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  ― 14 ―

Chapter II. A Confidential Conversation.

“YES, you genial old humbug, I've come back once more to do some business in Sydney.”

As he spoke, Jack Milton, as he had just been called, leaned back in his chair and regarded the pneumatologist with a benevolent, yet contemptuous air of patronage.

“Still trying your best in your small way to do the public, I see, Jeremiah, and doing it shabbily at that, per usual.”

The psychometrist got upon his ambling legs, with a gushing air of welcome illuminating his steaming face, and parting his vacuous mouth.

“My dear, dear boy, who'd have expected to see you here? I thought your time wasn't up for another twelve months; how have you done it?”

“Ah! I behaved myself and kidded the sky-clerk, therefore got my ticket.”

“What was the little item?”

“A mere trifle in the past, something I did in Melbourne long ago, and which I had forgotten, or I should not have gone there quite so openly, but the ‘Tecks’ remembered me and laid me up by the heels for a spell; however, it wasn't an unmixed evil, for being in lavender gave me the repose that


  ― 15 ―
I required, and put the Sydney scenters quite off my track.”

“Good—very good,” chuckled the Professor, rubbing his hands together and gazing admiringly on the powerful figure before him. “You'll find hosts of friends who are glad to see Jack Milton amongst them again, and none more so than your 'umble servant.”

While the old humbug was speaking, the young man carefully replaced his white wig and blue spectacles, and became once more a kind of benevolent replica of a clean-shaved Sir Henry Parkes.

“I have made an appointment with my lawyer to meet me here, Jeremiah—or as you call yourself now, Professor Mortikali. I thought it safer than at his own office.”

“Much safer, and more secluded.”

“So I thought.”

“But how did you find me out, Jack, eh?”

“Well you are not exactly the kind of coon to give an ‘agent’ much trouble, if he wanted to get on your tracks; I knew you'd be up to some business of this kind where spirits or mesmerism had a share in it——”

“Call it hypnotism, Jack, or psychometry.”

“Yes, that's exactly how I spotted you, old boy. I looked out all the sign-boards, as I came along, for the most jaw-cracking words. I knew your weakness for that sort of thing. Palmist or Futurist wouldn't be good enough for you, therefore when I came to Professor Mortikali, Psychometrist,


  ― 16 ―
Pneumatologist, &c., I felt sure I had run my fox to his hole, and I wasn't far out.”

“No, Jack, you'd make a first-rate detective, if you wasn't better than that, a first-class——”

“Crib-cracker, eh? It takes a thief to catch a thief, but I don't belong to that race who can utilize their experience to snare their own kind. I have always been and always shall be grit to my pals. Is this much of a trade?”

He looked about him with a little disgust, and at the shabby Professor with a humorous air of pity.

“Fairly,” observed the pyschometrist. “I hold my own; this is the slack time of the day, but at night they come up wonderful, considering.”

“You haven't got a fashionable class of customers I can see, or you'd be better togged up. Never mind! I'll put you up to something good before many days are over our heads.”

“No, Jack, no, I'd rather not!” cried the Professor nervously. “I don't mind helping you when the game is safe, but you are so reckless, my dear boy, and don't at all consider personal safety. Now you see, I'm doing small things, and the police don't touch me at 'em, but one never knows where he'd land, if this business spread out into many more new branches.”

“Bah! The business I'm going to set you up is strictly in your own line, Psychometry and the other P. H.'s. You're too cramped here. You want bigger and more fashionable premises, and to get yourself togged up more like an orthodox medical Professor, and less like a broken-down waiter, and


  ― 17 ―
I've spotted the shop that'll suit you to a nicety. Do you know that place where ‘Brisco’ the jeweller used to be, in George Street?”

“With the bank on one side, and the pawn-broker on the other?”

“Exactly. Would those diggings suit you to open a branch establishment of the Faith Healing and Fortune-telling fake?”

“What d'ye mean, Jack Milton? D'ye know them 'ere premises will cost in rent and taxes near to a thousand a year?”

“Well!”

“And the fixing of them up properly, with furniture, carpets and sofas, &c., &c., will come to nigh five hundred quid.”

“You've hit it pretty nearly, I should say, to do it properly,” replied Jack calmly. “You'll want some attractive-looking girls, with a little more style than this one here, and some respectable toggery for yourself Yes, you'll need all that money, and more perhaps, till business comes in.”

“Yes, and who's a-going to pay for all this outlay.”

“I will, my sage psychometrist. I think there are vast possibilities in this business of yours if properly worked in this city, and as I happen to have the sponduloux, or will have if my lawyer, who'll be here presently, isn't a fool as well as a rogue, I'll set you up and be your sleeping partner. I'm going to make a boom in the prediction business. We'll take in the national ‘sports’ and give the ‘juggins’ tips from spirit land; we'll pitch


  ― 18 ―
our placards and bills about like snow-flakes and make the press-men our serfs by advertising; but, you must try to acquire the art of washing yourself and changing your linen at least three times a week while the hot weather lasts, or it'll be all bunkum. Do you savy, my odoriferous psychometrist—don't you see what I mean? Plenty of water, Pears' soap, fresh linen, and a trifle of Jockey Club or Cherry Blossom for the sake of business, also a nail brush and a little attention to the nails, at present in deepest mourning for your rubbishy sins, which ain't worth so much respect; lemons are first-class articles for cleaning the hands and nails; and the Sydney waterworks are lavish with their supply.”

“I ain't at all averse to washing in the warm weather,” observed the Professor with an injured air. “I likewise like a frequent change of shirts and collars, and feel kindly drawn to clerical neck-cloths, if I had the articles to work on.”

“You'll have them. Meantime, I want you to keep out your customers, or read their fortunes at your outside counter, this afternoon while my man of business is engaged with me, and we'll arrange all that afterwards. By Jove! you'd be a great man, Professor, if you had a fair chance, and I'm going to give you that chance.”

“Will you have anything to drink now?” said the Professor respectfully, for Jack Milton had spoken to him in the lordly manner of one who has means at command, and the panderer reverenced him accordingly.




  ― 19 ―

“Not at present, I have a lawyer to talk to and I bet he won't imbibe until he has finished this interview, and neither shall I. I say, do you know anything about my wife?”

“I don't know exactly where she lives, of course, but I have seen her.”

“Lately?”

“Yes, just recently, I may say.”

“Yes—yes; and is she looking well—my Rosa, my darling?”

A wonderful change took place in the disguised housebreaker as he asked these questions; he was no longer cynical nor supercilious, but eager and boyish, while by contrast the Professor seemed to become ill at ease and constrained.

“You are proud of her yet, I see, Jack.”

“Of course, why should I not be?—my wife, the woman I love and have always kept as well as I could. She doesn't know what I have had to do for a living and to keep her comfortable, unless my lawyer has proved a traitor; which I hope he hasn't for his own sake—tell me, what do you know about her?”

“Did you see the young lady in white who went out of here as you entered?”

“Yes.”

“That was your wife.”

“I thought there was something familiar in her figure and walk, but what was she doing here?”

“She came to have her fortune read.”

“I know, the little stupid, she wanted to learn when her husband would be home again, eh?”




  ― 20 ―

The Professor looked at the eager face before him as if he were making up his mind to say something difficult, and then he replied:

“Yes, that was what she wanted to know.”

“Of course, and you gave the little jade a lot of idle promises and sent her away happy?”

“Yes, in the usual fashion. I promised her a lot according to her desires, and sent her away fairly well pleased.”

“Good! I'll make you a true prophet this time, you old scoundrel, ha, ha, ha!”

At this moment the hand-maid put in her head, and said:

“There's a gent outside as have called by appointment.”

“That's my man,” cried Jack cheerily. “Show him in, Molly, my darling, and you,” to the Professor, “clear out till I'm done with him.”

As he spoke, there entered a well set-up man of about thirty-three, with a blonde moustache and close-cropped fair hair, blue eyes a trifle closely set together, and a vulture-like nose. He was a keen-looking, business-like man, well dressed and well groomed, and one who would not be likely to let scruples stand in the way of personal advantage.

At his watch chain he carried, as an appendage, a pair of compasses and square, his neck-tie pin was also adorned with the same quaint design, while on the fourth finger of his left hand he wore a plain gold signet-ring with the same device; evidently showing to all the world that he was not at all ashamed of the society to which he belonged.




  ― 21 ―

As he entered, he looked at the white wig and blue spectacles, with an air of perplexity for an instant, until the wearer of these gave him a quick sign, then he advanced smilingly, and said:

“How do you do, Mr. Milton?”

“All right, my friend, sit down.”

The Professor had cleared out of the sanctum by this time, dropping the heavy curtain behind him, and leaving the lawyer and his client together.

“Well, Mr. Chester, have you carried out my instructions?”

“Yes, Milton, I have carried out your instructions to the letter, and, I need not tell you, at considerable risk to myself.”

The lawyer, now that they were alone, spoke in a severe tone of voice, as one might use to a criminal whose case is in hand, but who has placed himself beyond the reach of ordinary courtesy, while the ticket-of-leave man listened meekly and without appearing to observe the curtness.

“I have invested your money, as you desired, in my own name. I do not ask you how it was made, I have no desire to know, and I am happy to say it is yielding fair returns, even in these depressed times. Your wife is under the impression that you are still in the South Seas, treasure-seeking, and I have delivered regularly to her the letters you forwarded to me.”

“You have been a true friend to me, Chester. Where is my wife now living?”

“With her parents; they have removed lately to the Glebe; this is her address.”




  ― 22 ―

He handed an envelope over as he spoke, and waited further enquiries.

“Is—is Rosa well?”

“Yes; last time I saw my cousin, she was very well indeed. Do you intend to visit her at once? For candidly, I don't think it would be advisable if you desire to keep your past a secret from the poor girl.”

“No; I have some business to do before I can see her, or let her know I am in Sydney. When I am ready I should like you still to act as my friend and break the tidings of my arrival to her gently, as I don't want to agitate her. We have been so long separated that it mightn't do to jump in on her all of a sudden.”

The lawyer looked at the blue spectacles demurely for a moment, and then he said:

“That is only a right resolve on your part, and I will do all I can to help you, not to startle Rosa.”

“I am dying to see the darling, but when I next come to her I hope to be beyond the necessity of leaving her any more. I have a little speculation on hand which, if it comes off successfully, will enable me to retire and live comfortably. Meantime——”

“Yes?”

“I require some ready money to enable me to carry out this speculation.”

“How much do you require?”

“Fifteen hundred pounds for a few weeks only, and with it I hope to clear fifty times that amount.”

“It is a large sum to get hold of at so short a notice, for your property is all tied up at present;


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still, if you can assure me that it is only for a few weeks and the return is sure, I think it might be managed.”

“Within a fortnight from the time I get this advance I shall be able to place in your keeping perhaps a hundred times the amount.”

“Very well; to-morrow night, I'll give you an open cheque, and an introduction to the bank. Have you any choice of banks?”

“Yes, I should like to open an account at the ‘Fiji Limited,’ George Street.”

“Very good, I'll see to that—what name shall I make the cheque payable to?”

“John Williams.”

“Any further instructions?”

“No—only, if you are near the Glebe at any time, you may say to Rosa that you expect me back soon.”

“I shall make it a point to call upon my uncle and aunt to-night, and will deliver your message to my cousin at the same time.”

“You are a good fellow, Chester, to befriend me, like this after what I've done, and believe me, whatever happens to me I trust to be able to keep the knowledge of it from your cousin.”

“I hope so—indeed I expect so much from you, for that is only your duty towards your innocent wife and her relations.”

“Don't fear for me, I'll be secretive and game enough, Does—does Rosa speak much about me?”

“Of course the poor child misses you dreadfully, but as I have paid her income regularly, she is


  ― 24 ―
comfortable enough and not under the same anxiety regarding ways and means as are some wives here. She looks forward to your return as a wealthy man, and she is anticipating a good time in England and the Continent, when that comes off.”

“She'll have it too, the angel, whoever suffers, by George! That puts new blood into me, and my next diving operation will be a big success, you bet.”

“Good-bye for the present,” said the lawyer with a smile, as he rose briskly. “I'll come here with the cheque to-morrow night about nine o'clock—you'll be here?”

“Yes—Good-bye.”

Mr. Chester took up his slate tinted kid gloves with his stick and hat, and quitted his companion with a quick step, without shaking hands with him or looking back, while the disguised man watched his retreat with eyes that showed a little moisture behind his darkened spectacles.

“He is a fine fellow, if a bit cold and stiff with me; many a one in his position would have plundered me wholesale, with all that money at his discretion, while I'd only have had to grin and bear it; but Arthur Chester wouldn't do that. I expect he thinks one thief is enough in the family; besides, he is too fond of Rosa to do her a wrong.”

His strong and resolute head drooped for a moment on his hand, as he thought on the Sydney girl, whose love he had won under false pretences, and away from this same cousin. True, the


  ― 25 ―
family had been poor enough when he first came amongst them as a man with an assured income, a fiction he had managed to keep up, with the aid of Arthur Chester, ever since. Arthur Chester, who had only been a subordinate until, with those ill-gotten gains, he was able to begin business for himself, for Jack Milton had been a daring and successful disciple of the late Charles Peace, except for that slight mistake of his in Victoria. He had been prudent enough to work alone as much as possible and confide a few of his secrets and what money he stole to this cousin of his wife, only when forced to do so.

“I wonder if it is principle that makes Chester so stand-offish with me; he was glad enough to borrow my money when he was a clerk, and the receiver isn't much better, if any, than the thief; I hadn't been in jail then though, at least he didn't know it if I had, and he pretends, rarely, not to know where my money comes from. Perhaps he is jealous of me with Rosa, and I cannot blame him if he is, for who could help being in love with that little angel?”

The Professor broke in here upon the cogitations of the housebreaker, and instantly his careless mocking manner returned.

“Well, you old scarecrow, I've settled matters with my lawyer and we are to have the supplies needful for taking those premises, so now I am off to arrange with the landlord about terms and occupation. You keep out of it for the present until I can make you look respectable, if that is


  ― 26 ―
possible, and brace up your tottering mind to be in possession and a fashionable soothsayer by the end of the week.”

With these bantering remarks, he put on his soft hat and sauntered out to the blazing sunshine leaving the foolish psychometrist in a rapture of admiration and rosy visions.

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