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1. Chapter I.

As for Victor, he was lost in that tide of unreasoning, tumultuous bliss which comes to a man but once in his life-time, and in his youth or not at all. He reflected when it was too late that his purpose had been to speak no word of love to Doris till after he had seen Miss Paget; but it was all too inevitable, and now he was too restlessly happy to sleep. The night was very still, but cool, and full of starlight. He went outside, and walked to the top of the reef. The throbbing of the air-compressors and the din of the engine travelled far into the night. By that sound he knew it must be after twelve, for on Sunday work was not resumed till midnight.note As he stood looking into the vast spaces of the plains all round, vague and gray and level, without form or motion, he was thrilled with wonder as he thought of the sequence of events which had brought Doris into the heart of so desolate and melancholy a region–thrilled with the thought that here, where nature was at its sternest and man's existence in its barest form, they two should find each other and the great happiness of their lives. While lost in these reflections, a man came hurrying up the reef from the mine, and paused within a few paces of Victor, saying:

"Is that you, cap'en?"

"No, 'Zilla, it isn't the captain," answered Victor, who recognised the voice.

Something had gone wrong, and the engineer wanted to consult the manager.

"I bait and bait at note'is door, but 'e ain't in, and I thoft 'e must a-come to ask for Mr. Challoner."

On hearing the captain was not at Stonehouse, 'Zilla stood for a moment in deep thought.

"Perhaps he's in by this time. He may have gone for a stroll somewhere," suggested Victor.

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But 'Zilla didn't fall in with this view. It was now nearly half an hour since he had first gone to the captain's rooms, just ten minutes after he had been at the shaft's mouth seeing the men go below. 'Zilla had waited and gone again, but the rooms were in darkness, and still no sign of Trevaskis. Victor suggested that he might be asleep.

"'E may be took in a fit, but 'e couldn't be asleep and not 'ear the knocks I give. I wish you'd come down, sir, and go to 'is rooms by the inside way, and make sure. The cap'en looks very bad to me lately, and very bad-tempered; like a hedgaboornote at the least word, and when a man don't mean nothin' in the world."

They were descending the reef by this time. Victor went into his office as suggested, and through the four rooms intervening, followed by 'Zilla. He knocked at the door and called out "Captain!" repeatedly in a lusty voice. But there was no response. As they were leaving the purser's office the engineer came up. The driving-wheel of the pan-shaft had got out of gear, and he was anxious to hang up the batterynote and stop the machinery.

"But if I do it off my own hook he'll most likely make a devil of a row," he said; "more especially as the fortnightly cleaning-up is so near."

"He can't be in," said Victor; "it's impossible."

They walked back to the pan-room and waited another half-hour. The driving-wheel had worked loose and could not be righted without a stoppage.

"But if I stop without his orders he'll notedamn my eyes till he's black in the face, and want to know who's master here," said the engineer, a quiet, steady-going Scotchman, who found the Trevaskis régime rather an exasperating one. "noteI'll tell you what, Mr. Purser," he said, when the half-hour was up, "you come with me to the manager's office, and if I can't make him hear I'll break a pane, open the window, and go in to make notesure; and if he isn't on the premises I'll stop the machinery on my own responsibility. If he goes gallivanting about at night, God knows where, it's his look out."

Victor agreed to this arrangement, and the three once more walked up to the manager's office.

They knocked and shouted with the same result as before.

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Then the engineer got a stone, and, making a clean break in one of the lower panes, notehe opened the window of the manager's office and got in. He struck a light and passed into the bedroom. It was empty, and the bed had not been slept in. As he was getting out, the door of the office that led into the iron passage was unlocked, and Trevaskis entered, a bull's-eye lanternnote in one hand, a parcel in the other. He gave a savage yell when he caught sight of a man disappearing through the window. Either by accident or design, the lantern fell from him with a crash and the candle was extinguished.

He rushed to the window, and, seeing three men dimly in the darkness, broke into an excited volley of abuse, in a thick, strange voice. The engineer attempted to speak, but could not at first make himself heard. They were thieves–they were consigned to eternal and active perdition; but first they would be hauled to gaol.

"If you've quite finished, sir, perhaps you'll allow me to tell you that I'm the engineer." He drew nearer to the open window as he spoke, and Trevaskis gave a muffled exclamation. "Please take notice," the engineer went on, in tones quivering with anger, "that it was on the business of the company I forced my way into the manager's rooms, as Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, the purser, will bear witness."

The mention of this name had a singular effect on Trevaskis. He remained quite silent for a moment, noteneither attempting to light candle or lamp nor to make any reply. The engineer had again to ask for instructions before Trevaskis spoke. Then, seeing Victor turning to leave, he called out to him to wait a moment.

"I'll be down after you in five minutes," he said, and on this Bruce and 'Zilla returned to the engine-room. Trevaskis went into his bedroom and came out in a few minutes, locking the notedoors after him.

"Of course you're making all sorts of conclusions about my being in the cave room, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon? And your being about here at this time of night proves that you are full of suspicions."

He had begun in a calm tone, but again that curious sudden

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change ensued: a loud, uncontrollable fierceness crept into his voice. Victor could see in the starlight that the manager's eyes were glaring wildly, that his hands were twitching, and that his face was working convulsively.

"He must be drunk," was the thought that passed through his mind. And there was some truth in the supposition, though there was much more than ordinary intoxication to account for Trevaskis' uncontrollable excitement. He had been working on Friday night till near daylight. On Saturday night, after receiving official instructions to clear out the late manager's effects, he had not gone to bed at all. He had worked all night and part of noteSunday; now it was two o'clock on Monday morning, and after all he had been almost caught with his pots and bars of gold. All his sleepless nights and brilliant visions of success, all his schemes and contrivances, had been in vain. This boy, who had from the first come to spy on him, had over-reached him in the end. His brain whirled and everything swam round him as he spoke. A sudden murderous instinct rose within him to take Victor by the throat and crush the life out of him. The paroxysm passed away, leaving him miserably shaken, and with an almost insane longing to tell Fitz-Gibbon the whole truth–to take him into the cave room there and then, and show him the great noteglittering heap of gold in notemassive bars, the bottles full of amalgam, and cry: "This all belongs to the company!"

Victor, perceiving that the man was labouring under some cruel emotion, and believing that his brain and imagination were demoralized just then by strong drink, answered him in the tones that turn away wrath.note Great personal happiness makes even hardened natures magnanimous, much more one that is innately generous and notehas not as yet been indurated noteeither by time or calamity. The imputations thrown out against him by Trevaskis would, under ordinary circumstances, have prevented Victor notefrom offering any explanation as to his presence at the office with the engineer. But it had been forced on him that the manager's morbid suspicions were like a disease which he was unable to get rid of. He therefore fully explained his meeting

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with Jenkins, and Trevaskis listened and believed. But when, after mid-day noteon the morrow, he met Victor coming out of the telegraph-office, all his old suspicions returned. He himself had gone there to send a message to his brother, imploring him to come at all hazards, without a day's longer delay.

Trevaskis had resolved, as a last resource, to shift all the gold and amalgam to the hut he had erected on the claim near the broken-down whim as soon as his brother could arrive. He had this morning bought a strong spring-cart and a stout horse from a man who had left the diggings at the Creek very much down on his luck. He was negotiating with the company for the purchase of certain old machinery, which they were only too glad to sell. There would be two or three loads in all. In the dead of night he would load the cart with the gold and amalgam, tied up in old sacks. In the morning he would have some of the machinery fixed in the cart, with Dan to help, and after Dan started he would overtake him on horseback, and explain that his load was worth, not an old song for old iron,note but twenty thousand pounds!

Even in the thick of all his terrors and anxieties, and the profound physical nervousness that assailed him from time to time, he would dwell with a sense of intoxicating elation on the sense of getting the gold all safe away. He would see Dan driving slowly on the big dusty track towards Broombush Creek, looking from time to time around him as he got half-way for the great white posts of the broken-down whim, beyond which he was to sluenote off to the left for a mile and a half to the lonely hut, which could be clearly seen from the vicinity of the old well.

Then he would go galloping after him, and that night they would make a recess in the floor of the hut in which to hide the gold.

"That quartz claim will turn out the richest in the history of Australian mining, only this won't get into history," he thought. And then he chuckled to himself as he pictured Fitz-Gibbon going solemnly into the cave room and making his ineffectual search. But all this hung on Dan's speedy arrival. He despatched his telegram, wording it as strongly as possible. As he came out of the telegraph-office, he met Victor face to face. Was he going

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to send a message as to the further delay in his search of the cave room? He resolved to keep a brave front to the last, and fight to the uttermost for delay, hoping for Dan's speedy return. A few minutes after he had seen Victor go back to his office, Trevaskis followed him, to make a certain statement regarding the search of the cave room. As soon as he entered Victor rose, saying:

"I was just coming to see you, captain. I want to get away to town for a few days."

"To town for a few days?" repeated Trevaskis mechanically.

"Yes; will you be well enough to clean up the gold this week?"

"I intend to do so on Thursday."

"Oh, that will suit me famously. I can then start by the afternoon coach on Friday, and pay the men when I return."

"How long shall you be away?"

"Not more than four or five days at the longest."

"Not more than four or five days?" repeated the manager, in the same mechanical voice in which he had first responded to the purser's announcement.

It would be impossible to disentangle the chaos of thoughts that darted through his mind. But clear above all else rose the conviction: "He is now sure about the treasure; he is going to secure police assistance." Trevaskis struggled to act on the belief. It seemed as if he spent several moments in trying to utter the words: "noteYou better come down into the cave room this morning and have a look round. The half-search I made last night makes me believe there's some gold hidden there."

But every instinct of his nature rose up in revolt against this surrender. Each faculty of his mind became centred in one supreme effort to gain time. To have so much wealth in his possession–the end and aim of his dearest ambitions, the object of his most jealous passions–and noteto give it all up! No, no! not so long as the ghost of a chance of success remained.

"I suppose I could put off paying the men till I returned on Tuesday or Wednesday?" said Victor, looking a little wonderingly at the manager's haggard face.

"Certainly, that will be all right; I came in to say that, owing to the arrears of work caused by my sore eyes, I cannot go noteinto the cave room with you for a few days."

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"Oh, we'll let it slide till I return," said Victor carelessly.

The manager looked at him narrowly. Then, sinking his voice and speaking in a semi-confidential tone, he said:

"The fact is that, judging from a cursory examination, I am under the impression that Dunning's effects were tampered with after his death. It will be therefore better that we should act conjointly in this matter."

"But the keys were in Searle's possession till he delivered them to you," said Victor quickly.

"Exactly, and therefore I am going to write a note to him asking a few leading questions," answered Trevaskis coldly as he walked away. When he reached the door he turned as if struck by an after-thought.

"It will be about the eighth of December when you get away. You have spoken about leaving the mine at Christmas-time. Do you think of making any arrangement about resigning when you are in town?"

Victor hesitated before replying. He could not explain that his movements depended on the course of events at Stonehouse, nor did he think it advisable to say that he knew of a suitable candidate ready to apply for the pursership as soon as it was vacant. His friend Maurice Cumming had recently bespoken Victor's interest in the matter, finding that a little extra ready money for a year to come would materially aid himself and his brother in their strenuous fight at Wynans against the rabbits. Victor by this time knew enough of the manager's jealous and suspicious temperament to feel sure that to speak of his friend's appointment as a foregone conclusion would be an impolitic measure. He therefore compromised the matter by saying:

"I don't think I shall decide about the date of my leaving till later on. I believe we shall find no difficulty in getting a purser at a short notice."

Of course, the half-embarrassed pause and the cautious reply could bear but one interpretation to Trevaskis.

"I knew it–I knew it! He is going to try and snare me like a rat in a hole!" he muttered to himself as he strode away.

He hurried into his office, fearful of betraying the passion of impotent rage which he felt threatened to carry him beyond all bounds. As soon as he had gained his own room he broke into a volley of the most horrible imprecations; his eyes started in their

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sockets, and he foamed at the mouth.

His first coherent thought was one of terror. "I am going mad–I am going mad!" he said to himself repeatedly, staring at his face in a small square looking-glass that hung above the washstand in his bedroom. His wild, distorted eyes; his livid skin; the great cold drops of perspiration that stood on his forehead; the tremor which at short intervals shook him from head to foot, were all repetitions of the paroxysm that had overtaken him for the first time in his life in the small hours of the morning.

He tried to reason, but thought failed him. He lost all grasp of the subject or the plan that struggled through his mind. One after the other, terrible pictures rose before him, irrespective of mental volition. He followed one man who crept with treacherous footsteps to commit murder; he saw another suddenly stricken down dead; and still another writhing in madness. . . .

When he grew calmer, he reasoned with himself that it was not incipient madness that had attacked him, but the result of constantly dwelling on exciting thoughts; of utter sleeplessness for three days and two nights; the want of proper food; a dangerous use of stimulants; and, to crown the whole, this sudden overwhelming terror that all would be in vain–that Fitz-Gibbon had acquired a certain knowledge of the stolen gold, and was dogging noteall his actions. Probably he had last night bribed the engineer to tamper with the pan-shaft, so as to have witnesses as to the manager's absence in the cave room.

Now he was going to the directors with his tale; of what use would it be to try and hide so great a quantity? A black tracker, or even an ordinary detective, would trace it like a beaten highway. He must think of some plan–something that would give him time, that would save him. But the moment that he tried to think or frame a plan, a throbbing came in the back of his head, like the rapid echoes of a hammer beating persistently, maddeningly. He must sleep for seven or eight hours at a stretch.

He took one of his accustomed rounds, seeing to all that was being done; he gave some directions to the shift-bosses who would be in charge of the night-gangs underground. Then he summoned Mick, and told him to let no one knock at his office-

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door, or disturb him in any way; he was feeling ill, and was going to have a good sleep. He undressed and went to bed at four o'clock in the afternoon. But the room seemed full of sounds; sudden cries, strange voices and violent shouts rent the air. He drank glass after glass of almost undiluted brandy; but instead of serving as a soporific, this for a time made him more acutely conscious of the ruin that stared him in the face, while his power of connected thought had absolutely deserted him. At last he fell into a deep dreamless stupor, from which he did not awaken till near sunrise the next morning.

His head was aching, but the long rest and unconsciousness had in a measure restored his mental balance. He brewed himself a pot of tea, and drank cup after cup, hot and strong, till his headache was almost gone. But the moment his anxieties and fears and surmises returned upon him, he felt that dull, persistent, all-absorbing beat in his brain–that vague wandering of mind; his train of thought lost suddenly, as if in an unsounded deep–which had before terrified him. He went about the business of the mine all that morning, resolutely turning his mind away from the torturing and distracting thoughts of the cave room. He reflected that the cleaning-up on Thursday would yield the largest average to the ton of quartz which had ever been reported at the Colmar. There had been a steady and continuous increase of gold since he came, while at the same time the working expenses of the mine had been, by his unrelaxing vigilance in every department, considerably diminished.

Nor had any of these points escaped recognition by the directors. Within the last month they had given him a considerable rise in his salary, at the same time complimenting him highly on the unprecedented success which had marked his tenure of management, and expressing a hope that he would see his way to enter on a fixed term of office. This Trevaskis had so far refrained from doing, on the ground that circumstances might in any month compel him to resign.

Thinking over these things as he went through the routine of his mine work on Tuesday forenoon, Trevaskis reflected that though Drummond might lend a willing ear to his nephew's tales, the directors as a body would be very loath to take any action that would reflect on a manager who had in less than three months made his value felt in so marked a manner. . . . If he could

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only by some means fasten a quarrel upon Fitz-Gibbon apart from the matter of the cave room–some stigma of carelessness, of neglect of duty!

It would be so readily believed that a young man of independent means, who came to the mine for a mere freak, and who could leave it at any moment without the least detriment to his prospects, should fail in some respects to work like a man whose daily bread depended on his daily work. . . . But as Trevaskis reviewed the manner in which Victor discharged his duties, he failed to recall any instance of negligence more serious than forgetting to lock the office-door on one or two occasions when he left noteit for the night.

Arrived at this point notein his cogitations, Trevaskis suddenly stood motionless. He was in the pan-room, where the loosened wheel was giving some trouble. But he had decided not to have it touched till Thursday, so that the yield of gold should not be impaired by any stoppage. The din around him seemed all at once to sharpen his faculties, so that he saw, as in a completed picture, the scheme after which he had been vainly groping. He had found ithe held the clue.

Towards sunset he saddled his horse and rode across to his claim near the broken-down whim, so as to get his scheme all clear and straight before him. This was the plan he formed; on Thursday, after he and Fitz-Gibbon had cleaned up the gold and locked it in the safe as usual, he would hand his key to the purser and ask him to keep it till Friday morning, as he was going across to Broombush Creek and would most likely stay there that night. He had done this three weeks ago, so there would be nothing unusual in either action; the unusual part would come later on. He would return shortly after midnight, get the duplicate keys which he had found in Dunning's private box, go into the purser's office through the inside entrance, and take away the seven hundred ounces of gold.

In the morning, when Victor gave him back the key, he would, as was customary under such circumstances, have the safe unlocked, so as to make sure that all was right. The safe would be empty! A hue and cry would be raised. His first duty as manager would be to send an official telegram to the directors.

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The police trooper would at once begin to search round; so would he–Trevaskis; and that night he would discover the gold where the thief had secreted it. Then Fitz-Gibbon would no doubt go on to town as he proposed. He might, perhaps, be confident that the keys had not been out of his possession; but there the facts would be public and patent to all. The same train that conveyed Fitz-Gibbon to town would carry a letter to the directors from the mine-manager, declining to act any longer with a purser whose negligence had so nearly cast an irretrievable slur on them both. He would point out that if the thief had succeeded in carrying off the gold as easily as he had obtained possession of the keys and rifled the safe, the consequences to him as a poor man, with a wife and notefamily dependent on his sole exertions for a livelihood, would have been serious in the extreme. Any insinuations made against him by Fitz-Gibbon would then bear a very suspicious aspect. If he went to the trouble of stirring up an inquiry as to the cave room, he would take up the position that he had special reasons for not caring to interfere with Dunning's effects till his legal representative was on the spot. By the time that a week or two was consumed, the treasure would be secured in a way that would leave no possibility of recovery. Then they could search till they were black in the face.

Trevaskis laughed aloud in his glee as he saw himself at last notetriumphant over all dangers and obstacles. He went over the whole scheme time after time, strengthening lame places and elaborating little details, during his ride to and from his quartz claim. He worked that night in the cave room again for several hours, after finding that he could not close his eyes in sleep.

During the next two days his demeanour to Victor was more friendly than usual. He was most of the time slightly under the influence of drink. He tried to refrain, feeling that in his excited state notestimulant was dangerous. But the tension of his nerves, the fits of miserable uncertainty which assailed him, the almost total lack of appetite, and the loss of sleep, made it impossible for him to bear up without a liberal recourse to the old Bordeaux brandy of which he had a case in his office. Nor had he any dread that the

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habit to which he yielded at this pinch would take a mischievous hold of him. He regarded his drams as a sort of medicine that would help him over a steep pull, like doses of quinine for ague fever.

The gold cleaning-up was over by half-past six o'clock on Thursday.

"I am going over to Broombush Creek, to see one of the managers there. I'll most likely stay the night, and perhaps have a little turkey-shootingnote on the way back. I'd better leave my key in your charge," said Trevaskis, as he was leaving the office, after the two bars of gold were locked up.

"All right. Of course you'll be back before I leave?"

"Oh yes. I'll be here by eleven in the morning at latest."

And with that the two parted.