Chapter 63672619

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleTHE WAGER
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63672619
Full Date1893-12-23
Page Number9
Corrections0
Word Count3223
IllustratedY
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleThe Story of a Jewelled Belt
article text

CHAPTER I. The Wager.

Lord Edward Dart was enjoying his breakfast. At his time of life fresh eggs, hot toast, grilled chops, and fragrant coffee, with suggestions of creamy foam about it, are still an enjoyment. His Lordship was not more than 32 or 33 years of age, with the fair hair, sanguine complexion, and pug- nacious blue eyes and big frame character- istic of the Saxon Englishman.

" Dick " Chester, who sat opposite him at the table, was of a darker type, leaner and more restless. He was not enjoying his breakfast so much, apparently, for he withdrew his attention every now and then from the eat- ables to glance at the columns of the morn- ing paper, which was spread out on the table

beside him.

" By the way," Lord Dart exclaimed, " I saw that girl who came out on the Empress with us, yesterday.

" Which one ?" queried Chester.

"Why, Miss Leigh ; the girl with the

oxide of iron hair."

Chester looked up with an air of interest. " Where did you see her?" he asked.

" I believe you're a bit smitten there, Dick," he said, with a laugh. " Perhaps I'd better not tell you. . You might got your wings singed." -

" What rubbish !" returned his friend, with a little pique.

" Well," his Lordship continued, " it was in Collins-street. I was just coining from a visit to II-, at Government House, keeping a general survey of the streets from the front of the cab, you know "-and his Lordship, horrible as it may seem to the worth}* people who worship aristocracy, winked slyly-" when I noticed an uncom- monly fine figure in an uncommonly becom- ing dress on the right hand side of the road. As I leaned ont to see if the face corres- ponded with the figure; she turned, lt was Marian Leigh, and, by .Tove, she looked spanking ! You know, Chester, 1 like nature to do her work completely. A good fisrure and a plain face strike me as being outrage-

ous-and vice versa.

" Yes," Chester observed, " Miss Leigh is an unusually fine-lóoking girl, and, I believe, as good as she is good-looking. And he pointed this last sentence by a significant look straight into his friend's

eyes. .

" Oh, I've no doubt, old fellow-none in the world. If there's anything to test a woman's steadiness it's a long trip on the water, particularly. when, like Miss Loigh, she's travelling alone. You see, it conduces to flirtation, being boxed up in a confined space like a ship, no matter how big it is, and then there's something in the sea air which inclines you to make love more, just as it makes you eat more." And Lord Dart ' looked down with complacency on the already far from indifferent paunch which a long line of heavy-feeding ances- tors had bequeathed him, with his fair hair and ruddy face.

" What a lot of vitality you have," ob- served Chester, surveying his friend criti-

cally.

The two certainly presented a contrast. The type of Englishmen Lord Dart represented is getting rarer. The sanguine face and fighting blue eyes and the fair hair are vanishing. The race is fast becoming shadowed by thought. Lord Dart was bluff and outspoken, with a touch of Gallic move- ment and spontaneity.

Chester was spare, though of large frame. He was conservative of movement, though not lauguid, and had that self-repressed air which characterises the more common type of English gentleman. He had a good deal more intellect than his. friend, and a pair of calm grey eyes f »ill of power and discern-

ment.

You could imagine Lord Dart as one who lived largely for the pleasure of the moment -that is, for the joy of the senses. On the other hand, Chester would strike you-pre- suming you were a person of observation

as one to whose banquets intellect and spirit were habitually invited.

But they were fast friends.

" I'd like to see that girl again," Chester observed. " She interested me amazingly. Her talk when she let herself out was quite stimulating, and there was a delightful atmosphere of that mystery about her which is such a sauce to a woman's attractiveness. She was melancholy, too, at times," he went on, reflectively. " I think she was in trouble of some kind-trouble she was forced to bear alone-and that has a spiritualising effect upon a fair woman's fairness : at least I think so.. Your perfectly happy woman is an animal .simply. No human being has

any right to be perfectly happy, you know,

Dart."

" What a beggar you are for philosophis- ing about the commonest things, Dick," broke in his Lordship. " Now, if a woman

is tirfittv tb ni.'s nil T ask ."

" Probably," returned Cheater, coolly ; ." but your personal arbitrament does not settle the question. Matter is capable of many beauties, but is perfect only when we see it united to something higher which we

call spirit."

"Pooh!, you can't see spirit," said Lord Dart, contemptuously.

" Certainly not ; but you can see ita han- diwork in the face, and you can hear its in

flection in the voice. Suffering is the indis- pensable thing to make a beautiful face or character, just as sorrow sweetens song; sympathy and insight are among its offspring, and sympathy, you know, is love. And, undoubtedly, a plain face even may be so chastened by sorrow as to appear bearutiful. The humblest laborer out there on the road who has learnt the lessons of sorrow, though he has learnt nothing else, is many steps superior-measured by our conception of

the ideal man-than the aristocratic Oxford

graduate who has got half .through life and still retains the capacity to smack his lips over buttered toast." And with a sly glance at his friend, who winced visibly at the last thrust, Chester began again the perusal of the paper.

After a few minutes he looked up.

" "What a number of suicides and trage- dies of various kinds there are in Mel- bourne, Dart. Have you noticed ?"

" No," replied his friend ; " I dislike read- ing about Buch things."

" That filthy gutter they call the Yarra seems in a fair way to rival the reputation of the Thames and the Seine for the tragic. Ugh ! the poor wretches must, indeed, find life unhappy who elect to extinguish, it in

such stuft'."

The peer evidently shared his friend's dis- gust, for he spat with considerable emphasis, and proceeded to light a cigar, probably to

take the taste of the Yarra out' of his

mouth.

" Here's a case," Chester went on, " in this morning's paper which is rather out of the ordinary : < On the morning of the day be- fore yesterday," he read, « a number of boys playing near the brink of the river bank found the dead body of a man lying in a few inches of water. The bank at this place is steep, rising about 15 feet abruptly from the water. The body when found was completely naked. It bore no marks of violence. In the afternoon an inquest was held. Dr. Miggles, who conducted a post mortem upon the body, deposed that the organs of the deceased were perfectly Bound. The cavities of the lungs were inflated, so that death had not ensued from drowning. There were slight signs which indicated concussion of the brain, and judging from the place in which deceased was found, he was inclined to believe that death had resulted from this cause. A fall from a height upon a sub- stance too soft to injure the head exteriorly

might yet be sufficient to induce concussion of the brain. His attention had been called to a blue mark encircling the body of the deceased abotit the waist. That had no connection with the death of the subject of the inquest. It arose from the pressure of a band which the deceased wore when alive, probably a stiff leather band. The police were of the opinion that the deceased had stripped with the intention of having a swim, and had dived from the bank, miscal- culating the height of the bank and the depth of the water beneath, and alighting on his head had received the shock which resulted in his death. His clothes had probably been stolen by some wandering thief, and these, if recovered, might lead to identification. The ^police have the matter in hand. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.'

" Now," went on Chester as he laid the paper aside, " it strikes me that this is not

"Well, said Chester, . . . " although Tm a poor man £10,000 ts not sufficient to

induce me to turn detective, hut nour wager would be in danger if you doubled it." " Very well," promptly replied his Jriend, " it's doubled".

a case to be dismissed in this way. It is quite possible' that, instead. of being a death from accident,: this may be a murder. Many such crimes are com- mitted through the year in every great city which never see the light of day."

" But," interposed Lord Edward " there were no marks of violence upon the body in question."

<( Ah, precisely !" said Chester. " Your ordinary policeman or detective is helpless in the face of extraordinary crime. Given a

death which has not apparently been pro- duced by violence or poison, and they imme- diately assume that it is not the result of murder. To slay a man it is not necessary to crush him with a sledge hammer or to use an ounce of strychnine to poison him. Even in the centuries gone by there were murderers who knew of methods by which to compass their foul and deadly aims without recourse to

such ostensible means. And recollect that we live in the last decade of the 19th century, an age of science, which, together with the advantages and benefits it confers upon the race, also furnishes the criminal of the day with new and deadlier instru- ments of crime. We have yet seen only the bright side of the change which science has brought to life. Something more remains to be learned. For instance, where the revolutionary of Old Paris fought with an old musket behind a barricade of carts

and stones torn from the pavement, his counterpart of to-day manufactures in the laboratory of the chemist a bomb, the size of a walnut, which before to-day has blown a

Czar to pieces and reduced a soldier's barrack to splinters. Some day when the proletariat takes into its many heads the idea of having revenge upon the caste of which you, my Lord, are so distinguished a member, and proceeds to put into execution its schemes for the re-organisation of society the troops opposed to them will have to fight a secret force, every man of which may carry between his finger and thumb material for

the death of 50 men."

" Upon my word, Chester, you draw a pretty picture of the future. However, the world will last my time."

" Perhaps ; but you aristocrats may pursue that laissez faire policy too far."

" Oh, nonsense, Dick ! Are you trying to frighten me ? You cannot do that, you know, for, setting aside everything else, I have never found that penetrative intelli

gence upon winch you pride yourself borne

out by the fact."

" Indeed," said Chester, a little nettled, " and when did you ever know7 me to pride myself upon my ' penetration ?' "

" Scores of times," replied his Lordship "scores of times, Dick. Why, just now you assumed that you could penetrate the

Yarra mystery."

" Perhaps I could, too," said Chester,

shortly.

" Now, look here, Dick," went on inVLord*

ship, delighted at having found a weak spot in the ordinarily invulnerable armor of cool- ness and imperturbability in which his friend enveloped himself, " I'll tell you what I'll do ; I'll bet you £5000 to a bottle of cham- pagne that you don't find out that this man

was murdered."

" Thank you," said Chester, curtly.

"Yes," Lord Edward went on, with an irritating air, " and I'll go further than that. I'll make you the same wager that you can't

even discover this dead man's name."

" Well," said Chester, as coolly as he could, " although I'm a poor man, £10,000

is not sufficient to induce me to turn detec- tive, but your wager would be in danger if you doubledit."

" Very well," promptly replied his friend,

" it's doubled."

" In what time must I unravel this

mystery ?" inquired Chester, as he took out his pocket book to enter the bet.

" I'll give you six months from to-dajr. This is March 16. This day six months I shall do myself the pleasure of drinking a couple of bottles of champagne with you

j__»

" Or of giving me a cheque for £20,000," interrupted Chester.

Lord Edward leant back in his chair, and laughed with evident gusto.

" What a capital joke for our friends," he

said.

" Why should it be a joke ?" asked Chester, who had now recovered his cool- ness. " Don't you think that I have brains enough to make a detective."

" The fact of it is," said his Lordship, patronisingly, " you've been reading too much of Sherlock Holmes recently, and

are bitten with the detective mania. You're not the first I've met taken so.

Quite a number of fellows fancy that they could do better detective work than any man Scotland Yard can send out, and do it in an easy amateur way, like that Dupin, of Edgar Allen Poe, the French fellow, who discovered those curious crimes in the Rue Morgue, you know, lt's a harmless delusion, though, and does not cost any of them as much, as it will cost you."

" How much is that ?" asked Chester.

" The price of the champagne," said his Lordship, laughing, " together with a few days of useless inquiry, which will pro- bably lead to your being looked upon as a

lunatic."

" Is that all you wish to say ?" inquired Chester, rising from his chair.

" That's all, Dick," said his friend, with an

amused look.

" Very well, my friend, I'm going out,"

said Chester.

" May I ask where ?"

" I'll tell you when I return,", replied Chester, as he left the room.

Lord Edward read the paper, yawned, smoked several cigars, then, taking his gloves and hat, strolled down Collins-street.

" Perhaps," he thought to h imself-" per- haps I may meet Miss Leigh."

It was evident that he viewed the

possibility of such a meeting with pleasure. Lord Edward had ¡ been attracted, with other gentlemen on board the Empress, by Marian Leigh's beauty and intellect, and, though not in love with her, it was quite possible that his feeling towards her might grow into that with a very little more of the provocation which the contemplation of these things afforded. It was, therefore, with more than ordinary attention that the blue eyes of the peer swept the streets as he strolled leisurely along.

" I'd like to meet her," he thought. " If I go to Tasmania to-morrow I may lose sight of her altogether. I really think Chester's a bit sweet on her. Well, a girl like Miss Leigh would make him a capital wife. The same, by the way, applies to me."

When he had arrived at this stage in his cogitations he reflected with surprise that this was the first time such a thought had

occurred to him.

" That's just like me," he muttered. " I'm always too late. There's a splendid girl fairly handed over to my company for five weeks who would have made just the handsome, sensible wife a fellow like me wants. And I've only just discovered this when the voyage is ended, when she has gone, goodness only knows where. Why

couldn't / have fallen in love with her ?"

A rueful look clouded Lord Edward's

ruddy visage for a moment, but his was not a nature to be long distressed, and when he returned to lunch after a fruitless peram- bulation of the city, it was with an appetite

which hore indisputable testimony to his peace of mind.

His friend Chester arrived a few minutes afterwards.

" Well, Bick, where have you been ?" Lord Edward inquired.

His friend looked at him gravely.

" To the morgue," he answered quietly. " Why, what made

you go there?" Lord Edward asked, in a startled manner.

" I went to see the

poor fellow who was drowned."

" Oh ! " exclaimed Lord Edward.

No more was said until the two friends sat down to lunch. After an interval the

peer broke the silence.

" I say, Dick," he said, " you know I was only joking this morning when I chaffed you about that busi-

ness. You don't mean

to say that you're going through with it ?"

"Aye, but I am, though," returned. Chester, coolly.

" That's nonsense, Dick. Why, what

about our tour?"

" That must go to the wall at present as far as I am concerned," said Dick. " I am now convinced that a cruel murder has been committed on a defenceless old man, and I'll try what I can do to solve the circum- stances surrounding his fate."

His Lordship looked perplexed, and made a gesture of dissent.

" It's no use advancing objections, Dart. I am not the man to turn back when once I have put my hand to the plough, as you know," said Dick, firmly.

" I know you've got enough obstinacy for a dozen, if that's what you mean," growled

his friend. " I'd like to know what I am to do while you're on this wild-goose hunt." And his Lordship pushed his chair back from

the table in unmistakable irritation.

" Go on one yourself," replied Dick, with

a smile, " You've got a couple of excellent guns, and I believe up in Gippsland there are plenty of wiîd geese or ducks. Go and have a shot at them, and look round you to see what the colony is like."

" Well, I suppose I'll have to knock out somehow," said his lordship, with an air of resignation ; " but it's a shabby trick to

serve a fellow, to desert him after bringing him all the way from Eng- land, just when things were getting lively,

too."

-. "It was your chal-

lenge that made me take the case up first, you know," Dick re- minded him, " and now I'm interested in it for its own sake. What

are we going to do this

afternoon ?"

" Nothing," replied

Lord Edward. . " What

do you say to a ride ?"

" That's as good as auything else, I sup- pose."

" Come along, then,"

said Dick.