previous
next



  ― 77 ―

The Romance Of Lively Creek

I. “Green Bushes”

The township of Lively Creek is not the sort of place in which one would expect a romance to happen; and yet, in the year, 18—, when I accepted the secretaryship to the Mechanics' Institute, occurred a series of circumstances which had in them all the elements of the wildest French fiction.

The unwonted impetus given to social relations, which was affected by the “opening up” of the Great Daylight Reef, brought together those incongruous particles of adventurous humanity which are to be found floating about the gold-mining centres of Australian population, and in six months the quiet village — up to that time notorious for its extreme simplicity — had become a long street, surrounded by mounds, shafts, and engine-houses, and boasting a Court House, a Mechanics' Institute, half a dozen places of (variously conducted) religious worship, and some twenty public-houses.

The thirst for knowledge which attends upon worldly success soon made my office a laborious one, for, in addition to my duties as Librarian, I was expected to act as Master of the Ceremonies, Conductor of Conversaziones, Curator of a Museum of Curiosities, and Theatrical Manager. The Committee of Management were desirous that no attraction which might increase the funds of the institution should be passed over, and when Mademoiselle Pauline Christoval (of the Theatres Royal, Honolulu, Manilla, Singapore, and Popocatapetl) offered a handsome rent to be permitted to play for six nights in the great hall, I was instructed to afford every facility to that distinguished actress.

Mademoiselle Pauline was a woman of an uncertain age — that is to say, she might have been two-and-twenty and was not improbably three-and-thirty. Tall, elegant, self-possessed and intelligent, she made her business arrangements with considerable acuteness, and, having duly checked all items of “gas” and “etceteras,” announced that she would play the Green Bushes, as an initiatory performance. “I always act as my own agent,” said she, “and my Company is entirely under my own direction.”

Upon inquiry at the Three Star Brand — where the Company were lodged — I found this statement to be thoroughly correct. Miss Fortescue (the wife of Mr. Effingham Bellingham, the “leading man”) had already confided to Mrs. Butt, the landlady, several items


  ― 78 ―
of intelligence concerning the tyranny exercised by the lady manager. Mr. Capricorn, the “juvenile man” (husband of Miss Sally Lunn, the charming danseuse), had hinted vaguely, with much uplifting of his juvenile brows, that Mademoiselle was not to be trifled with, while I found that old Joe Banks, the low comedian (the original “Stunning Joseph” in the popular farce of My Wife's Aunt), had shaken his venerable head many times in humorous denunciation of “the artfulness of Christoval.”

There was much excitement in the bar-parlour of the “Main Reef Hotel” at the dinner hour. So many reefers took me mysteriously behind the door, and begged me to bring them casually behind the scenes during the performance, that it was evident that, for the first night of the six, at all events, the improvised theatre would be crowded. The only man who manifested no interest was Sporboy — Sporboy, the newly-arrived; Sporboy, the adventurer; Sporboy, the oracle of tap-rooms; Sporboy, the donor of curiosities to our Museum; Sporboy, the shareholder in the Great Daylight; Sporboy, the traveller, the narrator, the hot shisky swiller:— Honest Jack Sporboy, the richest man, the hugest drunkard, and the biggest liar in all Lively Creek.

“I've seen enough of them sort o' gals,” said he. “I'm getting old. My hair's grey. Pauline Christoval, of the Theatres Royal, Manilla, and Popocatapetl, eh? Bosh! Hot whisky.”

“But, Captain Sporboy, your influence ——”

“Oh yes! All right. I've been in Manilla. I've eaten brain soup and Basi in Hocos, my boy. Human brains. Devilish good, too. Ha, ha! Another lump of sugar.”

“Human brains, you old cannibal!” cried Jack Barnstaple. “What do you mean?”

“Just what I say, dear boy,” returned the old reprobate, wagging his Silenus head. “When I was in Pampalo we made a trip to Pangasinan, and assisted at a native feast. The Palanese had just achieved a victory over the Quinanès, and seventy-five heads were served up in my honour. Gad, gentlemen, the fellows cracked 'em like cocoa-nuts, and whipped out the brains in less time than you would take to disembowel a crayfish!”

“But a theatrical entertainment, my dear Captain Sporboy, merits your patronage.”

“Seen 'em all, sir. Tired of 'em. N'York, Par's, London. No! Jack Sporboy, sir, is tired of the vanities of life, and prefers the noble simplicity of hot whisky. I had the Theatre on Popocatapetl myself once, and lost 4,000 dol. By a mêtis that I hired to dance the tight-rope. Fine woman, but immoral, gentlemen. She ran away with my big-drum-and-cymbals, and left me to support her helpless husband. Never trust a half-caste; they are all treacherous.”

So we left the virtuous old gentleman to the enjoyment of his memories, and went to the hall. My anticipations were realized. The Green Bushes was a distinct success. Joe Banks, as “ Jack Gong,” was voted magnificant, and for the “Miami” the audience could not find words enough in which to express their admiration.


  ― 79 ―
Mademoiselle added to the attractions of her flashing black eyes, streaming black hair, supple figure, and delicate brown hands, a decided capacity for the realization of barbaric passion, and her performance was remarkably good. The Lively Creek Gazette, indeed, expressed itself, on the following morning, in these admirable terms:— “Mademoiselle Christoval's ‘Miami’ was simply magnificent, and displayed a considerable amount of dramatic power. She looked the Indian to the life, and her intense reproduction of the jealous wife rose almost to mediocrity in the third act. Indeed, in the delineation of the fiercer emotions, Mademoiselle Christoval has no equal on the Colonial stage, and we have no hesitation in pronouncing her a very nice actress.” After the drama was over, I took advantage of my position to go “behind the scenes,” and, while Joe Banks was delighting the public with the “roaring farce” of Turn Him Out, to compliment the lady upon her triumph. I found the door of the improvised dressing-room beseiged by the male fashion of the township, who (having made Lame Dick, my janitor, drunk) had obtained introductions to the eminent tragedienne. Foremost amongst these was Harry Beaufort, the son of Beaufort, or Beaufort's Mount.

“Ah,” said I, “are you here?”

“Yes,” said he, blushing. “I rode over today from Long Gully.”

“Mr. Beaufort and I are old acquaintances,” said the soft tones of the lady, as emerging, cloaked and bonneted, from the rough planking, she melted the crowd with a smile, and turned towards me, “Will you join us at supper?”

I looked at Harry and saw him blush again. It stuck me that he was only two-and-twenty; that his father was worth half-a-million of sheep, and that Mademoiselle Christoval was not a woman to marry for love.

“Thank you,” said I. “I will.”

We had a very pleasant supper, for though I was evidently a skeleton at the banquet, the actress was far too clever a one to let me see her uneasiness. Harry sulked, after the manner of his stupid sex, but the lady talked with a vivacity which made ample amends for his silence. She was a very agreeable woman. Born — so she told me — in the Phillipines, she had travelled through South America and the States, had visited California, and was now “doing Australia,” on her way to Europe. “I want to see Life,” she said, with extraordinary vigour of enjoyment in her black eyes, “and I must travel.”

“Why don't you take an engagement in Melbourne?” I asked.

“Can't get one to suit me. I don't care about sharing after everything a night but the gas. Besides, I only want to pay my way and travel. I should have to stop too long in one place if I took a Melbourne engagement.”

“And don't you like to stop in one place?” asked Beaufort.

“No,” said she, decidedly. “I am an actress, and actresses, like fine views, grow stale if you see them every day.”




  ― 80 ―
“But did you never think of leaving the stage?” asked the young man.

“Never. I was born in a theatre. My mother was a ballet dancer. My father was an actor. My grandfather was clown in a circus. I have played every part in the English language that could be played by a woman. I could play ‘Hamlet’ to-morrow night if the people would come and see me. Why should I leave the stage?”

“True,” said I, “but you may marry.”

Oh! The vicious look she gave me! — a dagger sheathed in a smile.

“I never intend to marry. It is growing late. I am an actress — the people will talk. Good-night.”

We parted with mutual esteem; and, as she shook hands with us, I saw, lurching up the passage, the whisky-filled form of the Great Sporboy. His eyes, attracted by the light from the room, fell upon us, and — surprised, doubtless, at the brilliant appearance of Mademoiselle Pauline — he started.

Mademoiselle Pauline grew pale — alarmed, perhaps, at the manner of the intoxicated old reprobate — and hastily drew back into her chamber.

“Go away. You're drunk!” said Harry, in a fierce whisper.

“Of course I am,” said Sporboy, advancing diagonally, “but that's my business. Who's that?”

“That is Mademoiselle Pauline,” said I.

“Ho!” cries Sporboy, his red face lighting up as if suddenly illumined by some inward glow. “Ho! Ho! That's she, is it. He, he! A fine woman. A fair woman. A sweet woman.” It was a peculiarity of this uneducated monster to display a strange faculty for mutilated quotation.

“Ho, ho! I wish ye joy o'e the worm. So a kind good-night to all.”

II. The Mystery

Busy all next day, I found in the evening that the tragedienne had been indisposed, and had kept her room. Harry Beaufort, who informed me, said that she had intended to throw up the engagement, and quit the town, but that he had persuaded her to remain. “I do not want her to do anything that may appear strange,” he said. Then, sitting in the little room off the bar, underneath the picture of the Brighton Mail, he told me the truth. He intended to marry Mademoiselle Pauline. “But,” said I, “do you know anything about her? I will tell you frankly that I don't like her. She is a mystery. Why should she travel about alone in this way? Do you know anything of her past life?”




  ― 81 ―
“No.”

“So much the worse. One can always obtain the fullest account of an actress's life, because she is a notable person, and the public takes an interest in the minutest particulars concerning notable people. If, as she says, she is the daughter of an actor, fifty people of the stage can tell you all about her family. Have you made enquiries?”

“She came from California,” said he. “How should they know her? Come, let us go into the theatre.”

I went in, and saw, to my astonishment, the cynical Sporboy seated in the front row, applauding vehemently, and sliming ‘Miami’ with his eye as a boar slimes a rabbit it intends to devour.

“Capital!” he was exclaiming, “Capital! What a waist! What an ankle! What a charming devikin it is! Black blood there, boys! Supple as an eel. Ho, ho! Good! Our Pauline shall receive the homage of her Sporboy in the splendid neatness of a whisky hot!”

The stage, being of necessity but three feet from the front seats, these exclamations were distinctly heard by the actress, who seemed to shiver at them, as a high-bred horse shivers at the sight of some horrible animal. But she never turned her flashing black eyes to where the empurpled vagabond wheezed and gloated. She seemed, I thought, rather to avoid that fishy eye, and to feel relieved when Sporboy went out for that “splendid neatness,” and did not return. I complimented her — in my official capacity — upon the success of her performance, but she seemed tired and anxious to get to the hotel. I offered to escort her, and when on the steps was met by Sporboy.

He lifted his hat with a flourish which made the rings on his fat hands flash in the gaslight. “Introduce me! — Nay — then, I will introduce myself. John Sporboy, madam, late of Manilla, 'Frisco, Popocatapetl, and Ranker's Gully. John Sporboy, who has himself fretted his little hour upon the stage, and has owned no less than ten theatres in various parts of the civilized world. John Sporboy craves an introduction to Mademoiselle Pauline Christoval.”

She paused a moment, and then — probably seeing that opposition might expose her to insult — said to me: “Pray introduce your friend, if he is so desirous.”

“Spoken like a Plantagenet,” cried Sporboy. “Mademoiselle, I kiss your hands. If you will permit me, I'll sing the songs of other years, of joyful bliss or war, and if my songs should make you weep, I'll touch the gay guitar!”

“Pray come upstairs,” said she, coldly; “all the people are staring at us.”

The Great Sporboy was never greater than on that well-remembered evening. He talked incessantly, and when he was not devoting himself to the “elegant simplicity of whisky hot,” he was singing Canadian boat songs to his own piano accompaniment, or relating anecdotes of his triumphs in Wall Street, his adventures on the Pacific Slope, or his lucky hits in every kind of speculation.




  ― 82 ―
“I have been through fire and water. I know most things. I have been up some very tall trees in my time, and looked around upon some very queer prospects. You can't deceive me, and my advice is, don't try, for, if you do, I'm bound to look ugly, and when I knock a man down, ma'am, it takes four more to carry him away, and then there's five gone! Tra-la-la! Pu-r-r-r!” And he ran up and down the keys with his fat fingers.

“I think Mademoiselle Pauline looks tired,” said I.

“Oh, no,” she returned, uneasily. “Not at all. Captain Sporboy is so amusing, so vivacious — so young, may I say?”

“You may, Mademoiselle,” said Sporboy, “say what you like.”

To lovely women, Sporboy was ever as gentle as the gazelle.

“Pray” — suddenly wheeling round upon the music-stool and, liquorishly, facing her — “have you heard lately from your sainted MOTHER, ma'am?”

They say that a creature shot through the heart often leaps into the air before it falls dead. Mademoiselle Pauline must have received at that instant some such fatal wound, for she leapt to her feet, standing for an instant gazing wildly at us, and then sank back into her seat, speechless and pale.

“What do you mean? I do not understand you,” she gasped out at length; and then, as though her quick intellect had assured her that deceit was useless — “I have not seen my mother since she left me, seven years ago, at St. Louis.”

“As she left me once before!” said Sporboy, with savage triumph in his bloodshot eyes. “I thought I knew you, Miss Mannelita. ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot?’ eh? I hope not.”

I rose to go, faltering some lame excuse, but Sporboy stopped me. “Nay, my young and juvenile friend (as I used to say in Chadband), be not hasty. This lady and I are old friends. ‘We met, 'twas in a crowd;’ and I thought she would shun me. Ho, ho! Let us drink to this merry meeting! For ‘when may we three meet again?’ I will order Moet and Chandon.”

“I think, Sporboy, that you have drunk enough.” (She was sitting motionless, waiting, as it seemed, for the issue of events.) “Let us go home.”

“Home. It's home I fain would be — home, home, home, in my ain countree! Eh! Miss Pauline, ‘I'd be a butterfly born in a bower.’ EH?”

“If you have anything to say to me, sir,” (the dusky pale of her cheeks illuminated by two spots of crimson) “you had better say it.”

“I, my enslaver? No, not I, not I, not I! Was it Vestris used to sing?” (Humming it) “‘I'll be no submissive, wi-fe, no, not I, no, not I!’ Would you like to be a submissive wife, ma'am? God help the man who gets you! Adieu, adieu! ‘Hamlet, r-r-remember me!’”

“Good heavens, Sporboy,” said I, when I got him outside, “what on earth did you go on in that way for? What do you know of her?”




  ― 83 ―
“Ho, ho!” chuckled Sporboy, with thickening utterance. “What do I know of her? Tra-la-la! Tilly-valley! No good, you may depend.”

“Tell me what you do know then. Young Beaufort wishes to marry her.”

“I know,” said Sporboy, with another chuckle; “he told me. He's gone to Melbourne by the night coach to make arrangements.”

“When will he be back?”

“The day after to-morrow. Tra-la-la! Oh haste to the wedding, and let us be gay, for young Pauline is dressed in her bridal array. She's wooed and she's won, by a Beaufort's proud son, and Pauline, Pauline, Pauline's a lady.”

“But, Sporboy, if you know anything absolutely discreditable about her, you ought to tell me.”

“Not to-night, dear boy. To-morrow! ‘To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, creeps on this pretty pace from day to day, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools away to dusky death.’ Where's the brief candle? So to bed, to bed!”

All night I tossed uneasily. The strange mystery of this handsome and defiant woman affected me. Who, and what was she? What did the profligate old adventurer know of her? Was she innocent and maligned, or a guilty creature to be unmasked and abandoned to her own fortune? The hot morning steamed into my window, and woke me from some strange dream, in which such conjectures as these had taken visible shape to torment me. I approach the lattice-work, and distinguished the tones of Sporboy and Mademoiselle Pauline.

“Why do you wish to persecute me?” she said. “I am not interfering with your schemes. This boy is not a friend of yours. I have not seen you for years.”

“No, my charming child, you have not. You thought me dead, eh?”

“I had hoped so often,” said she, slowly.

“But we don't die young in our family, my dear,” he laughed. “‘We live and love together through many a changing year’ — ay, and hate together! Ho, ho!”

“What do you want to do then?”

“To make you suffer for your mother — for your infernal wretch of a half-bred, Spanish-blooded, treacherous devil of a mother — my young lamb.”

“How?”

“By waiting until your lover comes back with his licence in his pocket, and then telling him as much of your history as I know, and as much more as I can invent.”

She fell upon her knees.

“O, no, no! You will not do this. I will go away to-night, to-day, this hour. I never injued you. If you knew the life I have led. I am weary, weary. This boy loves me. He is honest, and, and ——”




  ― 84 ―
“And rich, my Manuelita?”

“I cannot marry a poor man. You should know that. I have suffered poverty too long.”

“But have you not your Profession? Are you not an eminent tragedienne? Do not the diggers throw the nuggets? I am ashamed of you, my Manuelita,” and he began to whistle as though intensely amused.

She rose to her feet. “My profession! I hate it! Hate it! Hate it! I never wished to belong to it. I was forced into it. Forced by my mother, and by you——”

“And by others, my pigeon!”

“When I was thirteen you sold me. When I was fifteen I was a woman. I am thirty now, and do you think that fifteen years of sordid cares and desperate strifes have led me to love my art — as you call it? An art! It is an art. But you, and men like you, have made a trade of it — a trade in which bare bosoms and blonde hair fetch the highest prices.”

“Gently, sweet Manuelita! Tra-la-la-la! Tum-tum! Tra-la-la-la!” and he stopped his whistle to hum, beating time with his hand on the verandah-rail.

“All my life. I have been told to get money — money — money — money. Good looks are worth — money. Health is worth — money. I am taught to sing, to play, to dance, to talk, that I may bring — money. Well, you have had your profit out of me. Now, I am going to sell myself for my own benefit!”

He stopped whistling and caught her by the wrist.

“I tell you what you are going to do. You are going to do just as I tell you, until this time to-morrow morning. You are going to stop acting, for I won't let you out of my sight. (Don't start; I will pay the salaries of your people.) You are going to remain with me all day. We will visit the claims, the shops, the museum, the places of interest, and this time to-morrow your lover will arrive, and I shall have the honour of relating to him the particulars of your lively career in the United States, Mexico, California, and the Great Pacific Slope.”

“I will not obey you. Let me go.”

“Does my Manuelita wish that I relate her history to the world then? That I print it in the local paper; that I tell my friend Craven, the police-magistrate and warden that ——” and he approached and whispered something in her ear which I could not catch.

There was silence for a moment, and then the sound of suppressed sobs. Sporboy had conquered, for he walked away humming, and in a few minutes I saw him pass out of the door below me, and — with no trace of the debauch of last night upon him — call out to the waiter, “Mademoiselle has asked me to breakfast, Chips. When the heart of a man is oppressed with cares, the mists are dispelled when a woman appears! Rum and milk, Chips.”




  ― 85 ―

III. The Sumpitan

I went about my business that morning rather more satisfied than I had been. It was evident that, however infamous, from a moral point of view, might be the behaviour of Sporboy, the woman was an adventuress who merited exposure, and that the action proposed would liberate my foolish friend. I resolved to wait events.

The first event was the arrival of Sporboy to pay me for the Hall. “Our charming friend — I knew her poor dear mother in 'Frisco — is unwell and cannot play. Genius, dear boy, is often a trying burden. I have taken upon myself to show her about the township, to take her for a drive to the dam — to amuse her mind in fact. Is that whisky in that bottle? No? Ink! Ah, I will not trouble you. Till we meet, dear boy! Ho, ‘let me like a soldier fall.’ Tum, tum! Te, tum! Tum, tum!”

The second was the report started at the “Main Reef Hotel,” that Sporboy was going to marry Mademoiselle Pauline, and that he was taking her down his claims to show her his wealth.

The third was the appearance of the pair themselves in Merry-jingle's new buggy, to “look at the museum.” “We have done the dam, seen the claims, been down shafts, and exhausted nature generally,” said Sporboy. “Ma'amselle is almost expiring.”

In truth she looked so. She was very white and nervous, and glanced about her with the stare of a hunted animal. Knowing that which I did know, I thought that Sporboy might esteem himself fortunate in not having been precipitated down a shaft by a little hand which so nervously twitched at the magnificent shawl of Angora goat's hair, which had been the envy of Main Street for the last three days. I almost pitied the poor creature.

“Show us the wonders of the Museum,” cried the vivacious Sporboy (smelling strongly of the elegant simplicity of hot whisky). “Let us see your fossils, your emu eggs, your Indian shields, and your savage weapons of war! Ho, ho! Here is a canoe, Ma'amselle. How would you like to be floating in it away back to your native land? Here we have a model of the Great Lively Creek Nugget. How would you like to have that now, and live in luxury all your days?”

If this was the method of torment he had put in practice since morning, she must have had more than human patience to endure it in silence.

“Here we have a club from New Caledonia. How nice to cleave the skull of your enemies! Our charming friend, Pauline, if she has enemies, might long to be able to use so effective a weapon! Or this spear! Adapted even to a woman's hand! Ho, ho! Miami, would you like to draw this little bow, and spit your foe with this arrow? By the way, how goes the time?”




  ― 86 ―
It was two o'clock, and I told him so.

“The coach for Melbourne passes at three; would you like to go by it?” he asked her. “But no, I would not recommend it. And yet the company is paid a week in advance. They would not stop you. Shall we make a trip?”

She turned to him half hopefully, as though deceived by his tones, but catching the malignant glance of his eye flushed and turned away.

Skipping from case to case like an overgrown bee, he paused at last.

“Ho, ho! What have we here! Oh! My gift. The Sumpitan, or blow-pipe, the weapon of the natives of Central America, presented together with a case of poisoned arrows, by John Sporboy. Tra-la-la! Observe this:— The fellow takes one of these little wooden needles stuck into a pith ball, puts it into the pipe, blows, and puff! — down falls his dinner!”

He commenced capering about with the long reed to his lips, swelling out his cheeks as in the act of blowing, and looking — with his big belly and tightly-buttoned coat — like a dissipated bullfrog.

Mademoiselle seemed roused to some little interest by this novel instrument.

“But how can they eat poisoned meat?” asked she.

“The poison does not injure the meat,” I replied, with the gravity proper to a Secretary. “It is the celebrated Wourali poison, and effects no organic change in the body of the animal killed by it. You fire at him; he feels the prick of the needle, and, as Captain Sporboy says — puff — he falls dead in a few minutes!”

“Ho, ho!” cries the exhilarated Sporboy from the other end of the room. “See me slay the Secretary with his own weapons,” and wheeling about, he blew at me a pellet of paper, propelled with such force that, narrowly missing my face, it struck and knocked to the ground a little Indian figure, which shivered into fifty pieces.

The gross old villain was somewhat sobered by this incident, and taking the quiver from the hands of Mademoiselle, replaced it, together with the reed in its accustomed rack.

“I am an ass,” he said. “Let us return to the hotel and see the coach come in. We may have news of absent friends, who knows? My Pauline, thy Sporboy awaits thee!”

Paler and colder than ever, she allowed him to lead her away, and they departed. The manner in which Sporboy treated the wretched woman whom he had vowed to unmask disgusted me. It was unmanly, cruel. That she should be prevented from ruining a young and wealthy fool was right and necessary, but there was no need to torment her, to play with her as the cat plays with the mouse. Surely the best thing to do with her would be to let her go her own ways back into the great world out of which she had come. I determined to see Sporboy, inform him of that which I had overheard, and beg his mercy.




  ― 87 ―
At four o'clock, the hour for closing the Museum, I went down to the hotel. At the door I saw Stunning Joe Banks.

“I was coming to see you,” he said; “I want to take the Hall.”

“Oh certainly, but I must see Mademoiselle Christoval first.”

“She's gone!”

What?

“Gone to Melbourne.”

“When?”

“By the three o'clock coach. It's all right. We're all square.”

“But,” said I bewildered, “what about Sporboy?”

“Which?” asked Joseph, with one of those fine touches of humour for which he was so distinguished. “What?”

“Excuse me a few minutes,” I said. “There is something strange here,” and I hastened down Main Street, “Captain Sporboy in?” I asked Chips.

“He was here this afternoon, sir.”

“When did Mademoiselle Christovel leave?”

“She came down with the Captain in his buggy, and went upstairs with him. Presently she rang the bell and told me to take her passage by the coach. She paid her bill, sent down her boxes, and was O.P.H., sir.”

“And was not Captain Sporboy with her?”

“No. Sir. Didn't see him after he went upstairs with her. P'raps he's in his room.”

I went upstairs and knocked at the Great Man's door. No answer. I opened the door, and nearly fell over Sporboy's body. He was lying on the floor, just inside his room — DEAD!

My hurried summons filled the room with people in a few seconds. We lifted the corpse from the ground. There was on it no mark of violence, save that in falling the dying man had struck his nose against the floor, and the blood had slightly spotted his shirt front, and that his right hand doubled under him was bruised and discoloured.

“I wonder,” said the Coroner, taking his “Three Star” afterwards in the bar, “that a man of his habits was so apparently healthy. He drank whisky enough to have killed a regiment of dragoons. Those sort of subjects almost always die suddenly.”

Suddenly, indeed, when he was last seen by Mr. Butt, in perfect health, shaking hands with Mademoiselle Christovel at the threshold of the room that was his death-chamber.

The romance of Lively Creek was over, buried in the grave of the friendless adventurer. No one ever knew the nature of the secret which bound the Great Sporboy to the travelling actress, for when Harry Beaufort returned by the morning coach, he found a letter awaiting him, containing three lines of farewell from the unworthy woman he had hoped to marry, and who disappeared into the unholy mystery out of which she had emerged.




  ― 88 ―
Was it accident or murder which removed the profligate prosecutor of Pauline of Manuelita so opportunely and so suddenly from her path? In common with the rest of the world I believed the former — until yesterday.

Despite the strong motive for the crime, the absolute absence of all testimony, medical or circumstantial, against her had compelled me to adjudge her innocent of the deed. I thought so then — I hope so now — but the reason I have recalled upon paper the details of this unfinished history is, that upon taking down yesterday, for some official purposes, the Sumpitan quiver, which had hung upon its accustomed nail for the last ten years under the noses of all the world, I found that the tiny, poisoned, thorn-point of one of the wooden needles had been broken off, and caught by a splinter in the little cane ring which sustained the mutilated shaft was a fine white thread — the hair of the Angora goat.

previous
next