J. M. (James Morgan) Walsh.

The lost valley online

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ran on, "and I'm not the sort to bring it into the light of day again.
I'm after that gold, and, in order to get it, I'm quite ready to repeat
my previous offer. We each seem to have something that the other lacks.
You can tell me many things I don't know. Of that I'm sure."

"There's a lot of things you seem sure of," Cumshaw said with a
half-defiant air.

"I'm as sure that you're the man who was with Bradby as if I'd seen it
all myself," Bryce stated. "Remember, before you refuse, that it's
always better to compromise than fight. Furthermore, if you have to
fight, it's much better to have an ally you can rely on."

"What's that?" Cumshaw demanded with a show of interest. "What do you
mean?"

"Only this," Bryce said slowly. "There's another crowd on the track, and
they've already warned me that they'll make the going heavy. If you've
got to be up against them, why not throw in your lot with me? It's
fifty-fifty with us; if you stand out on your own, you'll probably lose
it all."

"I think you've got me in a cleft stick," Cumshaw said a trifle
ruefully. "I can't see that I can refuse. Now how much do you know?"

Said Mr. Bryce untruthfully, "I know everything except where you've
hidden the gold."

"And even I couldn't swear to that," Cumshaw said.

"It seems to me," said Bryce dryly, "that the best thing you can do is
to tell me the whole story."

He listened eagerly to the tale, occasionally stopping the other to
question him on some obscure point, sometimes helping him along with a
comment that threw unexpected light in the dark corners of the story.

"It amounts to this," he said when Cumshaw had finished. "Bradby buried
the gold in this hidden valley of yours. It's so hidden - the valley, I
mean - that you only came on it by accident, and you have no definite
idea as to its whereabouts. It's three or four days' journey into the
mountains, that's all you can say. There's no way of recognising it from
the outside that you know of. Well, I'll tell you this, Mr. Cumshaw.
It's my frank opinion that your clever murderous friend had some way of
finding it again, or he wouldn't have been in such haste to make away
with you. He knew what he was doing, you can depend on it. Now I wonder
if he left any clue?"

"I've got a hazy memory that he left directions somewhere and that I had
them," Cumshaw said despondently, "but I can't say what happened to
them. You must remember that I was wandering about half-delirious for a
long while after I got knocked, and it was years before I got really
right again. I might have lost any note he made; I might have done
anything with it."

"You might have and that's a fact," Mr. Bryce agreed. "Now you say
you've hunted for this valley many times during the last ten years or
so."

Cumshaw nodded. "It seems funny," he said, "but I've never been able to
find it."

"There's nothing funny about it," Bryce told him. "History and fiction
abound with instances of similar miscalculations. I'll guarantee that
there are scores of such places in every continent in the world.
Australia's got just as many as any other place. What made you want to
hunt it up again after all those years?"

"Old associations, I suppose," Cumshaw said half-ashamedly. "While I was
in New South Wales - I went there, you understand, until things blew over
a bit - and my wife was alive, I didn't want anything else but to be near
her. When she died and things began to go wrong with me, I drifted back
here. Money was short. I was living as best I could, and there were the
children to look after, and the sight of the old places brought things
back to my mind. I was beginning to dig bits up from the memory of the
past - the doctors have some fancy name for lapses like mine, though I
could never remember what it was - and then one day I asked myself why
shouldn't I go after the gold? It was as much mine as anyone else's, now
that Bradby was dead, and the Bank that originally owned it had gone
smash about the Land Boom time from what I could gather. I went, but I
missed the place somehow. I went time and again, but it was always like
that 'Lost Mountain' story of Mayne Reid's, though a valley's harder to
find than a mountain you'd think. I couldn't find it anyhow, and that's
about all there is to it."

"Um!" said Mr. Bryce, and he ran his hand softly across his chin. "We
are up against a bigger thing than I thought. I'm hanged if I can see a
glimmer of light anywhere. Is there anything you can suggest?"

Cumshaw did not reply. He was staring straight ahead of him, staring
intently, and little furrows of anxiety marred the serenity of his
forehead. He was peering into the shadows of the trees as if his eyes
were twin searchlights that could cut substance from the gloom. He was
staring so intently that Bryce whirled round, fully convinced that his
friends of the telephone were upon them.

"What's wrong?" he queried in a hoarse whisper. "What are you looking
at?"

"Nothing," said Cumshaw. "I thought I heard something moving, that's
all."

Bryce in his turn peered intently in between the tree-boles, but the
shadows lay thick upon the grass between, and it was difficult to define
even the shapes of the more distant timber. The place was still and
gloomy, full of grim forebodings, like a summer sky in which a storm is
gathering.

"We must have been mistaken," Bryce remarked in his embracing way.
"There doesn't seem to be anyone about."

"Hands up!" snapped a crisp voice, and in the surprise of the moment
Bryce obeyed. Cumshaw had no such intention. He dropped suddenly on to
the ground even as a shot rang out, and a bullet whistled close above
his head. The next instant he was crashing swiftly through the bushes,
spinning down into the gully like a human projectile.




CHAPTER VIII.

THE GATHERING OF THE EAGLES.


At first Bryce could see nothing but the dull gleam of unpolished metal
from the barrel of a revolver which protruded from behind a tree, but a
further scrutiny showed him the dim outlines of a man's figure standing
in that place of gloom and ghosts. The man stepped out from his
hiding-place, even as Bryce watched him, and was followed almost
instantly by another man. They were both somewhere about the same
height, in the neighbourhood of five feet ten. Their features were not
visible, for each of them wore a handkerchief about his face in the
time-honored fashion of the men of the road, and a hat pulled well down
over the eyes completed the disguise.

"Well, Mr. Bryce," said the man in front, "what have you got to say for
yourself?"

"It's a funny thing," remarked Bryce, with the adventures of Mr. Cumshaw
and the late Mr. Bradby in his mind, "it's funny how history repeats
itself."

The leader made a step forward and stared intently at Bryce. "You're the
man right enough," he said. "Where's your pal?"

"Ask me something easy," sneered Bryce, "and I'd be obliged if you'd let
me drop my hands awhile. This is getting fairly tiresome."

"You should have thought of that before you started that business," the
other one reminded him. "It's rather late now to be finding out the
flaws in your plans."

The sneering smile on Mr. Bryce's face broadened into a grin of triumph.
"Didn't you ever hear the proverb about glass-houses and the people who
live in them?" he enquired blandly.

The first speaker stared at him, but the other one said impatiently,
"Finish him off, Alick, and let's get it over."

The man called Alick answered in a subdued voice. Bryce did not catch
what he said, but supposed it to be a counsel of caution. His smile grew
in intensity, so much so that Alick snapped at him. "What the deuce are
you grinning at, you fat fool?" he demanded.

"You'll know soon enough," Bryce said with a chuckle. He looked right
past them into the shadows of the trees, on his face the joyful
expression of a man who sees the long-locked gates of his prison swing
open before him. Both men whirled round with a chorus of oaths. They
were quite positive that Bryce's mate had stolen a march on them and
crept up behind their backs. They had their heads turned away but for
the fraction of a second, but the time, short though it was, was plenty
long enough for Mr. Bryce. With an agility, remarkable in a man of his
weight and state of health, he faded into the landscape like some fat
fairy.

"Fooled!" said Alick's companion, and he whipped round to face his
prisoner, only to find that the keen-brained Mr. Bryce had vanished as
completely as if he had been blown off the face of the earth.

"Nice pair of goats we are," remarked Alick disgustedly.

The other said nothing, but stood for a moment in a state of indecision.
At that precise instant a pencil of flame shot out from one of the trees
immediately in front of them, and Alick dropped his revolver with a howl
of pain.

"He's winged me," he said, and applied to Mr. Bryce an epithet not
usually heard in polite society.

His mate fired at the tree from which the shot had evidently come, but
the bullet did nothing more than flatten itself against the trunk in a
shower of dust and dry bark. Mr. Bryce's revolver spoke once again. This
time he failed to register.

"The sooner we get out of this the better," said Alick, with one hand
clasped to his injured shoulder. "The beggar'll riddle us both if we
stop here."

The other man grunted his approval of the suggestion and proceeded to
carry it into effect at once.

"Better look where you are going," Alick advised. "That other chap's
about somewhere, perhaps waiting for us."

The other consigned both Bryce and his assistant to a place more noted
for its warmth than its comfort. Despite their forebodings Mr. Cumshaw
did not put in an appearance, and they gained the shelter of the thick
timber in safety.

Once he was sure that they had really departed Mr. Bryce stepped out
from behind his tree, first, however, with commendable caution reloading
the heavy revolver he carried. The smile was still flickering about the
corners of his mouth, but there was a little wrinkle of anxiety across
his forehead.

"I wonder where the devil Cumshaw's gone?" he remarked to the
unresponsive trees. "He went off like a scared rabbit. I'd better hunt
for him. I can't get on without him now."

With the laudable intention of finding Mr. Cumshaw as soon as possible
he began to scour the neighbourhood.

When Mr. Cumshaw disappeared so precipitately it was with the idea that
he must maintain his freedom at any cost. True, Bryce might be captured,
but by the same token he could be rescued just as easily. Though his
intentions were right enough he was prevented in the simplest manner
possible from carrying them into effect. He went crashing through the
bushes as has already been related, and found himself on the edge of
what was nothing more or less than a blind creek. The sides were covered
with matted brushwood and were as slippery as glass. His momentum was
such that he could not stop himself in time, and he went head over heels
down the side of the gully, and spun on to the boulder-covered bottom
like some new and monstrous kind of Catherine wheel. He collided with
the rounded surface of one of the big weather-worn rocks which lay
strewn about the gully floor like the tremendous marbles of a giant.

The world spun round him in a blaze of colored lights, and his head felt
as if it were filled with fireworks. Then in an instant all sensation
ceased as though cut off with the clean sweep of a naked sword. Mr.
Cumshaw lay still and lifeless under the shadow of the brushwood-covered
gully.

Some half an hour later, when Bryce happened on this very spot, he
pulled the bushes aside cautiously and peered down almost between his
toes; but the shadows lay thick beneath him, and the edge of the gully
so projected that he could not see the body of the man for whom he was
searching. Slowly he retraced his steps. He was deeply puzzled by this
new aspect of the affair. It seemed impossible that Cumshaw could have
completely disappeared in so short a space of time, yet the fact that he
could not be found was in itself proof conclusive. Had Bryce lingered a
couple of seconds longer he would have seen the rapidly-recovering
Cumshaw turn over on his side, raise one hand to his head, and present a
startled face to the scanty rays of light that filtered down to him. In
a sense his revival was something more than a recovery; it was a
resurrection. The years rolled away in an instant, and he ceased to be
the Abel Cumshaw who had fallen down the side of the gully and cracked
his head against an extra-large sized boulder; he became the Abel
Cumshaw who had just been knocked into unconsciousness by the butt of
Mr. Bradby's revolver, and whose head still throbbed with the force of
the blow.

He stared uncomprehendingly at the steep sides of the gully; they had no
place in his gallery of mental pictures. He had a vague idea that there
should be a creek somewhere close at hand. His head was throbbing,
pulsing as if some mighty engine were working inside it. He rose
unsteadily to his feet and regarded the steep declivities which formed
the sides of the gully with a contemplative eye. He decided that they
were climbable, but that he must wait awhile before he made the attempt.
He was weak yet; one does not recover instantaneously from a crack on
the head. He moved very carefully when he moved at all, and he kept well
within the shadows of the overhanging banks. Mr. Bradby was somewhere
handy, he argued, extremely ready and willing to finish him off, and it
would never do to give him another chance. He had no idea that Mr.
Bradby had died long years ago. Time had telescoped and he was back
again in the early eighties. With the addled craftiness of a half-witted
creature he set about escaping from the imprisoning walls of the
gully-dungeon. Had it been anything else than a blind creek he would
have found an exit by following the dry bed, and thus have disappeared
entirely from this story. But it was fated otherwise. The one idea that
gained any sort of prominence in his mind was that he must climb the
side of the gully.

He found a pool of clear rainwater in a little cavity in the dry bed of
the creek, and bathed his head in it and drank a little. Its refreshing
coolness acted on his jaded body like the sting of a spur on the flank
of a lazy horse. He crept cautiously in under the overhang of the bank
and searched about for a foothold. Such was not hard to find, and, in
less time than it takes to write of it, he was swinging up the side of
the bank, clinging to projecting ledges of rock with hands and feet that
seemed to possess all the prehensile quality of a monkey's. Once on the
top of the bank he burrowed into the mass of vegetation like some
primeval creature taking to earth, a pitiful caricature of the sane,
strong man he had been a few short hours before. Cautious and all as he
was, his flight was not absolutely noiseless, and so it came about that
presently Bryce heard him, and circled round the spot from which the
sound came like a wolf heading off a herd of deer.

Cumshaw crashed through the bushes and emerged into the open a hundred
yards or so ahead of Bryce. The latter caught sight of him at the moment
of his emergence and called out to him to stop.

"Cumshaw," he called. "Come here!"

The other heard the call and caught his own name, but instead of
slackening he accelerated his pace. He did not look round; he was
convinced in his own warped mind that his pursuer was none other than
the late Mr. Bradby. Accordingly he swung along at such a rate that
Bryce soon dropped behind, breathless and dispirited. He sat down on a
convenient log and mopped his damp face with a large-sized handkerchief.
Presently his breathing became normal again, and his agitated heart
ceased fluttering like a caged bird. He fell to reviewing the position.
The more he thought of it, the less hopeless it appeared to be. His
unrecognisable and nameless antagonists had temporarily withdrawn from
the fight, whether to consolidate their forces and plan some new form of
attack, or because they had received a very salutary lesson, he could
not say. Also it did not worry him over much. His ideas were centred
mainly on Mr. Cumshaw. True, that gentleman had disappeared over the
horizon with every mark of unseemly haste, and already he must be well
advanced on whatever road he was taking. Not so very far away the car
awaited Bryce, and he was sure that, once he reached it, it would be
merely a matter of a day or so until he rediscovered Mr. Cumshaw. He
repeated the verb. "Re-discovered" struck a distinctive note. One could
not convey the same meaning with any form of the verb "to overtake;" Mr.
Cumshaw had disappeared, not simply gone on ahead. He chuckled softly at
his own quaint conceit, and at that his spirits began to rise again.

Feeling now fully rested, he rose to his feet and swung out on the track
with that long slow stride which was all that remained of his athletic
form of the old New Guinea days. Of late years he had walked, when he
had walked at all, with the quick nervous step of the city-bred man, and
it heartened him immensely to know that he was recovering without any
effort of his volition the old easy pioneer stride.

It is not within the scope of this tale to relate how Mr. Bryce at
length reached his car and set out on what he believed to be Abel
Cumshaw's trail. Suffice it to state that he reached his machine without
any untoward incident, the two gentlemen who had so rudely disturbed the
serenity of his nature having seemingly disappeared from the face of the
earth. Once he passed a drover and elicited from him that a man
answering Cumshaw's description had passed him on the road the previous
morning. Evidently then the missing man was keeping away from the towns,
taking instead a trail that would inevitably lead him further into the
bush. He was rather pleased at this. Abel Cumshaw in the city would be
as hard to find as the proverbial needle in a bundle of hay, but in the
bush it would be much easier to locate him, Bryce considered. So he
drove the car along at a low speed, keeping all the time a watchful eye
out for any signs of the truant. As he progressed he was surprised and
not a little pleased to find that his New Guinea woodcraft was coming
back to him by degrees. The joy of the chase was his, and he experienced
again the same keen and primitive emotions that had thrilled him in the
days when the elder Carstairs and he had trodden the unexplored wilds of
Papua.

* * * * *

He came upon Cumshaw very suddenly. The car was creeping through the
trees at a snail's pace - there was no clearly defined track in that part
of the bush, and Bryce was taking no unnecessary risks - when he caught
sight of a figure that might or might not be the missing Mr. Cumshaw. He
stopped the car at once and descended to the ground. As has already been
noted earlier in these memoirs, Mr. Bryce, when occasion required it,
for all his huge bulk, could move as agilely and noiselessly as that
pre-eminently silent animal, the domestic cat. He had been so keyed up
by the emotional stresses of the last few days that he threw himself
into the adventure with all the zest of a schoolboy just being
introduced into romance. The man was dodging through the trees a hundred
yards or so ahead, and there was something so furtive about his
movements that Bryce approached with more than his usual caution.

The man halted and glanced swiftly around. Bryce flattened himself
against a handy tree, and fervently hoped that the shadow was thick
enough to conceal him. The other patently had no idea that he was being
followed, for, apparently quite satisfied with his hasty scrutiny, he
dropped on his knees and commenced scraping the earth away with the
point of a knife that had appeared in his hand with the magical
suddenness of a conjuring trick. As the man worked away Bryce peeped out
from his hiding-place and saw then that it was indeed Cumshaw. He
watched fascinated. His heart was thumping away like the piston of a
steam-engine, and some queer unnamed instinct told him that the chase
was drawing to a close. Cumshaw was digging up something of vital
importance; it might be the treasure itself or perhaps the key to it.
But why should Cumshaw have gone so stealthily to work unless - ? "Unless
he is going to cut me out of it," said Bryce to himself.

Abruptly the other straightened up and hugged something to his breast.
It was covered with black loam, and at the distance Bryce could not tell
what it was. He slipped stealthily from tree to tree until he had wormed
his noiseless way right up to Cumshaw. Then, seeing that he had his man
cut off should he attempt to escape, he stepped out into the open and
laid a kindly hand on the fugitive's shoulder. Cumshaw turned in a
flash, and, in the excitement of the moment, the earth-covered object
slipped out of his hands and fell on the grass at his feet.

"Where have you been all this time?" Bryce asked jovially.

Cumshaw stared at him in a puzzled way. His face at first had shown all
the symptoms of fear, but the moment Bryce spoke they faded out, to be
replaced by a very obvious air of relief. Yet there was nothing of
recognition in the man's eyes; they were full of a great blank wonder,
like the eyes of a child who takes its first look at the teeming life
beyond its doors. His forehead crinkled up as if he were trying to
recall something that had slipped his memory.

"Who are you?" he said at length. "I ... I don't think I know you," and
he brushed his forehead with a weak, ineffective gesture of the hand. It
was then that Bryce noticed the matted, blood-stained condition of his
hair and the big purple bruise that disfigured his temple. His quick
mind guessed at what had happened, though, erroneously enough, he
concluded that Cumshaw had received the blows in an encounter with the
men who had been the original cause of the man's flight.

"You'd better come with me, Cumshaw," he said in the same soothing tone
that he would have applied to a tired child.

"I'm going home," said Cumshaw with weak stubbornness. "I don't want to
go with you."

"I'll take you home," said Bryce.

That he decided was the only thing he could do. Cumshaw was in no fit
state to continue the search for his lost valley, and Bryce realised
that it would not be safe to leave him uncared for. If he went home with
Cumshaw he would be throwing his pursuers off the track. That would help
him considerably. He had no fear that they would discover the valley
during his absence; their attack on him showed that they had come to the
end of their resources, and fancied that their only hope of touching any
of the spoils was by forcing the secret out of Bryce. Of course it was
quite on the cards that they would follow the car, but it was just as
likely that they would make no definite move until they had solved the
meaning of his change of plans.

Cumshaw was still standing like a man in a dream. Bryce placed his hand
on the man's arm.

"Come along with me," he said. "I'll see that you get safely home."

He bent down quickly and picked up the loam-encrusted object that
Cumshaw had dropped in the first moment of the encounter, Cumshaw
followed his movements with troubled eyes, but did not interfere in any
way. Bryce could see that the thing was a bit of wood, and on one piece
of it, where the earth had been scraped off, there were letters
scratched. He thrust it into his pocket, meaning to examine it more
closely at his leisure.

Cumshaw walked to the car with him. He yielded to the stronger will
without any show of resistance. All his own will-power seemed to have
departed, and he obeyed Bryce with a child-like faith. Once in the car
he slumped into the corner and closed his eyes. Bryce seized the
opportunity thus given him to steal another look at the wood he had
picked up. He scraped away what loam he could with his finger nail, and
soon was able to make out two complete words.

"This'll have to wait," he said with a sigh, as he thrust it back into
his pocket. "This bit of wood's got your name on it, Mr. Abel Cumshaw,
and I'll bet all I ever owned that it's the key you've been hunting
for."

He cranked up the car, and soon was speeding back to the high road. In
his corner Mr. Cumshaw slept.

Ten minutes after they reached the main road another car swung out along
the Ararat road. There were three men in it, the chauffeur and two
passengers. One of the latter held his hand to a wounded shoulder, and


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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) WalshThe lost valley → online text (page 11 of 16)