|Chapter Title||THE LAST.|
|Newspaper Title||Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||The Wealth of the West|
CHAPTER THE LAST.
It was the city of Eternal Summer.
Above it is the high precipitous marble
rock on which is the ancient picturesque Turbia, whose history goes far back into Roman times, and which looks down on the living illustration of how the times change and how the world changes with
them. It is the same scene. Once togaed Romans pondered their schemes in the neighbourhood of the point which was, they knew, the end of the world. Now men and women grow haggard in the fierce race for wealth—which is, I suppose, as great to them as were the enterprises of great Cæsar to him—for the equation is the same whether the world be destroyed to the man or the man to the world. The extinction of one man is death ; the extinction of the world is the death of one man multiplied.
It is as fair as a garden of the Lord, but it is a garden whence the Lord has withdrawn, and where His spirit walks no longer in the cool of the day.
It is fair in the morning when the spears of coming day flood all the thirsty east with gold—when the eternal miracle
of the sun-rise makes the world afresh— when golden galleons of cloud grow orange and crimson and silver and yellow—when the forests of ilexes and lemon and the groves of orange trees and all the wonder and wealth of tropical
foliage, are touched by the hand of the Mighty Artist, and are no longer mere leaves and tree trunks, but are trembling
fairy banners and fairy-wands ; and the waters are circled round with diamonds and pearls and amethysts and all the precious stones and gems that John saw in his vision on Patmos (which are only dewdrops}, when the waters of the Mediterranean, which have been the cradle and play ground and war ground of the race, blush into life and reflect back again the luxuriance of beauty that girdles them—when the long rays of sunlight steal over mountain and valley, and into the long curving bays where the water combs up in its crystalline ripples, and over the long tongues of land, and over the houses nestling among the hills, and over the white sails of the shipping—when it floods the faces of the cliffs from summit to wave-
lapped base—when you gaze from the heights of the Cornice Road over the whole inexpressible panorama —fair when the sun only serves to reveal the high rock and the terraces, and the big square of Monte Carlo. For we are at Monte Carlo, and that is Nice with its
torrent, and there is Paillon, and there too is Corsica.
It is not morning now. it is late
evening. Above is the sky so deep, so blue, so intense, it looks like a canopy of heavy piled velvet. Studded over it are the stars ; and below are the stars again gazing up from the water—as clear, as bright, as full of magic and mesmerism as those on high. The moon rises and shines on the same scene that hailed the dawn a few hours before—shining on
the same things—but now everything has a new character. The scenery of
earth and sky still contains a rivalry of beauty, and beauty differs from beauty as one star differs from another in glory. Now the eye can no longer take in the whole sweep and profusion and piled-up prodigality of scene. Vistas open among the trees, where shadows lurk and where mysteries are. Long terraces reveal themselves from vagueness, and charm in mid sweep, only to conceal themselves in vagueness again. Vistas of trembling silver open on the waters, too, and thrust themselves like rapiers of light among the hills and into the curves of the inlets—and are gone again —and return again—and always lead the eye away, away, away into Nature's infinite book of secrecy—and then are lost. A scene so charming that it charmed away even a sleepless night of
Napoleon (the maker, indeed, of the
Cornice Road of today when the load of red conquest and dark ambition lay upon him, but not so heavily that this garden of the gods could not bless him with hours of peace and contemplation
descending upon him like the dew of
Years had passed since the convenient death of the Warden. It is as well not to follow the trail of the serpent too far or too deep.
On this night, when all Nature seemed to expend herself in effects of beauty, two people were walking along a terrace that lay below the big square of the city —they were Yeend and Phyllis. They had not parted. His threat that they would do so was only an ingenious de- vice of a torturer who found it hard to invent a fresh pleasure for himself. What his fortunes had been is best illustrated by their conversation.
She was walking at his side. She had apparently no eye for the glowing panorama, but continually sought his face with her eyes, which looked sad and worn, and were in keeping with her sad and worn face.
They had been talking a few moments before, and when he spoke his words had reference to something she had been
" My dear Phyllis," he said turning with an ill humour that only found vent
in caustic tones and words, "when you
talk you irritate me, you do with artistic effect—you amuse me. Amuse me now. Let us have, what the women in England call, a good cry."
" When I talk it is to save you. When
I weep it is for you—not for myself." " Noble."
" Don't sneer at me."
"Phyllis I liked you better when you showed some fire. For heaven's sake stop this ................... They say a
constant dropping wears away a stone, and you have shed enough tears to wear away any man's patience—if it was as big as a mountain and as hard as what I think is called the nether millstone."
She faced him in the moonlight, and placed both hands on his shoulders and looked him lovingly in the face.
" Dear, you are out of temper."
" I am not," he said sharply, and shrinking as if he would avoid her.
" Then, Dick, let me say if you were, you have had reason."
" I wish you had a little."
" You are playing heavily, and—you have lost heavily."
He shook her off impatiently and turned away.
" Dick, dear, let me speak."
" Then speak the truth," he said savagely, " and speak sense. You have, as you would put it, clung to me up to now. Do you dread to share my poverty ? Is that ,what you mean ?" he went on with a sneer. " Woman's love !"
" I know you have had misfortunes." " I have ; you are one of them."
" You know I do not dread your poverty. I have shown you—have I not ?
—how little I dread whatever I may share with you."
"You don't dread my poverty ? No," he said bitterly, ''it would be unneces- sary ; you would leave me. You," he added after a pause, and with cutting suggestion, " you and your kind always
She looked steadily at him for a moment, and then drew back a pace.
" Dick !"
He laughed and muttered something expressive as he threw away his cigar stump.
" You liked me better," she said slowly, and dangerously, " when I showed some fire. Take care I do not show some now !"
" What do you mean? You take a tone I don't like—won't have."
" Why do you taunt me—torture me? Why do you pretend to doubt me ? I know that in your heart you do not—you cannot. Have I not given you proof over and over again. Be bitter with all the world, but not with me. Oh, the world has been bitter to me. I have hated—with all my heart; but I love with all my heart, too. I am not like your cold, fair women—who never con- fess. Why should I hide it? I love you Dick. You are my life. I never felt to anyone as I have to you. You do
not know your power, and some- times—oh, Dick, Dick—sometimes you torture though perhaps you may not know it. Have you so many friends that you can say to me what would make a woman who loved you less think you
hated her ? My heart is weak, Dick, so weak ! You put love there ; do not crush it out. Oh that love can fail and
She went up to him, and leaned her head on his shoulder and wept bitterly.
He suffered it like a statue. Women are such bores when they grow emotional. " And then ?"
She raised her head and said rapidly and passionately,
" I am a woman with two motives—I love ; I hate. I love you, but you can be so cruel. You rouse strange thoughts in my heart sometimes. Sometimes— sometimes they make me afraid of myself——"
They exchanged glances steadily, then he said with a mixture of admiration, pleased vanity, and conciliation—
" You have shown fire now, Phyllis."
There was a pause, and then she said without a trace of her previous agitation,
but earnestly and with animation— " Dick, you must not play any more.
You are losing, losing, losing—always
losing. I am not a schoolgirl—I have
lived, and I know. You cannot play against the table. Right and left you have men who have made it a science.
Why do you pooh-pooh and laugh when I say these things ? How much ruin
have you and I seen since we came here ? to this glittering hell? Mademoiselle Blanchard was wealthy, but she played and lost. To-day. she went out.
I saw her face. She said ' Good-bye, Phyllis." Dick, she will never come back —she is of that nature. The French doctor, the English colonel—were they not wealthy ? Are they not ruined now for ever and ever ? Dick,"—suddenly—
" do you know what it is to beg ? I did —once. I do not fear poverty with you, no, nor anything ; but if your money goes to that terrible croupier, what will you do? It will not be how will you live—no, Dick, it will be how will you
Yeend laughed quietly. "All this does you credit, Phyl. I believe you are quite right."
" How much money have you left ?"
" How much oak is there in the acorn ? I've enough to make a fortune out of it, if ........."
" Yes," she said mournfully, " ' if '—
" Just so—luck."
" And if not ?"
" If not, there will be that big, terrible world of yours to face. I shall end it up with something short and sharp." " And I ?"
" He laughed pleasantly.
." You must think of the merry time we had, my dear—how we floated in moonlight at Venice—how we spent ' one summer night in Munich' — the gay months we passed in the beautiful city of ' Paree '—the gondolas—the boulevards—the laughter—the love and the gaiety. Have we not had them all ?"
" And at the end, the roulette table—
the ruin-and the something you call
short and sharp. Ah " she sighed, turn- ing and looking absently at the scene.
" do I not remember—and were we not
" Happy "—with a short laugh, and then his head drooped for a moment as if he were thinking—" well, it has come to this at last, Phyl. If I win to-night —and I must win to-night—good-bye to rouge et noir and all the rest for ever."
" Yes, that is what Madame Blanchard said ; but she will never come back. Why not give up now ?"
He turned and pointed to the lights of the town, and shook his head.
" I can't, I can't, I can't. Once more, Phyllis, girl, and then——"
He stooped and kissed her. There was something in the caress that re- minded her of the days—how long ago ! how deep, deep buried, how irre- vocably gone !—when the love, on her side, was pure, and when she had built her castles in Spain on the shifting sand of a man's love.
And then they went up together to meet their fate.
* * * * * *
They entered the chamber of the City of Destruction with the air of old habitués. The lights, the tables, the rich hangings, the carving and gilding,
the chubby cherubim that had looked down on success and ruin, on fever and despair, on prayers and execrations—all the deeper because not uttered but hidden under studied indifference—the croupiers, who looked as if the whole thing bored them, the rich dresses, the
bright, eyes, the haggard faces that art
and will could not hide—it was all as old as an oft-told tale to them.
They were somewhat late in entering. The cry of the coupier was heard in the land, " Make your play, gentlemen, make your play," and his rake raked in the piles of gold.
A young gentleman dressed as per- fectly as for my lady's "at home" was in the act of withdrawing from a group about one of the tables. He had played and lost. He had the same interesting paleness as one who was about to be sea-sick. His wife took his arm and looked up anxiously in his face. He walked on as if unconscious of her
presence. They passed Phyllis, and she shivered as she watched them. She said quietly to herself, "Ruined."
Yeend had left her, while he went to his "lucky" table. Something, when he
first entered, had made him look curiously among the crowd. He seemed
to have an air of expectancy, and yet he expexted nobody and wished to meet no recognising eye. he had kept this up for a while, but it had worn off now.
He had got the gambler's " second wind," and was as much at home as ever he was—that is to say, he was fascinated. He followed the red and the black, and put his money on the colours in the most approved methods of reckoning the chances ; black was steadily losing ; he placed it on black and waited for re- versal of luck on the principle that underlies the divine law of average.
Phyllis went quietly up to him and touched him lightly on the shoulder.
He looked at her pretty much as a man would who was in the midst of an opium smoke—he, like the young man who had just gone out, seemed hardly aware of
her presence, but he waved her away abstractedly and turned to the table again. It was always hopeless. Of late she had once or twice tried the same thing, and always with the same result. Jerome in his cave was not more dead to all the other attractions of the
world than the man who was under the spell of the master vice — for gambling is one of the few vices that, like music, does not pall by frequent repetition. She retired hopelessly to her seat ; the croupier croaked out his çry ; the croupier plied his rake ; the " bank " was having a good night, and the yellow boys chink ed and glistened
under the light as they fell musically to-
The pendulum was making a long swing this time before it gravitated back to the centre of average and over to the side of luck for the man who staked against the bank. Black had lost again. Yeend leaned back and wiped the per- spiration from his forehead. He staked on black again. He felt, so deep was his abstraction, as utterly alone as if he were in the centre of the Sahara. There was nobody around him, there were no voices, there was no lighted room—there was only the clink and the yellow of the little piles of gold. Marvellous ! Black did the impossible thing and lost again.
His nerves were not quite his own to- night.
" That girl's damned twaddle has got on to my brain," he said in a lucid, interval and turned away mechanically to go somewhere where he could get a breath of fresh air.
Phyllis on the watch noted it, and was at his side in a moment and linked
her arm in his. He stopped and faced her fiercely. She knew the symptom and the condition of mind behind it.
" Dick," she said in pretty much the same tone as she would use to a sleeper. " Dear, dear Dick, do be warned. Do not play any more. Luck is against you."
He made as if he would shake her off, but she only clung the closer.
" For God's sake sit down will you," he said in a savage suppressed tone. " I will not be distracted by you. You have
done enough damage—curse you," he added as a postscript.
" But Dick——."
" My luck will turn."
" Ah, how often have you said that !
How often have trusted to that. When,
has your belief ever been true ? Come away with me."
" I—will—not," he said very slowly and with invincible savage obstinacy. " I will not I tell you. I have enough to bear without your childish chatter.
Go to the hotel."
He used the last phrase with all the force of a conventional imprecation, and shook her off roughly. She only sighed, and retired. She would go home with him as usual, when the usual trance was ended for another night.
The little altercation had broken the monotony almost as well as a breath of fresh air. He had felt savage and had wanted to expend it on something, and there is nothing so good as a woman for that sort of thing, because the right kind of woman feels and winces under it
more than anything else, and so gives infinitely more satisfaction. Therefore Yeend felt revived, and pulled himself together and went back to the table again.
" Make your play, gentlemen, make your play."
And the group put their money on the colours.
Yeend had as accurate knowledge of the condition of his finances as an adept teller in a bank—that is, an ordinary conventional bank in the city. He drew a long breath, and said mentally—
" All or nothing."
The croupier called. It was not worth changing one's mind at the psychological moment, and he put his coins on black and left his pockets empty. He grinned as he thought that was the last of Corn- wall's money as well as his own. The impossible and the inevitable happened.
Black lost again. The bank was
having a night of it.
Yeend drew another long breath, and brought his fingers down with a heavy pat.
" Done !"
It was the equivalent of Napoleon's " All is over " at Waterloo, and just as serious in proportion.
Some new people had come into the Sahara during the last few minutes. As he turned from the table Phyllis started forward; but the news comers were before her. One of them touched Yeend on
the arm delicately, and said
" Mr. Yeend, I think." " My name is Barnard."
" Mine's Skeggs. Glad you weren't
drowned that time." " Yes, you devil, and mine's Cornwall. Where's my money ?"
" Ask the man with the rake. He knows."
'' Mr. Yeend, otherwise Barnard." said another voice, "I have a warrant
for your arrest as an absconder," said the English detective.
" There you are, Mr. Bates," said Skeggs with his unmoved childlike face. "there's your man alive and doing as well as could be expected. So I hope your mind is at rest. That ends my
business which has its first principles in sentiment. The absconding racket is for the British lion to claw over— flavoured, as it were, with a personal spice of feeling on the part of Mr. Corn- wall. Who's the lady? She's fainted! Here clear, some of you people, and let's get her into the open air !"
It was Phyllis.
That was the only thing that attracted attention. All the rest might have been, so far as the bystanders were concerned, a conversational meeting among friends."
Yeend did not seem to take very much interest in the business. But he started when Phyllis fainted.
She revived for a moment, and mut- tered in a dazed way
" Good-bye—oh, good-bye, Dick."
"He heard it, and for once—just for once—all that was left of good in him returned. It was the last flash in the candle of sentiment.
" Good-bye my girl, good-bye " he said or whispered, and took his handkerchief from his pocket. When he took it down again something fell on the floor. It was a phial and there was an odour of bitter almonds.
Yeend fell. It was hydrocianic acid, and he had been false to the principles of the place by openly committing suicide. It had been done in a moment,
and no one had had a chance to interfere.
Play was stopped. A crowd gathered round, and the detective took charge of the body of the absconder.
It was a year or two afterwards.
The Colonel was sitting in the dusk of the evening looking out at one of the French casements at Foxcross. A man who was not clearly distinguishable was
sitting opposite to him.
" Where are those two people, Bates?" Bates looked out and pointed down the garden.
" Saw 'em go down there a minute ago."
The " two " were" walking together among the trees.
" And what was it made you really believe it could have been yourself that did that, Frank ?"
It was the one secret he could not
" Whatever it was, Maggie, does not matter now. It has gone, gone, gone, thank God for ever. It—it was an hallucination which sometimes came upon me in moments of excitement—it was the effects of an accident when I was
a boy. Don't let us mention it any more. The main thing is not what is past, but what is present. Are you happy ?"
" Am I happy !"
And just then the Colonel was saying to Bates,
" I always had the most unshaken belief in Conyers, Bates, always. What people were thinking of to ever seriously doubt him I don't know. No you don't, no more fire water, Bates. I've got you in hand, and I'm going to drive off your family demon if it takes up the rest of your life."
" I hope to heaven you will, Colonel. I am the one blot on what might be entirely happy. My demon takes long to lay."