J. M. (James Morgan) Walsh.

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accounted for yet, and it'd be a pity to let them get hold of the very
thing we've been keeping out of their clutches for so long."

"I never thought of that," she said with a crestfallen air. "Of course
you're right. But where'll we go?"

"Any of the inner rooms. The drawing-room, say. That hasn't got any
windows opening out on to the garden."

Moira caught my arm. "Come on, Jim," she cried, "I'm dying to know what
is in it."

"The more haste the less speed," I remarked soberly. "Likewise there's
many a slip between the cup and the lip."

"Don't, Jim, don't be pessimistic just when everything's beginning to
turn out well."

"Beginning," I repeated. "You're right there. We're just beginning now."

But all the same she did not take her hand off my arm, and when hers
slipped through mine in quite the good old way, I could not find it in
my heart to tell her that she must do no such thing.

The drawing-room was just as comfortable a place as a man could wish,
and I saw at a glance that there was no likelihood of our being
disturbed there.

I held the packet in my hands for I don't know how many seconds, almost
afraid to open it. Inside was the secret that had lost Bryce his life,
the secret that had cost, though I did not know it at the time, almost a
dozen lives, and that would bring two at least of our associates
perilously close to the grave before our work was ended. Moira shared
some of my hesitation, for she made no effort to hurry me into undoing
the packet, but stood awaiting my pleasure.

The string was tied so tightly that I could not unknot it. I drew my
knife and cut it, and the oil-skin unrolled of itself. The first thing I
came across was a letter from Bryce addressed to the two of us. It was
not contained in an envelope, but seemed to have been slipped in as an
after-thought. It ran: -

Dear Moira and Dear Jimmy, -

If you ever read this it will be because I am no more and have
failed to bring my plans to a successful conclusion. In that case I
look to the two of you to carry on from the point where I left off,
but because you are both young, and so have very little sense, I
don't intend to let either of you fall into an easy thing. There's
money at the back of this, enough to make you rich for life, but
you'll have to use the brains you both have got and work like the
very dickens to get it. I've put some of the necessary directions
in a cypher that a child could read, but apart from that you'll
have to use your heads. As you know some things that Moira doesn't,
Jimmy, and vice versa, you can see that it won't pay either of you
to quarrel.

The man who really holds the key to the situation is a gentleman
named Abel Cumshaw. Abel, I understand, is in his second childhood,
and can never be brought to realise that it is any later than the
early eighties, but his son Albert is a most astonishing young
fellow, as you'll find when you meet him, if you have not already
done so before this falls into your hands. You see I have
sufficient confidence in your ability to believe that you will find
this package sooner or later. If it's too late when you do find it,
of course the joke'll be on the pair of you.

Now, a word to you, Moira. Jimmy knows the hidden valley quite
well, so don't believe him if he says he doesn't. I spent nearly an
hour the other day telling him all about it, and even went the
length of showing him a map of the place. If he doesn't help you
out, it's because he's got a bad memory.

As for yourself, Jimmy, remember that you can't get along without
Moira and don't try. Once you've found what you're looking for you
can each go your own way, but I rather fancy you won't want to
then. I think that's about all, unless to remind you that Mr.
Albert Cumshaw will be entitled to his fair share of the spoils.

And on that note the letter ended, and underneath was his sprawling
signature, "H. Bryce," written as firmly as ever he had written it.

"Well, what do you make of that?" I asked when I had finished reading
it.

"I - I - - "

"I know," I cut in. "I feel that way too. Do you think he's put up a
joke on us?"

"I just don't want to speak about it," Moira said tearfully.
"It's - it's - I wouldn't have expected it of him."

"It's the unexpected that happens," I said with some idea that I was
consoling her. I could see that the tears were very near her eyes, and I
didn't want her to break down now and cry. A man is always at a great
disadvantage in dealing with a weeping woman; she can usually persuade
him to do almost anything for her while she's in that state. If I find
my wife crying - but it doesn't matter what I'd do, for I've no right to
be introducing purely speculative matter that has nothing at all to do
with the story.

"It doesn't explain anything," Moira said at length. "It only makes
everything worse than ever."

"I wouldn't say that," I said. I saw, or thought I saw, a glimmer of
light. It was so faint that I daren't as yet put it into words. "He must
have been in a rather frivolous mood when he wrote this," I continued.
"All the same, I think we're getting closer. We haven't looked at the
cypher yet, you know."

"No more we have, Jim. Let's see what it's like."

I handed it to her. At first sight I could have sworn that it was the
identical piece of paper that I had picked up from the kitchen floor
that momentous afternoon, but a second glance showed me that I was
mistaken. Many of the characters were the same, but the grouping was
altogether different. They ran as follows: -

[email protected]; [email protected] &9; 3 5433-3/4 [email protected] @75 £994 1/4; £ [email protected] 48-1/2-8;? 1/2-7;
1/4-43 8; &8;3 - 3-1/4-1/2-743 1/2-3: 3; "335 3-1/4-1/[email protected];
"1/4-/3 £843/5 ;[email protected]/4 £4-1/4-2 1/4;[email protected] &8;3 1/4-5 [email protected]
1/4;?&3-1/2 59 [email protected] 043:897-1/2 9;3 3)53; £8;? "94 523&:3 "335.£8?
[email protected]

"It doesn't seem to mean anything, Jim," she said in consternation.

"I'll admit it's pretty hard to understand," I told her. "It looks like
a page out of a ready reckoner or a mathematician's nightmare. But it
does mean something or your uncle wouldn't have put it up to us. What it
is we've got to find out. Possibly the Mr. Cumshaw of the letter can
throw a little light on the subject."

"Who is Mr. Cumshaw, Jim?"

"I never heard of the man until I read this letter," I said. "He's a new
element in the plot, and, unless your uncle's pulling our legs, I think
he's going to be a very important factor."

"He's got to share with us, too," she reminded me.

"Share with you," I corrected. "I've told you a couple of times already
that I'll help you to it, but that I don't intend to take a penny of the
money. So, when you're figuring it out, remember it's halves, not
thirds, you're working on."

"If it was anybody else but me you'd take it quickly enough," she said
accusingly.

"Maybe I would and again maybe I wouldn't," I said with a smile.

"Oh, Jim, I hate you!" she cried in a sudden blaze of temper.

"I'm sorry," I said easily. "It doesn't take much to make you hate
seemingly."

She turned and faced me with one of those swift changes of front that
made her so hard to deal with. The white-hot anger had gone as suddenly
as it had come, and in its place there was nothing but hopelessness. She
looked so weary and so miserable that for the moment I was tempted to
take her in my arms and tell her that the past did not matter any more
than did the future. But the memory of the words with which she had
driven me out of her life that summer's evening long ago lashed me like
a whip, and in an instant I had hardened my heart.

"Why do you make it so hard for me, Jim?" she moaned. "If only you would
help me a little."

"I'm helping you all I can," I said with a touch of cynicism in my
voice. "You can count on me until the adventure's finished."

"You know I don't mean that," she said weakly.

"There's nothing else you can mean," I answered stubbornly.

For the space of a heart-beat we stood facing each other. I saw that she
was on the verge of a breakdown, and I knew that my own resolution was
failing. After all, what need was there for me to be so brutal? She had
suffered more than enough for the idle words spoken in haste all those
years ago. There is no knowing what might have happened had not Fate
intervened. But just as things had reached breaking-strain the door-bell
rang. The prosaic sound brought us back instantly to earth, and a
dramatic situation, tense with possibilities, became in a moment
common-place.

"There's the door-bell," Moira said calmly. "I wonder who it can be."

"Some visitor or other," I remarked.

"What visitor could it be?" she asked. "I know of no one who'd have
business here."

I knew of one at least, but I did not put my thoughts into words.
Instead I remarked, "Quite possibly it's some house-hunter."

We heard the maid's steps go up the hall past us. There was a whispered
colloquy at the door, and then, quite distinctly, the maid's voice said,
"I'll see if he is in."

"That must be me," I guessed. "I'm the only 'he' in the house."

"But who knows you're here?" Moira objected.

"That's right," I said. "Who does?"

I opened the door of the room and looked out. The maid, who was coming
down the passage, caught sight of me. "There's a gentleman wishes to see
you, Mr. Carstairs," she announced.

"Show him in here," I said.

I turned back into the room. "You'd better stop here, Moira," I said as
she made a movement to go. "It can't be anything private. It's just as
likely that it's something that interests you too."

She sat down again.

The maid ushered the newcomer into the room. I ran my eye over him as I
advanced to meet him. He was small and dapper, and his air of
self-possession was almost perfect. His features were clean-cut, dark
eyes glowed in a face that had evidently been exposed to the weather for
many years, and his brow was surmounted by a mass of black curls.

"Mr. Carstairs?" he asked.

"That's me," I said truthfully but ungrammatically.

"This will explain my business," he said, and handed me a piece of
pasteboard. I took it from him; it was one of Bryce's visiting cards,
and scribbled across the foot of it were these words: - "Introducing Mr.
Albert Cumshaw. H. Bryce."

"I've been expecting you, Mr. Cumshaw," I said. "I've been expecting you
for some days now."

As a matter of fact I hadn't, but it is always a good rule to allow the
other man to think you know everything.

"Moira," I said, "this is the Mr. Cumshaw we've been waiting for. Mr.
Cumshaw, Miss Drummond."

"Pleased to meet you," he said and looked as if he meant it.

"Take a seat, Mr. Cumshaw," I said, and when he had accepted a chair,
"What can I do for you?" I enquired.

He looked curiously from one to the other of us as if to seek an
inspiration. "I presume Mr. Bryce is not about," he said at length.

"Well, hardly," I answered. "He's been dead this last couple of weeks."
It was longer than that in reality, but I mentioned the first period
that came into my head. Anyway, it didn't matter much how long it was
since he died; nothing could make him any the less dead now.

"Oh," said Mr. Cumshaw quietly, as though my news was just what he had
been expecting all along. "It is most regrettable," he added.

"Now what can I do for you?" I persisted.

"Touching the little matter of the gold escort," he said and fixed me
with a glowing eye.

"Yes, the gold escort, Mr. Cumshaw. What about it!"

He did not answer that immediately, but eyed both Moira and me as if to
test our receptive capacities. I maintained an attitude of complete
indifference; Moira leaned forward a little with interest plainly marked
in every line of her face.

"You were both in Mr. Bryce's confidence?" His quiet remark took the
form of a question.

I nodded.

"Go on," Moira urged. "You came to tell us about your father, Mr. Abel
Cumshaw."

"That's right," said the young man with amazing alacrity. "You're all
right too. I wasn't sure at first, but now I see you're in the game with
me. From what I know of it we're all like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. We
all fit in, and none of us is any use without the others. That being so,
I fancy that we had better all place our cards on the table. Now which
of you has got the cypher?"

Moira looked at me for guidance. I was pleased to see that she was
learning that she couldn't do without me. I was pleased - no, I wasn't
pleased at all, for it didn't matter now what Moira thought of me.

"What cypher is that?" I enquired innocently.

"There is only one cypher, Mr. Carstairs," Mr. Cumshaw stated. He seemed
so sure about it that my curiosity was aroused.

"Indeed?" I said politely. I knew better than to contradict him
outright, so I did it by implication.

"There's only the one," the young man repeated. "You should know,
because Mr. Bryce left it to you."

If I had had any doubts before as to the genuine character of my visitor
they all vanished at that last remark of his. It was one of those things
that a man could not have guessed, however clever he might be. He must
have had inside knowledge. Hitherto I had been indulging in that
pleasant pastime that is known in boxing circles as "sparring for wind,"
but now I dropped the pose completely and answered him as
straightforwardly as was consistent with reasonable caution.

"Yes, he did leave a cypher to me," I admitted. "But what do you know
about it?"

"Only what Mr. Bryce wrote me. I'm sorry I can't show you the letter,
but Mr. Bryce had an invariable rule that all correspondence from him
must be burnt as soon as read."

"I guess I've got to accept you at your face value, Mr. Cumshaw," I
said. "You'll pardon me for doubting you at first, but it pays to be
cautious in a game like this. Now I'd like to know just how we are going
to assist each other."

"That's more than I can say," the young man smiled. "If I tell you the
story from start to finish, maybe you'll get a better idea of what we're
after."

"Would it take long?" I said diffidently. "It's fairly late now."

"If Mr. Cumshaw would stop to tea," Moira suggested, and looked to me
for approval of her proposition. Under the circumstances there was only
one thing for me to do, so I did it.

"You'll greatly oblige us if you stop," I said. "That is if it won't be
causing any inconvenience?" I added questioningly.

"None at all," he said cheerily. "Nothing of this sort ever
inconveniences me" - this latter with a glance at Moira.

"So that's the game, is it, young man?" I said to myself. "Well, here's
luck to you."

Aloud I said, "I am pleased to hear it." The funny part of it all was
that I really meant it. There was something open and honest about the
man himself, there was a healthful glow in his dark eyes, and he had a
way of looking at one that was the very essence of frankness itself.
Without knowing more of him than I had learnt in the few minutes we had
been conversing, I felt that he was as open as the day. In this case at
least my first impressions were more than justified by the course of
events.

* * * * *

Mr. Cumshaw stopped to tea and made himself very much at home, and
afterwards he told us the story of the gold escort. I have not set out
his tale as we heard it that evening. For one thing he only related what
he happened to know about the matter, and as a result there were many
little blanks he had to leave unfilled. But with the completion of our
enterprise many additional facts have come to light, and so it is that,
with Mr. Cumshaw's aid and at his suggestion, I give here a fuller and
more comprehensive version of the affair than he related to us that
evening.




PART II.

_THE ADVENTURES OF MR. ABEL CUMSHAW._




CHAPTER I.

NIGHTFALL.


Far away to the west the fiery globe of the setting sun dropped lazily
down to rest behind the quaint goblin peaks of the Grampians. Its last
lingering rays touched their summits with a crimson glow, flooded the
valleys with garish light, and even penetrated into the recesses of the
nearby woodlands until the whole place seemed to blaze as with the red
fire of Hell. It was not a peaceful sunset; it did not even hold the
promise of peace. It was alive and active, in the sense that light can
live, and one could but feel that its potency was malignant and assured.
There were clouds aplenty in the sky, light clouds looking as if they
had been trailed through red ink, but there was nothing about them to
suggest that a storm was brewing, or that even the slightest change in
the weather could be expected. Nevertheless the air contained a hint of
evil, so much so that an imaginative person would have peopled the hills
with gnomes and the woods with devils. Even had fairies existed in the
glades, one would have instinctively known them to be bad fairies. Yet
one could not say offhand whence or from whom the evil that was to be,
would originate; all earth and sky seemed somehow to be in the dread
conspiracy.

The lurid hues of the sunset flared and faded into the drabber colors of
twilight, the shadows swept down in phalanxes from the hills, and the
still lifeless trees, stirring in the evening breeze, became black
mocking shapes of infamy. The yellow disc of a moon, climbing up over
the woods, took on the semblance of the leering face of a drunken man.

The two men who presently came riding along through the tangled
fastnesses of what a couple of score years or more ago were the
untenanted and, to a great extent, the unexplored depths of a Victorian
forest, were very evidently unaffected by the grim fancies of the
evening. They were not laughing certainly, and when they spoke it was in
whispers, but the younger man hummed a music-hall tune under his breath.
There was something rakish, not to say reckless, in the way the elder
sat his mount. They went carefully, though, taking every possible
precaution against making needless noise. Once the horse of the elder
man stumbled and set a stone rolling down a declivity. Both men reined
in instantly and listened until the echoes died away in the distance.

"You're as nervous as a rabbit, Jack," the younger man remarked when
presently they resumed their journey. "Every little sound seems to
startle you."

"There's no sense in taking chances, man," said the one called Jack.

"If it comes to that there's no chances to take."

"Only that of being caught and hanged, Abel."

"There's not much hope of that," Abel Cumshaw replied. "Gentry like
ourselves are rather out of fashion now since they've squashed the
Kellys. The country's quietened down a lot, and a 'ranger's supposed to
be a thing of the past. As it is, there's never been bushrangers in this
part of the State, and what hasn't been is the least likely to happen in
most people's estimation."

"I'm with you there, Abel," Jack said. "But even that's no reason why we
shouldn't go carefully. You must remember that we don't know this part
of the State too well. That's the beauty of it, I suppose. Nobody knows
it very much."

"It'll make pursuit difficult," the other suggested. "But what I can't
understand is why the banks should send so much gold across country when
there's the railway."

"The railway, friend Cumshaw, isn't the safest route. There's just as
clever men working that as used to be working the stages. Moreover, this
cross-country route's much the quicker way of the two."

"For which we may thank the Lord," said Abel Cumshaw, with cheerful
impiety.

"Time enough to thank the Lord," the other retorted, "when we've
finished the job successfully. All the same, I wish we had a pack
horse."

"If we had brought a pack-horse," said Cumshaw, "we'd have had half the
country-side wondering what the deuce was up. Like as not they'd think
there was a new gold-strike on."

"And they wouldn't have been wrong in that," the other answered with
grim humor. "But let's get to the business of the evening, Abel. I've
got a good idea to put the pursuers off the scent, that is, if there's
any pursuit."

"Out with it, then," said Cumshaw.

The elder man reined in his horse, and, leaning over, whispered in his
companion's ear. As the tale proceeded a cheerful grin spread over
Cumshaw's face.

"That'll do fine," he said gleefully. "You almost make me wish they do
pursue us just for the fun of seeing them fall in."

"There's nothing to be gained by being foolhardy," the elder man warned
him. "Now we can't afford to waste time. Let us get to work at once."

Without more ado he led the way down through the tangle of forest and
across the open glades until they reached the narrow track that wound
like a monstrous brown ribbon through the enormous gums. At the edge of
the road they both dismounted and tethered their horses to convenient
trees. Then, stepping very gingerly, and taking extreme care not to
leave any footprints on the dusty surface of the track, they groped
about on the roadside. Presently they both returned to the horses, each
of them carrying an armful of heavy stones which they loaded carefully
into the enormous saddle-bags that dangled one on each side of the
saddle-flaps.

"That should about do it," Cumshaw remarked, when this was completed.

"I hope so," the other answered curtly. He sprang to the saddle, loosed
the reins that had tethered the animal, and setting his spurs deep into
its flank galloped up the track for a matter of a hundred yards or so,
closely followed by his companion. Then they turned sharply off into the
bush, designedly traversing the soft impressionable ground. The
heavily-laden horses floundered in the soft soil, and gradually the pace
dropped away from a gallop to a canter, and finally to a walk. When
nearly two miles of this sort of country had been covered, the two men
reined in and dismounted. Next they unloaded the stones from the
saddle-bags and hid them carefully in the undergrowth. Cumshaw then
proceeded to cut his thick blanket into strips, each of about eighteen
inches square. There were eight of these strips in all - four he kept
himself and the others he handed to his companion.

"It's a smart enough dodge, all right," the man remarked. "The only
possible flaw in it is that there might be some gentleman present who's
dealt with cattle-duffers in the past. If so, he'd be pretty sure to
scent our little game, and block it."

"Let's hope for the best," said Mr. Cumshaw, cheerfully, looking up from
his work with a smile that even the darkness of the night could not
hide. He was systematically wrapping the squares of blankets round the
hoofs of his mount and securing them in such a way that they would
remain fast even during a wild gallop over rough country. The trick
itself was an old one; it had its origin many years previous in Texas
and Arizona when the raiding Indians made their horses walk over
blankets spread on the ground in order to hide the direction of their
retreat. The idea had been adopted and developed by the Australian
cattle-duffers to meet the exigencies of the country they worked in. The
trick therefore was by no means a new one, and there was just a chance,
as the man Jack remarked, that someone might drop to it. But the false
hoof-prints were an unprecedented addition that would probably keep the
pursuers long enough on the wrong scent to enable the precious pair to
"escape" and "cache" their plunder.

It was characteristic of the two men that once they had taken all
precautions they quietly dismissed the matter from their minds and rode
slowly back to the roadway with scarce a thought for the business in
hand. Abel Cumshaw would have whistled had he dared; as it was he hummed
softly to himself. The moon was now well up in the heavens, and its
fitful light creeping through the leafy roof above, made gibbering
ghosts of the swaying gums. Mr. Abel Cumshaw and his companion, Jack
Bradby, had been brought up in the Australian bush, their nerves were as
steady as a rock, and where others saw grim visions of fancy they saw
only waving bushes and stripped gums. Though the present adventure was
their first essay in ranging, both of them had lived by their wits, or
rather by others' want of wits, for more years than were good for them.
Singly or together they had run other people's sheep and cattle and made
a lucrative, if dishonest, living at the game, and during their visits
to the towns had made it a point of warped honor to pay their expenses
with the ill-gotten gold of some duller fellow-creature. On top of it


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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) WalshThe lost valley → online text (page 6 of 16)