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- A SIMPLETON - 70/84 -
"Hallo, mate! Come from the diggings?"
"Haw! haw! What! found a fifty-carat? Show it us."
"We found five big stones, my mate and me. He is gone to Cape Town to sell them. I had no luck when he had left me, so I have cut it; going to turn farmer. Can you tell me how far it is to Dale's Kloof?"
No, they could not tell him that. They swung on; and, to Staines, their backs were a cordial, as we say in Scotland.
However, his travels were near an end. Next morning he saw Dale's Kloof in the distance; and as soon as the heat moderated, he pushed on, with one shoe and tattered trousers; and half an hour before sunset he hobbled up to the place.
It was all bustle. Travellers at the door; their wagons and carts under a long shed.
Ucatella was the first to see him coming, and came and fawned on him with delight. Her eyes glistened, her teeth gleamed. She patted both his cheeks, and then his shoulders, and even his knees, and then flew in-doors crying, "My doctor child is come home!" This amused three travellers, and brought out Dick, with a hearty welcome.
"But Lordsake, sir, why have you come afoot; and a rough road too? Look at your shoes. Hallo! What is come of the horse?"
"I exchanged him for a diamond."
"The deuce you did! And the rifle?"
"Exchanged that for the same diamond."
"It ought to be a big 'un."
Dick made a wry face. "Well, sir, you know best. You are welcome, on horse or afoot. You are just in time; Phoebe and me are just sitting down to dinner."
He took him into a little room they had built for their own privacy, for they liked to be quiet now and then, being country bred; and Phoebe was putting their dinner on the table, when Staines limped in.
She gave a joyful cry, and turned red all over. "Oh, doctor!" Then his travel-torn appearance struck her. "But, dear heart! what a figure! Where's Reginald? Oh, he's not far off, I know."
And she flung open the window, and almost flew through it in a moment, to look for her husband.
"Reginald?" said Staines. Then turning to Dick Dale, "Why, he is here--isn't he?"
"No, sir: not without he is just come with you."
"With me?--no. You know we parted at the diggings. Come, Mr. Dale, he may not be here now; but he has been here. He must have been here."
Phoebe, who had not lost a word, turned round, with all her high color gone, and her cheeks getting paler and paler. "Oh, Dick! what is this?"
"I don't understand it," said Dick. "Whatever made you think he was here, sir?"
"Why, I tell you he left me to come here."
"Left you, sir!" faltered Phoebe. "Why, when?--where?"
"At the diggings--ever so long ago."
"Blank him! that is just like him; the uneasy fool!" roared Dick.
"No, Mr. Dale, you should not say that; he left me, with my consent, to come to Mrs. Falcon here, and consult her about disposing of our diamonds."
"Diamonds!--diamonds!" cried Phoebe. "Oh, they make me tremble. How COULD you let him go alone! You didn't let HIM go on foot, I hope?"
"Oh, no, Mrs. Falcon; he had his horse, and his rifle, and money to spend on the road."
"How long ago did he leave you, sir?"
"I--I am sorry to say it was five weeks ago."
"Five weeks! and not come yet. Ah! the wild beasts!--the diggers!-- the murderers! He is dead!"
"God forbid!" faltered Staines; but his own blood began to run cold.
"He is dead. He has died between this and the dreadful diamonds. I shall never see my darling again: he is dead. He is dead."
She rushed out of the room, and out of the house, throwing her arms above her head in despair, and uttering those words of agony again and again in every variety of anguish.
At such horrible moments women always swoon--if we are to believe the dramatists. I doubt if there is one grain of truth in this. Women seldom swoon at all, unless their bodies are unhealthy, or weakened by the reaction that follows so terrible a shock as this. At all events, Phoebe, at first, was strong and wild as a lion, and went to and fro outside the house, unconscious of her body's motion, frenzied with agony, and but one word on her lips, "He is dead!--he is dead!"
Dick followed her, crying like a child, but master of himself; he got his people about her, and half carried her in again; then shut the door in all their faces.
He got the poor creature to sit down, and she began to rock and moan, with her apron over her head, and her brown hair loose about her.
"Why should he be dead?" said Dick. "Don't give a man up like that, Phoebe. Doctor, tell us more about it. Oh, man, how could you let him out of your sight? You knew how fond the poor creature was of him."
"But that was it, Mr. Dale," said Staines. "I knew his wife must pine for him; and we had found six large diamonds, and a handful of small ones; but the market was glutted; and to get a better price, he wanted to go straight to Cape Town. But I said, 'No; go and show them to your wife, and see whether she will go to Cape Town.'"
Phoebe began to listen, as was evident by her moaning more softly.
"Might he not have gone straight to Cape Town?" Staines hazarded this timidly.
"Why should he do that, sir? Dale's Kloof is on the road."
"Only on one road. Mr. Dale, he was well armed, with rifle and revolver; and I cautioned him not to show a diamond on the road. Who would molest him? Diamonds don't show, like gold. Who was to know he had three thousand pounds hidden under his armpits, and in two barrels of his revolver?"
"Three thousand pounds!" cried Dale. "You trusted HIM with three thousand pounds?"
"Certainly. They were worth about three thousand pounds in Cape Town, and half as much again in"--
Phoebe started up in a moment. "Thank God!" she cried. "There's hope for me. Oh, Dick, he is not dead: HE HAS ONLY DESERTED ME."
And with these strange and pitiable words, she fell to sobbing as if her great heart would burst at last.
There came a reaction, and Phoebe was prostrated with grief and alarm. Her brother never doubted now that Reginald had run to Cape Town for a lark. But Phoebe, though she thought so too, could not be sure; and so the double agony of bereavement and desertion tortured her by turns, and almost together. For the first time these many years, she was so crushed she could not go about her business, but lay on a little sofa in her own room, and had the blinds down, for her head ached so she could not bear the light.
She conceived a bitter resentment against Staines; and told Dick never to let him into her sight, if he did not want to be her death.
In vain Dick made excuses for him: she would hear none. For once she was as unreasonable as any other living woman: she could see nothing but that she had been happy, after years of misery, and should be happy now if this man had never entered her house. "Ah, Collie!" she cried, "you were wiser than I was. You as good as told me he would make me smart for lodging and curing him. And I was SO happy!"
Dale communicated this as delicately as he could to Staines. Christopher was deeply grieved and wounded. He thought it unjust, but he knew it was natural: he said, humbly, "I feel guilty myself, Mr. Dale; and yet, unless I had possessed omniscience, what could I do? I thought of her in all--poor thing! poor thing!"
The tears were in his eyes, and Dick Dale went away scratching his head and thinking it over. The more he thought, the less he was
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