|Chapter Number||7 & 8|
|Chapter Title||MAGGIE'S SECRET|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Lost in the Winning|
Lost in the Winning.
I CAN'T stand too much of this kind of thing; I feel as seedy a magpie this morning as any in Australia. I was at that ball last night; and I think there are a good many others who feel bad
this morning as well. Nevil turned up about three days before the ball came off; he's looking very dull and stupid about something — seems very pre-occupied always. There were great preparations at our place for the festivity. The Bouncer nearly drove me into a fever by her remarks on things in general. That girl will be the death of me yet. I was delighted to see that she was a failure, an abominable failure, when dressed. Clara looked charming of course; she always does. I was delayed by a fight between two cats or I would have accompanied them to the festive scene, but a horrid black cat whom I hate was getting the worst of it, and I watched the result with great interest. When I got to the townhall I found that I could see through the windows admirably, as they were wide open on account of the heat. The ball was given to the officers of H.M.S. Kangaroo, who were in great force in their uniforms. The fun was just setting nice when I arrived, and the first thing I saw was the Bouncer waltzing with a little fat man with spectacles, who I'll bet my tail feathers was the doctor. Poor little fellow, he was full of pluck, but he was feeling it, for as he passed my post of observation at the window I heard him gasp out an enquiry as to whether his partner would not like a rest; to which the Bouncer replied, Not at all, that she adored going fast; and she nearly lifted the little man off his legs with the whirl with which she emphasised the observation. Bloomington was there; so was Nevil. Bloomington wasn't dancing, at least not in the early part of the entertainment; he laid himself out for conversation—that was his form that night, and a nice light easy style it was; I got the benefit of a good deal of it once, when he came and sat down near the window with a girl dressed in white and green, whose dress I thought was going to come off when Bloomington trod on her skirt; I quite shivered when he brought her recklessly up with a round turn. It was the most interesting conversation I ever listened to that passed between them. Bloomington looked uneasily at his boots, which doubtless were hurting him; and, after several attempts at speaking, said huskily, "Is your mamma here to-night?" "Yes," returned his companion in a still small voice, addressed to her hands, which she was carefully nursing in her lap. Bloomington fidgeted about, and cleared his throat for another bold attempt. "It's—a—very warm to-night." "Yes, I think it is;" and then they both were silent again, and seemed still more troubled about their hands, which on Bloomington's part were painfully prominent. However he tried once more; I saw the fire of resolution mounting in his eye, and with a determination to do or die he burst forth with the original remark: "Are you fond of dancing?" "Yes," she said, thinking that it was preparatory to being asked to dance. But he only smiled feebly and said: "Well I'm not." She looked disappointed, whether at his not liking dancing or at his not trying I don't know; but after they had both looked at Bloomington's boots for a long time a happy thought struck him, and he said with an air of tender interest that was touching in the extreme: "Shall I take yon back to your mamma?" A feeling of relief came over his face as she took his arm; evidently he thought that he could not have kept up the mental strain much longer. By this time everybody seemed, as the newspapers say, to be thoroughly enjoying himself; the girls' dresses, and the sprinkling of
naval uniforms amongst the black coats made up a picture that even I admired, hardened old ruffian that I am. Nevil alone seemed very moody. He danced with our girls, and one or two other ladies, more as if it was a matter of duty than anything else; and, that done, he came and stood near my window, absently watching tbe others, but without his face displaying any interest in what he was looking at. I often wonder why it is you men put on so much side when you are out of temper. If you are bored, or have had a bill sent in to you, or have got tight boots on, when you go out to what is supposed to be a gathering for the purpose of extracting some sort of pleasure out of your miserable surroundings, you immediately assume an air of severe virtue, and stand on one side and look with scorn and contempt on the people who are enjoying themselves, like the imbecile humbugs that you are. Presently I flew away to one of the windows at the other end of the building, but, beyond this change of position, I saw nothing more than I saw at my former post; it's astonishing how much alike all these affairs are. Some middle-aged ladies were sitting at this place criticising (rather harshly) the young girls present. Mrs. Maclure was one of them, and the way she cut and slashed indiscriminately right and left was immense. There was not a good-looking girl in the room that she did not scandalise, and the only one I heard her speak well of had a broken nose and a squint. Dear old woman, I should have liked to have gone and pecked her shoulders for her, but I was not game; generally my courage is high enough for any exploit, but I somehow felt that I should be out of place in a ball-room; I mean that it would be beneath me to enter such a scene of frivolity. I stopped at one of the other windows on my way back, and listened to some young fellows who were talking, and stroking their upper lips in lack of a moustache; one was James. He said to the others in tones of languid exhaustion that in itself spoke the blase feelings of twenty seasons: "Nothing in the room to-night; one never sees the good-looking girls one used to some years ago. James was playing marbles at school some years ago, but his hearers for their own youthful sakes were interested in keeping this pretty fiction of their huge experience going. They looked wearily round, and nodded assent. "I never dance now," said one hero of eighteen or nineteen, "for that very reason." "No," said another who got two falls after supper; "the girls now have no idea of time or anything else; they tread on your toes, and make you hot and uncomfortable for nothing;" and the speaker ostentatiously hauled at a pair of gloves two sizes too large for him. I felt sorry for these youths; evidently the naval men were carrying it all before them, and James and his contemporaries had to content themselves with the position of on-lookers. When I got back to my original post of vantage, I found that Agatha and the doctor (I feel certain he was the doctor) were engaged in a most desperate flirtation. I always would back the Bouncer to get up that sort of thing quicker than any other girl of my acquaintance; but, when she got a short man to practise on, the headway she would make in an equally short time was astonishing. The doctor was drawing a touching picture of the business of a sailor's life, "cut off—except at rare intervals—from scenes of gaiety and pleasure like the present," he said poetically and pathetically. Agatha threw a glance of tender pity at him, sighed and looked down at her bouquet as though her heart was ready to accompany him across the tossing surge. "I shall leave this town," said the doctor—who had been looking on the wine when it was red, and was now trying to look over the top of his spectacles—"with an image—l won't say whose —indelibly imprinted on my,"—he seemed rather at a loss for a word, but finally said "memory." Again the Bouncer sighed, and in her maiden bashfulness and nervous agitation broke off a modest rose-bud from her bouquet. "May I?" said the doctor, and stretched his hand for it. "No," said the Bouncer relinquishing it to his eager grasp; "I cannot let you have it." The doctor took the flower, and finally put it in his pooket, being at first uncertain what to do with it; then he looked very hard at Agatha, and glared fiercely at a man who came up to claim a dance. l am often greatly astonished at the degree of ferocity a man develops in propor tion to his size; it's an inverse ratio. By this time I was getting tired, and flying up to the top of the building I had a quiet nap for a couple of hours or so. When I came back things were much more lively; supper had given confidence to numbers, and some of my feeble young friends who had talked so much of their youthful days were being piloted round by intrepid young damsels. Nevil's temper did not seem to have been improved by the champagne; he was standing with Clara near my window and keeping up his share of the conversation in a very forced manner. In fact the ungrateful brute seemed rather relieved when another dance freed him from his companion. He came over to the window and looked sulkily into the street; and Jack, who had been doing yeoman's service, came and joined him, "Jack !" said Nevil, "I wrote and told you that I intended to go home to England by the end of this month. I have since changed my mind. I want to find something out before I leave." "Is it a secret?" "It's something I don't understand myself. It's about the queerest experience that ever happened to a man." "Can't you tell me what it is?" "Hardly: in the first place you'd laugh at me, in the next you would probably think that I was mad. I will wait till I hear from my partner out West before taking you into my confidence." "Who is he; do I know him?" "Only by name, I think; Blount, who used to have the station next to mine, higher up the river; you may have heard me mention his name." "I think I have; but this all sounds very mysterious." "And it is mysterious; l am fairly puzzled, and am delaying my departure on purpose to sift the matter through."
"Well, forget it for to-night; you're like the typical death's head at the feast at present." "I feel dull, I admit, and shall gracefully retire, I think." "Come and revive your drooping spirits first; you'll probably stay then." Nevil smiled faintly, and turned away with Jack; then as I saw Jack come back alone I concluded that Nevil had left, so I flew to the lower part of the building and saw him come out, and stand at the door lighting a cigar. Then he was accosted by somebody, who in the uncertain light looked something like James' friend of the bridge. Whoever it was they turned up the street together, and disappeared in the darkness. I am delighted to think that if I felt seedy this morning the Bouncer was prostrated utterly. James says he was danced off his legs. Clara seemed rather put out and absent; but I don't think it was altogether the ball that caused it. I shall have to alter my opinion of Nevil directly unless he uses his eyes a little better. Agatha has been throwing the doctor (I knew he was the doctor) at everybody's head this morning. She appears to be under the impression that she has the whole of the Royal Navy at her feet: she was wondering how she would look in a sailor's hat, and talking about blue serge dresses and sea sickness in the most familiar way. James was gloomily mysterious about some girl in pink, with a camellia in her hair, who either made an impression on him or was impressed by him, I could not make out which ; it might have been both— a mutual impression. At any rate he was very peculiar about it, and sniffed vigorously in a loud aside at a flower which she was supposed to have given him. That there are sadder moments in a man's life than those passed, after mild dissipation has been indulged in I believe, but I do not think that one ever experiences such a feeling of having failed to reach the high level you started to attain when you went first for the festive scene as you do the morning after a ball. You fail in a good many other ways and do not experience such painful remorse; you might even kill a man and not feel so bad about it afterwards as you would if you thought you had not made that impression on Matilda Elizabeth that your striking appearance deserved. I am afraid Bloomington felt like that the next morning. He seemed to be come unhappy after that conversation I over heard at the window; in fact some irreverent men who had also overheard it, and who did not owe him any money, chaffed him after supper; even offered their arms and asked if they could not take him to his mamma; at which Bloomington smiled in a sickly way that betokened intense appreciation and enjoyment. But I should not recommend one of those gay dogs to get into Bloomington's power for all that. Bloomington never had a chance to get near Clara; for I was glad to see that, if Master Nevil showed an absence of judgment and discernment that would have disgraced a sparrow, other men bad not such lack of appreciation; and if my girl was not the nicest girl there in the opinion of a good many I'm a hen; and I'd almost sooner be a man than that. The Bouncer too had no time to spare for Bloomington, eligible as he was; the novelty of the doctor's attentions "fluttered the dovecot" so. I think a B. and S. would do me a world of good; I head a report upstairs just now as if Jack was indulging in one; and think I shall go and investigate matters. I had some out of Jack's glass, and think that, all things considered, lam entitled to sleep; so in sackcloth and ashes, with rather a headache, I close this chapter.
Chapter VIII. Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks; A thousand men that fishes gnawed upon; Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl; Inestimable stores, unvalued jewels, All scattered in the bottom of the sea. "And, having buried the treasure at the foot of the large rock that I have fully described, Gervais and I started for the high mountains that we had seen from the mast-head." These where the words that Nevil heard as he listened outside the vine-covered verandah. Little Ada was speaking in a low tone, Miss Dunwick repeating the words after her, and her father apparently writing them down. In this most innocent occupation there was nothing so strange as to lead Nevil into the breach of social laws that he was then committing; the fascination lay in the child's voice; it was not her ordinary voice at all; it was not even a child's voice. It was the sort of voice that you would expect a corpse to speak in, if it suddenly got up, and commenced to tell secrets of the other world; and, what was strangest of all to Nevil, he thought he recognised it. He listened, almost holding his breath, whilst the story went on. "After many days' travelling, we arrived at the foot of them, and commenced the ascent with some difficulty, on account of the thick growth of vines that clothed the sides of this range. After we got to the top the country was much clearer but very rugged and mountainous. We suffered greatly from hunger, as there were very few wild creatures of any sort, and we found but little fish in any of the streams we crossed. We followed the course the water appeared to be taking, as we thought it would lead us into more level country, until one day we came to a place where the river we were then on ran between two high mountains; and on the aide of the westerly one there was a deep ravine, where Gervais picked up several small pieces of virgin gold. This place I have marked on the chart with a cross. We then followed the river on for many days, and at last came to an encampment of natives, with whom we made friends. We tried to find out from them if they had any knowledge of people of the same color as ourselves, but although when we pointed to the West they did the same with great cheerfulness, which encouraged us very much at first, we afterwards found that it meant nothing, only a simple way of repeating our gesture. When we left, these poor people followed us with great show of friendliness for some hours; and Gervais, who was tired, was anxious to stay with them. But as I had strong hope of reaching some of our colonies in India, if that our strength would but hold out, I persuaded him to
come on with me." Here the strange voice ceased, "She is reading well to-night," said Dunwick; "we could never get so clear a narrative before. I have noticed a change for the last five minutes." "Let us see if we can get any more information about the place of their first landing," he turned his daughter. She turned to some other part of the manuscript that she held in her hands, and the weird voice from the childish lips commenced again. "I pulled back to the ship to see if there was anything more worth saving, and then I saw the most horrible sight; for the mutineers had commenced to carouse in the state cabin and had taken the dead bodies of their comrades who had been shot, and the bodies of the officers, and put them up in seats with goblets of spirits in their hands; and many of the galley-slaves were already lying drunkenly on the floor. And at the far end of the cabin were two lamps, burning before the image of the Virgin Mary with the Christ in her arms, and she looked down on all this scene of riot where the dead men sat at the board, and their murderers caroused with them; and as the ruffians passed they bowed down, and crossed themselves with bloody fingers. When I saw all this I felt that I had been very guilty in leading these poor wretches into mutiny; until I remembered all the cruelty I had witnessed in the torture rooms, and the scars on Blount's wrists, where he had been stretched on the rack; then I thought I had been justified in regaining our liberty the only way we could. So, not letting the slaves see me, I rowed the little boat back to shore, and laid myself down between Blount and Gervais, who were sleeping on the sand. It was near morning, when the noise of a great explosion aroused us, and Gervais and I sitting up saw the hulk of the ship bursting into flames; and, even as we watched it, it sank, and then we missed Blount, and knew that the powder-magazine had been fired and that he must have done this thing, because of his great hatred and the oath that he had sworn against all the Spanish nation. And in the morning we saw him pulling about the bay in the little boat, and counting the bodies that had been thrown on the rocks, or were floating on spars; and when at last he came on shore he was quite mad, for his oath had been fulfilled, and his brain gave way. We watched him for two days and nights, but he would eat nothing, and died without recognising us at all; only talking much of his wife who had been burned by the Inquisition; as he told me when we first planned the mutiny. When he died, Gervais and I were quite alone, for nobody had come ashore after the explosion; and we saw no more natives after it, for they must have been frightened, and kept away. Then we made up our minds to bury all the treasure we had brought on land from the ship." Again the voice ceased. "This is strangely coherent to-night; cannot we get the name that has evaded us so long?" said Dunwick. "Ada, who is it that is writing?" said Miss Dunwick touching the child on the forehead. "A tall man dressed like a sailor; his clothes are very ragged, and his left hand has a bandage tied round it," replied the child in her natural voice. "Cannot you tell his name?" "Yes ; his name is David Nevil." Nevil started at hearing this, but managed to remain quiet and undiscovered. Dunwick jumped to his feet excitedly, and exclaimed: "We have it now; we are on the right track; Jane, you can, you must, manage this. See how this link of association has helped us on to-night; what else could have pieced together that broken illegible narrative that before we could make nothing of? We shall be rich yet." Jane Dunwick put the child down in the chair, and walked once or twice up and down the room. "I may be able to do something, but it is a doubtful outlook; how much have we to dread now!" and she glanced significantly at the apparently sleeping child. "Yes; one way and another things are getting desperate; and if we could but make this coup we should free ourselves easily from all that is now threatening. There is this man Armstrong to be silenced; and my brother coming up in a few days." "Yes, Mr. David Nevil would be very useful in two ways: I think that he might afford us present relief; and certainly help us on in our grand discovery, which I must confess I did not feel very sanguine about before to-night." "The coincidence of the names is singular, when taken in conjunction with the extended knowledge that Ada has displayed to-night." As he spoke, the child got off the chair and, with closed eyes, walked across the room, towards the door opening into the verandah; apparently, as Nevil thought, with his hair standing on end at the idea of discovery, having found out by some occult means his near presence, and evidently coming straight to him. He was some what relieved to see her cousin stop her, and, lifting her up, carry her into the bedroom. Nevil, keeping carefully in the shadows, stole back to his horse, feeling a more disgusted man than ever he did in his life before. He felt what the Americans call mean, and as he rode down to port he vowed that the next time he played eaves-dropper would be a queer episode in his life. That he should be looked on only as a medium for raising the wind was galling in the extreme, and the annoyance of the thought stopped him from considering the other passages of the night until cooler reflections ensued. Then he fairly felt puzzled. What had he to do with buried treasure, and some old-world story that had neither beginning nor end to it I? But the confounded thing haunted him, and he could not shake the feeling off at all. At last he determined to write to Blount, and find out whether there was anything in the past history of his family that would corroborate what he had heard. He found the small township of embarkation fuller than usual, there being several men in from the neighboring stations; and he was not sorry to seek in their society a few days' oblivion from reflection on his late adventure. The township was certainly made very lively during the few days they were awaiting the arrival of the steamer. When people fairly lay themselves out for it, it is astonishing what a large amount of amusement can be extracted from the smallest
possible materials. When the steamer arrived everybody seemed surprised that the time had passed so quickly. One passenger landed. He was an elderly man, with a stubborn peevish face, who made a most awful fuss about the absence of some mysterious parcel which he was under the impression had been deliberately thrown overboard. This matter finally adjusted by the discovery of the parcel in his own pocket, he proceeded with an injured air to engage a room at the hotel, loudly complaining at the non-arrival of horses to meet him, from Sedgemoor, of which station he professed himself the owner. He declined to entertain the suggestion that as the steamer was before her time the horses would probably turn up on the morrow; threatened to have the landlord summoned for keeping a disorderly house, because the cockroaches made a noise in his bed-room at night; went round to all the stores asking the price of everything, but buying nothing; told every fellow whom he could get hold of, with an air of triumph, that his personal expenditure was under 5s. a week; and finally departed, the curse of the entire township on his head. Over the calm sea that shelters itself between the great Barrier and the main land, and amongst the numberless islands that dot and stud it, Nevil found himself always thinking of the story of his namesake; wondering whereabouts the scene occurred that he had heard described: and at last got so annoyed that he determined to forego for a time his purposed visit to England, and satisfy himself that the whole thing was humbug. [TO BE CONTINUED]