|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Weekly Mercury (NSW : 1892-1931)|
|Trove Title||The Gold Seekers|
THE GOLD SEEKERS.
CHAPTER XXII.— (Continued)
Still he went, and on one Monday morning lie camo back with a fire in his eye and a jauntiness in his gait which were entirely foreign to him. He was restless all through that week, and on the following Saturday hurried away much earlier than was his wont.
He appeared late on Monday morning, dressed in a 'way ho had not affected sinco lie had been at Cambridge. Ivor noticed a pearl pin in his tie. He had been shaved very carefully, and his hair was trimmed neatly. Ivor and Courtenay were standing at the . door of tho specimen-houso as Beausire rode np. Ivor surveyed him critically, and then said; 'What a terrific swell, Beausire! You make me quite ashamed of myself.' Old Conrtonay walked around Beausire and looked at him. Then he merely grunted : ' H'mph !' Beausire coloured slightly, and was obvi ously disconcerted as he answered : ' I seo no reason why a fellow should not dress himself respectably, although he is stuck down at the very extreme end of the world.' ' Come now, Beausire,' said Courtenay, ' you can't call this the extreme end of the ?world when they can turn out a suit like that
which you are wearing. ' I quite agree with you, Beausire,' said Ivor, ' about dressing respectably. I am afraid I have got into very slack habits here.' ' Anyhow, I can't work in these clothes,' muttered Beausire, as ho turned away from the specimen-house and walked away to the dwelling-house. As he went away Courtenay said to Ivor in a low tone : ' There is no mistake about that. I have Been that sort of thing before. He has all the premonitory symptoms.' ' What is it ?' ' A woman, of course. There'll be a wed ding in this firm 'before it is much older.' Ivor sincerely hoped that there might be two, but he did not tell Courtenay ; he merely said : ' I am exceeding glad tc^hear you say so. It will do Beausire all the good in the world, and she will be a devilish lucky woman.' 'You are right tliere, Gwyime ; he is agood sonl. and T lionn he mav cet a fnod wife.'
Beausire appeared shortly in his working clothes, and undor the subtle influence at which Ivor and Courtenay coald only guess, was as merry as he was of old.. This suggestion of Courtenay about Beau sire had awakened in Ivor a longing which was almost more than he could bear to hear some hews of Ghven. . ? He had had no answer to his second letter, and it might have come any time, during the last two months. Before the day was over, he had made up his mind to cable to the housekeeper at Glan wythian for news of her. She might be dead. He never saw an English newspaper. Anything might have happened to her. On the following day he rode into Castle maino and sent a long reply-paid cablo to the liousekeeper, and waited all that day for an answer. None came until the following morning, when this message was handed to him : ' Miss Llewellyn went aboard aix months ago 1 for an indefinite period. No letters to be for warded.' This was comforting. Gwen had, without doubt, thrown him ovor — if, indeed, she had even at any time entertained any thoughts save those of friendship for him. It was then that ho swore to remain a bachelor all his days. A certain feeling of repose came over him after this. Anything was better than the state of unrest which he had experienced for tho last few months. ' Whon he rode up to the camp in the even ing he was met by Beausire, who greeted him with : 'I am awfully glad you've come, Ivor.1 Old Duncan is in a bad way. Almost imme diately after you left yesterday he was takto very bad. We have had tho doctor from Vaughan, and got a nurse out last night; but I am afraid the old chap is on his very last legs. He was light-headed all through the night. The doctor says it is chronic alcoho lism. Anyhow, he is in a very bad way.' Ivor was much concerned. ' Poor old Duncan ! I hope wo are not going to lose him. I had had visions of a handsome pension for him, and his last days spent in comfort.'
M am atraid it s too late tor that. Will you cpme up and see him ?' . ' Of course, at once, as soon as I get my horse put away.' . A few minutes aftorward Ivor went up to Duncan's little wooden house, which had onlv been put up three weeks previously. He was apparently in a state of utter col lapse, and his breathing was already becoming painful. Tho nurse signed to Ivor to keep silence as she whispered to him : 'I think ho is going to get a little sleep, sir.' r Even as'' she spoke old Duncan's eyes opened, and ho raised his hands feebly from the coverlet, which Ivor took to mean that ho Wanted to speak. He went and sat by tho old man's bed, and xook his hand. Duncan, after two or three vain attempts, at last found voico to say : ' Good-bye, sir— good-bye ! I want to tuank you and the ithers for makin' the last months o my life happier than any I have Bpent since I left Scotland.' How faint and far away his voice sounded ! ' J-vor sai^ that ho hoped ho might live for a year to come, but. old Duncan merely emilod feebly aud shook hia head.
ivor thought that tne oici kiiomcu nauu nij very feebly in his own, and as Duncan closed his eyes ho thought he was dead. He looked up to the nurse, who came forward quickly. Duncan's eyes opened again, and ho said, quite firmly : ' Yo'll hae a drink for me, my lassio ?' 'Yes; I will get you some milk, Mr. M'Alpine,' said tho nurse, as she turned away. Duncan in a tone of contempt, using all his remaining energy, said : ' Mulk ! Nao sic trash ! Gie me a gill o' whisky ! Mulk ! When did mullc iver gar yc — think — ye — were — a — king ?'. The last words came very slowly, and more and more indistinctly, and whon he had fin ished his jaw dropped almost immediately, and be was dead. CHAPTER XXin. AN OLD ACCOUNT SETTLED AT LAST. Duncan was buried with all due honor, and ET ? _-.j ? : ? j 1 ? ,1 rjil.„„
jauwu.ru xuignuu in ma atyuu. iciu Duncan's loss very keenly, but at the sanao time Ivor could not help feeling that Howard would regard his new position more as ono which had comc to him naturally than as one which had been created for him. ' Yes,''' old Courtenay had said a few days after the funeral, ' Duncan was a good man, but there is no reason why Howard should not do equally well. lie is steady and a gentleman, and curiously enough, that goes a long way with this lawless crew.' At any rate, matters went on just as they had before. The mine yielded gold in a con tinuous stream, and six months after the bank at Vaughan had been virtually robbed by Lowe, the new and larger manchinery which thoy had intended to buy at that timo was bought and was in the course of erection. ' Onr output will be trebled,' said Cour tenay, ' and our profits trebled at tho same time.' ' I am sure I hope so,' said Beausire. ' There is no need to hope ; it's a certainty. 'Gad, how I -wish I was young again. This wealth, like everything else in tho world, has come too late; not for you two though.' Ivor did not say anything, but thought that perhaps, even for him, it had come too late. Beausire's mysterious visits to Castle maine continued with unremitting regularity, and he was now subject to periods of hopeless despair, .alternating with corresponding periods of the wildest spirits. One Monday he returned later that usual and was followed about a quarter of an hour later by Anatole who came up to the house just as the men were ' knocking off' from dinner. ' Well, Anatole, what is it ?' said Ivor. ' Glad to see you here.' Anatole shook his head, and his face as sumed an even more lugubrious expression. ' I am not well.' ' What is it ? Liver out of order ?' 'No my liver is in order ; it is something more tender ?, it is my heart.' ' You don't mean to say you have fallen in love with some one else when you have that beautiful -wife ?' said Beausire. ' II el as, no,' sighed Anatole, ' it is not I who have fallen in love — it is she ! she has a most capacious heart.' Ivor felt a strong desire to laugh, but he restrained himself in time, and said : Come Anatole, tell us all about it.' ' You will remember, gentlemen, how on' board ship she would make lovo with any one — with every one. I thought that when wo should marry all that would change, and that she would love me alone.; but'— here he 1 threw up his hands in despair — ' it is unfor tunately not so.' i ' .What does she do,?' asked Beausire. i ' What does she do, monsieur ? What does 1 she not do! She makes love — what you call : ze flirt — with every man who comes to the hotel, and when I expostulate, she says it is 1 good for business ; that if she liked she can :
have nvc — ten pounds for a kiss, and when I tell her that I do not like to see other men kiss her, she calls me cochon. It is true it is good for business: the profits of tho hotel have. increased by twice since we come there, and the proprietors have given me more salary, but money does not cure tho pain here.' Anatole laid his hand upon his heart, and Ivor was compelled to turn away in order to avoid laughing openly. ' But have you dono nothing in the matter ?' said Beausire. ' But, yes ; I go to her on the knees and implore her to love me and not those others, but she only says ' Cochon.' Ah, sho cannot understand the passion of a Frenchman !' ' If she brings custpn to the hotel, and is faithful to you, what more do you want ? A year ago the world contained nothing for you but her, and now you are discontented -with her.' ' No, no, monsieur, not discontented. I love the earth on which she puts her feet. No, not disconsolate, but only anxious to re cover her love. She is so indiscriminate ; sho will make love to the gentleman, and to the boy who blacks her boots.' ' It is the nature of the animal,' said Courtenay. ' Look here, my young friend do you see that ?' Courtenay was carrying a thick stick in his hand. ' Get one like it, and whan sho begins to flirt with these people, give her a good hiding ; sho won't like the hiding, but sho will respect you for it. You have been going on, your knees to her and petting her and begging and praying hor in stead of commanding. That's whore you havo made your mistake.' Anatole looked at Courtenay in horror, and muttered : ' Ges Anglaise Then ho said aloud ; ' Beat Lola ! But, sir, it is impossible ; you cannot havo seen hor. She is as beautiful as' — he paused for a simile, but finding nono continued — ' one cannot find words for it ? - sho is Lola.' 'Woll if that is the way you look at matters, of course there is nothing more to be said: but it's the only way, you mark my words ; unless you put your foot down firmly — she seems to have such a lot of lovo to spare— she will be going off with ono of these young sparks ono day, and then you will probably cut your throat or do something equally idiotic.' | ' Ah, that is it, monsieur, sho has so much love to spare. We have no child ; if we but had a child for her to love, all would bo dif ferent.' Anatole, overcome by his feelings, put his head betweon his hands. ' Come, Anatole,' said Beausire, ' this won't do ; you need not take Mr. Courtenay's words au pied de la lettre. What ho means is that you must be firm with her, but show that you are the master. It may cost you pain but it will be tho better in the end.' ' 'Ton think so, monsieur?' said Anatole, ' WB face brightening visibly. ?
' l don t tlniilv at an. i am sure ox iv. ' Then I will try.'' ' That's right ; now you bustle along into tho kitchen and see if you can't make us an eatable omelet. You havo not forgotton your cooking, 1 suppose ?' . . . , ' Every Frenchman cooks by inspiration,' answered Anatole, proudly. In the late afternoon ho went back to Castlemaino much relieved by his consultation with the men who ho said were tho only two country friends he had in all that triste. After a couple of months tho erection of the new machinery was completed, and tho day was fast drawing on when tho first crush in'- of tho now machines would bo ready. 'bonrtenay was in ecstasies over the ma uhinery. There never had been — according to
Inn! — a finer crushing machine seen in tne colony. It had more than three times as i many stamps as the old one, and a babo in arms could work it. Ivor and Beausire strolled in and out of tho shed as tho crushing was going on, and Ivor at least loved the thud of tho stamps on the quartz. It all'semed to him tasay so clcarly that it was working for him — and Gwen, for hope is born even of despair. Tho roar of a blast furnace, the hum of tho loom, the tliun dors of an iron foundry — these alone consti- j tuto tho poetry of industrial life. The crushing was at last , finished, the aWlgam disintegrated, and a shining mass of gold lay ready for Ivor to take in Castle maino. A strong guard was placed around the specimen-houso that night ; but Courtenay said that it was really unnecessary, because the bushrangers had left that part of the country, to all appearances. The night passed uneventfully, and at six on the following morning Ivor was on his
way to uastiemarae wren tne guiu. He rode a five-year-old ' waler' which in order t-o justify the statement that the excep tion proves the rule, was as quick and docile as a lamb. He carried the gold in saddle-bags attached to the front of the saddle. At the early hour of tho morning tho track from Gwynne's Creek into Vaughan was entirely deserted. The itinerant Chinese green-grower would not come ' loping' along it until three or four hours later, so Ivor had no companion save the ubiquitous parakeet and an occasional laughing jackass which mocked him from a tree-top. Twice or thrice a silver-snake which had been basking in the sun slipped quietly out of his path into the underwood. Ivor trotted along in good spirits, and be gan whistling to himself as he rode. He was thinking that he would need but very few more of these journeys before he could go home and settle matters with Gwen. The track opened out some distance from Vaughan, and he was was alone with his thoughts. They went back as they often did, to those old schoolboy and college days when
he had spent all his holidays with Gwen at Glanwythian — days when he never remem bered to have been bored .or weary, when he was entirely happy from dawn till sunset. He stopped whistling, and the horse i,n sympathy with his master, dropped into a walk. A low whistle on his left, answered by another some two hundred yards away, awoke him from his reverie. He looked up suddenly, tho horse pricked up his ears and broke, unbidden, into a sharp trot. Ivor scandered the' road right and left and saw nothing, and being only a mile from Vaughan, shook his horse up into a canter and in five minutes had pulled his horse up opposite the inn, where he called for a glass of milk and biscuit, and had his horse's mouth washed with oatmeal and water. Leaving V auglian behind, he trotted through some fairly open country for two or three miles and then tho road entered the bush again. „
imt this time the rays ot the snn were be coming powerful, and Ivor heated by trotting allow liis horse to drop into a walk again. Soon he came to the junction of the Castle maine and Fryerstown roads, and turned up . to the left. About half a mile farther on he reached | the foot of an exceedingly steep part of the road called Breakneck Hill. It had got its name in the early days of the colony, when there was no railway, and when the squat ters and pioneer miners use it, to drive or ride to Castlemaine to Fryerstown, Chewton, or Malmesbury . In those early days the average squatter or miner was in the state of happy intoxication when on his homeward way, and the result was that the negotiation of Break neck Hill, in a buggy which had no break, or on a horse which objected to being spurred in the chest, was not always entirely success ful, and, in consequence, many a man was picked up on the hill itself or at the foot of it with his neck or back broken. ? On Hearing tho ascent Ivor allowed his horse to saunter along as it wished. He had thought of walking, but it was now so in tense hot that it was too lazy to do so.- The horse could have a long rest in Castlemaine. As it was he changed the rein from the left hand to his right, and fell into a reverie as the horse began to mount tho'hill. On either side of the rode was a dense wall of gum troes, urder which the scrub was thick and tangled. Here and there a narrow horse tract intersected tho trees. The air was drowsy, and Ivor was far away from Australia, wandering on the oak-clad banks of the Usk, which ho could hear mur muring at his feet. Tho horse sauntored slowly on, and a faint breeze stirred the trees on the right and made him prick up his eai's. Almost at that instant a horseman, ridin'- a magnificent black stallion, appeared as if by magic from the left of tho road, and stood about four yards away, covering Ivor with a revolver. ' Your money or your life !' said the stran ger, using the time-honored bushranger for mula which never ha*s changed. Ivor instantly recognized the stranger as Lowe, and as quickly— by ono of thoso ' sud den strokes of genius which seemed to como to almost every one at some crisis of his life — made up his mind what to do. On tho apparition of the bushranger, Ivor's horse had started slightly, and Ivor gripped the reins. As he was holding tho reins in his right hand, ho know that if ho made the very faint est motion to get at his revolver, a bullot from Lowo's revolver would be in his brain. He made no attempt to reach his own revolver but ramming the spurs into the horse's side and bending down at his horse's neck at the same moment he rode straight at Lowo All this was thought of and done so quickly that the words of Lowo's challenge were scarcely oufc'Of his mouth before Ivor's horso
was upon him. The report of a revolver rang out on tho drowsy air, and Ivor folt a short, sharp twinge of pain in his loft shQulder. Almost immediately a second report followed ; but by that timo Lowo's horso had been struck by Ivor's, and the bullot flew harm lessly over the trees, and Lowo's revolver was hurled out of his hand by the shock as ho himself was shot half sideways, half backwards out of tho saddlo and lay on tho ground. Almost at the same instant Ivor was hurled forward nearly into Lowo's arms. Lowo's horso, recovering itself, bolted, snorting, into tho bush, and Ivor's, startled, cantered a hundred yards or so up the hill, and thero stopped and began to crop tho grass at the side of the road. Simultaneously Ivor and Lowo leaped to their feet and wore at each other's throats. They struggled for the under grip, and were locked in- each othor'B arms for an instant, to wrest themselves free the next and then rushed together once more. Thero was no clianco of quarter here. Lowe must kill Ivor, or he would bo hanged. In Ivor's breast there was no thought of mercy ; for the moment he was turned into a wild beast thirsting for his proy. No sound broke the stillness but the laboured breathing of the men as they fought for that gyp wliieh meant life or death. As they wore locked together,' one could have thought that twin brothers were the combatants.
Ivor, perhaps, had the advantage ; ho was younger, and the hard, keen life of the last two years had left his muscles as firm as marble and his sinews like whipcord ; this ad vantage was counterbalanced by the slight wound which he had received in his left shoulder, from which, although it was a mere superficial flesh-wound, the blood was pouring freely. For ten minutes they fought for the mas tery, and tho hideous glaro in their eyes told only too well that it was to tho death. Ivor had no thought of taking his opponent cap tive. All the beast within him was roused ; tho savagery inspired by war, ' and tho know ledge :tliat he had at last a chance to square accounts with the man who had nearly brought him to the scaffold were to much for him. He would kill him if ho could, and, moreover, feel no remorse for him. ' Still, his was no certain victory, though the glare Jof hate in Lowe's eyes had turned to one of fury as he found himself practically on his defence, and unable to make any advance against his enemy. He. hissed in fury os they closed once more, and, like an animal, bit Ivor on the wounded shoulder. Ivor uttered no sound ; he needed all liisi breath for this, his struggle for life or death.; Over and over they rolled on the ground, and the twigs and brushwood around them were beaten flat and stained with Ivor's blood. ''Still neither had the advantage. With a snar}, Lowe had once more freed himself from Ivor's embrace, and at the same moment they had both leaped to their feet. Lowe was panting, and the foam frothed around his lips ; the glare in his eye had lost its intensity, and a hunted look in . his face told Ivor that the fear of death was on him. Ivor's: sot face and blaziner eves told Lowe
that there was no hope. With a shrjek of cat-like spring, he leaped at Ivor, who, stepping back, tripped on a root and fell heavily backwards. In an instant Lowe|was upon him and dashed his fist into his face. By a superhuman effort, when one mightt have heard his sinews crack, Ivor managed to get on to his side, and once more the two combatants rolled over and over on the ground, tearing at each other's throats and fighting for that grip which means death. Lowe was now crushing and snarling like a dog, and, when opportunity offered, bit Ivor where he could — a wild beast at bay, with the desire of life which intelligence brings and which a beast can never feel. Once more they were on their feet, and the twisted face of Lowe would have made one think that he had gone mad. The foam, tinged with Ivor's blood, which lay on his lips and beard, added, hideousness to his already distorted counten ance. He continued to snarl as his breath heaved with his labored breathing. Still the same implacablo glare of hatred shone in Ivor's eyes as they moved round and round each other like tigers preparatory to springing. Lowe at intervals uttered that short, short sharp snarl as of an animal who was uneasy assuredly the fear of deate was upon him. Ivor, who was beginning to feel the loss of blood now, knew that he must make one supreme effort. Up till now ho had thought of nothing ; he had merely wrestled and fought with an absolute blind fury, which had not* admitted of thought. Now that the first flush of war was over, and lie had — so to speak — fleshed his sword he had recovered sufficient equanimity to allow of an attempt at thought. He awaited his opportunity, and then dashed at Lowe, as though he would strike out. at his chest. Instantly Lowe's arm dropped to cover himself, and Ivor, who had only feinted, rush ed in and got that grip for which he had been unconsciously longing. With his left hand he gripped Lowo's throat and with his right he encircled his body, and then— half carrying 'him— he backed his victim quickly toward the fallen trunk of a tree. Lowe 'whose face was turning black, and whose eyes were starting out of his head, tried vainly to disengago himself. Ivor's turn had come at last. He pushed Lowe back until ho got liim as near the fallen tree as W thought rioht, and then, tripping him, he crashed down on to tho trunk. Just as ho was about to touch tho tree Ivor let go with his right hand, and
Lowe fell, with a. dull thud, on the small of his back, with Ivor on top of him. There was a horrible crunching sound, fol lowedby a sharp crack as Lowe's head jerked back with the impact, and Ivor know by the sudden cessation of tho tension in' his enemy's body that ho was dead. Ivor roso and looked at tho body of his fallen foo, and then sighed a sigh of relief and walked' away. Ho walked up the road to whero his horso was placidly graziiig, caught him by tho bridle, and then sat down on a log by thesido of the road. He was utterly, exhausted ; he had for the first time in all liis life put out all hm strength —that which not one man in a thousand ever does at any timo in his career. He must have sat for an hour in that posi tion—without thinking— in a stato of utter lassitude. When he awoke to tho sense of suiTounding circumstanco he found that ho was crying. (To ha continued.)