― 474 ―

16. Chapter XVI.

After the first strange days were over, Victor found his thoughts constantly turning on schemes of unmasking Trevaskis. The inquiry which had been undertaken by the police, aided by the manager's eager suggestions, had, of course, come to nothing. It now seemed that there was no certainty at all as to the departure by any of the sailing ships of the young man who had presumably personated Victor.

At last he resolved to prosecute a search on his own account. Day and night he was pursued by the thought that Doris's untimely death and his own irretrievable bereavement were largely due to the chain of circumstances woven by the action of the man who, for his own purposes, had first rendered him insensible and then kept him so long drugged.

"I could not get him hanged for it. Perhaps the worst villains always die in their beds with troops of admiring friends round them; but I could get him disgraced–branded–branded for life as a thief and a cheat and an impostor," he would think over and over again in a dull, mechanical round, till at times he was almost beside himself with the thirst for vengeance. He often reasoned with himself that Doris's memory–her last loving words, and the pressure of her beloved hands as she uttered them, should serve as a benediction to keep this passion at bay.

But nevertheless it returned on him again and again. About the end of January he went to look for Kenneth Campbell. He had been reported dead by the special policeman who had undertaken the investigation, but he resolved to search for himself. His mother would be soon on her way out to Australia. He resolved to occupy the time till she arrived in hunting up every possible clue. After that he had no plans. His uncle had from time to time put off carrying out the instructions of the will under which Victor was heir to the late Mr. Shaw Drummond–but his income on coming of age, irrespective of the property in Mr. Stuart Drummond's hands, was more than enough for his

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wants, so that he granted the delay without a second thought.

He got on Kenneth Campbell's track at Nilpeena, where he had stayed two days after leaving Colmar. Seventy miles further on towards town he was met by the news of his death. But after fully testing the evidence he became convinced that it was a case of mistaken identity–that it was a man of the same name who had died in the Burra hospital, not the old ex-shepherd. At last he found someone who knew where the brother lived with whom Kenneth had farmed for a short time. This was in the Wimmera District in Victoria.

It was a long, uninteresting journey, and the results very uncertain. But he was now possessed noteof that dogged obstinacy which in one who has the two strains of Scottish and Celtic origin is sometimes driven to the verge of a mania. He had not yet picked up a single clue that did not end in a "possum track up a gum-tree."note He had sometimes thought of setting off himself to meet the wool-ship that was bound for Plymouth, and engaging a detective to meet the other at Cape Town. But he was now convinced that no one had really taken the journey, and that the whole ruse had been managed by Trevaskis with the same adroitness with which he had compassed the rest.

When he reached Thomas Campbell's little farm he found Kenneth–now a confirmed invalid–so wrapped in the study of Persian theosophy,note that he could hardly make him carry his thoughts back to the journey he had taken with notea sick man from near the broken-down whim. He received the news of Doris's death without any surprise. But though he said it was ground for rejoicing when those who were beloved of Heaven were called to their real home, some tears slowly coursed down his cheeks. When he heard that Shung-Loo had departed for China he lifted his eyes, and clasped his hands in fervent supplication that the seed of knowledge which he had tried to sow in his heart might blossom and bear fruit abundantly.

"But I believe there is not a nation under the sun without true worshippers. To-day I read the life of a Persian saint who sat seven years long in a hermitage with notestopped ears,note day and night calling upon Allah, till wall and door at last to him were one. Ay, the cup of spiritual knowledge is not put into the hand

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of man in the midst of vanities."

Victor was very patient with Kenneth, because of those tears he had shed; but in the end all he could extract from him was that the man who had cared for him in the little weather-board hut was strong-looking and thick-set, and that he spoke as the Cornish miners do who have grown to manhood before they leave England.

"Did he remind you of anyone?" asked Victor.

Kenneth deliberated. "Yes, he did. As soon as I saw him he reminded me of the captain at the Colmar Mine–Trevaskis."

Victor gave a low exclamation. He had, in the course of the inquiries he had made, learned that Trevaskis had a brother, who stayed for some days at the mine on two occasions. Three days after his interview with Kenneth he had engaged the services of a private detective, who had the reputation of being the cleverest in South Australia, to ascertain where Daniel Trevaskis had been employed during the two weeks from notethe 9th December to notethe 23rd Decembernote last year.

It is now pretty well established that the cleverest detectives in Australia are the most easily recognised members of the communities in which they reside. In this case the detective returned to town in a few days, reporting that he had been blocked in his inquiries by being everywhere publicly denounced as a spy by the miners, and threatened with the most unpleasant consequences if he did not at once clear out. Dan Trevaskis had been off and on at notea claim near the broken-down whim, but he had left it, and made frequent journeys to places at a distance from the mine. Now he was staying with his brother, preparatory to going to England in a short time.

On hearing this, Victor at once started for the mine. He would at least see this man for himself. He stayed at the inn till he saw Trevaskis coming to dinner. Seeing that he was alone, he did not meet him, but went out through the bar-door as Trevaskis entered by the main entrance. Victor walked up towards the mine, keeping a sharp look-out on the men he saw about. Presently he noticed a little in advance of him one who had been a fellow-passenger by the mail-coach from Nilpeena. He had not

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then taken much notice of him. As a matter of fact, he was often so sunk in thoughts of Doris during these solitary wanderings as to be quite oblivious of his surroundings.

Now he was struck by something secretive, furtive, and sinister in the man's appearance. He was extremely thin, closely-shaven, and wore a loose alpaca overcoat, with a rather bulgy look about the breast. He carried a small bag, and kept glancing rapidly from side to side, and walking faster and faster as he drew nearer the Colmar Mine. He did not go to the mine or the offices, however, but struck off in an easterly direction towards the enclosure round the cave room.

But before the stranger reached this, Victor's attention was drawn by the figure of a man who disappeared into the engine-room as he drew near it. He instantly followed him. Roby met him with an out-stretched hand; but Victor, merely grasping it in passing, said:

"Isn't this Mr. Daniel Trevaskis?"

"Sure 'nough 'tis," answered Roby, looking after him with amazement.

Dan heard the answer and the question, and quickened his footsteps, going out by a side-door of the engine-room, and into the purser's office, the door of which was open.

Victor, too excited to remember the nearest way, lost a little time. As soon as Dan got inside he rushed from one store-room to the other. When he gained the manager's office he tried to lock the door, but the key was missing. The door leading into the iron passage was half ajar, however, and rushing through this, he closed and bolted it behind him.

Without a moment's pause, Victor rushed back and got a large mallet out of one of the store-rooms. With a few strokes he splintered the door, and then he laughed aloud–a laugh not pleasant to hear.

"Now you are in the snare!" he cried out.

He hurried through the passage. As soon as he entered the cave room he knew that this was the place in which he had been lying for thirteen days. This was the accursed place, and this man who had fled into it had been his gaoler.

He peered around in the darkness. The light from the panes of glass in the enclosure of the entrance to the cave room did not penetrate beyond a third part of the cavity; the rest was in

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impenetrable gloom.

"You are in there, Daniel Trevaskis . . . and you may as well come out!" cried Victor.

There was no answer.

"You hound! This is where you and that infamous blackguard, your brother, drugged me and kept me." He was beside himself with rage as he thought of all that had followed upon this. "If you wait here till the Day of Judgment you won't escape me again!"

After waiting for twenty minutes, Victor began to consider that it would be better to get a light, and call on some of the men for assistance, or, at any rate, to bear witness to what should happen. The one thing he was determined on was not to let this man escape him till he should get him under police surveillance, and take out a warrant against him.

"He cannot get out; he must come back along the passage," he reflected. At that moment he thought he heard a curious sound of tapping on one side of the iron wall round the entrance to the cave room. He went back as far as the first little window, and then he saw Trevaskis coming, his face drawn and gray.

"Who has been smashing in doors here?" he said in a choked voice.

"I have. . . . I am on your trail now, you lying scoundrel! You coward, to come and attack a sleeping man."

"I never did noteit, as sure as God is in heaven!"

"How do you dare to mention His name with such a falsehood? You stole into the office, you flung me down when I was half asleep, and then you drugged me–you and your brother. But I have him–I have him now like a rat in a hole."

Twice Trevaskis attempted to speak, but his throat seemed to be full of ashes.

"You have no proof–not one!" he gasped at last. "You go on the paltry fact that my brother came in here when he saw you. Let me tell you he has been drinking hard, and has had a touch of the "horrors." "

"Gord notea'mighty! what it is to be born a noteliar. You don't get into no scrape without bein' able for to crawl out somehow," said poor Dan with a groan, in his hiding-place.

It was not bodily fear that had made him flee, but the convic

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tion which he had all along that he would never, face to face with Victor, be able to deny that he had been with him during his imprisonment in the cave room–that and the terror of exposure for his boy. He had been well paid by Trevaskis for his assistance, and now that the gold had all been safely disposed of, Dan was to start next week by notethe mail-boat, so as to meet Dick when he landed in England.

The sound which Victor had heard ten minutes earlier had been going on all this time. It was the sound made by a chisel being inserted under a sheet of iron, to force the nails back that held it in its place. Now the sheet was bodily removed, a man came quickly through the opening, and went hurrying through the entrance of the cave room. Victor at once advanced from the passage, fearing his quarry should escape him. The first glance showed him that the man, who was on his knees lighting a small lamp, was his fellow-passenger from Nilpeena. As soon as the lamp was lit, leaving it on the ground, he began groping on all fours, feeling the ground, and turning the loose earth over with long lean fingers. Then he cried, with a voice that had the vibrations of the cry of a wounded animal:

"Ah, my God, my God! it is all gone! All stolen–all stolen; gone for ever!"

Victor then knew that this was Webster, and he stood watching him in the semi-darkness with a sort of fascinated horror. Trevaskis also crept nearer to look and listen, half fearful that this strange apparition–the gaunt-looking man who had effected an entrance through the wall, who had come provided with a lamp, who crouched on the ground burrowing in the earth, whose voice had a shrill, savage ring–was somehow in collusion with Fitz-Gibbon.

The man rose and carried the lamp further into the cave room. His hand shook so that the light flickered like an aspen leaf. When he reached the narrow portion running northward, he knelt down and burrowed in the loose earth, groping on his knees, his breath coming in laboured gasps.

"No, no, no! not an ounce–not an ounce!" he shrieked, in an insane voice that had lost all balance of modulation. Then he moaned and sobbed in a horrible way.

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Presently, from a dim recess beyond him, Dan crept out shaken and unnerved. Could this be Fitz-Gibbon, who had suddenly gone mad, or was it an emissary of the Evil One come to destroy him with terror because of the part he had played in this hateful underground place? In any case Dan could no longer remain where he was, for this man, with his awful cries and carrying a light, was steadily drawing nearer to him. He glided stealthily from his hiding-place, keeping in the shadow, and hoping to avoid notice. But in the obscurity he stumbled over some of the litter with which the floor was encumbered.

Webster instantly started up with a maniacal cry, drawing some weapon from under his coat.

"Leave this man to me," said Victor, making a quick motion forward.

He was too late; it was a five-chambered revolver, loaded and cocked, that Webster had drawn. Dan was shot through the heart, and fell without a sound. The next moment Victor felt a sharp, stinging pain in his head. He knew no more till he became conscious weeks later, to find that he had been nursed back from the brink of the grave by Miss Paget. As soon as the news of the catastrophe at the Colmar Mine–Dan murdered, Victor dangerously wounded, and Webster killed by his own hand–reached town, Miss Paget came without a moment's delay, accompanied by one of the best surgeons in Adelaide. For many days the young man hovered between life and death; but, with a devotion and endurance extraordinary even in a woman, Helen stood sentinel between him and the roar of greedy Acheron.note For days and nights in succession she scarcely quitted his bedside. Later, she had the assistance of a trained nurse.

In the noteearlier stages of Victor's convalescence his mother reached Adelaide, and at once came to him at the new Colmar Inn–the one for which Scroogs had obtained a license while it was still a curious medley of tents and weather-board cribs. Now it had a frontage of stone-rooms, and in the best of one of these the patient was lying on a couch under a window looking noteeastwards, towards that great flat space, interspersed with naked patches of reddish earth, broken up here and there into gaping fissures.

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Victor lay looking out on the scene with the languid, unseeing gaze of one who has, without much heart in the affair, battled his way back to a fresh hold on life. Presently his notice was attracted by a half-stifled sigh, and looking round, he saw that his mother, who had been reading, had let the book close on her lap, and was looking at him with dimmed eyes. Mrs. Fitz-Gibbon was a very handsome, well-preserved woman, who at forty-eight might pass for being ten years younger.

"Well, mother, you look very solemn," he said, with a feeble smile.

"Oh–dear Victor–I am so thankful!"

There was a suspicious break in her voice.

"Is it usual to weep, mater, when one is thankful?"

"You naughty boy, you begin to be saucy already."

"Already? How many hundred fowlsnote have I devoured within the last two weeks?"

There was a little pause, and then the mother spoke again.

"Of course there were other thoughts as well as gratitude. When I look at you . . . and compare you with the boy from whom I parted less than a year ago––"

"Handsome as an Apollo' were the words that rose to the mother's lips; but though she had been exceedingly vain of her son's good looks from his childhood upwards, she was of Puritan descent, and she checked herself.

"Isn't it strange," she went on, after a little pause and in a different tone of voice, "that you should ever notehave come to a place like this at all, and that, having come once, you should have been nearly assassinated, and having come again, you should have been nearly murdered?"

"And yet, mother," said Victor after a little silence, "I would not for all the world have missed coming here."

He meant this to be the prelude to telling his mother about Doris; but even the memory of strong emotion invaded his brain with an irresistible languor. He sighed heavily, and turned away from the window so that he should not see that great level, naked plain–the Silent Sea–in which the supreme joy of life had come to him–and eluded him.

"I believe Helen would scold me if she heard me broaching

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such topics at all," said Mrs. Fitz-Gibbon presently. She had never possessed that finer tact which leads people to perceive without making perception a matter of comment, and to understand those half shades which so often convey more than stronger colours. She reflected a little as to the cause of her son's continued silence, and then said, "I must ask your forgiveness for one thing, Victor–that letter I wrote when I knew less than nothing of dear Helen."

"What was it you said, mother?"

Mrs. Fitz-Gibbon laughed softly before she replied:

"How like you are to your dear father in some things! That was exactly his way of making it pleasant for one who had been disagreeable. He would pretend to forget all about the affair!"

At this moment Miss Paget came in with a great boxful of flowers that had come from Lancaster House. At sight of them the vision of those other flowers, that used to come to this arid wilderness in all their delicate beauty for Doris, rose before Victor with strange distinctness. She brought him a plume of white lilac–one of those late blossoms that bud and come into bloom after the almanack says they are over. Its faint yet poignant fragrance seemed to sum up for him all the unspeakable longing and regret of which a lifetime is capable.

"Was it worth all the pains you have taken to keep me in life, Helen?" he asked as she stooped to arrange his pillow. "That means you ought to have a bowl of chicken-broth," she answered, laughing. Then, in a lower tone, "There is nothing else in life worth so much for me."

Four months later they were married. The paper which announced the marriage contained an enthusiastic description of a testimonial presented to William Trevaskis, J.P., on the occasion of his retirement from managing the Colmar Mine. The Chairman of Directors, in making the presentation, said that Mr. Trevaskis was a man who had long ago made his mark in mining. The indefatigable industry, the downright John Bullnote honesty which had characterized his management of the Colmar Mine, were beyond all praise. While deeply regretting his loss as a manager, they all–directors and shareholders alike–were gratified to know that the trained sagacity with which Mr. Trevaskis had dealt in Broken Hill mining shares now enabled him to resume the position in society of which his unmerited

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misfortunes had previously deprived him. Mr. Trevaskis was about to enter Parliament once more, and his friends were confident that he would make his mark in politics as he had in mining. The tea and coffee service (of sterling Broken Hill silver, artistically relieved with Colmar gold) was a slight mark of the esteem in which he would notealways be held by those who knew him best (cheers).