J. M. (James Morgan) Walsh.

The lost valley online

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nothing, and I'm going to run things the way I think best. It mightn't
be the best way in the end, but that's quite another matter. I haven't
wandered across the world from Yokohama to the White Nile and from the
Klondyke to the Solomons without knowing how to organise an expedition."

"You're right there," Cumshaw acknowledged. "You're the only one amongst
us who's had practical experience. In future what you say goes."

"That's the spirit," I said briskly. "What have you to say, Moira?"

"You know best," she answered. "As long as you don't leave me out
altogether I'll agree to anything, but I want to take my share of the
risk too."

"Apparently," I remarked, "everyone's afraid that everybody else'll have
the lion's share of the fighting. Well, if I can fix it, there'll not be
any fighting at all."

"What do you mean?" Cumshaw asked interestedly.

"That's nothing to do with the situation at present," I informed him.
"You'll all see when the time's ripe. Now what's next?"

"There's nothing more that I know of," Cumshaw volunteered.

"And you, Moira?"

"I think I've got everything fixed," she answered.

"That means we can start at the end of the week," I said with
satisfaction. "It looks as if fortune's turning our way at last."

The three of us laughed together, and Cumshaw I think it was who said,
"Success to the expedition!" It sounded very nice, and we were all so
sure that things were going to turn out well. But there was one little
point that all of us had overlooked, and that was destined in one way
and another to upset our plans to a remarkable extent.

Profiting by Bryce's experience, I decided to leave the car at home, as
I realised that we would have to abandon it sooner or later, and nothing
is so apt to set foolish people talking as an apparently ownerless car.
I resolved on making our headquarters at the spot where by all accounts
the unlamented Mr. Bradby had met his death. For one thing all the later
developments of the chase had centred round that one spot, and Bryce
himself had gone there unhesitatingly by the shortest and most direct
route he knew of. I couldn't see at the time where I could find a better
jumping-off place. To say the least it was a fixed point from which to
start exploring, and we had the comforting knowledge, though it might
not be of any practical use to us, that the valley itself was within two
or three days' march. With it as the centre we would have to cast a
circle with a radius of anything up to fifty miles, and then somewhere
within the enclosed area we might, or might not, find the elusive vale
that held the treasure.

We approached the rendezvous by widely divergent routes. It was a rather
extravagant precaution, no doubt, but then I wasn't taking any risks
that I could possibly avoid. The murderous gentlemen who were quite
certainly on our track were a power to be reckoned with, and at the same
time we had to keep our eyes open for the law itself. It was all right
for Bryce to say that he was playing within the law - quite possibly he
was - but I had no idea of paying any percentage to the Crown. I was
rather hazy on the matter myself, though I seemed to have heard
somewhere or other that the Government always gobbled a big share of the
loot in the case of treasure trove. At any rate the quieter we kept the
expedition the less likelihood there was of us having to pay anything at
all.

Moira was to travel with me from Murtoa, and Cumshaw decided to train as
far as Landsborough - the recently opened Crowlands to Navarre railway
would take him that far - and then do the rest across the hills on foot.
His was the longer and more difficult route, and I had intended at first
to take it myself, for reasons that have nothing at all to do with this
tale; but he was so insistent, and at one stage threatened so much
unpleasantness, that I gave into him, if only for the sake of peace.
Before we started I had another talk with Moira and endeavored to
dissuade her from accompanying us, but she very calmly told me that she
had additional reasons now for going with us. There was sure to be
trouble, she admitted that much; but then wasn't her place by my side,
more especially if things weren't all they should be? Her logic left
much to be desired, but it had the one merit of achieving its object. It
was devastating; it completely crushed all my arguments and left me
without a leg to stand on.

The late March of the year 1919 saw the three of us at the rendezvous,
which we had reached without incident of any sort. Contrary to our
expectations the other party had not been sighted, and the outlook was
certainly auspicious. For all that I felt worried. Everything was going
along too swimmingly, and I had a queer feeling that we would meet with
trouble very shortly, if only to even things up. Ease and success can
only be won after much expenditure of blood and tears; there is not a
thing in life worth trying for that can be bought with a minimum of
effort. The greater the prize, the greater the price one must pay;
always one pays, with health, with limbs, sometimes with life itself.

During the time Moira and I had been travelling together I had slept of
a night with one eye more or less open, and the strain of being
constantly on the alert was just beginning to tell on me. As a
consequence I was very pleased when Cumshaw suggested that we should
take watch and watch about. I agreed, with the reservation that I must
always be on guard for the dawn-watch. I didn't explain why I was so
anxious to take that particular watch, and, though I noticed Moira
looking curiously at me, she made no remark. I knew from experience that
men are at their sleepiest about four o'clock in the morning, and an
attack can be successfully launched then that would fail at any other
hour of the day or night. I had yet to test Cumshaw on active service,
so I claimed the four o'clock stretch for my own. It doesn't hurt to be
careful; I've never yet met anyone who was sorry he had taken
precautions.

We camped within a hundred yards of the creek, and after supper Cumshaw
and I sprawled on the grass and talked. Moira had retired to an
improvised tent we had fashioned for her, and, as it was just out of
earshot, we were free to speak our thoughts. I had not seen Cumshaw for
the better part of two weeks - he had started from his own place and come
right on from there without calling on me again - and I hoped that he
might have some further news for me. I asked him casually how his father
was getting on.

"Right enough," he said, blowing a cloud of smoke out of his mouth.
"Some days you wouldn't think there was a thing wrong with him. He'll
talk pretty lucidly at times, but it isn't anything that can be of any
use to us. He doesn't seem to have taken much notice of the position of
the valley, he apparently thought at the time that it would be very
simple to pick it up again, and I fancy that Bradby must have confirmed
him in that view. He couldn't have taken into account the way they had
twisted about in the mountains. It's the simplest thing in the world to
lose yourself here, the more so if you're confident you know your way."

"You've about struck it there," I said. "I just want to give you a
little piece of advice, and I hope you won't take it amiss. I don't want
to talk about this expedition any more than I can help for two reasons.
One's this: I don't wish to cause Miss Drummond any more uneasiness than
is absolutely necessary. You know as well as I do that there's a big
chance of the lot of us being wiped out just about the time we get
within sight of the end. I wouldn't be surprised if they let us walk
into a trap and finished us at their leisure. As for the other
reason - well, it's never safe to say that you're alone anywhere. If we
raise our voices above whispers here we might be giving away valuable
information. So just let us keep watch on our tongues. More hopes have
been ruined and more chances of success spoilt by gabbling tongues than
by any other dozen causes all rolled together."

"I can quite understand that," Cumshaw said, between puffs at his pipe.
It was one of those neat little affairs with a round bowl, a
spick-and-span pipe that had burnt an even color and that shone as
brightly as the day he bought it. My pipe was a sorrier article; it was
battered and blackened, and one side of the bowl was down beneath the
level of the other, showing that it had been lighted oftener with a
blazing brand than with the orthodox matches. In a way it was like its
owner; it had been tested by fire and had survived the test. If I were
philosophical - but then I wasn't, and that's about all there is to it.

"I didn't go to Landsborough," Cumshaw said after a pause. "I missed my
train at Ararat, and so I came on to Great Western. It's much the
shorter way. I wish you had known of it before."

"I'm all the better pleased you came that way," I told him. "It will
help to disorganise the chase."

He bent over, picked up a live coal in his bare fingers and applied it
to his pipe before replying.

"I rather think," he said slowly, "that it will have just the opposite
effect."

"You can't have any nerves in those fingertips of yours," I said. "Why
will it?"

"I don't seem to have any, do I? I think I saw one of the men at Great
Western."

"You don't know them," I said. "How could you?"

"Mr. Bryce described them in his letter," Cumshaw answered. "This man
fitted the description of one of them, a dark sort of chap."

"Spanish type?" I queried.

Cumshaw nodded. "I wonder why it is," he ran on, "that we're always more
suspicious of that sort of man than, say, a fair type?"

"Relic of the Armada, I suppose," I suggested. "Tell me all about the
man you saw."

"I was coming along the roadside," Cumshaw began, "past one of the
vineyards, when I noticed a man working close at hand. I was just going
to pass by when it struck me that he was the only person about. I
thought that rather queer and I gave him a second look. Then I saw that
he wasn't digging, as I had thought at first, but that he was scratching
aimlessly at the ground. One of those queer feelings that seem
altogether unrelated to fact crept over me. Call it second sight or any
other fancy name you please, the fact remains that I suddenly knew - not
thought, mind you; I knew - that he did not want me to notice him and
that he was pretending to be one of the workmen, just so that I would
pass him by without more than a cursory glance. When I came to think it
over afterwards, I remembered that it struck me when first I saw him
that he was the only man I had seen in the vineyards for miles. Of
course I had that idea in my mind when I looked at him the second time.
That doesn't explain how I understood that I was the very man he did not
want to see. He had his head bent down naturally, his hat well drawn
over his face, and he went on scratching and scraping as if his very
life depended on the energy with which he worked. I didn't get more than
a passing glimpse of him, and that wasn't too good - you can't go over to
a man and pull off his hat just because he looks suspicious - but I'd
swear on a stack of Bibles that he's one of the men we'll have to deal
with."

"Perhaps so," I said. "At any rate I'm not going to allow chance workers
in the fields to rob me of my night's rest."

"No more am I," assented Cumshaw. "So you don't think there's any
likelihood - - ."

"I don't think anything at all," I cut in. "I take proper precautions,
that's all."

He made no comment on my unceremonious interruption, but the strange
half-smile he gave me showed that he realised in part at least how his
story had affected me. As a matter of fact I was more perturbed than I
cared to admit. I had been thinking things over all day, and it had just
occurred to me that, seeing we had heard nothing of them since Bryce's
death, it was quite possible that they were even now following up the
false clue that he had laid for them, and which one of them had got away
with the night of the burglary. If that were so, why had they come back
and killed Bryce? It was a curious enough situation, and the more I
thought about it the more I became convinced that I was right. Our
immunity so far was due solely to the fact that the others were well
occupied with the faked plan they had stolen on that memorable evening.
Now on top of that Albert Cumshaw must come with this circumstantial
story of his and upset all my deductions. The strange part of it was,
though my reason told me that he had been a victim of his own brilliant
imagination, part of my mind - that part that believed in second sight
and banshees and were-wolves, and stuff of that sort - told me that he
was not so very much wrong after all.

"I'll get to sleep," he said, interrupting the train of my thoughts.
"I'll be fresh when my turn comes for guard."

"Tell me," I said, for the matter had been puzzling me all night, "where
did you learn to light your pipe with red-hot coals?"

"Oh, that," he said with a laugh. "I saw you doing it earlier in the
evening, and I made up my mind that what you did I could do."

"Then it must have burnt you."

"Horribly," he said with a grimace. "Good-night."




CHAPTER III.

THE PROMISED LAND.


"This," I remarked, "is the sort of country Adam Lindsay Gordon would
have loved. No man but he could do justice to it."

"We've been out seven days," said Cumshaw, "we've travelled God knows
how many miles, we've climbed up a Hades of a lot of mountains, and I
don't think there's a blind creek for twenty miles that we haven't
followed to the end and back again, and at the end of it all we're no
nearer the Valley than we were when we started. Gordon might have made
an epic out of it, but I'm hanged if I'm poet enough to appreciate the
country or philosopher enough to ignore the sheer physical discomforts
of the journey."

"If you'd been through the things I've been through," I asserted, "if
you'd been in New Guinea when there was a gold-strike on and had to
climb hundreds of feet up a straight cliff to get to the fields, hanging
on all the time to creepers as thick as your wrist, you'd think this was
just Paradise. If you'd been with me in the sweltering Solomon Island
jungle, where every breath you took made the perspiration stand out on
your forehead in big beads, or up in the Klondyke when it was fifty
below and a man's own breath turned into ice about his mouth, you'd know
what life really meant. Here you're in the Garden of Victoria; you see
sights that knock some of the beauty spots of the world into a cocked
hat, and all you can do is growl at the country. You can't expect to go
up and down the mountain side in a lift or anything of the sort."

"It's all very well for you to talk like that," he objected. "You're
used to this kind of life; we're not. That makes all the difference."

"So it seems," I said. "But I haven't the slightest intention of giving
in yet. As a matter of fact I rather think we've been a little too sure
that we were on the right track. We haven't been as careful as we might.
We've gone along blindly."

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"Just this. We've been so infernally confident that we only had to find
a clump of wattle and a lone tree, and we were there. Now that lone tree
must be somewhere on the east side of the valley, and, despite the fact
that it's on high ground, it's so hidden that we wouldn't see it until
we were almost on top of it. It might be perfectly visible from inside
the valley, and at the same time be hidden from the outside by another
hill. As for the wattle, has it ever struck you that wattle only begins
to spring into bloom about the end of August? It's almost April now, and
you wouldn't find anything but just a mass of green bushes."

"If there was a valley, which same I'm beginning to doubt," Cumshaw said
doggedly, "we'd have found it before this."

"I don't know what Miss Drummond is cooking for our tea," I remarked
irrelevantly, "but it smells good."

"If you think you can put me off that way," Cumshaw said, "you're mighty
mistaken. I'm tired of it all, and for two pins - - "

"You know very well," I cut in, "that I haven't one pin, let alone two."

"You apparently don't understand that I'm perfectly serious."

"Yes, I do. I'm serious too. I'm quite satisfied that we haven't been
going about things in the right way. We've made mistakes, and it's up to
us to find out what those mistakes are and go over the ground again."

"I'll give it another week," said Cumshaw, "and if we haven't found
anything by then we might as well retire, for you can bet your sweet
life we never will."

I didn't answer him immediately. I was sprawling on the grass, on my
back, with my eyes turned to the west, and something in the color of the
sky surrounding the setting sun caught and held my attention. Curiously
enough it made me think of Gordon and "The Sick Stockrider" - it must
have been floating through my mind when I began to talk - and it needed
very little effort of imagination to see -

The deep blue skies wax dusky and the tall green trees grow dim,
And the sickly, smoky shadows through the sleepy sunlight swim,
And on the very sun's face weave their pall,

but there were no blue skies or green trees. The heavens were just a
dull slate-grey with streaks of smoke-colored cloud scurrying across
from the west, and the trees that might have been green in a better
light were black and gaunt, like weird spectres which had taken on wild
shapes and unorthodox hues. There was just the slightest suggestion of
chill in the atmosphere, and that, combined with the scurrying clouds,
made me study the sky with growing anxiety.

"If that's not a storm brewing," I said, pointing skywards, "I'm
anything you like to call me."

Cumshaw cocked one eye in the direction indicated. "It does look like
it," he said lazily, after a prolonged study of the sky.

I looked him up and down as best I could. One can't survey a man too
well when lying on one's back; but something in the glance and more that
I gave him, struck him as being so odd that he sat up and stared at me.
I made no movement.

"Well?" he queried at length.

"It's just the other way round," I said in my most aggravating tone.

He looked at the sky again at that, and then turned his dark eyes on me.
"I can see it's going to be a fine old storm," he said, "but I don't
understand why you're worrying about it."

"I'm not," I said a trifle untruthfully. I was worrying, but not as much
as he seemed to think. Ordinarily I would have told him just what I
fancied was wrong, but this time I didn't fancy anything. For all I
could say to the contrary there was just an ordinary April storm brewing
over across the hills, and presently the thunder would begin, and then
the lightning, and after that the rain; still I felt like a man who is
on the verge of a great discovery, on the brink of finding that
something that means all the difference in the world between success and
failure. Even now when I come to consider calmly the emotions of that
hour I cannot say that what I have just written down is a true
description of my feelings and thoughts. What happened later that same
night has had its effect on my memory and has mixed itself inextricably
with my earlier recollections. All this about my fancying that the storm
meant more than a storm usually means may be due to the fact that, but
for it, the momentous event itself would never have occurred.

I do know that I was a little doubtful about the security of the
improvised tent that sheltered Moira, and I think I must have showed a
little of that anxiety in my face. That perhaps was what struck Cumshaw
and led him to make the remark that he did.

Presently Moira called us to tea, and we hauled ourselves up from the
grass and went over to her. The fire was burning up brightly and threw
the tent and the surrounding trees into bold relief. It made the sky
look even darker and more threatening than before. The scurrying clouds
had all passed away by now, but in their train came thicker and heavier
ones, big black things that rolled slowly across the evening sky with
the heavy implacability of Fate. They moved like the advancing vanguard
of a wild army of infamy, and soon had shut out altogether the dying
light of day and the growing radiance of the silver stars. The sudden
chill of thirty minutes previously had passed like a swift breath of
wind into the limbo of lost and forgotten things, and in its place had
grown a deadly hot oppressiveness that somehow reminded me of the
sweltering dampness of those Gaudalcanar forests I had so recently
described to Cumshaw. It filled us with something of its own torpor, so
much so that we ate languidly, and when we spoke at all we spoke in
monosyllables.

The storm broke almost without warning. There was just one low
premonitory growl of thunder, the sky was split by a yellow sword of
lightning, and then the rain came pouring down in the way that can be
best described as the bursting of the flood-gates of heaven. At that our
torpor vanished and we made an unceremonious rush for the poor shelter
afforded by the tent, bringing with us what was left of our meal. The
tent had not been constructed with a view to holding more than one; at
its poor best it was but a rough shelter from the night dew. We had
never intended it to keep out the rain; it had not entered our heads as
even a remote possibility. I, perhaps, as the only one of the three who
had had any practical experience of out-door life, should have kept just
such a chance in mind. The fact remains that I overlooked it, and I
can't say that then or at any other time was I sorry for my
miscalculation.

I had lived so long in the tropics that the rain that came seemed to me
the veriest drizzle, but the others had their own opinion, as I learnt
the moment I said what I thought. Cumshaw remarked that it was the devil
of a downpour, and Moira expressed her idea in less forcible though more
polite terms. It was no use my saying that if I were in Port Moresby or
Samarai the rain would have gone through the thin fabric of the tent
like a rifle bullet through butter-cloth. They pointed out with equal
truth that the present rain was dribbling through even as it was, and
that a quarter of an hour more would see us saturated.

Whether we would or not must remain a mystery. No doubt we would have
found out sooner or later had it not come on to blow. The thunder had
ceased and the lightning flashed less frequently, now that the rain had
set in, but the wind began to rise, and almost on the last clap of
thunder I felt the wall of the tent shiver under the impact of the
blast. It occurred to me in one of those flashes of memory that we
sometimes have in moments of tension that we had not troubled about
running up guy-ropes, and there was nothing now to hold the tent if the
wind caught it squarely. Scarcely had the thought formed in my mind than
an extra fierce blast caught the light fabric, shook it as a
Newfoundland dog would shake a small terrier it had picked up in its
mouth, and then, before we knew what had happened, the wind had whirled
the tent away like a child's balloon, leaving us standing bareheaded,
shivering and exposed to all the force of the elements. I left Moira
with Cumshaw and groped about in the darkness, hoping to find our
missing tent, but I might as well have been hunting for the proverbial
needle in a bundle of hay for all the chance I had. I merely got wet
through, so much so that I changed by mind completely about the force of
Victorian storms, and when at last I found my way back to the others I
was sopping from the sole of my boots to the top of the woe-begone hat I
had hurriedly thrust on my head. As matters stood I could not get any
wetter, and I supposed that Cumshaw was in much the same state.
Nevertheless there was Moira to think of, and the sooner we got to
shelter of some sort, a cave on the hillside or even a tolerably thick
bush, the better it was going to be for all of us. I shouted this to
Cumshaw - it was very hard to hear now that the gale had risen and was
blowing everything to ribbons - and he understood me only after a couple
of attempts. So I took Moira by one chill wet hand and Cumshaw took the
other, and thus in the darkness and the steady soaking rain began our
hunt for shelter of some sort.

I haven't an idea how far we walked. We just kept on and on, and really
I think we did not notice the storm so much as if we had been standing
still. Most of the time our attention was too taken up with feeling our


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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) WalshThe lost valley → online text (page 13 of 16)