previous
next



  ― 211 ―

6. Chapter VI.

"I've had a glorious ride, captain," he said, taking his accustomed place at the table, where breakfast awaited him. One sat reading a newspaper with his back to the window, whom Victor on entering took for Trevaskis. But on being thus addressed, he made his face visible above the paper, and Victor recognised the man he had seen at Broombush Creek on the previous Sunday.

"This is a pleasant surprise!" said Victor, and the two shook hands like old friends.

"You know my given name, with its Bush prefix, is Oxford Jim. Allow me to introduce myself in proper form–James Vansittart. Oh, so you're a Fitz-Gibbon? Are you any relation of the Captain Fitz-Gibbon who came out as aide-de-camp with Governor Somebody early in the sixties?note His youngest son? Well, in appearance you're a proper chip, etc.,note but otherwise the pendulum seems to have swung back. . . . You know what I mean. The father can't exist without clubs and high play, and all the other little effete sophistications of society. But the son returns to the primal sanities of life, grilled chops and steel forks at eight o'clock in the morning, and a pursership at the Colmar. . . . I'm waiting with some impatience for the captain. I'm going to keep on the laynote that he doesn't know me, you see. It's a little bit of comedy, and nothing is rarer in life. You pay for it at the theatre, but they give you instead a slavey with a smudge on her face.note I shall stay here for two or three weeks, probably. noteI've sent about a thousand pounds' worth of gold on with the trooper to a bank in town. . . . Of course you've heard all about the gold. I had a good mind to tell you on Sunday, but I was going to keep it a dead secret till I got to town and started a company. I'm not sure I hadn't some floating ideas of playing the big man, and riding in my carriage, and losing my memory when I saw some poor devil trudging it on foot who worked with me for a year and a half.


  ― 212 ―
Lord, Lord! what funny little guinea-pigs we all are!"

Vansittart laughed softly, and sipped a little coffee, but made no pretence of eating. He had discarded his digger's costume, and was attired in fresh white linen, and a tolerably fitting dark suit of clothes. He had also paid a visit to the barber, who combined his professional duties with a little temperance bar of what he called American drinks;note and the change that these little concessions to the usages of civilized society notehad effected notewere much to his advantage. But that curious expression of vagueness in his eyes had deepened rather than decreased. He had been smoking his long-stemmed pipe, and Victor was again sensible of that faint poppy-like odour which he had noticed the first time he was in Vansittart's company. He evinced also the same proneness to speech, falling into complacent monologues, in which his own observations seemed to afford him that glow of enjoyment book-lovers find in reading a favourite author.

When he found that Victor had not heard even a rumour of the exciting gold scene in the bar-room on the previous evening, Vansittart gave a graphic description of the event. Nothing had escaped him, except, of course, the man who had heard all in the next room, and whose part in the drama was to affect Victor in so unforeseen a manner. It was like notethose plans we form of life in which we leave nothing out except the master weaver, whose cunning threads are to form the most fateful pattern of our lives.

"I shouldn't wonder if you found a few of your miners non est note to-day," said Vansittart, looking out at the window towards the mine at the close of his narrative.

"Oh, if we have a dead-lock,note I'll turn digger myself," answered Victor gleefully.

"Here he comes; now for a little fun!" said Vansittart, taking his place at the table. "Another cup of coffee, if you please," he said to a maid who had come in with a fresh supply of chops.

Trevaskis came in hurriedly, and sat down with a slight nod to Victor. His eyes were bloodshot, his face flushed, and there was a tremulous motion in his hands which he could not wholly control. He stared at Vansittart for a moment, and then said with a forced smile:

"Haven't we met before, old man?"




  ― 213 ―

Vansittart returned his look with a blank expression. Then, with a slow smile, he said:

"You must have a good memory. I remember seeing you five years ago in a carriage going into Government House. There was a block,note and your coachman had to rein in his fiery steeds for three or four minutes. I was one of the vagabonds looking on, you know, feasting my eyes on the colonial aristocracy."

"I didn't see you then," answered Trevaskis, a deeper flush rising in his face.

"Oh, I met your eyes; I looked at you particularly, for I thought to myself, "Now, there's a man who was probably not born in the purple. But by thrift and industry, and fair-dealing and perseverance, he has made his way to the front ranks. He is one of the men the newspaper fellows call the backbone of this great, young, democratic country." "

"Stow your jaw!note what are you giving me such impudence for?" broke out Trevaskis savagely.

He had caught a passing smile on Victor's face, when, having finished breakfast, he took out his pocket-book to notephrase the telegram he was going to send when the office should open ten minutes later. . . . "It's a put-up thing between the two of them. He's taking notes to make a good story out of it, for his friends in town," was the thought that rose in Trevaskis' mind, and goaded him into notea sudden explosion of wrath.

"Impudence, my dear sir! I assure you I know my place better," answered Vansittart with unmoved suavity.

" "Bless the squire and his relations;
Give us, Lord, our daily rations;
Make us know our proper stations,"note

were the first lines I lisped. Probably they will be the last I shall breathe when I "shuffle off this mortal coil"note in some benevolent institution of your great democratic, etc., etc."

"I suppose the big nuggets have got into your head, Jim. No doubt you're one of the fellows who came here with the swags of gold last night, that everyone is talking about," said Trevaskis, trying to carry off the matter with the bluff, hearty manner of a


  ― 214 ―
man who can give and take a joke.

"Jim–and pray who is Jim?" said Vansittart in a tone of amazement, and drawing himself up with a haughty air.

"You say you do not remember the occasion on which I had the honour of seeing you, and yet you address me by my front name. I beg your pardon, sir, you have the advantage of me."

Trevaskis looked at Vansittart with baffled rage, and then glanced at Victor. But he was now oblivious of what was going on around him. They were a curious trio: Vansittart happy in the little farce he was acting, and revelling in the consciousness of his newly-found fortune, soothed into forgetfulness of the past by the treacherous nepenthenote with which he had learned to drug his mind against memories of his wasted life. Trevaskis with his brain inflamed by that cruellest of all lusts, the lust for gold; his imagination alternately on fire with inchoate schemes for getting possession of the treasure he had discovered, and dazzling visions of returning to his family, to his lost place in society as a man of money and influence; then dashed with cold fears by thoughts of the doom that had overtaken his predecessors. And with these two, the young man, immersed in one of those charmed episodes in which all the world is full of opening roses, and dreams that have more ideal bliss than any vision of happiness that is translated into the implacable prose of existence.

"I suppose the telegraph-office is open by this time," he said, glancing at his watch before he went out. The words brought a dew of cold perspiration out on Trevaskis' forehead. For a moment the certainty seized him that Vansittart had given such information regarding the underground room to Victor as had induced him to telegraph the news direct to his uncle. The next moment he notemade a mock of himself for his fears. "Remember the man's head and the dead rat," he said to himself; and this became a sort of rallying-point when moved by any sudden fear. Yet the hope that he might glean some inkling of what had passed between the two, induced him to make one more effort at a better understanding with Jim. But Vansittart, with a gleam of enjoyment in his eyes, rebuffed him as before, and left the dining-room a few minutes after Victor had gone.

"Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday." He counted over the


  ― 215 ―
days that might intervene till 'Zilla returned. Fitz-Gibbon would then expect to carry out his proposed search. The excitement about the new diggings, and the rush that would be certain to take place, might prevent his securing 'Zilla's help for a thorough examination for some little time, but would offer no bar to Fitz-Gibbon's making investigations on his own account. And how could this be prevented without raising suspicions–suspicions, too, which the slightest examination of the cave room would more than verify? If he could only have a clear month, in which to retort the amalgam!note Nothing could be more fortunate than this discovery of gold in large quantities in the Colmar district, for it would enable him, if once he secured the treasure, to dispose of it without much difficulty. He could, for instance, remove the gold in a waggonette, and take up a solitary claim after resigning his post as mine-manager, and gradually invent his luck. Or if the diggings that started had any importance, he could, as he had often done before, act as a sort of middleman and buy up gold on the spot. He was well acquainted with the average digger, and could count without fear of disappointment on buying up gold very readily for pound-notes paid on the spot. . . . And, besides, if there was a rush he would only need to buy just as little or as much as suited him. The wildest rumours were always afloat as to the quantity of gold raised, and it was well known that a large proportion of notethe diggers habitually concealed their findings.note He had once before smelted nuggets, so as to prevent the banks from over-reaching him,note and there would be no difficulty in the way of his selling the gold in pure bars, assigning the same reason for his action. . . . Only let him safely secure the treasure, and other difficulties would disappear.

On his way back to the mine, Trevaskis' brain was in a whirl as to what plan he should pursue. Near the engine-house he was met by some of the miners who wished to leave there and then, forfeiting two days' wages.

"Go on and get your cheques," he answered laconically. He went into the smithy and watched one of the men at work as he sharpened some rock-drills. Then he passed on to the carpenter's shed, where the carpenter was preparing some joists for


  ― 216 ―
repairing the roof of the powder-magazine, which was at the foot of the reef half a mile off. Roby consulted him as to the necessity of ordering an additional stock of shoes for the amalgam-pan, also of dies and battery gratings.note

"We shan't want 'em for some time, but if there's a big notesturtnote at these new diggings we may be left in the lurch. The teamsters––"

"All right; send in a memo. to the purser of any articles you think should be sent for. I'll look over the list before it's sent."

"I'm afeerd, cap'en, you're not very well; you're lookin' notesomewhat white to-day," said Roby.

The flush on Trevaskis' face had subsided, and his eyes, besides being much bloodshot, had a curiously contracted look, with dark-red semicircles under them.

"No, I'm not at all well," he answered. "The fact is, I don't believe I can stand the heat here at all. Just see how the sun is blazing down at half-past ten in the morning, and we're only at the end of October."

"I tell 'ee what it is, cap'en, you'll 'ave to take to the under-room, as poor Cap'en Dunning did notelast summer."

"Well, I'll go down and try it, after I finish my morning round," answered Trevaskis in an indifferent voice.

He did not go, however, until he saw Victor on his way to the Colmar Arms at one o'clock. When he descended, he went direct to the hidden trunk and took out the box containing the wig and beard. He also took the portfolio containing Dunning's letters, and carried them into his room. So much of his many plots, at least, should take active form. He would make sure of the gold locked in his safe, and he would invent some means of selling it, secured against detection. He had a kind of groping intuition that some plan would suggest itself, by which he could make use of Dunning's preparations for disguise.

He knew it would be useless for him to attempt to sleep. He locked the doors of his office and room, drew down the blinds, and fitted on the wig and false beard and moustache, and put on a pair of smoke-coloured sun-glasses. The transformation was sufficiently striking. But it became still more so when that night, after darkness closed in, and he was secure from any


  ― 217 ―
interruption, he went through the process of deepening the lines in his face, of giving it that sun-bronzed hue which the mixture in the phial produced, and finally ruffling and powdering his eyebrows in the way that Dunning's actor friend had suggested. Then he once more put on the wig and beard. They were so well made, so natural-looking, so closely fitting, that it was difficult to believe they would have disguised anyone else as they disguised him.

This completeness of disguise gave him a curious feeling of confidence. Dangers and difficulties lay in the way, no doubt, but the greatest difficulty of all was surmounted in notehaving the means of hiding his identity so completely when he disposed of the gold. How to do that without running the risks which seemed inseparable from long delay, kept him awake till long after midnight, though this was the second night through which his vigils extended. He was up next morning, notwithstanding, in time to see the men of the first shift go to work. There were no fresh departures for the diggings; but the daily newspapers reported the sensational find of gold which had been revealed by two men who had been working within a few miles of each other in the locality of Broombush Creek, and prophecies were made as to the rush that was inevitable. It was further surmised that other solitary diggers had been for some time in the neighbourhood with more or less success. Trevaskis glanced hurriedly over the notenewspapers. Then he looked over his letters. There was one from the secretary of the company, informing him that a letter had been received from a brother of the late manager, intimating his intention of coming to the colony in the course of six weeks after the date of writing, to look into his brother's affairs, and take possession of the effects which were at the Colmar Mine.

"The letter was dated from Sydney," wrote the secretary. "So that Mr. Raphael Dunning may come by way of Broken Hill.note In order to prevent mistake, the directors request me to say that the late manager's personal belongings at the mine are to be handed over only on the production of their authorization to that effect."

Trevaskis' first action after reading this letter was to turn to the portfolio and ransack the rest of the papers, at which he had not


  ― 218 ―
yet looked. Two or three were concerned with unimportant matters, one noteconcerning a little cottage which Dunning was apparently renting on behalf of someone not named. The next letter he took up contained a house-key. The letter enclosing it ran:

"Sir,

"noteHenclos pleas find recet for note£19 10s. for Six mounth rentnote of Cotage noomber 4 in bendigo-row hindmarshnote from 1 July to 31 decembur, hit bein' cloas to the railway Station he won't find no deferculty in findin' hit, and whativer Date he come within the six mounth he can take posission but I must have a mounth Notis if he want to leeve at the end of the leese there is shutters to the Winders of the two front noterooms so if any pains is smarshed I dosnt hold myself Rispoansable witch the naybors is desent and not likely to brake in.

"Your rispeckful,

"Noah Allert––"

Trevaskis stared at this production for some moments.

"What the devil was the fellow up to with this?" he said half aloud, and then in a moment it flashed across him–all the more readily because it offered a solution of one of those lame gaps which stared him in the face, the moment he tried to think out a working scheme for disposing of over two thousand pounds' worth of gold, in the guise of an old digger. He steadied his mind now by a strong effort in the tumult of excitement which arose with the feeling that he saw his way clear before him. Step by step he went over his scheme: he foresaw every difficulty; he provided against every contingency; he made sure of his safety from every point of view; and he swore a great oath that what one man had failed to do because of insanity, and another because of sudden death, he would accomplish within a week.

"No, nothing will happen to me, nothing will cross me. I'm the third–no, the fourth man; for there was the digger who was murdered. I'm the fourth man that set his heart on enjoying this gold, and it's against the law of averages that I too should fail–completely against the law of averages."

previous
next