Chapter 33150422

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Chapter NumberI.- (Continued).
Chapter TitleNone.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33150422
Full Date1898-02-11
Page Number65
Corrections5
Word Count4709
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Last Corrected2020-08-28
Newspaper TitleWestern Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)
Trove TitleThe Wealth of the West
article text

OUR SERIAL STORY.

THE " WEALTH OF THE WEST."

BY LOUIS MONTCALM.

[WRITTEN FOR THE WESTERN MAIL.]

PART 1.

CHAPTER I.-Continued.

They shook hands—Bates as stolidly as if he were being introduced to some one who was very indifferent to him.

" You see that blind-cord on the win- dow?" said Conyers, pointing " You'll need it directly. Cut it down It will do to bind the maniac. Do it, Bates— no objections. If you ? don't, it will be

me or you for it. I would probably— you understand?" he said, with ghastly suggestiveness.

Bates nodded.

" I see you are fond of big game when the fits come on," he said.

He cut down the cord, and added with a grin—

" Doesn't it feel rather like presiding at your own funeral?"

" It does rather "'

Conyers rose, and came forward with

his hands held together at the wrists.

" Bind me firmly. I'll need it." " Do you make much noise ?"

" No. "

" And how long does the — the ape

business last eh ? "

" It's all blank—blank—blank, when it's over. I don't know. But—but you won't leave me, Bates? You won't re- member it when it's over? You won't hate me—eh, Bates ?"

Bates glanced at his friend's face, and saw enough there to make him secure the knots more quickly. He shuddered for a moment and then pulled himself together again.

" Lie down here," he said, leading Conyers to the sofa. " Lie down,'' he repeated with command . He saw that he had not much time to spare. He improvised bonds with a couple of handkerchiefs, and another blind-cord; secured Conyers to the sofa, and threw a rug over him.

" ' Lie there, he cried, fell pirate ' " he quoted, and then sat down to watch and wait. "Interesting," he remarked, "but painful. Poor old Frank. What a

fate!''

Some minutes passed; and then what had been man a little while before, began to writhe under the rug——

There are things it is best not to go into details upon. I will leave it un- described.

When Bates pulled the blinds aside it was bright morning. He drew in a deep, breath, and leaned out to get as much air as he could, and remarked simply—

" Phew ! I wouldn't care to pass another night like that in a hurry !"

There was a whistle in the distance. A train was entering a station some- where. Then there occurred to Bates one of those thoughts that come, how and whence no man knows, but which come and are true, nevertheless. He started and said to himself, as if some- one had whispered the word in his ear—

His uncle, and Margaret's father ! Another ten minutes and he will be here. Bismillah ! what am I to do ?"

He did not know. Individuals, as well as armies, are seized with panic Bates' brain simply refused to furnish him with a single thought.

He waited in a paralysis of fear A cab drove up to the door Some luggage was handed out, and carried into the hotel. A minute later an old gentleman turned into the street, with that military bearing that is so touch more military in a man who has been in the army than in one who is in the army.

"Shade of Œdipus—who shall struggle against fate ?"

Footsteps approached along the pas- sage. Bates, was at the door in an instant. It was the landlord.

" Burns, that's Conyer's uncle's lug- gage you are taking in ; don't let

him" .

" Sam—u—el !" called a shrill female voice from below ; " come here—this

instant."

" Coming, Martha," answered the landlord, with a promptness that sug- gested years of married life.

" Burns, you idiot—stop—Burns, I say."

" I'll see you in a minute ; that's the old woman calling now. Coming Martha, my dear, coming."

Bates went half-way down the stairs in pursuit and then paused. He was in time to see the military figure fill the doorway and to hear a voice (whose owner he cursed) say—

" Mr Conyers ?—yes, sir—number 24 sir."

The servility of the ordinary menial to the military had never seemed so re- pulsive in Bates' ears before.

" My tip would only have been half as big, but you've lost it," he said, and used an expression that I will not translate to

a mixed audience.

Disaster followed fast.

" A-ah, Bates, my lad. Where's

Frank ?"

" No Bates, for the most ingenious lie you ever told in a life where prevari- cation has been at times unavoidable," thought Bates.

" Colonel, I am glad to see you," tell- ing the lie at the start, but, lacking te

ingenuity.

" You young dog— you've been dissi- pating. Eyes like burnt holes in blanket. Show me Frank's room."

("Ye gods—kind gods, for a little in- spiration in this mine hour of bitter need.") " Colonel, you're early. What brought you down ? You must be a bit fagged—won't you have something in the way of refreshment, after your journey ? Do, to—to please me. Er—

Burns——"

" Don't bother Burns just now, Bates. Show me Frank's room ; I have some-

thing to tell him that admits of no delay."

"He's—he's asleep. Be persuaded, Colonel, and have some refreshment."

" Bates, I've caned you many a time in your old mother's day, as you remem- ber; and I shall hit you again if you seek to delay me. I'm Captain Absolute. Frank's room, sir, on the instant."

" 'Lest with a whip of scorpions you pursue my lingering,' eh? A drop of eau de vie, now."

" No quotations at this hour of the morning. There's the stairs. Number 24. March."

Bates hesitated.

" Bates, is the lad the worse for liquor? Have you been leading him

into mischief ?"

"As a matter of fact I have. The whole thing was entirely my fault."

" Upon my word, Bates, you try my friendship—you. do, indeed. I never thought good would come of your in- timacy with Frank. I was a fool not to put my foot down at the beginning. What do you mean by it ?"

" Lord knows, Colonel. I can't tell

you. I am as sorry as I can hold, but

don't blame Frank. He wasn't to blame."

" Don't talk to me of not being to blame. Show me his room. Am I a stranger to be kept at a distance? "

" He's worse than asleep—he's ill."

" That will do. I will find 24 myself". " Che sara sara. (This way, Colonel). L'escalier vient d'etre—Colonel, you've taken some wet paint off on your elbow. Lets have a talk in French, and growl at my accent as you used to do ; it's a way you have in the army———"

The Colonel pushed on till he stopped at 24. He paused to make one remark.

" You miserable idiot," he said, and opened the door.

Conyers had fallen from the sofa, and lay in a collapsed heap on the floor. One glance was sufficient. The Colonel closed the door as quickly as he had opened it. He passed Bates with one glance in silence.

Bates laughed, stupidly as he heard the Colonel give a direction to the cab-

man and drive off.

"Frank, old boy, I did my best, and —and, well, you won't have much diffi- culty in breaking the business off now. I reckon—'woe is me, Alhama. ' I mustn't

let him know his uncle has seen him.

Life is becoming too full of problems."

CHAPTER II.

There were very few prettier little places than Colonel Page's little place at Foxcross. It's first charm was the view. You entered the morning room, an exceedingly pretty little room, and the charm fell upon you. Lady's handiwork was manifest here, there, and every- where—chairs that were a premium on laziness ; an indefinable odour of flowers.

It was a room that made, you think what a really excellent thing the world is and life is—to those who have money The sun was shining in, bringing with it the shadows of foliage, and the netted sunbeams danced on carpet and wall and drapery.

On this particular morning a girl was

seated in the darkest corner of the room

reading. Whether it was an equivocal modern problem-novel is not now ascer- tainable. but she was to all appearance extremely interested ; therefore the pro-

babilities are all in favour of the novel. She was prettily dressed, and had coiled herself up in an equally pretty and picturesque attitude, possibly with an eye to effect; for, mingled with the twittering of birds from among the trees, the sound of a male voice was now and then heard. Another piece of circum- stantial evidence is that, mingled with the scent of the flowers, was a faint per- fume of cigars.

Presently Margaret Page entered the room— tall for a woman, shoulders well back, light hair, blonde, self-reliant, and decisive—the sort of woman that has made history, and that makes or mars men, according to circumstances ;—" ac-

cording to circumstances " — because Woman, in the abstract, is merely a quite non-moral force. She does not alter man's character, but only intensi- fies it for good or ill, as she happens to find it. A proposition which may sound heterodox, but glance through history

and see if it is not true all the same.

" Good morning, Phyllis. The room is so dark where you are, I did not see you for a moment. Isn't it simply de-

licious to merely be alive on such a morning. What is that I can smell ?

Surely—yes, cigars. Ah ha. Mr. Yeend has been here I see, eh ? I heard a voice sing, I smelt cigars ; deduction, Mr. Yeend. Had I heard a voice swear, and smelt cigars, I should have deduced———" "Papa."

" 'Traduced' papa, you mean, you irreverent girl. No, Phyllis. Other men swear; papa is only vivid. Have you ever noticed, Phyllis, that the

French are the only people who make provision for—for—you know what I mean—expletives, you know. In English, now, in English people can only be vulgar, when they leave the beaten track."

" Nom du pipe, sacre bleu, and so on, you mean, as opposed to our one little monosyllable, which we have to think and which men say ? "

" Precisely. Isn't it lovely though. Look at everything-the sky, the fields,

the corn, the stream, and one's pulses' going throb, throb, throb. A-horse, a horse—oh Phyllis I must ride on a morning like this. Oo-oo! can't you feel the breeze go past your ears at the thought of it. What a beautiful world

isn't it ?"

From where Margaret stood she could see the erect figure of Mr. Yeend pass- ing to and fro between the trees, still smoking.

" Yes, very. Fifty men are imprisoned in a mine in Wales ; fifty thousand or so have been swallowed up by an earth- quake ; and a woman at our own doors has got nine months for stealing a pound of cat's meat—all in the same morning's paper. Beau-ti-ful world ! Miss A—— wore a beautiful eau-de nil; Miss B—— a tasteful French confection ; Miss C ——was the cynosure of neighbouring eyes in a what's its name trimmed with something else—same paper. Beautiful world I so congruous, so nicely arranged. Oh I like it awfully. Makes one feel as if she had a life ticket kt an eternal theatre. You can stare, if you like Margaret ! I'm sure I can never feel sufficiently indebted to the obliging people who contract misfortunes to enhance the pleasure of us who look on, and who realise how pleasant it is not to be swallowed up in an earthquake or get entombed in a mine, or to have to prowl

around after cat's meat."

" Oh talk of something else—do ! Cat's meat! and a morning like this! Here comes our baritone. Good morn- ing Mr. Yeend."

Phyllis looked over the top of her book

at the two. She was in love with Yeend.

She feared that he was in love with Margaret—which was as a matter of fact the case.

Yeend was a man of Yorkshire ex-

traction, tall, broad-shouldered, athletic, with a squarish face, pronounced features, a spikey moustache, light eyes, and a general suggestion of good humour, sel-

fishness, and sensuality, clean-looking and well groomed. The sort of man who bullies other men, and is loved by women who like a " masterful " nature. Probably thirty or thirty-five years of age. Played billiards, played cards, rode well, shot well,-boxed well. Had a good deal of that education which is called "knowing the world," and pre- tended to a good deal more. The sort of man they make colonists of. Rude to men who were beneath him, polite to ladies—very—and considered the art of conversation was to make compliments with his tongue and look them with his eves. Margaret disliked him, and was therefore particularly cordial to him; knew he loved her in his own way, and felt flattered and humiliated in conse- quence.

Mr. Yeend was staying with the Colonel, and had been there now five days. He had thought out or read up a fresh compliment every morning. He now delivered his sixth, and gave a seventh in an off-hand way to Phyllis, who made no reply, but began to swing her foot and went on reading or pre- tending to read.

" Morning, Yeend ; morning, girls."

The Colonel had entered, and in a bad humour. " He had been in a bad humour for several days," Margaret had remarked, and wondered why, for it was not his " liver" week. Probably some- thing to do with mines, she suspected, because Yeend had been for years in Australia, and the substance of all his conversation with the colonel was mines, mines, toujours mines. His special mission to England was to accomplish the interesting work of floating a mine in some place in West Australia with an unpronounceable native name, but called in English " The Wealth of the

West."

Yeend himself was in excellent spirits, and stood, the centre of the group, radiating health and good spirits (like the rest of the scenery), and prepared at a moment's notice to pay more compli- ments as fast as he could think of them (which was not very fast—they came better when he depended on his memory), or to talk mines with the Colonel, who was an influential man in the Wealth of the West Syndicate,—who knew nothing whatever about the matter, and

patronised those who did. Mr. Yeend was one who did ; but he accepted the patronage, pledged himself on every occasion to do as the Colonel suggested, and straightway went forth and did even as he judged best—and the,Colonel

was none the wiser.

This morning the Colonel, having thrown out his salutation, took to pacing up and down the terrace.

" I'd draw your attention to the fact," he said to Yeend, " that you are stand- ing near the doorway of that room, smoking. I have not been allowed to

have a whiff in that loom since it was a room, if it meant the sacrifice of the best smoke in the box. The odour of your cigar will driftin and get among the curtains. If you must smoke you must keep well out in the open air."

" Let me join you, Colonel, and offer you one. Do you know there's a small fortune to be made out west, even in cigars. You send your green weeds up to a place called Cossack; you season them there in a vulgar fraction of the usual period, you bring them back again, and you have a superior article at the cheapest rate in the market."

"Humph ! Syndicate ?"

"Could do worse. Colonel, don't bite the end off in that savage manner. It is pure sacrilege. You take your knife you cut out a little triangle—so—and

there you have your superior cigar with- out the end being mangled."

" Go for a ride, Yeend. That beast Czar is eating his head off. The girls will go too—that is to say, Margaret can't. Margaret, I want you."

Margaret came and linked her arm in her father's. Yeend tried to think of a compliment, failed, and made his exit, to have Czar saddled for himself and Belman for Phyllis.

A couple of turns up and down, and then the Colonel began.

"Margaret, listen. This is serious business I want to talk about. Listen- ing?"

" Yes, dad. Sail in."

" I beg your pardon ?" "I mean, proceed."

"Don't talk slang, and don't be dis- respectful."

" Dear old thing. Did its cigar dis- agree with it. It's gone out. Let me light it with a match from the Turk's head with a spring at the nape of the

neck. There."

" If you think you can be serious for a quarter of an hour I'll go on. If not, you can go in."

" Not for worlds. I am serious."

" Margaret I am out of temper. I know I am, and it's because I have reason. Frank is the reason, and an— an—an infernally serious reason too. He's going to the dogs as fast as old whiskey and young blood can take him. And he's got to choose between you and whiskey. And I'm doubtful which it is going to be. But he shan't have both. Or I'm not Colonel Tom Page. Now you know why I'm out of temper."

" I like the way you bracket me and whiskey together dad. It's flattering— to the whiskey."

" You are both intoxicants. I know that, and the whiskey wears best, and intoxicates longest. I know that. I went down there—he had left his rooms and was staying at the Red Lion or the Blue Dragon, or some such idiotic place. As a young man leaving college, with his way to make in the world, I was anxious, as your father, to see the—the natural animal, as it were, in his den and get some idea of what sort of future he would make for my little girl."

" Dear old dad. To girls about to marry—futures made while you wait."

" Well, the upshot was I took train down and arrived, in the morning instead of the evening, when my gentleman would have been expecting me, and took him unprepared."

" Which was not fair fighting."

" Which was fair fighting. And I do beg you will adopt some other style of expressing yourself, or is it done simply to annoy me ?"

Margaret flicked a leaf off a flower as she passed, and said nonchalantly,

"Not at all !"

"I got there in the morning, and I found that they had been giving him— to use more of your detestable slang— a ' send-off.' Do you know what a send

off means? "

" I think wine, cigars, and a little more wine, doesn't it ?"

" Seems to me you know rather more than you are called upon to know."

" Not at all," said Margaret again.

" I have always liked the youngster. He has always been my favourite. I knew he loved you and that you loved him, to put the matter plump and plain.

And now I come back from that little

excursion of mine, and I say that unless things alter very considerably he shall never enter my house again, nor with my consent address a word to you again."

" Father! what has happened ? You are putting it plump and plain."

" I don't know that I need go into detail. I saw with my own eyes and. heard with my own ears, and I am afraid Frank Conyers is graduating as a blackguard, to put it in English. I am

not an old fossil. I am not narrow- minded," and the Colonel puffed and strode up and down. " I know what stuff the world is made of. I have been

a young man myself. It's all very fine, I know. Boys will be boys, but her is not a boy. And what's more, if boys will be boys, then husbands must be men. That's the long and the short of it! I don't want any excuses—I won't have any excuses."

"I am not going to make any, dad."

"I tell you I saw Conyers drunk— drunk as a man could hold. He has been leading a quarrelsome life. He has made a friend or that young rapscallion

Bates. I've known Bates since he was

a boy, and I know no good of him. A parson ! Good heavens—they are going to make a parson of him. Of course it's all very fine and manly—there's a nice air of wickedness about it that you women like—born fools every one of you. You look at it from the outside. You hear it referred to delicately, with a laugh and jolly reminiscences, et çeteræ, et ceteræ. Fine, romantic—a man with some life in him. Yes, oh yes. Go home with it, live with it, have it looking at you at your own hearth, and across your own table, mixed up with your own intimate life—see how pleasant these pleasant little vices are then. See things in their proper proportion, and you'll find out the difference when these things are in the life of the youngster who comes to your house with a bandolined moustache, and some beastly scent on

his handkerchief, and pretty words of pretty repentance on his lips; and when they are in the life of your husband. Bah! you women ! you women —born fools, born fools. Why don't you speak ?"

" lt doesn't much matter, I suppose,

what a born fool says."

" Never mind, speak. I've had my say ; now have yours. Only talk sense. i One thing more. You know that he is coming here to-day."

" Yes, I got his note."

" He—and you may bet anything you like that inevitable young rip, Bates, will be with him. Well, out with it. What I've said is the unvarnished truth. Are you prepared to give him up ? "

No answer.

" I don't care to speak twice where once will do. He must turn over a new leaf——"

" Before commencing a fresh Page, eh? Laugh, dad, laugh ! Why won't it laugh ?"

" Margaret, hear me. I won't laugh where I see no laughing matter ; and I won't be cajoled from my point. I have spoken. What I have said, I have said. Either he pledges himself to reform and gives evidence of that reform, or you give him up at once, now, and for ever. There's your alternative—which is it to be? I've been as indulgent an old fool

to you as I knew how. It's about the first command I've laid on you. Now,

then—what is it to be ? I give you leave to say what you like."

" Very well, then. Colonel Page,

stand there."

The Colonel did so. It always struck him as so comical, good temper or bad

temper, to be ordered about by a slip of a girl. Margaret faced him, and put her strong, little, white hand on his shoulder. She was in deep earnest.

" Now, father, I am Margaret Wash- ington Page—daughter of Colonel Page of her Majesty's forces—and I am going

to say the whole truth. Don't think I

don't love you ; I do. Don't think I for- get all you have been to me and done for me ; I don't, never will, or can. But

I have come to the cross roads that come in all women's lives. I have met the man I love. I have given him my love, and may not go back. I may speak as a fool, but I speak as myself, anyway. Father, I am going to marry him if he

asks me. I am not afraid of life. I am

not afraid of all the penalties it can inflict upon me. If Frank is rich and

good, so much the better. If he is poor and what men call bad, so long as he loves me and is true to me, I am going to stick to him, his leal comrade, if it means rag-picking or joining a strolling play-acting troup or what not. Where

I love. I love. I have only one short

little life to live, and I am going to live right up to my idea of what honour means. I am not a chattel, I am a live woman who takes her life in her hand, just the same as you have done many

and many a time, and the consequences be on my own head. There's my creed. I am going to follow it out, so help me heaven," with a magnificent, mettlesome flash of the eyes. " There. I don't care if that is slangy, or the usual thing to say, or what other women do, and I don't care. I am Maggie Page and I am going to live life my own way. If I am undutiful to you in saying that, then I must try and forgive my children, if I have children, when they are undutiful to me in the same way. Shake hands,

father." The Colonel was in a kind of trance. Then he burst out.

" And you are the fluffy-haired, pap- faced baby I've nursed and smacked and kissed, only how many years ago ?—and you stand up and pat me on the shoulder, and take the bit in your teeth, and ask me to shake hands on your rank rebellion —I'll see you—I'll see you—I'll see you in an extremity first."

" You know you mean nothing of the sort, dad. You know that in your heart you think just as I do. Suppose mother had treated you as you want me to treat

Frank !"

" What !"

The Colonel swelled, and turned purple; and then the comicality of the

thing struck him, and he broke into a guffaw in spite of himself, though he hated himself for doing it.

" By gad. Maggie Page, judging by results, and what I am getting at this present moment, it would have been the

best thing that could have happened me

if she had."

" Father, how dare you say that!" Poor Maggie's eyes were full of tears now. "No, I don't mean ' how dare,' but it is unkind to say that. I have loved you and I do love you, but I can't help being as I am."

" I don't know," said the Colonel with a growl. " Pigheadedness runs in our family. I suppose I am really respon- sible, if you trace things back far

enough."

Maggie was standing very erect, but she was crying silently. The Colonel

was a deep reader of human nature—he

knew he was. He understood women—

he knew he did. He knew that tears and fainting were the trenches they always fell back upon in an emergency.

So he looked to see how much of Mar- garet's emotion was humbug and how much real ; and in spite of his being a

reader of human character, on this occasion, at any rate, he absolutely failed to make a mistake—a strange

thing, perhaps, for a reader of character to do, but a fact all the same. He saw and understood that his daughter's

tear's were genuine, and that they only fell because she couldn't keep them back.

{To be continued.)

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