,’ only he said something stronger than that; ‘will you stop?’

‘Will I?’ She put out her hand and took his as he stood beside her. ‘Will I? Why didn't you bring me here long ago, Dave? I told you it 'd be no good to marry the sergeant, an' you see it weren't. Why didn't you bring me here afore?’

He knelt down beside her then, murmuring incoherent words of tenderness—and he could be tender when he pleased; the emotions that sealed Sergeant Sells' tongue loosened his, and he did feel tender at this moment. He had been so alone for the last three months, so utterly cut off from human companionship, and now this girl was looking up in his face adoringly, was content, and more than content, with what little he had to give, was only wondering why he had not brought her long ago. Her husband was nothing to her — less than nothing; she had married only to please him, only to save him; so


  ― 177 ―
much he gathered from her incoherent murmurs. She loved him above all things, and he would have been less than human had he not been tender to her in his turn.

And for a week that wretched little hut was simply heaven on earth to Jenny. She was a new toy, and no one could have been more tender and loving than Black Dave. What if the rain did come down steadily for three days without stopping, if their floor became a mud-puddle, and the wind whistled chill and cool through the interstices of the logs, and in the hut they could not possibly make a fire? These things were trifles to Jenny so long as Black Dave was beside her, so long as he cared for her, so long as their pursuers did not find them. Not that she feared that much. The police had failed to catch Black Anderson before; why should they take him now that she was with him? And, oh! she would be so careful. So it came about that she seldom left the narrow gully, seldom walked to the top of the hill that overlooked the camp.

Chapter IV

An Innocent Traitress.

The dear small Known amongst the Unknown Vast.’

   Jubal.

THE weeks passed on, and to any other woman it would have been an utterly dreary, hopeless life. The sun rose up over the ranges in the east in the morning and set behind the ranges in the west at night, and nothing happened all the livelong day. It was deadly


  ― 178 ―
dull, and the man found it so. The diversion created by Jenny's presence made him happy for at least three days, kept him content for a whole week; then he wearied of her, and at times showed Jenny he wearied of her.

After the first flush of possession died out, it was but natural he should find out what a simple little girl his companion was. And Black Dave did not like simple, innocent women under any circumstances: he would have wearied of Jenny's love under the most favourable circumstances in a month. It was his way; no woman, not the cleverest, could have kept him for six months. The girl's tender adoration counted for less than nothing in his eyes now that there was no one to envy him his conquest.

She was his drudge and his slave—she gathered wood for their fire, she carried water, she washed and cooked and mended for him, glad and thankful if as a reward he would lie with his head in her lap or lavish on her a caress now and then. She mourned a little in her own silent way over the loss of the tender lover who had brought her to this gully; day by day she hoped by her patience and her willing drudgery to bring him back again (as if man in this world were ever won back by slavish love), and she was content and happy when he spoke one kind word to her. Still he kept her love; partly it had grown to be a fixed habit to love him, and partly because he did choose sometimes to exert himself to exercise his old fascination over her.

She did not expect to be always dealt tenderly with; all her life she had been accustomed to rough, rude men, who counted a woman as of little moment in their lives. She herself had never been of much


  ― 179 ―
account except to her husband, and him she did not understand; so that now, when Black Dave was good to her by fits and starts, she was content—it was all she asked.

He was a moody man, who, when the sun shone, spent his days lying in the sunshine; and when the cold weather came, huddled over a small fire built close against the hut door, and as near to the hillside as possible, lest its smoke should betray their presence to prying eyes. Often as not Jenny went out into the pouring rain in her thin cotton gown—the only one she possessed—to gather sticks for it, while he sat warming himself and meditating ways and means of escape; but it seldom occurred to him to thank her—it certainly never occurred to him to be grateful to the love which made her, as far as in her lay, take the burden of life upon her own shoulders.

Often he was away all night, and she lay awake in an agony of terror lest he should have fallen into the hands of the police; but he never told her where he had been, only, as he always brought back provisions of some sort (generally flour and mutton), she concluded he had gone for them. Even then she never knew whether a friend had supplied him, or whether he had stolen them from one of the diggers' huts round about. Generally, she thought, from the regularity of the supplies, some friend in the diggers' camp who still believed in him probably planted them in a place where he could get them; but he never enlightened her.

One day he brought home a bundle of woman's clothes, of which she was sorely in need—a warm petticoat, and stout boots, and other things that the cold damp weather now upon them made imperatively


  ― 180 ―
necessary for her comfort; and then, though he said no word, she was more than ever convinced that he held regular communication with the camp, for who could have put up those things—her own things, as she saw at a glance—but Sal Carter's self?

At first he would not enlighten her; he did not believe in taking women into his confidence, in trusting a woman, as he said, farther than you could see her. But she was unfeignedly thankful for the clothes, so grateful for the thoughtfulness (which was all someone else's). At last he was graciously pleased to unbend, and in a moment of unwonted confidence he told her that Pard Derrick brought him the supplies, and hid them in a neighbouring gully, for not even to him would he confide the exact secret of his whereabouts. Sometimes he met him there, but more often he fetched the things after he had gone, for it was dangerous, he thought, to make the links of the chain quite unbroken. Next day he repented him of his weakness, and she suffered for his repentance; but she looked at the bundle of clothes, and thinking that they were the outcome of his thoughtful love for her, she was happy.

April was sunny and bright, and only the nights began to get a little chilly; but in May they had a week or two of bitter cold, wintry rain. The weather cleared, and they had bright sunshiny days again, for no one can complain of the winter in the north-eastern district; but that pinch of cold weather laid the foundation of a bad cold that Jenny could not shake off. She grew thin and weary-looking, and a cough she could not control racked her night and day. That cough irritated her companion. She could not help seeing that.




  ― 181 ―

There are people, selfish folk, whom the sight of another's pain fills with a certain sense of discomfort, and tends to make them visit with their severe displeasure those who have been so inconsiderate as to discommode them. And Jenny's cough irritated and worried Black Dave. She saw it, and it added another trouble to her life to try and hide her sickness from him. If he were good-tempered and smiling for a change, she suffered agonies trying to suppress the cough, and often and often, when the paroxysm would be suppressed no longer, went out into the cold outside air rather than disturb him; but he generally guessed why she had gone, and the knowledge only made him angry.

‘It's your own fault, Jen,’ he said sullenly one day as she leaned up against the earthen wall, pressing her hand to her side, and exhausted after a fit of coughing she had been utterly unable to suppress—‘it's your own fault. If we'd got that gold I gave you, we'd be away over the border long before this.’

‘I—I dunno what become of it,’ she gasped. ‘It'll be better when it's a bit warmer. It's this cold weather done it.’

‘Warmer!’ he repeated, with an oath. ‘If you think I'm goin' to fool round here in this God-forsaken dog-hole listening to a woman bark, bark, bark, you're mightily mistaken!’ and he got up and flung himself out of the hut into the pouring rain and gathering dusk with an injured air.

‘Oh, Dave, Dave!’ she called after him, ‘come back, come back! You'll get wet;’ but though he heard her he went straight on, and was soon lost in the scrub.

She drew a long sobbing sigh. What could she do now? Nothing seemed to please him, and he was so


  ― 182 ―
dear to her. The fire was built of little sticks and small logs right in the doorway, so as much as possible to warm the interior of the wretched hut and yet let the smoke escape; and now that Black Dave was gone, Jenny sat down on the hard earthen floor, and with the door-post for some sort of support and the sacking that served as a door fixed as a screen from the wind, she crouched over the fire for warmth like a blackfellow. She shivered even then, for the wind found its way from all corners; but it was not the cold that sent the tear-drops down her pale cheeks; They were thin and hollow now, those cheeks; her face had lost all its girlish freshness, though she was not nineteen. She knew that, though she had no mirror, for Black Dave was not sparing in his comments on her altered appearance, and as she sat there she wondered if that were the reason of his changed demeanour towards her.

She was ugly and sick, and he did not love her any longer; that was the tenor of her thoughts as she sat there shivering over the little fire. He had loved her when he brought her there, nearly two months ago now, but she was beginning to think he did not care for her any longer; and he was so dear to her that she, like all women of her kind, never thought of blaming him—it was her fault, entirely her fault, and what was she to do to bring him back again? She firmly believed he could be brought back, he was so tender sometimes; she judged him by herself. She was content to live this life from year's end to year's end, if only he were good to her, and he would be the same if only she were like she was when first he had brought her here. But how was that to be accomplished—how, how?




  ― 183 ―

She was ill—she knew she was ill; try and hide it from him as she would, she could not hide it from herself, and there seemed no chance of getting better. She remembered when first she had come there, how easy it seemed to gather sticks for the fire, to bring up water from the creek, even though she had to go many times in the course of the day, for all her household utensils were comprised in two tin billies and a frying-pan. Now, she sighed, how different it was! She ached in every limb, and the walk down to the creek was only accomplished with many stoppages, and the walk back was more formidable still, while her task of gathering wood—for which daily she had to go farther and farther afield—became such a heavy burden that she would wake at night with the fear strong upon her that next day she would not be able to accomplish it, and what would the tyrant she had chosen for her lord and master do then? She feared him, yes, she feared him; but not in her inmost heart did she blame him. If he had been kind and sympathetic she would have been grateful, but as he counted her sickness her own fault, and let her see that he so counted it, she more than half agreed with him, and as much as possible hid her suffering from him.

And now he had gone away angry with her, and she blamed herself that she felt relieved at his absence. She might cough without fear of angering him; she was thankful to be able to let the fire down low, and so save her scanty store of wood for the time when he should be home. The rain came down steadily, the darkness was closing round, and the whole landscape was hidden in a misty rain, which hissed and frizzled on the hot logs; but crouching close over the fire there, a warmth was diffused through her chilled


  ― 184 ―
frame, and she grew drowsy in spite of tormenting thoughts, and the cough which every now and then shook her wide awake again with the fear strong upon her—a fear born of love—that she was disturbing her tyrant's rest. She dozed and woke, and dozed and waked again.

Still he did not come back, and the fire died down so low she was obliged to put another log on from her rapidly diminishing store. The wood was dry, for she kept it in a little stack in a corner of the hut; but there was very little left now, and how was she to replenish it when the very exertion of crossing the hut and carrying it to the fire exhausted her? She lay back panting against the door-post, and the flames leaped up cheerfully round the log, and lighted up the little hut. It was not much, but it was her all; and she could have been very happy there if only—if only Dave was always like he was that first week, and if she were only well again. She felt faint with the effort of carrying the log, though she did not recognise the feeling, and when that passed off, she dozed and woke with a sudden start to find a man standing over her. He was dressed in the usual digger costume, but his butcher boots were covered in mud, his heavy blue flannel shirt was soaking wet, and the rain was running in little streams off his long beard. But that did not discommode him at all.

He leaned against the opposite door-post with a nonchalant air, his arms folded on his breast, and regarded her steadily from under the brim of his sopping slouch hat. At first she rubbed her eyes; she had seen no one since the middle of April, and it was now the first week in June. Was she dreaming; could someone have betrayed them; was this man the


  ― 185 ―
advance-guard of the police who would presently rush in and drag her Dave away? She gave a little cry, and rubbed her eyes, and the man stepped forward, and, pushing back his hat, she saw it was her old friend Pard Derrick.

He kicked the fire with his foot, so that the brightening flames might throw a little more light on the scene, for it was quite dark now. He swore a good round string of oaths by way of relieving his feelings.

‘Holy Moses, Jenny! Is it really you? Well, you have brought your pigs to a pretty market, you have.’

‘Oh, Pard!’

But a gust of bitter wind dashed round the wet canvas screen, and she was speechless till the paroxysm of coughing it brought on had passed.

Pard Derrick stepped over and patted her on the back by way of helping her, and repeated: ‘A fine market, a d——d fine market!’ So strongly did he feel on the subject of that market, that he added several more adjectives by way of giving weight to his opinion of it; but he patted her back as gently as if she had been a child. The unwonted kindness brought the tears to her eyes.

‘You won't—you won't,’ she panted between sobbing and coughing, ‘hurt Dave. You won't—promise you won't.’

‘I've a mind,’ he began—‘there, there! I ain't agoin' to hurt him. Ain't I been totin' him tucker across them blanky ranges the last five months now, an' is it likely I'd let up on him to the traps after that?’

‘I—I—— You never came before.’

‘Dave's that pertikler—never would let on where he was. If he can't trust a mate—— Well, last time I


  ― 186 ―
up and followed him, and I come along as soon as I'd time. It's a almighty cheerful spot,’ he said, kicking the fire again in order to show off its beauties; ‘and I don't wonder he was so anxious to keep it to himself.’

She took it as a reproach to herself.

‘I done the best I could,’ she said humbly; ‘but I know it's a poor place for Dave. It'll be nicer in the warm weather.’

Derrick gave a low whistle.

‘Calkilate on stopping till the warm weather, do you? Seems to me the claim's about worked out. Are you reckonin' on your humble servant, may I ask, for the totin' of that there tucker into the ranges here all the winter?’

She had been reckoning on it, evidently, for she only moaned, ‘Oh, Pard, Pard!’ reproachfully.

‘Well, I'm gettin' a bit tired of the blanky game,’ he said, turning his head away from her sad, tired eyes; ‘and you have played it mighty low down on the sergeant.’

‘I belonged to Dave allus,’ she said, not as if defending herself, merely making a statement of which he must recognise the justness.

‘Then, why in the devil's name did you marry the sergeant?’

‘Dave told me to,’ she said simply.

‘Then, by all that's holy, why didn't you stick to him?’

She looked at him with wonder in her eyes. How could he ask such a question—he of all men?

‘You told me yourself,’ she said, ‘Dave wanted me.’

The kick that he administered to the fire was a vicious one this time, and sent the sparks flying in all directions.




  ― 187 ―

‘Oh,’ she sighed, ‘don't waste the wood! I dunno how I'm goin' to get more when that's gone.’

He looked down at the frail worn-out woman, half sitting, half lying on the hard, cold ground; he noted her panting breath and her sunken cheeks, and he swore another good long string of oaths.

‘An' what's that hulkin', good-for-nothin' ——’ He hesitated for a word, and she divined his thought, and hastened to clear away all blame from the man she loved.

‘Dave, you mean; but Dave helps all he can. I come here to help him. I don't want him to do nothin'.’

‘She's mad,’ said Derrick, apostrophizing the drenched and dripping hillside; ‘she's clean gone off her head. Now, here's a decent handy sort of fellow like me, with nothin' agin me, an' no woman intermates she'd like to work her life out for me. There's the sergeant, a decent sort o' chap for a trap, pervides a palatial residence for her, an' she comes here;’ and he swept his hand round as if showing off the advantages and beauties of the hut to an imaginary audience.

But Jenny was loyal.

‘Dave done all he could,’ she said. ‘If I hadn't a' lost his bag o' gold, we'd a' been away acrost the ranges long ago.’

‘Look here, Jenny,’ Pard Derrick was desperately in earnest now, ‘that bag o' gold the sergeant picked up in the gully the night you run away, how did you come by it?’

Subsequent events had driven the former history of that bag completely out of her head. In her pity for Black Dave, she had lost sight of the fact that he was


  ― 188 ―
but suffering for a crime which richly deserved punishment; and as for the gold, he had reviled her so often for its loss, that she had come to look upon it as a calamity for which she alone was to blame. Now, when Pard Derrick asked her about it, she answered without hesitation:

‘Dave gave it me to take care of for him.’

‘Oh, he did, did he? By the 'Tarnal! That bag was old Max's.’

‘No, no, no!’

She saw in a flash what she had done. But even then she did not fully recognise the extent of the mischief. Dave was so dear to her, she had been so accustomed to putting him before all else, she hardly realized that his mate would be his mate no longer now this foul crime was, as it were, sheeted home to him.

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ said Pard Derrick, and his language for the next few minutes can only be expressed by a series of dashes, so strong and resonant was it. ‘And to think,’ he added, going back to his former place by the doorpost, ‘I've been such an almighty fool as to tote tucker across them ranges for—for a——’

‘But, Pard, you'll—you'll——’

‘Will I? I'll see him hanged first, an' you can tell him so. Jenny, you come back with me to-night.’

‘No, no. I couldn't leave Dave. He's only got me.’

‘Don't be a blanky fool. How long 'll he stick to you when he ain't got no tucker, an' the traps are after him?’

‘Dave 'll never slip me up,’ she managed to gasp out, for another fit of coughing took her breath away.

The man was silent a moment, gently stirring the fire with his foot. The little flames, as they leaped


  ― 189 ―
into life, fell full on the girl's white, worn face; and even he, a careless, dare-devil fellow not given to noticing anything much, saw that a very little more of life like this would finish her life-story. Another week of weather like this up among the ranges, and no one need trouble his head about pretty Jenny Sells. He wondered almost she did not know it herself.

Black Dave must have seen it, and then he seemed to realize all at once what an utterly selfish brute this whilom mate of his was. He had taken the girl away for his own selfish pleasure; he had had no thought even for her physical comfort. He had begged a warm shirt for himself when the weather grew chilly. He had begged fresh blankets; but it was he, Pard Derrick, who, knowing the girl was with Black Anderson, had managed to persuade Sal Carter to put her up a few necessary clothes—he, an outsider. What sort of a life could the girl be leading with this man? Cruelly hard, to judge by her face, and yet she seemed never to blame him; her every thought was for him. Sergeant Sells had surrounded her with every comfort, and yet—and yet—— Pard Derrick threw up his chin into the air. He gave it up, as many a wiser man than he had done before him.

‘Why do you sit shiverin' there?’ he asked roughly. ‘There's a blanket on the blanky stretcher there. Why don't you wrap it round you?’

She looked up at him wearily.

‘Dave——’ she began.

‘D——n Dave!’ he swore through his teeth.

Then he marched into the hut, and came back with all the blankets from the stretcher in his arms. He stooped down and wrapped them round her with no ungentle hand. Passively she suffered him to do it;


  ― 190 ―
she even felt grateful for the kindness which thought for her comfort. Even to herself it was evident she was very ill, and growing worse every moment. Still she hoped, as she had hoped before, that the morning would see her better.

‘You are good, Pard,’ she said gently, touching his arm as he bent over her—‘too good.’

He made up his mind rapidly to tell her the exact truth. He thought she was dying, and he was not going to have her death on his conscience if he could help it.

‘See here, Jenny, you're mighty sick. Much better come back with me, an' get Sal to look after you.’

‘Dave——’

He cut her short.

‘You'll just kick the bucket if you stop here a week longer, I'll take my colonial on that. An' what good 'll you be to Dave then, I'd like to know?’

‘I couldn't slip up Dave,’ she said.

‘Dave 'll slip you up like a shot when you ain't any more good to him. Dave ain't agoin' to hang round here a-nursin' of a sick woman. The sergeant might a' done it, but it ain't in Dave.’

‘Dave won't never slip me up,’ she said monotonously, ‘not never. He said so over an' over again. Dave won't. I know Dave.’

‘An' so do I now,’ said the man grimly. ‘Well, then, Jenny, if you won't look out for yourself I'm agoin' to do it for you. Your husband the sergeant 'll be here afore this time to-morrow. A husband's the proper person to look after a woman when she's sick;’ and he laughed at his own humour.

‘No!’ she struggled to her feet, and flung off the blankets he had so carefully wrapped round her; but


  ― 191 ―
the exertion and the excitement combined brought on another violent fit of coughing, and though she leaned against the doorpost for support, she could only speak in gasps; ‘you wouldn't—be—so—mean. You wouldn't—go back—on a mate.’

‘Mate!’ he spat in the fire as if to show his disgust—‘mate! He ain't no mate o' mine. I toted tucker acrost the ranges to my old mate as the traps had a down on and were after; but I ain't agoin' to tote no tucker for a man as shot old Max down in his tracks like a bullock, an' I'm going to send your husband to look after you.’

She could only shake her head and clutch his arm in protest, for she was speechless from coughing, and when he wrapped the blankets round her again she was too helpless to resist. He laid her down by the fire, and pushed it together with his feet.

‘There,’ he said, ‘I reckon you can hold out till mornin'. I'll be back then along with the sergeant, so you can tell your friend Dave to make himself scarce.’

He marched out into the darkness, and in a minute returned bearing a log which lay close by, but which had been too heavy for her slender strength. It was drenched with wet, and hissed as he piled the fire up round it; but she knew its heart was dry, and it would keep the fire in till morning. Still, she could not be grateful. Was he not going to put the police on Dave? She was to blame. She had betrayed him, and Dave would hate her for ever.

The one idea was uppermost in her mind. She kept repeating it over and over to herself; she said it aloud, as Pard Derrick came and bent over her before going away.

‘Dave'll hate me.’




  ― 192 ―

‘By the 'Tarnal! I don't think it'll be much worse than 'tis now. So long, Jenny!’ and he stepped across the fire, and was swallowed up in the misty darkness.

Chapter V

Slipped Up.

The worldly hope men set their hearts upon
Turns ashes,or it prospers, and anon,
Like snow upon the desert's dusty face,
Lighting a little hour or two, is gone.’

   Omar Khayam.

WHETHER she lost consciousness or not she could not tell, but it seemed to her his place was immediately taken by Black Dave, with a heavy scowl on his face.

She made an effort, and sat up, and then, remembering she was wrapped up in all the blankets the hut contained—his blankets—began hastily to take them off.

‘Pard——’ she began, and her voice trembled, and the cough came and choked her. How was she to tell him such terrible news? Of the urgent necessity for flight she was convinced, but how was she to tell this man? how tell him, too, she had brought it upon him?

But he seemed to divine it for himself without her aid, and, stooping down, took her by the shoulders and shook her hard.

‘So Pard was here, was he?’ he said between his clenched teeth. ‘What 'd he come here for?’

‘He says—he says,’ she gasped, ‘he's going to put the police on the track to-morrow.’

He asked no questions—it seemed as if he had


  ― 193 ―
guessed the unfriendly nature of his old mate's feelings towards himself; only his grip tightened on her shoulders.

‘You did it!’ he said. ‘You did it! Curse me for a fool for ever trusting a woman!’

‘Oh, Dave, Dave!’ She struggled to turn round, and laid her face tenderly against the strong hands that were holding her so cruelly hard. ‘Oh, Dave, Dave!’

He let her go with a movement that sent her reeling against the doorpost, and when she recovered sufficiently from the shock she saw that he was hastily gathering together such few things as he might be able to carry with him. She folded the blankets into a swag, but when she would have tied a cord round them, her strength gave way, and he pushed her aside and did it himself. There was so little to be done it hardly took him five minutes, and he never spoke a word. Then, when his preparations were complete, he kicked the fire to pieces and trampled with his heavy boots on the embers till not a spark remained. If anyone were to try and find that hut again in the darkness, he certainly would not be able to do so now that the guiding fire was out.

Jenny huddled her shawl about her shoulders and stood in the doorway waiting.

She wondered dimly how she was to bear up in a night tramp across those ranges; but the worst was over when she had told him of his mate's treachery, and he had not been nearly so hard as she feared. She felt she deserved all she had got, and her only anxiety now was that she should be able to keep up with him and not hamper him. It would only be to another gully, only a little way among this maze of gullies, and ranges, and gullies; they could make as good a


  ― 194 ―
shelter again as this they were leaving in a very short time, and the rain would destroy their track. The cleverest black tracker could not follow them up, given a few hours' start, in weather like this. If only she could keep up and not trouble him, not be a burden on him!

It never occurred to her that he intended to leave her behind. Had he not sworn to her a thousand times that he would never desert her, that she was all in all to him? and in spite of everything she had hugged that belief to her breast. His misfortunes had bound them together, and even if he did not care for her, he would not leave her. Besides, he did care—he would never have brought her there if he had not cared; and she prepared to follow him.

He saw her standing there dimly through the darkness, and even in his anger—his righteous anger as he thought — her faithfulness was a reproach to him. Why will not women see when a man has had enough of them?

He started off at a brisk pace without a word, and felt her hand on his arm, heard her panting breath beside him.

‘Where—where? Which way, Dave?’

He shook her off angrily.

‘I play a lone hand this game,’ he said with an oath.

‘But, but—— Oh, Dave! you ain't goin' to leave me! Dave, Dave!’

Where was the use of words? And he had no time to waste. He shook her off, or would have done, but she clung with both hands round his arm. He quickened his pace to a run, and she tripped and fell to her knees, dragging him down with her. The rain was coming down steadily; the earth was sodden, and the


  ― 195 ―
grass and bracken were drenched. Jenny's shawl had fallen off in the struggle, and her thin cotton gown was wet through and through. He felt her icy cold hands put up to clasp him round the neck in one last despairing prayer, and her voice, choked by the cruel cough, rang in his ears.

‘Oh, Dave, Dave! you said you'd never leave me!’

Without a word he scrambled to his feet again, and she clung so tight that she, too, stood beside him. But he was tired of her—he had tired of her in the first week of possession; he had wearied of her utterly in the second. She had been his patient drudge ever since, but now she would simply be a drag on him. He was sick to death of this life; he must get away from it at any cost; and for her—— Well, she could not travel; she could stop behind, and to-morrow the police would find her, for he never doubted that Pard Derrick would keep his word. Pard Derrick had suspected him for some time; he had known this could not go on long, and now he had come to the hut and got the truth out of Jenny. It did not require any explanation on her part to tell him that little story. She had betrayed him, and she must suffer for it.

And, after all, what did his desertion mean? Only a night alone in the hut. To-morrow the police would find her. And he would be free—free to go where he pleased. Perhaps the last thought was uppermost in his mind as he stood there in the darkness and pouring rain, feeling her icy cold hands creeping round his neck, listening to her panting breath; the other thoughts came afterwards, when he was striding through the bush alone. He stood silent one instant, and a glad glow came to her heart, for she thought her prayer was answered.




  ― 196 ―

‘Oh, Dave! my Dave!’ she gasped; ‘I knew——

Then he caught her wrists in both his hands and forced her back into the thick ti-tree scrub. The heavy branches, laden with moisture, sprang back, and hit her on the face and shoulders; the dripping points of a long fern frond swept her hair almost pitifully, it seemed; she could not see his face through the gloom, but she could hear him breathing hard. What was he going to do? Was he going to kill her because she had betrayed him?

‘Oh! but Dave, Dave——’

With a sudden jerk he let go her wrists and she fell backwards amid the thick wet scrub, and when she struggled to her feet again she could hear his heavy footsteps crushing through the ti-tree scrub, and knew that he had left her for ever; that she could not possibly overtake him; that even if she could, he would have none of her; that all her devotion and love counted for nothing in his eyes.

‘Don't you trust him, Jenny, don't you trust him!’ she seemed to hear her stepmother's warning—a warning that even now, when he had left her, angered her. ‘One gets the upper hand, and t'other goes to the wall.’

She had gone to the wall. But surely it was her own fault. She had betrayed him to Paul Derrick, and—and—one thing she was sure of, he would miss her to-morrow, he would want her to-morrow.

It was cold, cold, bitter cold, and the rain had soaked her to the skin. She could not draw a breath now without coughing, and there was a pain in her side and across her chest which every moment grew more unendurable. She leaned against a tree-trunk for a little in the half-hope that the momentary rest would give her power to go on. Go where? It was useless to think of following in Black Anderson's track. But


  ― 197 ―
shelter she must have somewhere, and the wretched hut close against the damp hillside rose up before her eyes as a vision of comfort and rest. How cheerily the fire danced and crackled in the doorway! How the hot logs hissed and steamed when the rain-drops fell on them! Yes, she must get back there. The blankets wrapped round her so carefully were cosy and warm. Who wrapped them round her? Pard Derrick? Who said it was Pard Derrick? It was Dave, of course. Who but Dave would do that for her? She must get back—she must, she must!

But first she must find her shawl. It would be spoilt lying out here in the pouring rain, and then what should she do without her shawl when it rained and she had to go out and gather wood? She fumbled about a little in the dark, but she could not find it, and the hut with its cheerful fire was before her eyes, beckoning her back with friendly hands. She was cold, so cold, and she could hardly breathe for her cough; besides, might not Dave be there before her? If she coughed and disturbed him! The thought troubled her as she stumbled on mechanically, taking the right path in the darkness and pouring rain. It was such a short distance—such a very short distance, not two hundred yards—but it seemed to the weary woman she could never reach it. There was a tiny rent in the thick clouds. They broke for a moment and showed her a bright star right overhead, a brilliant point of light amidst the surrounding gloom. Then the clouds closed over it again, and it was gone, and she found herself leaning against the doorpost of the wretched shanty she had called ‘home’ for the last two months.

There was no bright fire, no dancing firelight, no warm blankets. Everything was desolate and deserted.


  ― 198 ―
Among the scattered ashes there was not a live coal; the fire was dead and cold, through the gaps between the logs the wind was whistling mournfully, and the cold winter rain was beating, the water was trickling down the hillside across the earthen floor, and was falling from the roof in great heavy drops. She could hardly draw a breath now, but she crept across to the stretcher and sank down wearily on it, drawing her wet things close round her in a half-mechanical effort to get warm again. She was worse than ever now—worse than ever—and how was she to get wood for Dave's fire in the morning? It was her last conscious thought, if it could be called conscious, when she had entirely forgotten that he had left her, that she need take thought for his comfort no longer; then she drifted off into delirium and unconsciousness.

And outside the wind blew dismally down the gully, and the rain fell heavily, and the creek that had been but a chain of waterholes when she came there rose and rose, till it was a rushing river within a few feet of her door. Even she would have found no difficulty in getting water now. But it made no difference to Jenny Sells; nothing in this world would ever make any difference to her again.

Chapter VI

Pard Derrick's Ghosts.

The wine of life is oozing drop by drop,
The leaves of life are falling one by one.’

   Omar Khayam.

WHEN Pard Derrick left Jenny he walked very slowly through the pouring rain back to camp again. Not


  ― 199 ―
that he at all desired to get wet, quite the contrary; he had lived long enough in sunny Australia to avoid a wetting as if he had been a cat; but to-night he was seriously disturbed in his mind.

Gradually a conviction of his mate's unworthiness had been forcing itself upon his unwilling understanding, and to-night he was sure of it—sure as a man could be of anything — that Black Anderson had murdered old Max, cruelly shot him down in his tracks for the sake of the gold he carried, and he was determined that he should suffer for his crime in some way or another. He had threatened to inform the police in his first righteous anger, but now he remembered he was not on very good terms with the police. Like most of the diggers in the fifties, he had a grudge against them; and then, too, he would have to explain his own connection with the criminal—explain that for the last five months he had kept him supplied with food, and so enabled him to elude his pursuers. Yet it was ‘blanky awkward,’ as he described it to himself. Wouldn't it be better to confide in the boys in the morning and go down in a body and take Black Anderson, and then either hand him over to the police, or, well—he thought to himself—they could take it out of him as well as any blamed judge in the colony.

This last scheme greatly recommended itself to him. It did away with all necessity for explanation; he had come from California, where such summary justice was of not infrequent occurrence, and with forty men concerned in it, he was inclined to think not much harm could come to any single individual. He was so pleased with the idea that, instead of going straight to the police camp, as he had at first intended, he went to


  ― 200 ―
his own tent, where his mate was already snoring, and turned in.

Next morning the weather had in no way cleared, and by the rushing and roaring of water he guessed that the creek was coming down a banker. A good sort of day to send a man to his long account; but somehow his great scheme did not look so well in broad daylight. He began to think that the boys would not join, and they must have at least forty, or the thing would not do at all. After all, he ought to have informed the police last night. It would be more difficult to do it now. Then the thought came to him he would not do it at all: he would let them find out for themselves. Having arrived at which sage conclusion he turned over in his blankets and called to his mate:

‘Hallo, Bill! I say, you lazy lubber, show a leg there! You won't earn no tucker at this rate.’

‘Lazy yourself,’ muttered the other man between his teeth, adding an appropriate adjective which made his mate laugh.

‘But rouse out, Bill—do rouse out! I say, you horse-faced old fossil, I seen a ghost last night.’

Bill, thus apostrophized, sat up lazily, stretched out his arms to their fullest extent, and indulged in a loud, long, luxurious yawn.

‘You seen what?’

‘A ghost. An' hearn him, too.’

‘Mixed your drinks, I guess! That was powerful strong brandy of Buck's last night. Friar's balsam with a dash of painkiller an' just a touch o' kerosene to give it a bite. I guess there were forty d——d ghosties in it;’ and he lay back again with the air of one who has disposed of a simple matter satisfactorily.




  ― 201 ―

But Pard Derrick was not going to have his just and lawful schemes so easily disposed of as all that. He wanted Black Anderson caught; he began to feel now as if he had wanted him caught all along; he wanted help to go to the girl, and he did not want to appear in the matter, so, spite of his mate's openly expressed scorn, he launched out into a description of the ghost he had seen ‘way out on a ridge at the headwaters of the creek more'n a mile an' a half from here.’ The ‘blanky thing,’ it seemed, was perfectly orthodox, had appeared before him as a great white thing, had waved its long arms, and then, when he tried to approach it, had turned and fled down the gully wailing and crying ‘fit to make the marrow in your bones freeze up.’

‘Rats!’ said Bill, when the story had reached its thrilling conclusion.

‘Rats yourself!’ said the discomfited story-teller indignantly. ‘I'll bet I seen old Max's ghost.’

‘Old Max's ghost knows a sight better'n to be cavortin' around on them ranges in the pourin' rain. Say, what was you doin' there yoursel'?’

But to that question Pard Derrick did not feel it incumbent on him to reply.

He kicked off his blankets slowly, and, crossing the hut, took from its hiding-place beside the hearth the small store of gold-dust he and his mate had accumulated during the past week.

‘I'm agoin' to hand this over to the Commissioner,’ he said, turning his back on his mate.

‘Jumping Moses! there ain't more'n enough to pay Buck Carter's score!’

‘I'm agoin' to hand it over to the Commissioner,’ said Pard Derrick stolidly. ‘I seed a ghost last night,


  ― 202 ―
an' I was a-dreamin' I seen you a-lyin' with your blanky throat cut. It's a sure sign o' evil—a sure sign; an' I'm agoin' to hand over the gold to the Commissioner.’

Bill, who was distinguished from Snaky Bill by the epithet ‘Horse-faced,’ appeared in no wise disconcerted by his unpleasant end, and merely grunted in assent. If his mate liked to make a fool of himself, it was no business of his. The gold would be safe enough with the Commissioner, and, any way, there was so little of it it wasn't worth while making a fuss about.

‘But you ain't agoin' now?’ was all he said. ‘Why, the Commissioner 'll be abed, and he ain't agoin' to rouse out for a handful of gold like that, you can bet!’

This last argument was unanswerable. There was no doubt about it: the Commissioner would not turn out at so early an hour, and Pard Derrick set to work to prepare the morning meal, glancing every now and then at the driving rain, and thinking uneasily of the poor girl dying up there among the ranges.

Jenny was very bad, he was sure of that; she ought to have help as soon as posible; but, after all, he consoled himself, he had had no hand in bringing her there. She had brought it on herself. He intended to do the best he could for her, but there was no sense in putting himself in an awkward hole for a girl who would never so much as say ‘Thank you’ for his pains. Besides, after all, he had left her pretty comfortable, and even Black Dave, bad as he knew him to be, could not be cold-blooded enough to disturb a sick woman. After all, if he did wait an hour or two, it could not make much difference. So he reasoned, not unnaturally, and with a quiet mind set about the preparation of their breakfast.




  ― 203 ―

Nevertheless, he made haste to finish, and then, in spite of another remonstrance from his mate, set off for the police camp. It looked wet and dreary in the pouring rain, and the curtains of the Commissioner's tents were closely drawn; but he felt he was in luck all the same, for the sergeant was standing fully dressed at the door of his hut contemplating the weather.

Pard Derrick noted how white his hair had got of late, how stern and solemn he looked; he remembered the great wrong he had helped to do him two months ago, and he hesitated for a moment to address him. Only for a moment, though—the need was pressing; then he stepped up to him.

‘Good-morning, sergeant.’

‘Good-morning,’ replied the trooper, without even looking at him.

‘Sergeant, I've got some gold for the Commissioner. When can I hand it over?’

The sergeant glanced carelessly at the Commissioner's tent.

‘He isn't up yet.’

‘Darn it all! I s'pose I'll have to wait,’ and, feeling that he had broken the ice, he leaned up against the sergeant's doorpost and prepared to lead up gently to the subject nearest his heart.

‘D' you b'lieve in ghosts, sergeant?’

‘Ghosts? Who? I? No!’

The sergeant was evidently meditating a retreat into his hut, but Derrick plunged into his subject there and then.

‘I seen a ghost last night.’ And he began to describe the vision as he had to Horse-faced Bill, and was about to add a few more dramatic touches, when his hearer cut him short.




  ― 204 ―

‘Where did you see this?’ he asked, and the tone satisfied Pard that he had succeeded in rousing all the interest he desired, and whether to be pleased or not he hardly knew.

‘Atop o' the hill—the spur there, as they used to call Digger's Point. Just by that almighty big gum I was a-standin', when I seed the blanky thing, an' pretty nigh scart the life outer me!’

‘Last night was it? And what were you doing up there on a night like that?’

That was a most inconvenient question, and Pard Derrick passed it over in silence.

‘I was thinkin',’ he said meditatively, ‘it'll maybe be old Max's, as can't rest quiet in his grave; or maybe 'tis Black Anderson has up an' died.’

‘But what were you doing up there last night?’

‘Or maybe, you know, sergeant, 'twas your own wife—little Jenny. 'Tis a blanky hard life for her, an' she may have died. Now I come to think of it, 'twas more like a female ghost——’

The sergeant cut him short and laid a heavy hand on his shoulder.

‘Look here, Derrick,’ he said hoarsely, ‘what's your little game? You don't go much on traps, I know; but I've always found you a decent, honest sort of chap, and never thought any evil of you; but there's something behind this. Come, isn't there, now?’

‘I tell you I seen a ghostie,’ said Derrick sullenly. He was wondering whether it wouldn't, after all, be better and safer to take the sergeant of police into his confidence. Wouldn't it save trouble by-and-by?

‘Don't be a fool, Derrick. Come, tell me fairly what you mean. I won't use it against you.’

‘I ain't the sort o' chap as goes back on a pal,’ said


  ― 205 ―
Derrick, working out his own thoughts aloud rather than addressing the sergeant.

‘No one ever thought that of you,’ said the sergeant. ‘I know you're all on the square; but if you're screening a murderer like Black Anderson, you won't be long.’

‘I allus said as he knew naught o' that,’ said Derrick.

‘The man that had old Max's bag is likely the man that murdered him, don't you think so?’ said the sergeant quietly.

‘D——n it all, in course!’ said Derrick with fervour; ‘but—but how's I to know Black Dave had the blanky thing?’

‘Not till last night. You found it out last night,’ said the sergeant quickly, a sudden idea striking him.

‘Sergeant,’ said Pard Derrick, turning his honest face full on the trooper, ‘it's playin' it mighty low down on a man to let on you know where he's hid when the traps is after him; but I'm bein' reg'lar druv to it. I never thought he'd done it—s'help me God I didn't! I guessed you'd a down on him, 'cos—well, 'cos o' Jenny. And then little by little I thought maybe you was right, an'—well, last night I was sure of it.’

The sergeant put his hand to his face and restlessly fingered his moustache.

‘I—Derrick, where is he?’

‘I can't, sergeant—'deed I can't! It's playin' it too mighty low down—an' what 'd the boys think?’

‘Black Anderson isn't worth considering. They'd think as I do. There's a reward, you know.’

‘I don't want none o' your d——d blood-money,’ he said sullenly. ‘If 'twasn't for the gal I wouldn't


  ― 206 ―
a' troubled my head. But I done the best I could for her, an' Lord knows that warn't much.’

Angry as he was at the suggestion of blood-money, he, with a delicacy one would hardly have given him credit for, turned his eyes away when he spoke of the sergeant's wife, though he felt instinctively he winced and quivered at the mention of her name. The wound was still raw.

‘Look here, sergeant, will you hold your tongue and not drag me into the plaguey business? I don't want the whole camp about my ears.’

‘Of course I'll hold my tongue. Not a soul shall know from me you've been near me.’

‘Not the Commissioner?’

‘Not the Commissioner himself.’

‘Well,’ said Pard, still somewhat reluctant, ‘if you an' a mate was to ride to the top o' Digger's Point, an' stand under that almighty big gum-tree an' look away down the gully on t'other side—the little narrer gully, I mean; sorter wedged in it is between the two others—I'm thinkin' you never took much note o' that there gully—well, if you was to look away down that there gully, I'm thinkin' you might come acrost the self-same ghostie as I seen last night.’

‘And you'll——’

‘I'm off,’ said Derrick, with a sigh of relief. ‘I guess I won't trouble the Commissioner this mornin'. Give him my compliments, an' say he's so mighty late I couldn't wait. An' look here, old man, if you was real keen on seeing' that ghostie, I'd be off at once if I was you. So long;’ and before the sergeant could ask him another question, Pard Derrick had started for the diggers' camp again.

It did not take Sergeant Sells long to draw his conclusions.


  ― 207 ―
Derrick, he thought, had at last become convinced of his friend's guilt, and was ready to hand him over to the law; but at the same time, not unnaturally, was anxious not to appear in the affair. He thoroughly sympathized with him, and if he could make the capture look the result of accident, or of the unceasing vigilance of the police—well, so much the better for all concerned.

He called two of the men, and had the horses saddled. It still wanted half an hour to the Commissioner's breakfast-hour, and there was no sign of life about his tent. Time enough to tell him all about it when the capture was made; or, at least, when the capture was made, there would be no need to assign reasons.

The three set out through the driving rain, and the sergeant, as his horse slowly climbed the hillside, sticky and slippery now, thought again, as he often did, of his spoiled life and the woman who had done it.

If he found Anderson would she be with him? and if she were, what should he say to her—what should he do with her? He shrank from seeing her unspeakably, and yet he felt it would be worse to let another go on this errand, and then to have to hear all that happened second-hand. Whatever came of it, he must see it through himself.

The day was in keeping with his mood. What had he to do with blue skies and bright sunshine? His life had been dull and dreary always, and this was a fitting climax. Such a day, such a day! The driving cold rain shut them in on every side, and once on top of the hill beside the ‘almighty big gum-tree’ Pard Derrick had made such a point of, looking down into the narrow gully, nothing was visible save scrub and


  ― 208 ―
fern, looming large close to and beyond the thick gray mist of rain. There was a sound of rushing water not far below, but it was impossible to distinguish anything.

‘The creek below's a banker,’ said one of the troopers. He was wet and cold; he had been hurried away without his breakfast, and the raw cold morning made him hungry, and he was anxious to find some excuse to turn back again. ‘Are you going on, sergeant? We can't ride down there. It's too slippy.’

‘We'll leave the horses here. You can stop with them. Ottaway 'll come along with me. I'm going to search this gully thoroughly.’

The discomfited one swore under his breath. It was bad enough to ride breakfastless through the bitter cold rain. It was worse still to stand here on top of the hill holding three horses, while that lunatic—he called his superior officer a lunatic in his own mind—was making an exhaustive survey of that wretched gully. He almost envied them as they went slipping and sliding down the steep hillside.

The sergeant was more explicit with his companion than he had been to the grumbler he had left above.

‘I was hearing a cock-and-bull ghost-story about this gully,’ he said; ‘and it occurs to me the ghost may very likely be the man we're after, though what the dickens he can be playing ghost for I don't know! Possibly it was only the other man's fancy. Anyhow, I'm going through this gully carefully; so just see that your pistols are all right, Ottaway. I don't suppose Black Anderson 'll hesitate a moment if he gets the chance of making a ghost of one of us.’

‘All right, sergeant.’

The creek had risen so high it was a mass of


  ― 209 ―
tumbling brown water roaring among the scrub and trees, but apparently finding an outlet to the north, for it rose no higher; still, it formed an effectual barrier that prevented them crossing to the other side of the gully.

‘Wouldn't he most likely hide at the head of the gully?’ asked Ottaway, after they had skirted along the water's edge for about ten minutes, carefully examining the scrub.

‘I think so, too,’ said the sergeant. ‘We'll have to work back that way, and get round to the other side of the creek. There's no crossing hereabouts.’

Then they went on again in silence for a little. Suddenly Ottaway stopped, and laid his hand on the sergeant's arm.

‘What's that?’

That was a woman's shawl, sodden and soaking, lying there on the ground to their left. Soaked with the wet though it was, the sergeant recognised it at a glance. That Rob Roy plaid—had he not himself given it to his wife? He knew it, and he felt with a pang that the man beside him knew it too. A woman's shawl was not such a common thing on Deadman's in those days as to be unrecognisable.

‘They must be somewhere hereabouts,’ said Ottaway, picking up the shawl and noting its condition; ‘this thing ain't been here long;’ and the sergeant noticed with pain the ‘they.’

A little farther on and they came upon the charred and blackened logs of a trampled-out fire.

‘Warm!’ said Ottaway; and then laughed aloud at his own grim humour, for anything more dreary and cold than that trampled-out fire alongside a heap of rotting wet branches it would be difficult to picture.




  ― 210 ―

The sergeant caught him by the shoulder.

‘Look out!’ he said, and he wondered if the man could hear the beating of his heart; ‘it's a hut, I think.’

‘By the Lord!’ said Ottaway, and stood stock still.

From the hut came a murmuring sound as of someone talking hoarsely, and both men dropped at once to their knees.

‘Gently now,’ said the sergeant, drawing his revolver; and the other man noticed that his hand was trembling, and that even his voice shook.

They crept along softly on hands and knees through the pouring rain, until they were close against the branches; and the sound of a voice inside—talking so loud it almost rose to a scream—was plainly to be heard, interrupted frequently by violent fits of coughing. They lay still a moment listening. Then the sergeant, impatient of delay, rose to his feet, and prepared to push back the strip of sacking and enter boldly at the door.

‘You're mad!’ whispered the other man, holding him back; ‘he'll shoot on sight.’

‘I'm sick of this!’ said the sergeant bitterly. ‘What's my life worth?’

And, indeed, at that moment he would have thrown it away without a murmur, for it seemed to him it was his wife's voice he heard, and she was calling on another man in accents of tenderest love. What did it matter if a chance shot ended his life there and then? He would have an equal chance, and if he shot Black Anderson down in his tracks—well, it would be well. He drew his revolver and threw aside the curtain, and his companion, not to be outdone, stood beside him.




  ― 211 ―

‘Now for it!’ he muttered between his teeth, for it seemed to him this was a very rash proceeding on the sergeant's part, and he fully expected one of them would pay the penalty.

‘Throw up your hands!’ said the sergeant mechanically, as they entered the hut.

There was no rush, no commotion, no singing bullet, no man standing with raised hands in token of surrender—only a cold, desolate, empty hut, with the wind and rain beating through it, and a stretcher on which lay a woman tossing her arms about, and moaning incoherently in delirium.

The sergeant stood stock still, and Ottaway stamped his feet on the muddy floor.

‘Jumping Jehosaphat,’ he said, ‘the bird's flown! And he's left behind your—your—— And he's deserted the girl,’ he added, as an after-thought.

Chapter VII

Better So.

At the Door of Life, at the Gate of Breath,
There are worse things waiting for men than Death.’

   Swinburne.

THE sergeant said nothing. What could he say? He went slowly up to the wretched stretcher whereon the girl lay, and stood looking down on her—the girl who was his wife, the fair-haired, soft-eyed woman who had been all in all to him, whom he had loved so intensely, and who had cared for him so little, she had dragged his good name in the dust, and had made


  ― 212 ―
him the laughing-stock of the diggers' camp. And all for what? For a man who left her to die like this!

With the quick eye of a man accustomed to notice everything, he took in all the surroundings, saw the marks of the clayey soil and the green grass on her damp wet clothes, and mentally calculated how long she must have been lying there. A violent paroxysm of coughing shook her, and after a momentary hesitation he dropped his revolver, put his arms round her, and held her till it had passed, the other man meanwhile looking on in silence.

‘I think I'll light a fire, eh, sergeant?’ he asked. ‘Is she very bad? Will she get over it?’ and his tone was as matter-of-fact as if it were an everyday occurrence.

‘Light a fire if you can,’ said the sergeant. ‘The man's cleared out some time last night, I suppose; the blankets are all gone. I don't know, I should think she was dying.’

‘He was a d——d skunk to leave her like that,’ ventured the trooper; but the look on the sergeant's face did not encourage him to continue the conversation, and he went outside and began searching round for a dry stick or two to kindle the fire.

It took some time, but at last a tiny flame sprang up, and he tended it carefully, building his fire close to the doorway, where it had evidently been built before. Soon it was crackling and glowing in spite of the damp wood, and the dancing flames lit up the interior of the hut. The trooper went out and fetched in the wringing wet shawl, and, fastening it on two sticks, hung it before the fire to dry.

‘Is it any good looking round for the man?’ asked


  ― 213 ―
Ottaway, coming and standing on the other side of the stretcher, and looking down on the girl.

‘No, he's got clean away, I think.’

‘What'll I do? You ought to have a doctor,’ as a fresh paroxysm of coughing seemed to wrench the last spark of life from the girl's frail body.

‘Go back to camp,’ said the sergeant with an effort. ‘Tell the Commissioner how it is, and get blankets and anything else you can from my place. She can't last long, I think.’

‘Won't you have a doctor? Snaky Bill's new mate, Chunky Smith they call him, was a full-blown doctor in the old country; he's got all the papers quite right, they say.’

‘All right. Fetch him along if you can. But it's too late to do any good.’

‘And you—what'll you do?’

‘Stop here.’

‘Black Anderson might come back.’

The fire was crackling and dancing cheerfully now. The sergeant felt as if his hearing were become on a sudden preternaturally acute, as if he must perforce listen to every dropping coal and breaking twig, to the sound of the wind and rain outside, to the restless footsteps of the trooper, to the panting, sobbing breath and incoherent murmurs, broken perpetually by the cruel cough, of the girl he looked down on. He would gladly have put up his hands and shut out these disturbing sounds, but it seemed to him he must be unmoved before the other man.

‘And if he does?’

‘He might shoot you down like he did the old German.’

‘Well,’ said the sergeant bitterly, ‘after all, wouldn't


  ― 214 ―
that be the best thing that could happen? Go on, Ottaway; make haste, like a good fellow. Anderson won't come here again. It's the last place he'd come to.’

Ottaway turned away, and the sergeant felt himself compelled again to listen intently to his retreating footsteps. When he was gone he lifted the girl—how light a weight she was now, like a child in his arms!—and carried her to the fire. She was icy cold, and he took off his long dragoon cloak, warmed it at the fire, and, taking off her damp wet dress, wrapped her in it. The shawl was soon dry, and he chafed her cold feet and put it over them. Then he bethought himself of the brandy in his flask, and though it made her cough terribly, it seemed to put a little life into her.

‘Dave, Dave!’ she panted, ‘I knew you'd come back.’

The man bending over her drew back a moment. Then he steeled himself. What did it matter? He had known all along how it would be, and she was dying.

He stooped down again, and she seemed to recognise him, and put up her hands out of the enfolding wraps to push him away.

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

He had not minded her; he had never given her a thought; but she was past knowing that now.

She was so frightened, so frantic, so desperately anxious, and so near to death, he could not but try to soothe her last moments.

‘Hush, hush! He's right safe away. I'll not hurt him. Jenny, Jenny, don't you know me?’

‘The fire! the fire!’ she moaned, ‘the fire! Pard,


  ― 215 ―
you're usin' up all the wood, an' what'll I do to-morrow? Oh, it's that heavy, an' what'll I do to-morrow?’ The cough choked her then, but she struggled to make herself heard. ‘Dave, Dave, I mustn't let him——’

‘Jenny, Jenny, my poor little child!’

‘It's you,’ she said, ‘you,’ looking at him for the first time with some gleam of reason in her eyes. ‘You didn't ought to come here.’

He chafed her hands gently. They were burning hot now, and the terrible cough was worse than ever. It seemed as if she could not bear it, and, reluctant as he was, he felt he must hold her in his arms; how could he leave her lying there on the cold ground?

Consciousness was coming back to her for a brief space, and certainly she had some brief respite from the cough. Was it because he held her in his arms, or was it the last flicker before death?

Her eyes were closed, and he noted the long sweep of the thick eyelashes on her cheek, the blue veins in her eyelids and on her temples. The sun-tan was gone, and the sunken cheeks were white as marble; her yellow hair had fallen all across his arm. And this was his wife—the girl he had loved so madly, the girl he had married only three months ago! He had longed often to hold her like this, had hoped in time she would understand his love. But she had always moved away from him, had shaken off his hand; she had—what had she not done? and now, surely, it was the irony of fate that he should hold her in his arms to die.

She opened her eyes, her soft brown eyes, and looked up in his face, and he remembered in the old days, when first he knew her, how he had tried to make her look at him like that, and she never had—no, never, not once.




  ― 216 ―

She seemed to understand a little what he was doing for her: that he was brushing away her damp hair from her face, that he was pillowing her head on his arm, and a look of gratitude crept into her tired eyes. Dimly at last she seemed to understand.

‘I'm dreamin',’ she gasped—‘I'm dreamin' all along.’

But the theory of dreams did not satisfy her, and she put up her hand and touched his beard.

‘You’—and the wonder deepened in her eyes—‘you are good!’

‘Good! oh, my child, my child! I wanted always to be good to you, but you wouldn't let me. Oh, Jenny, Jenny!’

Even in his own ears the words sounded feeble and useless—only a confession of helplessness; it was somehow a fitting conclusion to the whole story.

‘I—I,’ she said, as if at last she had thoroughly grasped the situation, ‘I'm main sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you, but I told you—I told you—not to have no truck with me. I warn't the wife for you. I was Black Dave's girl—always—always.’

‘And now,’ he could not resist the taunt, ‘he's left you.’

‘'Twas my fault,’ she said with a sob; ‘'twas my fault. I let on to Pard about the gold. I—I——’ The cough came again, and when it had passed she lay back in his arms utterly exhausted. He began to be cramped and dizzy from the awkward position in which he knelt, and though he sheltered her from the wind and rain, it beat pitilessly on his shoulders.

She opened her eyes and looked straight into his, as if she had been a child. Did she understand? Or was she delirious again? There was perplexity and trouble in her eyes.




  ― 217 ―

‘He swore he'd never leave me—he swore he wouldn't slip me up! Isn't a man never set on a woman that way? Isn't it never no good to be set on a man?’

‘Oh, Jenny, Jenny! my poor little girl!’

‘Isn't it? Isn't it?’ she asked persistently, and he saw that she was drifting off into unconsciousness again.

‘Yes, child—yes,’ he answered, and the answer seemed to soothe her.

Her restless fingers plucked feebly at the cloak in which she was wrapped. It was the last sign, he thought; would she last till the doctor came? He began to doubt it. And she was not nineteen. Poor little girl—oh, poor little girl! A great pity swept over him. Such a child as she was, and she had never had a chance! Even he himself, when he had loved her most, when he had had her welfare most at heart, had but given a helping hand to destroy her.

He saw it all now so plainly—now that it was too late. How clearly the warm moonlight night came back to him—the night when he had asked her to be his wife! She had warned him—yes, plainly as she could; he saw it now; she had warned him, and he had paid no heed to her warning. She had dishonoured and disgraced his name; but if he had suffered, she was paying the penalty too. Dying—dying, and not yet nineteen!

With his handkerchief he wiped her damp forehead gently. Oh, the pity of it! the pity of it! And they might have been so happy. It seemed to him that never till now had he realized how he loved her. And yet surely it was best she should die. Could he who had loved her so wish her to live?




  ― 218 ―

She opened her eyes again and looked straight up in his face, and there was such a world of love in those dying eyes he was startled. Never in all his loveless life had a woman looked at him like that. Had this love he craved so passionately come to him at last—at last—when it was too late?

But no, she did not recognise him; she was thinking of another man.

‘Oh, Dave!’ she sighed; ‘oh, Dave, Dave! I love you, Dave, I love you; an' I had a bad dream. I dreamt you left me, Dave. An' I knew all along you wouldn't never do that;’ and her restless fingers stole up and gently touched his beard—so gently, oh, so gently! crept up and softly stroked his face. So had he seen her touch Sal Carter's baby in the days that seemed so far away now. And now she took him for another man, and he did not dare disturb her last moments by putting her away from him. It seemed somehow a fitting climax to the whole story.

‘Dave’—she went on in gasps, for she was almost past speech now—‘Dave, I love you so! I'm main sorry if I hampered—you. I'm so tired—I'm—so—tired. Won't—you—kiss me—Dave?’

He could not, he could not. Much for her he would have done, but this was asking too much. Insensibly his hold on her loosened, and almost gone as she was, she noticed it.

‘Oh, Dave, Dave!’ Such a pitiful wail as it was, it went to his heart. ‘Kiss me, Dave. I wouldn't—hamper—you—Dave. Kiss me—kiss me!’

There was no one to see. It was a matter between himself and her, and she took him for another man. Her life was over. What could it matter if he did soothe her last moments?




  ― 219 ―

He drew her close to his breast again and stooped and kissed her gently, and she put up her lips to meet his. She had never done so before—never, never. And that was the way women loved! She nestled closer to him, and tried to put a feeble arm round his neck.

‘Hold me tight. Hold—me—tight. What is it? Oh, what is—it?

He tried to pour some more brandy down her throat, but she had lost the power to swallow. The cough came again, and he thought, as she lay back after it had gone, that she was dead; but no, she rallied again.

Her hands stole to his face again, and rested on the deep scar which seamed his left cheek. It was something new to her, and pity and perplexity came into the dying eyes.

‘Oh, Dave, Dave! does—it—hurt?

‘Hurt! Oh, child! My God! my God!’

‘Poor Dave—my—poor—boy!’

She tried to put her arms up again, but her strength was all gone, and he could but put his face down to hers and try and soothe her. Then there was a brief struggle for breath, and he held her up so that the cold wind blew right on her face; but it was the last struggle. She was going, going fast. One more look of infinite love from the dying eyes, one more incoherent tender murmur of ‘Dave, Dave!’ and it was all over.

The brief sad life was done—the tragedy had been played out to its bitter end.

He carried her back to the stretcher, drew his cloak close round her, and spread the bright Rob Roy plaid over all. Then he went outside into the pouring rain,


  ― 220 ―
and leaned against the doorpost of the hut, looking down into the crackling flames.

So it was all over—all over—he kept repeating to himself. It was better so—better so; there could be no other ending; he would not have had it different; but—but—she was dead, and it was best, best, best. Not nineteen, and it was best she should be dead! The words were whirling through his brain, they were written in letters of fire before his eyes. His wife lay dead in the wretched hut alone there—his wife, his wife, he repeated the words again; and every man would speak of her with contemptuous pity.

Chapter VIII

Weeds upon the Grave.

I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.’

   ‘Macbeth.’

How long he stood there he never knew, but he was roused at length by a hand on his arm, and, raising his eyes, saw the Commissioner standing before him, and behind him one or two troopers, and a man he dimly recognised as the doctor spoken of by Ottaway.

‘Hallo, sergeant!’ The Commissioner's voice had a ring of pity in it. ‘Why, you're wet through! Where's your flask?’

He looked about him vaguely, dimly remembering he had dropped it on the ground when the girl died. The Commissioner picked it up, but the brandy had all been spilt.

‘Here's mine!’ He took it mechanically, and it seemed to put a little life into him. ‘Come, tell me, what's the meaning of this?’




  ― 221 ―

‘He's got clean away.’ He heard his own voice as if someone else were speaking. ‘He's got clean away, and’—that other man seemed to have great difficulty in speaking at all—‘and——’

‘And Ottaway says you found your—— He deserted the girl.’

‘Yes, sir.’

He moved aside as if to let them pass.

‘Come, let me look at the girl,’ said the man they called Chunky Smith.

He turned round then, and led the way into the hut, the Commissioner and the doctor following; for he was a doctor, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, London; but when the troopers would have come too, Commissioner Ruthven waved them back. It would be quite hard enough if they two strangers looked on the end of this man's story.

‘The trooper told me she was very ill,’ said the doctor.

‘She's dead, sir,’ said the sergeant quietly, and he turned back the shawl and opened his heavy cloak. So gently he did it. The Commissioner, looking down at the still, white, peaceful face, could not but remember the frantic man who had rushed into his tent two months ago, accusing himself of the murder of his wife.

‘You did not, sergeant, you——’

‘No, sir; I did what I could. I—I—— My God! she was dying when I got here.’

The doctor bent down and examined her, and the two men stood quietly looking on.

‘H'm,’ he said at last, ‘inflammation of the lungs, failure of the heart's action—call it what you will. It was exposure, really—it all comes to the same thing in the end. She was ill before, and last night


  ― 222 ―
without any shelter—you can't call this humpy shelter—finished her. Only a shawl like that between her and the weather! It must have been a cruel hard night.’

‘Ottaway found the shawl this morning out by the creek,’ said the sergeant monotonously.

‘You wrapped her up, then?’

‘Yes.’

‘It was too late. Nothing could have saved her. After all, it was best. Such a child as she was;’ and he drew the covering over the fair dead face again.

There was nothing for it but to go back to camp again.

‘I'll send down four men with a stretcher for the body,’ said the Commissioner.

‘Couldn't we bury her here, sir?’ said the sergeant. ‘What need——’

‘Well, yes, if you like. I'll send down a burying party this evening. Come along, sergeant.’

The sergeant hesitated.

‘If you please, sir,’ he said with an evident effort, ‘if you have no objection, I'd rather stay. I can't leave—I mean, I——’

‘As you please, sergeant.’

Then they left him with his dead, which was all his now, and went back up the slippery steep hillside in the wintry rain.

‘Good Lord!’ said the Commissioner, ‘to think of his stopping, after all! I'll send that burying party along pretty smartly. I can't have my sergeant knocked up. And the pity of it is, she wasn't worth a second thought from any man.’

‘He looked fit to cut his throat when he turned down that shawl,’ said the young fellow beside him pitifully; ‘that's always the way, isn't it? A man


  ― 223 ―
always comes a cropper over a woman who ain't worth a tuppeny cuss. It's the way of the world, I suppose. Will you catch the man?’

‘Who can tell?’ said the Commissioner. ‘It's evident he don't allow much to stand in his way. The brute made off with the blankets on a night like last night. I'm afraid he may be trusted to save his own skin.’

That was much the opinion at the Lucky Digger.

Buck Carter said he could not afford to close the place simply because his daughter, who wasn't any daughter of his since she'd run off with a man like Black Anderson, had up and died, and so things were even more lively than usual. There was so much to be discussed, and everybody required so much liquid sustenance to aid in that discussion. Of the poor girl lying out in her grave in the gully, very few thought, any more than they thought of the solitary man up in the police camp sitting over his lonely fire reviewing bitterly his life. What they talked of was the probability of Black Anderson's capture, and the possibility of his guilt.

Pard Derrick sat silently by the fire. He was not keen on his share of the business being made known, and he was bitterly repentant that he had not gone to the sergeant the night before. He might have saved the girl's life, though, indeed, she was better dead. Careless fellow as he was, he felt she was better sleeping quietly down in that lonely gully, with the earth piled up above her face; but, still, what a night she must have passed, what a cruel, hard night before it ended! And the talk went on all around him; no one thought of her, only Sal Carter's eyes were red, and she was extra snappy, and was very sure that lynching was too good for Black Anderson.

‘Never fear, missus,’ said Snaky Bill soothingly;


  ― 224 ―
‘we'll lynch 'im sure as fate, if the sergeant don't shoot him on sight, which I reckon he will. He ain't goin' to get away. If he didn't get clear of those ranges an' gullies in the hot weather, I reckon he ain't agoin' to do it now.’

‘Tell you what it is, mates,’ said Pard Derrick, speaking for the first time, ‘the man as took that poor sick gal's blankets a night like last night is just the sort of mean skunk as 'd shoot a man down in his tracks, ain't he, now?’

There was a general chorus of assent.

Chunky Smith had told of the scene down in the gully. Public sympathy was with the sergeant, for all he was a ‘trap,’ and public opinion was very much against Black Anderson. He had taken away the only girl on the camp, the girl they had most of them never dared to lift their eyes to, and if he had not murdered her, he had certainly left her to die; had taken away the blankets—he, a strong powerful man—and had left her sick, dying, without so much as a shawl to cover her.

Yes, public opinion was very much against Black Anderson. The police need fear no obstacles in their way now, and even had Pard Derrick proclaimed there and then his share in the betrayal, not much harm would have been done. But he kept his own counsel, and went on:

‘But he ain't agoin' to be took; bless you! he knows a sight more'n that. Bet you what you like, the man as murdered old Max ain't never taken.’

‘I'll bet you what you like,’ said Chunky Smith, ‘if there's a rope in the colony that 'll hang him, the sergeant is going to find it. What else has he got to live for? I reckon he'll track him down, if he's anywhere in the colony. Lord! if I were Black Anderson,


  ― 225 ―
I wouldn't reckon myself safe as long as Sergeant Sells was above-ground.’

‘My colonial, Chunky,’ said Pard Derrick, turning round, ‘you seem to be pretty cock-sure. Now, to my mind, the sergeant was that broke when he came back to camp, he was just about fit to turn up his toes.’

‘It'll make an old man of him, maybe,’ said the doctor thoughtfully. ‘But there's a lot of go in him yet, and he's not like you young fellows who can afford to forgive and forget. I saw his face when he turned down the shawl and showed me the dead girl's face, and I knew he was going to remember it, and to remember it to some purpose, though I dare say he doesn't think so yet.’

The sergeant sat in his house, and thought the self-same thoughts. His fire had died down to the tiniest spark, the wind howled round the chimney and whistled through the crack beneath the door, and the rain beat drearily against the window-panes. Such a night, just such a night it had been last night, and that frail girl had battled through it all alone. And now she was dead—dead before she was nineteen; and he—an old man—was left. Such a brief life hers had been, so brief and so unhappy. She had spoiled his life for him—oh yes, she had spoiled his life; but he had not met her till that life had more than run half its course, and he—he had stepped in and helped to spoil hers at the very threshold. It was no excuse to say he had meant well; he judged himself by the result. And the wind, that beat in stormy gusts against the window and shook the door, said to him plainly that his very love had sacrificed her. He should have known, he should have seen that a child like that was


  ― 226 ―
no fit wife for him, that the seven-and-twenty years that lay between them was too great a gulf even for his mighty love to bridge.

And so she had fallen, as he might have known she would—poor little ignorant, loving girl!—and she had paid the penalty.

Out there she lay, out in the cold wet gully, the girl he would have surrounded with every comfort; and he laid his head down on the table as he thought of what she must have suffered first, of how he had found her deserted and dying. He blamed himself—blamed himself bitterly; but he was not alone to blame—there was that other man. If it had not been for him—if it had not been for him, would she not have been in time a happy wife, might he not have sat his children upon his knee? No, no—a thousand times no!—wailed the wind round the roof; but the thought would come that it might have been, and now he could only wish that he, too, were lying in that gully at rest. Life held nothing for him—no hope, not the faintest chance of happiness. He had staked all, and he had lost—miserably lost.

There was one thing only he had to do, and then—and then—— He drew out his revolver and looked at it longingly. Why not? What use to go on living?

But no, not yet. One thing more he had to do before he had done with life, and he pushed back the chair and walked up and down the hut. He would track down the man who had done him this foul wrong; he would have vengeance! No vengeance—nothing, he felt—could ever right the wrong, could ever bring back to life the girl he had laid down in her grave that afternoon, could make her his stainless wife again. Nothing could do that—nothing could undo what had been done; but there only remained


  ― 227 ―
to him vengeance, and he would have it. Up and down he marched half the livelong night, listening to the howling wind and the pitiless rain, thinking of it all, till he flung himself on his bed and, worn out with very weariness, slept.

Chapter IX

On the Track.

Let a man contend to the uttermost
For his life's set prize, be it what it will.’

   Browning.

AND the next day the spell of wet weather had passed, and it was fine again. Overhead was a cloudless blue sky, the earth looked fresh and green, and the air was light and fresh, like champagne. It was a beautiful world. So thought Commissioner Ruthven. His promotion was sure; the woman he loved loved him with all her heart, and her love was well worth having. His wedding-day was close at hand, and he was pretty sure now of taking the Wooragee murderer. The man had baffled all his vigilance for the last five months; but now—now this last sin had raised the country against him. There would be none to help him, and he must be taken.

He thought of the girl—well, well, poor little soul! such women as she were better dead—and of the sergeant. The man's face haunted him. It was cruel—cruel! He was not a man to make any moan. He would wrap himself in his reserve, and they would respect it; but ‘he looked fit to cut his throat,’ the doctor had said, and the Commissioner wondered if he had done so. Many a man would; he couldn't have much to live for. But at least he would be interested


  ― 228 ―
in the tracking down of his enemy. It would be kindness to interest him so, if it were possible; and he thought, with a shudder, of the long day the man had spent down in the gully alone with his dead, of the dreary night alone in his desolate home. It was not as if he had not cared—oh, he had cared enough! Commissioner Ruthven never doubted that for a moment.

Then he called his orderly, and sent him for the sergeant, wondering a little to himself whether he would be fit for duty. And he lighted his pipe, and, drawing aside the tent-curtain, sat in the sunshine drinking in the fresh, clear air. Such a beautiful day—such a bright, clear day! It hardly seemed possible that anyone could be unhappy such a day as this.

Sergeant Flynn came along and saluted.

‘Was yer honour askin' for me?’

‘No, Flynn; it was Sells I sent for.’

‘Oh, the crathur'! Sure it's broke up he is, I'm thinkin', intirely.’

‘Nonsense! Hold your tongue! Here he comes.’

Sergeant Sells came very quietly across from his hut to the Commissioner's tent. The ground was sloppy and muddy, and he picked his way from force of habit, so as not to dirty his clean riding-boots. For very nearly thirty years he had been accustomed to keep his boots spotless, and now, even though it seemed to him he had almost done with life, that it held nothing for him, he still thought of keeping his boots clean.

‘Good-morning, sergeant.’

‘Good-morning, sir.’

He spoke very quietly, but the Commissioner saw a great change had come over the man. He was upright and soldierly as ever, but his face was drawn and lined, and the black hair was nearly white now;


  ― 229 ―
his eyes seemed sunken with long watching, and there was a gray look on his face, while the livid scar stood out on his cheek more marked than formerly. This was an old man who stood before him, a strong man still, but one who had lived his life. And a woman had done this, a little slatternly girl, whom half the camp counted simple.

Commissioner Ruthven racked his brains to know what to say next. It was only kindness to ignore the past where it was possible, and yet to expect this man to go on with the every-day duties of life seemed hardly considerate; but what else could he do? And while he was silent and disturbed, the man he was thinking of came to his aid.

‘There was a free fight last night, sir, I hear, down at the Lucky Digger, and a man was rather badly hurt.’

‘Oh! does he accuse anybody?’

‘I hear it was only a drunken brawl, but he's like to die. Will you take his deposition?’

‘Yes,’ said Ruthven indifferently.

If these men would drink and fight, well, they must take the consequences.

Then there was a pause, and it seemed to the Commissioner that the sergeant was fearing, dreading the moment when his own particular sorrow should be touched on; but it had to come. The name of Black Anderson could not well be ignored in the camp when it was in everybody's thoughts, on everybody's lips.

‘Sergeant!’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘We must make it our business to take old Max's murderer now. The creeks are all up, they'll be worse in a day or two, and it'll be a slur on the camp if we don't get him now. If he didn't get away before, he


  ― 230 ―
can't possibly do it now that the country side's against him.’

‘Against him, sir?’

‘Against him! Good Lord, yes! They were with him before, or someone must have helped him from Deadman's; but I don't think he's got any friends left now. This last—well, anyhow, it was a brutal murder, just as cold-blooded as they make 'em, and we're bound to have him.’

The Commissioner would not look, but he felt rather than saw that the sergeant was flinching as one who had been touched on the raw.

He said ‘Yes, sir,’ mechanically, and Ruthven went on:

‘Have you any idea which way he went when he left the hut the night before last?’

‘No, sir.’

He thought of the wet and sodden shawl Ottaway had found by the creek. Had she been trying to follow him and dropped it, or had he carried it away with him and dropped it? Anyhow, either he or she must have passed that way, and the gray look deepened on his face. He knew his officer was trying to spare him, but what matter whether he spoke of it or not? that rain-soaked gully, that cold and dreary hut, were ever in his mind, ever before his eyes.

‘He's probably,’ said the Commissioner thoughtfully, ‘made his way to the gullies over between Karouda and the Packhorse; they're the loneliest;’ and he thought of a certain terrible night, six months ago now, he had spent up among those hills.

But the sergeant thought of that sodden Rob Roy plaid, and the footsteps that had passed that way had been going northwards.

‘I think, sir, he's making for the Murray. He wants


  ― 231 ―
to cross the border. He won't be so well known on the Sydney side.’

‘Well, but he'd never be such a fool as that! Why, we'd nab him the minute he got clear of the gullies; they're his only safeguard.’

‘He'll starve in them now — that — that’ — the sergeant remembered he had promised not to betray Pard Derrick—‘he can't get—he won't expect any help from the creek.’

‘No, but to go north! He'd have a much better chance of losing his identity among the station-hands and making his way to the diggings to the south. I think we must keep the main look-out that way.’

‘Well, sir,’ said the sergeant reluctantly, ‘Ottaway picked up the shawl, and—and the person who dropped that was making in the other direction.’

‘That—that was the girl's;’ and the Commissioner looked away over the camp and watched intently the men who were pulling goods and chattels out of the way of the swollen waters of the creek.

‘He might have taken it,’ said Sells monotonously, ‘or—or—she might have followed him—and——’

‘Any way, you think someone passed that way. Thank you, sergeant; I agree with you. We'll keep a good look-out, and we'll catch him and hang him as high as Haman. You are not ill?’ and the Commissioner scrutinized him carefully.

‘No, sir.’

‘Feel fit for duty?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Because—— Oh, well, perhaps you're right. Take a couple of men and ride down towards Mitalagong. There's a shepherd's hut along that way, and one or two hatters in the gullies there where he might get rations.’




  ― 232 ―

So the sergeant called his men, and had the horses saddled, and they set off in the direction of Mitalagong, which was away past Wooragee and by the garden of old Max. Some Chinamen had got it now, and as he rode slowly along the road with down-bent head he thought of the dusty day when he had ridden that way six months before—the day he had thought to give Jenny Carter a basket of cherries; the day old Max was murdered; the day his sorrows had begun.

It was winter now, a bright, clear, sparkling winter's day; the cold air fanned his cheek, but the sunshine was warm and bright—a perfect day. If he had not done with life, he might have found enjoyment in it; but as it was, he rode on, wrapped in his own thoughts, and heard dimly the voices of the two men as they rode behind him, talking quietly to each other. They were discussing his affairs, probably—it was the camp talk; but it did not seem to him to matter much. They would not address him. He had one thing to do, and then he would quit the mounted police.

At Wooragee the Chinamen had heard nothing and seen no one, and the troopers crossed the ridge and went down into the gully beyond. Here were some abandoned claims, and among them worked that lonely being known as a hatter, just making his living on the little that more grasping men had left behind. Opposite his cradle, which he was slowly and discontentedly rocking beside a dam, for there was no creek here, the troopers drew rein.

‘Hallo, mate!’ said the sergeant.

‘Hallo, yourself,’ said the man sullenly, with the regular digger suspicion of ‘traps’ and all connected with them.

‘Has anyone passed this way to-day?’

‘Lord, yes!’ said the digger, scratching his head;


  ― 233 ―
‘mighty sociable place this is! There was a bandicoot, and two crows, and I seen a flight of rosellas, and I heard no end of dingoes in the ranges.’

The sergeant took his cap off impatiently and let the cold wind blow through his hair. How could the man fool after this manner?

‘We are looking,’ he said gravely, ‘for the murderer of German Max, and we have reason to believe he passed this way.’

‘That's a mighty old story,’ said the digger, letting go the cradle-handle and sitting down on a mound of earth. ‘Take your time, gentlemen. You've been at that little game to my certain knowledge for the last six months. I'll have no hand in the business. Hounding down an innocent man!’

‘Go into the camp at Deadman's,’ said the sergeant quietly, ‘and ask the boys there if we're hounding down an innocent man.’

‘Well, I'm out of flour, and I'm agoing this very night,’ said the digger. ‘Now, just you look here: Black Dave ain't passed this way, and if he had, Peter Grimes ain't the man as 'd go back on a pal as the traps have a down on. But he ain't passed this way.’

‘Go down into the camp,’ repeated the sergeant monotonously, ‘and ask them there what they think of Black Anderson, and then see if you'll help him.’

‘You're getting an old man, sergeant,’ scoffed the digger, who had nothing to lose, and so feared no man. ‘Your beard's got white since last I seen you. They'll be running you out of the force right smart, if you don't look out.’

‘See to yourself,’ said the sergeant. ‘If you help him, you're harbouring a criminal, and are liable to imprisonment. Come, men! If he hasn't passed this way, and I don't think he has,’ he went on,


  ― 234 ―
speaking over his shoulder as they rode away, ‘he must be still somewhere between here and the gully over under Digger's Point. We'll camp over on the ridge there, and keep a sharp look-out.’

So they camped out in the open to get the benefit of the sunshine, and the troopers built a fire and cooked the mid-day meal, while their superior officer sat on a log with his hands before him and pondered how he could best lay hands on this man. Steadily, steadily the little ants at his feet took advantage of the fine day to repair the damage the rain had done to their home, and to bring in fresh provisions against another rainy day, and he watched them intently. As they worked, so he would work—work till he had accomplished his object, and then—and then—well, then he would be old and broken—the mounted police force would want him no more.

And if he had only known it, close within pistol-shot lay hidden the very man he wanted, watching eagerly the troopers' dinner.

Chapter X

The Flight of Black Anderson.

Ah, hark! the fatal followers do pursue;
And I am faint and cannot fly their fury;
The sands are number'd, that make up my life;
Here must I stay, and here my life must end.’

   ‘Henry VI.’ Shakespeare.

WHEN Dave had flung off Jenny down in the gully as a useless encumbrance, it had been, as Sergeant Sells was right in thinking, with the intention of crossing the border into New South Wales. And for the first


  ― 235 ―
hour he made his way steadily up the hill in the pouring rain, a fierce anger boiling in his heart against the man who would betray him, and the woman who had put the means into his hands. Had he not loved her and trusted her, had he not taken her to share his home with him, given her half of all he himself possessed? And the first moment she is tempted she has betrayed him. Never trust a woman—never, never! It is a good old adage, whose worth has been proved a thousand times: she'll betray you because she hates you, she'll betray you because she loves you, she'll betray you for no reason, or for a thousand reasons. The man who has any truck with a woman is bound to come to grief.

The hillside was slippery with the pouring rain, and as his feet slid from under him, he laid that to her score too. But for her, he would not have been out in this rain; but for her, he would have been sleeping comfortably between the blankets in his hut, with a comfortable fire in the doorway; but for her, Pard Derrick would have gone on supplying him with provisions till the hue and cry should be forgotten, and he could have slipped away down south to the fields of Ballarat or Bendigo; but for her—— And as his foot slipped again, and he came down on his face, he swore an oath to be revenged on her.

She would go back to her husband; let him take her back. She was enough to weary any man; it was better to be out here in the rain, a hunted man, than alone in the hut with her, with nothing to do but listen to her trying to suppress that cough, or watching the patient smile upon her face that wore out his patience. These last few weeks had been enough to kill any man; he was glad they were over. She would be cold, too, without a fire and without any


  ― 236 ―
blankets. Well, let her; she would realize then something of what he was suffering now.

The ground was so slippery it was with difficulty he kept a foothold, and at each slip that he made he swore an oath, for he felt that he was making a path it would not take a black tracker to follow. But, still, there was safety in the rain. They would never get the trackers to work in the rain, and if it only held on another day and night they would be useless.

At the top of the hill he sat down to rest, panting. The hill was covered with close-growing scrub and timber, so light it hardly formed any shelter; but at last, when he was drenched to the skin, and more than certain that the rain had got under the oil cloth that covered his blankets, he found a hollow tree, and getting inside, built a small fire outside at which to warm and dry himself. He did it in fear and trembling, for he knew well enough how far the light of a fire will carry even on a night like this; but it was so wet and wintry, and he was so done with the unaccustomed exertion, that he felt he must risk something. Then, cosy and warm, he dozed for two or three hours, though even in his dreams the thought haunted him that Pard Derrick knew he was a murderer, and would put the police on his track, and that even now they might be hunting up the gully.

He woke wide awake more than once, and listened intently, but there was nothing to be heard but the fizzing of the fire as the rain-drops fell upon it, and the sound the rain made trickling down the tree which sheltered him. Occasionally, too, there came out of the depths of the bush strange and weird sounds that struck on his ear fearsomely as he listened intently. A branch broke, weighed down by a weight of water; some night-bird cried; a stone dislodged by the rain


  ― 237 ―
went crashing down through the brushwood. Pooh! he had heard these same sounds a thousand times, only to-night—to-night, with the thought that the police would have more knowledge of his whereabouts and his habits than they had yet had—they struck on him dismally.

About three o'clock in the morning he could stay no longer, but, gathering up his blankets, started out into the rain again. He was on the top of the ridge now; he fully intended to make north. Once across the border he thought he would be safe. He ought to have gone long ago, when he had Pard Derrick to help him, and he cursed his folly in bringing the girl to be a plaything who proved a weight round his neck. Well, he was rid of her now—now, when his old mate would raise the country against him!

He could not make south; he could not dream of such a thing. He could only go northward by Wooragee and Mitalagong; in the lonely gullies there the stray diggers would likely know nothing about him, or if they did they would not recognise him, or, again, even if they did, it would be a fair fight—a man against a man—and it would go hard with him if he could not get his tucker. He was a desperate man, and nothing should stand in his way.

That was his difficulty—food; he had none—none at all. In his hasty flight he had omitted to take so much as an ounce of tea or a pannikin of flour, and to-morrow morning he must try for some food. He might stick up the Chinamen at Wooragee; but no, that was too risky—too near Deadman's. Far better to go into the gully beyond, where he knew Peter Grimes hung out—Surly Pete, as they had called him at Deadman's—and beg, borrow, or steal from him enough tucker to carry him across the Murray.




  ― 238 ―

The idea pleased him. Surly Pete, though he might not give graciously, would give, especially when he knew the ‘traps’ were pressing him hard, and there was no need to tell him Pard Derrick had gone back on him and slipped him up. Once beyond Mitalagong, it seemed to him his difficulties would be almost over. Why, oh why, when it was so easy, had he not made a bid for freedom before? Bitterly he blamed himself. He might have done the same thing almost any time the last five months; but he had feared, he had feared, and he had trusted Pard Derrick's judgment. Well, at any rate he had been driven to it now, and he felt it was a good thing.

His spirits rose as he walked on and felt that every step was so much gained. Once away from Mitalagong, it would be hard if he could not steal a horse somewhere to carry him across the border. If that —— girl had not lost the gold-bag, he would have had gold in plenty, and would not have needed to steal, but she had driven him to this; it was her sin, not his; it was an added grievance against her.

And the rain came down as steadily as ever; the wind blew in stormy gusts, and more than once he had to turn aside because of the water-courses the rain was wearing in the hillside. He must have a horse, certainly; the creeks would be almost impassable in many places, and without a horse he would never get away, though certainly a horse would not be much good in a place like this. It was almost worse coming down hill than going up. There was only one consolation: it was going down; there was the high ridge he had just crossed between him and his enemies. But it was pitch dark and bitterly cold; it was midwinter, and the day would not break much before seven, and he had ten long miles through


  ― 239 ―
scrub and brushwood before he reached Surly Pete's hut in the gully below there.

The present prospect was not invigorating. He shook his fist angrily as he slipped again; then in the darkness his foot caught in a root which was above-ground, and in a moment he was thrown forcibly on his face, twisting his ankle so, in the endeavour to keep his balance, that he could not repress a cry of pain. For a moment he lay there head downwards on the hillside, his hands grasping at the clayey soil—at the shrubs and brushwood that grew so close around him. Then he scrambled to his knees, and found to his horror and dismay, when he tried to put his right foot to the ground, that not only was he unable to walk, but that every movement gave him such exquisite pain he could only sit down and rock himself backwards and forwards, moaning, and groaning, and cursing the man, and above all the woman, who had driven him to this.

Again he tried, and again, for if he failed to reach Pete's, then he was indeed lost; and if he stayed here, even if he were not found, he must perish miserably of hunger and cold. Again and again the pain made him sit down with a moan, and the rain beat pitilessly down on him. He was wet before; sitting now on the damp clayey soil, he was soaked through and through, and yet in an hour's time he had not gone ten yards. He gave up at last, and, crawling about painfully on his hands and knees, managed in the darkness to rake together enough brushwood to give himself a little shelter from the rain. Sitting down, he took out his knife and cut off his boot. It gave him too much pain to try and pull it off, and his ankle was all swollen, and his foot was swelling rapidly. He thought he must have


  ― 240 ―
broken a bone somewhere, and a cold fear came over him as he thought how impossible it would be to elude the police with a broken leg.

Even if he managed to crawl as far as Surly Pete's, what then? He could not hope to lie hidden there for long; the police must find him eventually; and in any case he could not reach there before the day broke; now he would not have a chance before the next night, and he had not a scrap of food. Already he was hungry almost beyond bearing, he was starved with the cold, and his box of matches was soaked with the rain; everything he possessed had got wet through in that last fall. There was no prospect of its clearing; it rained as hard as ever. He could not stop here another twenty-four hours, and he started up and struggled on down the hill, sometimes hopping on one leg, sometimes scrambling along on hands and knees.

But his progress was painfully slow. After he had been at it it seemed the livelong night, Dave had got but a very little farther down the hill: his hands were torn and scratched, his bones were aching with the unaccustomed exertion, and, above all, the scrub seemed to shut him in and close down on him on every side. He endeavoured to keep a downward direction, but every now and then he found himself turning upwards, and at last, utterly worn out, he lay down under the lee of a log where there was some little protection from the rain, and from very weariness he slept. It was a disturbed and troubled sleep, for again and again the pain in his foot awoke him, and again he dreamed that the police were upon him, and once, for the first time since he had done the murder, the gory face of old German Max came to him through the misty rain threatening him. It


  ― 241 ―
seemed to him that the old man had tied his gold-bag—that bag which had cost him his life—to his leg, and the pain of it was weighing him down, while the mounted police were coming over the hill with the sergeant he had wronged at their head. Nothing, nothing could save him, and he started up in wild affright, crying aloud, only to find that dull gray day was breaking through the rainclouds, that the rain was coming down as steadily as ever, and, though the police were not upon him, his foot was cruelly painful, and here he must stay for another twelve hours at the very least.

He felt about in his pocket for tobacco, and found a little; but his pipe was useless, for his matches would not light, and he could only cut off a piece and chew it to keep off hunger, and lie there feeling the cold water trickle under his shelter, and watching the light grow broader and broader. And it rained on pitilessly, and the wind every now and then came up in great gusts that tore off branches from the forest trees and pierced through his very bones. Not much fear of his being found so long as he lay still, but he would die of cold and exposure if he lay here long, and even if he had had the means, he would hardly have dared light a fire.

Colder and colder he grew, till he rose to his knees with the intention of at least making an effort to get on a little way, when a crashing in the scrub above made him sink down in his lair again, and then through the brushwood he saw two troopers scrambling, swearing to each other as they shook the rain off their heavy cloaks and pushed the dripping branches away from their faces. Between them was a black tracker, his head sunk between his shoulders, looking


  ― 242 ―
as miserable as only a blackfellow can in the cold and wet. The other two were pushing him before them, but it was evident to the quarry, who saw it with no little satisfaction, that the blackfellow was most unwilling, and was certainly not making the faintest effort to help. Even in this rain he might have seen the track had he so pleased; but he did not please; he whined like a child, and wrung his hands because it was cold and wet.

Quite close they came, closer a great deal than the listening man liked, and he could hear every word they said.

Chapter XI

At Fault.

There is no creature loves me,
And, if I die, no soul shall pity me.’

   ‘Richard III.’

‘IT'S no go, Ottaway,’ said one of the troopers, shaking the wet out of his beard; ‘this beggar's worse than useless. And I don't see any sign, do you?’

‘Well, no,’ said Ottaway, looking around; ‘the Commissioner never thought it was much good coming this way. But I can't help thinking of that there shawl I found. That was on the road.’

‘The gal was foolin' around looking for the skunk in the dark, and she dropped it, and being pretty nigh gone then, didn't take much notice, poor little beggar!’

‘That's about it, I guess,’ said Ottaway reluctantly. ‘Well, it's not much good foolin' about here. Besides, likely as not we wouldn't see him if he were close handy drawing a bead on us.’

The other man laughed.




  ― 243 ―

‘Pleasant suggestion that for a rainy day! However, he wouldn't be such a fool as that. He'd have to reckon with the other man, even if this son of a sea-cook here didn't come up to scratch;’ and the trooper hit Bill Bunting a heavy smack in the back that made him groan again.

Closer they came — closer, closer — till the man crouching beneath the log felt they must see him if they were only in earnest and used their eyes. The sergeant would have seen him, he felt that; but the sergeant was a man with a bitter wrong to avenge; these men were cold and wet, and sure they had been sent on a fool's errand.

‘It's no go,’ said Ottaway, coming to a standstill within twenty feet of where the fugitive crouched. ‘We'll lay it into that beggar's hide, Jackson, for skulking so, and go back. It ain't no go.’

‘It's jolly cold, I know that,’ said Jackson, enjoying Bill Bunting's terror, ‘and a good hiding 'd warm Bill, wouldn't it? Oh, d—— the sergeant, say I, and the sergeant's wife, and the sergeant's wife's lover. Come on, old man!’

Then they turned up the hill again, and Black Anderson hugged himself on his narrow escape. And then he burst out into loud curses against Pard Derrick. He had betrayed him, then, he had; he would get away; he would get well; he would come back some day and take vengeance to the uttermost out of his false friend. All that he was suffering now—and he was suffering—Pard Derrick should suffer tenfold.

And the day wore on, and the cold grew worse, and the hunger was almost more than he could bear. The time seemed to pass so slowly, and after the experience of the morning he did not dare to move. Of course, it was hardly likely any more troopers would come


  ― 244 ―
that way, but, still, there was no knowing. He knew there were plenty in camp, he knew the Commissioner was vigilant, he knew he would leave no stone unturned to capture him, and the least thing might send them back to search this gully again; they might find the ashes of his last night's fire; they could see for themselves how new it was, even if Bill Bunting had not sufficient energy to point it out.

And if they found that—he shivered in his impotent helplessness—they would have no difficulty in following up the track he had made; it was as easily to be distinguished as a main road. Then he strained his ears and listened, till he could hear his own heart beating, till every little dropping leaf or breaking twig was magnified a thousand-fold. A crash, as of some breaking branch, sent him scrambling down hill regardless of the foot which he could not put to the ground. Then, ten yards further on he changed his mind: his safety lay in stillness, they might pass him by as they had done before; and he listened again and all was silent, save for the tapping of some bird or insect in the tree overhead.

He saw a hollow tree, and painfully made his way to it; at least, inside it was fairly dry, and he spread his damp blankets and tried to instil a little warmth into his frozen body. Worse and worse grew his foot—he thought he must have given it another wrench, for even to touch it gave him pain—and he groaned and moaned as he crouched in the hollow tree there and looked out on the pouring rain.

He had no idea of the time, and there was no sun to guide him; it might equally easily be ten o'clock in the morning or five in the evening, only he was so hungry. He had had nothing since yesterday afternoon, and then not much—Jenny, d—— her! had


  ― 245 ―
cooked it so badly. He had done better without her. Then he thought of what the troopers had said, ‘Pretty nigh gone then, poor little beggar!’ Was she dead, then? Looked like it. But why should she die, when he had done everything he could for her, too? And he took it as a personal insult to himself that she should even think about dying. Dead? Not she—not she!

Still the thought haunted him; the pain in his foot seemed to make him think of it. And when he dozed—as he did doze in spite of the fear, and the pain, and the cold—her face rose up before him, hers and that other gory face which he could only see dimly through the mist, and they watched beside him, and he could not drive them away. It seemed to him the day would never end—it seemed to him he had been lying here years; then the rain grew worse, and the darkness, driven before a howling wind, closed down upon him suddenly.

It was night again, nearly four-and-twenty hours since he had left the hut down under Digger's Point, and they had not searched the gully again; or if they had, they had not found him. And now was his chance to get away to Mitalagong, now or never. He must do it to-night.

He set about the business in a systematic way. With infinite difficulty he succeeded in breaking off a small sapling which might serve as a stick to support him, and he tore a strip from his blanket and made a sort of sling to rest his lame foot in, and slowly and painfully hobbled off. It was steep and rough, and he could only go very slowly—very slowly; every now and then he had to pause and rest; every now and then he went down on his hands and knees and tried that mode of progression. And it was ten miles to


  ― 246 ―
Surly Pete's—a good ten miles—over rough country. Should he ever accomplish it?

He was very soon wet to the skin, and soon he was obliged to abandon his blankets as an intolerable burden, and as the night wore on he lost consciousness from very weariness. His only care was to keep in the general direction; he managed that, and then sometimes it seemed to him, as he hobbled along painfully, that someone came and walked along beside him, mocking him, calling attention to his helplessness, and jeering him. Was it Jenny? Or the sergeant? Or, worst of all, German Max, with his face all covered with blood? He shut his eyes to bar out the vision; he shouted to drive it away. But it was there—it was there; it clutched at him in the darkness, as Jenny had clutched the night before, and he could not undo the clinging hands. Then he knelt down, he grovelled on the ground, and made the gully ring with his shouts. What did he care if it brought the police down on him? He would be glad, thankful; anything would be better than this loneliness—anything that would take away those clinging hands.

Again he would rouse himself, tell himself it was all fancy, born of the cold night, of his hunger, of the pelting rain and bitter wind, and he would be quiet, and crawl on again a little way, fearing only lest he should be going in the wrong direction, lest he should be losing himself amongst this maze of hill and gully. And then a new fear grew upon him, lest as he groped along he might put his hand on German Max's dead face. What was the good of his lying out there, so long after, too? It had done him no good, that gold; Jenny had lost it for him, curse her! and Max was dead; and—and she was dead—they said she was dead! and they both came crying to him — to him—


  ― 247 ―
who could hardly move with the pain in his foot.

He could hardly have told how he reached the foot of the hill, only he knew he did so at last, and then slowly and painfully made his way along the gully. Once over the next ridge he would be able to see Surly Pete's hut—would be within reach of succour. And Pete would not refuse him; even if old Max insisted on coming with him, his old mate would not refuse him. Would he, though? Would he take him in if old Max insisted on coming too? He shuddered and sobbed and moaned to himself; surely he would help him, surely he would, when he found how cold and wet and hungry and ill he was—surely, surely, he would help him! He would drive away these haunting faces, he would remove these clinging hands. He would—— And then another day was born.

A winter's day, truly, but a bright, fresh winter's day. The wretched fugitive, crouching down among the scrub and bracken, could not but feel the genial influence of the sunshine. Hungry, weary, worn as as he was, it put fresh life into him, it drove away the shadows that had haunted him the livelong night, it gave him fresh strength and courage to struggle up the opposite hillside, and then, as he fell faint and weary among the bracken, he could just see the abandoned claims in the gully beyond, and the hut where dwelt the man on whom all his hopes were staked—Surly Pete. There was the hut, there was the dam, there was the man himself slowly rocking his cradle, and—an oath broke from his lips as he saw it—there were three mounted troopers coming slowly up the hill in his direction.

For a moment it seemed to Dave that the troopers must have seen him and were making straight for him,


  ― 248 ―
and in a panic he turned to flee: then a moment's reflection convinced him he had no chance in flight.

They could not possibly have seen him yet, crouching down among the bracken, and if he lay still they might pass along the track, and he would be all the safer because they had been there. But no, they came right on, right up the hill, and he saw quite plainly that the man who rode ahead was Sergeant Sells. Straight on they came—could they possibly have seen?—and on the top of the ridge they dismounted, hitched their horses to a tree, and the two men proceeded to light a fire, while the sergeant moved a little apart and sat down on a log within a stone's-throw of him.

So the clutching hands and the bloody face had led him to this, and here was his enemy, and there was no escaping him. The bright day had dawned so full of promise, but the promise mocked him, and now there was no escape.

Chapter XII

A Post of Observation.

The spirits I have raised abandon me
The spells which I have studied baffle me
The remedy I recked of tortures me.’

   ‘Manfred.’ Byron.

WHEN the billy was boiling, one of the men made the tea, and called:

‘Dinner's ready, sergeant.’

Sergeant Sells raised his head. He had forgotten all about his dinner, had forgotten everything, save that he must find Black Anderson, and that his next move must be to search the gully which Ottaway and Jackson swore they had thoroughly searched the day before. And Ottaway was a good man, though


  ― 249 ―
Jackson was not so brilliant. Still, Ottaway could not be trusted to search as he would.

The fragrant smell of the warm tea came to his nostrils and he paid no attention, though it made the cold, hungry man lying so close to him wild with longing.

‘Ain't you going to have no dinner, sergeant?’

‘All right, Jackson, I'm coming.’

He stood up and looked around him. Down by his claim Surly Pete, too, had built a fire, but he had left it and was coming up the hill towards them. Why? wondered Sergeant Sells. Then he saw he had an axe in his hand, and concluded he wanted more wood for his fire, and from a sort of bravado, a certain desire to show he cared nothing for the ‘traps’ he hated, was coming up to cut it close to where they had camped. The sergeant came a little closer to the fire, and drank his tea and ate the damper and cold mutton the men offered him in silence, watching mechanically Surly Pete's movements. The men watched him too, as they lay along the ground by the fire. They couldn't possibly talk with that silent man sitting between them; he put an effectual stopper on all conversation, and it was so still they could hear the crackling and splitting of the damp wood and the ashes as they dropped down in the fire. There was nothing to do but watch Peter Grimes move about among the bracken, giving a chop here and there in an aimless sort of fashion that convinced the sergeant more than ever it was all bravado on his part. Why should he come to the top of the hill for his wood, when he might just as easily have got it at the foot?

And, in truth, Peter Grimes could hardly have told himself why he had come. He saw the smoke of their fire, and the idea came to him that he would go and


  ― 250 ―
see what the ‘traps’ were doing and why they had camped there. Why not? He had as good a right on the ridge as they had, an honest man like him; and maybe he might pick up some information that would be useful to Black Dave, whom he knew but slightly, but whom he fully intended to help should he come that way. So he shouldered his axe and marched bravely up the hillside till he came abreast of the fire with the three silent men around it. They all three looked at him; they followed his every movement simply because there was absolutely nothing else to watch, and without any sinister intention whatever. The sergeant, indeed, hardly thought what he was doing, but the scrutiny troubled Pete. He slashed wildly at the poor little messmate saplings, he chopped at old logs that were hard as iron, he turned the edge of his axe, and then he swore to himself, for he remembered he could not carry very much wood down the hill, and that his actions must look suspicious to those watching troopers.

He found a log he might lift, and he laid it down not far from them; that was the beginning of his stack, and he looked round for another. A small messmate among the bracken attracted his attention; he would have that, and he shuffled across—he was a little lame—and raised his axe to strike.

Then he saw something that made him drop it with a loud grunt that the troopers heard quite plainly, for down there, crouching among the bracken, with only that messmate as shelter between him and the men from whom he was so evidently hiding, was a man lying perfectly flat, lifting up wild, bloodshot, appealing eyes to him. His lips moved, but dared make no sound, and he shrank down with a shudder as Pete, with ready presence of mind, raised his axe again and


  ― 251 ―
struck lightly at the sapling, as he had done at half a dozen other trees on the hillside. Pete knew very well who it was, sodden with the rain, covered with the light clayey soil, his hat gone, his black hair and beard matted and tangled with grass and pieces of brushwood, his face and his hands torn and scratched, his terrified eyes all bloodshot. There was little doubt who it was, and the troopers had all but run him to earth.

Surly Pete knew him quite well, and pitied him from the bottom of his heart. There was a faint sense of triumph, too, for Peter was not young, had never been handsome, and before he had turned hatter was a man of no account on the camp, where Black Anderson, with his flash ways, and his handsome face, and the gold-dust he slapped about so freely, was first favourite. And he had come to this, and was mutely asking a man he would never have noticed in his palmy days not to betray him to the enemies that were so close—only to hold his tongue, to go away quietly, and not draw attention to him.

Pete made another chop at the sapling, that made it bend visibly; then he stooped forward and put his hand to his belt. He saw the eyes that were watching him dilate with a new fear as he drew out his old horse-pistol. So he thought he was going to shoot him, and he chuckled grimly to himself at the thought that Black Anderson had come to this; then he gave a reassuring grunt, and dropped the pistol just within reach of the crouching man. It was hardly likely he would be unarmed, and yet he looked so wet and forlorn it seemed not improbable that the priming of his pistols should be damp.

Then with another grunt of infinite satisfaction Peter passed on, left that tree as he had left the others,


  ― 252 ―
and making for one on the opposite side of the camp, cut it down, and added that to his other log with the air of a man who had made up his mind on a weighty matter at last, and intended to see things through. He chopped down about half a dozen saplings, and then began stripping them of leaves and branches. That was best, he decided—the troopers would think he needed them for his claim—and so he steadily worked on, expecting every moment to hear a scuffling and a shouting, and a snapping of pistol-shots. But nothing happened; the three men sat silent still by the fire, and turning their backs on the man they were seeking, watched the hatter at work as if it were a matter of great importance; and when at last Pete shouldered his half-dozen props and shuffled down the hill to his hut again, he heard the sergeant give the order to mount and go down the hill into the gully on the other side.

Anderson heard it too, and drew towards him the pistol that had so opportunely come into his hands, with some dim idea of making a fight for it; but the sergeant was thinking of the gully beyond: it was there he expected to find his enemy, and he never thought of looking on the hill-top.

At the foot of the hill he paused. Up the opposite hill no horse could possibly go.

‘You stop here with the horses, Cook,’ he said, ‘and Jackson and I'll search on the hill there. Now mind you keep a sharp look-out. A horse 'll likely be mighty useful to him, and if he comes along he'll stick at nothing to get it.’

Then the two men plunged into the thick scrub and bracken with their revolvers in their hands. But the rain and blustering wind of the night before had stood the fugitive in good stead. He had made a


  ― 253 ―
track, it is true, and the troopers crossed it, but did not recognise it. The scrub was torn and broken in so many places; and the rain had made the ground so slippery, washing it into holes and hollows; the wind had broken off branches. The shambling track that Anderson had made in his helpless lameness was hardly recognisable as having been made by man's agency. The rain had come and washed it away, had drawn obliterating fingers over it. A black man might have known better, but certainly not a white man.

Still, the sergeant was loath to give up his faith, and by-and-by his search was rewarded by the discovery of last night's fire. It might have been made by Black Anderson, again it might not; he was strongly of opinion it had, and the feeling came over him he had all but accomplished his object, he had run his enemy to earth, and, much to the disgust of Jackson, who was getting tired of this sort of work, he retraced his footsteps down the hill again. Very carefully he went; it seemed to him he was following a track of some sort; but when the bushes began to get more broken, and there was only a mark on the clayey soil as if a log had fallen downhill, slipping over the ground and making heavy dents in it, he was again at fault.

The short winter's day was drawing to a close, the wind grew cold and keen, and the flecked sunshine that came through the leaves had no warmth in it. It was no good; another day was gone, and he had not found him, and he came down the hill again, followed by Jackson, who was ready to swear he had searched every inch of the hillside, and knew every hollow tree, and stump, and log, and branching tree-fern by heart.

It was dark by the time they returned to the horses,


  ― 254 ―
and Cook was beating his arms against his sides to keep himself warm, very ready indeed to lend a sympathetic ear to Jackson's complaints.

‘We'll go round the shoulder of this hill,’ said the sergeant quietly, for all the world, grumbled Jackson under his breath, as if it was nine o'clock in the morning and they were just setting out. ‘I'm going to look up that hatter again. He must have been signalling on the hill this morning.’

But though there was a bright little fire burning in Surly Pete's hut, a fire they could see gleaming through the panes of the small window, the door was fast and the inmate was not there. They searched round a little, but they failed to find him, and then Jackson, who was cold and hungry, remonstrated:

‘He said this morning he was out of flour, sergeant. He'll be gone into Buck Carter's to get it.’

Without a word the sergeant turned, and they rode back to Deadman's.

Chapter XIII

The Last of It.

Here burns my candle out, ay, here it dies.’

   ‘Henry IV.’

BUT as the sergeant sat that night over his solitary meal, he thought of Peter Grimes and his unaccountable behaviour on the hill-top. There certainly was no sense in it; even as bravado, it hardly explained itself, and at length he got up and went down to the Lucky Digger, where Buck Carter, as usual, was serving out drinks behind the bar, and his wife was helping him. He had been to the store very little of late, and as he marched in, stern and grave, the buzz


  ― 255 ―
of conversation hushed as if he was, as indeed he had been, the subject of it.

‘Carter,’ he said, ‘has that hatter—Surly Pete they call him, from Mitalagong—been in here this evening?’

Buck Carter spat on his hands as if he were about to lift a heavy weight; he was afraid of his son-in-law, and always had to brace himself to meet him. Then he swore a good round oath, and declared he had not set eyes on him for a month past.

‘He told me he was coming over this evening,’ said the sergeant, doubtfully looking round.

‘Well, he ain't been here, sergeant,’ put in Sal; ‘he ain't been here. You can take your Bible oath of that.’

The sergeant walked slowly outside again. It was a frosty night, and in the dark sky the stars looked cold and bright, and he looked up at them and wondered what should be his next move. He did not seem to have done very much, and, after all, it was more than probable that his enemy would escape him. He went slowly back to his own hut, and then suddenly decided to go back to Mitalagong, and investigate further the mysterious carryings-on of the old hatter there. It was a long ride, and he had been hard at it all day long; but that did not matter, almost anything was better than sitting alone thinking. So he called a trooper, and, heedless of his surprised remonstrance, had his horse saddled and rode slowly away up the hill towards Wooragee.

He did not ride fast, there was no necessity for it. He hardly hoped to get anything out of Surly Pete, only the remembrance of last night was strong upon him; he could not risk such another. He must do something to drive away thought. So he rode on quietly. In the starlight he could only see things dimly—the trees by the wayside, the fallen logs, the


  ― 256 ―
hut where Black Anderson had once lived; there was his claim close by the roadside, and the windlass was still standing. Farther on came the Chinamen's garden; their hut stood out dark against the sky, and old Max's neat fence was getting untidy now. He could see that even by this light. But they were thrifty folk. They did not burn candles or even slush-lamps; there was not a spark in their windows; the whole place was wrapped in slumber. Well, it was no good rousing them, they would not be likely to know anything about it; and he rode on.

It was very lonely; the cold seemed somehow to intensify the loneliness. There was not a hut, not a living creature, apparently, stirring abroad. Now and then a night-bird cried, now and then he heard the croaking of frogs loudly proclaiming their gladness at the return to fine weather, and every now and then from the ranges came the mournful whimper of the dingoes. He speculated idly about them. He wondered that the near presence of the diggers' camp had not driven them further into the mountains. Their day must be nearly over, as nearly over as his own. No one seemed afraid of them, and yet they must be dangerous sometimes to a solitary or a wounded man, and their whimper was very mournful. It died right away sometimes, till there was only his horse's hoof-beats to listen to on the hard, rough track. Then at last he breasted the hill, and down below in the gully saw a twinkling light. That was Surly Pete's hut. There was no one else here, and the door must be open.

Sells turned a little aside from the track, and hitched his horse to a tree. Better to go on foot; he could get closer without being observed. And yet he took very little precaution to hide his presence. In the clear dry air his footsteps might easily be heard;


  ― 257 ―
and the thought came to him that if Black Anderson were there, it would be two to one—two armed men, and one of them in the very prime of life.

But, then, possibly Black Anderson might not be there. Sells had very little reason to suppose he was there, and if he was—well, what matter? He had been reckless enough the other might when he had approached the hut; he cared less now—far less. He was an older man by many years. What did it matter what happened to a man who had lived his life?

Sells walked quietly down the hill. He skirted round the claim and dam; the cradle and windlass loomed large in the uncertain light, and at last he found himself right opposite the uncurtained little window. It was only a tiny pane of glass, but the firelight from the wooden chimney danced on it cheerily. It had such a pleasant, homelike look against the dark background.

He paused a moment, debating whether or not he should look in and ascertain whether his enemy was there. It seemed to him he could hear people talking; but so it had seemed the other night, and it had only been the sick girl raving. The firelight beckoned so cheerily; it looked so homelike; it spoke of so many things; it was almost sacred to him, that firelight.

Why should he spy on this man, who was an honest man according to his lights, and very probably knew as little as he himself of the doings of Black Anderson, and even if he did help him, was helping him out of the kindness of his heart, as one always feels inclined to help a hunted creature? No, he would not look through the window, he would enter by the door; and he walked round quietly and stopped opposite it. It was fast closed now; but through the cracks streamed


  ― 258 ―
the cheerful light, as if it would not be shut out. Sergeant Sells laid his hand on the door and knocked loudly, and the murmur of voices that came from inside ceased immediately. Truly, he thought to himself, it was a lonely place, and an uncanny hour to come knocking. He would not open lightly if he were Surly Pete.

There was no answer to his knock, save a faint sound of shuffling feet and the crackling of the fire; then he knocked again and demanded:

‘Open the door!’

‘And who the blazes are you?’ came back the answer.

‘Mounted police! Open the door!’

‘Mounted police be d——d!’

He put his shoulder to the frail boards; he was a strong man yet, and they were very lightly put together. One push—it seemed to shake the whole hut; another! The door had given way, and he was standing looking into the hut, facing the blazing fire and two men who were opposite him with drawn pistols.

Right—after all he was right. His judgment had not misled him. Here was Black Anderson, and he and his enemy were face to face at last!

There was a whizz and a whir and a puff of blinding smoke—a bullet had gone through his uniform cap. Then the smoke cleared, and he saw Pete standing a little aside, his pistol in his hand, as if a little uncertain what to do. In truth, Peter hardly bargained for shooting a man down in cold blood, even though he were a ‘trap’; while, leaning against the rough table, his smoking pistol still in his hand, was Black Anderson. He dropped the pistol hastily, and tugged at the other in his belt; but the sergeant had him covered with his revolver, and said sternly:




  ― 259 ―

‘Throw up your hands!’

Anderson hesitated.

‘Throw up your hands, or I'll shoot, by God!’

He raised his revolver, and Anderson cast one hasty appealing glance at Pete; then, without one word, dropped forward, with his arms extended over the table, as if he could not possibly stand upright any longer, and Sergeant Sells very quietly, almost reluctantly, walked forward and took the remaining pistol from him.

‘He's most broke,’ said Surly Pete. ‘He's had an awful time in the gullies there. You're a-houndin' him to death! A innercent man, too; an',’ he added threateningly, for the sound of his own voice gave him courage, ‘we're two to one, sergeant.’

‘You're a decent man, I've always heard, Peter Grimes,’ said the sergeant, and his own voice sounded strange in his ears; ‘you won't gain anything by going against the law. If that man's innocent, he'll have every chance to prove it. Anyhow, he shot at me just now, and it wasn't his fault the shot didn't go home.’

‘Well, what are you going to do?’ asked Peter Grimes, somewhat mollified. ‘You're here by yourself. What's to prevent me, I'd like to know, agoin' straight away to Deadman's an' raisin' the boys? They'll be along in two shakes of a fly's leg, an' they'll raise Cain, I can tell you!’

‘That's just what you will do,’ said the sergeant quietly. ‘You'll find my horse hitched to a tree on the hill just behind there. You'll take him and ride straight into Deadman's. You ought to ride straight to the police camp and inform the Commissioner that Sergeant Sells has taken the man that's wanted for German Max's murder; but if you don't


  ― 260 ―
like to do that, just go to the Lucky Digger and tell your own mates; they'll settle the rest for you.’

Peter looked surprised. He certainly had not expected to be free to bring his mates to the rescue, but he hesitated doubtfully. What was the sergeant up to?

‘You'm took his girl,’ he said.

Sergeant Sells winced.

‘Go!’ he said, ‘go! go! You're getting off easily. I'm not asking you to betray a mate. Just tell the diggers at Deadman's. They don't love me, but I guess they'll know this man'll have fair play.’

‘Will that do you, mate?’ asked Surly Pete, bringing his hand down heavily on the table, and knocking a pannikin of tea on to the floor.

Anderson's shoulders shook, and Pete saw he had heard him, but the man gave no other sign. He was run to earth at last. Then Pete took a ragged old coat from a peg, spit thoughtfully into the fire, went outside, and then came back to the broken door again.

‘Behind the hut, sergeant, is the moke?’

‘Behind the hut on the hill there.’

‘Couldn't show me, I reckon?’

But the sergeant vouchsafed no answer, and he heard the shuffling footsteps going round by the side of the hut, and wondered to himself whether Peter would take his mate's part and shoot him through the window. It would be very easy, very simple—it would end everything. He held his revolver and glanced up at the window, only to see Peter Grimes' face disappearing. So he, too, had thought of it; but, after all, he was a decent old chap, and would not like to have blood on his hands. He would bring his mates—that would be justice according to his lights. They would see fair play. Then he listened to


  ― 261 ―
the footsteps till they went out of hearing, he listened to the heavy breathing of the man before him, to the crackling of the logs, to the dropping ashes.

Now he and his enemy were face to face—face to face; and if he slew him, as he had a mind to do, as he had sworn to do, there would be none found to blame him.

There was no other light in the hut save that of the blazing fire, but it lighted up every cranny with its ruddy light. There was a stretcher in the corner—a rude stretcher made of sacking and forked sticks; there was a shelf or two against the wall, a tin plate and two or three pannikins, a frying-pan, two deal boxes to sit upon, and nothing else—unless one counted the pictured almanacs that were hung against the wall by way of ornament. One was right in the firelight—the head of a woman, of a young girl, rather, with her hair blowing about her face. It was torn and soiled, but it fascinated him, and he kept taking his eyes from his prisoner and looking at it. It reminded him so of the girl who for one brief month had been his wife. And this man—this man——

He was seated on an upturned box, and half his body was laid along the table in an attitude of utter abandonment, and one foot and leg his captor saw had been injured. It was bare up to the knee, and he could not fail to see how swollen and red was the leg. So that was the reason of it—at last he had only run to earth a wounded beast. He set his teeth together in his anger and disappointment. He had counted on this, he had lived for this; man to man it should be, and a fair fight, and now he was balked of his revenge. The man had tried to shoot him, but that was nothing, nothing; he lay there before him like a helpless log, and he, whose dearest hopes he had blighted, looked


  ― 262 ―
on in helpless impotence. Anything rather than this—anything; he wished with all his heart that bullet had found its billet. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes; a sudden weariness of life had come upon him. He wanted nothing, he had done with life; then a stirring made him open them again, and he saw that Black Anderson had raised his head on his hand and was looking at him, shiftily avoiding meeting his eye. He stretched out his hand and caught at a pannikin.

‘Drop it,’ said the sergeant sternly.

‘Let me get a drop of water,’ begged the prisoner.

‘No.’

‘I'm parched with thirst, and my leg's that bad 'tisn't bearable.’

‘Sit still.’

‘A drop, for God's sake!’

‘If you were in hell,’ said the sergeant through his clenched teeth, ‘it's nothing to me.’

The man dropped down his head on the table again with a moan. He had been no coward, for all his careless cruelty, or he had not been the admired of Deadman's; but his leg was very bad, and the day and night's exposure seemed to have brought on a fever which was consuming him. Water, water, it seemed to him the only thing that would relieve his pain, and he did not need to look at the relentless man opposite to know that he would be shot if he so much as moved. If only he would move, thought the sergeant; if he would only do something—something that would call for action!

It was killing work standing here with his back to the wall watching him, listening to his moans, thinking thinking, thinking of all that lay between this man and him. The pensive face on the wall, with the


  ― 263 ―
wind-blown hair, seemed appealing to him, reminding him, as if he were ever for one moment likely to forget, of all that lay between them. Taken together, they two—he ground his teeth as he thought of it—had spoiled her life, the little innocent girl. He had not spared himself, he would not spare this man. No; she had died only two nights ago, wet and cold and lonely. Let him suffer—let him! She had died loving him, and calling on him, thinking only of him for such love Sergeant Sells would cheerfully have borne untold agony. Let him suffer; it was his due.

The fire died down, and he pushed it together with his foot; he laid on another log, and it blazed up again; the room looked so cheerful and bright he felt as if it must be all a dream. He could not have lived and suffered; he was not standing over his enemy, a man maimed and broken; he was not waiting to hand him over to justice; it was all a dream, it must be all a dream. Oh, God! the things men suffer and believe are real! The girl was dead, and this man should die; but he—he, what was there for him?

Outside an owl hooted softly and monotonously, and inside the fire crackled cheerfully. How long it was before they came—how long, how long! Would the night never end? And he could not kill a maimed man, he could not. He could only wait there and hand him over to the Commissioner because it was his duty, and after—well, after, he had done with life.

Again the fire died down, and again he pushed it together. He wanted the fire; he wanted to guard his prisoner; he wanted the light; but the night was so long it seemed to him it must be close on the dawn, and yet through the open door he could see the stars bright as ever. His prisoner moved a little uneasily, but he did not ask again for water; he, too, was


  ― 264 ―
wondering if the night would never pass; he, too, knew how relentless was this enemy who had tracked him down at last.

Then there came a faint sound—the sound of men's voices, and they came nearer and nearer. The sergeant heard them, and the prisoner heard, but neither took any notice; what difference could their coming make to either of them? Only each was thankful that the long watch was ended. Nearer they came, nearer, and three bearded miners stood in the open doorway, peering in like children who had no business to be there. They had heard the news, and had come the short cut across the hills.

Black Anderson raised his head for a last effort. Perhaps his heart held still a faint hope that these, his whilom mates, would help him.

‘Boys,’ he said huskily—‘boys, ain't you going to help a poor beggar against the traps?’

But there was no response; they were content to look on like children. Apparently they counted it no business of theirs, and the sergeant said not a word.

If they had overpowered and killed him, the sergeant would not have cared. This man had ruined his life, and now he was balked of his revenge.

There was a sound of trotting horses: the troopers had come.

previous
no next