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Chapter V. Jack Milton at Home.

THEY had a small tea-party at Trumpet Tree Cottage on the Sunday night when Jack Milton came back after his two years' absence.

It is only right and proper for a man to apprise his wife and friends of his home-coming, whether he has been absent for a short or long period—particularly if for a long period.

Surprises are seldom pleasant either to the receiver or the one who gives them; some men in Jack's position might have felt inclined to play the romantic and time-honoured joke of entering the Cottage suddenly and disguised in rags, just to see how darling Rosa and her parents would receive him. Jack could hardly do this, even if he had been disposed, since he had entrusted a considerable sum of money to Rosa's cousin before he went away. He was not disposed however to this sort of romance. He had always liked to pose as a rich man; he liked also to be entertained and made much of by his friends, and did not care how much he spent to gain this end.

He loved his wife Rosa with all the reasonless intensity of his lawless nature, and to have doubted her so far as to have tested her truth was beyond his strength. She had said she loved him, and she

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had married him, which seemed proof sufficient for his vanity and his desires. She seemed delighted with his presence. Therefore, like a good husband, he took it for granted that she mourned his absence as good wives ought to do. The lamps were lighted and all the stars were out when he drove up to the front gate, not this time in the dog-cart, or with his white wig on, but in a cab, with portmanteau and bag beside him, as if he had just come from a journey.

Rosa was on the look-out for his arrival, and ran eagerly from the verandah up the little walk to the gate, and here she flung herself into his arms, regardless of the grinning driver.

“At last, you old darling Jack.”

“At last, my fairy,” replied her husband fondly, as he clasped her to his heart; and then they went indoors like true lovers.

Rosa Milton lived with her father and mother, or it would be more correct to say, since it was the money of Jack which had furnished and kept the home going, that the parents of Rosa lived with her.

Her father had been a draper's book-keeper, before his daughter's marriage enabled him to throw up his occupation and retire upon the bounty of his flash son-in-law. This he had promptly done, for few cornstalks of the second generation care for working if they can get out of it. The Sydney climate is too enervating for much exertion, and the example of other husbands and fathers is too infectious to be long resisted. It is almost the

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universal rule now for the women to keep their men, and this is what most of these young colonials enter the holy state of matrimony for.

The sire of Rosa was a genial, old, and gentlemanly loafer for all that, and looked quite a respectable father, as he sat in his arm-chair, with the Sunday papers before him, his spectacles on his well-shaped nose, and his silver-grey beard floating over his black vest. Mrs. Mulligan, his good lady, also bore out the appearance of a highly respectable matron as she sat beside the tea-pot and dishes, and, altogether, there was a decided air of home-like comfort about the lamp-lighted and well-furnished front parlour.

Rosa was like the generality of her Sydney sisters, creamy-complexioned, with features almost classic in their regularity, strongly defined eyebrows and clear, grey-blue eyes, with a plentiful supply of golden-brown hair. She appeared small alongside of her tall husband, yet she was above the average height of women, and possessed a figure which for symmetry would have won the approval of the most exacting lover of the beautiful. Clearly the road to Jack's heart had been by the eye.

They were a magnificent couple, and most people would have agreed that they were well matched. Jack with his strong, dark face, square jaw and powerful frame, and Rosa with the seductive wiles and graces of a Helen. A disciple of Lavater might have found characteristics in both these attractive faces to make him pause

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and ponder, as indeed he could have done in the other faces gathered round this festive board, Mr. and Mrs. Mulligan and Mr. Arthur Chester. But Cupid's glamour had blinded Jack, and what the others thought did not interfere with the warmth of their welcome to the new arrival.

The viands were lavish and well enough cooked, for most colonial women are adepts at home work. A couple of fowls, with a ham, and a prime joint of beef, flanked by roasted Kiameres, pumpkins mashed, and mounds of tempting tea-cakes. Mr. Chester carved the fowls and ham, while the gentlemanly father cut the joint, and the mother poured out the tea, thus leaving Jack and Rosa with nothing to do except eat, drink, and look tenderly at each other.

After tea was cleared away, at Jack's request, Rosa and her cousin went to the piano and sang duets. Jack was fond of singing, though he could not sing himself, and Rosa had a clear, if somewhat metallic voice; she did not play, but Arthur Chester managed to accompany her and himself with a creditable “vamp,” therefore that part of the evening passed away very well.

Then, when the whisky decanter had been put upon the table and pipes were lighted, Jack began to tell his adventures of the past two years, in the South Seas, and in this he proved himself a perfect master of fiction. Othello could not have done better, nor could Desdemona have listened with more rapt admiration and devotion than did Rosa as she sat on a low stool at his feet, her pretty

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teagown falling in graceful folds about her, and her white arms bare to the elbows as the wide sleeves dropped back. She rested these white and shapely arms on his knee, with her chin on her ring-covered hands, and those steadfast, clear, blue-grey orbs fixed on his black eyes. Occasionally, however, she shifted her head slightly to glance with a kind of wonder at her attentive parents, or the quietly observant cousin. When she glanced at Arthur Chester and caught his eye, a slight flush tinted her creamy cheeks, and a tiny curl lifted her upper lip, revealing her white teeth and the redness of her full and moist lower lip. At these times only a gleam shot between the eyes of the two cousins, and then she turned her face once more with touching admiration towards the fertile-minded Jack.

“I shall call round to-morrow evening after office hours and have a business talk with you, Milton,” said the lawyer as he rose to his feet about nine o'clock and prepared to take his departure.

“Do,” answered Jack, also getting up, “I intend to spend to-morrow at home and take it easy.”

“I expect you'll be interested in the newspapers, after being so long without them.”

“Yes, I'll put in my time that way—you get the papers, I suppose, Mr. Mulligan?”

“Yes, the Herald. I'll bring it up to your bedroom,” replied the father-in-law.

Rosa now proposed, as the night was warm, that they should see her cousin a little way towards his house, and as Mr. and Mrs. Mulligan were not inclined

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for the exercise, the three young people went out together, Rosa in the centre, with a hand through the arms next to her of each companion. In this fashion they went, linked together, into the night.

Jack Milton did not venture out of doors the next day, but Rosa like a dutiful wife brought him all the newspapers. The Town and Country, the Australasian, the Guillotine, and the dailies, to amuse himself with, while she went about her household duties. Rosa liked to work in the kitchen with her mother and the servant, and had some favourite dishes to cook for Jack, therefore he had to yield, and do without more than a flying visit now and again from her, and a fugitive kiss, while he helped his father-in-law to “loaf.”

The papers interested both men very greatly, for they were filled with the account of the great robberies which had been discovered on Sunday morning. Jack groaned inwardly as he read about the dead body of the confidential clerk being discovered. It was the first man's taking-off which could be laid to his charge, and it made him feel uncomfortable, even although he tried to persuade himself that it was an accident. He had, however, great command over his features and feelings, and read the account quite calmly out to his wife and his father-in-law.

Mr. Mulligan listened with the interest such a sensation raises in one, while Rosa, with a slight

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shiver of horror, hurriedly left the room for a moment, and then as quickly returned.

“I expect there will be a big reward offered for the murderer, Jack,” she said, fixing her clear blue-grey eyes on him.

“I expect so, little woman,” replied Jack with his glance still on the paper.

Mr. Chester came after the lamps were lit, with the evening papers in his pocket.

“Have you seen the account of that big robbery and murder in George Street?” he asked as he entered.

“Yes,” replied Jack and Rosa together, “any more about it?”

“The Bank people have offered a reward of five hundred pounds for any information that may lead to the capture of the principals.”

As he spoke he turned for a moment from Jack and cast a straight glance at Rosa, who looked down at the table-cloth and began to smooth it out.

“The police head-quarters will receive the information and pay the reward,” continued Mr. Chester, and then they all sat down to the usual high, or dinner, tea, and began talking about other topics.

After tea Rosa said to her husband:

“I am going out to-night, dear, to see a girl friend in town, Mrs. Grey, you remember; and as Arthur has come to discuss business with you, I'll leave you alone for an hour or so. I won't be late, darling; will you stay till I come back, Arthur?”

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“No, Rosa, I must be going soon, as I have a host of letters to get through to-night.”

He did not look at her this time, but she looked at him, a lingering look, in which blended a little con tempt with some other emotion.

“Very well, I shall say good night. Now I'll leave you gentlemen alone to discuss business. Depend upon me, dear Jack, I'll not be late.”

She rose and left them with these words, Jack smiling fondly on her as she quitted the room, then the two men sat down squarely to business, for Mr. and Mrs. Mulligan had gone early to their own apartments.

When the business was gone through Mr. Chester rose to leave.

“This is a serious affair, this murder as well as robbery, isn't it, Milton?”

“Yes, very serious, and to be regretted,” replied Jack.

“I can depend on your promise made to me, I suppose?”

“Yes, no one shall ever say that Jack Milton did not keep his promise.”

“Good! and good-night.”

After Chester had departed and until Rosa returned, Jack experienced a singular fit of dejection. Everything had gone right with his schemes. The horse and dog-cart were over the cliffs and his wig and spectacles and clothes were destroyed. He had left no traces that he could think about. His companions were clear away, for they had arranged that beforehand, and yet

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the spirit of that confidential clerk seemed to be haunting him.

He went to the sideboard and took as many whiskies as he dared to take, to brace up his courage, and give him some of his lost pluck. He dare not take much drink, in case he might talk and get reckless. He looked at his revolver and found that in good order, and then, before he got quite too desperate with himself, darling Rosa came back, beautiful and tender.

His wife took him straight away to bed and said she would shut up the place after she had seen him comfortable; she even went the length of going to the kitchen and brewing him a glass of whisky hot, as a night-cap, but although he felt he had taken enough, he did not like to refuse the dear girl, therefore he made some excuse to get her out of the room long enough to enable him to throw the stuff out of the open window, and pretend he had taken it.

She laid her creamy soft cheek against his for a moment when she had brought him what he wanted, and gently kissing him on the lips, said:

“Now, dearest, let me go and see that all is safe in the house, and then I'll come to bed.”

She left him with these loving words, and stole gently down the stairs in her stockings, taking the lamp with her and leaving him in darkness.

For a moment he lay thinking fondly about her and planning out the future, then his acute and trained ears heard sounds outside, which banished sleep and woke up his faculties.

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He stole softly to the open window and peered out, to see forms of men surrounding the house. He knew what that meant to him.

Down the stairs he crept like a phantom, with his revolver in his hand. Whispering voices in the dining parlour lured him on, and he turned in that direction and listened by the open door.

“You must be patient yet a little while, for he is a strong man, but in a few minutes he must be asleep, for I have given him a strong dose of chloral.”

This was the voice of his darling Rosa, and another replied:

“I'll wait, missis; hadn't you better go and stay beside him till he drops over?”

“Yes, I'll go and see him now.”

He did not wait for the lovely traitress to come out of the parlour, the revulsion was too great for his wild, untrained and passionate nature. Without a pause, he planted the revolver to his brow and pulled the trigger.