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Chapter VII. The Interview.

MR. CHESTER had either a great deal of work to get through on this early morning, or else expecting tidings of some importance, he was sitting up to receive them, for the light still burned in his office when Jack reached the house.

Jack stood outside looking at the illumined blind, with folded arms and a sinister smile on his dark features; he guessed why Mr. Chester was not yet in bed.

“So, my friend, you expect to have me trapped in my sleep or perhaps kindly knocked on the head, while you and your precious cousin play the surprised innocents. Dead I could tell no tales, alone and a prisoner, yet believing in your good faith, I'd have gone to the scaffold in silence. Ay, so I would, had I fallen asleep and not known what I do, therefore you only did me justice, but now that the blinders are off I'll make you serve me, whether you like or not, you infernal hypocrite; you were my master yesterday with your accursed cant, but I'll be boss this morning.”

He muttered these words bitterly, with savage hatred in his heart, then stepping forward resolutely, he tapped smartly on the lower pane. In a moment he heard the lawyer rise from his

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chair, and drawing the blind back he opened the window.

“Who is it?”

“I, Jack Milton,” answered the housebreaker harshly, as he sprang to the window and entered that way with a sudden leap and force that made Mr. Chester stagger back, then quickly closing the window and readjusting the blind so that no one could see them from the outside, he faced round, his revolver in his hand pointed at the confused and astonished lawyer.

“Hands up, Chester! I know your little game right to the core.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Milton?”

“That I was to be sold to the traps last night, so that you and that artful jade, my wife, might enjoy my loot without me—don't deny it, or I'll blow out your brains. I heard it all with my own ears.”

“I assure you——”

“Hang your assurances, the time is past for words of that sort. Listen to mine instead, for I must be quick. I have managed to get out of that net, Trumpet Tree Cottage, and now you must help me to get safe out of Sydney, or I'll make a clean breast of it and give you away—damme if I'll be the only one to suffer in this business.”

“What of your promises?” said the lawyer, who not yet understanding what Jack knew, thought to play on his generosity.

“I don't keep promises made to traitors.”

“I did not betray you.”

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“Didn't you?—well, the woman whom I robbed and murdered for, did, and you hold the stakes. I want money enough to take me out of the country and shelter while you get me a disguise.”

“How much do you require?” asked the lawyer sullenly.

“Three hundred pounds in gold will be as much as I can carry until I reach a place of safety, then you can send me more. I won't be too hard on you nor require any strict account of your stewardship, and I think, now that you know my intentions, I can trust you for your own sake. The bargain between us now is faith for faith, you be my banker as I require coin. There, decide quickly, for the police may be here at any moment.”

Mr. Chester stood gnawing his sandy moustache and looking very much like Brer Fox when he was caught; however, he now recovered himself, and pointing to a chair, he took one himself while he said:

“I don't suppose the police will be likely to come here after you unless they followed you.”

“Neither do I, since I took due care not to be followed, yet they may come to report progress to you, eh?”

Mr. Chester looked at his boots and shook his head a little sadly.

“Then it wasn't the traps you were expecting so early this morning? Was it Rosa?”

His black eyes looked searchingly at the other's, who replied quickly, yet without looking up:

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“I was expecting no one. It was work kept me up so late. These briefs.”

He waved his hand with the masonic ring upon it towards the table covered with papers, and resumed:

“Besides, I cannot understand, since you have told me nothing yet. I am sure my cousin—your wife, Rosa, could have no hand in the police surprising you; indeed, such a thing must have been a terrible shock to her, poor girl.”

“Still harping on the affectionate and trusting wife fiction, Chester,” said Jack weariedly. “Haven't I told you that I heard the poor girl bargaining for my life with the detective, Billy Jackson? She wanted the reward to put to her other stores, sweet innocent that she is. No, I forgot to tell you that she prepared a dose for me to send me off to sleep, and that she——did another thing, which made doubt out of the question.”

He had almost mentioned the extraction of the cartridges from his revolver, when he remembered that Chester had likewise a weapon of the same sort in his possession—one that he had presented to him—and he thought he had better omit that piece of evidence of his wife's perfidy.

“What else did she do, Milton?”

“Something I don't mean to tell you, Chester—at least, not now. Some other time perhaps I will. Well, have you decided to help Justice as represented by Law, and know what transportation, if not hanging, is like—or at the least have to give

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up that fortune you hold of mine, for of course you can't expect to keep that if you turn Queen's evidence—or do you decide to stick to the plunder, give me a small whack out of it and help me to get clear?”

“Of course I'll help you all I can, Milton, if you show me how. By this time I daresay the telegraph has been at work and all the ports closed. You cannot take ship from the colony, for every man going away, unless he is well known, will be subject to the strictest scrutiny, so that no disguise will serve you. The trains likewise are impossible, for at every station the same scrutiny will take place; how then do you think to escape?”

“I'll tell you, Chester; first, because I cannot do it without your help, and second, because it is to your interest to get me out of this. I mean to ride overland to Westralia, and lose myself on the gold fields there.”

“What! Go over that infernal track where so many have perished? Milton, my boy, plucky as you are, you'll never do it.”

“Yet I mean to try. See here, Chester, I'll speak fair to you, although I believe you have been an accursed beast to me—there, don't protest. I gave Rosa up last night between eleven and twelve—she is no more to me now than the commonest street-walker, and I want nothing to do with her in future. I don't know what she is to you, and cuss me if I care, now that I have whistled her down the wind. In old times men risked their lives over a woman of this kind.

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I'm not that sort. I'm the product of the new Era.”

He grinned a ghastly grin and continued:

“I guess she'll have a divorce from Judge Jeffreys. He is a sympathetic cuss with grass widows of her description, and then you two will marry for the sake of the plunder, for you will be both too much skeared to let each other go in single harness, therefore you need not care much what comes of a coon like me. I'll go on the Wallaby track across the continent. If you hear no more of me, you'll know that my bones are bleaching on the plains. If I get across I shan't trouble you more than I can help, for, by the Lord! I don't like the scent of you, and, robber and murderer as I now am, I'd rather the crows picked my bones out yonder than know anything more of your family—I'll have a drain of your whisky all the same, though!”

He rose, and lifting the decanter, poured himself out a stiff glass, then, tossing it off, he returned quietly to his seat.

“You can stay here till I get what you want,” said the lawyer coldly.

“Three hundred quid in gold—a good, serviceable horse—a wig, and some other articles I may want to start with.”

“Yes, I'll get you these,” said Mr. Chester, still stiffly.

“That is all I want; say, where are your cartridges, I have only what my weapon holds at present?”

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“You'll find them in that table drawer.”


Jack went over to the drawer and found there not only the cartridges but the revolver of his host.

“I'll borrow this weapon for to-day,” he said quietly.

“All right.”

At that moment a key was heard inserted in the front door.

As Mr. Chester heard the sound he started to his feet to go out, when Jack stopped him with a frightful contortion of his face.

“God Almighty! don't go from this room, or I shall be tempted to blow both your brains out. Be open with me now that I know so much—I'll not harm either of you. Let me get behind this screen and see the last of the farce.”

He grinned like a devil, as he passed behind a Japanese screen, leaving his host standing in the centre of the room.

Another moment the door opened and Rosa darted inside. She was in a wild state of agitation, and without pausing she rushed forward, and flinging her arms round the lawyer's neck she kissed him loudly on the mouth before he could prevent her.

“Ah, Arthur, darling, what are we to do? The villain has escaped.”

Brer Fox Chester fell limply in his chair, while she, thinking that her news had overcome him, went on in a feminine torrent:

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“Yes, my pet, it is all true. I gave him the dose you got for me, and saw him drink it. I removed the cartridges from his revolver as you directed—everything seemed right—yet he made his escape.”

“Good God!” gasped Chester.

“Don't mention that name,” said Jack Milton coming from his retreat. “He must have left you both long ago, and the Devil, our master, looks after his own.”

As Chester sank down Rosa had gone with him, still embracing him, but at the sight of her husband, she started up with a savage cry.

“What are you mooning there for, Arthur Chester? That revolver he holds is harmless—shoot him like the dog he is.”

Chester's head sank down on his breast helplessly while he moaned feebly:

“He has got my weapon and my ammunition.”

“Sit down, Rosa, and compose yourself; I like grit, and if you are not the woman I thought you were, at least you are consistent in your own way,” said Jack Milton quietly as he came forward. “Don't mind me in the least. If you prefer his knee to the couch, then take it by all means, for I won't object. You settled that as far as I am concerned two hours ago—sit where you please and let us talk over our concerns.”

The young woman rose with a scowl on her brows and sat on a chair; she was now facing Jack, yet she looked at him remorselessly and defiantly.

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“Well, Jack Milton, you know the truth at last, and I don't care what more you know.”

Jack shrugged his shoulders as he replied gently:

“There's no more for me to know, Rosa. I made a mistake, or you did, so what is the good of talking about that? It is past now, and I am not such a cur as to cry over spilt milk. The only thing now to consider is what is best for us three. Chester there will explain to you my proposition. I fancy it will be more to your interest than if you gave me away to the hangman.”

Jack went once more over to the spirit decanter and helped himself to another glass, while Rosa looked at Chester as he lay limply in his arm-chair. It was one of these positions where the cuckold comes out the best.

A pause ensued while Jack lifted the glass to his lips and drank, then suddenly, before he had quite finished, he pitched the glass from him with disgust.

“Oh, dash it, Chester, take her out of this and explain matters to her outside. You know my ultimatum. Sell me if you like, but for pity's sake leave me to myself now.”

Arthur Chester rose to his feet, and giving his cousin his arm led her from the room, leaving the housebreaker behind.