J. M. (James Morgan) Walsh.

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overshadow him. His instinct, however, led him to hide rather than
destroy it. He read the wording very carefully, but it failed to awaken
any responsive chords in his memory. As an after-thought, just as he was
about to slide the wood into the hole he had scraped out, he took his
knife and cut his name below the screed. Then he thrust it into the hole
and stamped the earth in on top of it. In this relation it is
interesting to notice the connection between the hiding of the money and
the burying of the wood that held the key to the position of the former.
It seems as if the sub-conscious memory of the one act had its influence
on the man in his performance of the other.

Thereafter Mr. Cumshaw simply disappeared off the face of the earth. His
son's story is that he went to New South Wales, married there and raised
a family, and in the light of subsequent events that seems to be what
most likely occurred. It is known, however, that the Cumshaws were in
Victoria again somewhere about nineteen hundred and two or three, Albert
being at that time seven years old.

With the lapse of years Abel had gradually recovered his memory, and bit
by bit most of the incidents of the robbery had stolen out of the
shrouded darkness of the past. He appears to have been perfectly
contented with his family, and for one reason and another the gold
remained undisturbed through the long years. The time was coming when
the old play would be staged again and new actors would arise to carry
it through.

The tale of the gold robbery and the shooting of Mr. Jack Bradby, as the
reader will readily understand, passed into the police records and thus
became matters of history. Though no definite statement has been left
us, Mr. Bryce must have first come across the story during his
researches into Victorian history. He had friends in the Department, and
it is quite feasible that he had ready access to many official documents
that are usually beyond the reach of the ordinary public. He was not the
only one in this enviable position. There were other students of the
past who were moving along the same lines, and as he pieced together the
puzzle of the robbery he was followed by a pair of agile, unscrupulous
brains every whit as clever as he. The police records told Mr. Bryce
just this much: - On the first day of December, 1881, there had been a
gold robbery, and the robbers had got completely away. They had been
followed, and subsequently a man had been killed in the Grampians who
had been identified as John Bradby, a noted sheep and cattle-duffer.
When dying he refused to tell who his pals were, and had in the same
breath stated that the police would never find the gold. That in itself
was conclusive, yet the additional fact remained that the whereabouts of
the gold was still as big a mystery as ever it had been. The opinion of
the police was that the other members of the gang - they seemed to think
that it was a fairly large one - had returned when the hue and cry had
died away and recovered the plunder. Bryce, reading between the lines of
the dry official record, rather thought that they hadn't. At any rate
the element of mystery was sufficiently strong to induce him to
investigate the matter further. That was really the beginning of the
trouble.




CHAPTER VI.

THE HEGIRA OF MR. ABEL CUMSHAW.


Early in January, 1919, Mr. Bryce had advanced so far in his
investigations that he resolved on taking a trip to the country around
the Grampians. He had nothing very definite to go on beyond the facts
that the robbery had been committed at one spot and Mr. Bradby had been
killed at another, and logically the gold must have been hidden
somewhere in between. He had hopes that he might stumble on something
that in his capable hands would prove to be a clue to the long-lost
hiding-place of the gold. Before he made any preparations he inserted an
advertisement in several of the leading dailies. It ran somehow like
this: - "Wanted - A capable and intelligent assistant to take part in
dangerous expedition to Grampians. Apply," and then followed his name
and address. He was convinced in his own mind that someone amongst those
who read this notice would have some inkling at least of the events of
1st December, 1881, and he rather fancied that he or they would be on
the alert. In that case it was just possible that the persons concerned
would either approach him with a guarded offer or would dog his
footsteps. In either case there was a chance of Mr. Bryce picking up
information that might be to his immediate advantage. He convinced
himself that there were still people living who had played an intimate
part in the affairs of that memorable night.

The advertisement, however, had two results that were unforeseen by Mr.
Bryce. The third day after the insertion of the notice he was informed
that a gentleman wanted to see him. He requested that the man be shown
into his study. In due course the visitor arrived. He was a man
somewhere in the neighbourhood of sixty, but, save for a slight greying
of the hair about his temples, he showed little outward signs of his
age. His eyes, which were of a deep, unfathomable black, were very alert
and followed Mr. Bryce's every movement with a glittering serenity, if
one can use the expression, that was very disturbing.

"Sit down," said Mr. Bryce, and he waved his visitor to a chair.

The man sat down in the chair indicated, looked Mr. Bryce up and down,
without, however, the least sign of offensiveness in his gaze, and said
without any further preliminary, "I've come to see you about that
advertisement."

"Um!" said Mr. Bryce non-committally. "Yes, that ad. What about it?"

"I think," said the other with his eyes fixed intently on Mr. Bryce, "I
think I am the best man for the job."

"I haven't told you yet what the job is," Mr. Bryce objected.

"That's so," the other admitted. "Beyond saying that it was dangerous,
you did not attempt to describe it. It doesn't matter what you want in
the Grampians. I'm the man to take. I know the place well."

"It's changed vastly in thirty years," Bryce said suddenly.

The other must have been expecting something like this, for he never
turned a hair. As far as he was concerned Mr. Bryce's observation might
have been the most casual remark in the world. He ignored it. Perhaps it
would have been better had he commented on it and asked what association
to-day's expedition had with what had happened during thirty odd years.
He passed the matter over in silence, and in that instant Bryce guessed
that the man knew as much, if not more, than he did.

"Do you know why I advertised that expedition as dangerous?" Bryce
asked, seeing that the other made no attempt to reply.

The man shook his head. "No, I don't," he said distinctly.

"I'll tell you," said Bryce, and he leaned forward in simulated
confidence. "I'm fat and I wheeze. My bellows are all to blazes and the
doctors won't give a rap for my heart. I might go out any minute, more
especially if there's any extra exertion. Now I want a man who won't ask
questions, who will do the exertions for two, and take what's coming
with a grin."

"That sounds simple enough," the man remarked. "May I ask what we are
after?"

"I'm searching for gold," said Bryce with a startling clearness.

The other shifted in his seat, looked at Bryce as if to measure the
possibilities of his next remark, and then said, "There's no gold
there."

"You mean," said Bryce, "that none's ever been discovered there; quite a
different thing. I hope to discover some before I'm done."

"It's too far west for mines," the other asserted.

Mr. Bryce passed over the man's statement in a way that showed that as
far as he was concerned that aspect of the matter was over and done
with. The obvious answer for him to make would have been, "Gold comes in
other ways than out of mines," but he was cautious enough not to air all
his knowledge at once.

"What's your name?" he demanded.

"Abel Cumshaw," the other answered, and saw by the way Bryce screwed up
his brows that it conveyed nothing to him.

"Well, Mr. Cumshaw, would you care to take this job on?"

"How long would we be away?"

"Six weeks or two months. I'm not certain of that."

"When do we start?"

"This is Monday. Be here Friday and we'll get right away. Friday
morning, mind, at ten-thirty sharp. That's all, I think. Good-day."

After Mr. Cumshaw had gone Bryce slipped back in his chair and laughed
till his whole face creased up in rolls of quivering fat. "That's a good
one on him," he murmured. "He didn't ask what screw he was to get, and I
didn't tell him because I wanted to see if he'd ask. But he didn't, so
he must have been thinking of something else. He's anxious to get to the
Grampians, darned anxious. From the way he went on he seems to know a
bit about the place too. I wonder has he any suspicion?... Good Lord!
wouldn't it be a streak of luck if he knew! Yes, I did the right thing
in sending in that ad. One man's bitten at any rate."

He went about the house all day chuckling away to himself.

* * * * *

The second incident which occurred that same day was of even a more
disturbing nature. Late that afternoon the telephone bell rang, and when
Bryce answered it a voice asked if he was the Mr. Bryce who had
advertised for an assistant in an expedition to the Grampians.

"That's me," said Bryce. "But I'm sorry to say that the position's
filled."

"Why are you sorry?" the voice asked disconcertingly.

"Um!" said Mr. Bryce. "Aren't you after it?"

"No chance," said the voice. "As a matter of fact, I was on the point of
writing out a similar one myself, when I saw yours and guessed I'd let
you do the work."

"Who are you?" Bryce demanded with a trace of sharpness in his voice.

The man at the other end of the wire laughed cheerfully. "Never you
mind," he said. "You'll know soon enough, as soon as you've landed Jack
Bradby's plunder. Now, I want to put up a sporting proposition to you.
We'll retire gracefully, if you'll split fifty-fifty."

"We!" Bryce repeated. "So there's more than one of you?"

"There's lots of us, and we've got the whip hand of you because, you
see, you don't know who we are. We know you; we've been following a
couple of jumps behind you right through all the records, and we guess
it's high time we cashed in."

"I'll see you in Hell first!" said Bryce angrily.

"Probably you will," said the voice with a chuckle. "If you won't treat
with us, we'll get what we want in other ways."

"No, by thunder, you won't!" said Bryce shortly. "I'll warn you that
I'll shoot on sight."

"So do we," the other laughed. "I hope, for your sake, you recognise us
first, though I don't think it likely."

"If I catch you monkeying around I'll fill you so full of holes that
your own mother won't know you from a colander," Bryce threatened; but
the voice laughed irritatingly, and when Bryce tried to get a reply he
found that the other had rung off.

He flickered the hook with his finger. "Exchange," he said, giving his
number, "can you tell me who was speaking just now?"

"Box three, G. P. O. public 'phones," said the girl wearily.

"Oh, hell!" said Bryce in disgust, and hung up the receiver.

* * * * *

The rest of the week passed without incident of any sort, and, despite
the warning he had received. Bryce went on calmly with his preparations.
For all the fat flabbiness of him he was grit through and through, and
it took more than a warning over the telephone to turn him aside once he
had made up his mind to take a certain course. He went on quietly and
silently; his only sign of perturbation was that first thing on Tuesday
he slipped down town and bought a big calibre revolver.

Friday morning came, and at ten-thirty exactly, not a minute before or
after, Mr. Abel Cumshaw knocked at the front door and was admitted. He
was shown at once into Mr. Bryce's study, where that gentleman awaited
him, watch in hand.

"On time to the tick," he said affably as Cumshaw entered the room.
"Everything's ready for an immediate start. I suppose you've got all you
want."

"I'm always ready at a moment's notice," Cumshaw said. "I travel light.
I'm an old campaigner."

"That's the way I like to hear a man talk," Bryce said breezily. "We'll
be going in my car as far as we can. After that we'll have to walk, and
I'm not a very good hand at that. There's some rough spots up there,
they tell me," he said off-handedly. For all his seeming nonchalance he
was watching Cumshaw intently, and he saw him give an almost
imperceptible start. It flashed across Bryce's mind that perhaps Cumshaw
was in the pay of the people who had gone to such pains to 'phone him. A
second look at the man convinced him that such was not the case.
Cumshaw's eyes were frank and clear, and met his unswervingly. They were
not the eyes of a man who was playing a double game.

There was something in them that Bryce did not quite understand. It was
the animation of newly-resurrected hope, such a light as might have
shone in the eyes of the men who rode to find the Holy Grail. Bryce knew
nothing of him or his history, and his only thought was that in some
queer way the man had a vital interest in the Grampians. It must be
remembered that, as far as known facts were concerned, Bryce knew
nothing more than the police records had told him. True, his reasoning
faculties, which were none of the densest, carried him a little further,
but he would have been the very first to admit his fallibility. Nothing
had occurred as yet to connect Cumshaw with Mr. Jack Bradby. He
recognised that the man had a definite object in view in going to the
Grampians - that was plain enough - but it might after all be merely
coincidence. Such things have happened. Mr. Cumshaw, on the other hand,
was alert and suspicious. He suspected everybody and everything, and he
had answered the advertisement solely because he believed, or affected
to believe, that an expedition to the hill country could have no other
object that the recovery of the gold. Doubtless it will appear strange
that Mr. Cumshaw had allowed so many years to elapse without attempting
to secure it for himself, but, as he told Bryce later on, there were
reasons even for that.

* * * * *

They stopped at Ballarat for lunch; Bryce refilled the petrol tank, and
then they set out on the long stretch to Ararat. Though no definite
statement exists, they passed the night at the latter town, for Cumshaw
afterwards told his son that they reached Landsborough about 10.30 the
following morning. Beyond Landsborough the track became very trying for
the car, and somewhere towards the evening of the second day the machine
was hidden away securely in one of the many gullies that abounded in the
neighbourhood. Then the hardest part of the journey began. Child's play
though it might have been to Cumshaw, who, for all his years, had a
constitution such as it is given to a few men to possess, it certainly
must have been a matter of infinite torture to Bryce, handicapped as he
was with his weak-heart and his wheezy lungs.

They spent the next few days in working across to the spot where Bradby
had been killed thirty odd years before. As they drew near to the place
Cumshaw became more self-contained and uncommunicative than ever. The
sight of the old scene seemed to have depressed him marvellously. Bryce
watched him with increasing attentiveness; he noticed that he picked out
the road as if he had been used to it from childhood. There were times
when Bryce turned suddenly on him and caught a glimpse of a hard-set jaw
and a mouth about which strong lines of determination had woven
themselves. Yet, as soon as Cumshaw fancied he was observed, the mask of
his face melted into a smile, and the sombre eyes sparkled with a humor
that somehow seemed too real to be assumed.

"You seem very familiar with the place, Cumshaw," Bryce remarked one
morning.

"I told you I was," Cumshaw answered, his unfathomable eyes searching
his employer's face.

"How long is it since you were here last?" Bryce asked.

At the question all expression vanished from the other's face, leaving
it as immobile as a carven image of stone. "I have been here many
times," he said evasively.

"Um!" said Bryce in that peculiar way of his, and he looked the other up
and down contemplatively. "I didn't think anyone had been here since
Bradby was shot."

Bryce made the remark in the most casual and innocent way; he hadn't the
faintest notion in the world that what he had said was like a bombshell
bursting beneath the structure of Mr. Cumshaw's composure. He was
intelligent enough to realise that it was more than probable that
Cumshaw possessed knowledge of that almost forgotten episode which was
not shared with anyone else, but he had not the least suspicion that his
casual utterance would hit home so shrewdly as it did.

Mr. Cumshaw stared at him as if he could not believe his ears. For once
he made no attempt to disguise his emotions beneath the mask of
stoicism. He saw laughter in the other's eyes, the jovial laughter of a
man who has always known the sweets of victory, and he jumped to the
natural though erroneous conclusion that Bryce had fathomed his
connection with the late Mr. Bradby. For all that he did not abandon his
defences without some show of resistance.

"What do you mean?" he demanded in the belligerent attitude of a man who
is fighting a desperate though losing fight.

"Just what I said, Mr. Cumshaw," Bryce smiled. "What else did you think
I meant?"

The quiet question was put in such an unexpectedly mild tone that
Cumshaw was left wordless for the nonce, though his face showed in all
their fulness the emotions that were stirring within him. Doubt,
indecision, fear of a kind.

"I thought - - ," he said and then stopped short.

"You thought," Bryce repeated with a gentle persuasiveness in his voice.
"What was it you thought, Cumshaw?"

They were both fencing, in sporting parlance "sparring for wind," each
of them with the Big Idea almost within reach, and each not daring yet
to put it into words. For the space of a heart-beat they stared into
each other's eyes, seeking to read the other's thoughts. In the end it
was Cumshaw who gave in first. He tore his eyes away from that fixed yet
kindly gaze that seemed to search and read his very soul.

"I see," said Bryce, with a sudden intake of breath that lent a sibilant
quality to his speech, "I see that we are on the same track. Mr.
Cumshaw, place your cards on the table. You are after the gold that
Bradby hid; so am I. Our aims are the same. Let us be partners, instead
of employer and assistant. What do you know that I do not? What do I
know that you do not?"

Like most fat and comfortable people Bryce was the soul of generosity,
and his offer was dictated not so much by expediency as by a sense of
the pity that he felt for this man, who seemed to have aged years in the
last few minutes. He, too, in his time had known what it meant to have
the prize within a hand's touch and then at the last moment lose it
after all.

"You know nothing about me," Cumshaw said impulsively. "You don't know
who I am or what I've been. You haven't an idea...."

Bryce cut him short with a sweeping gesture of his chubby hands. "My
dear man," he said, "what you've been doesn't matter a tinker's curse to
me. It's what you are that counts."

"You don't even know that," the other answered, his lips curling in a
wry smile.

"I'll know as soon as you tell me," Bryce hinted.

It is a difficult matter for a man, who all his life has held a close
secret, to divulge it at a moment's notice, in a sudden fit of warm
friendliness, to a comparative stranger, and so Abel Cumshaw found it.
It is even harder to surrender one's hopes and ambitions in favor of a
potential rival, honest and all as that rival may appear to be. For one
brief moment Cumshaw paused on the brink of revelation, the while he
weighed the matter in his mind. In some strange way Bryce had guessed
that he was after the gold, but did he know why and how? Cumshaw rather
fancied he didn't. He was so sure of it that he decided that he would
gain nothing by divulging the connection between himself and the late
Mr. Bradby. So the mouth which was opening to speak shut up again like a
steel trap, and the dark eyes turned bleak and cold. He looked Bryce
steadily and calmly in the face.

"There is nothing to tell," he said, and turned on his heel.

* * * * *

Black night had descended on the forest many hours before, so many in
fact that the camp fire had sunk to a feeble red glow, and the dying
embers were already circled by a ring of dead white ash. The breeze was
crooning softly through the branches of the trees, singing weird
chanties to itself. In between the murmurs of the wind there came
another sound, the indistinct sound of a sleepy man mumbling to himself.
Bryce half-raised himself on one elbow and listened. Half a dozen feet
away from him Cumshaw lay tightly rolled in his blankets. He tossed
restlessly and once all but sat up. Bryce dropped quickly but
soundlessly back into a prone position. But the alarm had been a false
one, and presently he quietly raised himself again. The indistinct
mumbling went on as before, and he strained his ears to catch some
intelligible word.

"Kill me, would you?" he heard the other say.

His voice sank again, and for a time he mumbled and mouthed his words so
that Bryce missed most of what he said. He was just on the point of
settling down again when Cumshaw suddenly sat up.

"I'll beat you yet, Bradby!" he cried with startling distinctness.
"You're dead now and the gold's mine."

His eyes opened and he stared dazedly around him. Bryce was lying prone
and snoring away hoggishly. He was fast asleep; there was not the
slightest doubt in the mind of the man who watched him so closely.

"I must have dreamt I said it," Cumshaw murmured to himself. "If I'd
spoken the way I thought I had he'd have been wide-awake." And then he
in his turn composed himself to slumber.

* * * * *

They were very quiet at breakfast. Bryce was turning the situation over
in his mind, viewing it from all possible angles and seeking some method
of getting Cumshaw to speak without in any way antagonising him. Cumshaw
himself was troubled by lingering doubts. It was quite possible after
all that Bryce had heard him, supposing he had spoken aloud, and was
quietly dissembling for some purpose of his own. His very thoughtfulness
seemed to lend color to that idea. He looked at Bryce across the carpet
of grass and at the same instant Bryce raised his eyes. They stared at
each other with the breathless intensity of two men who know that in all
things they are evenly matched. Each was striving to the last atom of
his will-power to break down the resistance of the other and force him
in some way to take the initiative. At last it was Bryce who dropped his
eyes a fraction and Cumshaw who breathed a sigh of relief. But his
relief was short-lived, for in the last half-second his guard had
relaxed. Bryce said:

"Why did Bradby want to kill you, Mr. Cumshaw?"

The quick yet calm question, covering as it did the one episode of which
nobody but the two participants could possibly have any knowledge,
startled Cumshaw. For once his impassive face showed signs of fear, and
his eyes became those of a hunted man. He half-rose to his feet and then
dropped back again, as if aware of the uselessness of flight. He tried
to speak, but the words stuck in his throat. In one short sentence Bryce
had shattered all his hopes and pulled his airy castles to the ground.
Did this man but like to speak he would be once again Cumshaw the
bushranger, the man who had been hand in glove with Bradby, and who,
through some miracle of mischance, had not been bracketed with his dead
colleague. Bryce knew all apparently, and a word from him - - . Cumshaw
shivered.

"You can trust me," Bryce said softly. "I guess I know your secret now.
You and Bradby carried out that robbery between you. You hid the gold,
and for one reason and another you've never retrieved it. Isn't that
it?"

Cumshaw nodded. It was too late now to deny anything, even if he had so
felt inclined. Nemesis in the shape of this laughing-eyed, gross-bodied
man, had come upon him in his old age, and there was nothing for it but
to take what was coming with as good a grace as he could muster.

"What happened thirty years or more ago is over and done with," Bryce


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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) WalshThe lost valley → online text (page 10 of 16)