Chapter 33156754

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Chapter NumberXII.
Chapter TitleNone.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33156754
Full Date1898-03-25
Page Number62
Corrections7
Word Count3190
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2020-09-03
Newspaper TitleWestern Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)
Trove TitleThe Wealth of the West
article text

CHAPTER XII.

It was the same old room at Foxcross.

Two years, had not made much differ-

ence either in the room or in the form of the old Colonel. He was, if possible, a shade more military than ever. His grizzled old moustache fairly bristled with robust health. He sat bolt upright as he read, and what he was reading was the Parliamentary news of the day. An election was being fought out, and the Liberals were gaining ground. It seemed incredible, but it was so. The Colonel did not want to believe, but he had to, and his moustache bristled more fiercely than ever. Things were changed since he was a young man—and changed with a vengeance. The country was being given over, bound hand and foot, to a pack of parochial tradesmen, and

maniacs with fads. It was fast be-

coming the rags and tatters of a nation. It was becoming a mere hanger-on among the nations of Europe. The moral and social atmosphere of the

country, was polluted with a rascally press and a rascally literature. The Colonel was one of the men who had

fought for the liberties of his country, and the liberties were fast merging into license—a French Revolutionary license. If he had his way, by Heaven he would

bring the military down on the brood that make Hyde Park their happy hunt- ing ground. He would cleanse things in the good old way with powder and shot. It was the only way with these people. Knock them down first and reason with them afterwards—if reason was to be wasted on them at all. They wanted the Iron Duke back again. They wanted another Peterloo. They wanted to stop this spread of education. They wanted—they wanted—Lord, what did they not want ? It was unbearable—

shameful. He could not stand it. He

got up and walked about. Was the room

close or what was it made him so hot ? He would have a smoke in the garden.

" What is it, Jones ? " he said as his old retainer entered, a man who had been with him all through India, and who now acted in a variety of ways about the place. " Why am I to be interrupted like this ? What is the meaning of it ?"

" Two gentlemen to see you sir—"

" I don't care if it's two ladies, I won't see them, Jones. I don't want to see them or to see anyone, nor you, so off with you. I don't want to see their cards. Take them away. Eh, what? Conyers ? Bates ? "

" They said they were two old friends,

sir."

" Well, then it was like their infernal impudence to say anything of the sort. I am not aware of it, Jones ; I am not aware of any such regard towards them. It is pure rank presumption. Tell them to go away."

" So we will in five minutes, Colonel, but not before," said a voice at the door and Bates and Conyers entered.

" Who are you, sir ? What am I to understand by this most extraordinary procedure ? This—this—intrusion upon my privacy ? I don't know you."

" Now, is that possible? Can two years have made all that difference ? "

" Made all that difference—you speak of making a difference—I am free to say, sir, that things are so changed that I admit I am confused—you see me in a state of confusion."

"Well, Colonel, things must indeed have changed if you haven't a word of welcome for us. Here's Frank here——"

" I am not in the habit of changing my mind. I think I said all that was necessary, as between us, some long time ago. I have nothing to add or to alter,

or to take back."

" If you haven't, Colonel, I have," began Frank.

" Do you address me, sir ?" asked the Colonel with much fierceness and

sarcasm.

" Grasp your mettle, Franky. Go in, and keep your temper," suggested Bates

in a whisper.

" Colonel, there was a misunderstand- ing. This is most important to me. What I told you when we parted was not the truth. I was not guilty of the offence of which I accused myself——"

" A man who makes statements that

are not true is guilty of an offence it is not necessary to name. You make your case worse. But I will not be inveigled into a conversation. I wish you a good morning."

" Colonel, my honour is concerned in this—and my happiness—you are my oldest friend—I have come to you from

the other side of the world with no other object than to speak to you—I would not have come without a strong reason. Will you give a condemned man two minutes of your time? It's all I ask. I will leave the final issue with you."

The Colonel took out his watch and placed it on the table.

" Two minutes," he said, "and no more. Go on."

" I must ask you, first of all, to believe what I am going to say. It is humili- ating to say that, but I must. There

are things that I cannot tell even you,

and even in these circumstances."

" Go on," said the Colonel, as unmoved as an Inquisitor. " Part of your time is gone."

Frank bit his lips. Bates looked at him and at the Colonel, and thought what a pair of fortune's fools they were.

" I led you to believe that I had mis- appropriated money. When I said that, I had a name to shield—the only way in which I could do it was by allowing you to form the supposition that you did. I could not tell you the truth then ; I can- not tell you the whole of the truth now. But I can declare on my word of honour that I have not in one tittle offended against the code of honesty or of gentlemen. The supposition you formed was entirely a mistaken one. I was, when I spoke to you that day, absolutely,

entirely innocent of what you bad reason. -of that which I gave you reason, to suspect me. I can say no more. What bound me then, in part binds me now. I can only place myself at your mercy, and believe that as you would be in- capable of telling a lie yourself, I am equally incapable of doing so. Colonel,

do you believe me ? "

The Colonel looked up into Frank's face. He resolved to put Conyers to

the test that he had never known to fail

—that had served him all through India —that had made strong men cower

before him. He would see if Frank

could stand the gaze of his eye without blenching. He went up to Frank and placed his hands on his shoulders. Their eyes met. The Colonel felt that it must

be a terrible moment for Frank. Their

gaze was long and steady. It was satis- factory. The Colonel felt that the human eye that could meet his like that could not have ah iota of guilt behind it. Besides, he was a reader of human character. He knew the explanation it was the old story—there was a woman's reputation at the bottom of it.

" Thank God," he said. " Frank, shake hands. I will not ask you another ques-

tion. I am satisfied." The lad was a

gentleman after all.

" Then, still in his character as a reader of human nature, he became aware of another thing. The boy—he thought of him as boy, though the "boy "was as

brown as a Moor and had a moustache

five inches long—the boy would naturally like to see the girl. The Colonel led delicately up to it. He said—

" You would like to see Margaret ? "

"I would."

" Knew it; I knew it," said the Colonel, who felt that nothing human could deceive him ever more. " I knew it; I guessed it, and so you shall."

He took a pace towards the door, and then paused and turned; Bates had risen with the idea of making a timely

exit.

" There's only one thing, Frank, my lad, and I most warn you of it so that you may be prepared. Bates, here, of course, knows all about; what has hap- pened, so that don't matter. It's a queer thing, too, in a small way—a—a doocid queer thing. The fact is, I have noticed a change in Maggie lately—that

is, I mean, since we left the fields out there in West Australia."

Frank felt that any change was quite fully enough to be accounted for by a

moment's consideration of all that had taken place, and he smiled as the Colonel paused. It was only one more of the things that he would have to explain. Having overcome the Colonel, he was not afraid of results with the woman who loved him.

" Yes, Colonel," he said. " What is

it?"

" You may smile, my lad, and perhaps you do right to smile, but it strikes me as doocid queer, as I said just now. I am of opinion if there is any man in the world who knows women, that man is myself. Now this is where the strange part of the thing comes in. A while back, when I was under the impression that you were no better than you ought to be—and I maintain that I would have known less than I do about human

nature if, placed as I was, I had thought differently from what I did—well, a while back she was your hot defender. I and my beliefs were nowhere. She was a woman, and she went by heart and not by head, and her Frank was a paragon, was innocent, and Lord knows what, and her old dad was a fool for coming to the conclusion that any other man of the world would have come to, unless he were an ass. But now—and heaven alone knows why—now your name must not be mentioned. It—of course, it may—oh yes, it may be some- thing new in my experience of men and things, but I frankly confess my in- ability to understand it. That's all. Can you throw any light ?"

" I do not think there is much need

for throwing light. She has done the same as people who have been much longer in the world have done," said Frank diplomatically "and naturally enough she believes that I am, as you just now put it, no better than I ought

to he."

" Ah, well, you can settle it between yourselves. I'll give you a fair field and no favour. I won't even tell her you are here. Bates, you and I will have a smoke in the den. You know the way, and I will be with you in the twinkling of a bed post."

" So far so good Franky, my boy," remarked Bates cheerfully. " Go in and win, only remember what Shakspere says about the course of true love, not running as smooth as peas down a funnel. Ta ta."

As soon as he was left alone Frank

closed his eyes. He staggered slightly, and leaned against the wall for support. He passed his hand over his eyes like a man who has recovered from a faint.

" What a relief," he said. " I'm as weak as a child. All this has told on me. Three years and more since I saw my life and my love slip away from me. I saw her when I looked back. She was standing there at the door. And now free—free—free ! The time has passed

and I am like other men. Not a touch of the old curse. Gone like a bad dream.

Oh my God, what an unspeakable gift thy life is to one come back from the living death of madness. The night- mare the horror—back to health, to life, to love, to drink the strong red wine of life again with my fellows. It's joy—it's

intoxication—I never felt it till now. It's almost more than a man can bear.

The very dead that wake in heaven can feel no greater joy than mine. I could go mad from very joy. And now for dear Margaret."

He heard steps approaching. He drew back, and felt his heart set up a tumultuous beating. The door opened, and Margaret entered.

" Margaret !"

If the Colonel had seen the shock that showed itself in her face he would have

repented of the fact that he had not pre- pared her for the interview. Her agita- tion was greater than Frank's. She grew ghastly pale to the lips, and seemed about to fall. Frank sprang towards

her.

" Keep away," came from her lips in a tone that could only mean one thing. It was involuntary and extreme horror. It was so evident—it came upon him so suddenly, in part prepared though he was, that he was appalled. He stood still and looked the amazement that he could not speak.

" Margaret," he said, " what have I done ?"

" Stand away," she said again, " don't

dare to come near me."

" I don't understand. I had expected a different reception. Something that merits reproach, I know I have done, or have seemed to have done. Your father has told you under what circumstances

he and I last parted. Margaret, what he has believed of me, and what you have been told of me, is untrue. I come to you without one spot or stain on my character, so far as any man may use such a term. He has believed me, and

because he has believed me he has sent you in to meet me. Don't ask me for reasons, and why and wherefore. Don't humiliate me by asking me to defend myself in detail. Margaret," he said with pain in his voice, " can't we be as

we were before all this arose between us ?

Margaret, Margaret, you don't know what I have given up and gone through these last few years. Say you believe

me !"

" I am not speaking of what my father has believed," she said contemptuously, drawing herself up. "How dare you, under cover of that, attempt to address me again ?"

He looked at her in stupid amazement. " Margaret, don't play with me. I am too much in earnest. I think—nay, we are not on ceremony, you and I—I saw in your, eyes, your words, your

manner when we met out there in Aus-

tralia that you had a place for me in your heart still. I have thought of you, dreamed of you, longed for you all these years. I have come all these thousands of miles thinking how I should meet my Margaret again—counted each wave as it passed and said, 'One step nearer home and Margaret.' Oh, Margaret," he broke in with intense earnestness, " can't you see—can't you understand that every word that means delay, or doubt; or make-believe, is agony to me now. For God's sake, speak one word of earnest welcome. I—I can't stop to play now."

He went towards her with his hands outstretched. She drew back with un- mistakable aversion.

" Stand where you are," she said, breathlessly. " Don't touch me. I

couldn't bear it."

Almost before she had finished speak- ing he broke in passionately

" Margaret——"

" Silence! You shall not speak to

me."

She turned away in nervous despera- tion, and stepped towards the door mur- muring, " Let me go—let me go," then turned, mastered herself by a strong effort, and faced him, crying

" No, it is not I who should be driven away. Do not interrupt me !"

" Margaret, I will speak. What does

this mean? You avoid me in horror!

God knows I love you, but I will not take insult even from you. Is the world gone mad?"

" You act well," she said slowly and witheringly. " You need to." Then, with quick change to a fierce contempt, " But I am not your dupe, sir, if all the rest of the world is. To dare to approach me with blood on your hands ! Is it possible that I have ever loved such a man ? Do you not know that a word from me would destroy you—that it is only my silence

—my weak womanish silence that has

preserved you. But slowly and re- pugnantly—" I never thought you would

have the audacity to come near me again."

" What possesses you ? Are you try- ing to drive me mad, or are you mad yourself ? What do your words mean 'Blood.' 'Your silence has preserved me ?' "

She made a motion of repugnance

with her hands.

"Do not try me too far. Must I speak

plainly. Must I tell you—you, once my

schoolmate, my companion, my friend what I saw that night at the Three Fingers ? Why it was that my father

and I left without a word of farewell?"

Frank was overpowered for a moment

by the memory of the last night on which his malady had descended upon him.

" Ah," he said, " that night. Do not refer to that. Pity me."

" Have I touched you at last, Frank

Conyers? Do you understand now ? " Oh," she went on, almost in a moan, " why don't you go ? You degrade me and yourself, if that is possible, by stay- ing."

He paused sorrowfully. This was the unkindest cut of all. He felt as if

tears were not far off.

" Margaret, Margaret," he said with

the dignity of deep sadness, " how you have found this out I do, not know, but if you can speak like that, then it is in-

deed all over between us. But—but you

said blood on my hands."

" Frank Conyers, would you have me say——" she paused and looked at him. "

" What—what ?"

" Murder!"

" Murder?"

She laughed hysterically, and then went on again monotonously.

" Yes, I saw you do it with your own hands. " I saw you kill the Warden." '

There was a pause. It is impossible

in words to describe the changes that passed over the faces of the two.

Then Frank whispered to himself, awed and sickened by the thought—

" God, my old mania—it may have been true—it must be true. My affliction is more than I can bear. It follows me yet."

He did not notice how or when she

left the room. He could never remember, how he left it himself.