Chapter 20711979

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Chapter NumberXXXIII.
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-12-31
Page Number841
Word Count5201
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleGathered In
article text

The Storyteller.

Gathered In.*



BY CATHERINE HELEN SPENCE. Author "Clara Morison," "Mr. Hogarth's Will," "Hugh Lindsay's Guest," &c.

IN a billiard-room in a somewhat shady neigh-<*> bourhood, a middle-aged shabby-looking man started at the name of Oswald, carelessly uttered by his companion, and watched the pair keenly.

Hugh Carmichael, for it was he who had drifted into a low stratum of society in New South Wales, wondered if this could be the son of that Isabel Oswald whose just rights he had en dsavoured to obtain without success. He asked casually where the young man hailed from, and was informed that he was the son of a rich squatter in Victoria now, and somewhat famous all over Australia; bo he subsided into comparative iadifference—this could not be his Oswald. The room was filled with the hahiluis of the place, all evidently of much lower position than the strangers, but all full of the idea that they "could easily win money from them, which in the case of EUerton at least was all but impossible. It may seem a very chimerical idea for poor Jim Oswald to imagine that he could get the better in any way of a man so astute and a? unscrupu lous as his companion, and he was a weak man to hope to influence others to work for him, but ?till the idea bad taken such hold on his mind that the longer success was delayed the more vehemently he desired it. EUerton, of course, knew that there was no real lovo between himself and his victim, but from many words and actions of Oswald's he came to the conclusion that his insane passion for Sybil was completely worn out, and thit it was only as a knowing hand who had seen and associated with upper-crust fellows in the old country that be had hung on him, very much to Mr. EUerton's pecuniary advantage. Heavy as w«r« the young man's drafts on old George Oswald, they did not represent all his losses, * The tola right to'pnblish " Oathered In" in Queens land baa been secured by the proprietor* of the Qutew lander.

for be had given I 0 U'a without any apparent concern. Jim's life was therefore too valuable to Ellerton to be ri-ked fuolUhly—and oa the appearance of a brawl iv which the lad felt strangely interested he wanted to hurry out before the quarrel came to v head. Hugh Car michael noted the dupe and the victim, and wished that he had only the dresa, the appear* ance, and the (as he called it) cheek that would enable him to hold in hand so profitable a charge. There was some difficulty in getting out; the stair and passages were crowded with Borne new comers attracted by the noise, who wanted to know what was the matter. " It was easier getting in," said Ellerton. " Facilia dcscentus Averni," said the stranger. Jim exchanged a glance with his companion ; a Latin quotation from the shabbiest man in the company always amused him. " That's what I always used to Bay to Kenneth when he talked big about Latin and Qreek and stuff," he said half aloud to Ellerton. " Much good it does. And there, hang it, he's got the govornor's ear and a pull at the governor's purse, as I hear from my mother—confound him. I suppose it is time we moved homeward, unless you care to take root in Sydney." " I should not mind doing it, for they have more appreciation of the best style of music in Sydney than in most places, but I must go borne for my wife before I can settle anywhere. I don't suppose the Wilta people would let her come here to join me." Although the stranger did not hear all the wordd spoken by the two strangers, he caught the name Kenneth, and he moved towards the speaker. " I think your friend called you Mr. Oswald," said he. " May I ask if your family is originally from the Lothians in Scotland ?" " You may ask and welcome ; but as to an answer, that is a horse of another colour," Baid Jim, rudely. He liked to be rude to a seedy man who made Latin quotations. " The colonial aristocracy are not generally very much interested in their British antece dents," said Ellerton, with the Bneer that Jim always hated him for. " We are not so ticklish in Victoria as they are hereabouts," said Jim. "At any rate, there are not such serious reasons why we should be. I'm not ashamed of anything either in Australia or out of it that my people have done, but I don't want any cad that loafs about Sydney to be ask ing questions and perhaps claiming acquaintance with some mouldy old unole or grandfather in the old country about whom I don't care a hang." " I meant nothing offensive," said the stranger, " quite the contrary. This is my card." And he astonished Jim by presenting a Bomewhat dirty card with "Mr. Hugh CarmichaeL 8.A.," on it. " If a man has had ill-luck, and is a little down in the world, it does not prevent him from being a gentleman all the same, and when I heard a familiar name I thought I should not be mis understood if I asked a simple question, and on second thoughts I think you will acknowledge as much yourself, Mr, Oswald. I do not ask the question again if it is still objectionable." " It's the governor you should get hold of, or Kenneth, if you know the old folks; but how can I take an interest in people I have never aeen and don't care to see ? but you are right in your guess, that the governor is from the Lothians," Baid Jim, relenting under Carmiohael's respectful apology. " Are his father and mother still alive ?" " Tes, so far aB I know; but I've been on my travel* for the best part of a year," said Jim Oswald. " And still living in the old place V "Yes, I think so—no, by-the-bye, I think I have heard Kenneth say tkey moved to some place nearer Edinburgh." " And your auat, your father's sister, is she still alive?" pursued Carmiohael, still more earnestly. ' " I think she is dead ; I'm pretty sure she is dead-t-at least Kenneth never Bpeaks about an aunt, and I am Bure he jaws enough about the old birds." -" Never speaks of- her at all, you say ?" said the stranger with a peculiar smile. "He is your cousin, I suppose ?" " Ob, yes ! a so* of my uncle James, who was drowned at sea ; at least I think it was either James or Patrick; but these stories go in at one ear and out at the other." " I did not know that either of those brothers had been married. Are you sure this ia not a son of the uncle who went to America t" " Oh, no ; he's living—l know that. I hear he's doing well, and I wanted to hunt him up in the Western States, but this fellow would not stir from San Francisco, and after all perhaps it was too much trouble. But the governor would have liked it." " And your cousin Kenneth is certainly not hit Bon," said the stranger mußingly. " His father haa been dead for age*, and his mother too, and the governor took him up, aad Bent him to school and to college, and had him out to be the plague of my life, and to make his own game at my expense, hang him 1" "Is he uot older than you, Mr. Oswald ?" asked the stranger. " Yes, more's the pity, for he crows over me with his superior age, and yet it is not three years after all." " And he is considerably handsomer, which is also a pity," said Ellerton. " You'll be cut off with a shilling, my fine fellow, and your cousin will step into your shoes, if you don't mend your manners." " No fear of that," said Jim, who nevertheless had often had some misgivings when he thought on the steadily increasing favour in which his cousin wan held, and who hated Ellerton the more for reminding him of them. " What does the old fellow care for good looks, at least such good looks as that great hulking fellow Kenneth has got, when there's no likeness to himself. Now I am as like the governor as two peas." " On a smaller scale and with a little different complexion ; the sort of like>9ss of a Prussian blue to a marrow-fat," said Ellerton. " You are like the family," said the Btranger, " and you seem to have got the family spirit. They are all bold and adventurous, all men to make their mark. And your auot is dead ! And you never heard anything about her, about your Aunt Isabel ?" " I euppose you were spoons upon her in the

old daya," said Jim Oswald, laughing vociferously. " That was a very sentimental tone of inquiry. No, I never beard about her at all, bo I cannot satisfy your tendur curiosity. But old storied are dry work; what will you have to drink ? Let's get out of this low hole, and get something at a better tap. I can't think why we came here at aIL " I am very glad you did, because it has allowed me the pleasure of making your acquaintance and that of your friend," aaid Hugh Carmichael. EUerton turned on the seedy scholar such a glance of contempt that the latter felt ten times more desirous of ousting him from his lucrative position and taking the young Victorian in hand than he had done at first sight. " I shall go to the theatre—l promised to look in to-night—and leave you to your new-found friend," said EUerton, with a* much scorn in his voice as in his eyes. Hugh Carmichael caught a flash of young Oswald's eye as Ellertou went out. He was off his guard, and the li.ttred he felt was clearly manifested to this watch'ul and interested spectator. "No great difficulty here," he thought; " there is a screw loose somewhere." EUerton had ceased to flatter and study and consider James Oswald as he had done in the earlier days of their acquaintance. He saw that, in spite of his change of feeling with regard to Sybil, of which he now felt assured, the young man still followed him, did as he wished, lost money at games, expended it in travelling, with out more than the customary growl, which was inevitable. Use and want, and the youDg fellow's intense stupidity, bound his victim to him. Chapter XXXIV. AN UNEXPECTED COADJUTOR. Whhn Hugh Carmichael used the old address which had been so successful with a preceding generation, he thought that under the circum stances he could scarcely fail of success. He forgot, however, that in these days he had been young and full of animal spirits, ready for any adventure, and able for any fatigue, and that he had not caught the style of manner, of speech, and of thought which is so strangely fascinating to the young of each generation in their entrance into life. His exceedingly shabby appearance was also much against him; but, on the other hand, he had the vantage ground of knowing the secret grudge felt by James Oswald against his supposed friend EUerton. He adroitly spoke of the latter with qualified praise, and led Jim to make admissions that he was apt to carry things with too high * hand. Then he sympathised with him, flattered him, drank with him, and drew out of him all he knew about his father's possessions, hia father's weak points, his cousin's underhand ways, and the recent grievance about the £10,000. Mr. Carmichael had seen the paragraph, which had been copied in the Sydney papers, about tha princely liberality of Mr. Oswald, of Tingalpa, and he saw how sore the heir to thk estate felt about this folly, and appeared to acquiesce in hi* •pinion that no doubt his father had been got over when he was drunk by this beggarly cousin, who was always puttiog his fingers into other people's affairr. EUerton had not liked the gift, which was so much taken out of what he considered a sort of bank of his own, but he had been opedy amused at Jim's indignation, whereas this new man sympathised with it. As they drank pretty deeply, the younger man got muddled, but Carmichael, who was an old seasoned toper, kept his head clear, and did not leave him till they had made an appointment to meet on tho morrow. EUerton was v«ry contemptuous about the friend whom Jim hud made on the strength of a Latin quotation and of old family ties, and said that he had better cut him if he did not want to be cut by himself. James Oswald wished to do neither. It entered his mind that this poor seedy clever man might help his great project, and might suggest some plan for ridding him of the man he hated, and who stood in his way— only ha had a wholesome fear of committing himself in expressing his wishes. When he spoke of returning to Victoria to look after Kenneth's proceedings, EUerton said he wished to return also. His wife was now completely recovered, and it was time he took her from Wilta, where she had stayed to long. There appeared to be a good opening for a brilliant operatic career for her, and he heard that her voice was, if not improved, as fine as ever. Of course there must be » little special instruction, and she must go in person to Melbourne in the first place to let the managers and musical critics have a taste of her quality ; but that would not take long, and she would astonish the giaaral public very soon. Jim had always hated the notion of this desecration of his idol, and he knew how repugnant to her own feelings any such public appearance must be, so that Eller ton's quiat way of saying his plans would be carried out was gaU and wormwood to him. There was an added cloud on his brow when he kept his appointment with Mr. Carmichael, and, the key having been given to his oharacter by the look and the talk of the previous evening, that worthy had no difficulty in finding out that something fresh had irritated him against Mr. EUerton. He was sitting reading the newspaper account of a trial for murder on circumstantial evidence, in which some stupid oversight had led to detec tion and conviction. " How blunderiogly these people set about their work," said Carmichael; "I am sure there are many cases of murder which are never found out at all. Some by violence are supposed to be accidents, and some of poisoning that are put down to natural causes. If people only had the prudence to play their cards well, there need be no discovery or suspicion." " Do you think so V said Jim, with flashing eyes. " I have not the slightest doubt of it," said Carmichael, deliberately. " Did you ever know of such a case ?" asked Jim. " I know of two or three, in which I feel quite certain there was foul play." " And you did not think of denouncing the people who were concerned in them ?" "No, not I," said Carmichael carelessly. "My suspicions were only my own suspicions, judging from some circumstances which I knew of—not sufficient to prove anything, though, if I had set

the rigbt machinery to work, the thing might have been proved. But it was nut my bueiness, and, besides, there are some men aud women that it is a good deed to hurry a little out of the world—out of the way of doing mischief, just at one would kill a venomous snake or a scorpion." " And that was the case in those things you spoke about?" said Jim, with suppressed interest. " Oh 1 yea ; a good riddance, I thought. Hang it, if a man has got a drunken wife or a woman has got a brutal tyrant of a husband, or An old miserly hunks of a. father or uncle keeps his heir out at elbows, where is the harm of hurrying nature a little ? They must all die some day. It comex to all the same a hundred yean hence, as Mrs. Squoers used to say to the boys when they got au extra flogging." jAtnes Oswald sat silent a few minutes, then ordered a pick-me-up in the shape of a glass of bitters for himself and Mr. Carmichael, while tie latter returned to the report of the trial. " This is so clumsily done," said he, " and the motives were too transparent. No amount of false swearing can get people off if they show their cards like that. A poor mau who wanted money—an injured man who wanted revenge. Suspicion, of course, falls at once on him." Jim thought over it after a pull at the bittera. He was not a poor man who wanted money. No one, 08 be thought, knew his hatred to Ellerton and no one could suppose he was actuated by revenge. As for his love for Mrs. Ellerton, he had rever thought he showed that at all, and after keeping away from her, and not writing to her or about her all these long months, no one would believe but that he was quite indifferent to her. Whatever happened to Ellerton, if he was not immediately and personally concerned, no suspicion could fall on him. " If I hated a man I would always consider it safest to be extra civil to him," said Cartnicbael, watching th-> tffeet of his words ; " because if anything happened to him—and nobody knows what may happen—things are all the better for all parties." " Supposing that I hated a man," said Jim, lowering his voice, " and wanted to get rid of him V —and he paused. " I'd watch my opportunity," said Carmichael, " So I have, but it has never come," said Jim, " It may come by-and-by." " I've lost my best chance, I fear." " I'd get some other mau whom I could trust to watch him." "That's better," said Jim, "but can you trust another man?—there's the hitch." " That depends," said Carmichael. " Depends on what ?" " On bis hating the man as much, or it may be more than you do." " Aye, that might be ; that's what I've aimed at, but I fear such a man is not to be found," Mid Jim, slowly, "and if he is not " " Then you might make it worth somebody's while to risk romething to serve you." " And if it seemed worth his while ?" " He'd plan something." " Safe, swift, and certain ?' said Jim, sneaking , v with unwonted precision. All these months of jtt concentrated thought on one subject ha#<aiadp"£jfl him thoroughly understand it. < &***~-^!!3 " Just so," said Carmichael. - , f ~* ? " And the first man asks no qaestionjs ; knows nothing at all about it," said Jim. in th«*ame low eager voice, wiping the perspiration off his face. " He knowß nothing at all aboukthe matter," said Carmichael. 1- - " And what would be about the fig-ire ?" said Jim. _ " That depends on the circumstances, on the riak, on the trouble, on the expenses that must be incurred," said the new found counsellor. " But I don't want to hear about the circum stances ; I tell you, I am to know nothing what* ever about it; these were your own words," said Jim impatiently. "That makes it much more costly," said Carmichael, deliberately. " Can't be helped. I may not be able to pay you all at once, but I'm good for £500." " Five hundred pounds !" said Carmichael. "It is not much, but I'll take it as ap instal ment. Were you never tempted to do it your- Belf ? You've been together so long you must have had opportunity enough." " None of any good to me. Once I thought he was washed overboard in a terrific storm, and I was inclined to give the wave a helping hand, when he hollowed out, and people came round and spoiled the game. And once, when we were driving together on the face of a precipice, I had a mind to make the horse take a false step and turn it all over. If I had been quite sure that I could have sprung out myself at the right moment I would have done it ; but I have not the nerves for that sort of business. " You owe him money, do you not ?" " Not much," said Jim. _" You Bhould pay him off, or giva him such bills as are negotiable for all of it, before I take a step." " 1 have not got the money, and, besides, you want some." " Are you not of age ?" asked Carmichael. " Yes, I came of age last month, and here I am in this beastly hole with him, and I meant to have such a flare-up at home or in Melbourne when I was twenty-one." " Well, you can draw bills on your father for the amouut you owe him, md you must give me something in hand, for one cannot move with out that in such dolicate matters. When do you make your start for Melbourne ?" " Next Monday we propose to sail." " Well, we must see that he does not start with you. He will not be well enough. Let him go to the wharf by himself if he is able to." " I don't want to hear anything about it," said Jim. " Well, I don't mean to tell you, only this, that you must be civil ; that is your game with the party at present," said Carmichiiel. Fear and hope, expectation and suspense, struggled together in James Oswald's poor little soul after this conversation. All that he took in very distinctly was that be munt give the bills to Mr. Ellerton, and get £50 iv hard cash for Mr. Carmichael to begin with, and give bills for the remainder of the £500, and that ho was to be especially civil to the tuan against whom he was plotting. He surprised Ellertou, who had noticed a littU ill-humour lately, by bis liberal

dealings and his extra patience. Indeed, he set that gentleman to wondering what could bo his motive, but he could see none, and so merely supposed that he had recovered his natural ascen dency over the inferior intellect Thero were no signs of illness on Ellerton'a part, which Jim half expected. The preparations for departure were made, the cab w:w called, nud both gentlemen were stepping into it when Jim recollected that he had forgotten something. He had to go to the bank, but would not be long. Ellerton had better go and take possession of their berths, and pui their luggage on board, and he would get his business done and join him. He went to the bank for the passage-money, which he had purposely forgotten, and looked a little shaky, ua if he had had a night of it (the teller remarked to his fellow-officers), as he was a good deal in the habit of doiug. When he took a cab from the bank to the wharf he saw a crowd round a broken-down vehicle, and an injured man in the arms of some person unknown. It waa the cab and Mr. Eller ton. Was he killed or wounded ? " Here comes bis friend ; he'll tell us what to do," said one. " There'B been a precious smash here," said another. '' A little larrikin of a boy driving a cart went right at the trap, and it's smashed. He's crying, and saying he didn't go for to do it, aad he says he was "not up to driving in such crowds, but he's done the mischief all the same." " Is the gentleman killed ?" said James Oswald, with real emotion in his voice. " No, I think not," said the man who held him up. " Here comes tbn doctor ; he'll tell how much is wrong. He's fainted, aayhow." A surgeon walked forward hastily, and pro nounced the injury to be merely a broken leg and some bad bruises, but he was fortunate to have escaped so well, because the fall had beeu among a lot of iron rails laid upon the Bide of the wharf, and ho might quite as easily have broken his neck or had fatal concussion of the brain. The boy was brought up before the Police Court for reckless driving, but he pleaded his youth and inexperience, and looked such a foolish fellow, that with a caution not to attempt to drive a horse and cart in a crowd till he was five years older, and had more senße, he was fined and discharged. James Oswald gave orders that his injured friend should be taken to the nearest tolerably comfortable hotel, and accompanied him thither with the bitterest feelings of disappointment. It bad been so nearly done, and so cleverly done, that it Beemed no other opportunity could again offer half so good. " What sort of a constitution has your friend ?" asked the surgeon, after he had done all he could for his patient. " Oh, good enough," said Jim. " I should think he has lived fast." " No mistake about that." " Quite young, though ; I should say thirty two" " Not more then twenty-eight, I believe," said Jim. * 'JLtfe '? old in constitution for his years. If he is n.'u careful he may find this accident some what critical." eed !" said Jim, brightening up. ' Wll find it hard to be perfectly abstemious, but that '..? absolutely necessary. Inflammation may Ret in, an., the consequences may be serious." " You don't meau to Bay that a man may die of a broken leg," said Jim. " A man may die of a scratch in the finger. Whon the blood is in a vitiated state, as is the case with hard drinkers, there is no saying what results may arise from the most trifling abrasion of the skin. If you had met with the Bame accident, as you might have done but for your delay at the bank, you would have been just as ticklish a case. I've set the leg and prescribed a lotion for the bruises, and ordered cooling medicine ; but the most important prescription is that he should have no stimulants whatever." Here was hope for James Oswald. Ellerton could not live without brandy. He saw his friend comfortably laid in bed, and went to the place where he had met Mr. Carmichael on the day when this project was first broached. There he found him reading the newspaper with an appearance of unconcern. " It's a failure so far," Baid James Oswald in a whisper. "Only his leg broken, and some bruises ; but if he's not careful the doctor Bays it may be serious." " A pity it is only half done ; but leave the matter to me," said Carmichael. " May I go off to Melbourne and leave him ?" said Jim. " You'd better. And, as it appears the steamer is delayed a few hours, you can save your passage yet. If he had been really done for you must have stopped for the coroner's inquest; but as it is I suppose you have him comfortable in a hotel, and what more can you do for him ? You had better get home as soon as you can." This advice wan bo palatable that Jim hurried to the hotel and told Ellerton, who was conscious but suffering a great deal of pain and in the greatest ill-humour, that as a. broken leg was only a matter of time, and as he could not be of any earthly ÜBe in a sick-room, he thought be had better save his own passage and go home. The Burgeon was in attendance, and the landlord said there was a man be could get to wait on him as much as he needed ; and though it was a pity to leave him laid up by the leg like that he was aurn he would do no good, and bo had telegraphed that he was to be home in time for Castlehurst races. He had made a book for these races so he must go. " Telegraph for my wife," said Ellerton savagely; " she must come and nurse me." It was on the end of Jim's tongue to say that he had been such a careful nurse to her that the least she could do now was to come at once at his BummoDn ; but prudence restrained him. He was to be civil. He telegraphed acoording to instructions, but added on his own account that there was nothing bad in the case—that it was merely a matter of timo. He felt sure that the Grays would not let her go, and he did not believe she had any money to pay her expenses with. He did not think that she could wish to go, because Ellerton had been Buch a neglectful cruel husband, and was now plotting how to

make money of her voice. She must be glad to have a peaceful life away from him. The first step in the matter waa taken ; but how would Hugh Carmichael carry out the complete fulfilment of his promise? Poison, which first suggested itself to James Oswald's mind, would be impossible with a surgeon in daily attendance, and even administering mis chievous stimulants might be checked by the probably repeated warnings and commands of the professional man. Still it was something to have get rid of the man he had hated so long, and to picture him lying on a sick bed wishing for bis wife, and her not coming. He lost no time in getting home now that he had made up his mind to it. He spent no more hours even iv Melbourne than were necessary to get the first train, and got to Tingalpa in apparently good health and spirits, having telegraphed to Wilta from Melbourne that there was really no need for Mrs. Ellerton to go to Sydney, for the case was a very simple one. (to be continued)