|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.]
Scene : A room in the Farmers' Arms, which offered good entertainment at a cheap rate for man and beast. Time : The old-fashioned clock with a cuckoo that announced the hour, within a few minutes of 10 p.m. Conyers and Bates discovered at a table, on which are a decanter and glasses. Bates smoking.
"And so you left him to think you had gambled away your own money and someone else's too, Frank ?"
" Yes. ' Misappropriated money,' I think, was his term. Think of it, old mun. Perhaps I might have managed it better, but what he had said a moment before had hit me hard, and knocked me all abroad. I thought he had discovered the veritable skeleton in my cupboard,
and I was dismayed, and then so relieved when I found it was not so. I let every- thing go as it would. I didn't deny it—
why should I ? What did it matter ? It was the first (and worst) excuse that offered, and I took it—something with vice in it, you said, you remember. And I thought there was about as much vice in that as you could get into one pro- position. And it's all over, and—oh,
Maggie, Maggie, Maggie !"
Bates rose and knocked the ashes out of his pipe.
" ' Oh Maggie, Maggie, Maggie ' is an
admirable sentiment. Still it's over
yes. It must have been a pretty bad five minutes. Take the thing all round, Frank, it was rather a noble thing in its way—comical too when you look at it from the other point of view. But I expect you are a bit too close to it yet to see the humour in it. Now, what next ?"
Conyers shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands as if the subject was something quite outside his considera- tion; and then stoically filled his pipe. Bates stood looking at him for a moment
in silence; and then shook his head.
" See here Frank, here we are. I'm a parson without a church—or likely to get one. You're an embryo lawyer without a client, or grit enough in you to get one—for a while anyway. We want a change, Franky my boy, we want a change of air and scene."
Conyers smoked and did not answer.
" Old am I in the ways of the world; also have my feet trod in the ways of the sages. To stay here with these
romantic associations of buried loves and busted hopes means ruination Frank—we shall both come the deuce of
a cropper. I said ' both' if you notice : I am nearer to it than you are—though I suppose you imagine you have a sort of a kind of a monopoly of all the misery of the world."
Conyers shifted his position, but did not speak.
" Don't sulk, sonny. We must quit— new lands—new faces—new prospects—
somewhere where we can forget. Let's go the way of all flesh and try the colonies. That's where they send all their blackguards and failures. We belong to one of those ancient orders— not sure which."
"It isn't bah! Don't be flowery, Frank. No more heroics, no hugging your grief to keep it warm, no drowning your cares in Hennessy's and yourself
in Lethe's wave."
" I'll do what I like. At this moment
I like to fill up again," and he reached for the decanter.
" Always perwising it's as I like, too.'' Bates snatched up the decanter and held it behind him.
" You've had enough, Frank. Look not upon the whisky when it is straw
" Come on : pour out the Rhine wine." " Directly ; listen first. When I say we must try a new country, and when I say I am nearer to the unmentionable to ears polite than you are. I mean more than you think. And Frank, old boy, when I say you have had enough fire water, I mean that, too—mean it seri- ously. You have done a noble thing to-day—note the word ' noble ' —don't spoil it by doing a cowardly one. I know where you are standing ; you do not. You are at the very crisis of your life, and I am going to warn you and save you if I can. I like warning and saving people." Then Bates' tone be- came one of intense earnestness. " I am going to tell you a story. When I have
finished—and it won't take long—it will be a five minutes' entertainment—you
will understand me a shade better. The Colonel referred to my family to-day, and it jarred—jarred considerably. You say you are followed by a demon. Personally, I think the name of your
particular demon is Temperament and. Nerves. Now let me exhibit my demon. His name is heredity, and he is a par-
ticularly bad lot. My grandfather was an army doctor, sober, steady, pas- sionately fond of his profession. He was a hero—he was, though he has a grandson like me—and it was because he was a hero that his children and his children's children are haunted. How ? Thus: The army was stationed in the West Indies. A pestilence broke out. The men died in scores, and the more died the worse the fever raged. The
cure and preventive was brandy. It saved hundreds, and my grandfather, a
young man and full of natural health and strength, was in the thick of it for weeks and months. He took enough to kill twenty men under ordinary circum- stances, and when he had saved his men, he had lost himself—because he was a hero. He drank, and drank, and drank. Nothing could stop him—not his own force of will, nor key, nor padlock, nor love, nor the persuasion of his friends. He lived in it, steeped himself in it, and died in it—wrecked, body and mind. Nature works blindly. How can I blame him, knowing what I do? Nature works blindly, and what the father was the children became. He had three children—two daughters and one son— the girls beautiful, innocent, loving, loved. They grew up with the poison
in their blood. Their mother knew
nothing, suspected nothing—they had soon grown cunning. One day when years and sorrow had brought weak- ness and grey hairs, those two girls, who had otherwise been good, virtuous,
staggered into their mother's presence, drunk. Think of it. Before they were sober enough to know what they had done, their mother was dead. Oh, Nature works blindly. Their brother was my father. He married well and happily, and one day, with one stroke, the family curse was on its victim again. In one hour our home became a pandemonium, and it remained so till the time came
when a man, in rags, was dragged from under the wheels of a cab—my father—
dead. He had realised his inheritance.
It only made a three-line par. in the papers. The two girls, my aunts, married also. They fought against the tempter, but failed ; and one husband one day, and one another, came home to find his wife a drunkard. One of those men, who had been prosperous, and respected, became as his wife was, and died in a drunken orgie, and had the distinction of a coroner's inquest. The other, with a little daughter born to him, separated himself from the woman who had ruined his life. Those women—shall I tell what
they became? I believe they are alive now under assumed names, heaven knows where. The father of the little child placed her in a convent school. She was
hedged in like a hothouse plant from every taint of evil and temptation. When she was twelve he took her out. She was the sunshine of his
home, the happiness of his lonely hours. One night he was writing in his study, about midnight. The child had been in bed for hours. He looked up and listened : he had heard a sound. It was like soft footsteps coming down the stairs—past his door—and on lower down. He got up and looked, and saw a white figure turn into the room below. Surprised, he followed till he stood at the doorway where the figure had entered; and then he saw his little child — white-robed — like an angel — standing with a glass of wine, stolen from the side-board, at her lips. When he was dying and was very weak they wanted to revive him with brandy, but he said he preferred the least of two evils, and died, for choice. The girl was put back in the convent ; she's there yet. And I ? I grew up as carefully guarded as the little girl was. I never heard the word drink mentioned. I hardly knew what it meant. The family skeleton was a bit late ; and people who knew, said the ghost was laid at last. It had passed me over. Nature wasn't Nature any more. One day as I sat, unthinking, sudden and vivid as a blow, I felt an unquenchable desire for drink—strong drink. . . Need I say more. What ghastly irony has led them to make a parson of me I know not. I feel I am a living lie. Look at me ! Don't I look it. Is this what I ought to be ? And yet, Frank, I love the work. I do, I believe it is the greatest and loveliest thing-in the world. I know I love my God ; I love my fellows. I have never
consciously done a mean thing. I pray —I struggle—I wrestle—I laugh at it— I jeer at it—I am two men—I live a double life. I am appalled at the mystery and the retribution that follow me. And it is this," in a voice that quivered with passion as he held up the decanter. " It is this that has done it all"—crash went the decanter
on the hearth—"and I curse it in the
name of all the generation's of my people it has destroyed with its deadly blight. If I could wipe out its power, its memory, as I grind these pieces beneath my heel, I should die happy.
" There you are, Frank. There's a pair of us. Let us try and end it and say good-bye to the old land and old evils. Let us westward ho ! Lest us try Western Australia—the newest and biggest and best of the lot. Let us go to the mines. Is it a bargain ?"
And Frank was so affected by what he had heard that he rang for another drink, and said it was.