― 349 ―

4. Chapter IV.

It would be hard to say which of the two men who watched Circus Bill's trap disappear in a great cloud of red dust felt most perplexed and miserable.

"I wish to Gord I 'ad a-took 'e back to the boss o' the bank, sooner than let 'e slide notelike this," said Dan slowly, his massive face quivering, his eyes dim and bloodshot.

Trevaskis made no reply. In the calm dawn of notethe day the conviction grew on him that his action in hiding Victor in the cave room was a plan so dangerous that it could have originated only in an intoxicated brain; but now the die was cast, and so far chance had favoured him. All the passengers, except Dick, were people from the diggings, and the driver who had taken Bill's place was a stranger to the mine.

He pondered how and when he should reveal the real situation to Dan. Suppose Fitz-Gibbon should die? Trevaskis felt the possibility had to be faced, and he decided that in such an event he must have no confidant. He decided, too, that in any case it would be best to let his brother remain in ignorance till Dick was beyond recall.

"You're low and miserable, Dan, and I don't wonder at it," he said kindly, putting his hand on his brother's shoulder. "Come in, old man, and have a good stiff nobbler or two of brandy, and go to bed. I'll make one up for you in the room off my office; I've had it cleared out on purpose. But perhaps you'd better not go to bed for an hour or two. Hang about and show yourself when the night corenote comes up, and the morning one goes down; we don't want to give anyone the chance of saying you're hiding here."

"You're right there, Bill," answered Dan; "I'll go across to the ingin-room and 'ave a pitch wi' 'Zilla. . . . And, Bill, do'ee not leave the grog about. . . . Thee know'st 'tis not pors'ble for me to

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'ave just one nip, and be ended . . . and I want to keep feernote sober and daicent, and say a word or two to the Lord for my boy, night and day. 'E may turn a deef ear, but I'll just give 'E a chance to 'ear me."

But Trevaskis had no thought of furthering those good intentions. He prepared a bed for Dan in the empty room between his own office and the ironmongery store, locking the door that led into the latter. On a box beside the bed he put a tin of biscuits, a jug of water, a tumbler, and a freshly-opened bottle of brandy. On the evening of the next day this was empty, and Trevaskis filled it once more with the same liquor. It was late on Monday before Dan recovered his senses, sick and sorry, and ashamed and miserable, to the last degree.

In these four days Trevaskis felt as if he had lived as many years. During the first day every succeeding hour seemed to deepen his despairing hopelessness, his impotent rage at his own imbecility. If he had only left Victor lying senseless with the keys in the safe! But his brain had been paralyzed. At first the plan of making it appear that Victor had taken ship from Port Pellew had seemed a godsend; now he perceived quicksands on every side, and felt that each step he took to avoid suspicion and inquiry might eventually become a strong link in a chain of damning evidence.

At the end of forty-eight hours Victor showed signs of returning consciousness. After that, when Trevaskis attended him, he wore the wig and long gray beard which transformed him into an old man. To ensure himself still more against recognition, he also wore the smoke-coloured sun-glasses. On Monday morning, after giving Victor an egg beaten up with water and sugar, Trevaskis noticed him looking round, and trying to raise one of his hands. If he were well attended to, he might be himself again in a few days. As this accident had taken place without any design on his part, might it not be better to leave the young man alone for a day or two? This would at least retard his noterecovery.

As Trevaskis pondered the question, he went out through his office door and walked round the mine. "Stone dead hath no fellow."note The words seemed to resound in his ears, to be hissed at him by everything he passed. Could he–would he do it? In

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imagination, he followed himself, on a dark night, with a strange burden to the edge of the lime-kiln pit, with its lurid flames leaping high. . . . Was this what he was coming to hour by hour, and step by step?

"No, no, no! never! never!" he cried, starting back as if from an obstructing barrier. He returned to his office. On the table lay the mail, as it had been delivered to him untouched. Now, on turning over the papers and letters, he found two from Port Pellew. One was for Dan. He opened it, and read the following lines:

"Dear Father,

"Don't be uneasy about me. I'll never, never forget what you and uncle have done for me. I'm sailing by the Arcadia note in an hour. I've done everything uncle arranged. Father, I'll never forget my promise to you.


The look of the other envelope, addressed in Victor's bold, careless handwriting, with the Port Pellew post-mark and date, sharp and clear, revived Trevaskis' courage in a wonderful way. He instantly wrote a few lines to Mr. Drummond, expressing a little surprise that Mr. Fitz-Gibbon had gone to Port Pellew, without mentioning his change of plan. At least he (Trevaskis) inferred he had gone there, from the receipt of the enclosed envelope, which merely contained a few official documents. He had entrusted some commissions to Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, which needed prompt attention, and he would be glad therefore to know whether he had yet reached town. In order to save time, he was making inquiries at Port Pellew by the same post.

Then he wrote to the landlord of the Kangaroo Inn, asking whether a Mr. Victor Fitz-Gibbon had put up at his hotel on Friday last, and if so whether he was still there.

After that he notefelt reassured, till on going to see Victor again near sunset.

He found him murmuring some words over and over. He listened intently, and heard him say:

"Have you my letter, Helen? Helen, have you my letter?"

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Helen? Was it, then, possible that the young man's abrupt change of plan was due to some woman, and had nothing to do with the question of searching for gold? Here Trevaskis saw himself threatened with a hitherto unsuspected danger. He knew that Victor's mother was on the other side of the world, and that he had no sister. An uncle's anxiety might be easily satisfied; a brother would in all probability calmly accept the first version furnished by circumstantial evidence; other friends would smile and suspect the young man had some good reason for secretly setting off on a long voyage. . . . But a woman–one who perhaps loved him? Each circumstance that served to satisfy others might in her estimation be a ground for added suspicion.

"Helen, have you my letter?"

Trevaskis listened again with laboured breath, and a dull, heavy beating in his temples.

After a short time Victor fell fast asleep. Trevaskis, devoured with fresh terrors, went to the purser's office, with the purpose of searching for some clue to this new complication. In the table drawer he found the letter which Victor had begun to write to Miss Paget:

"Dear Helen,

"When, at the close of our voyage in the Mogul, I asked that our friendship might have a firmer basis, and you laughingly suggested that the sea breezes had got into my head, I thought you were laying too much stress on the difference in our ages; and when, a few days after landing, I asked you to become my wife, I thought you were a little hard-hearted in stipulating for a period of probation, so that the strength of my affection might be tested. But now I find that you were wise. For though my esteem for you is and always will remain unaltered––"

That was all. The letter broke off abruptly. But after reading this fragment, Trevaskis opened Victor's desk, and read one by noteone the letters which he had received from Miss Paget since coming to the mine. Then the telegram from King George's Soundnote completed the record. Trevaskis locked the unfinished

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letter where he had found it with a lightened mind. If this young lady were harder to satisfy than Victor's other friends, as to his hurried departure, this half-sheet of writing would probably prove very useful.

It was after sunset when Dan, haggard and miserable, with throbbing temples and confused faculties, staggered out of the room in which he had been lying most of the time unconscious since Friday afternoon.

Trevaskis met him with a hot, strong cup of what he called "coffee royal,"note which Dan took and gulped down in silence.

"Here's a letter from Dick," said the younger brother after a pause.

Dan read notethe few lines, and his shaking hands grew more tremulous.

"Thank Gord 'e's got safe away!" he murmured. "But what's the use o' me taking Gord's name in vain? . . . I'm worse than the brute beasts that perish!"note he added with bitter emphasis.

"You'll be better after this, Dan," said Trevaskis, who, now that the moment for making his revelation had come, felt as if all capacity of emotion had been left far behind. He was conscious only of a cold curiosity as to how this hiding of an injured man underground would strike his brother.

"Yes, I'll be better," repeated Dan slowly. Then after a pause, "If I could only resist the devil. You meant it for the best, Bill; but I'd give anything I 'adn't 'ad this burst of drink. It's more 'n a year that I didn't give way till I went back to Bendigo, and now there's all that time to make up. For a few months at a time I don't feel no satersfaction for keeping from the drink, for I allays says to myself, "You've gone this length before, old boy, but you was overcome at the end." There's some people as says there ain't no devil but what's in our own insides. But when a man finds 'isself doin' something as drags him down and down, and makes notehim bad in body and soul, 'ow are you to give a haccount of it but through the devil?"

Dan was not skilful in dialectics, but probably the most subtle metaphysician could not better define that tragic contest which is constantly going on in human life, between conscience and appetite, with such varying and infinitely disastrous results.

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"I don't know! Sometimes to forget everything that's ever happened or can come to you is the best you can do," returned Trevaskis sombrely.

"Well, I'm thankful, Bill, that though you've your hups and downs in money, you don't know nothing of that sort of misfortune," said Dan.

Trevaskis looked hard into his brother's face without speaking.

"Leastaways, I 'opes not, Bill. But you look very bad–is anything the matter?"

"Just come with me for a bit," said Trevaskis, and in silence the two men walked down through the narrow iron passage till they came to the entrance of the cave room. Here Trevaskis lit a shaded kerosene lamp, and went to the recess on the right-hand side of the room, in which Victor was lying.

When Dan caught sight of the still, stretched form and white face, he gave one of those sudden violent starts which may often be seen on the stage, and occasionally in real life. As for Trevaskis, he stood holding the lamp in his right hand, and staring straight before him, till his brother's hoarse, terror-stricken whisper broke the silence.

"O Lord in heaven, Bill, what is this? You didn't do it, you didn't! Tell me you didn't strike 'e down, and that 'e ain't a-dying!"

The horror of Dan's voice and face and action gave a curious stimulus to Trevaskis' imagination.

"No, Dan, I didn't do it, not wilfully. I'm as innocent in the matter as the babe unborn: only who would believe that? I'll tell you how it was in a few words. I found the buried gold I told you about, partly smelted, partly amalgam. I put it here for safety till you should come and cart it to the broken-down whim. This young man, who was purser at the mine, must have notetaken into his head to come prowling about the night before he was to go on a journey. It was after midnight on Friday night.note I was here, stooping over the gold, with only a candle stuck in a bottle–the one you see broken there. All at once some one rushes at me, catching me round the throat. I closed with him and flung him down in the dark, for the bottle with the candle was thrown down

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before I could turn round. When I lit it again I found it was Fitz-Gibbon, badly hurt."

"Was it in place of 'e my boy went away?" asked Dan in a choking voice.

"Yes, I found out notesomehow Fitz-Gibbon had reasons of his own for clearing out of the colony for a bit," answered Trevaskis, plunging deeper into falsifications than he had any intention of doing when he began his garbled story. "Then, as I was in the thick of it all, wondering what I was to do, you and Dick came along. . . . I was stupid to go so far for the sake of your boy; but it was in my head, like the beat of a hammer, how our name would be all over the country as criminals–your boy for theft; me for a murderous assault. But it will be all right yet, Dan; only let us stick by each other like men. I've written to the manager of the bank, enclosing a cheque for the full amount of Dick's stealings."

"Don't, Bill, don't call it by that name; it go to my heart, it do," said Dan, in a smothered voice.

Ultimately he fell in with all his brother's proposals. He consented to nurse Victor until he was sufficiently recovered to be conveyed by night, and left where he would be speedily found, either near Broombush Creek or Hooper's Luck. He fed and tended him day and night, sleeping on a shake-down near him. At the end of five days the drowsy stupor in which Victor lay the greater part of the time began to pass away; he was still delirious, but now and then he looked around and asked lucid questions.

When this improvement took place, Trevaskis thought it advisable to keep his faculties clouded till he should be strong enough to be moved; he therefore measured doses of laudanum from time to time out of the bottle he had found among Dunning's effects, and these doses Dan administered, knowing nothing of the nature of the drug. Its effects were varied. At times Victor became feverish and wildly delirious; at others he lay completely stupefied. At last Dan's suspicions were aroused. On the tenth night following the Monday on which he had taken charge, he slept very soundly. It was after six on Friday morning when he awoke; he found Victor lying awake, and talking at intervals, more calmly than he had done for days back.

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"Have you any letters for me?" he asked, as Dan was busy warming some preserved chicken-broth over the spirit-lamp which he had for such purposes.

It should be here noted that Trevaskis had telegraphed to one of the grocers in town for a complete store of invalid requisites, and these had speedily arrived by the mail-coach from Nilpeena.

"I don't think there's any letters to-day; perhaps we may get some to-morrow. . . . But just now take this mug of broth, with a crumb of bread in it," said Dan soothingly.

He helped Victor into a sitting position, propped him up with some pillows, and fed him.

"You are very good to me. . . . Have I seen you much before this?" asked Victor, in a puzzled tone; and notehe then began to look around him, into the dim slopes and irregularities of the place, in the midst of which the solitary kerosene lamp made but a faint island of light.

In half an hour after he had taken food, Dan gave his patient the dose of medicine that had been, as usual, mixed by Trevaskis on the previous night. In a quarter of an hour Victor sank into a state of stupor. When he woke up his talk was wildly incoherent.

After dark the manager came in with a brisk, cheerful air. From the hour that he was relieved from attendance on his victim, he had gained in health of mind and body. On the Monday night, when Dan took charge, Trevaskis had gone to bed at nine o'clock, and slept without a break till seven next morning. By Wednesday's mail he received two letters–one was from Victor's uncle, the other from the landlord of the Kangaroo Inn at Port Pellew.

Mr. Drummond was surprised at his nephew's sudden change of plan, but felt no alarm. He knew nothing of his proposed journey to town, and could only suppose that some circumstance, of which he was as yet ignorant, had caused Mr. Fitz-Gibbon to go to Port Pellew instead. He asked the manager to lose no time in communicating any further particulars that might come to his knowledge regarding the matter.

This Trevaskis was able to do to good effect. By that day's return mail he forwarded the note received from the landlord at Port Pellew, enclosing the visiting-cards and the envelopes

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addressed to Mr. V. Fitz-Gibbon which had been found in a drawer of the room occupied by that gentleman at the Kangaroo Inn on the previous Friday night. On the next morning, Saturday, he had taken passage by one of notethe sailing vessels which had left Port Pellew that day. In reply to this letter, one came from Mr. Drummond on Saturday, thanking Trevaskis for the trouble he had taken in the matter, saying that no letters had been received from Mr. Fitz-Gibbon prior to his departure, and that his brother had suggested Victor must have written some letters which had gone astray, and inquiries were accordingly being made at the Pellew post-office. Then, with this an official letter had come from the secretary of the company, relative to the appointment of a new purser at the Colmar. No word was written as to working or searching the cave room for gold, so it was evident that no importance had been attached to the matter, apart from Fitz-Gibbon's whim.

And now Trevaskis saw himself successful all along the line. Day by day the gold which he had first stolen and invested in mining shares was increasing. He was constantly studying the share-list, and telegraphing some fresh instructions to his notebroker. Almost every fresh sale, and each new investment, added to his wealth. What could he not do with the command of £20,000 in ready money? The longer he dwelt on the dazzling prospects before him, the more blind he became to the miserable fears which beset Dan in his strange and uncongenial task.

"Why, Dan, you are a first-rate nurse," he said in high good-humour, as he came into the cave room on this Friday evening. "I think you'd better take a turn in the open air, and I'll sit by your patient till you come back," he added, either not seeing or ignoring the fixed, questioning look with which his brother regarded him.

"I don't much care to go out, Bill," answered Dan slowly. "Hanyone as meets me looks at me in a curious way, as much as to say, "This is the bloke as is down with fever." The larst time I went out I met 'Zilla––"

"What the devil does it matter who you meet?" answered Trevaskis roughly. "You'd better have a mouthful of fresh air, for on Saturday I shall be busy all day, and in the evening I may

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have to ride across to Nilpeena, and not be back till late Sunday. He sleeps well, don't he?" he added, glancing carelessly at Victor.

"I think he sleeps too well, Bill. This mornin' he was nearly 'imself, lookin' at me and speakin' quite clear-like––"

"And then after his medicine he wasn't quite so clear in the head," put in Trevaskis, who thought it, on the whole, more prudent at this juncture to let his brother know the real state of affairs.

Dan nodded, looking at his brother with gloomy suspicion.

"Don't you see," said Trevaskis, "that if he's to be kept here another two weeks or so––"

"Two weeks!" cried Dan, starting to his feet. "Ah, you're druggin' 'e–you're druggin' 'e! You want to make 'e whizzy and gone in the mind. . . . I won't do it . . . I won't . . . I'll nurse 'e right or not at all."

A tempestuous scene followed between the two. It ended in Trevaskis consenting to have Victor removed from the mine in five days from that time. After receiving this assurance, Dan went out into the fresh air. He walked towards Broombush Creek, and was away for two hours. During his absence Victor woke up and called Trevaskis by name several times. In his terror, Trevaskis gave him a larger dose of laudanum than he meant to administer. All that night, and till late in the afternoon of the next day, Victor lay in a torpid state, Dan sleeping and watching beside him, waking up now and then from miserable dreams, in which he was constantly occupied in carrying a corpse, and vainly seeking some spot in which it might be hidden. He became at last wild with the horror of it all. The rigid form and white, set face of the young man, the loneliness, the silence, the underground gloom, broken only by the feeble light of a lamp, drove him to desperation.

At last, within an hour of sunset, he made a sudden resolve to take Victor into Trevaskis' room, where he could have light and fresh air. He cleaned the invalid chair that was lying among the lumber of the cave room. One of the wheels was off, but he replaced it, and speedily improvised a linch-pin out of an old wire-nail. Then he placed Victor in the chair, with a pillow under his head and a rug folded round him, and wheeled him slowly through the passage up to the offices.

"I don't care what Bill says to this," he thought. "The boy is

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dwinin'note away for fresh air and light, and I won't sit by and see 'e die. Oh, A'mighty Gord, if everything is in your hands, give me a lift just now," he said, pausing when close to the offices, near one of the little square windows that lit the iron passage, and gazing with affrighted eyes at Victor's livid face. To Dan's distempered brain it seemed as if the young man's breathing had entirely ceased. He knelt by him, feeling his pulses with rough, tremulous fingers. Presently his growing terror was relieved by hearing Victor give a long low sigh. At the same instant a dog sprang up outside against the four small panes of glass, with short, joyous barks of recognition. A clear sweet voice called out "Spot, Spot!" but the dog did not move. And then, as Dan was in the act of beginning to wheel the chair once more, he suddenly caught sight of a beautiful young girl looking in at the window. He reached it with one leap, and tore down the dark-green blind which was fastened above the panes of glass. In less than sixty seconds he had gained Trevaskis' bedroom and lifted Victor on to the bed.