― 263 ―

12. Chapter XII.

Trevaskis, though outwardly calm, was in a state of indescribable excitement as he walked across from the Colmar Arms to the mine. His throat felt parched; his pulses seemed to be thundering in his ears. So it was Vansittart who had first told Fitz-Gibbon about the probable treasure that was secreted at the mine. Vansittart had been for some months acting as purser while the amalgam was being stolen. Now he was staying on at the Colmar Arms, on the pretext of waiting for an old mate, who was coming down from the Far North. Was this a plant?note Had he any certain knowledge? Was he, perhaps with Fitz-Gibbon's aid, gathering up evidence that would be incontestable? Would the two, with the assistance of a policeman summoned from town, one day break open the iron wall that secured the entrance to the cave room?

But when his fears had reached this climax, Trevaskis reflected that even in such an extremity it would be impossible to convict him of actual guilt. No search–no discovery that might possibly be made–could connect him with stealing the amalgam. It was characteristic of the dogged tenacity with which he kept to a purpose once formed, that even the gold which he had retorted and smelted during the past four nights he had secreted underground, though he had been much tempted to put the bars in the strong safe that stood in his office.

But he had already taken action towards securing a place to which he would convey the treasure. The day before this he had ridden out towards Broombush Creek. In a secluded spot at some distance from it he had pegged out a prospector's quartz claim, and sent in an application to the Government. As soon as this was granted he intended to set a man working there,note providing him with a small hut to live in.

These would be the preliminary steps. Afterwards, when his three hundredweight of gold was ready for the market, he would take it all away and elaborate his plans. He would buy up

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notethe disused machinery at the Colmar Mine, and in common sacks, among old tools, he would take away this fortune without a breath of suspicion–if only this double-faced young Irishman and this crazy opium-eaternote did not make mischief. Christmas was not now far off, and at that date Fitz-Gibbon would be leaving.

"If I can only tide that time over somehow or another!" he said, clenching his right hand rigidly.

So engrossed was he in his thoughts that he was close to his office-door before he saw that someone stood there awaiting him–a powerful-looking, thick-set man, half a head shorter than Trevaskis.

"Be that note'ee,note Bill?" said the man, holding out his hand.

"Why, Dan, where did you spring from? I am so very glad to see you–very glad indeed!" said Trevaskis heartily, as they shook hands.

Perhaps he felt there was call for this assurance, for it was his brother, older than he was by five years, but still a working miner, as he had been in early youth. It was now some years since they last met. On that occasion Dan had come one evening unexpectedly to his brother's house; he happened to be entertaining a number of guests at dinner. He would not ask Dan in among them, and he could not send him to the kitchen. He tried to compromise the matter by pressing a ten-pound note into his hand, and asking him to call on the morrow. But Dan had thrust the bank-note back with some violence.

"Studdy there, Bill, studdy! I come to see note'ee, not for money. I can't clunknote that, man," he said, and then hurried away.

"Come in, Dan, come in," said Trevaskis, unlocking his door. "I expect you've come a good distance, and want something to eat," he added, as he lit the lamp.

"No, I've had tay wi' my old mate, 'Zilla Jenkins. I met 'im close by as I got off Circus Bill's trap.note I notecom' from Broombush Creek."

"Circus Bill's trap' was a passenger coach, which had within the last week begun to run daily between Broombush Creek and Nilpeena.

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It turned out that Dan had been at the diggings, not on his own account, but summoned there by a brother-in-law, who had been among the first in the rush to Broombush Creek.

"'E had pretty good luck, but 'e was took bad, and 'e sent for me. 'E seemed to know from th' first as 'e wouldn't git over it, and notehe just wanted to give me safe what 'e 'ad got. Poor old chap! he died yistiday a' four o' the marning. I feel quite whizzy like. They'll die there like flies before long; such a shaapenote 'ole I never seed. I wouldn't stay there for no money. 'E give me this, poor fellow! 'twas 'ard to die for the sake o' getting 't for another man."

Dan produced a soiled cotton handkerchief with a round lump knotted in the middle. It was a number of small nuggets of gold, about twenty ounces in all.

"I reckon 'tis about fifty pun worth o' gold?" he said interrogatively. There was a good deal of quartz mixed with it.

"I'll give you seventy pounds for them, Dan," said Trevaskis, turning the nuggets over.

All the sombreness had left his face. There was a ring of gladness in his voice, and a light in his eyes. Here was the one man in all the world who could best help him to carry out his noteplans. He wondered now he had not thought of Dan before. He was a man who would be bound to him by the strongest ties–one of a faithful, trusting nature–who, if the facts of the case must eventually be revealed to him, would not be greatly shocked or surprised. But only under urgent necessity would he make a confidant even of Dan. He would at first tell him as much or as little as the emergency called for. These thoughts passed with lightning rapidity through Trevaskis' mind.

"Seventy pun, Bill! Why, you're making me a present o' some o' that, sure 'nough," said Dan, smiling.

"Oh, I'm going into the gold-buying trade before long," answered Trevaskis. . . . "Now, isn't it a funny thing when you come to think of it?" he went on reflectively. "Here have I been for the last week thinking every day of writing to you, not only to answer the letter I got when I was coming here, but because I wanted to make you a certain offer."

"What sort o' hoffer, Bill?"

"I am going to take up a prospector's claim a few miles away

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from Broombush diggings, and I want you to take charge of it at, say, six pounds a week."

"That's a handsome wage,note Bill! Then you make sure there's gold there?"

"I know it," said Trevaskis; and then he went on to explain that, in some way which he could not then divulge, he had found out that a quantity of gold had been hidden in notethe locality years before; that the two men who were chiefly concerned in it were dead, and that no one else had now a better right to it than he had himself. "In fact," he said, lowering his voice, "it's for the sake of that I'm staying on here. I don't want to throw up my billet till I can make a proper search, and to make a proper search, a man must fossick about, perhaps for months. You've turned up just in the nick of time. I'll provide you a comfortable crib to live in, and a horse and some sort of notea machine.note There's a lot of old second-hand tools here that I can buy cheap from the company."

Trevaskis, in his excitement, walked up and down the room, hardly giving his brother time to put in a word. The longer he thought over the plan of having Dan at the claim, the more certain he felt of ultimate success. Dan had never risen a step above the class he was born in; but he was a safe man and a true, noted from childhood for being well able to keep his own counsel under all circumstances. He had, it noteis true, a weakness for drink; well, that would be no detriment in this case, at certain times.

"But what tools should we want, Bill, if it's only just to fossick round? A biddix or two for diggin', and a buss and a crock for cookin',note as poor father used to say, is all a miner wants."

"My dear man, we don't want to advertise to all the world and his wifenote what our schemes are. The plan will be for you to begin working at the rock, as if we were going in for crushing and all the rest of it. When all is done, Dan, I'll give you a couple of hundred pounds over and above your wages."

"Well, Bill, you're no bufflehead at making money, and I'm no snail-dewnote at work, and I'm sure it 'ull be all'ays fair sailin' 'twixt thee and I; we'll chait neer another nor each other, but it fills me o' wonder you should make so cocksure o' finding the gold. Now, in a body o' troode,note thee mayst take the word o' a man that note'ull

  ― 267 ―
lie like old Nick hissel' on gold."

"I know that, Dan, I know that," answered Trevaskis, laughing. "But you may be pretty sure I'm not going to engage and send you to my claim on a fool's errand. Now we'll drink success to our venture."

He produced a bottle of brandy, notesome tumblers, and a jug of water.

"Softly, softly, Bill! Yes, if you have a few biskies,note I don't mind if I taste one or two," said Dan. Then they clinked their glasses to drink success to the gold-searching. As they were in the act of doing this, a loud, hard single knock was heard at the window. Trevaskis instantly went out, but there was no one in sight.

"I heard no footsteps, did you, Dan?"

"No, not a sound, but that one hard knock. . . . I don't like it, Bill."

"Oh, nonsense, man! it was notea dumbledorynote with wings–one of those creatures that come out on warm nights––"

"'Twas a notetremenjous row for a hinsek to make, Bill," said the elder brother incredulously.

"But, then, a man couldn't get out of sight for three minutes, at the very least, Dan. You see, there's the rest of the offices in a row to the south, and the galvanized iron passage that reaches to an old sort of underground place on the north side. You haven't got the old Cornish superstitionsnote in you still, have you?"

Trevaskis laughed and drained his glass. Dan also drained his, but he did not laugh. He did not like a loud, solitary knock, with no one visible when it was answered. How often had it been proved to be a sign, that of those who heard it one would be beyond the reach of all sounds of earth before a year had run? Trevaskis guessed the thoughts that darkened Dan's brow, and, lighting a candle, he went out and searched about round the window. Presently he came in with a great winged beetle, dead, on the palm of his hand.

"There, Dan, there's your prophet–dashed himself dead with one blow, trying to get in to the light. Help yourself to another nip. This is proper old Martell.note None of your fiery new rubbish!"

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They spent the next hour in arranging the details of Dan's search at the claim. He was to work alone, but would ride across every second evening or so. All would be ready for him by the time he came back. He had to return to Bendigo to let his cottage, perhaps sell it, and set his little affairs in order. But he would be back in nine or ten days at the longest, including half a day's stay at Mount Lofty to see his son Dick, the bank clerk.

"That's one thing I'm allays thankful to you for, Bill–gettin' that boy a dacent, easy berth," said Dan; "for he's took arter his poor dead mother, not fit for a full shift o' hard work. He's growed fust-rate though, hoyer by a head nor me."

Trevaskis knew that this youth was the pride of his father's heart, and he let him talk on, throwing in a eulogistic phrase now and then, while his thoughts were busy elsewhere. At ten o'clock he made a bed for Dan in the office on the sofa, which could be broadened at will for that purpose.

"I'll clear out the next room to this for you, Dan, and you can take a bed here when you come over from the claim," he said, as he bade Dan good-night. "It will be a fine thing for us both, for we've seen too little of each other all these years, and yet I'll be bound we'd do as much for one another as most brothers."

Trevaskis seldom spoke with much effusion, but when he did he usually had an object to gain. At present this consisted, in the first instance, in inspiring his brother with complete confidence in his goodwill.

At dawn the next morning Circus Bill made a very early start notefor Nilpeena, so as to return on the same day to Broombush Creek. The brothers parted on the heartiest terms. On that day, and during the greater part of the succeeding week, Trevaskis notemanaged to have his dinner at the Colmar Arms alone, by going there an hour later than the usual time. His breakfast and notehis evening meal he managed to get in his own rooms, by having a spirit-lampnote to boil water for tea, and getting the baker to leave a pound of butter and a loaf of bread now and then. He was, when hard at work, a spare eater, and had hitherto rarely passed the bounds of temperance in drinking. But now, with the constant strain of working half the night, and often sleeping badly the other half, he got into the way of depending more and more on

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stimulant, to meet the heavy demands he made upon his endurance. During these days he kept out of Victor's way as much as possible. He expected him daily to renew his proposition about the search, and the only plan which he could at present devise was simply to decline doing anything in the matter till the brother of the late manager came to take delivery of his effects. It was a pitifully lame excuse–he knew that–one which would give colour to the strongest suspicions as to his motives; but every day's delay was worth hundreds of pounds to him. Night by night, as he retorted and smelted the gold, and added to his heap of shining bars, he became more indifferent to the thought of mere suspicion–to anything short of losing the fortune that each night brought more and more surely within his grasp.

Apart from this robbery, he was most devoted to the interests of the Colmar Mine, seeing to all the details of the work above and below ground with a feverish restlessness that knew no pause. Then, about nine in the evening, he would go down to the cave room, put five hundred ounces of amalgam in the retort, plaster its top edge with carefully-worked clay, before putting on the lid, which he made air-tight by driving in the holding-down wedges. Then he kindled the fire in the furnace, slowly bringing it up to red heat. At eleven o'clock he would go to see the night-shift go below, scrutinizing each of the men with an eagle eye. If one of them showed the least symptom of intoxication he instantly ordered him away. One of the shift-bosses would sometimes intercede for an old or tried miner.

"No, I won't have it–I won't have it! There's been too much of that sort of thing at this mine," Trevaskis would say in iron tones. "Rock-drills are destroyed and slovenly work is done, if the men are not perfectly sober. I'm here to protect the company and the shareholders, not to coddle drunken rascals."

Then he would return to his gold. About midnight, when the retorting was completed, he turned out the spongy cake of gold, broke it up with a notehammer into small lumps, placed them in a crucible with the necessary fluxes, and put the crucible in the assay furnace, which he had ready heated with gartshore coke,note out of the bags he had found near the furnaces. The smelting took from fifteen to twenty minutes. Then he poured the molten

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gold into a long, narrow iron mould, and, when solid, turned it out into a dish of muriatic acid to eat away all impurities. The acid boiled and bubbled when the red-hot gold was put in it, filling the air with yellow suffocating fumes,note from which Trevaskis escaped by retreating for some minutes into the iron passage. Last of all he put the gold into an enamelled basin full of water, and washed the acid, etc., off with a strong scrubbing brush. Then the pure, massy bar, two hundred and fifteen ounces in weight, was ready to be made into golden vessels for royal tables, into jewellery for fair women, into wash-hand basins for barbarians, into sovereigns for the joy or misery of mankind. There it was, without a stain of the earth from which it came, ready to feed the hungry and tempt the weak, to clothe the naked and pay the wages of sin.note

For ten nights Trevaskis worked with the same brilliant result. Each night he watched by his retort and crucible, the flaming fire casting strange shadows in the gloomy recesses of the cave room. His eyes, which were nearly well when he returned from town, had again become much inflamed. When he went about he wore a dark-green shade over them, and the protection this afforded was valuable to him, mentally as well as physically. He had never before quailed at the sight of any man, but now he found it a comfort not to be obliged to speak eye to eye with the most insignificant employé at the mine. In the anticipation of the purser's renewed request to search the cave room, Trevaskis had a conviction that the excuse he meant to make for delaying the event would gather much force, from the indifference with which he could speak when his eyes were veiled from observation. But day after day passed by, and Victor made no sign. He was too deeply preoccupied with more delightful thoughts to waste any on a matter so trivial as a problematical treasure. But Vansittart, without any strong personal interests, and absolutely idle while he waited for his friend, watched and thought intently over the little drama which he felt convinced was now going on at the Colmar Mine. When he found that day after day Trevaskis came for his dinner an hour later than the usual time, and did not come there at all for breakfast and tea, he knew that the arrangement was solely to avoid contact with him, for fear he should make any further allusions to the cave room.

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He occupied a small bedroom opening into the dining-room, with a window that overlooked the front veranda. Daily he would station himself at this window, and watch Trevaskis as he came and went away, noting every movement and gesture–his eager haste, his anxious abstraction, his eyes jealously guarded by the broad green shade. He even went, one still, dark night, and watched by the enclosure round the entrance to the cave room, with sleepless vigilance, from ten o'clock till the dawn reddened the east; but not a sound, notenot a sign, not a gleam of light rewarded his long vigil. As a matter of fact, Trevaskis, on this particular night, suffered so much from his eyes that he could not face his secret night-work. But he exercised such stringent precautions against detection, that it may be doubted whether the most vigilant notewatchers would have been able to find a clue to his proceedings. Vansittart, who knew something of the capacities of the cave room for concealment, felt baffled, but not convinced. He tried his best to rouse Victor to some enthusiasm on the subject, but the young man, half in impatience and half in fun, at last forbade him ever to mention the cave room any more.

"You cast reflections upon stage comedy once," said Victor; "but at any rate it has this advantage, it comes to an end in a couple of hours, whereas yours goes on for weeks at a stretch."

"You think it's a comedy? What I told you about––"

"Now, don't–don't mention it any more, or I shall change my dinner-hour," said Victor, laughing. "Your pretending you didn't know Trevaskis was a little amusing the first day; but, then, you kept it up too long–and now this hidden treasure!"

"Well, never mind; I'm waiting developments."

Next morning Vansittart got a letter from his friend, telling him he would be at Nilpeena in two days. He determined to have a say once more regarding the cave room in Trevaskis' presence before leaving the Colmar Arms. With this object he told the landlady that they all wanted dinner at the later hour on this day. Then he walked across to see Victor at his office, as he had done several times before, and chatted with him on indifferent topics.

"By the way," he said, as he was leaving, "Mrs. West wants to know if you can make it convenient to come notelater to dinner

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noteto-day. Some domestic rupture, I suppose, about having two dinner-times."

Victor for the first time doubted the explanation when, after he and Trevaskis were seated at the table, Vansittart came into the dining-room. There was a look of devilry in his dark eyes that betrayed some latent excitement. A moment or two later the three were joined by two men who were on their way to Broombush Creek–one of them the manager of a company that had started crushing with tolerable results. Trevaskis entered into animated talk with this man on mining. Victor talked a little to the other stranger. Vansittart sat on in silence till dinner was half over. He looked annoyed, as if his plans had been upset. But at last his opportunity came.

"Ay, it will maybe turn out a great place yet–this Broombush Creek," said the new manager.

"And repeat the history of all other places in which gold is found," said Vansittart, in a low-pitched, deliberate voice.

"I expect so. Do you know much about gold-mining and diggings, sir?" said the unsuspecting stranger affably.

"Yes, a good deal. In fact, I've just made my fortune at a gold-mine."

This statement produced what the law reporters call a sensation. That is, one of the strangers said "Oh!" another "Indeed!" and both looked at Vansittart with the utmost interest.

A deep flush mounted into Trevaskis' face. He longed for the shade over his eyes. If he had known he would not be alone, he would not have removed it when he sat down to dinner. But he went on with his meal without once looking at Vansittart. Victor felt sure that a disagreeable "development"note was to take place, and, according to the fashion of his age and sex, he awaited the dénouement with a certain amount of enjoyment.

"Yes, gentlemen," said Vansittart, in emphatic tones, "quite a fortune! The story is a short one, and can be briefly told. I was at a mine in a colony not far from here. It seems that one or two previous managers had been making a pile for themselves in a slightly irregular way. Don't let this surprise you overmuch. I assure you that nature and human society abound with bravos who are ready to rob and devour each other for the sake of a few

  ― 273 ―
mouthfuls and a little gold. Well, there was another man employed on this mine, and he went out one day looking for daisies. He was young and simple, and loved daisies to distraction; in fact, he had as many illusions as a young girl, and this was one of them. He did not find any daisies that day, but he found another man. Now, I am sure it is very inartistic to keep on finding another man in this way; but, being neither a poet nor notea comedian, I have to take things as they happened. Well, the man who didn't find a daisy came back to the mine that day, and he said to me:

" "There's gold hidden in an old cave room here–so noteI am told. Shall I go and have a look?"

" "Yes," said I, "as many looks as you like–next week."

"However, I thought I'd have a glance myself beforehand, and alone; and what do you suppose I found?"

"Broken bottles," said the new manager, laughing.

"Old tailings," said the other man, also laughing.

"A diamond as big as an emu-egg,"note said Victor, joining in the mirth.

"Won't you give a guess too, sir?" said Vansittart, looking fixedly at Trevaskis.

Trevaskis was by this time livid in the face, but notestill he made a feint of eating. On being thus directly addressed by his tormentor, he gave a hoarse little laugh and said:

"Perhaps you found as big a fool as yourself."

"No, sir; I'm afraid that, in some respects, would be impossible," returned Vansittart, with unmoved urbanity. "But I'll tell you what I did find. I found white goldnote in heaps and heaps–in hundredweights, I may say–and I went night after night and made it into yellow gold–into gold yellower than sovereigns and purer than wedding-rings. And I said to notethis young man:

" "You go and find some daisies for yourself. As for going into that enclosed room–a horrid cave and very inconvenient–don't think of it!"

"Mind you, gentlemen, I had that receptacle under lock and key. . . . So now I'm like the lilies who neither toil nor spin."note

"I'm afraid you're taking a rise out of us," said the man who sat

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notenext Victor.

Trevaskis, who had finished eating, sat with his hands tightly clasped underneath the table. But though he could not entirely command their tremor, he kept his voice well under control.

"If I wanted to stuff a greenhorn with a tall mining yarn, I wouldn't have far to go to better that," he said sneeringly.

"Very likely; but, you see, I'm limited to facts, sir," returned Vansittart, with grave politeness.

Then they all notearose from the table, Trevaskis and the manager who was going to Broombush Creek exchanging hopes, as they parted, of seeing each other on future occasions.

As Victor left the room Vansittart followed him to the door.

"I'm going away to-morrow, Fitz-Gibbon, to meet my friend at Nilpeena; so that's the last scene of the "comedy" as far as I am concerned. What notedid you think of the development?"

"I fear your audience wasn't educated up to enjoying it. That young simpleton, for instance, who doted on daisies. Confound you! I owe you one for that, old fellow."

They both laughed.

"I wonder," said Vansittart, "whether the curtain conceals a tableaunote of this little drama that will interest you more! Mind, you must tell me–if ever we meet again after to-morrow."