Seduction and Sacrifice(3)

By: Miranda Lee


'Yes, plans. How would you like to buy my ute and live here while I'm away?'

'Well, I —er— How long are you going for?'

'I'm not sure. A while. Maybe forever. I'll keep you posted.'

'I'll miss you,' Ma sighed. 'But I understand. What must be must be. Besides. . .' She grinned her old toothless grin. 'I always had a hankerin' to live here, especially in the summer.'

'You could have your caravan moved here as well. Give you the best of both worlds. I won't sell you Dad's claim but you're welcome to anything you can find while I'm gone.'

'Sounds good to me.'

Let's have a beer to celebrate our deal.'

'Sounds very good to me."

Gemma spoke and acted with positive confidence in Ma's presence, but once she was gone, Gemma slumped across the table, her face buried in her hands. But she'd cried all the tears she was going to cry, it seemed, and soon her mind was ticking away on what money she could scrape together for her big adventure of going to Sydney.

Though a country girl of limited experience, Gemma was far from dumb or ignorant. Television at school and her classmates' more regular homes in town had given her a pretty good idea of the world outside of Lightning Ridge. She might be a slightly rough product of the outback of Australia, living all her life with a bunch of misfits and dreamers, but she had a sharp

mind and a lot of common sense. Money meant safety. She would need as much as she could get her hands on if she wanted to go to Sydney.

There were nearly three hundred dollars in her bank account, saved from her casual waitressing job, the only employment she'd been able to get since leaving school three months ago. She'd been lucky to get even that. Times were very bad around the Ridge, despite several miners reportedly having struck it rich at some new rushes out around Coocoran Lake.

Then there was Ma's agreed five hundred dollars for the ute. That made just on eight hundred. But Gemma needed more to embark on such a journey. There would be her bus and train fare to pay for. then accommodation and food till she could find work. And she'd need some clothes. Eight hundred wasn't enough.

Gemma's head inevitably turned towards her father's bed against the far wall. She'd long known about the battered old biscuit tin, hidden in a hole in the dirty wall behind the headboard, but had never dared take it out to see what was in it. She'd always suspected it contained a small hoard of opals, the ones her father cashed in whenever he wanted to go on a drinking binge. It took Gemma a few moments to accept that nothing and no one could stop her now from seeing what the failed miner had coveted so secretly.

Her heart began to pound as she drew the tin from its hiding place and brought it back to the table. Pulling up her rickety chair once more, she sat down and simply stared at it for a few moments. Logic told Gemma there couldn't be anything of great value lying within, yet her hands were trembling slightly as they forced the metal lid upwards.

What she saw in the bottom of the tin stopped her heart for a few seconds. Could it really be what it looked like? Or was it just a worthless piece of potch?

But surely her father would not hide away something worthless!

Her hand reached into the tin to curve around the grey, oval-shaped stone. It filled her palm, its size and weight making her heart thud more heavily. My God, if this was what she thought it was. . .

Feeling a smooth surface underneath, she drew the nobby out and turned it over, her eyes flinging wide. A section of the rough outer layer had been sliced away to reveal the opal beneath. As Gemma gently rolled the stone back and forth to see the play of colour, she realised she was looking at a small fortune. There had to be a thousand carats here at least! And the pattern was a pinfire, if she wasn't mistaken. Quite rare.

She blinked as the burst of red lights flashed out at her a second time, dazzling in their fiery beauty before changing to blue, then violet, then green, then back to that vivid glowing red.

My God. I'm rich, she thought.

But any shock or excitement quickly changed to confusion.

Her father had never made any decent strikes or finds in the various claims he'd worked over the years here at Lightning Ridge. Or at least. . .that was what he'd always told her. Clearly, however, he must have at some time uncovered this treasure, this pot of gold.

A fierce resentment welled up inside Gemma. There had been no need for them to live in this primitive dugout all these years, no need to be reduced to charity, as had often happened, no need to be pitied and talked about.

Shaking her head in dismay and bewilderment, she put the stone down on the table and stared blankly back into the tin. There remained maybe twenty or thirty small chunks of opals scattered in the corners, nothing worth more than ten, or maybe twenty dollars each at most. Her father's drinking money, as she'd suspected.