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Chapter VIII. Cousins.

“GOODNESS gracious, Arthur, why couldn't you have given me a hint that the monster was with you?” asked Rosa angrily, when they reached the street, “and not let me blurt everything out like that?”

She was not ashamed of herself, such women seldom are when discovered. The sneakish sensation gets over the men now and again, when they meditate upon their actions, or a nasty wind blows the flaps of their cloaks aside, for they know the animal they are carrying. The woman is different, however, for she makes a pet of her beast and decks it up with so many ribbons, that she is rather glad when her mantle falls off and reveals the ape she is carrying. To her it always looks a beauty and well worth the carrying.

She does not like her mantle to be rudely plucked away from her shoulders, however—rudeness always wounds her feelings. Neither does she like to dwell upon the idea that it was through her own clumsiness and want of tact that she has lost her cloak. This makes her angry, and when a woman is enraged she has little enough to do with conscience or self-reproach, some one else has to bear the blame of that fault.

As this wretched pair left the study while Jack

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Milton watched them depart, his glittering black eyes fixed upon them, and Chester's loaded revolver held loosely in the hand that lay passively on the legal documents, the lawyer felt his position keenly. There was no nobility or assertion of manhood in his walk, but with bent back and weak legs he led out his guilty partner, as spiritless and dejected a cur as one could have met anywhere. Deceit and falsehood, when discovered, generally have this effect even upon the most degraded of men. Add to this that he felt like a mouse creeping out of the den of an infuriated lion, who seems all the more dangerous because he crouches quietly, and the reader may somewhat realize the sensations of Arthur Chester. Until he had closed the door of that study the nerves of his back had been quivering with the anticipation of a bullet being sent after him, and that feeling is not nerve-bracing as a rule.

Rosa Milton, however, had none of these sensations, as she had no consciousness of shame. Her husband had always been gentle and indulgent to her whims, therefore she had learnt to despise him as a “softy.” That he had yielded his claims so quietly did not at all astonish her, yet somehow it angered her, for it stung her vanity and she was now writhing under this seeming lack of appreciation. Jack had never been so much an object of interest to her as he was at this moment of renunciation.

“I did my best to stop you, Rosa,” replied her cousin dejectedly. “But it was no use, you were

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in on me like a tornado, and the complete tale exposed with a brevity and graphic force worthy of that Scottish poet, Robert Burns. The embrace would have done it to the watching eyes without words, knowing what he did—in fact the latch-key was revelation enough without even the greeting that followed, but when those terse sentences fell upon my ears, I morally and physically collapsed. The play was over with a bang. Only one thing surprised, while it robbed me of the few remaining atoms of brains that I had left, knowing Jack Milton as I do—and as you don't, sweet cousin.”

“What was that?”

“That we two are walking along the street this balmy early morning instead of weltering in our mutual gore on the floor of my study.”

“He would never have dared to do that, surely?”

“It isn't too flattering to either of us that he hasn't done so,” replied her companion quietly. “However, here we both are, safe and sound, with our fiasco on our hands, and the present master of the position to manage.”

“What do you mean?”

“Only that we shall have to do our best to put the detectives off the scent and get Jack safely away. We cannot afford to let him be caught now, for he has sworn that he will speak up and give me away, if he is taken, and you know what that spells?”

“The mean, spiteful wretch,” cried inconsistent Rosa savagely. “As if it could matter to him after he was hanged who had the money.”

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“That is just it, Rosa; and as he considers that he is no longer bound to provide for us, he makes this condition—his liberty or the giving up of his savings.”

“But haven't you secured them where they cannot be touched?”

“That is impossible if he tells his story. We shall both be as poor as we were before he crossed our lives, and worse, for if we escape transportation, I shall be degraded and under suspicion all the rest of my life, while you will be lost utterly. No, he must get away, or we are both ruined beyond redemption.”

“But Arthur, what of us, if he gets away?”

“Oh, he is reasonable enough. He only wants three hundred pounds for the present, and meditates taking the overland journey to Westralia, and that ought to finish him as surely as the hangman could do. As the wife of a condemned outlaw, you'll get a divorce easily enough, and a lot of sympathy besides, as no one will suspect that you know anything about his plunder, then we can marry and clear out of the Colonies, so that even if he reaches his destination, which isn't at all likely, he can never trace us out.”

“But the reward for his capture?”

“You'll have to lose that five hundred, since he was not caught.”

“Eight hundred pounds clear lost. Ah, that is too bad. Could you not poison or shoot him, and then deliver up his body?”

They were passing a lamp-post as Rosa made

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this suggestion, and she looked up in his face with the anxious expression of a prudent wife who wanted to avert a business loss to her husband. Her pretty features were puckered with this anxiety, and her blue eyes looked troubled as she peered into those of her cousin.

Arthur Chester, like Rosa, belonged to the fourth generation of cornstalks—those weeds who have grown up with white corpuscles in their blood, instead of red; lustful, yet lacking stamina; malignant, and sceptical of all that tends to raise humanity; devoted to pleasure, and regardless of the responsibilities of morality. Intrigue and wickedness were to them the necessities of existence. Jibing mockery and cold-blooded jests at all which the older generations reverenced were the ordinary subjects of their conversation. Such papers as the Guillotine served them as the springs from which they drew their wit; crude, indecent and viperish, without a spark of true humour or kindly instinct.

They were both on a slightly more elevated stratum than the hyena Larrikin, but their appetites and instincts were no better.

It has been stated that the absinthe drinking in France is reducing the coming race to the condition of beastdom. The coming race of cornstalks as represented in Sydney do not drink absinthe. They are even a fairly temperate race in intoxicants, and yet poetry, principles, affection and morality are almost dead amongst them; they only aspire to be smart.

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Arthur Chester was not at all horrified at this suggestion from the milky-skinned Rosa; indeed, had it been at all possible he might have taken it up and discussed it, for it appealed to his acquisitiveness, the predominant passion of a cornstalk, as it likewise did to the depravity of his taste. But he was not altogether devoid of common sense, and he knew that the man who had planned and carried out successfully so many robberies, now that his eyes were opened, was not at all likely to be made an easy victim either to poison or any other form of treachery, so that he shook his head gravely while he thought, with the cunning of an Asiatic or a Sydneyite, “Ho! ho! Rosa, my girl, you would fain polish off your husband because he is your husband, would you, to save these dimes? I am of value now because we are not yet linked, since I hold the cash, but after that you'd serve me out the same. Not for this juggins, if I know it.”

He thought this, but said aloud in his tender and caressing way:

“It won't do, cousin, we must make up our minds to act on the square or we may lose it all. Let us get him away, and then we can plan out our future.”

“If you think that the best way, I am agreeable, yet as long as he lives, I'll be in such dread of him betraying us and getting us into trouble.”

“Oh, I think that he is safe enough in that respect so long as we humour him now. He has some strange notions for a thief—at least as far as my experience of our Sydney thieves go, as they

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would give away their own mother for a cigarette, but Jack Milton is quite a maniac about keeping his word—that is one of his cracks.”

“He is cracked in more parts than one, the fool. He was downright daft to think that a girl like me would stick to a housebreaker,” said Rosa, disdainfully.

“Ah! I think he has got over that mania by this time,” replied her cousin reflectively.

“Don't be nasty, Arthur. I bet you I could make him as dead gone on me as ever he was,” said Rosa daringly.

“Well, perhaps you might, Cousin. Samson was deluded by Delilah three times, therefore I'll not take up the bet, yet I think you had best not try to make it up, or he might drag you through the interior with him, and I don't fancy that would suit your books.”

“God forbid!” ejaculated Rosa, with a shudder of dread. “I want to see no more of him.”

“Well, cousin, you stay at home till I get him out of the road and call upon you, and I'll manage all the disagreeable business for you meantime.”

“What about the police, though?”

“You know nothing about him, so that they must scent about for themselves. You have done your duty as a respectable citizeness in giving them the word, therefore you'll be exonerated—and of course you kept my name strictly out of the business.”

“Ah, yes, Arthur, I always look after your interests,” she answered with a fine accent of scorn in her tones.

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“Our mutual interest you mean,” he said quietly. “As long as I am kept in the back-ground, I can work for you as I have done.”

“I know—I know, dear,” she replied hastily, and putting her arm round his neck, she drew down his head and kissed him. “You are cold, to-night, Arthur; here we have been walking and talking like a blasé married couple and never a fond word.”

“Forgive me, dearest, this contretemps has worried me, and by Jove! that reminds me, how foolish you were to come to my place this morning.”

“You knew I was coming, Arthur?”

“Yes, if all had gone right it would have been perfectly safe, but now—suppose you have been followed?”

“I don't think so,” she replied hesitatingly.

He glanced round quickly and was just in time to see the figure of a man on the opposite side, yet some distance behind, dart back into the shadow of a trumpet-tree overhanging a fence.

“Ah, don't you think so?” he whispered mockingly. “But you have been shadowed for all that, so let us hurry on. I must go with you to the Cottage, and put them off the scent if possible. We must now be open with our love affairs, and that will serve as the best motive for selling Milton.”

“Oh, Arthur, what shall we do?”

“Keep cool. Our shadower is too far away to have heard what we were speaking about; let us

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go on as we are doing, and when we reach the gate do a little spoon there. He will likely get close to us then, so that what I say to you will be for his benefit. Remember you only came to tell me of the escape and nothing else.”

“I drop,” she replied, in the slang which ladies of her class love to indulge in.

After this they looked no more behind, but kept on until they reached the gate.

Here the farce of sweethearts saying good-night was gone through elaborately, while the spy crept up to hear what they said in this supposed unguarded moment.

It was a farce to both of them by this time, this lingering at the gate. When a woman possesses the latch-key of her lover's house, the necessity for gate-lingering has gone past, yet with some the folly is still kept up for the sentiment of the thing. So thought the watcher as he saw the embracing and heard the good-night uttered several times over before they finally went inside together, and he chuckled even while feeling disappointed that his shadowing had only brought out this result. He thought he knew now why the false wife had betrayed her husband, and felt it much more natural in a Sydney girl than any flimsy sentiment about horror of the murderer or Spartan desire for justice.

“Keep up your pluck, my girl,” said Arthur, as they stood at the gate. “It isn't possible for him to get away.”

“But suppose he should be about and return

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now that the police are away. He'll murder me, Arthur, for what I have done.”

“Don't be afraid, Rosa, he won't return here. He cannot possibly make his escape, so be easy, you'll be a widow soon enough now.”

“I hope so, but I'm desperately afraid. Come inside, Arthur, and see father and mother.”

They went indoors and had not been long there before the man knocked, and when he was admitted and saw the family up, he told them that he had called to say that they need not be alarmed, for the house was still watched on all sides, so that they might retire with perfect security.

“This is my cousin, Mr. Chester, the solicitor. I went to his house to get his advice,” said Rosa, introducing her cousin to the detective, who shook hands and said calmly:

“Quite natural on your part, ma'am, under the circumstances, only he need be under no fear of your safety, as you are well guarded.”

Arthur Chester took his leave soon after this, and went out with the detective, while those inside locked up the door.

“Miserable affair this. I was the last man to have suspected Jack Milton.”

“He is a cute card, but he has reached the end of his tender this time, I guess. She is a fine woman that wife of his, poor girl; how did she find him out?”

“Well, from what I can gather, he got talking in his sleep about the murdered bank clerk on Sunday night, and then he was so anxious for the

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papers next day, that she worked it all out in her own mind and was horrified. She'd have forgiven him anything short of murder. That did for her.”

“It mostly does with the women, although they are not all so game as she is. They are more apt to act like the mother of Barnaby Rudge. Does she know anything about the plunder, do you think?”

“No, he has doubtless planted that. He was always reticent about his income, but he has left his traps at the Cottage, so something may be discovered amongst them. This is a devilish unfortunate affair for all of us, to be connected with such a scoundrel. It will make such a scandal, you know.”

“Yes, but the prompt behaviour of Mrs. Milton must counteract a good deal of the scandal.”

“I hope so. Good-night.”

“Good-night, sir.”

The detective looked after him, placidly satisfied in his own mind that Jack Milton had not much chance of escape if Arthur Chester could spoil it, after what he had seen.

The lawyer, however, went along the victim to a thousand fears for his own safety, and cursing the imprudence of his cousin, whereas he ought to have been more grateful.

As for Rosa, now that the way seemed clear, she went to bed strangely discontented and dissatisfied with her cousin. The charm of secrecy was over, and with it had departed the only romance that her vicious heart had pulse to thrill over.