― 290 ―

Chapter XXVIII. Jack Milton at Kalgourlie.

JACK MILTON stood looking at his former wife with a good deal of admiration blent with a little amusement. She was very charmingly dressed, very pretty and innocent-looking with that contrite expression on her soft, cream-tinted features, as if she had been a child who was full of sorrow for having broken her doll or dirtied her pinafore.

“What an opinion she must have of me and my love, if she thinks she can wheedle round me after what has passed,” he mentally said, while he quietly stroked his beard with his strong brown hand.

He glanced round the room where they were, and saw more than the usual number of skirts hanging about, with the linings outside. An everyday suit of the absent Chester also dangled from a peg, while on the dressing-tables lay in trays a profusion of bangles, rings, and other costly nick-nacks, presents, most of them, from her admiring friends.

“Eh, is it quite safe for us to speak here, Rosa, with those Hessian walls? They are a little more revealing than even weather boards, don't you think?”

“Oh, that's all right,” replied Rosa. “There

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is no one about the bedrooms this time of day. My servants are all Japs, with the exception of my manageress, Mrs. Hall, and she has gone for a drive with her little girl, and her spoony man, Bob Wallace.”

“Ah! but the customers in the bar, what of them?”

“Oh, they can cultivate a thirst till I get back, or help themselves; they are all honest boys at Kalgourlie, who don't go in for bilking landladies. They fly at higher game. Won't you sit down, Jack?”

Jack glanced round the apartment again, but the two bamboo chairs were at present filled with feminine articles of attire.

Then Rosa, following his glance, laughed lightly as she said:

“Here, I mean, beside me; there is no room on the chairs, but there is lots here, if you ain't frightened to sit beside your wife.”

“That was,” murmured Jack under his hand, then he replied gently:

“No. I'm used to standing; besides, I just remember some business I have to look after with the warden, before office hours are over, so I'll stand for the few moments I can stay, if you don't mind, Rosa.”

“As you please,” answered Rosa, with a pout and a shrug of her pretty shoulders, then instantly recalling her rôle of penitence, she continued sadly:

“I did badly by you, Jack, in Sydney, but

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you ought not to have left a young girl so long alone.”

“No, that was wrong of me,” murmured Jack reflectively.

“I know since, that it wasn't entirely your fault, Jack, since you were locked up and couldn't get to me.”

“Well, perhaps that might be some excuse, Rosa.”

“I didn't know it at the time though, dear, and Chester, my cousin, whom you trusted instead of me, was always about me putting bad ideas concerning you into my head.”


“Yes, I never liked him, Jack, as I loved you, and—and as I'm afraid I do still, more's the pity for poor me, if you won't forgive me and be friends.”

“Oh, I forgive you, Rosa, more than I can forgive myself, and am willing to be friends with you, therefore say no more about it.”

“But can you trust me ever again, dear?”

Jack flashed only one look at her, then he fixed his eyes on the wall opposite and smiled.

“Yes, Rosa, since you have seen your mistake, I think I can trust you again; besides, I'm going to make over some shares to you in my mine as a sign of our mutual good faith.”

“Oh, my darling Jack, how real good of you.”

She sprang from the couch with girlish vivacity, and made as if she would have flung her arms about his neck, only that he stepped back a few paces, smiling still and saying softly:

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“Wait, Rosa, with your thanks until I can give you those shares. I have only just floated the mine, or rather accepted terms from the agents of a London syndicate. It has all to be arranged yet and—it's on that business that I have to see the warden to-day.”

“But surely, Jack, you are not going to refuse a kiss from your own loving wife?”

“Hush, Rosa! Judge Jeffreys finished all that between us, you know. Let us be good and faithful friends, if you like, only remember that your kisses now belong to—Chester.”

“Oh, bother Judge Jeffreys and Chester also. I have chucked him now,” cried Rosa impatiently.

“I read about his plant being discovered by the Sydney police, therefore I guessed he would clear out, but I suppose he hasn't left you in the lurch, eh?”

“No,” answered Rosa vindictively. “The craven skunk has skedaddled, I suppose. But I've got the hotel in my own name and am doing well enough. It isn't that, Jack.”

“If you need any money at any time, Rosa, you know where to come to for it. While my secret is kept, I'll always be able to help you.”

“Thank you, Jack; and is that all you have to say to me?” asked Rosa, fixing her blue eyes on him with a slight flush rising on her creamy cheeks.

“Anything else you want, Rosa, and I can give you—I'll only be too pleased to serve you,” stammered Jack, looking uneasily towards the closed door.

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“Look here, Jack Milton——”

“Milroy, my dear Rosa,” corrected Jack gently.

“Well, Milroy if you like. I've done wrong and I've confessed my fault and been forgiven, as you say.”

“And mean, Rosa.”

“All right. We were both brought up in the Catholic Church and married from it, and you know there are no divorces there. My divorce and marriage with Chester do not count with our faith. I am still your wife in the eyes of our Church, and nothing can alter that.”

“Perhaps not, Rosa, in the eyes of the Church; yet I fear we are both pretty bad Catholics.”

“I've repented, Jack, and been forgiven by you. I can get another divorce easily from Chester, and we can be married again legally under your new name and no one be the wiser.”

Jack looked at her, trying hard to conceal his disgust, then he said lightly:

“Oh, dash it, Rosa! we've had enough of marriages—let us be real good friends for the rest of our lives.”

“But I love you, Jack. I have loved you all along, though I forgot myself at one time. Take me back again, and I'll be a good faithful wife to you.”

Jack looked at the trinkets on the dressing-table and laughed silently while he muttered to himself bitterly:

“Faithful? what a fool she still takes me to be.”

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But he felt that he must temporize.

“I must go now, Rosa, or I shall miss the warden. Let us discuss this matter next time I see you.”

“Very well, only you must show that you have forgiven me by kissing, as husbands and wives, and good children do, when they have made up their quarrels.”

She spoke jestingly, and raised her face while Jack stooped over her and brushed her lips-with his moustache. Then she caught him round the neck, and holding him firmly she whispered:

“Oh, Jack, Jack! why was I such a foolish girl when all my heart was yours? Oh, cruel Jack, to leave your Rosa that way.”

Jack during this pretty speech had separated her arms from his neck and pushed her gently from him, so that she sank, as if overcome with grief, on to the couch, while he made towards the door hurriedly, looking at his watch as he ran.

“By Jove! just time to catch the warden. I'll see you by-and-bye, Rosa. Ta-ta!”

Rosa sat for a moment listening to the retreating steps, then she sprang viciously to her feet, and darting to the mirror, looked for a full moment at her own reflection.

“Has he got another since he left me?” she cried to her own reflection. “By Jingo! if I thought so, I'd give the square tip to the police. What are a few shares or a gift now and again when I ought to have the bang lot? Ah, Jack, I'll have another try to win you; and if you repulse

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me, then I'll fix you to a worse fate than taking me, you bet.”

That lucky mine-owner, Jack Milroy, just reached the hotel front as Sarah Hall returned from her afternoon drive, and as Mr. Bob Wallace was engaged at the moment with the horse, it became Jack's pleasing duty to help the mother and child to the ground. There was nothing uncommon about this, as he chanced to be the only gentleman near at hand, but it gave both Sarah and him the opportunity of looking at each other and exchanging a whisper free from observation.

“Yours, Jack,” she whispered as she gave him Alice to hold, while she arranged herself before descending.

A thrill passed over him as he received and set Alice upon the ground, then he turned to her mother.

“I must see you, Jack, to-night.”

“All right, I'll be outside here at nine o'clock.”

They looked at one another, these pair who had not met for nearly four years, and although their eyes spoke volumes, no one could have said they were more than two strangers looking with interest on each other.

“Let me introduce you, Mr. Milroy, to my friend Mrs. Hall,” said the jovial Bob Wallace, who had now given his horse to the charge of a stable-boy.

Jack lifted his hat and the pair shook hands.

“You are staying at the ‘Chester,’ I suppose, Milroy?” asked Wallace.

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“Well—I'm going to have dinner here, but I must be off again after it. Are you dining here?”

“Yes, of course.”

“All right, I'll see you then.”

With another hand-shake Jack left them and hurried along Hannan Street.

He had meant to have stayed a few days at Kalgourlie, before he met Rosa, as, since Barney told him about Sarah and Alice, he had thought a good deal about them both, about the grit and fondness of the mother while they were together in Melbourne, about his responsibilities respecting the child which he had burdened her with.

They had both in the old days come together as confederates in dishonesty—in fact, Sarah originally was his teacher in crime, and she always had loved him better than he had done her then. They had parted as criminals as well as honest people must part sometimes, however fond. The cause of that parting was the incarceration of Sarah, while Jack sought pastures fresh in Sydney. Here he had seen Rosa and forgotten his old and faithful pal—for a time.

Respectability in petticoats had betrayed him, while Dishonesty had been true all these years, for he had enquired a little about her from those who visited the mines, and some knew her both in Perth and Kalgourlie. He was known in Melbourne as Jack Hall, for gentlemen of his profession have as many names as royalty, and so he heard of her still wearing that alias, which struck him as a compliment in itself. No man had a word to say

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against her, not a scandal was attached to her name.

The men who praised the virtues of Sarah, spoke likewise about her mistress in a way that men will speak about those ladies whom they do not honour, yet condescend to admire at times. Why Jack did not connect her with his former wife was, he had no idea that she had even left Sydney until he saw her. Chester is not an uncommon name in the colonies, any more than Plantagenet and Montmorency are.

Sarah also had no idea that her giddy mistress had been the wife of Jack. That was, as yet, a misery spared to her.

He passed along Hannan Street thinking of his past false wife, and faithful past mistress.

Had he wedded Sarah she would never have played him that trick, for they were pals as well as lovers, and the school that Sarah belonged to counted treachery towards friends as the unpardonable sin.

What a vile beast Rosa was, he thought, and what a lot of wiping he would have to do with his lips before he could let them rest on Sarah's, after that hypocritical and politic embrace.

“I'll give her the whole yarn to-night before I go back to Berrima” (he meant Sarah, the ex-pick-pocket, not the woman that Judge Jeffreys wept his maudlin tears over, before he granted her the divorce). “If she will have me after that, I'll splice her right away, and take her and the kid over to America, where we'll be safe. If she prefers

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Wallace, I'll make little Alice comfortable for life, for hang me if I'm worthy of her.”

It was a proper and wholesome condition of humility for this millionaire, for after all, he wasn't worth such a woman as Sarah; few men are worth the love of a woman who can lift herself out of the mire with all the dead weights that society puts upon her. It is easy for a cold-blooded woman to keep respectable, but oh, how hard for a woman who has given her all and tasted life to sit down once again to the distaff.

Jack had found no difficulty in disposing of the mine, and all that was settled before his present visit. Each of the original owners could now retire when and where they liked, and live like princes on the purchase money. The mine was now being worked only to keep the property until valuable plant was transported from England, and what Jack had come to Kalgourlie for was to get stores for the gold-loaded schooner, as yet unknown to anyone outside the discoverers of the mine.

These stores he had already ordered and forwarded. His own camels and Afghan attendant now waited for him at another house of call, so that he could go at any hour.

He went to the warden first and took out permits of absence for himself and his partners for six months. It was only natural that having made their “piles,” they should want to rush off from the sands, condensed water, tinned meats and willy-willies of the desert. No man wants to stay an hour longer in that Sahara than he can help. The

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warden gave him the permits, and wished them all a merry time in the clubs of London and the lively cafés of Paris.

Jack next went to his Afghan driver and gave him his directions about starting that night at ten o'clock, and the Indian promised to have all things ready.

He was now finished with business, so he went back to the hotel and had dinner and a few convivial drinks with the many acquaintances he met there.

He managed to keep Rosa at bay during the evening, for as she expected him to stay all night, she did not trouble herself so much about him in the earlier portion.

At nine o'clock, while sitting on the verandah, he saw Sarah leave the bar and Mrs. Chester take her place; then he got up, and making an excuse to his new friends he also passed out into the night.

He made his full confession to Sarah, of all his sins against her, and woman-like she forgave him after a little cry on his breast. Women, when they love, are always forgiving angels. Yet she said some hard things about Rosa, vowing that she would leave her at once. Of course she would marry him and go to the world's end with him if he liked. The devotion of Bob Wallace was not thought of.

“When can you come?” asked Jack, when they had arranged these matters.

“As soon as she can let me go. She'll want another barmaid up from Perth. I must wait till

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then, I suppose. She'll think I'm going to marry poor Wallace.” She had also told him all about Bob Wallace, and how she had put him off.

“I'll see him to-night, Jack, and tell him as much as I dare about us. He is a good man and will see the rights of it. He saved the life of Alice—poor Bob.”

They were both so much engrossed with each other that they did not see the dark figure that had followed them to the rear of the hotel and heard all their plans. They passed that crouching figure on their way back, yet Rosa had time to get into the bar before Sarah said good-night to Jack.

“I'll send you word before I come, Jack, and will keep my eyes open meanwhile,” said Sarah, as she bade good-night to her lover, and saw him stride away to join his Afghan.

That night Sarah Hall told her story to Bob Wallace under the moonlight, after the bar was closed, and broke his honest heart—at least, as much as a man's heart can be broken nowadays. He didn't do anything selfish or extravagant. He only said she was an honest girl, promised her his aid if she wanted it, went into his bedroom and finished a bottle of brandy that he had there. That is how men behave now when their hearts are broken.

Rosa had a bottle of champagne sent up to her room, and drank that off to her own cheek, then she lay down and went to sleep, vowing to herself that she would do some real business in the morning.