|Chapter Number||XVI. XVII. XVIII.|
|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.]
PART II. CHAPTER XVI.
The Colonel left Skeggs' office in a state of what one can only call haughty disgust. He disliked everything about the American—his freedom of speech and manner ; his apparent insensibility to the fact of the Colonel's conspicuous superiority to the rest of the race—upon which point the Colonel himself had the clearest and deepest convictions ; his method of procedure ; everything. Here was a man who came from no one knew where, whose past career was an unknown quantity, whom he had last seen haranguing crowds of the unwashed in a diggings township, and who now turned up without a single recommendation or credential to do work which was already reposed in the hands of competent
He hardly exchanged a word with Bates after they left the office ; and when he said "Good-bye," his eyes added ironically, " I trust you are satis-
His ill temper did not die out till he came within sight of home and saw Margaret standing at the gate waiting for him. His heart smote him, for Margaret. She was not the girl she had been. Ever since she had made her visit to the colonies her character and behaviour had altered. The Colonel could never divine why. It may be sur- prising in the case of a man who read human nature, man and woman, right and left, by that terrible faculty of intuition with which he knew he had always been so extraordinarily endowed
—but the fact remains he could not.
It had been bad enough when the separation had come in the first in- stance between her and Conyers. But she had been supported by several con- siderations. Perhaps it was not true ; if partially true, no doubt it was ex- aggerated, and Frank would have much to say in his own justification, and there was the future with all its chances, its kaleidoscope of events. Moreover, she had that happy fatalism of young minds
not familiar with distress—she could not credit that great grief would ever come to her. She had never seen a death in the family ; she had never been brought near to death herself by illness ; she had never wanted for any good thing; had never seen what a guillotine of the gods is the mill of the world. She made the common, the inevitable error, of think- ing that her mode of living was life, in- stead of being an accidental phase of it —the phase that comes to the few.
Grief such as she had suffered had lasted for a night, but joy had come again with the morning. Frank was in the world, she and he were young and were strong, and change and death were things of newspaper paragraphs and outside their particular lives, and some day the glad meeting time would come.
The moment of distraction had super-
vened when she came to Western Aus-
tralia. Her mind never recovered from the illness that came to her there, though her body had. The Colonel was annoyed to think she should be ill, and spoil her life and his own as well Everything seemed to go against him Other people fell ill, and recovered and forgot; his daughter, merely because she was his daughter, and because he was of an unusually sensitive and sympa- thetic nature—his daughter forsooth, must become dull and mope her days and his own away, over nobody knew what. He could not help his thoughts taking that shape, though at heart he was as good as the average—and it was because of this
latter fact that his heart softened and
his ill-temper died away as he saw Mar- garet standing at the gate.
" Well, Maggie?" " Well, dad?"
He drew her arm within his and they walked to a spot in the grounds where there was a seat, retired and shady. He took off his hat and put it beside him. She looked at him sideways, wondering why he was silent. She saw he had something to say, and sighed when she thought what it would most probably be
" I've seen Bates to-day." " Yes, father."
" And this infernal mystery seems to be cropping up again. Will its corpse never be buried, I wonder——"
" Oh, father, for pity's sake let's hear no more about it. There is nothing that can be said. Nothing will ever make it any better than it is. Let it drop "
The Colonel looked at her in surprise. There was no mistaking the genuine ring of pain in her voice or the look on her face. The face was not the frank face of old days. It is a question if it had ever been what could strictly be called. beautiful—except with the beauty that shines through from the frank and fearless heart of youth. It may be that for all her boast of not fearing what life might have in store for her, she had discoved that it has penalties hard to bear though they stop far short of death or of heart-break. The Colonel wished she had been more like the Maggie that had withstood him so impudently in that garden a year or two before—wished for a sign of the old rebelliousness that used once to rouse his Indian temper so high. He paused a moment and looked at her, and said to himself, not, perhaps,
with any conspicuous relevance, but with the pathos that for ever dwells in these things—" I am growing old—I am grow- ing old." He felt like a gardener who has walked many years in a garden and suddenly sees his best beloved among thc blooms fading.
" Ah Maggie, girl, I wish I could drop it, but I can't." There wasn't a sign of the former irascibility about him, so perhaps he really was getting old. " I want you to tell me something." He paused again and stroked her hair. " You won't mind telling your old dad, will you ? "
She kept her face turned away, and said, in a dry, monotonous tone,
" What do you want me to tell, dad ?" He noticed the tone. It reminded
him of how she used to speak when she was a little thing, and was repentant over something and was striving to keep from crying.
" I only want you to tell me, because what I have heard to-day has puzzled me. I don't know how it is," he added, as if he were irritated by a conundrum that had no business to be put to him ; " things never used to puzzle me once— they used to call me General See-straight among the boys—but they puzzle me now—they puzzle me now."
She turned quickly and leaned on his shoulder, and looked up in his face. There is something that appeals ten- derly, in the signs of the approach of
old age. Maggie felt it in his voice just them, and the fountains of the great deep were nearly broken up, but she was brave and held back the sob that was just behind her lips.
" Oh, father," she interrupted. " We mustn't let anything come between us, must we ? We have been so happy to- gether here—we must think of the old, old times, the dear old times."
He felt the situation was getting a little too much for him, so he did not venture to speak for a little while, and pulled his long grey, thin moustache and there was a queer touch of pathos, too, in the way he tried to keep steady and worthy of the military—and part of the unwritten code of that Roman military was that a man may not display emotion though the heavens fall and the stars in
their courses fail
" Of course we mustn't. Who said there was any possibility of anything ever coining between us ? What I want you to tell me is—is—what you—what passed between you and Conyers when
he came to see you the other day," and he tugged at the moustache till it stood out as straight and stiff as a wire.
She knew this was coming. Her head
sank, and he felt her quivering—and that for his own part he was coming dangerously near being unworthy of the military. His hand shook as he kept on at his safety valve of moustache.
" Take your time," he said in a voice out of which he was ashamed to feel that he could not keep the shameful tremor of kindliness. Yes, he was certainly getting old and weak. "Don't let me hurry you."
She remained so long without answer- ing that he tried, tried hard, to work up an affectation of being angry ; but it was a dead failure. He looked down at the flood of hair that spread over her shoulders, and realised that she was weeping silently. "Where they had been so happy !" So they had. He never realised, till now, how happy. Would they ever be happy any more? He felt a chill as if the sun had gone in ; but it hadn't ; it was shining as callously as ever—but the chill he felt was not of the sort that gives way to sunshine. He let her have her cry for a while, and then as it became plain that she would never be able to make a voluntary statement, he began to help her along with ques-
" Don't cry, dear. Tell me what you said. Tell me why he went away. Tell me why he has got this new idea—this insane, idiotic, ridiculous idea," he went on, finding a shadow of anger working up as he piled on the adjectives—" this idea of his that he was the man who
killed the Warden."
" Oh, father, did he say that—did he say he was the man who did it ?"
The voice was very indistinct and full of desolation, and the words were so broken up with sobs, that to understand her was like puzzling out a mutilated telegram.
" He did," he said shortly.
She crept closer to him. She seemed somehow to shrink up smaller. She cried as silently as ever, but more hope- lessly. His arm began to support her
instead of caress her. He had never felt
how much she was still his little girl as he did now; but he was not good at woman's talk, so he remained silent— and military—and was as sorry, inside his crusted old heart, as her mother would have been—yea, perhaps, if what they tell us in our nursery days be true —perhaps as sorry as she was at that moment, for all the years that had rolled away since another time in the years that the locusts had eaten, when, also, he had felt that he would never be happy any more. He shuddered and felt that it was getting late afternoon for him in-
" Father," she whispered, " I told him the truth—and now—and now—I feel, oh, I feel it must indeed have been the truth—I told him I saw him do it—for —for I did see him."
Hiram Skeggs' device for discovering the missing Cornwall was, in the first instance, an exceedingly simple one. Skeggs had a tenacious memory. He
had, moreover, spent some time on the fields about the Three Fingers, and re- membered that the mines with which Cornwall had been connected were the Big Divvy, The Twins, and The Flotsam and Jetsam—not to speak of the Wealth
of the West.
To come to London was a gravitation
with most successful men. ln Corn- wall's case, he would probably not wish to remain long in the neighbourhood of the district where he had done those things which he should not have done, and which might at the most unlooked- for moment come to light with an un- pleasant atmosphere of suspicion asso- ciated with them. For Skeggs was strongly inclined to think that Corn- wall's record as mine manager was not one that would bear investigation.
Skeggs, therefore, circulated an adver- tisement, carefully guarded as to the wording, that the gentleman who had acted as manager of the before-men- tioned mines would hear of something to his advantage by communicating with a certain address—not that of Skeggs' office, nor did Skeggs intend that his own name should, until circumstances required it, be revealed.
The artifice might succeed, or it might not. If it did not, he would resort to other means.
Skeggs was one of those who comprise part of that section of men who, so to say, supply the Element of Variation in humanity. In most people there is a congruity between their words and their behaviour on the one side (which are the outward and visible signs to those about them), and their character on the other (which is between themselves and the unknown source of things). Now to
reason from the one side of their
character to the other is in a large pro- portion, a fairly easy process and gives approximately correct results. Only approximately in any instance, because it is impossible to go far into that secret garden in every man's inner nature where is the central citadel of his character.
With Skeggs the process would have been useless. He had, as a matter of fact, quite a large and elaborate central citadel; but what he revealed of himself would not have given you even that approximately correct knowledge of him which I have referred to. The fact was
not the outcome of deceptiveness—not intentional deceptiveness at any rate. Skeggs was a man who had set out in life with an artless belief in things and with unusual senstiveness ; also with an unusually quick intelligence.
The last corrected the first.
He found that if you wear your heart on your sleeve, the heart is liable to get hurt; that if you make confidences, one man laughs at them ; the other is untrue to them ; that if you preserve year unusual sensitiveness, you are holding by the blade and hitting with the hilt. He revised himself accordingly. He arrived at a new computation of the pro- portion of things. He took less serious views. He adopted a new attitude—that of badinage. He found that when one was consistently flippant and ironical, and left people in a pleasant state of doubt as to whether he were in earnest
or not, they laughed less at him, and were not quite sure of their superiority to him. The habit crystallised. His
face became a kind of non-committal mask, and his words he left to the inter- pretation of anyone who cared to inter- pret—which nobody troubled to do.
There was one penalty ; he accepted it. In keeping all at a respectable distance he missed the making of a few friend- ships. But he made, at the same time, one or two, who had, by accident or intent, penetrated beneath the rind of the pine-apple—who had arrived at the measure of their friendship by natural affinity
Conyers was one of the men who had impressed him favourably. He would probably have been as shy of expressing it as a maiden in admitting that she was in love—but the impression was there just as the love is there in the case of the
maiden. He was working, or was pre- pared to work, in this case with more than professional application—which is saying a good deal, for among the other mixed attributes that made up Skeggs' character was an indomitable conscien- tiousness which he named to himself as " stick-to-it-iveness "—it was less vividly moral, he thought, to put it in that way.
He waited with an anxiety—which was also quite unprofessional—for the result
of his advertisement. He knew that he was probably correct in taking an in- significant view of Cornwall's abilities to take care of himself, but he did not expect any striking developments as a
result of his first effort.
Therefore it was with professional
complaisance that he answered "Come
in " to the knock that came to his door
one morning. He looked up and saw
the face of the man whom he had com- missioned to meet Cornwall in case of
application being made at the address
named in the advertisement.
" He's turned up," said the man.
" And there's no particular need to play him much. We don't seem to be
on thin ice in the business."
" And ?" said Skeggs again. It was not an affectation of the laconic. It was purely in the interests of the quickest development of the conversation, and the
" I played the open game. I saw it was safe enough, and told him who you
" Quite right. You were sure of your ground—you didn't give the thing away?"
" Quite sure. He's on his uppers, and has a big debit against Yeend that I think you'll find he's as anxious to have paid off as you are. He wants to come along and see you himself."
" And suppose he don't come ?" " But he will. I am dead sure he will. And if he don't, I know where to put my hand on him anyway."
Skeggs' head went down again over some papers he was dealing with, and he said—
" Right. Send him along."
The man went out, and an hour or two later Skeggs had an intuition that the footsteps that approached his door, and the knock that followed, came from
" Come in," he said again, and when he looked up it was Cornwall that stood before him. A glance at the face was enough to show that no delicate pre- liminaries were necessary.
" You are Mr. Cornwall? Take a seat."
Cornwall did so. He evidently did not remember Skeggs. He threw one leg over the other, and waited to be questioned. There was a look of eager- ness and something more in his face. The " something more " was hard to define; but Skeggs concluded it was a feeling that arose from the degree to which Cornwall was involved in what the
Warden had probably done; and that the eagerness arose from the anxiety of one evil-doer to gain satisfaction from the man who has done evil to him.
Reasoning on these lines, and feeling that he was safe in his assumption, Skeggs obviated a good deal of conver- sational cut and thrust by saying—
" So our friend let you in, too, did
" He did," said Cornwall shortly.
" Or you would not have tumbled up so promptly to my boatswain's whistle, eh?"
" You are probably interested to know what is going to turn up to your ad- vantage Mr. Cornwall P "
" I am," said Cornwall.
" H'm," communed Skeggs with himself, "it may interest you to know that I was out on the diggings at the time all that racket took place. You don't remember me; but I knew you
there, and I knew this Mr. Yeend. And just look here, Mr. Cornwall, this thing has been lying around a long while sort of idle, but now, sir, the dramatic moment has come "—he wheeled around, his very whiskers bristling with intensity, his eyes gleamed, his hands seemed about to clutch their object—he was like his own American eagle throwing itself on its prey. Cornwall started and sat bolt upright as if he had been suddenly mesmerised—" and I have to tell you what you know already, and that is that Mr. Yeend is no more dead than you and I are, that he has pocketed cool thousands from those mines you and he were mixed up in, and he has made use of his suspected death to make good his escape and do the gay fantastic on the Continent. That is so, is it not—yes or no, now ?"
Cornwall had never been a man of
great self-control. Of late he had become poor, and in addition to that he had been drinking. The change that had come over the face of Skeggs was so sudden, complete and startling that without speaking or removing his gaze Cornwall nodded a helpless affirmation.
" And your object, I conclude, in coming here. Mr. Cornwall, is not so much that you love and revere justice for its own sweet sake, but that you want to even up on your friend, eh ?"
Cornwall had become articulate again. " I do, Mr. Skeggs. Mr. Yeend owes me a matter of some thousands of pounds——"
" Owes ?"
"Yes, ' owes,' Mr. Skeggs. He is in- debted to me to that amount."
" Would you like to recover in a court of law, or would you not rather that private influence were brought to bear and any unpleasant publicity avoided ?" suggested Skeggs, delicately.
" I am not considering the question of publicity," answered Cornwall, with a lowering look from under his eyebrows. " I want my money. I want to have nothing to do with your courts of law. I want to meet him face to face ; that will be sufficient for me—I will try and make it sufficient for him."
" I shall be very happy to help you to it, I'm sure."
" I'm waiting to hear what has hap- pened to my advantage," said Cornwall after a pause which Skeggs had waited
for him to break.
" If you are prepared to give unques-
tionable evidence that Yeend is still alive there will be no sort of difficulty on that point, my friend—take my asseveration for that. You will observe that I have not asked you any questions as to why you have allowed suspicion to lie on Mr. Conyers all this time—it was Providence simply playing into your hands for the thing to happen at all— but Conyers or his friends will, I think, be able to answer you on the point. But where's your evidence ?" said Skeggs, whose face did not alter by the twitch of muscle, though he was inflating with congratulations on his success " Where's your man ? How are we to know you are speaking the truth ? How are we to
see him ?"
" He's in Monte Carlo under the name of Mark Barnard. Pay my passage
there and I'll do the rest."
" And is paying your passage the
amount of good you want done to you in return for your information ?"
" Yes," said Cornwall shortly, and then added. "It don't concern you or any one what is between him and me. You may guess what you like about it."
"Don't need to be inspired, sonny, to
know what your trouble is. But I will not be indelicate, Mr. Cornwall. I only hope you may get your share out of him."
Cornwall glared, but said nothing.
The time had passed slowly and sadly for the poor Colonel. Something had gone out of his life. He hardly knew altogether what it was. He had always
held it a weakness to allow one's life to
be effected by the opinions or conduct of
those about him. No man who ever lived, he told himself, was more satisfied with the verdict of his own conscience— no man more indifferent to what others might do or say. " A man is sufficient for himself—if he is not, he's an ass." That was his conviction-or he thought it was, which comes to much the same thing. But then, Nature had ruled that our conduct shall not be so much regu- lated by moral conviction as by that other thing which we can only call Natural Inclination—the elements of which are gathered from the four corners of the universe.
Thus the Colonel put down his half- smoked cigar one morning with a sigh— a man was falling on evil times when smoke was no longer what it had been. He yawned discontentedly over his paper —and there was a slashing speech in it, too, from a rising young man on the Conservative side, and just along the lines the Colonel most heartily approved of. Still, somehow, a glory and a joy had gone out of his life. It was all through those wretched young people and the folly of persons of one sex falling in love with persons of the other — which the Colonel said testily was nonsense of the most vivid kind, and was an exploded fallacy.
He did not know who had said it—it might have been himself, he agreed so entirely on the sentiment—but there was no doubt that he who increased love increased sorrow.
He looked across to where Margaret was sitting—she had fallen into a habit of late of lightening (or saddening, he hardly knew which) some of the hours
he passed in his den of a morning. She was a living example of the foolishness
of the business.
" Margaret," he said suddenly, " wake up—wake up—for heaven's sake wake up, girl. What's coming over you? You loiter and maunder in a way that does not become a young person, especially when that young person is a soldier's daughter. Come now, answer me. I want no saintly smiles of resig- nation. What have you to say, eh ?"
" Dad—liver," with an admonitory shake of the finger.
He struggled up to a rigid sitting position—he had been reclining at the angle which long experience in India had told him was the most comfortable.
" It is not liver. I will not have you say these things. I do wish you would abandon that off-hand slangy way you have acquired. Where you get it I don't know What books do you read ?" he said, a new fight breaking in upon him. " These novelists—they abuse the confidence we put in them. They come into our homes with their smug bind- ings—they lie around—they talk—they get into your confidences more than we do who are your parents. What's that book you have in your hand now ?"
" 'Villette.' "
" Humph." He had never read it, and so felt more disinterested in criticising it. " Some Jenny and Jessomy thing I suppose judging by the title. Why don't you read something that will improve your mind ? "
" Oh, but you do that dad, when you
talk about India."
He looked at her for a moment to see if there were any signs of a budding humourist. He was fairly impervious to satire, but once or twice he had had an uneasy sense of Margaret's words mean- ing one thing and her tone pointing to another. In his own mind it is probable that he did not care very much, for he was persuaded it was innocent in character ; still he was a Colonel, and he meditated what would be the best answer he could give. And while he hesitated Margaret arose and went through the open door into the next room. The door was open, and when she had seated herself at the piano she turned with the graceful sinuousness that is only possible to women, and looking back at the Colonel, said—
" What shall I play, father ? "
" Something military," said the Colonel, lighting another cigar.
Margaret frowned and gave something bordering on an impatient stamp.
" Military, military, military. I am disgusted. You men who talk about the military talk like children. You talk or courage as if it was always something
that had to be demonstrated before it can be believed in. If a man is a man at all his courage should be taken as granted—as a first principle. Your poems and your songs are only another form of the same thing that keeps up children's spirits in the dark. Bah! No, dad, all hail to the soldier, but ten thousand times not to his work."
(To be Continued.)