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Chapter IX. Jack Milton Waits.

JACK MILTON watched the guilty pair pass from the study with a sardonic grin on his lips that drew them back and bared the strong white teeth, so firmly locked together. A grim humour possessed him at the moment, and held his hand, which was toying with the revolver, and forced him to laugh as he heard the outer door close.

Was that white-faced traitress the witch who had beguiled his thoughts in jail, and made him feel almost religious? “Oh, Lord! oh, Lord!” he uttered, while he laughed softly; “what a miserable fool a man can be, and all for a fancy.”

He thought on a past fancy—a female pick-pocket, who would have gone through fire and water for him. She was a handsomer woman by a long chalk than this flimsy chit who had only brains enough to sell him, and the other woman had both grit to the backbone and talents that this sham was utterly devoid of. He had thought her possessed of the one quality which the poor pickpocket couldn't boast about.

Ah, ye gods! Was there a woman in the world who possessed that charm who wasn't ready to fling it away at the first chance? And yet, for this imaginary virtue he had hitherto staked his happiness.

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He somehow felt no anger against Arthur Chester, who, indeed, was now in his estimation too poor a tool for any man to be angry about. If it hadn't been Chester, it would have been someone else. Possibly Chester was only one of a crowd of hounds who ran baying after this Sydney beauty.

When a man has worn a bit of paste in his breast-pin, under the impression that it was a diamond of the first water, he does not care much who wears it after he has discovered its real value and cast it from him. The price it has cost him may give him a slight twinge, but that will only be momentary, unless he is a weak fool who mourns over things lost.

Jack Milton was no fool, although under the influence of a mad impulse he had nearly consummated the most idiotic act any man can be guilty of, but for his betrayer's prudence in removing the cartridges from his revolver, but he was cool now, and ready to look at his difficulties all round and take full advantage of every trick that Fortune gave him.

His love for his wife had been a blending of respect and remorse which flavoured and refined his passion. He had discovered what he supposed to be a pure-minded, artless, and affectionate girl, different from all his other companions, and these supposed inner qualities made him value the casket at a much higher figure than it was worth. No sacrifices on his part were reckoned hardships which could keep that unopened casket and supposed

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sacred treasure as it had been given to him. The aim of his life since he had won her, had been to keep her ignorant of his transactions and abandon them as soon as possible for her sake.

He had accomplished what he had set himself to do, and was now rich enough to retire from his risky business and lead a respectable life, and but for her treason might have got safely out of the colonies and continued to adore and reverence her while he lived, denying her nothing, and as easily deluded as the most unsophisticated of simpletons.

Well, she had opened his eyes and saved his life with about the same expedition as the hangman opens the eyes of his patients, and he ought to be grateful to her for these favours. He knew now that there was nothing better inside that casket than what was inside the one given up for her—the Melbourne pickpocket, indeed Rosa was a more miserable compound of deceit and heartlessness, without a single virtue of qualify her baseness. The pickpocket was the victim of circumstances as he was, and made no pretence to be better than she was, yet she had fidelity to her friends. This one was a wanton by choice, and rotten to the core.

With a laugh of contempt he shook the nasty reflections from his mind, saying as he rose and stretched his arms:

“She and Chester have put me in a bad hole that'll want some kicking to get out of, but they've done me one service; they have rid me of a mighty bad bargain, and now I can think of myself without any cursed sentimental nonsense.”

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It certainly would have been more flattering to Rosa Milton and her cousin if her husband had offered to do them violence instead of treating them with this contemptuous toleration. To kill the adulterer seems to throw a certain glamour of romance over his sordid and sneaking treachery. It is a much better punishment to pitch the object to him as we might make the thievish boy a present of the cake he has been nibbling at in secret. This reduces things to their proper value. The divorce court has done away with all the glory of seduction, and the betrayed husband is now the party who has the best of the laugh, if any one can laugh at such miserable complications of life.

As Jack rose and stretched himself with a yawn, his glance fell upon a large map of Australia which filled up one side of the wall. He stepped over to this, and with the barrel of his revolver traced an imaginary line to the Merchiston River on the western coast.

“It is a tidy stretch for a man to take by himself, but it has been done before for the sake of science, to say nothing of the stockmen who are not mentioned in colonial history. Yes, that must be my game; I'll play the stock driver out of a job while I traverse New South Wales. The veteran stockman will do. Once I get over the borders there isn't much fear of pursuit, although I guess my likeness and description will be in every station and township throughout the country. Well, I must be extra particular in my get-up, I suppose.

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“Chester will get me what I want to start with, I guess, after that I must sacrifice the plunder, for that alone will keep his mouth closed. Ho! ho! what a comfortable legacy that will turn out for him with Rosa along with it. I wonder how dearly they will love each other in six months from now? He'll have to splice her to keep her mouth shut, and mind his p's and q's afterwards not to get her dander up, with me in the background to keep their nerves steady. It's a fine thing he has got on hand, I must say. Let's have a squint round his diggings.”

He gave only a passing and regretful thought to the bank-clerk. It was an accident, for he had had no intention or desire to hurt the poor fellow, therefore that crime did not represent murder to him any more than the killing of a sentinel to a soldier. Yet this accident would be the means of hanging him if taken, so that he could no longer afford to be captured alive, otherwise perhaps he would not have cared to face that terrible overland journey.

“I wonder if there is anything of interest to me in these documents,” he muttered, stooping over the table, and turning over the papers that Chester had been forced to leave behind him.

“No, only cases. The Fox has plenty of business, it appears.”

He next opened the table drawers, but found nothing there of any consequence or interest to him except some cigars and cartridges which were

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lying together. He pocketed the cartridges, and selecting a cigar, he cut and lit it.

“Safe open—oh, yes, safes are always easy to get into when there is nothing inside. He keeps his business books here, but carries his bank and private books about with him—no fear of Chester leaving anything here likely to incriminate him.”

He glanced at his borrowed watch and found the time half-past three. As he did so he chuckled.

“Chester must get me a ‘Waterbury’ to take with me, and I'll make him a present of this ticker and toggery. Won't he be in a pickle when he discovers them to be stolen property, as he very soon will if he tries to sell them, as he did me?”

The sound of footsteps on the front verandah at this moment startled him. At first he thought it might be Chester returning, but when the door was not tried, he became alarmed.

“Surely he is not fool enough to betray me a second time—surely not. I'd let them take me if I thought so for the pleasure of rounding on the cur!”

He softly pulled off his boots, and opening the door noiselessly, crept along the lobby and into the front room; here he found the blinds up and the morning outside intensely dark.

Stealing to the window he stooped down and listened with his senses on the stretch. He could not make anything out, and for the moment all was still, but soon again he heard a sound.

A boot striking against the boards almost in

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front of him?—another step—then all at once a wild clattering accompanied by a rush of pattering hoofs and a wild barking. It was some prowling goats, who had taken to the verandah and been hunted out again by the ownerless dogs of Sydney. Jack Milton rose to his feet with a gasp of relief.

Yet he still stood at the window and watched the only objects visible. The lustrous stars, more brilliant now than at any other hour. How bright the morning star glowed from that dusky space, while higher up flashed the Southern Cross. As he watched, a great sadness fell over this outlaw robber.

The sense of his isolation pressed upon him with a dreary pain. All his life had been a struggle against destiny, and he never had an intimate. What he had gathered he could not hold. Like the Flying Dutchman, he only got so far, to be driven back again.

He thought upon his youth and childhood, and there were no joys in these reflections. He never had a childhood, and his boyhood had passed without a gleam of sunshine to remember. He had been loved by women—at least women had offered him what they called love, but while they wanted him he had revolted against them.

He had loved, or would have loved, only that where his affections went there were no respondings, and this last one had proved wanting, as did the others, yet he did not blame her; as Professor Mortikali told him, he was born under the conjunction

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of Venus and Mars, and those who are born under this fatal conjunction are bound to be unlucky in all their efforts, whether with love or war—particularly with love.

He had been gifted with a sturdy determination and dogged will-force, which had torn open the hands of Fate in spite of its clenching; but not for long, for the fingers of Fate are steel-clad and resistless in their gripping. He was able to plan out and execute a bold scheme, but he could not keep the results.

Alone he had passed through his life so far. Those with whom he worked used his brains and may have owned his abilities, but they had no union with him. They trusted him, but they did not fraternise; when the work was over for which they had joined company the partnership was dissolved, with mutual relief to both sides. He was their leader in danger, but in their pleasures he had no part.

Ah! how the watching of stars makes the most realistic of us sentimental — of course no really realistic man ever looks at the stars unless it is to find out their position astronomically, and that kind of gazing does not awaken sentiment.

Jack Milton looked at the stars raptly and thought of himself—for that is what star-gazing produces. He had been as a piece of driftwood all his life. Cast off in early youth by those who might have made something of him. Drifting out to the colonies. Taken up and petted for his handsome face for a brief space, and taught during this

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period of petting how to discriminate between a good and a bad cigar, and how to appreciate a glass of wine, cognac or liqueur—how to comport himself in a drawing-room or take a hand at cards—to treat a sovereign as if it were a shilling and chuck coppers to the crowd. He had matriculated in an expensive college during those few months between eighteen and nineteen.

Cast on the world without a friend, when the patron had tired of him and left him to shift for himself. He had tried then to be honest, and starved—until the Melbourne girl had picked him up and taught him how to utilize his talents, then he became as he might have been on more reputable lines—a leader of men.

This female outlaw had devoted herself to him and taught him how dimes were to be made by a bold man. She was a heroic woman, but she had loved him, whereas he could not then love her, therefore this dark hour before the breaking of day, he stood and looked at the stars with that vague longing that the eagle may have as he sits on his lonely perch waiting for the dawn. Jack Milton had not yet found either his mission or his mate. How many solitary souls spend their lives on a lonely perch, waiting and watching, as he was doing, for what never comes?