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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

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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

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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.

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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?’

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‘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!’


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

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.