|Chapter Number||PART I. IX.|
|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.]
That same evening Conyers and Bates
were seated in their hessian tabernacle.
Billy was squatted in a corner.
There had been a silence for a while, and then Bates cast a look at the black, and said to Conyers :
"Seeing that there are ladies about, don't you think our friend here might
dress a little more after the manner of civilisation ?"
"He is a bit unconventional—for
royalty. And his rough and tumble with Yeend has not improved him. I've got a kharkee suit like the one I am wearing stowed away here somewhere. They're not in particularly good repair, but they are almost as good, or as bad,
He went to a box, and after a search, tossed out some things, and pushed them over to Billy.
"There, put these on. Poor devil, he's got all the life knocked out of him. Go and change in there," he said, pointing to a room that was partitioned off with scrim.
Bates had watched without saying anything.
"Has he got all the life knocked out of him," he remarked, as Conyers sat down again, "or has he got something else knocked into him ? I don't like the look of him to-night, Frank, and I don't like his quietness."
"They're pretty much all alike. They have not the spirit to hit back."
"Human nature is very much alike wherever you meet it. If they have not the pluck to hit back, they have a memory, and, you mark me, our friend will hit back at Yeend one of these days, and then off to his tribe ; and who will unearth him then?"
"Don't know that anyone would very much worry to do it. The Warden deserves all he gets. Let him take his
The two smoked in silence again. Then,—
"Do you believe in fate, Bates ?"
Bates laughed, but with a sidelong look at Conyers.
"Do you ask me as Bates the parson, or Bates the digger?"
"As my friend."
"Then Bates who is your friend says, 'Have something to drink and tumble into bunk, and forget all that has hap- pened to-day as soon as possible.' "
Conyers got up. He paced to and fro.
"I wish I could, Bates, but—but—" "But what?"
Bates spoke roughly, and became more intent in his look.
"I have had too much excitement."
It did not require deep insight to see
that, and Bates muttered something to himself, but did not interrupt.
"It was that quarrel with Yeend before you came that did it."
"Over that friend and brother there ? You might just as well have spared all your righteous indignation. He will have it all taken out of his hide at
another time. I wish you had not inter-
fered at all."
"That's not worthy of you, Bates— parson Bates or digger Bates."
"No, but it's common sense Bates. What's the good of it? Look what its landed you in. You are as excited now as if you had been on the whisky for a week. Come and sit down, for heaven's
Conyers sat down, and at that moment Billy looked round the partition, and
seeing that he was not observed, quietly stole out.
"And then there was that meeting with Margaret—"
"Quit it, Frank. There is no good in it. Don't worry over the thing. We are all straws on the stream, and are not responsible for consequences of things we have not sought. You are no more justified in thinking over the things of to-day than you would be responsible if a thunderbolt had dropped into camp. Easy to talk, I know, but it is a fact
"And then that meeting with the
Colonel and Margaret—so unexpected.
And, Bates, I tell you she loves me yet," he said desperately. "I saw it in her eyes—I felt it when she came near me.
Can a man fight against fate? She loves me yet—I could hear it in her voice when she spoke.
He sighed and commenced walking up and down again. Bates, with an admir- able affectation of indifference, sat and smoked, and looked on. They had been
a long time together, but there is a ground on which a man can never feel
sure of another man, whether he has
known him for a day or all his life. Those two were on that ground now.
"Oh, Bates, Bates, is it all to be fought over again? I had to run away from it before—what shall I do now that it has followed me where I am ? Where does a man's responsibility end?"
Conyers halted and leaned against the mantelpiece, resting his head on his
hand. Bates took his pipe from his lips with an expression of determination, and
placed it on a shelf, with the stem care-
fully pointing in the air. He went up to Conyers, took him by the shoulders,
and turned him to the light. He peered into his eyes before speaking.
"Now then?" he said, what is it? Tell us the whole thing. No half con- fidences. No mental reservations, Frank."
"Lord, I feel as weak as a woman—as weak as water."
"Interesting, but not satisfying. Go
"When I had my first quarrel with Yeend—you remember ?"
"Yes. Well ?"
"I lost my temper then. I knocked him down, but I knew how far to go. I felt sure of myself. I knew when to stop. But to-day—"
"Bates, Bates, Bates," he went on drearily, "I felt the old longing coming over me—the longing to—"
He stopped. Something arose in his throat that was half a sob. Bates left him, and fell back a pace or two in a kind of horrified expectancy for the word that was to come.
"The old longing to kill." "God help you, old man."
"Yes—God help me !" he repeated bitterly. "And then, close on top of that, this meeting with Margaret. All the old memories—all the old associa-
tions—all the old love that I thought was dead and buried and forgotten, came up again. It's true, Bates—love is strong as death—and cruel as the grave, too. Once love a woman as I have loved, and it ends only with death and death alone. My burden is more than I can bear, Bates."
He turned on Bates with a fierceness that grew stronger as he went on.
"You know what the struggle and the suffering were that I went through in England. You know with what hopes I—we both—came out here. And time has passed. It is months and months ago now—I—I—can't think how many. My head is growing confused and I can't —it's a long time anyway. I thought it was leaving me. There was time and distance—between me and her. Between me and—"
He paused and shuddered.
"Between me and it. And now in one night—in one hour, they have come back, come back with seven demons worse than themselves. Fate is too strong. I can't resist again. I feel I am a lost man, Bates. No man could
go through what I have gone through a second time and live. I have done my part. I have come away—and fate has followed me."
"Convenient thing, fate. Look it in the face and own up:—fate is only another name for Frank Conyers."
"I tell you that man is fascinated. Margaret—"
"What? Yeend? Nonsense. He only saw her for a few moments."
"You forget he saw her in England. But few or many I tell you he is. I read it in the villiain's face. I saw his look. Do you think I could mistake ?"
He paused and went on in a low intense clear tone:
"Bates, hear me."
"I can't do anything else. You're
getting pretty dreary ; but go on, I'll
He held Bates at arms' length by both
"As sure as there is a heaven above
us, that devil of old is upon me again— upon me again—now. Take the key— quick. I have only one idea. Leave me a moment free, and I'll break out and kill Yeend. I can't resist. I'd do it in daylight—before a thousand."
Bates sprang to the door and turned the key. As he faced back again, he saw Conyers—or what had a moment before been his friend—creeping, stealthily towards him. Bates spoke in a quick, sharp tone of command—
Conyers laughed cunningly.
"Ha, ha, ha. I've altered my mind. Give me the key. I want it—I want it, I tell you.''
"That will do. Lie down on your
"Eh, he said then, vacantly, like a child in a dream, "Who—who are you ?"
"Bates, Bates, your friend Bates. Don't you know me, Frank?"
There was another vacant laugh.
"I saw you let Bates out a moment ago. I don't know you. The key, I tell you—the key."
"No, I say."
With a sudden freak of cunning, Conyers glanced towards the place where Billy had been concealed, and ducked his head quickly, as if to avoid something
thrown at him.
"Look out," he cried. "Mind the nigger."
Bates started and looked aside. It was only a moment, but it was only a moment that Conyers wanted, and he took advantage of it. He sprang upon Bates fiercely, crying—
"The key. The key."
Bates was the stronger man, but Conyers had the strength of his malady.
The struggle was fierce. They fought like tigers. They staggered near the
window. By a dexterous trick of wrest- ling Bates threw Conyers off. They paused, breathless. For a moment Conyers was sane again.
"You have the key," he said, thickly. "Go while you are safe. Go—go—go."
Bates hesitated, and then without a
word went out, locking the door behind him.
Conyers smiled, with a comfortable expression of being master of the situation, and sat down again, then stole to the window and peered out.
"Gone," he said again.
He went to a locker, and took out another key, and laughed.
"The fool. He didn't know I had another key. Ha, ha, ha."
He stole to the door as if he still felt that he was being watched—and then out
into the dark.