Chapter 33151135

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Chapter NumberVI.
Chapter TitleNone.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33151135
Full Date1898-03-04
Page Number64
Corrections10
Word Count4487
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2020-09-01
Newspaper TitleWestern Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)
Trove TitleThe Wealth of the West
article text

UR SERIAL STORY.

THE "WEALTH OF THE WEST."

BY LOUIS MONTCALM.

[WRITTEN FOR THE WESTERN MAIL.]

PART I.

CHAPTER VI.

Hiram Skeggs was happy with the happiness that only comes to the Bohemian. He did not show it in his face, because he could not. Nature had made his face as expressionless as a knot of wood. But his hands were deep in his pockets ; the air was thick with the

smoke of his cheap cigars. He smelt success in the atmosphere. He felt as Voltaire felt at the Comédie Française. He was at the head of a popular move- ment. He had advertised his show, was advertising it yet again—was, moreover, leading the popular movement in the direction of his tent, which was the best advertisement of all.

The tent was to be ready for the first performance on the following evening. There was a big 'fire blazing before it; workmen were busy. A group . of men bad gathered. As Hiram arrived at one side of the group, a mounted trooper,

arrived at a walking pace at the other,. accompanied by a native, who was hold- ing the stirrup leather.

Trooper Clancy dropped off his horse. He was travel-stained and tired, and had been riding so long that he staggered slightly as be came to the ground.

" Only away for a couple of weeks," he said, looking round, "and now half of you are new faces. Begad if there was all the gold in the world here, there wouldn't be enough to go round."

" Who s your friend, Clancy ?"

" An old acquaintance of mine. I picked him up a mile back, and he's a man with a sense of his dignity. You must be a new man in these parts if you don't know Coolaloo alias Billy from the Wire Fence."

The man addressed put out his hand to the black, who looked at him for a moment and then knocked his hat off and said wrathfully :

" Me King Coolaloo. You take him

hat off."

The black finished off his sentence with a turn of words that showed he had

long been familiar with civilisation, but

which will be better left untranslated in a work which is intended for wide and popular reading. The diggers laughed.

" You think me same as dam man that

sell you clothes props; If you think that, you liar. You see all that ? " he said; turning and making a sweeping gesture with his arm. "All belong to Billy once. Now," and he picked up a handful of sand, and let it trickle through his hands with a suggestion of dignity and sorrow that looked humor- ous, coming from a man whose clothes were as primitive as those of John the Baptist, and which hung so precariously together that, to a delicate mind, his every movement was a source of appre- hension—like unto the garments of the Irish belle Sir Walter Scott spoke of, " A single pin at night let loose the robes that veiled her beauty " " Now all gone like that. King Coolaloo once. " Only Billy, now. King to common digger yet though," and he gave a hitch to his blanket, and his language became untranslatable again. He had an Oriental wealth of expletive, and never repeated himself. " Though me clean Missa Yeend's boots," he added after a pause.

The divinity that hedges a king was suspended on that occasion, for as Billy spoke, a voice called—

"Billy !" And Billy's royalty shrivelled and fell from him as a garment that is old.

" Coming, Missa Yeend," he answered. The darkness had closed, insufficiently to make it impossible for the men to see much beyond the ring of light thrown by the fire.

" You soulless black brute," the voice

went on, "haven't I told you often enough to put the saddle upside down when you take it off at a hot horse. Haven't I told you to wait till I return, and here you are wandering around the country——" The rest was lost in a sound as of slashing with a whip and in the whines of the black. "Why don't you learn ! Why don't you work ! Off with you ! Treat this saddle as you did the other and you knows what to expect." The black passed through the ring of

light, leading a horse and followed by Yeend, who glared a moment at the group and then went into eclipse again. He still had the spiky moustache, the look of health, the broad shoulders—but the good humour was not so apparent;

perhaps because of the encounter with the black, perhaps because the light from the fire was not bright enough to display it.

"Clancy," he said, " I should like to see you after dinner," and passed on towards the hotel.

Now the architecture of the Hessian Hotel was peculiar. It had all the picturesqueness of the inevitable old English mansion one reads of in the dear old romances that lie on our upper shelves, where the dust gathers thickest. It had begun with weatherboards. It had gone on with unconsidered flotsam and jetsam that bore archaic inscriptions, as " this side up with," " to be used on the voy," " er's best' marmalade.'' It

had continued with squares of tin and sheets of corrugated iron. And in these last days had budded forth into along, low, but withal comfortable dining room,

where there were cloths on the tables, like snow, and without spot or wrinkle or any such thing ; where serviettes sprang from their glasses as lotuses and lilies and in diverse pendulous and cunning shapes ; and where waiters, who

were not as common waiters, con- descended, as gentlemen, to attend upon guests who were not quite as fine gentlemen as the waiters were, but were merely tiresome people who went through the formality of paying for what they perchance did or did not get. Not as common waiters. They wore their napkins, like plumes, with hauteur. They could give a well-bred stare. They had a supercilious air, as of those who have been suddenly elevated into great and irresponsible power, and who are intoxicated thereby. A guest was a mere circumstance, an interloper who might be tolerated, but who must be kept in his place. Woe is me, if he were a bashful man. If he came late he was remontrated with, perhaps in an offended way, perhaps in a confidential

and friendly way, for even a Roman Inquisitor will sometimes lapse into modi- fied kindness, but still unequivocally and publicly remonstrated with. " Late this evening, sir; couldn't you manage to get in a little earlier, sir ? " " Pudden without sauce ! Why you always take your pudden with sauce. Why don't you give your orders plain." " This ain't Paris, you know, sir. We do our best, but I can't be in two places at once, now

can I ?"

Mrs. M'Tavish herself, who ordinarily never feared the face of man, was apologetic, in supreme moments, even grovelling, to the cook, who was sus- pected of being capable at any moment of marrying a successful digger or of

going to that bourne vaguely called : "the fields," where, the legend went, cooks earned " good money," and "was looked upon as cooks, and hot scullions, and was as good as them that thought theirselves their betters." As for

M'Tavish, who had knocked out many a man in a fair stand-up, he lagged super-

fluous on the stage, and went about, among his hired servants with the air of

a mendicant.

It may sound like the " Arabian Nights " come back again, but it is solid fact nevertheless. I speak of that

which I do know. It is one of the little

ironies of the democracy for which good men have died.

There were windows and doors dotted

about the building, on the principle that

it is the unexpected that always turns up. Gentlemen, late returning after eating too much cucumber or whitebait, or what not, at their clubs, or attending a prayer meeting, had a good chance of meeting a door, anywhere, which was an advantage. Another peculiarity was that light was shed from all directions, for windows were distributed over the walls like squares on a chess board.

On this particular evening there was a

flood of light falling from half a dozen windows ; and as Yeend, stepped on the

verandah he came face to face with a man in digger costume, who said— " Good evening, Mr. Yeend."

" Good evening, Mr. Conyers," he

answered mockingly. Then, contriving to get a suggestion of impudence even into the flicking of his riding whip, he

said :

"Anything I can have the pleasure of doing for you ?"

" You could possibly tell me if there are any letters for me. I am informed that you were bringing the letter bag with you. I expected some."

" I really cannot say. I brought over several. If there are any for you you may look for them."

" Certainly Where are they ?"

"Mr. Conyers, by courtesy I allow myself to be burdened with other gentle- men's letters. Yours may be among them too," he said, with rather obvious witticism, " I cannot say." As for where they are, ask my servant. Good even- ing."

He took a few paces away, and then turned suddenly and smiled maliciously. "By the way though, possibly I can help you. Billy," he called to the black ;

who was hovering about uncertainly at a little distance. Get those letters out

of the saddle bags, and bring them here. Smart, now!"

The two men waited with mutual antagonism expressed all over them, till Billy came cringing along with the

letters, and then halted in doubt whether to deliver the letters and then grovel, or to grovel and then deliver the letters.

Yeend snatched them from him, and looked over them hastily, a malicious purpose lending more; and more expres- sion to his face. He tossed a letter at Conyers' feet and said : " Pardon me, I believe that is for you."

He tossed another, and affected another apology : " Again! How clumsy ! I really, think that is yours, too."

He stopped and held up a large torn envelope towards the black.

" What is this, sir ? You have torn open this letter."

" Not me, Missa Yeend," said the black, showing his teeth in a grin of nervous flight, and with a wriggle of his shoulders.

Conyers picked up the letters, his face flushed with irritation. He longed for an excuse for a quarrel with Yeend (he

had a good deal of human nature about him). He stood watching. He had an idea; that presently Yeend would begin illtreating the black, and the protection of aborigines was as good a cause for quarrel as anything else.

Don't add lying to your offence, sir," said Yeend. "I hate a liar," which was unselfish, as Marcus Clark would say ; and he raised his whip.

" No, no," whined Billy, with a more ghastly grin and another wriggle. " Not me, Missa Yeend, not me. Not more lash, not more lash !"

Yeend had contracted a keen sense of humour, and this wriggling lump of humanity amused him. He smiled. He glanced sideways at Conyers.

" I'll give you the same again and again till you learn your duty, sir, and till you quit lying."

Down came the whip. Billy prepared for it with much the same expression as a boy preparing for a shower bath. Conyers felt his hate for Yeend and his enthusiasm in the cause of the aborigines unite in a furious burst of temper. He

snatched the whip, wrenched it from Yeend's hand, and sent him staggering backward. The black glanced up, re-

lieved for a moment, and then looked as apprehensive as ever—he was probably calculating the interest that would accumulate, and which Yeend would liquidate, when he was less subject to interruption.

Yeend recovered himself, clenched a pair of muscular fists, and looked at Conyers with an expression of concen-

trated hate.

" This is the second time you have

laid hands on me," he said in a harsh, steady tone.

" The second time I have been com- pelled to, Mr. Yeend. Do you remem- ber what happened when I found you at your brutal work before! You have a short memory." " You will some day find I have a long and faithful memory, Mr. Conyers. No ; I have not forgotten."

" I thrashed you then sir. I will thrash you again as you have thrashed

this unfortunate wretch. I am not blind, Mr. Yeend "—and he pointed with the whip to the black, without removing his eyes from Yeend's face—"I know what those marks mean-—I know what those half-healed sores mean"—and then, slowly and with much disgust, " Are you not thoroughly ashamed of yourself to treat a wretched fellow- creature like that because the poor devil's hide is black. Your heart must be blacker than his skin."

Inside the hotel, the company were seated at the long narrow table. The Colonel was at the head. Next to him was a mining expert of unquestioned expertness, but whose career, though popularly received as being very much to his credit, could only be traced a very little way into the past. He was of Austro-Russian-Italian extraction, with a name sufficiently foreign to guarantee genuineness. It was difficult to pro- nounce—impossibe to a spell. He was usually called Smith. Also it was known that, he was as incorruptible as the Opposition press; and it was certainly true, for he said so himself.

He was very glad to see the Colonel he was always glad to see the people in England taking such practical measures as to send practical men—really prac- tical and representative men, who knew their way about, to the fields. He under-

stood the Colonel represented, a powerful Home syndicate.

" Yes," said the Colonel, " The Wealth of the West."

" I have heard of that. The fact of your coming does not, of course, any doubt in the minds of the people in England as to the stability of the fields,

indicate ?"

" Oh, certainly not. Our people, how- ever, are nothing if not practical. They said the prospectuses are good ; the. specimens are good; the assays are good; the expert's report is good ; but ocular demonstration is better. They said, ' Colonel, whom can we send ? ' I said. 'Me'—short and sharp." The Colonel nodded. " They said, ' When ? ' I said, ' To-morrow ' — shorter and sharper." The Colonel nodded again. " They said. ' Now, as to expenses ? ' I said, ' I will incur them and pay them '—shortest and sharpest of all. My style." Another nod. " And here I am, and here is my daughter. We are an athletic family,

Mr—er—, and we have made a forced march."

Smith grinned and stared with foreign grace, and helped the Colonel by giving the unpronounceable name.

" And what do you of the country

think ?" he asked. " I find," said the Colonel, weighing his words, and conscious of being an

original observer and of making an original remark, "I find it has peculi- iarities of its own, as one may say, and there does—there certainly does seem to be an element of what one might term monotony in the scenery."

" You have not yet, of course, any

mines inspected ? That to do, you will have yet left ?"

" I beg—I—oh, certainly, yes. I have yet to do that," said the Colonel, a trifle

confused by the inverted sentences. " This," said the expert, with a spoon arrested half-way to his mouth, " is the wealthiest country in the universe."

" I believe it has large claims—large claims,'' said the Colonel judicially. He suspected every other man he met of being a newspaper man in disguise, who had heard of the advent of Colonel Page.

He was a military man—rather more military since he had come to the fields than before. A plain man—a blunt man —a man who could read other people—a man who could do his duty and say nothing about it when it was done. He

disliked show. He disliked newspapers.

He disliked interviews. He was Colonel Page, and he would have none of it so far as he was concerned. He had not lived in the world without finding out what it was made of, and he knew this man with the foreign grin from his head to his heart at the first glance. He was considering what would be the best means of checking him, when he was re- lieved of the difficulty. Circumstances did it for him. There was the sudden sound of a scuffle from the verandah, and a scuffle that seemed to indicate that the people who were making the noise were very much in earnest. There was the thud of blows, and then a window was broken, and the fragments came showering into the room. Everybody rose. There are two instincts that have not yet been educated out of a man—he will always pause to make love or to fight. This was a fight. The men streamed to the door ; the women were caught by the

infection and were mixed in the stream, and went along with it in the same frame of mind that draws people to the

chamber of horrors in a waxworks

though they would rather not be there.

Two men were struggling, as the doors from the hotel opened. They stopped when the spectators appeared—but the swelling chests, the flushed faces, the clenched hands, the quivering muscles

told their tale. It was the Warden and

Conyers. Conyers had his back to the light, and it was as well that it was so. There was an expression on his face that would not have looked in place, even in

the prize ring, much less in the case of a gentleman at large who was protecting the aborigines. Yeend had an evil kind of self-possession. He picked up his hat, and smoothed the lines out of his face with a quickness that would

have done credit to a variety artiste. There was blood on his hand—he had evidently been associated with the break- ing of the window. And out of that evil self-possession he spoke—in a low voice of concentrated venom.

They went no further. The crowd was swelling on the narrow verandah. The foremost among them was Skeggs. He was the first to speak.

" Why," he said, pathetically, " are gentlemen to be so constantly inter- rupted in their most devout and tender moments. Is this the price we must pay for our advanced civilisation? Great heavens. Do I sleep—do I dream, or is visions about ? Mr. Fr-r-rank Conyers !"

Frank turned at the voice. The first faces he saw were those of Margaret and the Colonel. Perhaps under ordinary

circumstances he would not have known them, for there were time and distance between then and their last meeting. But there are times when the mind is in

an exalted condition, and when the every-day perceptions are quickened a hundred-fold. A bout at fisticuffs may not usually be the best means of attain- ing this state of mind, but still it was a kind of excitement that brought other things with it. The fact remains that at the first glance he recognised Mar- garet and her father, as it were, in a flash, at the precise moment when his

name was mentioned.

It was dramatic. Dramatic situations are as a general thing interesting to look at ; destructive to actually go through. Conyers had been pretty roughly handled by Yeend ; but the shock was not to be compared with what he felt as the rush of recollection crowded back on him. He felt as if he had been hit on the head with a club. He was dazed— bewildered—he staggered, and put his hand to his eyes. There was a sense of unreality about it. The ground swayed

beneath him. He almost fell.

Margaret was as quick as he was. The recognition—apart from the fact that the name had been called out loud enough for anyone within a hundred yards to hear it—was instantaneous and mutual, and the momentary paralysis in Conyers mind was reflected, in hers. Also the Colonel—in spite pf his iron-

-bound self-possession, of which he was very proud, and which was a part of a soldier's equipment even the Colonel was guilty of a start, and made a move- ment which he tried to cover by con-

verting it into the action of stroking his moustache. He felt Margaret lean heavily on his arm. He saw her put her hand over her heart. He said to him- self ; like Napoleon at St. Helena ; " At the head of the army ! Remember your immortal reputation. Steady."

But nature was nature. He had to pause before he could pull himself to- gether and grasp the situation. Then he bent his head over his daughter, and

said quietly, for the old boy dearly loved her, and would have cut his hand off to

save her a pang :

" Margaret, we had better go away. Come, dear."

Margaret mastered herself with a great effort, and drew herself up and met his eyes. It was the same Maggie Page who had put him to rout in the garden—how long was it before ? Nature was nature again, and he felt it was coming. He squared himself for resistance, took a firmer grip of the ground by placing his feet wider apart, and waited for the words that were on Margaret's lips wondering in a momentary way at what

particular period it was that children became more themselves than their fathers children, and why they couldn't always be their father's children, and do what they were wished to do ; and what a lot of trouble it would save if humanity were regulated that way.

The words came—hot and impulsive:

"Father! For shame! There is a time to forget as well as to remember."

And the Colonel said in a hurried aside :

" Yes, and there is a time to command and a time to obey, miss."

There is," flashes out Maggie, " and this is the time, and I am going to com- mand." (She wasn't his child at all ! The Colonel drew in his breath hard, and wished, as he had never wished before, that she had been a boy. Oh, that she had been a boy. It would have been so simple to know what to do then. Rank rebellion !)

Skeggs had his eyes always on the

alert for an advertisement. He had taken a liking to Conyers, and the two things came together this time. He took Conyer's hand with unobtrusive deli- cacy, and on the best dramatic principles, and kept on talking over Frank's shoulder. Not far from him were the two

ladies, Maximiliana Sorboni and Flotilla Flotempski. There was a movement and vivacity about the whole situation that pleased them very much indeed, though they did not have any idea of what was at the bottom of it. They saw that it was very much like their own business, done into life ; and they watched with particular interest what was passing or seeming to pass between the Colonel and his daughter. It was tragedy, comedy, pathos, and they liked

it.

The whole of this by-play was rapid, but it took a certain measure of time, and during that time the Warden had come to a realisation of what the situa- tion required, so far as he was concerned. He had had means of knowing that the Colonel was coming, of course, but he had come sooner than expected. He waited for a good opportunity to turn

matters in his own favour.

"Come," said Skeggs, with an air of encouragement that had rather more good feeling than advertisement about it, " these ladies, sir, may seem more human, but sech is not the case. They are just sisters to such ordinary lumps of humanity as you and me. They are brim full and slopping over with high sperrits and graciousness. Turn round, sir, turn round, and take one good

look——"

A sense that something specific was required dawned on Flotilla. She went up to Skeggs and touched him on the

arm.

" Mr. Skeggs," she said, " there is something wrong here. These people have met before. They know one another. I think there is something between this gentlemen and the young lady over there. She was an awful good sort in the coach to us coming up. Help 'em out if you can, there's a dear old stars and stripes?"

" Think the two young things want a moment together ? Ah, Flotty, you've been there yourself. Come right along then, and we'll hedge in the aged parient."

As Skeggs made his way up to the Colonel the landlady appeared.

" Ah, the dear," she said as she saw the agitated condition Margaret was in, " lean on me, love. I'll take you to your room and I'll give you some stuff that will bring the pink into your cheeks again. Just let her go, sir " (to the Colonel). " Ah, but it's in these sort of cases a woman's a woman's best friend. Just let her go, sir—just let her go. It's in the nature of things I can do things for her a gentleman couldn't do.

Tha—a—at's a dear.''

The Colonel woke up to the fact that someone was saying to him—

" You'll excuse me seizing a moment that may seem to the outside observer an inopportune one, but which on examination is quite the contrary."

The Colonel glared at Skeggs without very clearly understanding what was taking place. Skeggs took from his pocket a little model structure that looked like a church, and he and the two girls kept manœuvring so as to block up the view.

(To be continued.)