|Chapter Number||II. - Continued|
|Newspaper Title||Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||The Wealth of the West|
OUR SERIAL STORY.
THE "WEALTH OF THE WEST."
BY LOUIS MONTCALM.
[WRITTEN FOR THE WESTERN MAIL.]
"There, there, Maggie, don't cry—like a good girl And—and I like your spirit. And you're a little fool to waste yourself on a good-for-nothing young scamp."
"Not"—hic—"good for nothing," protested the girl, with a rebellious sob that took her breath away.
"I'm not angry. Oh, Lord, no—I'm not angry I only wish I had something with whiskers to hit at. Go inside and dry your eyes, and if Frank comes send
him out to me."
He kissed her and patted her shoulder and she went away ; and he fell to pacing up and down again.
"A mighty fine thing. She's not afraid of life—of course not. Much she
knows about life. She'd do it, though— I know she'd do it. Shan't marry that scamp all the same, if I know my way about, unless there's a big change in his conduct. What the deuce are children coming to? Mutiny—plump, flagrant rank mutiny to a man's face, in his own home, by his own daughter. The young vixen ; and yet she likes her old dad—I know she does. Ah ha, Master Frank, I'm going to teach you a lesson to-day, my lad, if you never had one before."
And so he went on.
Half-an-hour passed. At the end of that time the tinkle of a piano came to his ears—Margaret solacing herself
"So far so good, anyway," said the Colonel to himself. "As long as she hasn't lost her appetite for music she's not seriously hurt."
The music stopped—stopped with a peculiar abruptness. The Colonel looked up. Bates was coming towards him.
"Oh ho! The Rev. Mr. Bates is to keep the old bird amused while Master Frank téte-à-tétes with the daughter. Good morning, Bates. Let me compli- ment you on the change for the better that has taken place since I saw you last. There was room for improvement. Now I ask you, Bates, as a youngster I've seen grow up—I knew your mother and your father—"
"You know my family quite well enough to know that the subject is not a particularly pleasant one."
"Tush ! I'm an old friend of your father's. I knew his good points. I tell you, you will never make half as good a man till you give up lifting your elbow, Jack, my lad."
"It's a particularly fine morning ; you have a particularly pretty place ; and you ought to find your time passing particularly pleasantly here, Colonel. I see a notice, I think, which says 'Keep off the grass,' "—suggestively.
There was a short pause.
"A few minutes ago I heard a piano playing inside the house, then it stopped suddenly, then you appeared on the scene ; I wonder why ? Do you think I'm a fool, Johnny Bates ?"
Bates was not in a cheerful mood, but he looked up and laughed now—the Colonel looked so preternaturally wise and knowing.
"Not at all, Colonel. I think I'll say good-morning. Frank will probably give you the explanation."
Bates strolled off among the trees and sat down in the shade. He had been
brought up in the neighbourhood ; h is father had been a friend of the Colonel's ; and he had had the run of the house and grounds since he was a youngster. The Colonel called him names, but liked him all the same, and prophesied a bad end
From where he was sitting Bates watched the interview between Frank and the Colonel. They walked monotonously up and down, the Colonel, with his hands clasped loosely behind him, which meant that he had taken up a position, and was sticking to it with the obstinacy of a man whom Nature in the beginning had made
Fiank felt his way cautiously at the start, feeling very miserable and at his wit's end how to get out of his trouble without revealing the truth. He knew he must leave in disgrace however it ended ; and his difficulty was to decide upon what particlular kind of disgrace he would choose — something, if possible, becoming a gentleman and
with vice in it." Bates had recommended.
"It seems a century since I saw you last, Colonel," Frank began.
"Ah," said the Colonel with a coldness that could be felt. "Do you make up centuries in minutes or years, nowa- days?"
"I'll tell you when I've finished making one," said Frank with an auto- matic laugh. "I'm only twenty-five yet."
"I've known some young fellows live fast enough to be fifty before they're out of their teens, lad."
"That must be in the army and in India surely.''
"Sometimes in college and in England. I say I have known such cases."
They were walking in Bates' direction now, and Frank caught sight of him sitting there among the trees ; and though he knew he was too far off for the exchange of signs, he shook his head ruefully. And Bates for his part, though he knew it would not be seen, smiled a grim smile, and said to himself, "Bitter medicine, old boy, but it's got
to be. Hold your tongue down with the spoon, and swallow it. I wonder if it would have been better if I had told him about his uncle seeing him ?"
"I know a case in point myself Billy Flanders, of Magdalen — fine fellow, good prospects, edited a Greek tragedy, and wrote for Punch—"
"And young Frank Conyers," said the Colonel, getting tired of leading up to the point and resolved to grasp his nettle at once and have it over, "good fellow, good prospects—in love with a good girl. I don't know much about Greek tragedies, my lad, but you are bidding fair to turn out a domestic one —with yourself for First Fool too, by gad!"
Frank thought he saw a good chance to blacken his own character now. This was as good a kind of disgrace as any other ; also there was a certain degree of vice about it—and it was quite common among gentlemen.
"I don't—exactly—know what you mean," he said, infusing as much impu- dence as possible into his tone. (Aside "What a ghastly comedy of errors !")
"Don't play the fool, Frank ; don't try to fool me, or I shall be angry in earnest. In earnest ! why, I am in earnest. Frank, look me in the eyes. I saw you, at that place of Burns' the other night."
Frank gave a start of the most genuine surprise. The Colonel had seen him impossible! What was it that the Colonel knew ? However he might have gained his information, was it the actual truth? He recoiled. The Colonel stopped, and they stood at gaze—like hound and quarry. Bates, seeing but hearing not, paused in the midst of a whiff and looked more closely, and wished that the acoustic properties of the open air were better.
The Colonel nodded his wise old head impressively. "Let's have no misunder- standings," he said, and straightway proceeded to create one; "I know all."
"All !" said Frank in a panic, and his heart stopping for a moment and then going on again with a heavy, thick pul- sation that showed itself in the veins of his throat and forehead. "All ! Then why did you let me come here ? Why could you not spare me this bitterness ?" His words came thick and fast, and he did not think what he was saying. "Oh, God! My affliction! How it follows
He made a gesture of despair, and turned to go. Then, while the Colonel was struggling with his surprise, Frank turned again with a sudden mastery of himself, and faced round in a burst of rage and indignation.
"And you," he burst out, "you who have been my friend—you who knew I loved Margaret—how could you be so cruel ? God help me ! My bitterest enemy might pity me—and my oldest friend can find it in his heart to add
another pang where God has marked me out for a victim already."
The Colonel had only once before in his life felt equally bewildered—and that was when a native, of fine muscular development, had hit him on the head with a club. Here he had fired a chance shot, and seemed in some incomprehen- sible way to have broken up the enemy's position and exploded his magazine.
"What—the—devil's—the—matter ? What do all these fine words mean? Is this a private rehearsal, or Billy Flanders' Greek tragedy done into Eng- lish on the spot, or what ? What have you been doing ? There's more in this than sticks out on the surface. I've stumbled on something considerably bigger than I thought."
Then the Colonel's consummate know- ledge of all the variations of human nature came to his aid. (Bates, in the shade, saw the supreme moment had come. "Let the whole line advance," he said, and stood up).
"My lad," said the Colonel, "tell me what this means ! What has happened ? What have you done ? Make a clean breast of it."
Frank drew away and sighed with relief. Then the Colonel did not know all. Here was his cue.
"All this distress means something mighty serious, I have seen this business before. The last time I saw a youngster act in your style, Frank, it meant drink." Frank met the Colonel's sad pair of eyes with an over-acted air of impudence, and defiance—though the eyes looked so
kindly and were beginning to get so moist that his heart smote him. Still he was in duty bound to take the first
chance of disgrace, so long as it fell short of the truth.
"And it meant gambling," went on the Colonel with his head bent slightly forward and downward, for he was a taller man than Frank.
Frank, with his heart growing heavier, and his face looking more impudent,
looked as if it meant gambling in his case, too.
"And it meant debts."
Frank's look said it meant that in his case too ; and the poor old Colonel never felt so sad in his life or so pleased with his knowledge of human nature. He knew too much, he thought, ever to be happy again, but he would make one more stroke with his terrible weapon.
"And Frank—Frank," he concluded ;
and coming close he grasped Frank's shoulder and rocked him slightly to and fro ; and the miserable actor had
never felt so miserable in his life. "In that case it meant money misappro- priated and staked on the baize, and raked in by the bank, and black ruin
for the man."
Frank hung his head. The Colonel
thought what a terrible thing it was to be able to read people like that ; and knew that he had fathomed this young man's secret. He waited for the denial, but Frank did not speak.
"Frank," he said, gently, "Frank."
But Frank did not speak. He was convicted ; this was to be the truth ! Then the Colonel thought of the gentle- man's code of honour, and what a shame-
ful, degrading, unpardonable thing this
young man had done ; and what a ten- fold more disgraceful and unpardonable thing he had proposed to do in daring to love good and pure Margaret. He flung the criminal off with fine dramatic effect, and stepped back dilating with magnificent wrath. His grey moustache fairly bristled.
"And now, d—you, sir, go and do what the other man did, and blow your brains out, if you have the pluck—or the brains. You know the way out of my grounds."
Frank thought that life really had its little penalties. He looked miserably after the Colonel, who was striding towards the house, and looked far more guilty than if he had been a thief,
and then he did what we all know to be a weak, unmanly, contemptible thing : He wept ; and made for the spot where Bates was leaning against a tree. He paused as he reached the shade of the nearest trees and looked back. Margaret was standing at the door, shading her eyes with her hands, but apparently not knowing where to look for him. It made a pretty picture. He hid behind a tree, trunk and looked, and the tears ran down his face.
"Good-bye," he whispered. Good- bye, Margaret."
It was for her he did it—for her,
and love, and honour. Only a small affair—less than uninteresting to the big world around them, but to those two
foolish people it was for the time desola- tion and destruction.
Then Bates growled, "Infernal folly," took his arm roughly, and hurried him off. "A fine mess you seem to have made of it between you. From wine, women, and love, good Lord deliver us. A man and woman on horseback ! "Here,
stand there and have your cry out. You don't want these people to see you blubbering, you wretched puling baby." Yeend and Phyllis rode by at a swing-
ing trot, and Bates thought what a fine piquante face that woman had. Frank paused and restrained himself and watched them too unseen, and wondered who was this man who had the dear
privilege of being in the same house with Margaret, while he was driven forth with despair into the wilderness.