Fiction - A Hero In Spite Of Himself (5)
BOOK II.—CHAPTER IX.
The distance from Abraham’s Town to Speranza was about thirty miles as the crow flies, but somewhat longer by the wild and lonely road along which, early the next morning, Mr. Dunn Smith drove his wife and his new acquaintance. The vehicle was a sort of two-wheeled dog-cart, drawn by a spirited mare, by the side of which ran and gambolled a frisky filly not long born.
It was a wild day of wind and rain, the roads were heavy, the prospect dreary in the extreme. Passing out of the rocky valley, they made their way through a succession of gloomy woods and marshy pastures, deepening from time to time into dark gulches watered by brawling streams, which the mare was compelled to ford, sometimes with considerable danger to herself and her burthen. All the time Mr. Smith kept his rifle handy, and cast a sharp eye to right and left; for, as he explained, “Ned Searle and some of his mates were still at large, and might be tempted to take a pot shot from under cover.” Nothing of the sort happened, however. After a drive of nearly five hours, protracted by the softness of the road and by the frequent difficulties experienced in fording the waters of the ravines, they came in sight of a forlorn-looking village lying at the base of an ugly range of mountains, and consisting of some dozen wooden dwellings, a drink-house, and a solitary store. A few rough-looking men were lounging about at the drink-house door; otherwise the place seemed quite desolate.
The largest of the wooden dwellings, standing by itself a couple of hundred yards from the rest, belonged to Mr. Dunn Smith. In front of it was an unfenced garden, rudely laid out in plots, and full of vegetables flourishing luxuriantly in a sandy soil. The house itself was divided into four rooms, the chief of which, a sitting-room without carpet and furnished with rough home-made chairs and table, actually contained a “cottage” piano. At the rear were some rude outbuildings, with a snug enough stable for the mare.
A rough lad, in red shirt and breeches, whom Smith addressed as “Ginger,” possibly in reference to his light-coloured hair, stood waiting to take charge of the mare and vehicle.
“Any news, Ginger?” asked Dunn, after he had jumped down and assisted his better half to alight.
“No, Mr. Smith,” replied the lad, grinning from ear to ear. “Me and Jim shot a b’ar the day afore yesterday up to the mine.”
Smith nodded approvingly, and led the way into the house.
“Here we are, Mr. Kelso,” said the sheriff, entering the sitting-room. “This is the missus’s boodore, with her own piany brought over from Canaan, but we use it as a living-room, too, with her permission.”
Kelso looked round approvingly. On the wooden walls were pictures clipped from illustrated newspapers and pasted on, one of them a coloured lithograph representing an elegant young beauty in summer costume, carrying a parasol and patting a pet lamb. Rifles and fowling-pieces were slung over the fireplace, skins of wild animals were strewn on the boards, but at the window were hung a pair of faded muslin curtains.
“See the likeness?” asked Smith, pointing to the coloured picture, and then glancing at his wife, who smiled and simpered.
“Wonderful!” cried Jack. “Of course it is intended for Mrs. Dunn Smith?”
“Wal, not exactly. It was guv away gratis with a New York paper, and the moment I saw it I saw the likeness to my Saireh. It’s her very image—leastways, as she was when I first went courting.”
In point of fact, the picture resembled Mrs. Smith about as closely as a garden rose might resemble an over-blown dahlia. But if the good lady of the house was not juvenile and rather faded than beautiful, she had, nevertheless, the power of making her home look civilised and comfortable. Nor in her love of gentility did she forget religion and the moralities. On the walls besides the pictures, were several picture texts, printed in coloured letters, and chiefly of a gloomy nature, “The wages of sin is death,” “I am the Lord,” “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” among the number.
“She’s a wonderful woman,” said Smith, confidentially, when the lady had retired to one of the sleeping-rooms to make her toilette; “God-fearing and genteel. Her father kept a dry goods store in Canaan, and was greatly respected, till they lynched him out West for selling packs o’ bogus cards. She’s only one fault, that she ain’t had no children, which is a disappointment.”
After having partaken of some refreshment, Kelso strolled out to take a look at the neighbourhood. To his surprise, he found most of the houses empty and uninhabited, some partially unroofed, and others without window-sashes or doors. A few, however, were occupied, and at the doors of these the wild-looking owners appeared, attended in some cases by even wilder-looking wives and children. Turning towards the mountains, he saw a series of savage crags, varied with patches of emerald greenness and bunches of red pine trees; and right above the village, gashing the gloomy heights, flashed a white torrent, frozen still by distance. Dark clouds were drifting across the mountain tops, and trailing low down the gulches in vapourous folds.
“Queer sort of place,” he muttered. “Don’t look much like an El Dorado!”
At the very time that Jack Kelso was standing ruminant in the main and only street of Speranza two other travellers were travelling in the cars from Canaan City and rapidly approaching Abraham’s Town. The train was crowded, and the chief conversation of the passengers was the great battle on the previous day between Sheriff Dunn Smith and Searle’s gang.
The two travellers were Charles Fotheringay, wrapped in a splendid sealskin-lined travelling cloak, and Kyrle Melvin, the engineer, who wore a thick ulster, and carried, concealed upon his person, several “leetle toys” similar to the one carried by our friend Kelso.
Fotheringay was cold and stately. Lying back with folded arms, and frowning gloomily, he looked with no little disfavour at his companion. Melvin, for his part was suave and almost gay, suggesting the idea of a frisky spider or a playful snake, and showing a nervous anxiety to conciliate his companion.
The rain was pouring in torrents, almost blotting out the surrounding prospect, on which Fotheringay’s eyes rested with melancholy persistency. At last they reached Abraham’s Town, the railway station of which no longer presented the desolate appearance of the previous day, but was thronged by townsfolk waiting to see the arrival of the cars. The corpses of the slaughtered men had been removed and buried, and only a dark bloodstain on the wooden platform betokened where they had so lately lain.
As Fotheringay stepped out, he at once attracted attention. His tall, elegant figure, wrapped in its travelling cloak, his pale aristocratic face shaded with its Prince of Wales’s hat of light felt, his small hands covered with dainty travelling gloves, all bespoke the wealthy stranger. Conscious of the popular admiration he assumed his air of languid grandeur, suffered Melvin to look after his valises and other light luggage, which were ordered to be sent up to “Sherman’s Hotel,” and then walked rapidly in that direction. Melvin followed, like a gentleman’s valet.
Half an hour later Fotheringay and the engineer were dining alone in the same room where Jack Kelso had dined the day before. The landlord was obsequious, the repast as varied as was possible in that rough district, but Fotheringay still seemed irritable and out of temper.
“A dem’d cutthroat place!” he cried, presently, as he lit a cigar. “I never thought to see it any more!”
“Sure, you’ll soon be home again,” responded Melvin. “A day—may be two—will serve for all I want to show you, and convince you that I’m right you’re wrong.”
“How shall we get over? The landlord says he has no carriage.”
“I’ve ordered horses to be here in the morning. We can ride over to the mine.”
“You know the place, of course?”
“Precious little. I was once here with Sloane when he bought the property. I did some shooting while the old boy prospected. And so, Mr. Kyrle Melvin, as an honest man, which you say you are, you really believe that the old abandoned claim is Tom Tiddler’s Ground?”
“I know it!” cried Melvin. “There’s a fortune in it for every one of us.”
“How long have you been of that opinion?”
“Ever since I first inspected the place and assayed the rough ore. Take my word for it Colonel, I have rather under- estimated than exaggerated the possibilities. By the way, I forgot to ask you—are you well armed?”
Fotheringay looked keenly at the questioner.
“I’ve a revolver, if that’s what you mean?” he replied. “I’m not likely to want it, am I?”
“I hope not,” said Melvin, timidly; “but they’re a wild lot about here, and it’s as well to be protected.”
The morning was dark and windy, but tolerably fine, and at nine o’clock the two men were in the saddle. Their horses were rough, bony beasts supplied by the hotel-keeper, who charged for the hire of each about a fourth of what it was worth by purchase; but in these parts a horse was more precious than a man, and Sherman’s livery stable was a monopoly.
They galloped out of the town, and were soon out in the open country. Fotheringay, full of impatience, led the way, leaving Melvin, who rode the worse animal, to follow at a considerable distance. Passing through one of the pine woods that fringed the road, Melvin was suddenly startled by the apparition of a wild figure, which sprang out and faced him, so suddenly that the horse reared and almost threw its rider.
The figure of a bareheaded man, carrying one arm in a rude linen sling, and holding a rifle in the other. He was dressed in the usual orthodox shirt, breeches, and boots, but was mud-bespattered from head to foot. His face was pale, and looked ghastly through thick black whiskers and beard.
Melvin uttered a sharp cry of fear, and drew a revolver from his belt. Simultaneously the man covered him with his rifle, but suddenly, looking up into his face, lowered the weapon and gave a savage laugh.
“Why, dern me if it ain’t Mr. Melvin!”
“Ned Searle!” cried the engineer, panting and ghastly white with terror.
“Yes; what’s left on him!” said the man with a volley of oaths. “Gov’nor, what’s brought you down yer? Lucky for yer I didn’t pop you off as you was passing! I took you for a stranger with vallybles about him.”
Melvin glanced forward along the road. Half a mile away Fotheringay had paused and was looking back.
“Ned, what’s the matter?” he exclaimed; “are you in trouble?”
“Looks like it, don’t it? Dunn Smith killed my brother Jim and five others yesterday, and a chap along o’ him wing’d this yer arm. I’m on the way to hiding up to the mine. But I ain’t killed yet.” he continued, grinding his teeth, and I’ve got him to settle afore I’m a month older. I’ll do it, by God!”
“I’m going to the mine now,” said Melvin. “You see that fellow riding on ahead? We’re going to prospect together. Now listen, Ned, you’re the very man I wanted to meet. I’ve a job for you which will be worth a thousand dollars, perhaps more, if you’re game and willing.”
“What is it, gov’nor?” demanded Searle with a savage scowl.
“I’ll tell you when we meet again. Where can I find you to-morrow?”
“You know Davis’s old shanty, where we camped when you came down yer last? Well, up the hillside there’s a wood, what the river runs through afore it strikes the claim.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Foller the path through that yer wood till you see the water, and a dead trunk fallen across to make a bridge. Stand there and give three whistles—like this. I shan’t be far away.”
“Are you alone?”
“No, by thunder. Some o’ my mates is waiting for me thar. They bolted, the etarnal cowards, when Dunn Smith began firing, and made tracks for home; but I’ll be even with some on ’em yet.”
“All right, I’ll be there. Look, my friend’s beckoning. I can’t stop now.”
So saying, Melvin galloped on. Searle looked after him for a moment dubiously, then plunged into the woods and disappeared.
“Who was that I saw you talking with?” asked Fotheringay, as the other rode up.
“A rowdy beggar. Wanted money, but I warned him off with my revolver.”
“You seemed to be having a long talk together?”
“Yes,” answered the engineer glibly. “When he saw I was armed he tried to blarney me into helping him. A good thing I was protected. I told you the roads were dangerous.”
Charles Fotheringay seemed satisfied with the explanation, he secretly distrusted his companion, and glanced at him from time to time with ill-concealed dislike. They rode on side by side, now galloping over open ground, now descending to ford the innumerable streams watering the deep gulches which crossed the road. At last, about midday, they entered Speranza and reined up at the drink-house, where the usual loafers were gathered.
Here they rested for a little time and procured some rough refreshment. Then, after arranging to sleep there at night, they rode on up the mountains.
At every step they took the way grew steeper and drearier, till at last, after a climb of two miles, they reached a broad plateau of gloomy woods. Here they struck an old road, part of the bed of a torrent which the miners had managed, years before, to turn aside. Emerging from the shadow of the wood, they found themselves in a wild glen strewn with fallen boulders and withered trees, and watered by a brawling river. Here on the edge of the river, there stood a rough wooden shanty, communicating with an old disused tramway which wound upward as if into the very heart of the stony crags.
The place was desolate beyond measure, but what was their astonishment to see, as they rode up, smoke coming out of the iron chimney at the shanty, and a man seated quietly at the door smoking a cigar.
It was Jack Kelso, surveying the prospect as if he was quite at home and had lived there all his life.
BOOK II.—CHAPTER X.
THE NIGHT ATTACK.
The two new comers recognised him in a moment. Melvin started as if thunderstruck, while Fotheringay gave a cry of joy. Jack himself seemed rather astonished at the rencontre, but accepted it with his usual sang froid.
“How do ye do, Colonel?” he said, nodding. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”
Of Melvin he took no notice whatever. Had he done so, he might well have been startled at the expression of the Irishman’s face, which was positively diabolic.
They dismounted from their horses, and after coupling their forelegs, suffered them to graze on a patch of grass at the back of the shanty. Then Fotheringay and Kelso shook hands very cordially.
“What brings you here?” asked Jack.
“A visit of inspection, my dear boy,” replied Fotheringay, resuming his old airy manner, which he never seemed able to wear comfortably before Melvin. “We have come, ha, to count the nuggets. Melvin assures me that they are lying here as thick as gooseberries and as large as family plum-puddings. But let me in turn be questioner. Why the deuce do I find you here?”
“I came for pleasure,” returned Jack, laughing. “I wanted to see the place. Came here this morning with my friend, Mr. Dunn Smith, whom you will be pleased to know. Mr. Smith,” he cried, “will you step this way a moment?”
The burly figure of the sheriff stepped out of the shanty, rifle in hand, as usual. Jack forthwith introduced him to Fotheringay, who saluted him in his grandest manner.
“Any friend of your’n, Mr. Kelso,” said Smith, “is as welcome as cowcumber in season. But I think I’ve seen Cunnel Fotheringay afore?”
“I daresay. I own the property.”
“Wal, yes,” returned the sheriff, smiling.
“You bought it from the Castro Mining Company when it bust up, and I think I told a friend o’ your’n, Cunnel Sloane, that you’d got a damn’d bad bargin.”
“Precisely my opinion,” interposed Jack.
“I hope you’re wrong,” said Fotheringay. “Mr. Kyrle Melvin here, who is distinguished as an engineer, assures me that the produce, when the works are in order, is likely to be enormous.”
Mr. Smith looked at Melvin, who was standing by, trembling with rage and vexation at the presence of his detested rival; but who, forcing a smile, and moistening his dry lips with his tongue, said suavely—
“If my word and my experience are worth anything——”
“I’m afraid they’re not,” said Jack dryly. “But I know something of mineralogy, and if you’re agreeable, we’ll go into the matter together.”
“Very well,” returned the engineer, “I know you are no friend of mine, Mr. Kelso, but I defy you to disprove my statements, and if I prove you wrong, I shall ask you to beg my pardon.”
“That’s fair enough,” said Jack, in the same dry sceptical tone which was so irritating to the engineer.
They entered the shanty. It consisted of one large chamber, something like a ship’s cabin, which had once been occupied by a number of men; for on one side were some dozen wooden beds, or berths, two in a row, and rising one on top of the other till they reached the roof. In the centre of the room was a large stove for cooking, with a pipe leading up to the iron chimney, and close to that was a table, attached to which was a vice, and on which lay a hammer, some rusty files, and two or three small pieces of quartz. At hand was an iron bowl, several iron buckets, and a pail of water from the river.
Melvin saw at a glance that Kelso had already been at work and his hate deepened. After a short stay in the shanty, from some mysterious corner of which Dunn Smith produced a loaf of bread, a bottle of spirits, and some glasses, they came out again into the air.
“Wal, gentlemen,” said Dunn Smith, “now I see you comfortable, I’ll go back to the old woman. If so be as you’re not finished by sunset, you can sleep here in the shanty snug enough, and ride down in the morning.”
“I think that is the best plan,” returned Kelso. “What say you, Colonel?”
Fotheringay was quite agreeable.
“In case of accidents,” continued the sheriff, “you’ve got your six-shooters; but I don’t anticipate no trouble. Ned Searle and his gang used to frequent the old mine, but I think I’ve scattered them across creation—and a dern’d good riddance, too.”
So saying, the burly sheriff placed his rifle on his left shoulder, his right hand being still almost useless, and strode away down the glen. The three gentlemen then followed the old tramway along the waterside, and after a mile’s walk through rocks and boulders, reached the scene of former operations—an old engine-house with a crushing mill, a disused crane, debris of all kinds, chains, ropes, and pulleys. Above them rose red crags, fringed here and there with stunted firs and dwarf pines, and cut in twain by a noisy cataract, which fed into a basin and fed the brawling river.
There was much to see, and before they had completed their inspection it was beginning to grow dark. The rain, too, was increasing, and the night threatened to be a stormy one. It was suggested that Kelso and Melvin should each select a fragment of loose quartz from the main shaft, and carry it with them back to the shanty, there to be examined at leisure. This they did, and then hastened back to shelter, not a moment too soon, for it was now pitch dark, and the rain fell in torrents, with intervals of thunder and forked lightning.
Under the stress of the storm, the shanty rocked and quaked, while the crag beneath it shook as if with earthquake, under the shocks of the swollen river roaring below; but they piled wood on the fire, and, having fastened the door securely, made themselves as snug as possible. For refreshment of the inner man they had white bread and whisky; and, to crown all, plenty of cigars.
Presently Jack set to work, and with much ado pounded his piece of rock as small as possible, washing the debris in one of the buckets, and straining it carefully. As he expected, it yielded no trace of any precious metal. Melvin followed suit, with a different result. At the bottom of the iron bowl which contained the last sediment of his experiment, glittered several grains of sparkling gold. Nor was this all. On the solid unpounded fragments which he had placed aside were minute fragments of the same metal.
Fotheringay looked radiant. Jack gave a prolonged whistle.
“You see, Mr. Kelso, I was right!” cried the engineer, showing his white teeth.
“Promising—so far; but I am not yet convinced. Wait till to-morrow.”
“But I have given you proof positive!”
“Question. How do I know that that piece of quartz didn’t come with you from New York?”
“You saw me detach it with your own eyes,” cried Melvin indignantly.
“I saw you detach a piece; but how do I know it was this piece?”
“Come, come, Kelso, you are unjust!” interposed Fotheringay. “Melvin deserves an apology.”
“He won’t get it from me—yet. If he is honest, he will submit to further investigation.”
Sick with rage and mortification, Melvin struggled against a wild impulse to draw his knife and stab his tormentor then and there; but he knew his own physical inferiority and his heart failed him. While the two others continued to talk together, he sat by, livid. At last Fotheringay, with a yawn, proposed to lie down and rest, and forthwith, wrapping his large cloak around him, rolled into one of the berths, the cleanest he could select. A few minutes afterwards Kelso followed his example. Melvin remained sitting by the fire, watching the light as it flickered on the dark walls and roof of the shanty.
A couple of hours passed. Both Fotheringay and Kelso seemed to be sound asleep. Still Melvin did not rise. More than once his face was convulsed and his hand touched the weapons in his belt. How gladly he would have destroyed his enemy sleeping, had he dared. At last he rose and moved about the room. His companions seemed to continue sleeping, sound and undisturbed. He looked out through the small window of one pane. The storm had broken, and a wild moon was pouring its beams through the driving clouds.
Suddenly he started. Something looked in at him, like the reflection of his own haggard face. He looked again. A figure stood outside in the moonlight beckoning.
The man he had met on the highway, Ned Searle.
He looked round. Neither of the sleepers stirred. Then, quietly and slowly, he moved to the door, paused there, and looked round stealthily; then opened the door and crept out, closing it behind him.
Scarcely had he done so when Jack Kelso crawled from his berth, and approached the window on hands and knees.
A few yards from the shanty Melvin saw the figure waiting. He crept up to it.
“Ned, is it you?” he whispered.
“Yes. Come this yer way, Mr. Melvin.”
They crawled rather than walked till they reached the shelter of a large boulder, then they crouched down, and Searle, gripping the other fiercely and uttering a horrible oath, said—
“I was watching yer—watching all three—long afore you guessed I was about. I know one o’ them two, curse him— and curse me if he leaves this place alive!”
“Which do you mean?”
“Him with the beard. It was him that nick’d me when I’d jest covered Dunn Smith. Who’s the other—the swell with the overcoat?”
“One Fotheringay. Listen to me Ned? Where are your men?”
“Ready—four on ’em. They’ll come to my whistle. What’s to be done? Mind you, him that shot me is a dead man! I wouldn’t let him off for twenty thousand dollars!”
“No; kill him!” hissed the engineer. “Kill him! Here are five hundred dollars—all I have about me. Come or send to me for another five hundred when it’s done!”
“Right!” returned Searle, taking the greenbacks. We’ll do it slick away. What about the swell?”
“Kill him too, if you can—he’s dangerous; but, whatever you do, don’t let the other escape. Ned, quick—whisper! How’s it to be done?”
“You leave that to me, gov’nor. As for you, you’d better make tracks.”
They rose from their hiding place and separated, and Melvin crept towards the horses, which were tethered close to the shanty, under the shelter of the crag, cast one free, and seizing the other by the bridle, secured it. At that moment the moon came out brightly, and he heard a cry from the shanty. Kelso was standing bareheaded at the door.
“Stop, you scoundrel! Stop, or I’ll fire!”
But, without heeding, Melvin leaped on the horse’s back and dashed down the road. There was a flash, a sharp report, and a bullet whizzed past his ear. Frightened by the sound, the horse galloped away, past the shanty, and down the decline. Fortunately for the rider, it was sure-footed, and knew the way blindfold.
As horse and rider disappeared into the darkness, there was a wild yell from the rocks above the shanty, and simultaneously several bullets struck the door, missing Kelso by a hair. He rushed in and closed the door.
“What the deuce is the matter?” cried Fotheringay, staggering to his feet, half asleep.
“Treachery! That villain, Melvin, has led us into a trap! The place is surrounded!”
Fotheringay was astonished, but quite cool. Taking a revolver from his breast pocket, he cocked it quietly.
“What does it mean, Kelso? Who are they?”
A bullet crashed through the window pane, smashing it to fragments, and just missing Kelso. The two men crouched down, Fotheringay armed with his revolver, Kelso gripping a long double-barrelled pistol in each hand. More wild yells came from without, more bullets rained into the shanty. It was clear that they were surrounded on every side.
BOOK II.—CHAPTER XI.
About three o’clock in the morning, when everybody in Speranza was fast asleep, Melvin galloped into the town and knocked at the door of the drink-house, or hotel. On being admitted by the landlord (not without a suspicious parley from within, and a threat of fire-arms), he appeared bleeding from a slight flesh wound in the neck, the result, he explained, of a random bullet, and that he and two Englishmen, his companions, had been attacked by a band of ruffians up at the mine. The little place was soon aroused, and Melvin found himself the centre of a rough but sympathising crowd.
“Reckon it’s Ned Searle’s gang,” said the landlord, “what’s left on ’em! We’d best go to waken up the sheriff.”
Leaving Melvin in the hotel, the landlord and several others hastened off to Dunn Smith’s dwelling. As they did so, they distinctly heard the sharp sound of firing from the distant hills.
“They’re having a high time up thar,” said the landlord. “Sounds like a kind o’ pitch battle. I calkilate the sheriff arn’t well pleased when he finds he warn’t on in that scene.”
But after succeeding, not without difficulty, in awakening Mrs. Dunn Smith from her slumbers, and bringing her to the door in dressing-gown and curl-papers, with a lighted candle in her hand, they were informed, to their surprise, that Mr. Smith wasn’t at home.
“He went up to the mine with that Britisher,” she explained. “What’s wanted with him?”
They explained what had occurred, and suggested that she should step down to the hotel and interview the fugitive. She agreed at once, and hurrying into the room where Melvin was sitting, white as death and blood-stained, greeted him with these words—
“Where’s the sheriff? Where’s my man Dunn Smith? Speak out, whoever ye are!”
Melvin started, naturally astonished.
“He was up with us at the mine yesterday afternoon,” he answered. “Before sunset he left us to walk home. Do you mean to say that he has not been home?”
Mrs. Smith’s answer was a shrill shriek, and an immediate attack of hysterics. When she had been brought to, partly with the aid of a little mild stimulant administered by the hotel-keeper, she moaned faintly—
“I knew what would come of his fooling about! They’ve killed him at last, I reckon. If they hadn’t he’d have slept at home last night along o’ his lawful wife! O, Dunn, Dunn, you’ll never hear me piany no more, or take me gallivanting up to Canaan! You never guv me a harsh word, and now I’m a lone lorn widdy in my prime!”
“Cheer up, missus,” said the lad, Ginger, who was standing by. “The sheriff’s all safe, I calkilate, on’y he’s amoosing himself on duty. They’re firing away still up thar.”
But Mrs. Smith was not to be consoled. Though not usually of a nervous temperament, and well accustomed to scenes of danger, she had been quite unhinged by the sudden alarm coming upon her in the small hours of the night.
Meantime, Melvin was growing more and more uneasy. He had arranged his story cunningly in order to account for his own reappearance, and the wound on his neck had been made by a scratch shot from his own hand. So far, all was well. But if the enemy escaped to report the night’s work, what then? Well, even in that case, perhaps he could defend himself by saying that he had taken the alarm and escaped to save his own life. In any case, the sooner he was away from Speranza the better.
So he rose and announced his intention of riding on to Canaan, and there looking up a doctor. No one seemed astonished at this decision, and no one suspected him of any kind of foul play. He mounted the horse, which stood in readiness at the door, and rode rapidly away.
As he did so, the faint sound of firing still came from the hills.
BOOK II.—CHAPTER XII.
A SPECIAL TELEGRAM.
A few days after the occurrence of the events narrated in my last chapter, Colonel Sloane sat in his private room in the hotel at Long Branch, reading the New York Herald of that morning. Suddenly he started, and uttered an exclamation. His eye had fallen on the following, printed in all the glory of terrific headings and long type:—
[SPECIAL Herald TELEGRAM.]
THE SPERANZA MINE AND NED
MURDER OF TWO ENGLISHMEN.
REPORTED DEATH OF DUNN SMITH, THE SHERIFF.
NARROW ESCAPE OF AN ENGINEER.
THE LONELY SHANTY IN THE GOLDEN GULCH.
“Our Canaan correspondent wires us as follows:—
CANAAN, Oct. 15th.—The Speranza district has just been the scene of a frightful affair, entailing the loss of several valuable lives. Among those who have perished is Colonel Fotheringay, the well-known capitalist and owner of the Speranza claim, and a Mr. John Kelso, a travelling photographer.
“Your readers will vividly remember the affray which took place about a week ago, when Mr. Dunn Smith, sheriff of Speranza, so heroically defended himself against Ned Searle, the robber, and a large number of his gang. It appears that Ned and several of the survivors took to the hills in the neighbourhood of the Speranza Mine, where they were in hiding when Colonel Fotheringay, accompanied by Mr. Melvin, the engineer, arrived on a visit of inspection.
“The two gentlemen were escorted to the scene of operations by Mr. Dunn Smith and Mr. Kelso, the photographer. Here Mr. Smith appears to have left them, with the view of returning home, but on his way through the woods he was waylaid and shot by Ned Searle.
“In the meantime, the gang had surrounded the shanty in the dead of the night. Aroused by the yells of the ruffians, Mr. Melvin managed to spring out, leap on his horse, and gallop away, not without receiving an ugly wound. But with the two others, sleeping in the shanty, it fared far worse.
“Carrying only six shooters, while the robbers were armed with rifles, they were practically helpless. With a refinement of cruelty, the head of the gang requested them to step out and be shot in the open. On their refusal the shanty was fired.
“The Colonel and his companion, rushing forth fought desperately for some time, but were at last shot dead.
“These are all the details that have at present reached your correspondent. Much excitement is felt in the district, and a vigilance committee has been organised to hunt down these ruffians, who have long been the pest of the district. Then their object is said to have been plunder, as Colonel Fotheringay was supposed to carry a large amount of greenbacks, besides personal jewellery valued at many thousand dollars.
“Much sympathy is felt for Mr. Melvin, the engineer, and the only survivor, who is said to be prostrated with his terrible experience. In Colonel Fotheringay he mourns a friend and benefactor. He is now on his way to New York.”
Colonel Sloane sank back in his chair, fairly gasping with amazement; then the blood left his cheeks, and he trembled like a leaf.
“It’s Melvin’s doing!” he groaned. “The murdering villain! Why did I let him go?”
Before he could recover from the first shock of the news, the door opened, and his long missing daughter, accompanied by Isabel Raymond, rushed into the room. Both the girls were pale as death, and wildly agitated. He saw in a moment that they had heard the news.
“Angy!” he cried.
“Yes, papa,” answered Angela hysterically. “I have come back—I don’t care now—you can kill me, too, now you have murdered my Jack!”
“I murdered him!” cried Sloane aghast. “What does the girl mean? Angy, are you mad?”
Here Isabel, who was white as marble, but far more composed than her friend, interposed.
“You have seen the newspaper—that horrible telegram. Speak—is it true? For God’s sake, speak, and tell us if it is true or false!”
“I know nothing about it,” answered Sloane. “I’d only just looked at the paper.”
“Colonel Sloane, should it be true (which God forbid) remember what I tell you now. You knew of this! You sent Colonel Fotheringay to his death in that frightful place!”
“I?” gasped the Colonel, falling back as if shot. “Miss Raymond, take care!”
“Oh, I am not afraid of you,” said Isabel. “I know well what you are, and though for your daughter’s sake I have been silent, your villainy has been long known to me.”
“As heaven’s my eternal judge, Miss Raymond,” returned Sloane pathetically, “I’m as innocent of this affair as you or Angy. I was that fond of Fotheringay that I wouldn’t have harmed a hair of his head; and as for the other young chap, I’d no idea he was there. P’r’aps the news ain’t true! P’r’aps it’s the exaggeration o’ them Herald correspondents! At any rate, don’t blame me.”
Meantime, Angela had thrown herself, wildly sobbing, on a settee, and had hidden her face in her hands.
“Oh, Jack! Jack! so good—so handsome—so young! It will break my heart!”
“Don’t take on so, my gal,” said her father, wishing to look sympathetic and quite oblivious of his former animosity to Kelso. “P’r’aps it ain’t your Jack after all. He ain’t a ‘photographer,’ is he? and it’s not likely he’d be down at Speranza.”
“He was going there, I know,” sobbed the girl.
“Colonel Sloane,” cried Isabel, “what is to be done? How can we ascertain the truth of these reports?”
“Only by waiting,” replied Sloane. “Likely there’ll be more details to-morrow.”
At this moment a servant entered with a telegram for Sloane. He opened it and read as follows:—
“Come up here at once.”
The sender was Kyrle Melvin; the office of issue New York.
The Colonel’s manner convinced Isabel at once that this telegram had reference to her own trouble, and she cried, without hesitation, fixing her dark eyes upon him:—
“Tell me the contents of that telegram! Who is it from?”
“From Kyrle Melvin,” replied Sloane, after a moment’s hesitation, and he placed it in her hands. Angela sprang up, and the two girls read the telegram breathlessly.
“Oh, Isabel, it is his doing!” cried Angela. “He hated Jack for loving me!”
Isabel did not know what to think. Her dislike to Melvin was not so intense as that of her friend, and, after all, it seemed improbable that the engineer could be to blame. The report said that he also had been attacked, and had narrowly escaped with life. It was all very horrible and inexplicable.
“Angy, dear,” she cried, “there is only one thing to be done. We must take the cars at once to New York, and find this man.”
“Just what I was going to suggest,” said Sloane. “And, with your permission, I’ll be your escort.”
Great as was her dislike to Sloane, Isabel was far too anxious to object to this arrangement, so all three set forth together—the Colonel nervously excited, the girls still crying bitterly. On arriving at New York, they took a hired carriage, and were driven to the offices of the mining company in Wall-street, whence Melvin had sent his wire.
In the outer office, which was large and finely furnished, several clerks were busy.
“Mr. Melvin been here?” asked the Colonel.
One of the clerks replied in the affirmative. Yes, Mr. Melvin had called in the morning, and had promised to return in the afternoon.
“We’ll wait for him,” said Sloane, leading the way into a large inner room, used for the meetings of the board. But Isabel drew back, crying to her friend—
“Come with me, Angy! Colonel Sloane, wait for us here—we shall be back directly.”
“But where are you going?”
“To the nearest telegraph office. I have a message to send. Come, Angy!”
The girls disappeared, and the Colonel, with a groan, sat down and lit a cigar. He was utterly perplexed, and not a little alarmed. Several minutes passed. Then the door quietly opened, and a man entered, looking like a ghost from the grave.
It was the engineer.
No sooner did he appear, than Sloane leapt to his feet and seized him with both hands.
“You villain! you murdering villain! what does it all mean?”
“Let me go, you fool,” answered Melvin; “and speak lower, or else they’ll hear you.”
“Is it true, then? Are they dead?”
“It is quite true. We were attacked in the night, and by a mere chance I escaped.”
Meantime Isabel and Angela hurried along the street towards the telegraph offices, which were a few blocks away. They were about to enter the building when a young man, plainly but neatly attired, came up and addressed them, touching his hat respectfully as he did so—
“Beg pardon, ladies, but can I speak to you?”
“Who are you?” cried Isabel. “What do you want?”
“If you please, I’m Luke Stafford, his lord—Mr. Kelso’s servant. I followed you up all the way from Long Branch.”
They looked at him in surprise, for up till that moment they had had no notion of his existence. He continued to address them earnestly for some minutes. As he spoke, they started in wonder, and looked at each other.
An hour passed, and Colonel Sloane and Melvin still waited in the board-room of the company. The engineer had told his story in detail, embellishing it with as many inventions as he thought necessary. Then Sloane had informed him that the two girls were at hand, eager for news of the murdered men.
Another half-hour, and the Colonel grew uneasy. He hastened into the outer office—they had not arrived; then to the telegraph office—no one there could give him any explanation. He returned looking ghastly.
“Can’t make it out!” he cried. “They only went to send a wire! There’s something ugly at the bottom of it, I calkilate.”
Hours passed, and still the girls did not return. That night the Colonel, who was distracted, heard no word of them; and during the day that followed they were still missing.
BOOK II.—CHAPTER XIII.
The second day after the arrival of Colonel Sloane in New York there was a special and private meeting of the directors of the South Speranza Gold and Silver Mine. Colonel Sloane occupied the chair, looking the merest shadow of his old self, for the events of the last few days had filled him with the sharpest anxiety. No further information concerning the fatal affray at the mine had yet appeared; so the presumption was that the first telegram was substantially correct.
The directors present were ten in number, and all long and intimately associated in business with the chairman. As they sat round the table they presented a collection of singularly ill-favoured faces, the German Jewish preponderating.
“Well, gentlemen,” said the Colonel, “the long and the short of it is I hold Colonel Fotheringay’s securities to an amount for beyond the purchase money; also his transfer of the property in exchange for two-thirds fully paid-up shares and one-third in cash. Here is his receipt, all square and regular. So the unfortunate gentleman’s decease won’t interfere in any way with our arrangements for floating the company.”
Thereupon the secretary was called in, and submitted his report to the effect that the public had already taken up nearly all the shares offered in the market, and that the company was, therefore, as the Colonel expressed it, a going concern.
“Before we proceed further,” suggested a director, “we had better interview Mr. Melvin, the engineer.”
This being generally agreed to, Kyrle Melvin was shown in. He was neatly clad in black, which increased the effect of his ghastly pallor and the half-healed bullet wound on the neck. In a few soft and well-chosen sentences he gave his account of the adventure of Speranza, alluding pathetically en passant to the great affection he had felt for Colonel Fotheringay, and laying particular emphasis on their “friendly relations.”
“Tell the gentlemen present, if you please,” said Sloane, “the object of your last visit to the mine in our lamented friend’s company.”
Melvin smiled faintly, and bowed.
“Colonel Fotheringay, as you are aware, was the soul of honour. Reports had been spread to the effect that the value of his property was exaggerated in the market. At my suggestion he determined to make a fresh personal inspection in my company. On our arrival, in his presence I took a portion of the lode at random, and assayed it roughly. The experiment was to be repeated next day in the presence of his friend, Mr. Kelso, who laid claim to a knowledge of mineralogy. For that purpose we remained at the shanty over-night.”
“Was the result, so far, favourable?” asked a director.
“Certainly. It simple confirmed all my previous calculations, and Colonel Fotheringay was quite convinced of the value of the property.”
“Well, then, gentlemen,” said Sloane, “nothing more is to be said. I move that Mr. Melvin’s report be passed, and a printed statement issued to the public.”
“One moment, Mr. Melvin,” said another director, “when you last saw Colonel Fotheringay he was alive. We shall require official confirmation of his death, preliminary to legal arrangements.”
“When I last saw him,” said Melvin, in a low tremulous voice, “he was standing in the shanty, revolver in hand, with the other English gentleman. The attacking party were on every side, armed with Winchester rifles. I have explained to you how I narrowly escaped with life. The robbers were ten to two. Within a few minutes of my escape both the unfortunate gentlemen must have fallen. This, as you are aware, is established by the newspaper reports.”
“Just so,” said Sloane. “It is quite impossible that Colonel Fotheringay can have escaped with life.”
Sloane looked round the board.
“You see, gentlemen, there’s no doubt about it. He’s a dead man!”
At that moment the door was thrown open, and a clerk entered with this announcement—
BOOK II.—CHAPTER XIV.
Had a shell exploded in the board-room the directors could not have evinced more consternation. As for Kyrle Melvin, he almost shrieked in his sudden fear. All eyes were turned on the door, through which there entered, with the old swagger, the missing Fotheringay—or his ghost.
He was elegantly got up, as usual, but there were no diamonds on his fingers or on his snowy breast. He entered as if he had just dropped in for a friendly call, but kept his hat upon his head.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he said, gaily. “Deuced cold weather.”
“Good God!—is it possible!—Fotheringay!” cried Sloane, staring apoplectically.
“Living!” cried several directors.
“Yes, I think so. Melvin, here, composed my epitaph; it was short but beautiful—requiescat in pace; but as I had a voice in the matter, I preferred resurgam. And here I am!”
He looked with a curious smile at the engineer, who tottered as if about to faint.
“Then—you—you—escaped?” he cried.
“Looks like it.”
“And—and the other?”
Fotheringay walked to the door.
“Come in, Mr. Kelso, and answer for yourself.”
Thereupon Jack entered quietly, and nodded to the company. But he was not alone; leaning on his arm was Angela Sloane, and by her side, darkly smiling, Isabel Raymond.
“Angy! Miss Raymond!” cried the Colonel, finding his tongue. “What’s all this? Why have you come here? This place is private. What does it all mean?”
“It means, sir, “ returned Jack, “that I have married your daughter, and brought her here to say good-bye before we sail for England.”
“WHAT! It’s a conspiracy! Thunder and lightning!”
“Take it quietly, old man,” said Fotheringay; “you’ll have to, if you want to get off with a safe skin. Whatever conspiracy there has been has been one to swindle the public, and you know how far you’re responsible. In the meantime, permit me to inform Mr. Kyrle Melvin that a gentleman in plain clothes is waiting for him in the next room with a little present in the shape of a pair of very elegant steel bracelets; in fact, a detective officer, who will be charmed to make his acquaintance and escort him to a nice lodging, furnished at the expense of the State!”
“Gentlemen, I appeal to you for protection!” cried the engineer. “I have served you faithfully. This is a plot to ruin me!”
The directors began to murmur.
“What has the man done? What is all this about? What is the offence?” cried several voices, simultaneously.
“I accuse him of an attempt to murder myself and this gentleman in the Speranza Mine. His accomplice, Ned Searle, has been arrested and has confessed.”
So spoke Fotheringay; as he did so, Melvin’s face was convulsed, and his hand crept into the breast of his coat; but before he could make another movement, Kelso, who had been watching him closely, crept behind him and pinned his arms. He uttered a sharp oath as a loaded revolver slipped from his grasp and fell to the ground. At the same moment a plainly-dressed man entered, accompanied by a policeman, and, at a sign from Jack, handcuffed Melvin in the twinkling of an eye.
Every one looked scared as the engineer, throwing off the mask, gave vent to fierce shrieks and curses.
“Take him away,” said Fotheringay, lightly. “Don’t alarm yourselves, ladies! We have drawn his teeth, you see.”
Struggling fiercely, Melvin was led from the room. Fotheringay followed him as far as the door, which he then closed quietly, and turned the key.
An angry murmur greeted this movement.
“I think, gentlemen, we had better conclude our business with closed doors,” said Fotheringay, with a smile. “Miss Raymond, please be seated. Miss Sloane, here is another chair. Imagine yourself spectators at the last act of a comedy, to which you have come by my special invitation.”
“None of your high and mighty airs here!” cried Sloane, striking his fist on the table. “We want an explanation, and, by God, we’ll have it! You may bully our servant, but you won’t bully us, you impudent beggar!”
“Papa,” cried Angela, “please don’t! Mr. Fotheringay won’t harm you, if you will only do as he wishes!”
More murmurs from the directors, some of whom began to look pugnacious.
“You had better hear my friend out,” said Jack, “for your own sakes, I mean!”
“Who are you?” cried a director, a little fiery Jew. “We don’t know you! By what right have you come here?”
“By the right of an honest man who wishes to clear out a nest of thieving scoundrels!” replied Jack, without the least anger.
“Damnation!” shrieked Sloane, echoed by an excited chorus.
“Permit me,” interposed Fotheringay. “My friend is English, and calls a spade a spade. I will try to embellish the plain agricultural implement, with his permission.”
“Who is he? Damn him! who is he? Why have you brought him here?” said the chorus.
“He’s a beggar, like yourself; that’s what he is!” added Colonel Sloane.
“He is a beggar, old man,” returned Fotheringay, “with ten thousand pounds sterling a year. Let me introduce him to his peculating and pertinacious father-in-law, in his true name—as Lord Kelso, of Kelso, in the kingdom of Scotland.”
“What?” ejaculated the Colonel.
“What?” echoed the chorus.
“But now to business,” proceeded our hero, taking off a glove and throwing it on the table. “There is my—ah!— gauntlet; a challenge to rascality generally. Gentlemen, we have pulverised your engineer; our next proceeding is to smash your precious South Speranza Gold and Silver Mining Company, totally and finally. It is for you to decide whether this is to be done in public or in private. If in public, I will throw open that door, and perhaps, if you are agreeable, distribute all round little souvenirs like that worn by the departed scoundrel, Melvin, the company’s engineer.”
No one spoke up now, but the directors, scenting a common danger, spoke together in whispers. The Colonel at his wit’s end, thought it best to try conciliation.
“Fotheringay, don’t be a fool! Don’t ruin yourself in the hope of ruining your best friend. We’re all honest men here, and if Melvin has injured you we are not to blame.”
“Certainly not,” said a director.
“If you are honest men, do as I request you. Return every penny to the shareholders; dissolve the company, announce the truth—that the Speranza gold and silver mine is not worth a solitary dime!”
“I dare say,” answered Sloane. “Why, come, you know as well as I do that the mine is a splendid concern.”
“Fudge!” said Fotheringay.
“If we dissolve who is to pay me the money you owe me? tell me that. Talk about smashing—why can’t I smash you! I hold your notes of hand, everything! Remember that!”
“Sweet, old man, are the uses, not only of adversity but of liquidation. I stand before you in puris naturabilus, a beggar, as you politely express it, without a penny. But I never felt so rich as I do this morning; financially, I am Lazarus; but morally, I am Dives, Crœsus, Rothschild. I wouldn’t exchange my rags for the mantle of a king.”
“You are right,” said Kelso.
“Quite right,” smiled Isabel, radiantly.
“I see what it is,” sneered the Colonel. “You want to swindle me out of my money, to turn upon the man that has fed, clothed, and made a man of you, and why? Because you think you will have that lady’s dollars to fall back upon! But I’ll be a match for you! I’ll have my revenge!”
“Papa!” cried Angela.
“You are quite mistaken,” answered Fotheringay, with a sudden tremor in his voice. “Your estimate of human nature is inaccurate. I declined to marry Miss Raymond under a fraud; I resolved to show her what a sham I was, and to save her even at the price of my own disgrace. She knows me now, sir, and is therefore quite safe from any nefarious designs that I may have had upon her. My only hope and prayer is that she may one day marry a good man, worthy of her, and forget that Charles Fotheringay, adventurer, sham colonel, and the devil’s cat’s-paw, ever existed.”
“The long and the short of it all is,” said Lord Kelso, advancing to the table, “that this company is a fraud, and must be broken up forthwith. For the sake of this lady, my wife, and indirectly for my own sake, I will do everything in my power to secure a peaceful settlement. With regard to this gentleman’s debt to you, Colonel Sloane, be under no uneasiness. For the time being consider me his banker.”
“No, no, my lord,” cried Fotheringay. “I protest against it! I won’t have it! Let Shylock have my pound of flesh—let him cut it out from my heart if he pleases, and welcome. I am a rascal, and deserve it all.”
“True, you are a rascal,” returned Lord Kelso laughing, “but the rascal saved my life.”
“Gentlemen, shall I tell you what he did?” continued Kelso, addressing the amazed company. “When we were surrounded by that murdering crew he fought like a hero. All was up with us, when suddenly, without a moment’s hesitation, he sprang out and faced the leader of the robbers. ‘Stop!’ he cried; ‘one moment!’ They were so amazed that they ceased firing. ‘Here are my diamonds,’ he cried, ‘worth twenty thousand dollars; they are yours—take them—but spare our lives!’ And as he spoke he drew off his rings and his breast-pin, and thrust them in the ruffians’ hands; then, before they had recovered from their amazement, returned to the shanty. Gentlemen, that device gave us five minutes; for the villains surrounded their leader and examined the prize in the moonlight. It was only a brief respite, but it saved us. Presently the attack was renewed. Unable to burst in, they fired the shanty. But even then heaven sent us a preserver. The heroic Dunn Smith, sheriff of Speranza, appeared on the scene and attacked our enemy in the rear. We were saved.”
“By the sheriff,” cried Fotheringay, laughing.
“No, by you! You saved us! That device of yours was worthy of a hero—it was sublime! And the best of the joke was, gentlemen, that those jewels, with which some of the robbers got clean away, were bogus, every one of them, not worth fifty dollars!”
“Which shows,” explained the other, looking round with his grandest air, “that even sham jewellery may sometimes serve a substantially moral purpose. Can’t we possibly apply the lesson, supplied by bogus diamonds, to the affairs of a bogus mining company?”
BOOK II.—CHAPTER XV.
The company fell to pieces, not without considerable scandal, but, fortunately for themselves, the peccant directors managed to escape punishment. On examination it turned out that large sums paid by the shareholders had already been appropriated by Colonel Sloane, who could give no account of them; but his son-in-law paid the money. Before doing so, however, he made it a condition that the Colonel should retire from the financial scene, which he did with the greatest expedition, and lived in practical seclusion for many years.
“Oh, Jack, how good you are!” said Angela, when this little arrangement had been effected.
“Not at all, little wife,” returned the honest fellow. “My money is yours, and you are my true Angela, my good angel. You loved me when you thought me a poor beggar and yourself a rich young lady. I tried you in the furnace of adversity, and found you—sterling gold!”
Then he told her how, despising society and loving adventure, he had roamed the world in disguise, sometimes as a poor artist, sometimes as a common sailor, but always attended by his old boyish friend Luke Stafford, son of his father’s gamekeeper. But he had sown his wild oats, he said, and meant to take his bride home to Scotland, there to reign in his ancestral home as Lady Kelso.
A full and true account of the great fight in the Speranza Mine, soon appeared in the newspapers. The first telegram, sent by an excited Canaanite, after a hurried interview with Melvin, had been premature, of course; but Fotheringay and Kelso, hearing of it on their arrival in Canaan, had bribed the newspaper correspondents—gentlemen of easy morality, and easily discovered at the local liquor bars—with large sums to suppress further particulars until further notice. This had been done so cleverly that the two gentlemen had been able, as we have seen, to take the mining company by surprise and secure the scoundrel, Melvin, before he could suspect the truth. In the meantime, however, they had telegraphed to Luke Stafford instructions to warn both Isabel and Angela of the truth, and to arrange a secret meeting in New York.
For the rest, they had escaped death by a miracle—or, as Fotheringay afterwards expressed it, a miracle of impudence. The story of the sham jewels was literally true. How Mr. Dunn Smith came to return upon the scene is readily explainable. Returning homeward in the evening, the belligerent sheriff had by the merest accident caught a glimpse of one of the gang, whom he seemed to recognise, crawling far up on the mountains. He had pursued him for some distance, without success. Then, instead of going home, he determined to reconnoitre a secluded ranch many miles distant, where he suspected some of the gang might be hiding. This task occupied several hours, and as he was turning back unsuccessful, the storm overtook him. Used to sleep out, he sheltered in the woods; and at last, when the tempest had spent itself, made fresh tracks for home. It was late in the night when he again reached the road. Scarcely had he done so, when he saw Melvin gallop furiously past, and heard shots from the mountains above him. In a moment he suspected the truth, and hastened to the rescue, arriving, after a long climb just in time to surprise the ruffians in the rear. The affair was speedily decided by his appearance, for his very name appalled the boldest, and several fled away at his first shot, but three men fell dead to his rifle, and to his great joy he wounded and captured the ringleader, Ned Searle, with his own hand.
While touching on the subject, let me chronicle the fact of Kyrle Melvin’s conviction on the criminal charge of conspiracy to murder. His trial was a cause celébre, and a godsend to the newspapers. Lord Kelso and Fotheringay became the heroes of the hour. Fotheringay particularly took the public fancy immensely. Pictures of him appeared in the illustrated journals, together with highly imaginative sketches of himself and his friend defending “the Lonely Shanty in the Golden Gulch.” He was interviewed, of course. I am afraid that he rather amazed the interviewers by yielding to his natural taste for romance; at any rate, in one of the reports he was described as expressing his belief that he was an illegitimate son of an eminent statesman, by Mdlle. Spelladino, an opera dancer; in another he talked of himself of having been a pirate in boyhood and of having buried an enormous treasure on an island somewhere in the Indian Seas. He was offered a large sum of money to stump the country as a lecturer; while an enthusiastic manager, hearing of his former experiences as an actor, was willing to guarantee him three hundred dollars nightly for a year’s tour of the principal States of the Union.
This was glory, of a sort; but still Fotheringay was not happy. His love for Isabel Raymond had grown in proportion to his own sense of moral unworthiness; he could not forget her, though he endeavoured to exile himself from her society. Gloomy and wretched, in spite of his fits of assumed gaiety and the diablerie which startled the interviewers, he kept apart. Since his return, he had never spoken one word to her which might have been interpreted as a renewal of his old suit; indeed, he felt that it was hopeless. Isabel, on her side, was strangely reticent and reserved. At last, after the trial and condemnation of Melvin, he appeared before her in the hotel where she was staying, and announced his approaching departure from America.
“Before I go,” he said, “let me ask you to forgive me for having troubled your sunny life. We came together by a fatality; by a fatality, too, we are to part. I shall carry with me, Miss Raymond, the remembrance of your goodness and your divine forbearance.”
Isabel was seated, while he bent over her. She looked up quietly, and smiled.
“How absurd you are!” she said. “Will you never take life seriously?”
“I am serious now,” he returned, and indeed his pale face and tremulous voice did not belie his words. “When I leave you, I shall doubtless resume my former character of light comedian. That is the worst of good acting! Even when I am in the death agony, somebody will see the humour of it, and admire how I carry it off!”
“You are going away? Where, pray?”
“I haven’t the least idea. I shall probably toss up, and let the Fates decide!”
“Exceedingly—but true! Miss Raymond, I shall probably never see you again.”
His eyes were full of tears, his voice quite broken.
“If you go, Charles” (how he thrilled at the name!) “what will become of me?”
“You will be happy, I trust, as you deserve to be.”
She raised her eyes to his face, and those eyes were tearful too.
“I shall never be happy in this world, without you!” she said.
He trembled violently, and passed his hand across his eyes; then he cried—
“Isabel, don’t tempt me! don’t make me forget myself again! You are a star of goodness; I am a poor moth, already singed by the candle! I hoped some day to become worthy of you. I know now that is impossible. For God’s sake have pity upon my weakness, and say good-bye!”
“Charlie, I love you!”
“Isabel, I have not a penny in the world.”
“But I am rich.”
“That alone would keep us asunder.”
“Then imagine me poor; or stay! let me put all my money in a gold and silver mining company, and so end the matter!”
And she smiled bewitchingly through her tears.
“It is not only that,” he cried. “I am an adventurer. My name is a bye-word.”
“I like the name.”
“I am a scoundrel!”
“No, indeed, you are a hero! Charles, be honourable, and remember our compact. When we first met, you were to become a hero in three years.”
“Or drown myself!”
“Exactly. Well, you have adopted the wiser alternative, and distinguished yourself as I always predicted you would. You have done more—you have conquered yourself, and grown—what does Rosalind say?— just as high as my heart. If you abandon me after so long a probation, I shall have to drown myself, instead of you!”
She was irresistible. With a cry of joy, he took her in his arms, and kissed her again and again.
“Ah, don’t laugh at me! Isabel, I’ll try with all my might to deserve such happiness! I’ll play light comedy no longer, but go in for virtuous leading business. And you don’t despise me? you don’t think me a preposterous cad!”
It was quite clear that she did not, for she smiled fondly and rested her head on his shoulder. They were interrupted by the sudden entrance of a lady and gentleman.
“I beg your pardon,” cried Lord Kelso.
“We ought to have knocked,” said his gentle lady.
“Never mind,” returned Isabel, laughing, “I’m so glad you have come. I was just telling Mr. Fotheringay that he was a hero, after all.”
“So he is, by Jove!” exclaimed his lordship. “See the daily and weekly journals, passim.”
Then Fotheringay, still holding Isabel round the waist, said in the old grand manner—
“What a free and enlightened press says must be true. Suppose, though, we put it in this way— A HERO, IN SPITE OF HIMSELF!”
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