Obvious punctuation errors have been corrected. A list of other changes is supplied at the end of the book
LONDON: REMINGTON AND COMPANY, LIMITED 15, KING STREET, COVENT GARDEN AND SYDNEY 1894
All Rights Reserved
Each character in this work is a type. The Australian characters may be met with every day in the Colonies. Nor are Villiers Wyckliffe and the Detlij Club distorted figments of the imagination; and the broken heart is a symbol of the aims of the one, and the object of the others, softened down so that the cheek of modesty may be spared a blush.
In those parts of the work where Colonial Governors are mentioned, they appear in a less heroic light than that in which one ordinarily sees them in print. Therefore for the further enlightenment of the reader, an appendix has been added, in which the standpoint wherefrom Young Australia views them is fully explained.
"Boomerang" is the joint nom-de-plume of a Young Australian and his collaborator.
London, October, 1894.
I THE DETLIJ CLUB 1 II CONFIDENCES 14 III THE MIA-MIA 26 IV THE BALL 38 V THE OATH 48 VI REVENGE 63 VII HAL 79 VIII ADELAIDE 94 IX MELBOURNE 114 X CABBIES 128 XI LAUNCESTON 144 XII GOODCHILD'S 156 XIII PORT ARTHUR 170 XIV EASTELLA 182 XV MAY 192 XVI HOBART 203 XVII SYDNEY 214 XVIII THE GIRLS 222 XIX HIL 232 XX BRISBANE 242 XXI TOOWOOMBA 254 XXII DALBY 269 XXIII CAMPING OUT 283 XXIV FRED PHILAMORE 294 XXV BLUE GUMS 306 XXVI MARJORIE WILLIAMSON 319 XXVII FOILED 332 XXVIII PREPARATIONS 343 XXIX EAR-MARKED 354 XXX THE TRIAL 367 XXXI THE VERDICT 377 XXXII CONCLUSION 383
THE DETLIJ CLUB.
In a handsome block of buildings in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly—a phrase which may embrace a considerable area, North, South, East or West—is located the quarters of that small and extremely select Club, known, and known up till now only to a favoured few, as the Detlij Club. The name, like the Club itself, is an uncommon one, and is simply indicative of the sad mischance which must befal each member before he can qualify for admission. No mysterious or secret rites were shadowed in the title, and the ultra-curious in search of the origin of the name, need no more overhaul their Hindu or Persian dictionaries, than they need their Liddell and Scott. A simple inversion of the letters is all that is necessary to solve the riddle, a process which discovers the word "jilted," and discloses the character of the Club.
Briefly, the origin of the Club was in this wise. Some four years previous to the date our story opens, a certain Major Fitzgerald, a man of unenviable notoriety in Society, whose name was almost as well known in the Divorce Court as it was in the clubs and boudoirs—a fact which, though it caused his exclusion from some circles, made him more welcome in others—chanced to meet the young and charming heiress, Helen Trevor, at the time of her debut.
"That's the girl for my money," was the Major's inward comment. He had no money, by-the-bye, it was merely his facon de parler. So he lost no opportunity of cultivating Miss Trevor's acquaintance. Now the Major was a handsome, dashing man, with complete knowledge of the world, much savoir faire, the faculty for making himself dangerously agreeable, and no morals to speak of. Helen Trevor, too, though a girl of her time, was one of those strong characters that—thank goodness!—have not yet been eliminated from the human species, either by the artificial restrictions of Fashion on the one hand, or the undisciplined vagaries of Female Emancipationists on the other. She was too young and enthusiastic to have surrendered her habit of sympathy for the cheap cynicism that marked the culture of her day. Brimming over with sympathy, impatient for some sphere of active interest, and just sufficiently tinged with the spirit of martyrdom to be anxious to feel herself doing some work in the world, her sympathetic young heart, that had no suspicion of evil, went out to the Major when he murmured in a tone of manly contrition: "It is true, Miss Trevor, I have been wild and reckless, but it was all due to my having no one to guide me."
Helen's older acquaintances shook their heads in mysterious warning, and supplied just the needful hint of opposition to cause her to devote herself to what seemed to be a labour of moral heroism, helping him to the best of her ability. And Fitzgerald congratulated himself on his success in having brought about the very condition of mind he had laid himself out to produce. But he over-estimated his powers, and he made an irretrievably false step in trying to persuade Helen to elope with him to avoid her father's anticipated disapproval.
Helen was prepared to go far in her antagonism to her parents' wishes, even to consent to an open engagement, but to fly with her fiance in the fearless, old fashion did not commend itself to her somewhat rigid ideas of right and wrong. She frankly, therefore, told her father everything, and he, prompt to nip this affair in the bud, removed his daughter out of the way of Major Fitzgerald's influence; and, calling upon the Major himself, subjected the latter to an unpleasant quarter-of-an-hour. The result of the interview was that the Major assumed the air of an injured man, whose love had been ruthlessly trodden on, and who had suffered the humiliation of being jilted.
For the space of two whole days the Major was absent from his usual haunts, and when he did appear again he wore a becoming air of dignified dejection.
"Hullo, Major!" said a young fellow named the Honourable George Buzzard, as he familiarly struck him on the shoulder. "Why these tears of sadness, eh?"
"My boy, I've been badly treated. I've been jilted."
"Jilted, have you! and by whom?"
"What! Helen Trevor! that youngster who is causing all our fashionable beauties to hug the green-eyed monster. Then shake hands, Major. For I met the same fate yesterday."
"You did, George?"
"Yes. I suppose you noticed that I have been paying a good deal of attention to old Browne's daughter."
"Don't know her, George."
"Oh! her father is a squatter in Australia, with millions. She's his heiress, and not a bad sort either."
"She refused you. Eh?"
"Rather, and now she's engaged to the Earl of Bentham."
"It's the title, my boy. Younger sons have no show nowadays; but how those Australians run after titles. Eh?"
"By Jove, they do," said the other. "But now, as we are companions in misfortune, let's drown our sorrows," and he led the Major in the direction of his club.
Here they were joined by Thomas Thomas, Esq., known to the entire Society world as "Tommy" only. He was one of that common class of young men whom only Society produces. Without any income or apparent means of subsistence he did not work, yet he was invariably well-dressed, and had the entree of the best houses. Welcome there because he could readily adapt himself to any occasion, preserve a constantly agreeable manner, and had the details of the latest scandal at his finger-ends; in fact was one of the parasites that Society creates, and without whom it cannot get along the thorny path of its day's enjoyment. Tommy greeted the two men with a silent nod, and waited, with the caution typical of his species, to discover the subject of their conversation. This did not take him long, as experience in this work had sharpened his wits. Sitting down beside them, he heaved a deep sigh, and said, sadly:
"I have been atrociously treated, you fellows. The little widow has thrown me over."
"What, another!" cried the Major. "Then sit down, Tommy, and enjoy yourself. By Jove, we ought to start a club for fellows like ourselves, and call it the Jilted Club."
"A grand idea!" said Tommy, rubbing his hands. "Why we can already number five, for I know Watson and Carrington have suffered the same fate."
From that hour the Jilted Club was formed, and as time went on its membership increased. The mysterious title of Detlij Club was agreed on, and, at the time of writing, its adherents numbered some seventy habitues of London Society.
The Major was elected President; Tommy held the honourable and lucrative post of Secretary, and a code of rules, of which we quote the principal, was drawn up:
1. This Club shall be called the Detlij Club. 2. None but jilted men shall be eligible to become members. 3. The objects of the Club shall be:
(a). To extend shelter and sympathy in their calamity to all members whose affections have been trifled with. (b). To assist them in their schemes of vengeance. (c). To encourage them to jilt others in return.
4. Each member shall be required to take the oath of secrecy. 5. A gold badge shall be voted annually to that member who shall prove to the satisfaction of the Committee that he has made the highest record in broken hearts. 6. The badge of the Club shall be a heart rent in twain.
There were a great many other rules, but they are of minor importance relative to this narrative.
When Tommy announced at the first general meeting that he wished to propose Villiers Wyckliffe as a member, the announcement was greeted with loud cheers, for that gentleman was a man of town notoriety, popular with all sections of Society, but especially so in the boudoirs. He was immensely wealthy, having inherited a vast fortune from his father, the celebrated Seymour Wyckliffe, the world-wide known head of the great banking firm of Wyckliffe & Co. Having joined he soon let it be known that he intended making strong running for the coveted gold badge. He was generally known and addressed as "Wyck."
The fifteenth of July, when the season was well on the wane, was the date fixed on which the first competition for the badge was to be held.
Great preparations were made for a banquet at the Club, on the most lavish and extensive scale.
The dinner over, the President, Major Fitzgerald, formally opened proceedings; and, alluding in felicitous terms to the momentous occasion, announced, amid cheers, that there were no less than nineteen competitors for the badge, who, their names having been drawn from a hat, were to address the meeting in the following order:—
1. Villiers Wyckliffe. 2. Sir Charles Keyning. 3. Thomas Thomas.
and so on until the full list had been announced.
"Gentlemen," proceeded the Major. "We are all anxious to get without delay to the main business of the evening. I will therefore make my remarks as brief as possible—"
A loud "Hear, hear!" from a distant corner made the Major look round angrily, but without discovering the delinquent.
"Jilted gentlemen, your most sacred feelings have been trifled with by the delicate, the harmless, the innocent (groans) daughters of Eve. They are not to blame, oh no, they could not do such a thing; but we, gentlemen, we know better (hear, hear), and we are here to-night to ratify our bond to stand united against the insidious onslaught of those 'whose fangs,' as an American writer so aptly and so eloquently expresses it, 'drip with the blood of the foolishly fond and true' (loud cheers.) I shall now call upon our esteemed member, 'Wyck,' to relate to us his story of the revenge he has taken upon the sex which has wronged him."
Cheers again greeted the close of the Major's speech, and cries of "Wyck! Good old Wyck," resounded from all quarters of the room.
Villiers Wyckliffe, a young man of about 28 years of age, rose slowly. In his hand he held ostentatiously a small ebony stick, that was his constant companion, and which he handled fondly.
"Gentlemen," interposed a member, "before Wyck speaks I have to ask you to charge your glasses, and drink to him." A request that was at once complied with.
"Mr. President and gentlemen," he began, in a soft, caressing voice, "I thank you for the kind manner in which you have drunk my health. I will now endeavour to give you a few details of my simple career. I will plead guilty to a sneaking fondness for the fair sex (hear, hear), but I can fairly say I have only yet seen one member of it who struck me as being anything out of the common (oh). I mean by that, one that I should care to marry (laughter). Feeling rather weary of London, I went for a trip round the world, and it was during that trip that I met the uncommon one. At Nice I made her acquaintance. She was the daughter of a retired Colonel with a wooden leg, and she took my fancy. Why, I cannot tell, but there is no accounting for taste. Her manner to me was cold and haughty, which had the effect of making me all the more eager, and after a week's acquaintance I proposed. I offered to make handsome settlements, even to make the one-legged papa a handsome allowance of the most liberal description, but all my offers were received with scorn, as she informed me her heart was given to another, a beggarly Lieutenant in a marching regiment. I humiliated myself by even proposing a second time, when dear old wooden-leg threatened—the humour was unconscious—to kick me out of the house. Gentlemen, either through disappointment or chagrin, I felt my heart was broken, and I vowed one day to avenge it. That day did arrive, and I took advantage of it. Here is my record," and thereupon he held up to the view of his audience the ebony stick on which was cut a series of notches. "You will see here a number of notches. At present they number forty-eight, and each notch represents a broken heart. Number 1, is that of a haughty young damsel who had cut me on various occasions. Number 2, is that of the girl I loved, now an officer's wife. Number 3, is that of her husband, for they are separated." He continued to tick them off, giving each a short description with comments of almost diabolical cynicism. "I have two more in view," he continued, "and when I have completed my record of fifty, I intend to take a long rest and go for a trip to the Colonies. I think that is all I can say."
Wyck resumed his seat amid tremendous cheering, maintained for several moments. His enthusiastic friends surrounded and complimented him.
When silence was restored the President called upon the second candidate, Sir Charles Keyning.
"I beg to withdraw in favour of Wyck," said that youthful worthy. The remainder of the candidates, unable to sustain their own triumphs against such a crushing list, also resigned their claims, and Villiers Wyckliffe was unanimously awarded the coveted badge.
In the small hours of the morning the meeting broke up, and Villiers, the Major, Tommy, and a few more of the choicer spirits adjourned to Wyck's rooms to finish with a few hours' card-playing.
Some time after mid-day the next morning, Wyck awoke with the unpleasant sensation that his head was of abnormal size, his throat very dry, and altogether he felt and looked extremely seedy. A brandy-and-soda and a cold tub eased him somewhat, and he managed to get through his dressing and lounge daintily through his breakfast. A knock at the door was followed by the entrance of Tommy.
"How do, old boy; head a bit thick?" was that youthful spark's airy greeting, as he coolly settled himself in an easy-chair.
"A trifle, thanks. How's yours? Help yourself," he said, as he pushed the brandy-decanter towards him.
"Thanks. I feel in want of a pick-me-up," and Tommy helped himself to a stiff nobbler of brandy.
Wyck and Tommy were fast friends, though of such opposite dispositions. Wyck liked his companion's light and jovial manner, and Tommy liked Wyck's pocket.
"What sort of a cruise did you have, Tommy, while you were away?" asked Wyck.
"Ripping. A month in the Mediterranean is great fun, I can tell you, when you are in good company."
"You're a lucky devil, Tommy."
"Yes, I suppose so. But judging from the charming little history you gave the Club last night you've been going it during my absence."
"Yes, I flatter myself I've had some good fun."
"I say, Wyck, I want to know how you do it."
"My secret; eh, Tommy?"
"Exactly. Now out with it. I swear dumb."
"Then I'll tell you, Tommy. Only mind, should you let it out, I'll kill you," said Wyck, fiercely.
"It's a bargain, Wyck," answered Tommy, calmly helping himself to a cigar from Wyck's box, and, lounging back, prepared to listen.
"Last night I mentioned an episode with a Colonel's daughter. Well all that is true. Smarting under the slight, and vowing vengeance, I left Nice and travelled to India, where I had plenty of chums. One night I attended a big kick-up given by one of the Rajahs in honour of some affair or other. All sorts of amusements were provided, and amongst the numerous entertainments was one by a mesmerist and hypnotist, who gave very clever manifestations of his skill. I happened to be standing close to him and he begged my assistance in one of his experiments. I, of course, agreed and did exactly what he told me, trying to help him to the best of my power; but to my surprise all his passes had no effect whatever upon me. Another fellow was taken in my place and the feat was accomplished successfully. This puzzled me and the first opportunity I got I asked the mesmerist the reason. His answer was: 'You are as strong if not stronger than I and, unconscious to yourself, you make yourself antagonistic.' I laid awake all that night, his words running through my head, and when I fell asleep I dreamt I was a great mesmerist. A hunting party was organised for the next day and I was invited. We took the train some distance, and then rode into the jungle. I became separated from the main party and was watching an open space in the jungle when my attention was attracted by a pretty little tropical bird, fluttering round and round a tree. This interested me, and on closer inspection I found a huge snake had coiled himself on one of the upper branches, and was calmly lying with its mouth open, waiting for his prey. Smaller and smaller were the circles the bird made, and weaker and weaker were its efforts to escape the fascination, until it finally fluttered to a limb just above the snake. It seemed to turn its piteous glance for help on me, but not I! I was enjoying it. At length it could no longer resist its fate and it fluttered into its enemy's jaws. Now other men would have let sentiment get the better of them and have shot that snake; but I looked up to it with respect, and it set me thinking. 'What if I could bring people under my will like that!' I thought. 'No girl would slight me any more.'
"Two days later, I left India for England. A sudden departure, but I was on the eve of a great discovery. I gathered together all the treatises relating to mesmerism that I could find and shut myself up in the country to study them. By the time I had mastered them, I found I thoroughly understood the art and, returning to London, I began to practise on people whom I had engaged for the purpose. One evening I accidentally made a great discovery. I found that by concentrating my gaze at a certain angle on another I could control that person's will. To my joy I found it answered with greater ease on women, and I started experimenting right away. My first subject was Fanny at the 'Royal.' You know the snubby little minx she was. She had tried to snub me more than once in public, and I felt I owed her a grudge, so to her I went to pay it.
"I found her alone in the bar, and calling for a whiskey and soda, she served it out in her usual languid way that riled me. As she put out her hand to take my half-crown I seized it and looked her in the face hard. Her first impulse was to withdraw it in disgust, but gradually her face began to relax, and in two minutes we were talking together like the oldest friends."
"What did you will her to do?" asked Tommy, with interest.
"I willed her to think that she loved me. And I succeeded, for when her fiance came in, she gave me the preference of her company. I despised and detested them both, so, to rile him, I boldly invited her to go with me to the theatre that evening, and she could not refuse, for I willed her to come. Needless to say, I did not take her. Her intended married someone else; hence the first notch in my stick. The second was, as I said, the Colonel's daughter, now the Lieutenant's wife. I found out her address, and called when he was on duty. Though she gave me a chilly reception, I soon had her will under control, and I carried on in public with her for some days. On her husband's return, his kind friends told him all about it. He accused her; she retaliated. There was a row, and now he is in Africa, while she is living again with her father, fretting her heart out. I was overjoyed at this success, for it enabled me to put two notches on my stick and, as he is the only man represented, he ought to feel honoured. As for the others, they are of all classes; some married women; some Society ladies, who have displeased me at one time or another."
"What about Marjorie Williamson?" asked Tommy, who was drinking in this ignoble history of wrong redressed with avid interest. "I heard you had some fun with her. Tell us about it."
"Oh! that was a great joke. It all came about like this:
"Of course you know that Marjorie was acknowledged to be one of the prettiest little girls on the stage, and you know how stand-offish she was where men were concerned. Charley Walkden was fearfully gone on her, and occupied the same front stall for months. Every night he threw her a bouquet with a note or present and every night, as regular as clockwork, were they returned. One night he made himself too conspicuous, so that Marjorie became annoyed, and that night's bouquet was returned on the spot, accompanied with a verbal message that even an ardent admirer like Charley could not misunderstand. I was in the theatre that night and Wilson, the manager, told me about it. I mentioned it at the Club, and when old Charley turned up he was chaffed by the others. He was annoyed when he came in, but this fairly maddened him.
"'I'll lay five to one in hundreds,' he said, 'that there is not a man here who would be allowed to see her home.' As no one seemed inclined to take it up, I said, casually, 'I'll book that bet, Sir Charles.' Of course, the boys were delighted and I suppose I got a bit excited, for I offered to lay another even five hundred that I would take her to Brighton within a week. Sir Charles eagerly snapped that up, and when I left I felt keenly interested in Marjorie, as I stood to win a thousand or lose six hundred.
"The next day I called on Wilson, the manager, who told me there was to be a matinee that afternoon. As I wanted his help I told him about the bet and what my plans were. At first he demurred to assisting me to carry them out, but I had been of some use previously to Wilson on several occasions, so I had not much difficulty in shewing him there was no harm in my scheme. By a little manoeuvring I was soon introduced to the fair Marjorie and had her will well under my control. I saw her home that afternoon and made five hundred. The next day I met her after rehearsal; we took a cab to London Bridge, caught the mid-day train to Brighton, lunched at the Metropole, and got back to town by five. Witnesses were posted at both places to avoid disputes. Walkden was madder than ever and that night we had a big kick-up, on the strength of the thousand I had won."
"But what's become of Marjorie?" asked Tommy. "We never see her now."
"Oh, it appears that Lotty Carr, that stuck-up little minx who is jealous of her and everybody else, heard something about this business and asked Walkden, who, to save himself, told a lot of lies. Little Carr then proceeded to make mischief by going first to Wilson and then to Marjorie's mother. Wilson, of course, I was able to square, but the mother was an invalid and the affair so upset her that it ended in her death. Marjorie at once left the stage, forfeiting her salary. I was, of course, awfully sorry and sent her half my winnings, which she returned. Truth then took it up and added to the fuss."
"What's she doing now?"
"Dressmaking or something of that sort. And, poor devil, I believe she has two or three kids to support, brothers and sisters."
"Ah, well! I suppose she'll pick up with Sir Charles, now? He's got plenty of the needful."
"Fool if she doesn't," replied this elegant young gentleman, flippantly. Extremes meet. The naked savage has a fairly low estimate of the value of his womankind, but it is many degrees higher than that of this product of a highly-cultured civilization.
Tommy's curiosity was roused and he was anxious to draw more particulars of his peculiar gift from his friend, so he continued his catechism.
"I say, Wyck! I suppose if you wanted a girl to get properly struck on you, you could do it. Eh?"
"Rather, Tommy, I only want a girl to be in my company three or four times and I can mould her so that she will break her heart and pine away, if I leave her."
"Nonsense. But you don't go so far as that?"
"No, but I may do so for an experiment."
"I suppose you alluded to this power when you once said you had conquered every nation under the sun?"
"Oh! only that I had willed girls of most nationalities."
"And who are the two you are looking after now?"
"One I have found; she is a Swiss. The other I am looking for; she is an Australian."
"Australian, eh? I fancy I could fit you up there. I know a jolly girl from Australia."
"You do? By Jove, Tommy, that's glorious! Who is she?"
"I don't know her very well. She lives in one of the suburbs with some retired Australians, called Whyte. Her name is Amy Johnson."
"Is she good-looking?"
"She's more, she's sweetly pretty. But I believe she is engaged to a young fellow named Morris, also an Australian."
"That makes it all the more interesting. But how are we to meet?" said Wyck, really roused.
"I can arrange that, if you are game for a suburban ball-room. The Brixton Bachelors give their annual ball shortly. She will be there and I will get you an invite."
"Tommy, you're a brick," said his friend, slapping him on the back; a proceeding which ensured the success of his neat manoeuvre, by which a note or two was transferred from Wyck's pocket-book to that of his friend, who was "rather hard-pressed, you know," and Wyck was "a devilish good chap for helping a fellow out of a hole."
In Piccadilly they parted, Tommy's last words being:
"'Ware young Australian, old chap. These colonial fellows are not to be trifled with."
"My dear boy, I've heard that before. They told me the same with regard to Americans, but three of my notches represent Yankee maidens. I'm all right. Don't forget the ticket for the ball. I must complete my score of fifty."
He waved him an adieu, and went his way, very well pleased with himself and full of self-confidence. The old pitcher in the fable succumbed at the hundredth journey, and Wyck's successful career will be cut short by the fiftieth notch.
"How dare you do it, sir? You are too presumptuous."
"I am awfully sorry, Amy, but really I could not help myself."
"But you did help yourself, Reg," and the young girl turned upon her companion such a bewitchingly pretty face, her lips pouting with badly-simulated anger, that the young man had no compunction in taking her in his arms, and kissing the pouting lips till they smiled again.
This scene was enacted in a tiny summer-house of trellis-work, completely covered with hanging greenery, which stood in one of those pretty gardens that are still to be found in the suburb of Brixton. The summer-house appeared to be designed expressly for its two occupants. It held only two seats and was of dimensions just sufficiently confined to prevent them from being too far apart. Through the opening could be seen the full stretch of the carefully-tended garden, backed by a comfortable house with a verandah running round it. On the lawn, a couple of dogs were lying lazily; hanging in the verandah was an aviary and the noisy twittering of its occupants reached the ears of the two in the summer-house. Their eyes dwelt lovingly on the scene before them, with a sense of rest, for happiness and contentment seemed to be in the air.
An elderly man in shirt-sleeves was busily engaged in pruning some fruit trees. As he paused in his work to wipe his perspiring brow he formed a picture of contentment in complete harmony with the scene of which he was a part. This was Oliver Whyte, the owner of the house and garden, which he had christened, in true Australian fashion, "The Mia-Mia." He was a man of about sixty, short and thick-set in appearance with a tendency to corpulence. His character was written in his fine open face, clean-shaven save for a ring of white hair that set his honest countenance in an oval frame; was felt as one listened to the tones of his rough, good-natured voice. He was joined by an elderly woman, who despite her grey hair and heavy build, was as active as many a younger maid. Her voice had a genuine and pleasant ring in it and her face always wore a cheerful, contented smile. She was beloved by all who came in contact with her, for she was the embodiment of the word motherly. The dogs rose and stretched themselves and lazily rubbed their noses against her skirt, as she passed from one flower bed to another, snipping a dead leaf here and picking a faded blossom there. This was Mrs. Whyte or, as Oliver fondly calls her, "the missus."
Forty years before, Oliver Whyte, a young man in his prime, set out with two companions for the sunny shores of Australia. He had served his time as a carpenter, and his employers had cause to regret the loss of a fine workman when Whyte became fired with the ambition of travel at the time when the glorious accounts of the richness of Australia attracted the energetic youth of Britain. Arriving in Melbourne in '52, when the gold fever was at its height, he and his companions lost no time in finding their way to the fields in search of the precious metal. He spent twelve months in rough living and hard labour then, to realize it was not as easy to make a fortune as he imagined. But he was a good artizan and, men of his stamp being scarce, he returned to Melbourne and started working at his trade. In vain he tried to persuade his mates to follow suit, but the gold-fever had taken too strong a hold upon them. Wages were very high in Melbourne, and he had no difficulty in earning ten and even fifteen pounds a week. In a few months' time he was able to start in business on his own account and, as Melbourne had by this time been acknowledged as the capital town, he invested all his savings in land which could then be had at low rates. When he had made a fair business he sent home for the girl with whom he had "kept company," and on her arrival they were married in Melbourne. Years went by, his business extended, and his land increased in value fifty-fold, and Oliver Whyte was rapidly becoming a wealthy man.
The fact that no children blessed their union was a great trouble to the Whytes. But when his wife began to fret over it Whyte would answer in his cheery fashion, "Never mind, missus, we shall have to get one of somebody else's."
One day, when they were at their mid-day meal, a letter in a strange hand-writing was brought to them, in which they were begged to come at once to the Melbourne Hospital where a woman named Johnson wished to see them.
"Johnson! Johnson!" said Whyte. "The only Johnson I ever knew, was my mate, Bill Johnson, whom I left on the 'fields.'"
"Maybe this is his wife, Olly."
"We'll go at once and see her."
Straightway the honest couple set out for the hospital and, on arriving there, were taken to the bedside of a dying woman.
"Are you Olly Whyte?" asked the woman, feebly.
"Yes, that's me," said Whyte.
"My name is Johnson and Bill told me that if anything went wrong I was to look out for Olly Whyte, and he would help me."
"Are you Bill's wife, then? Where is he?"
"Dead, two years ago, and I am going to join him."
"Poor old Bill!" said Whyte, feelingly.
"I've got a little girl," murmured the poor woman. "She ain't been brought up first class, but if you would look after her I'd die happy."
"Where is she?" said Mrs. Whyte, speaking for the first time. "Of course we will do so."
That night the widow of Whyte's old mate, Bill Johnson, died and the house of Whyte had an additional inmate in the shape of a tousled-haired little girl, removed from a tenement in Little Bourke Street, one of the lowest slums in Melbourne. When Amy Johnson found herself in the midst of these novel surroundings, and experienced the delights of new and warm clothing and of plenty of good things to eat, and the disagreeables of having her face and hands washed oftener than she thought necessary, her equilibrium was completely upset. But time and careful handling soon made her forget her old ways. As she grew up, she developed startling qualities of mind and body, united to a loveable disposition, that she soon filled the gap in the home of the old couple. At the age of eight she was sent to school, where she early distinguished herself and became a great favourite with the teacher, as with her schoolfellows. Her life was one of sunny happiness, the more so because she was completely unspoiled. Though she never knew trouble, she could yet sympathize with it, and she returned the idolization of her adopted parents with a love and consideration that caused them to bless the day that saw them on their errand of mercy to Melbourne Hospital.
Meanwhile, the occupants of the summer-house in Brixton were passing the time in lover-like reminiscences.
"Do you remember the first time we met, Amy?" said Reginald Morris, as he fondly stroked her hand.
"We met, 'twas in a crowd, upon the mighty ocean, on board the steamship Ormuz," answered Amy, in mock-tragedy. "Yes, I remember it well," she added, with a happy little sigh.
"I can remember every incident of the voyage, though it's three years ago. I thought it was going to be a disagreeable voyage for me, and I was seriously thinking of landing at Adelaide, when I made the acquaintance of your dear old dad, and that changed the whole purpose of my life. I can see him now as he came up to me with his frank smile and said in his cheery voice: 'My name is Oliver Whyte, sir.' My heart went out to him after his hearty greeting, and we soon became fast friends. Then he introduced me to his dear old wife, and a pert little kid—"
"Take that for your impertinence," interrupted Amy, boxing his ears lightly.
"I mean a smart young lady. I can see her now, and she captured my heart on the spot and, try how I will, I cannot get it back."
"Well it was a fair exchange, for you took mine in return," she answered, with a blush.
"Six months from to-day, Amy?"
"Yes, Reg. Six months before I have to give up all my pleasures, sacrifice all my pets and put myself at the mercy of a tyrant."
Reg stooped to kiss the lips again that chaffed him so prettily, when the doorway was darkened by the figure of Oliver Whyte, who said in an amused tone of enquiry:
"I suppose you are too busy to go and say good-bye to Mr. Northmore, Reg? He's waiting to see you, for he sails to-morrow."
"Come Amy, let's go to him together," said Reg rising and, tucking Amy's arm under his own, he entered the house and greeted a young man waiting there:
"Hullo, Jack, how are you?"
"I'm jolly, old chap. And Miss Amy, I trust you are well."
"No, I'm not, Mr. Northmore, he's been worrying me again. Never get engaged: it's too wearing. If it were not for the fact that one can wreak revenge when one is married I don't think any girl could stand it."
"Well, Reg does not seem to dread the coming vengeance."
"How do you do, Mr. Northmore. I am so sorry you are going to leave us so soon," said Mrs. Whyte, entering at this moment.
"Business, Mrs. Whyte, business. I am not so fortunate as our friend here. I came only on a visit, which I have enjoyed very much. I am due at Cape Town in a fortnight."
"Amy, do you think you can find our friend Northmore some refreshment," said Whyte, as he joined them.
"I'll try, dad. Come on, Reg, I shall want your help," and they both skipped out of the room.
"That's the way they go on all day long," said Whyte to Northmore, "just like two kittens."
"They are to be married shortly, are they not?"
"Yes, in six months. It's hardly fair to keep Reg waiting any longer. They've been engaged three years now."
"I am glad Reg is going to settle down, and with such an excellent partner."
"Yes, you're right, Northmore. I don't think a happier pair, or one more suited to each other could be found in a year's travel."
"Reg is a wonder, too. It is not every man who can boast of having made a fortune for himself at twenty-four."
"Ah, I intended asking you about that. He is so modest and reticent about himself. He says he did it by accident and could not help himself."
"Nothing of the kind, Whyte. He was left an orphan at fourteen in Adelaide and had only one relative, living at Dunedin in New Zealand, who sent for him there and procured him a post in a sharebroker's office as errand-boy. By dint of hard work he rose to be confidential clerk when he was twenty-three. It was then that the great event happened which made him. I remember it well. Reg had studied mineralogy thoroughly and was able to give a pretty accurate forecast of the capabilities of a mine, and he was often sent to report. One day he was ordered to 'Dagmar No. 2' and, on his return he gave a most promising account of it, in face of two experts who had reported it of no value. The experts were believed and the shares fell, but Reg, to show his confidence in his own opinion, bought all he could get at a low rate. His employers and his friends reasoned and argued with him, but to no avail. All his earnings and all he could raise, he invested in the mine. His employers were annoyed and he was dismissed. Nothing daunted, he went off to the mine and offered to manage it for nothing, telling the directors he would make it pay. They laughed at him, but finally gave way, especially as his holding was large enough to entitle him to a seat at the board. Two months later reports began to spread that Dagmar No. 2 had struck a rich lode, and a week later it was acknowledged to be one of the richest mines in New Zealand. Reg sold out for something like sixty thousand."
"Come this way," said Amy in a playful way, opening the door, and leading Reg by the ear. He was carrying a tray of glasses and completely at her mercy. "This is how I intend to lead my husband."
"Amy, I'm shocked," said Mrs. Whyte, laughing heartily.
"So am I, mother," said Reg, putting down the tray, and gently releasing her fingers.
Then the conversation became general. In the midst of it the postman's knock was heard, and letters for Reg and Amy were brought in, which proved to contain invitations to the annual ball given by the Brixton Bachelors.
"Oh! Reg, dear, will you go?" cried Amy.
"That rests with you."
"Then we'll accept," said Amy, decisively.
As Northmore bade them good-bye at the gate he said: "Reg, you are a man to be envied. You have a girl who is a pearl amongst diamonds."
"I know it, old fellow, and I appreciate it to the full."
On the following day acceptances were sent to the invitation of the Bachelors, and little did that happy circle dream that this ball, about which they laughed and joked, would be the means of blighting that happy home for ever.
[Footnote A: Pronounced "mi-mi."]
When Reg and Amy, accompanied by Mrs. Whyte, arrived, the ball was in full swing. This Bachelors' Ball was an annual affair of some more than local reputation and the suburban element was frequently enforced, and leavened, by guests from the West End, who at other periods of the year professed never to have heard of Brixton. The ball-room was beautifully decorated with hangings of dainty tints. Palms and ferns, artistically placed with fairy lamps glimmering through the masses of greenery, made inviting corners, that attracted the weary dancers. No expense had been spared to make the scene one of splendour and attraction, and it fairly took good Mrs. Whyte's breath away. Reg succeeded in finding two vacant seats near a Colonel's widow, who was an acquaintance of Mrs. Whyte and, having comfortably settled the old lady, offered his arm to Amy and they were soon whirling together in the mazy throng of waltzers.
They made a striking couple; the tall, handsome man and the slight, willowy girl, with her beautiful face flushed with the exercise, and many were the enquiries made as to who and what they were. The dance over, Reg reserved for himself nine of the items on her card, leaving the remainder, as he laughingly said, to her numerous admirers to fight over. Then he left her for a moment to greet some friends.
"Miss Johnson, may I introduce a great friend of mine?" said a voice behind her.
Amy turned to find Tommy smiling complacently at her, accompanied by a handsome, dark stranger.
"Certainly, Mr. Thomas."
"Miss Johnson—Mr. Wyckliffe," and the two met. Amy was too full of enjoyment to notice more than that her new acquaintance had a quiet manner, soft attractive voice, and a peculiarly penetrating gaze. She surrendered her programme, and, as he passed it back to her, he merely bowed, and said:
"I have taken sixteen and eighteen, thank you."
The ball went merrily forward, both Reg and Amy enjoying themselves to the full. At the sixteenth dance Reg found himself disengaged, and went outside to have a smoke. He was scarcely half through his cigarette, when the fancy seized him to go back to the ball-room and watch Amy dancing. Standing in the doorway he marked each couple pass him, but without discovering the object of his search. He made his way round to Mrs. Whyte, but that good lady could only tell him that she had been claimed by her partner, Mr. Wyckliffe. Reg felt vaguely disturbed, how or why he scarcely knew; but he remembered Amy had once told him she never sat out a dance except with an old friend. He wandered away aimlessly, and when the next dance had begun and still Amy did not appear, he decided to look for her. Pausing at the refreshment buffet he was in the act of raising a glass to his lips when his eye caught sight of a portion of a dress he knew too well, partly hidden by some drapery hanging over a corner of the gallery. In the twinkling of an eye he ran up the stairs. Amy saw him coming, and drawing the drapery on one side, smiled at him. It was enough to dispel all his troublesome thoughts, and he came up to her and laughingly said:
"Ah, here you are, you truant. It is too bad to disappoint your partners in this way."
"Reg, this is Mr. Wyckliffe," said she, referring to her partner.
"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Morris," said that gentleman, rising with a smile and extending his hand.
"Thanks. I am delighted to make your acquaintance," answered Reg, shaking warmly in his genuine way the hand extended to him.
"Miss Johnson has been good enough to make a confidant of me," continued Wyck, lightly. "She has told me of your engagement and I hope you will let me congratulate you. You are a lucky man."
"I am, indeed," answered Reg, as politely as he could, though he felt strongly inclined to resent the familiarity from a man who had only met him and his fiancee for the first time that evening.
"Miss Johnson mentioned that she was engaged for this dance with you, but as I have the next she agreed to sit them both out with me."
Reg began to grow uncomfortable, and turned to Amy, and said, "It's very cold here, Amy, I think you ought to go back, as Mrs. Whyte is looking for you."
"Oh! you won't desert me, will you, Miss Johnson?" said Wyck, gazing at her in an intense way, and exerting his will-power to the utmost.
"I'd rather stay, Reg," she answered, but the decision seemed to come from her reluctantly.
"I'll take care of her, Morris, never fear," said Wyck, smiling.
Reg looked from one to the other. He felt helpless, and in a predicament from which only a scene, which he abhorred, would extricate him. It was galling in the extreme to find a total stranger dictating to the girl he was engaged to.
"Then you won't come?" he asked.
"Not yet, Reg," she replied, in a languid manner, and he turned sharply on his heel and descended the stairs in a mood the reverse of amiable. Here he ran against Tommy, whom he stopped and asked:
"Who's your friend Wyckliffe, Thomas?"
"Oh, old Wyck is a great friend of mine. Why do you ask? You don't look well, old chap. Come and have something to pull you together."
"No thanks. Look here, Thomas, I don't like the way your friend is going on."
"Why, what's he done?" asked Tommy, in feigned surprise, though he was rather enjoying the joke of badgering the jealous lover.
"Miss Johnson is an innocent girl, not up to the free-and-easy flirting ways of your Society friends, and she should not be compromised by sitting out three dances with a stranger."
"Come, old chap. You make too much fuss over a small matter. But look, there is Mrs. Whyte beckoning to you," said he, pointing to the lady in question, who was anxiously watching them. "I won't keep you."
"Where's Amy, Reg?" said Mrs. Whyte as he came near, in an anxious voice, somewhat louder than strict etiquette demanded.
Reg sat down beside her and told her Amy was sitting out with Mr. Wyckliffe.
"What, three dances, Reg. I think I had better go to her."
"There is no need for that, for here she comes," answered Reg, quickly, as he saw Amy suddenly appear in the ball-room. A fierce pang of jealousy seized him when he noticed how she hung on her partner's arm. "Hadn't we better go home, mother?" he said, "I am tired of this."
"Really, Mrs. Whyte," said Wyck, coming up to her with a bland expression of unconsciousness, "I must apologize for keeping Miss Johnson away from you so long; but it was so cool and pleasant in the gallery."
Mrs. Whyte merely bowed and said:
"Amy, come and let us fetch our cloaks, we are going home."
"All right, mother," she answered, quietly, her eyes fixed on Wyck's departing figure.
They passed him again in the entrance hall, and as Amy shook hands with him and bade him good-night, Reg was maddened to notice Wyck stoop and whisper something to her, and to see her smile and nod in return.
The demeanour of the party on their return was so different, that even the old cabby could not help noticing it. Incessant chattering and gay bursts of laughter marked their journey to the ball-room, that "it did one's heart good," as the cabby put it. But on the return journey everyone was silent, gloomy and depressed. Whyte was waiting at the gate for them and, as he opened the door, cried out in his cheery voice, "Back again, my children," but, to his surprise, there was no response and, seeing Mrs. Whyte signal him to be quiet, he gave a low whistle and murmured under his breath, with a chuckle, "a lover's quarrel, by Jove."
Amy, on entering the house, went straight to her room and locked herself in; an occurrence so unique in the history of the Mia-Mia, that old Whyte stared open-mouthed at Reg, who had flung himself on the sofa, and asked:
"What's the matter, Reg?"
"I don't know, dad. I don't understand it at all."
"Have you quarrelled?"
"Then what is it?"
Reg told him all he knew about the matter, which certainly did not seem much in the telling, and sitting-out being a common occurrence at balls Whyte was disposed to look at it in the light of an attack of lovers' jealousy, until Mrs. Whyte entered the room, looking very concerned, and, taking her husband's arm, burst into tears.
"Don't give way like that, missus. Why, what's the matter?" said he, tenderly.
"Oh, dad, dad, it's horrible. She has locked herself in her room, and is crying bitterly, but she won't open the door. Who would have thought our Amy would do such a thing. Oh, these horrid balls!"
"It's not the ball," said Reg, fiercely. "It's that scoundrel Wyckliffe who is the cause of all this. I'll murder him."
"Reg, I am surprised at you talking like that," said Mrs. Whyte. "If Amy wished to stay with him, she—"
"Prefers him to me, is that it?" put in Reg, rising, and pacing the room, angrily.
"No, not that. I mean she is to blame."
"She's not to blame. If she had not met that fellow, there would have been no trouble."
"Come, come," said Whyte, anxious to make peace. "Let's get to bed; perhaps she will have forgotten all about it in the morning." And he led his wife away.
Reg did not go to bed, but walked restlessly to and from the garden to cool his heated brain and collect his thoughts. At last he entered his room, and casually picked up a copy of Truth to while away the time until he felt inclined for sleep. His eye happened to light on a paragraph drawing attention to the ruin of the prospects of a young actress by a gentleman "well-known in Society." No names were mentioned, but fuller details were promised. Had names been mentioned an amount of sorrow, with its appalling consequences, would have been saved and this story never have been written. At last Reg tumbled into bed, only to toss about and dream of dreadful accidents to Amy, with which Wyck was somehow connected, while he himself lay powerless to rescue her, fighting fiercely against the invisible hands which kept his hands tied, and his limbs stiff and helpless.
"Reg, Reg, get up," said Whyte, entering Morris's room the next morning.
"Hallo, dad, what time is it?"
"One o'clock, lad."
Ten minutes later Reg was down to his breakfast. The reminiscences of the previous night had come back to him, and were very bitter.
"Is Amy up yet?" he asked.
"Yes, and gone out," said Whyte, looking anxiously at him.
"What!" cried Reg, in surprise.
"About an hour ago," continued Whyte. "She came out of her room fully dressed for walking out, and looking as miserable as possible. I asked her where she was going, but she seemed not to notice, and only came up to me and flung her arms round my neck, kissed me, and left the room."
"Did she not say where she was going to?"
"No, lad; she said nothing."
"What would you suggest doing, Whyte? Shall I go and hunt this fellow Wyckliffe up, and ask him what he means?"
"No, lad. That will do little good. We will speak to Amy herself when she returns. Dear, dear! I fancy her brain must be touched," and the sympathetic old fellow walked hurriedly away to conceal the tears that would fall.
Reg walked to the garden with a heavy heart. There were all the pets waiting for their mistress. The dogs ran to him with yelps of enquiry; the birds twittered plaintively, as if they felt something was wrong. Reg stooped and patted the dogs, and it seemed a relief to his bursting heart to tell them all his forebodings for the happiness of their home.
The weary hours passed, and Amy returned. Her usually bright manner had disappeared; her step had lost its lightness, and there was an air of languor about her, very foreign to her nature. As she caught sight of Reg she hung down her head, and passed rapidly into the house, taking no notice of the dogs who bounded towards her barking with delight. Reg slowly followed her, his face revealing the troubles of his heart.
"My darling girl," said Mrs. Whyte, as she met her in the passage and, fondly throwing her arms around her, drawing her into the room. "Won't you trust us and tell us what is the matter?"
"Don't ask me, mother," said Amy, bursting into tears.
"Look here, Amy," said Whyte, coming forward and vainly trying to put a trace of sternness in his voice. "You must give us some explanation of your conduct, dear. You are not acting fairly by Reg."
"Oh, Amy, darling, I'll forgive anything. Only do tell me what has come between us," said Reg, coming quickly forward, and taking her hand he led her to a sofa.
At length her sobs became less violent, and she tried to say with some air of decision:
"I want you to release me, Reg. I find I do not love you sufficiently to be your wife."
"Release you!" cried Reg, starting.
"Yes, Reg dear. I cannot marry you now. I thought I loved you, but I find now I love another."
"Is he the other?" asked Reg, sternly.
"Yes, I love Wyck."
"Wyck! is that Mr. Wyckliffe?"
"Yes. He told me to call him Wyck;" and here she began feverishly to pull off her engagement ring.
"Oh, don't take that off," cried Reg, in a pained voice.
"I must, Reg, I must. He told me to;" and she handed back the ring she had worn and caressed so long.
"Then all is over between us," said Reg, quietly.
"Yes, Reg. I am sorry, but it must be," and she slowly rose and went to her room, not noticing any of the others.
"Reg, my dear boy, bear up; be a man. God knows, it is a severe blow for us. So changed; so different! Had anyone told me that such a catastrophe could happen in such a short time, I would have given him the lie direct."
"Yes, Whyte, you are right. It is a blow, but there are times in every man's life when he is called on to bear the heaviest burdens, and it is his duty to submit. She has told me she prefers Wyck, as she calls him, to me; so I give way, and God grant he may make her happy."
"He is a stranger to us and, if he does marry her, he will take her away from us, and we may never meet again. With her all our happiness disappears," and tears again welled in the good old man's eyes.
"Whyte, I must see this man," said Reg, firmly, but threateningly.
"Reg, I beg you won't interfere. It will do no good. Promise me you will not interfere," said Whyte, imploringly, for he feared the consequences if Reg and his rival met.
"What shall I do then, dad?" he said, sadly.
"Go away for a few days. This sudden infatuation may go as quickly as it came, and when you return, perhaps we may see a change."
"Very well, dad. Your advice is always good. I will go away for a week, and wander about somewhere to kill time."
That evening he took the mail to Dover, and with a heavy heart crossed to France. The Whytes missed Reg sadly, and Whyte himself deeply regretted having advised him to go away, for Amy, instead of noticing his absence, seemed to become more and more absorbed every day in her new attraction, that she took no notice whatever of her surroundings. She made no enquiry for Reg, and scarcely addressed anyone in the house. The second day after his departure she went out in the same mysterious manner as before without explanation. Whyte thereupon determined to follow her.
He saw her take a 'bus going in the direction of the city, and managed to catch another running close behind it. At Westminster Bridge she quitted the 'bus, and looked round eagerly, till her gaze rested on a young man, who was laughing and talking with two others. After waiting in their vicinity, Whyte saw one of the trio lounge carelessly towards her and, without raising his hat or making any formal or respectful greeting, take her hand and kiss her on both cheeks. A roar of laughter greeted this proceeding from the two companions left on the pavement.
"Well, and how's little Amy to-day?" said Wyck, carelessly.
"Quite well and happy now, Wyck dear, thank you," replied Amy, in a bright tone, but in a dreamy, absent manner, walking away by his side along the Embankment.
Whyte remained watching these proceedings, but did not attempt to interfere. He had seen sufficient, and hailed a return omnibus going homewards with a heavier heart than ever. "Why did I send Reg away?" he murmured to himself. "No good will come from this, I see. I'll put a stop to it, for he can't mean square." The whole journey through he puzzled his brains to find an explanation for this peculiar conduct of Amy's so unusual with her. On his arrival home he told his wife all he had seen, and in their helplessness the two old people could only offer a silent prayer to Heaven to protect the child they loved so devotedly.
When Amy returned from her visit, Whyte went to her and said:
"Amy, I forbid you to see that man again."
"You cannot stop me, dad, for he said I was to go," she answered, looking at him in a curiously absent way.
"We shall see," he answered, vaguely, for her opposition startled him. Amy said nothing, but passed on to her room and locked herself in.
The next day, and for several days afterwards, she eluded Whyte's vigilance with a cunning so abnormal, and so unlike herself, that the poor old man was nearly driven frantic with perplexity. Each day she returned in the same silent, oppressed mood, and avoided everyone in the house.
A letter in a man's hand-writing came for her one evening, which she opened in the Whytes' presence, and made no comment. Since the mysterious change in her behaviour she was in the habit of rising early and retiring to her room with the morning paper. The morning following the receipt of the letter she acted as usual, and shortly after, the Whytes were startled by hearing a loud cry coming from her room, followed by a heavy thud, as if something had fallen. A vague terror seized them, and in an instant both rushed to her room and, flinging open the door, they were horrified to find their darling child stretched on the floor with the paper clenched in her hand. They gently raised her and, while Mrs Whyte undressed her and put her to bed, Whyte himself ran for a doctor.
Reg meanwhile had found his resolve to keep away intolerable, and had, in a moment of impulse, returned to London in time to meet Whyte hurriedly entering the house, followed by a young doctor.
"What's the matter, Whyte?" said Reg, running forward.
"Thank God, my boy, you are back again. I feel the change is coming, one way or another," answered Whyte, solemnly, as he motioned the doctor upstairs. Then, in answer to Reg's breathless questions, he told him all that had happened during his absence.
At this juncture the doctor returned. His face was grave and troubled, and a nameless chill seized the two.
"Well, doctor," cried both together.
"I'm afraid it's for the worst," he answered, sadly. "I would advise you to send for a specialist's opinion at once. Sir Charles Edward I would recommend, for there is grave heart trouble."
In all haste the celebrated specialist was summoned, but his examination was sickening in its brevity, and his verdict held out no hope. "The nervous system has received some terribly sudden shock," he said; "and there is a serious rupture of the vessels of the heart. She may recover consciousness, but it will be only momentary. We see many appalling sights in my profession, but rarely one so sad as this. A young life so beautiful, and apparently so strong, to be suddenly cut off; it is terrible! What can have caused it?"
Whyte hurriedly told him all he knew. Meanwhile Reg, in his restlessness, had seized the paper left lying on the floor, and began aimlessly to scan the columns. Suddenly his eyes were arrested by a familiar name, and he read as follows:
BANQUET TO MR. VILLIERS WYCKLIFFE.
This popular and fortunate young gentleman, who is on the point of starting for a tour of the Australian Colonies, was entertained at dinner at the Angora Club, last evening. Lord Hardup presided, and in proposing the health of the guest of the evening in eulogistic terms, presented him, on behalf of the Club, with a handsome diamond pin, and heartily wished him God-speed. The pin was in the shape of a broken heart, which curious badge has been adopted by Mr. Wyckliffe. Mr. Wyckliffe left by the night express for Naples, to join the s.s. Himalaya en route for Adelaide.
"The —— scoundrel," said Reg, emphatically. Whyte and Sir Charles turned round upon him in surprise. "Here is the cause of it," said Reg, handing the paper to Whyte.
Barely time to express their surprise at the discovery was given them before they were all hurriedly summoned to Amy's bedside. Mrs. Whyte and a nurse, who had been at once sent for, were watching the still figure on the bed, with the doctor in attendance.
"Will she die, Sir Charles?" asked Reg, in a feverish whisper.
"My dear young sir, there is no hope. She may recover consciousness, but if she does it will only be for a few moments. Doctor Carr will remain till the end;" and giving the young man's hand a sympathetic squeeze, while he brushed away something dangerously like a tear, he hurried away to his carriage.
They remained in the darkened room in anxious silence. Suddenly, the nurse moved to the bedside, and held up her hand in warning. The nervous tension of each watcher was extreme, that the movement seemed to give relief.
"Wyck! Wyck!" came from the lips of Amy, in a mournful whisper. "Wyck gone; Reg gone. Poor Amy."
"No, my darling," burst from Reg's lips, but the doctor held up a warning finger and hushed his impetuous outburst.
It was a terrible scene. To watch helplessly while a few stifled words broke in interjections from the dying girl's lips, and note the manifest struggle to give them utterance.
"Reg, Reg, forgive—forgive daddy, mammy! God—bless—you;" and with a convulsive shudder, her spirit had passed away.
Doctor Carr had seen many death-beds in his career, but never one so affecting as this. Kneeling by the bedside were the two old people, and a hale and hearty youth, sobbing as if their hearts were broken. He was about to leave the sombre chamber, when he was startled by a voice saying in loud, firm tones:
"I call God to witness and hear me swear. By the hand of this corpse, than which I hold nothing more sacred in this world, I, Reginald Morris, solemnly swear vengeance upon her murderer. Henceforth I have but one hope; henceforth I dedicate my fortune and my future to avenging Amy Johnson's death. Amen!"
A deep echoing "Amen" broke from Oliver Whyte, and the two men joined hands over the fair dead form each loved so much.
Two days later all that remained of Amy Johnson was carried to its last resting-place.
The bright and sunshiny little domicile "The Mia-Mia," was now silent and desolate, as if under a spell. Whyte and his wife had aged visibly since their darling's death, while Reg had grown into a sad, silent man with a stern, relentless expression of face. Even the pets seemed subdued; the flowers seemed to droop; the sun to shine less brightly, for the hope and the light of the house was dead.
One solemn duty had yet to be performed, when Whyte took Reg by the arm and led him to the room of the dead girl. Here the gay pictures on the walls, and the pretty draperies so daintily arranged seemed to mock them. On the table lay her writing desk, one of his first presents to her, and Reg, with a feeling of sacrilege, slowly opened it. On the top lay a letter, which read as follows:
Come to the Park to-morrow as usual. I have procured a special licence, and we can be married right away.
Tout a toi, WYCK."
"Why this was written the evening before he sailed," cried Reg. "This is a worse villainy than I dreamed of. Stay, here is another in her own writing," and he read the following:
"My dearest Reg, Mammy and Daddy,
"By the time this reaches you I shall be married to Wyck. Forgive me. I cannot help myself, for he said I was to go, and I do love him. Good-bye. Forgive, but do not forget,
"Your undutiful girl, "AMY."
"At last," said Whyte. "Now we see what caused the shock."
"Yes, he had promised to marry her at the time he had arranged to leave England for his trip. Why the Angora Club presented him with his badge, set in diamonds, and, by Heaven, I will do the same. I'll brand the scoundrel on both ears with the same distinguishing mark."
"It was all my fault, Reg. If only I had not persuaded you—" began Whyte, blaming himself.
"Stay, Whyte; it is too late for praise or blame, however undeserved. I have only one sentiment left to guide me, and that is Revenge."
* * * * *
Villiers Wyckliffe had added the fiftieth notch to his stick, and with the air of a hero at the close of a brilliant campaign, had started on a tour of pleasure to Australia—for, as he expressed it, he liked that "Australian kid" so well that he must needs go to her native land to make acquaintance with others of her sort. Little did he think that on his track was one dominated with a relentless purpose that would never grow weak, whose motto was—REVENGE.
Reg had now fully determined to follow Wyck to Australia, and he lost no time in making his preparations. His first step was to go to a firm of die-sinkers, where he ordered a die to be cut in the shape of a broken heart, exactly similar to the device on Wyckliffe's letter-paper.
"Make it of the finest steel," he said, "and have its edges as sharp as that of a razor. Have a case made to fit it, so that it can be kept constantly sharp and bright, and ready for use at any time."
"It will be an expensive article, sir," said the shopman.
"Never mind, have it made exactly to order. Let me know when it will be ready, and I will call and pay the bill."
That done, he called a cab, drove to Finsbury Pavement, and got out at a large warehouse.
"Is Mr. Bridgland in?" he asked at the Inquiry Office, and was ushered into a small room on the door of which was painted the word "Manager."
"Good morning, Bridgland," he said, entering and shaking hands with a man sitting at a desk.
"What, Morris!" he replied. "You look like a ghost. Are you ill, man?"
"She's dead and buried, old chap."
"Who?—not Miss Johnson," almost gasped Bridgland.
"Yes, Amy Johnson is dead. She was murdered."
"Yes, murdered." And sitting down, Reg told Bridgland everything, omitting not the slightest detail from the day of the ball to the present.
Joseph Bridgland was the only man in London Reg had ever called a friend. He had met him through a business transaction shortly after his landing, and had taken a great fancy to him. Bridgland was a self-made man, and had started in life as the office boy to the large firm of whose business he was now manager. He was short and stout, with a full-moon-like face that was always twinkling with good-humour. He always faced his troubles with a smile; met all difficulties lightly, and generally conquered them in the end. But Reg's trouble was too serious to be smiled at, the sight of the pale, drawn face of the friend who had always been so gay and light-hearted was a shock to him, and when Reg had told his pitiful story, he found it difficult to restrain his tears. He was fairly intimate with Reg and Amy Johnson, and looked upon them as an ideal couple.
"My dear old chap, I cannot tell you how sorry I am. This fellow Wyckliffe must be a miserable scoundrel, but I think I can help you."
"You can, Bridgland?" said Reg, starting.
"Yes, sit down and I will tell you. Listeners are people I despise, but I was compelled to overhear a conversation, which has troubled me ever since, but now I see there must have been something in the fact that I was given this chance. One of the partners here leads the life of a man about town. His office is there, next to mine, and he frequently has a young fellow called Tommy drop in and have a chat with him."
"I know him," said Reg.
"Well, on this particular day the door I suppose was not closely shut, and I chanced to hear them talking about a certain secret club called the Detlij Club, or some such name. It is nothing more or less, I believe, than an association of youthful rakes who lay plans to ruin women. Tommy and he were apparently members, and they frequently spoke of Wyck."
"That's my man, Bridgland," said Reg, fiercely.
"From what I could gather, this Wyck boasts of the possession of a diabolical faculty for making girls fall in love with him. His next move is to throw them over and one more is added to his record, which is kept by means of notches on a stick. Now I distinctly heard Tommy say that Wyck had his fiftieth notch booked, and that she was an Australian."
"My God! that was Amy. Bridgland, I will see you again, but I cannot stay longer now. I begin to see my way clear. A thousand thanks and good-bye." To Bridgland's astonishment he left the office hurriedly, without another word.
Calling a cab, Reg drove to the Angora Club in Piccadilly, and asked for Mr. Thomas. Finding he was not in, he left a letter asking him to meet him on business of importance at a certain hotel at three o'clock the following afternoon.
That evening he and the Whytes discussed his project.
The old couple were bearing up well, and so deep was their indignation against the man who had ruined the peace of their home that they encouraged Reg in his revenge.
"You are young and strong, Reg. I wish I was too, then I would go with you," said Whyte; "but I am getting too old."
"Leave it to me, Whyte. I have sworn to brand him, and as long as I have breath in my body, I will not give in."
The following day, Reg engaged a private room in the hotel, and gave instructions that Mr. Thomas was to be shown up immediately on his arrival, an event which soon happened.
"How do you do, Morris?" said Tommy, genially coming towards him. "Awfully good of you to think of me."
"Yes, I wanted to have a chat with you."
"You don't look well, old fellow. Nothing wrong, I hope."
"I have a little trouble, but—"
"Then let me share it, old fellow."
"What will you have to drink?" asked Reg, disregarding the invitation.
"Ah! the best way to kill trouble. Drink, and put your care in the grave."
The liquor was brought, and the waiter dismissed with instructions that they were not on any account to be disturbed.
"Do you mind my drawing the curtains?" said Reg, "the light affects my eyes."
"Not at all, old man. Here's good luck to you," answered Tommy, filling his glass.
Reg did not reply, but going to the door, he locked it, and put the key in his pocket. Tommy looked on in amazement. The little man had not much pluck, and he felt his knees tremble.
"What's the joke, old chap!" he asked, in a voice intended to be jocular.
"Thomas Thomas, listen to me. Amy Johnson is dead."
"Dead!" gasped Tommy, upsetting his glass in astonishment.
"Yes, she is dead. Your friend Wyck murdered her."
"Yes, murdered her," reiterated Reg.
"My God, old chap, I'm——"
"Silence!" cried Reg, in a stern voice. "You were the man who introduced her to him, and it is to you I look for some explanation. Who is this Villiers Wyckliffe, and what is his power?"
"My dear Morris, really I don't know. I always thought he was a straight chap."
"Tommy, you're a liar. You do know, so out with it."
"But I've sworn not to divulge," almost whined Tommy.
"Then you refuse," said Reg, placing pen, ink and paper before Tommy, and producing a revolver from his pocket. Then he quietly placed his watch on the table in front of him, and said:
"There are pen and paper. If you want to write to your friends, do so, for you have five minutes to live."
This was too much for Tommy. All his dapper gaiety had disappeared. His clothes seemed to hang loosely on his limbs, and a perspiration broke out on his forehead. All his self-control vanished, and he fell abjectly on his knees and cried out for mercy.
"Get up, you lying scoundrel," said Reg. "What mercy did you or he show."
"I'll tell you all, Morris. I'll tell you all," gasped his victim.
"Then get up and do so at once, for you have but three minutes."
"What do you want to know?"
"All you know about Villiers Wyckliffe, and this power he is said to possess."
Tommy started with a tremulous voice, and narrated in disjointed sentences all that is known to the reader, the Detlij Club, all Wyck's secrets, his affair with Miss Williamson, and his own share in procuring the invitations for the Bachelors' Ball.
"Where has he gone now?" said Reg, still fingering the revolver.
"To Adelaide by the Himalaya."
"Is he going direct?"
"Yes he is, I swear."
"Then go down on your knees, Tommy, and swear you will never divulge that you have told me all this, and that you will not communicate with him."
"I swear, Morris," and Tommy was fairly on his knees.
"Now go. You are only his accomplice. You did not do the deed, so I'll let you go; but mark my words, if ever I hear of you mixing my name up with yours, I shoot you like a dog. Now go," said Reg, unlocking the door, through which Tommy rapidly slipped without a second bidding.
"It's really wonderful what an empty pistol can do with some fellows," said Reg to himself, as he drank a glass of wine and straightened the table.
"Miss Williamson," he continued, musing to himself, "Marjorie Williamson; you are the poor victim who lost your mother and your livelihood through the same man. I must see you, for you and I ought to shake hands."
Half-an-hour later, he entered the Caledonian Theatre by the stage-door, at the entrance of which he was confronted by an old fellow, who gruffly enquired his business.
"Have you been here long?" he asked.
"Yes, close on twenty years; why?"
"I want a little information. What's your name?"
"Jones. What's yours?"
"Mine is Morris."
"Well, what is it you want to know?" said Jones, looking suspiciously at him.
"Do you know Miss Williamson?"
"Yes, I do."
"Can you tell me where she lives?"
"No, I can't; and what's more, you'd better clear. She was ruined by one of you cursed—"
"Stay, Jones, I understand you. I don't come here as one of those vile cattle who hang round stage doors. I want to offer help and sympathy."
"Then you can go away, for she don't want either," said Jones, pointing to the door.
"My good fellow, I see you are a friend of hers, and I am glad to find she has one so good and true."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Can I trust you, Jones?"
"Then listen. The same man who ruined that girl, and killed her mother, killed also the girl I loved, the girl I had been engaged to for years. And I now look for my revenge."
"But what has she to do with it?" asked he, in a softer voice.
"I want to know her. I want her to have her revenge too. I am a rich man and I am off on his tracks to Australia next Friday."
"I don't think she'd see you, sir. She's never seen a gent since."
"You are an old friend, I can see?"
"Yes, sir, I am. Her dead mother and I were old friends. She was one of the good sort. She didn't put on airs because her daughter was a great actress. She used to sit and talk to me every night."
"Jones, you can manage it. Come, we'll go together."
As they drove along very little conversation passed between the two. At length the cab stopped at a house in a shabby street in Camden Town. "You stay here, sir, until I've seen her," said Jones, as he knocked at the door. The curtain was drawn aside for a moment before he was admitted. Five, ten minutes elapsed, and he did not return. Reg became impatient, but at last he heard the door open, and Jones was saying, "You see him, Miss Marjorie, he has a good face." But still she seemed to hesitate, and Reg, without waiting for more, walked up to her and grasping her hand, said in an earnest voice:
"Miss Williamson, I must see you."
She offered no further resistance, and Reg passed with her into a small sitting-room.
"Stay where you are, Jones," said Reg, as he saw him about to leave them alone. "You can hear all I have to say. Miss Williamson, I have heard all about your troubles, and I want you to listen to mine:" and again his sad story was recited.
"Now Miss Williamson I am off to Australia to take vengeance, and I want you to assist me."
"Assist you! how? Mr. Morris."
"In this way. You are here toiling your life away for a meagre pittance. You must give it up."
"Stay, let me finish. I want you to clear your name and honour before the world. I want you to rise again to your old position, and be revenged that way."
"Impossible," she said.
"No it's not, sir," chimed in Jones, eagerly.
"She could get a good engagement to-morrow if she liked."
"Miss Williamson, as I said before, I am a rich man. I have thousands a year, and now I have no use for the money I want you to accept—"
"I shall accept nothing, sir," said she, sharply.
"I want you to accept," resumed Reg, tranquilly, "a small loan in order to enable you to have a fair start, and as you will not quite trust me, I will place it in Jones's hands. Here, Jones," he continued, handing him a roll of notes, "are a hundred and fifty pounds. You are to watch over Miss Williamson and see that she resumes her calling. Miss Williamson, once more I beg of you to assist me, and when you are a successful woman again, and making lots of money, you can repay me."
"Miss Marjorie, do it. I'll help you," said Jones, appealingly.
"Then I'll do it, Mr. Morris, and God bless you;" then words failed her, and she laid her head on the sofa and burst into tears.
Reg bid her good-bye and, followed by Jones left the house, feeling lighter-hearted than he had been for several days. And Jones, when he was put down at the theatre door, said, in a choking voice:
"You'll never regret this day's work, sir. God bless you."
Reg next went to the shop at which he had ordered his die, and found it a most satisfactory piece of workmanship. Then he drove to the offices of the Orient Company, and found if he left London on the following Friday he could catch the Orltuz at Naples.
"There's only one berth left, sir," said the clerk. "It's in a two-berth cabin, and a Mr. Allen Winter has the other."
"Then cable and secure it for me," he said, putting down the money and receiving his ticket.
The next day he called on Bridgland, related all he had done, and told him his plans.
"You are a marvel, Morris," said that worthy man. "I could not understand why you left me so suddenly. So you leave England to-morrow for certain?"
"Yes. Wyck has a clear week's start and, as the Himalaya is a faster boat, I expect he will reach Adelaide eight days ahead of me."
"And when you catch him what will you do?"
"Do you see this die, Bridgland?" asked Reg, as he produced his case. "This is his device. I'll brand him with it on both ears. He shall be a marked man for life."
"But that's rather dangerous, is it not?"
"Listen, Brigland. I have sworn by the corpse of the girl I loved that I would avenge her death, and I will do it at any cost. Your high-class Englishman looks upon a woman's honour as his legitimate prey, and his fellows feast and toast and testimonialise his success in his nefarious deeds; but we Australians are made of different stuff from the rotten fabric of European civilisation. We hold the honour of our women in respect, and we have only one law for those who sully or sport with it—the law that a right-minded man makes for himself. Here is a murderer gone to our country to continue his infamous amusement. Mark my words, Bridgland, if he ever returns alive to England, he will return so that it is impossible for him to hold up his head. Now good-bye, old chap. When you see me again, rest assured Australia will have been revenged."
"My God!" said Bridgland to himself when Reg had left him. "I would rather be dead than have a sleuth-hound like that on my track. Wyck, your time has come, but not before you deserve it."
The final arrangements were completed, and Reg started on his journey. He bade a fond farewell to the Whytes, and his last word rang in Oliver Whyte's ears for many a day. It was "Revenge."
"Now then, Reginald Morris, my name is Allen Winter. I am going to have it out with you," said a tall, handsome man, fully six feet in his socks and broad in proportion, as he closed the cabin door, and stood with his back to it.
Reg had been lounging on his bunk, deep in his own thoughts, when he was disturbed by the abrupt entrance of his fellow-passenger, and the above good-humoured demand. Reg got up from his bunk, and faced him without speaking.
"You've shared my cabin since we left Naples, three days ago. Not a word have you spoken. You have done nothing but mope about, and look as miserable as a boiled owl. I say again, I won't have it, for you are infecting me with your low spirits," said Winter.
Reg looked at him with curiosity, but still answered nothing, so that Winter began to show signs of annoyance.
"Hang it all! can't you speak, man? I can box, shoot, fence, fight, or anything you like. I don't think I am a bad sort of fellow myself, and it's because I know you are a good sort that I feel so annoyed to see you moping."
"I am much obliged to you for the compliment; still I fancy I can do what I please," said Reg, quietly.
The other showed no signs of resentment, but continued smiling at him as he rattled off the following, "You are in trouble, I know. You have had a severe blow lately. There was a woman in it, and she's dead. You loved that woman; her name was Amy, and the man who came between you was a certain Wyck. You are an Australian, and have plenty of money. You are seeking revenge, and your instrument of vengeance is in your breast pocket. These are details I have gathered from what I have seen of you, or what I have heard you mutter in your sleep; and knowing this much I am curious to know more."
"You are quite an up-to-date detective, sir," said Reg, frankly.
"Ah! then you acknowledge that I have hit the mark."
"But pray, sir, are there not enough people on board to amuse you without the need of exercising your powers on me. I am in trouble, I acknowledge, but I prefer keeping my troubles to myself," answered Reg, really angry this time.
"I apologise, Morris, if I have been abrupt, but really I did not mean to be so. It is strange that though there are over two hundred passengers on board, I have not seen a face I care about but yours, and when I see you fretting away I feel for you, for I have gone through the mill, and know what it is."
"What do you mean?" said Reg, growing interested.
"Let me tell you my history. I was born in Victoria. My father died when I was fifteen, and left me to look after my mother, who was a confirmed invalid. She died twelve months later, and I was left alone. While walking down Collins Street one day I had an adventure which changed the course of my career. A carriage and pair of flash horses were being driven by, the coachman lounging on the box holding the reins carelessly, when a tram-car rounded the corner at a good pace. The horses gave a bound, the sudden shock sent the coachman off his box, and away they galloped. They turned one corner, and then another safely, and I was able by cutting through a cross street to come up with them. Well I was always a handy youngster, and as they dashed by me I made a run for the back of the carriage, caught one of the springs, scrambled on the top of the carriage, and reached the box, only to find the reins hanging round the pole beyond my grasp; but it did not take me long to slip along the pole, pick them up, and get back to the box. I, like most Australians can handle the ribbons, but it took me all my time to pull those horses up in time to avoid a collision. I didn't think much of the feat, in fact I rather liked the fun of it, but the old gentleman inside, who was the only occupant, chose to think differently, and when the coachman came up in a cab, in which he had been following us, not much hurt, the old gentleman made me get in beside him.
"'What's your name?' he asked.
"'Allen Winter,' said I.
"Then he asked me my history. I told him that I was an orphan and had to work for my living. Well, to make this long story short, I have never had to work since, for he gave me twelve months at the Scotch College in Melbourne, and during my holidays he died, leaving me the whole of his fortune. He was an old bachelor, and his money was well invested, so I have now an income of a thousand a year. I have been over every inch of Australia; I know the Colonies well, and I have been round the world twice."