Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

6 articles on this Page

NOT SUICIDE, 41

News
Cite
Share

NOT SUICIDE, 41 Is the mail in yet? and is there anything for me—for Martin Ferrers ?" "Mail ain't come yet. r spects this heat has interfered with 'em out there' and the last speaker nodded his unkempt head towards the low door of the hut, beyond which the vast veldt lay like a billowy frozen sea under the wide whiteness of the South African moon. Thanks," was the ourt reply of the man who had spoken first, as he turned away, and with bowed head and lagging feet slouched through the doorway out into the hot air of the summer night. Once over the threshold and on the deep- rutted sandy road, which nothing but tramp- ling feet and the wheels of heavy bullock- wagons had out in the soil, Martin Ferrers paused and looked about him. Yet the scene was neither new nor strange to him. It was more than three months ago since he had led the last surviving remnants of his 44 span into the midst of the cluster of huts and cabins which had sprung up round a much- advertised gold diggings, and had glorified it- self with the name of Lionstown. Over twelve weeks had passed since his weary eyes had first fallen on the crooked, straggling, don bId row of crazy buildings, to which per- haps a strong imagination might apply the word street, and since his aching feet had carried him as far as the Lion Hotel. He could see it now from where be leaned against one of the rough wooden supports of the post-office. Compared with its neigh- bours, the Lion was a fine building, with its two storeys, and its long, low verandah. In its early days, a few months back, it had been painted a lively green, but burning suns and scorching winds had oraoked and blistered the gay covering, which now clang only in grey and discoloured blotches to the bulging tides of the wooden house. From its long tiDe of upper windows no light shone, but fiom under the roughly-made roof of the verandah a flood of strong yellow blaze flared out across the uneven road, and the odour of spirits and smoke, mingled with sounds of loud laughter and singing, floated in great waves through the summer night to where the solitary figure stood like a statue in the moon's pure rays. In that house, and among the orew yonder, Martin Ferrers had lived, moved, and had his being for those last three months, and now he was wondering whether another three days would find him still of their number. God what hopes and what fears had lived and died during that time, and as he recalled them from the graves where he had buried them he shuddered at the dismal array which passed before him. He had gone to Lionstown as so many had done before him, and as many doubtless still would do. With his last few pounds in his torn clothes he had hoped, nay believed, that he would there replace the for- tune that a spendthrift youth had scattered. Jt was at Johannesberg that he had first heard of the new gold reef which had been struck up country, and of the piles of virgin gold which were being daily brought to the surface simply by means of scratching the earth with a toothpick. Within a week he and a chum had put their forces together. They bought a second-hand wagon and a "span" in fairly good condition, the rnaobinery and implements that were considered necessary, and such food as they must require in crossing the veldt. That fatal spot, however, cruel and insatiable as the ooean it so much resembles, olaimed its toll from them, and Martin Ferrer had arrived at his journey's end "chumless," and almost without life itself. Then had come the selling of his wagon and beasts for the purchase of a small >*«'■ —• -•<•— —^Hement of )he first workings, and the slow, steady, awful filling disappointment of it all. Hope and en- jerprise had died hard within Ferrers, and only after a bitter struggle, which left him, on the field on which the battle had been fought, a livi'jg wreck. Mentally and bodily the man, gentle by birth and education, and very weak by nature, fell lower and lower. Each failure left him more crushed, every reverse gave him a harder and more enduring blow. The com- pany about him, which at first he had tolerated and in some cases even cultivated, become abhorrent to him. The cads and loafers, to study whose characteristics had once amused him, the "dead-beats" and stony-brokes" whose shifts to live were almost funny in their peculiarities the card- sharpers, drunkards, thieves, with whom he had once played and drank and loafed around, all became loathsome to him. The hideous rowdyism which ensued on a lucky find in a neighbouring olaim sickened him as much on the one hand as the ghastly poverty which stalked on the outskirts of the little settle- ment horrified him on the other. For some weeks now he had abandoned the futile working of his own allotment, and the thoughts of the money he had sank in what was now useless plant was the only souvenir he had of the undertaking. To get away from the hateful spot was now his only idea, for every day that he spent in that merciless sunshine, every night that he spent in the Lion, brought their own measure of torture. And he could not leave, nay, he dared not. The score ap against him in the bar parlour was too long and too heavy to be shirked with impunity. Besides, even if he could Blip away one dark night, what could he do. alone and on foot, a ten days' trek across the measureless veldt ? It would be inevitable death-absolutely certain suicide. 11 Suicide I Suicide!" How the word rang in his brain and buzzed in his ears It filled the soft air, which swept by him in little puffs of warmth and sweetness. A great night- bird floating overhead oroaked "Suicide!" and flapped death from its heavy wings as it flew far away, and the teeming, stirring life of the trackless plain joined in a chorus of "Snicide!" Jferrers shook himself angrily, as though indeed a tangible suggestion had been made to him. After all, the lane he had traversed had been a pretty one; the turning must be near at hand. He would give his scrap of land one more trial, and go over it carefully again before abandoning every chance. Besides, the few shillings he had in his pocket might work wonders on the green cloth; more un- likely things had happened than the sudden turning of a fellow's luck. And, as a final hope, there was that letter and draft from England, which he was expecting even at that very hour. By-and-bye, however, he grew weary of his own melancholy company and the monotonous moonshine, and he sauntered down the un- made road, past squalid huts and ragged tents, past disused, rusty machinery, silvered by the overwhelming white light, and past scratched- up patches of land. Here and there a stunted tree flung its twisted shadow like a wreathing snake across his path, while the long dry grass for ever rose and fell in long waving lines as the night breeze passed over it. As he neared the principal gambling and drinking hell of the settlement, the noise of voices and rush of tainted air grew stronger. Thick tobacco smoke floated through the wide-opened windows, and made a light blue oloud athward the shafts of yeUow light whioh came from the large lamps within; and with the smoke came laughter and words of every country and all nations. The Ameri- can twang out clearly across the guttural tones MI a ^FQn^en German, shrill French mixed but tbedr»wling Dutch accents of a Boer, and the incisive, precise tones of a red-haired bcotohmao were overwhelmed by the quick, light voice of a boy from the Emerald Isle; but over and through all broke the loud, harsh words of Jim Blaoker, the half-bred Texas cowboy. Bully and coward, liar and swindler, he was the biggest blackguard of all the crew that was gathered round the green cloth- covered table, in the saloon of the Lion Hotel, that evening. Jim was keeping the bank at a game of bac- oarat, when Ferrers at length strolled into the over-heated, over-crowded room, and was dealing out the cards and raking in the money with more than his customary allowance of oaths and foul language. "Here's the swelll" he shouted, as he caught sight of the new comer. "Make room there for him, some of you Now, then, Gentleman Ferrers, plank your money down." Adding, in a loud aside to those who were nearest to him, If you've got any about you." For two hours Ferrers sat before that dingy table, covered with a stained, torn, and scorched cloth. The reek of the atmosphere grew heavier and thicker, and drunken quarrels at the far end of the long dirty room became louder and more virulent. The outer air seemed to have ceased to pass through the smoke wreaths which formed impenetrable veils before each window. As the game progressed, and the bank was put up to auc- tion from time to time, always finding eager purchasers, champagne was ordered by those who had raked in some coin, and freely par- taken of by those who had lost. Ferrers was among the first of these, for luck had smiled on him, and he began by winning heavily, Another and a wiser man would have faced the sneers of his co mpanions, and taken the money straight from the room; indeed, at one moment he half decided to do so. But his intention must have been written too clearly among the deep lines of his pale face, for even Jim Blacker, three parts drunk as he had become, guessed his plans, and laying a tawny hand on his shoulder, muttered, "Now, then, you gentleman, as you call yourself, none of your sneak's games here. You'll just see this through, or I'll damn well know the reason why." The touch of the half-breed's dirty hand exoroised all Ferrers's good fortune, for from that moment he lost steadily. Only small sums went at first, but, half maddened with disappointment and despair, he soon began to plunge heavily. Larger and larger grew the sums be:dashed upon the table, and smaller and smaller became the pile at his elbow. With shaking hands and bloodshot, hungry eyes he thrust down his stakes and watched them swallowed up again and again by the all-devouriog croupier's rake. A little crowd of beetle-browed men still wearing their earth stained working clothes had gathered round as he made his last coup-and lost. He tossed off the drinkjthatjwas before him, then, without a word, rose from the table and pushed his way out of the room. Almost un- consciously he staggered across the verandah and road, and went straight on the wide far- reaching veldt. He strode on rapidly for a short while, then stopped and looked around. Heavens! how white the world was. The great desert waste was turned to molten silver, the hideous monotony of sand, the frightful dreariness of dun colour, were all merged in one flood of purity and light. The sight so peaceful, so calm, soothed him, and once more hope, who is surely endowed with a thousand lives, sprang up again in his heart. I must have the letter to-morrow. The draft must come, and then, then, I can leave this hell-" At dawn he turned out of the wretched attic where he had tried to woo sleep, and again traversed the stretch of road which lay between the Lion and the shanty which "«» as me post-offlca. A pale yellow light flooded the rolling canflv lsmSr au<1 I already hot air waves moved languidly above the tassocky grass. The smell of dirt and in- sanitation, which was drawn from the earth with the soanty dew, filled Ferrers's nostrils as he passed along, and fixed his determina- tion to leave the hated spot that very day. ".Martin Ferrers," queried the broken- down creature who had the post-office in charge. Here you are! The mail got in at midnight." With the longed-for letter -in his hand, Martin Ferrers sprang over rut and rise, thorn, bush, and tufted grass, till in a slight hollow he deemed himself safe from prying eyes. It's very thick," he uttered. The draft is enclosed. Dear old governor I thought that he would yield at last." He tore open the blue envelope, and quickly enfolded a letter written on stiff paper, in a severely precise hand. At the same time a scrap of foreign paper fluttered all unheeded to the ground. But as his eyes, haggard with want of sleep, weary witW longing, read the few, straight lines, the man's whole face altered, his very figure shrank and changed. When you left my house two yenrs ago a ruined and disgraced man you received from me an in- junction never to either wtite or attempt to see me ngain. You have disobeyed me in one par- i ticular, but I do not intend to furnish you with the means of doing so in the other. HENBY J. FERRERS. j God!" muttered the unhappy man. "there is no hope, then, and the end must come-or rather has come. Then his eye caught the scrap of paper fluttering at his feet, and he picked it up. It was as brief as that other letter, but how different!— My poor Martin,—I have heird of your request, and know of its refusal. My dear love, what can I say-what comfort can I offer you ? Only be honourable, be good, and all must be right— some day.—Always your true sweetheart, NELT,, He looked up at the pittiless sky, now burn- ing hotly above his head, and then over the sand-coloured plain, whioh, wide and vast as it was, made for him a prison, from whioh there was no escape. After a while he rose, tore his father's letter into a thousand pieces. and placed with tenderness his lost love's note above his heart. All must be right—some day." he said, and turned his face once more towards the wooden township, shimmering and festering in the scorching sun. That night the usual crowd, which neither heat nor disease nor fever seemed to diminish assembled in the saloon at the Lion. The usual game of baccarat was soon in full swing, and Jim Blaclier was quickly installed as banker. The showers of gold soon flew over the shabby cloth, and then trickled towards the insatiable croupier, who, with his rake, assisted the stream when it flowed too sluggishly. The songs and stories rose in a mixed chorus from the bar, and a fair harmonious evening seemed to be in full swing. On a sudden, however, there was the sound of high words from the banker's end of the table. Thief and leg! someone cried. Then came the sounds of a blow, a slight souffle, a pistol-shot, and the heavy, dull thud of a falling body. Dead silence fell for a moment, succeeded y the rushing sound of many questions, which all received one answer. Gentleman Jferrers had been standing behind Jim Blaoker for a few minutes. Suddenly, and without any apparent provocation, he had caught him by the shoulder, called him thief and leg," then struck him across the face. Jim bad drawn at once, and let "daylight through him before anyone could seize his hand. A rough-and-ready inquiry was held at sunrise the following day, and then the strange behaviour of the swell" was solved, for in an inner pooket of his coarse flannel shirt some one, who searched him, found the following:- I am absolutely pennUess, and see no way but death out of this place. I am too poor, however, 6ven to purchase that, and, besides, for the sake of the home folk, I don't want to commit suicide, so I intend to get from Jim Blacker this evening. I shall provoke him, and he will shoot me. He is a dead shot, and will not miss me. Papers and letters for home will ba found in my room. Bury me here, and, like good biys and pals, write home and say I died from fever. MARTIN FJJBRERS. That same night the saloon at the Lion was strangely quiet; men talked in subdued tones of Gentleman Ferrers," and in their uncouth way dubbed him "not a bad chap, though a bit too fine for the likes of us." That he should be decently buried a little collection was made among them. And twelve hours later all that motley crowd gathered, with uncovered heads and roughly brushed-up clothes, around the freshly-dug grave out on the rolling veldt. They placed a coarsely-carved stone at his head whioh, half covered with sand and over- grown by the wild tangle of grass, is still there, marking the lonely resting-place of the poor lad who was no suiClde,-l'he Ilawk.

Advertising

A SUBSTITUTE FOR ICE SKATIXo.

Advertising

NEWS IN BRIEF. .

Advertising