an ebook published by
Project Gutenberg Australia
The Pursuits of Mr. Peter Pell:
Aidan de Brune:
eBook No.: 1701171h.html
Date first posted: Oct 2017
Most recent update: Jun 2021
This eBook was produced by: Terry Walker, Colin Choat, Gordon Hobley and Roy Glashan
View our licence and header
Aidan de Brune
(Writing as Frank de Broune)
THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
THE first beams of the morning sun wandered across the Esplanade and, penetrating a leafy screen, fell upon the closed eyelids of Mr. Peter Pell. That gentleman opened one eye slowly and then closed it quickly, but the sun was not to be denied and, at last, it dawned upon the awakening senses of Mr. Pell that it was time to be up and about.
It was not the first time that the exigencies of modern civilisation had forced Mr. Pell to seek an airy couch on the playground of the Perthites. By choice he was sybaritic, by necessity ascetic, but yesterday evening it was a choice between supper and bed and the vanities of the table proved superior to the claims of bodily repose.
Mr. Pell, rising from his hard couch, showed what ladies of a certain age and standing call "a fine figure of a man." He was largely made with even a slight tendency to stoutness. His head was somewhat small and set on his head at an angle that gave him, when excited, a certain air of ferocity. His hair was thin, although covering nearly all the top of his head.
His voice, his principal asset, was heavy and boomed like the tenor "C" of the cathedral chimes. For preference he was clean-shaven, but on this morning his toilet had been neglected and he showed a two-day growth of beard on chin and lip.
Dispensing with ablutions, Mr. Pell carefully dusted his clothes and then considered his position. The first, and from internal reminders, the most pressing necessity was for breakfast. A search of his pockets revealed, or rather confirmed the knowledge, that the balance in hand consisted of one penny and three half pennies.
Balancing each coin on a separate finger Mr. Pell gravely considered them. Certainly breakfast commensurate with his requirements was not compassed within the ability of twopence halfpenny. Some sort of food might be obtained for sixpence, but even that, sum was not to hand and Mr. Pell's ambition lay in the direction of a regular thoroughgoing breakfast, beginning with the usual porridge and continuing through eggs and bacon, chops, steaks, etceteras, to the grand finale of bread and butter and marmalade. At the thought of the last item Mr. Pell's tongue gently inserted itself between his lips for he had a very sweet tooth. But, however elastic his thoughts, twopence halfpenny was but too matter of fact.
Somewhere in this gay city of Perth, thought Mr. Pell, there must be come kind friend from whom the necessary coins of the realm may be obtained to provide for the realisation of the Epicurean feast.
Leaving the Esplanade Mr. Pell made his way to Hay Street. Assuming the air of a moneyed loiterer, he carefully examined the goods in the shop windows, at the same time keeping a careful eye open for some acquaintance who might prove financial. The hurrying crowd of workers and shoppers jostled him, but nowhere did he see a familiar face.
"Hullo, old chap!" A voice, sounded in his ear and a heavy hand descended on his shoulder. Mr. Pell swung round with hope in his heart.
"Just the man I was looking for." The accoster was a thin nervous looking man with a vacant wandering eye and a ragged beard. His appearance was unkempt and Mr. Pell could not place him on his list of acquaintances and friends. But it was evident from the other's manner that they were acquainted, while Mr. Pell's memory might be defective, and breakfast loomed as a possibility.
"My dear fellow," retorted Mr. Pell, unctuously. "I am pleased to see you.—What—"
"I'm in a little difficulty," interrupted the stranger in a hoarse whisper. "Could you—would you—permit yourself to do me a favour?"
"Well, er—" commenced Mr. Pell.
The stranger interrupted quickly. "My dear sir, I am sure you will do your best for me. You know of old how diffident I am of speaking of intimate, I may say family matters, to an acquaintance. But you and I are, I should say have been, so intimate that I feel I may speak to you as a brother. My request is a small one, so small that you will, I am sure, have no difficulty in helping me. Can you? Will you? I am sure I have but to speak and your great heart will immediately respond, lend me half a crown for a short period. Stay! Do not speak hurriedly The loan, trifling as it is, will be repaid to you with the utmost promptitude, and perchance, when circumstances have altered, when I assume the rightful position to which I am entitled, your affairs will have my complete and sympathetic support."
Into the thin mist of the early morning vanished Mr. Pell's hopes of an immediate breakfast. Here was another on the same expedition as himself. Yet never in his life had Mr. Pell failed to rise to the occasion and now his tones were urbanity itself.
"My dear sir! I am most sorry. I am deeply grieved. Owing to the fact that, very unfortunately, I left home this morning without my purse I am—er—in somewhat similar straights to yourself. If you will do me the favour of meeting me after—er—my bank opens er—I shall be pleased to comply with your request. Until then, au revoir."
With a graceful sweep of his hand Mr. Pell slowly faded down the street The interruption had only emphasised his need for refreshment. The morning hours were speeding fast and the opportunity of obtaining a loan from some business acquaintance would soon be lost.
Murray and Wellington Streets proved barren hunting grounds and Mr. Pell turned the corner of Barrack Street, his hopes of a luxurious breakfast fast dwindling. The Town Hall clock struck the hour of nine. From the direction of the Terrace came Matt Horan driving his well-known pacer 'Laughing Bill.' He was driving at a good speed, but on seeing Mr. Pell quickly pulled up.
"Hullo, Peter." Now if there was anything that disturbed Mr. Pell's equanimity, it was to be addressed as 'Peter.' He had a very serious opinion of his own importance, and for a person of his commanding figure to be so familiarly addressed showed, in his opinion, a disregard of the due observances of life. To be addressed as 'Peter' was sufficient to destroy even a man's illusion in himself. For these reasons Mr. Pell turned a deaf ear. But Horan was not to be denied.
"Hey, Peter—Peter Pell!" Horan was a persistent person and on second thoughts Mr. Pell thought it wise to answer to the call. Besides it is not always welcome to have one's name thundered in the streets for all and sundry to hear.
"My dear Mr. Horan," said Mr. Pell, advancing to the jog-car with all the dignity he could assume while breakfastless.
"Come off that 'oss, old pal," retorted Horan. "Got anything on?"
Mr. Pell looked down at his attire. It certainly was not of the best but, in his opinion, sufficient for decency.
"At the present moment my time is not occupied, if that is what you mean," replied Mr. Pell with great dignity.
"Jump in, then!" Horan moved up in the seat.
"Into that!" Mr. Pell's voice had a note of anxiety. "I am afraid, my dear sir, that my—er—"
"Oh, you ain't as heavy as all that. But please yourself. Got a job that might suit you if you're on; if you ain't, so long." Horan made a move to drive off.
Again Mr. Pell saw his breakfast fast escaping him. Leaving his dignity to be assumed when his bodily needs had been attended to, he mounted besides his friend in the frail cart.
"It's this way, Peter," commenced Horan, as the pacer moved suddenly into gait. "I'm at the end of my wits to know what to do. This 'ere 'orse is great. I'm open to acknowledge that. The question is, is 'e great enough to win the Christmas Cup. I think he is."
"He is a very large horse, so far as my judgement can be relied on," replied Mr. Pell, looking critically at the quadruped under discussion.
"Oh, get off! What I wants to know is, is he going to pay me to win the Christmas Trotting Cup."
"My dear Mr. Horan," replied Mr. Pell with some warmth. "How should I know? He certainly is a very fine horse so far as I can judge, but I must acknowledge to a very slight knowledge of horses, and especially of trotting horses. To some extent therefore my opinion must be valueless."
"Jest so! If you knew a horse from a cow I wouldn't have brought you into the game. The question is, are you open for an offer."
"Of what?" For the moment Mr. Pell was startled.
"To put this 'ere 'orse right in the books."
"I don't quite understand you," said Mr. Pell dubiously.
"This 'ere 'orse is the great tip," explained Horan.
"Does he?" asked Mr. Pell, innocently.
"Good lor'!" and Mr. Horan looked at his companion with a certain amount of admiration. "Are you as innercent as all that?"
"I quite fail to understand your meaning." Mr. Pell had again obtained a grasp on the situation, although he kept a very tight grip on the side of the cart.
"You're the boy for my money. Keep it up, Pell, and you'll pull off the trick."
"Again I quite fail to gather your meaning." A hazy impression that his companion was making fun of him floated into Mr. Pell's mind.
"Never mind understanding, Pell. Are you on?"
"On what? Certainly not on that horse."
"Who's a-askin' of yer? Look 'ere, Pell, will you do as I ask, or will yer get down?"
Again the breakfast for which Mr. Pell was valiantly struggling faded into the distance. Bewildered with the rapid motion and the phraseology of his companion he muttered something that the other took for an assent.
"That's the ticket! Now what I want is why can't I get a decent price about this 'ere 'orse, and it'll take someone as hinnercent as yerself to do it."
"Will you kindly inform me how I am to start about the delicate negotiations with which you have entrusted me."
"All in good time, old buck. Here we are, and the missus has the breakfast ready. In yer go an' I'll put you wise after."
The pacer swung into the yard and Horan threw the reins to an expectant boy. From the house came a pleasant odour of cooking.
Mr. Pell was fed almost to repletion, for Mrs. Horan was a good and generous cook. Smoking one of Horan's black cigars he followed that worthy into the yard to receive his instructions: The conference was a long one, and in spite of his absolute ignorance of the sport of trotting, Pell began to be interested in the matter. Besides, there appeared to be a possibility of a certain amount of cash finding its way into his pockets, and that was a matter on which he had strong convictions.
Fortified with a large breakfast and primed with, to him, a mass of somewhat vague instructions, out of which the central idea stood out plainly, Pell took a dignified farewell of his host and started to walk back to the city. Half-way he stopped in self-disgusted amazement. Absorbed in the delicate negotiations entrusted to him and the wealth he would acquire if successful, he had quite forgotten to obtain a temporary loan from Hogan to provide for immediate necessities.
For the moment he had thoughts of retracing his steps, but old experience told him that Horan was a generous payer by results, while he was one of the most difficult men to extract a loan from. He decided to go on and trust to his luck.
With his fingers round the four insignificant coins in his pocket he stepped out citywards, his thoughts filled with the wealth that would be his in the near future.
Midday on the Terrace is a good time to encounter the sports of the city of Perth. There can be seen the owner, the jockey, the bookmaker and the sportsman. The latter is an indefinable specimen of modern civilization that discounts the wisdom of the ages. He toils not, neither does he spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these. To be particular, none of them seem to lack cash, and many indeed can produce a roll of those dirty-looking crumpled notes that do duty in Australia for the British sovereign.
Mr. Pell joined the group that is always to be found supporting the walls of the United Service Hotel. Introductions are not enforced in this branch of society, and a chance word or two, professing a knowledge he did not possess, one of the many phrases of Horan, coupled with, a clever reference to that gentleman, soon gave Mr. Pell his favourite position, the centre of the limelight.
"My friend, Mr. Horan," he commenced.
"Oh, Horan!" someone in the crowd ejaculated disdainfully.
"My friend, Mr. Horan, the owner of 'Laughing Bill' repeated Mr. Pell with emphasis.
"'E's the winner of the Cup," interrupted a short thickset man. "Per'aps 'e will, per'aps he wont."
"Goin' to win it yerself?"
The conversation was gradually drifting away from Mr. Pell.
"Mr. Horan said to me this morning—" Our worthy was determined to be heard and had raised his voice slightly.
"If Horan said 'is prayers it's all 'e did say," said the short man with emphasis, "'E's the closest cuss I've ever had to deal with."
Mr. Pell had another try.
"Mr. Horan gave me to understand at breakfast this morning that 'Laughing Bill' could not possibly lose the Cup."
"Did he now," the short man was openly derisive, "and what may I ask did 'e charge for the professional advice?"
"'Laughing Bill' did 34 the other day. I 'ad the watch," interjected one of the crowd.
"Wot's that! 'Pretty Pride' did 27 to the mile in the last Christmas Cup, an' she's on scratch this year."
"An' wot about 'Saucy Sam'? Why 'e did 18 the t'other mornin," I timed 'im meself, and 'e's honly 10 behind ."
And so the discussion bandied from one candidate for the big race to the other. Mr. Pell walked away well satisfied. He had carried out his instructions to the letter. Before he had gone far a grimy hand was placed on his cuff.
"'Ave yer much on th' 'orse yerself, sir?"
A small wizened man with 'hanger on' written all over him was the enquirer.
"Only a few hundreds, my man," replied Mr. Pell with dignity, "but my affairs cannot possibly interest you."
"Perhaps not, sir," replied the man humbly, "perhaps I might be able to 'elp a gentleman who might 'elp me."
Mr. Pell swelled with importance. "In what manner do you suppose you could be of assistance to me, my man?"
"It's this way, sir. It may 'appen that I may come across some hinformation that might be useful to a gent such as yer. An' if so, a gent such as yer might feel grateful."
"In such an event, my friend," Mr. Pell rattled the few coins in his pocket, "I should be extremely grateful."
"There might he a bit a-comin' now," insinuated the new acquaintance.
"There will he nothing coming until the information," said Mr. Pell emphatically.
"There ain't no flies on yer, now, is there," said the man with grudging admiration. "Well, so long till temorrer. I'll tell yer what's wot then if yer'll meet me 'ere."
Fingers in his waistcoat pockets, his chest well thrown out, Mr. Pell strolled along the terrace to the William Street corner. Pausing to survey the scanty traffic, Mr. Pell retraced his steps. Outside the United Service Hotel he found, as he had expected, Sol Arrons, the well-known and highly respected bookmaker. While he had been talking to the 'sports' Mr. Pell had noticed the bookmaker listening.
This time Mr. Arrons stopped him. "Excuse me my friend," Mr. Arrons placed a finger, that sadly needed the services of a manicurist, on the breast of Mr. Pell's coat. "Excuse me, but have I not the pleasure of your acquaintance?"
"Have I?" said Mr. Pell, gently removing the finger. "Yes, I believe it is Mr. Arrons! And what can I do for my worthy friend?"
"I have heard you talking this morning of the 'Laughing Bill' is it not so?" said Arrons, peering up into Mr. Pell's face. "Ah, I thought I guessed right. And, perhaps a fine gentleman like you, might like to have to have a little bet with old Arrons, on the fine horse. Just one little bet with old Arrons. Fine gentlemen like to bet with old Arrons."
Mr. Pell tried to look disdainful, and failed. He had angled and caught his fish. Let Arrons swallow the bait he had nibbled at, the bait that Mr. Pell had dangled along the Terrace for the last hour, and the work was accomplished. Mr. Pell would have his pockets filled again.
"Perhaps I might like to have a pony later, Arrons," he replied as indifferently as he could. "If so, I will not forget you."
Arrons fairly cringed. "It is good of you to say so," he fawned. "But why not now? I will give you a good price, an excellent price. I will—yes—I will be generous to you, my dear friend—I will give you two to one. Just think, two little sovereigns for one little sovereign bet."
"You what?" queried Mr. Pell.
"On the 'Laughing Bill.'" Arrons appeared slightly astonished at Mr. Pell's tone.
"No good to me," said Mr. Pell emphatically. "In fact I do not think I will back the horse at all."
"But you are a friend of Mr. Horan's. You have the knowledge of what the horse can do. You were with him this morning, and he told you to back it."
"Perhaps that is the reason I will not bet." Mr. Pell tried to look wise.
"You will not bet!" Arrons was excited now. "You have the information. But I forget. It is dry for a gentleman to stand and talk. You will come and have a little drink with me, and then you will tell me what it was that our friend Horan said to you when you had breakfast with him. Ach, is it not?"
Mr. Pell condescended to take a drink at the expense of Mr. Arrons, to the amazement of the habitués of the Hotel, who strove vainly to remember a previous occasion on which Arrons had 'shouted' anyone a drink. After the drinks, Arrons steered Mr. Pell into a vacant corner of the room and busied himself with the pump-handle.
Mr. Pell responded nobly. He leaked information while not appearing to do so. In fact, his appearance was that of a man who strove vainly to retain a valuable secret entrusted to his charge. With many expressions of goodwill, Arrons parted with his friend.
Fingering five coins in his pocket, Mr. Pell sauntered towards Hay Street. Stopping before his favourite restaurant, he took out of his pocket a yellow coin that glittered in the noon sun.
"There is something in this racing game after all," observed Mr. Pell to himself, with a sigh of satisfaction.
IF a house be searched, however careful the housewife, there will be surely found, in some odd nook or corner, a cobweb. So in most cities of the world there are to be found, in the odd corners, traps for the unwary human flies. Tangarten Chambers, on the "Terrace," has an imposing position. Most of the chambers are inhabited by members of the legal fraternity. But there are others, and of the others is to be numbered Mr. Peter Pell.
Pell had "arrived" since the day when the sun, on its daily pilgrimage, had discovered him in his Esplanade bedchamber. A lucky deal with the Terrace "odds-shouters," in which those gentlemen had not displayed their accustomed acuteness, had resulted in Mr. Pell becoming the owner of a fair banking account. Success had bred encouragement, and Mr. Pell blossomed out as a Land and Estate Agent.
It is sad to reflect that a business connected with so dignified subjects as Lands and Estates should be the mantle for so many rogues. Yet it is a fact that if a bad man sets out to fleece his fellow men commercially, it is usually under the cloak of a Land and Estate Agency.
In the case of Mr. Pell, that gentleman would have been puzzled had he been required to find a client anything in the shape of an estate, or even a small block of land. Notwithstanding this minor drawback, the office was there and the door emblazoned with the titles of the business Mr. Peter Pell was willing to undertake.
As in the case of the cobweb in the house, so the net that Mr. Pell set for the fly he was confident one day he would snare, was set in an inconspicuous part of the inscription. It was a bare and innocent web and announced quietly that on the other side of that door were the offices of the "Great Fallgall G. M. Syndicate."
Within the office Mr. Pell had done himself well. The carpet on the floor, the large roll-top desk and the client's chair, all bore an appearance of wealth. Mr. Pell was resplendent and would have inspired confidence in the most wary of city men. With prosperity, or the semblance of it, Mr. Pell had indulged his taste in fine raiment to the fair. He affected the style of a London business man, frock coat, and something neat and classy in the matter of waistcoats. In the case of Mr. Pell, however, the waistcoat was classy if not exactly neat. Whatever the general taste may be, Mr. Pell fancied himself and grew more and more complacent as he gazed at the large expanse of waistcoat revealed by his office mirror.
The office of Mr. Peter Pell, Land and Estate Agent and Secretary to the Great Fallgall Gold Mining Syndicate, had been established for more than a couple of months, at the time our records open, and the proprietor had begun to study his bank-book with some misgivings. True one or two small flies had walked round the web but had, in spite of the genial welcome they received, contrived to back out of the trap without more than singeing their wings. In fact the total takings of the "web" had resulted in a paltry "fiver" while the expenses were large. Mr. Pell did not complain. He was prepared to "stick it out" as he, in a moment of confidence, stated to a friend, until the right kind of fly (he did not use this exact expression) had become entangled. To those who can wait, success will come.
One morning as Mr. Pell strolled in the direction of Tangarten Chambers he had an inspiration that that day would later be marked on the office calendar with a red circle. The sun was high in the sky and the majority of the business men of the metropolis were at their desks, but Mr. Pell did not hurry. Human flies are foolish mortals and have not the intellect of their winged confrères and if the human fly had noted the web for examination it was certain that he would buzz around until Mr. "Spider" Pell arrived. Therefore, without increasing his wonted leisurely pace, Mr. Pell entered the Tangarten Chambers and cordially, yet distantly, returned the salutation of the lift-boy. In the exigency of existence Mr. Pell had fully realised the potentialities of his fine presence and developed the art of taking full advantage of it. But after a few months on the register of the tenants of the Chambers he had become one of notabilities of the building, in the eyes of the attendants. A few cigars, a very little silver, and the trick was done. Mr. Pell, with his tips at the wrong seasons of the year was "it."
Arriving at the third floor, Mr. Pell withdrew from his trouser pocket, by a silver chain that in size might have done duty for the cable of a rather large toy man-o'-war, his office key. Directly facing the lift entrance was the office of the Great Fallgall G. M. Syndicate and standing at the door with all signs of impatience stood "The Fly."
Too wary to frighten his prey, Mr. Pell opened his door and strode to his desk. The "Fly" meekly followed him. Without speaking, Mr. Pell opened his letters and indulged in a running commentary on the contents. It might be as well to explain here that these letters had been carefully prepared by Mr. Pell some time previous and were nightly placed on the desk in preparation of the visit of the "Fly." Here was the victim, and the spoiler was ready and eager.
"Humph! Great Fallgall's up two points! Sanders wants to know if any for sale! No none for him! Ho! So Matthews has made up his mind to buy that house at last. Well he'll have to pay for the delay. He'll spring another tenner if I hold off a bit. The cheapest house in the State. What's this! Application for Great Fallgall shares. Another! Yet another! And another!!! Let me see. Five and ten are fifteen and ten hundred shares in one post are twenty-five! Twenty-five good business!"
Then, thinking the "Fly" properly impressed, "Oh, beg pardon! Didn't see you there. Come in, sir, make yourself comfortable. Sit there. Now, tell me what I may have the pleasure of doing for you?"
As the "Fly" seated himself gingerly in the client's chair, beside the big desk, Mr. Pell took careful stock of him. He was a tall thin man with a long gaunt face. His clothes were untidy and looked ready made, but his boots were the true index to the man, and, on a rapid survey, Mr. Pell ejaculated under his breath, "Farmer."
A London spider would have profanely thought "yokel" but in Western Australia the commercial spider is not so rude and unpolished. He dignifies the "fly" from the country by the correct appellation "farmer." It is not to be understood that "yokel" or "farmer," there is any change in the established methods of spiders. Both London and Perth spiders treat the country visitors alike. Flatter and toady; tickle and excite. But, in the end, skin them or swallow them alive.
Mr. Pell prepared to do both. The "Fly" prepared for the interview by extracting from a large case a pair of the largest and roundest spectacles Mr. Pell had ever seen. Perching them on a very long thin nose, he proceeded to state his requirements.
"My name is Smith, Joseph John Smith," he commenced in a high nasal drawl. "You are the proprietor of this Great Fallgall Gold Mine."
"Only the secretary," replied Mr. Pell modestly. "The proprietors are umph—It is owned by a Syndicate, you know!"
"Pre-cise-l-y," drawled Smith. "You are the secretary." Then after a short pause came the question like the shot from a gun.
"You sell the shares?"
"The Syndicate sells the shares," replied Mr. Pell smoothly, wondering all the while what on earth his visitor was driving at. "I am but the humble servant of the Syndicate."
"Pre-cise-l-y!" drawled Smith in exactly the same tone. Then a change of voice. "You cannot deceive me."
"My dear sir!" Mr. Pell was horrified at the suggestion. "All the dealings of this office are open to the widest, I may say the fullest, investigation."
"That is what I intend, sir," exclaimed Smith, ferociously. "I received one of your circulars."
"Prospectus," suggested Mr. Pell mildly. "It sounds so much better."
"Bosh!" exploded Mr. Smith. "If I come from the country I am not a born fool."
Mr. Pell tried to look hurt and really achieved a fair success. "I have come to investigate this matter to the ground, and if I like it—" here Mr. Smith sank his voice to an impressive whisper, "I will buy it."
"Buy some shares?" asked Mr. Pell, for once out of his depths.
"Buy the mine—all the shares—the—er—controlling interest, sir," howled Mr. Smith with all the semblance of fury.
"That would be a very expensive operation," suggested Mr. Pell, his heart sinking at the thought that his visitor was more madman than "Fly."
"Expense, be damned," retorted Mr. Smith, leaning forward in his chair and glaring at Mr. Pell through his large round glasses. "Do you know who I am?"
"I—er—I'm sure I don't know." Mr. Pell's imposing waistcoat was visibly curving in at the waistline, and his collar appeared to be undergoing some liquefying process.
"I'm Joseph John Smith, and I breed sheep?"
Mr. Pell made an effort. "You can't buy shares like you do sheep, Mr. Smith."
"Why not? Tell me why not. I've made my money in sheep. Lots of it, lots of sheep. Why can't I buy anything I want as I buy sheep. Tell me that."
"It will be a very expensive operation, Mr. Smith."
"Did I ever shirk an expensive operation? Ask the people of the Gascoyne if any deal was too big for me. I'm a born Australian, and nothing's too big for me."
"It will take a lot of money, Mr. Smith." Mr. Pell tried hard to discover what ground he had to stand on. Either his visitor was a clever business man, or into the web had walked one of the fattest, juiciest flies that ever spider dreamed of. What dare he put up to this glorious prey?
"I may tell you Mr. Smith," Mr. Pell continued, "that the mine is undeveloped. We have taken out very fine specimens, sufficient to show great possibilities. I don't want this information round the town, but we have the very deepest, richest mine in the whole of the Commonwealth. It will take a lot of capital to obtain the controlling interest."
"Name your figure!" The large horny hand of the visitor moved to his breast pocket.
"Not that, Mr. Smith." Mr. Pell waved the thought of a cheque aside with a magnificent gesture. "Not that! We must go into the matter a lot more carefully before I can venture to accept your cheque."
Joseph John Smith extended the hand that hovered around his breast pocket in the direction of Mr. Pell.
"Shake!" he exclaimed. "You're an honest man."
Fortified with the good opinion of his visitor, Mr. Pell devoted himself to posting his prey in the details of the Great Fallgall G. M. Facts and figures rolled from his tongue in a manner that would, as a writer of fiction, have assured him more than a competence. As a walking delegate of a trades union he would have been an unqualified success.
"It comes to this," concluded Mr. Pell. "It will cost you about three thousand pounds or thereabouts to take up the balance of shares in the possession of the Syndicate, and about fifteen hundred more to repurchase the balance of shares necessary to give you the control."
"Is that all?"
"I am afraid, so." Mr. Pell was disappointed. He felt that fate had used him unkindly in not instructing him more fully of the tender morsel prepared for his detection.
"Will you have the cheque now, or wait till you get it?"
"Wait until I get it," promptly exclaimed Mr. Pell. Again a doubt arose in his mind as to the fallibility of his "Fly." Was he to discover after all his work that the "Fly" was in reality a brother "spider"?
"Spoken like a man!" exclaimed Smith with satisfaction. "Now—" and again the horny hand moved in the direction of the breast pocket.
"My dear sir!" Mr. Pell stretched forth a detaining hand. "I could not think of such a thing. You must examine. You must enquire. You, sir, may deem me to be an honest man, but others may think otherwise. I have enemies. What successful man has not. You must enquire. I insist you must satisfy yourself that Peter Pell is the honest man you now think him."
"That's all right, my boy," exclaimed Smith genially "I ain't dealt with men up north to be taken in by a town shark. Don't you think it."
"Your candour does you credit, sir, and touches my heart." Mr. Pell produced a very fine pocket handkerchief and vigorously blew his nose. He felt that a tear would be a great relief, but had not the power to raise one. He would have much preferred a laugh.
"Look 'ere, Pell." Smith leaned forward in his chair and laid his hand on the well turned leg of Mr. Pell. "Take that cheque."
"No." The monosyllable was decisive.
Smith looked keenly at Mr. Pell. "I thought you wouldn't! You wouldn't have got it if you had said 'yes.' I ain't no fool, and its only fools that pay the price asked 'em for the goods. Now I'll make you an offer."
"Sir!" exclaimed Mr. Pell—the fly was walking right into the trap and in a moment the door would shut behind him. "Sir, I will give to your offer my gravest consideration, but you must remember that I am only the servant of the Syndicate and they must determine your offer. My word," here Mr. Pell swelled visibly—'carries great weight with the Syndicate. I would deceive you if I let you think otherwise. And that word will be used in your favour, of course, providing your offer is commensurate with the value of the mine. But I am afraid—I am afraid—" and Mr. Pell's head rolled gently on its fleshy support.
"Well then!" Mr. Smith sat upright with a visible jump. "Tell your Syndicate, or whatever you like to call them, that I will give them two thousand pounds for the whole concern, lock, stock and barrel."
Mr. Pell stared. Two thousand pounds! And that for a piece of ground that, if it held gold, still retained the secret. Certainly the ground was there. He, himself, had taken over the mining rights from a hard up friend some month or more ago, but he had never seen the property and, from what he had heard, gold had not been discovered within many weary miles of the location.
Two thousand pounds! His tongue gently inserted itself between his lips tasting the sweetness of the offer, for Mr. Pell had a fancy for the sweets of this life. Two thousand pounds! His eyes dropped to the large expanse of fancy waistcoat of which he was so proud. What fancy waistcoats could be not design and buy? Two thousand pounds! The world had been well lost for less.
"And," went on the voice of the fly, "for yourself, if you bring off the deal, there is a little packet of notes that might—mind I say might—total about two hundred and fifty. You'll put it through, Pell."
Mr. Pell's tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds. British, Australian, English notes, call them what you please. It required a supreme effort on his part to regain his composure.
"Sir!" and the rich round voice rolled through the small office, "your offer as a bribe, I repudiate with indignation, with scorn. But—but as the offer of a friend, I should say, as a little testimonial to my integrity, and—and—business capacity—" even Mr. Pell could not leave it entirely to 'integrity,' "—it would be valued and esteemed."
"Say no more," replied the 'Fly.' When?"
Mr. Pell would gladly have shouted "Now!" but prudence forbade. With the greatest control he could muster, he stated, "I shall have to call a meeting of the Syndicate. Shall we say the day after tomorrow?"
With a grasp of the hand that made Mr. Pell wince, the "fly" emerged from the web, leaving the "spider" to ponder. For some time after Smith had left, Mr. Pell sat at his desk, leaning an aching head on his hands. Barely could he realise what had happened. Here was a man, dropped apparently from the clouds with a pocket full of money, asking, nay begging, Mr. Pell to relieve him of some. Did the skies rain fools?
THE MEETING of the members of the Syndicate took place in Mr. Pell's office as soon as Mr. Pell could recover his mental equilibrium. Mr. Pell was in the chair. The reading of the minutes of the Syndicate was voted unnecessary on the motion of Mr. Pell, seconded by the same gentleman. As a matter of urgency, the acceptance of the offer of Mr. Joseph John Smith, of two thousand pounds for a block of land Mr. Pell had not, and did not want to see, was moved by Mr. Pell and seconded from the Chair. Let but the "fly" venture his nose in the web again and the trap would be sprung.
During the afternoon of the next day, Mr. Pell was called to the 'phone. The conversation was short and pithy, yet entirely satisfactory to at least one member of the connection.
"Well?" came the voice along the line.
"Right-ho!" exclaimed Mr. Pell. Ordinarily he was adverse to slang.
"Cheque?" was the next question that struck Mr. Pell's ear.
"Cash! Ten tomorrow!"
And then along the line echoed Mr. Pell's last lapse from the correctness of speech: "Right-oh."
The following day Mr. Pell handed over the Great Fallgall Gold Mine, together with all rights in the registered offices of the Company, to Mr. Joseph John Smith and walked forth, a man without an occupation. In his breast pocket reposed a neat rubber-banded wad of paper inscribed with the signature of the Commonwealth Treasurer. Behind him he left a new secretary to the Great Fallgall Gold Mining Syndicate, together with an office of which the rent was long in arrears, office furniture for which an Australian Chinese was indignantly demanding hire purchase, and a telephone that at any moment might become dumb, unless the Postmaster General was pacified. All he left behind, but his fancy waistcoat stood out like the guiding flame that led the Israelites through the terrors of the desert, and against that waistcoat reposed the sum of two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds.
In the weeks that followed, Mr. Fell often thought of Joseph John Smith. Surely he had, been the "Fly" of flies. Mr. Pell thought with sore impatience of the carefully baited trap he had prepared, and of its uselessness. Any old thing would have sufficed with such a "Fly."
Then one morning, as Mr. Pell was carefully absorbing the breakfast of two ordinary men, his eye was caught by a double column heading in the West Australian. It spoke of gold, not in the usual quantities wrung from reluctant mother earth but in buckets, pails, truckloads. Gold to be taken for the asking—by those who were lucky to own that valuable spot of this earth's surface. And the name of the mine was The Great Fallgall Goldmine Limited, with Mr. Joseph John Smith, Managing Director.
Mr. Pell laid the newspaper on the table with great care. One might almost have thought it breakable.
"Good Lord!" he ejaculated, "and he could have got that old hole off me for a 'fiver.'"
TO the man who has achieved, a period of relaxation is given. This is one of the customs of modern civilisation that is becoming an unwritten law. Thoughts, somewhat on these lines, occupied Mr. Peter Pell's mind as he strolled along Hay Street West, one fine March afternoon. He had succeeded. In the safe custody of his bank reposed two thousand pounds odd. It had been won by him, if not by the sweat of his brow, certainly by assiduous thought. That the man from whose banking account his present wealth had come had benefited to a greater extent mattered not a jot to Mr. Pell, and when to his memory occurred the time when he sought a hard and airy couch on the Esplanade, he thanked heaven he was not as other men.
It has been recorded that the afternoon was fine and it may be further noted that Mr. Pell's mental condition in every way matched the weather. He was at peace with himself and his fellow men. He had time and to spare on his hands, yet he did not intend to remain long idle. Far from that; already he was on the watch to again raid the wealth of the unwary. Not that he allowed himself to think of any future financial operation in that light; it was business, pure business.
Two thousand pounds is not wealth; Mr. Pell fully realised this. And he realised that into his system had entered a new interest. He desired wealth for what wealth would bring, large meals to sustain his fine commanding figure; wealth to bring to his wardrobe the fine raiment for which his soul longed—the radiant waistcoat, the smooth broadcloth. Then again he desired, as he surely deserved, ornamentation. Across his flamboyant waistcoat stretched a chain of fine gold. Already gold, in his mind, had assumed a minor place in the order of precious things. What was finer than gold? For a moment he thought kindly of a watch chain studded with diamonds. But from such desecration Mr. Pell's artistic soul revolted. A chain of platinum? Yes, that would serve to impress and it was not gaudy, but—
By what process of reasoning Mr. Pell's thought travelled from precious stones to Love (a capital "L" please) it is hard to say. Yet it must be recorded that on the top of the hill Mr. Pell stopped dead in his carefully considered walk, struck with the idea of love.
So far in his life—and Mr. Pell had attained the age of 53, just the prime of life, as he had informed his landlady that very morning—he had not considered the question of Love. There was certainly a fly in that ointment, for Love must be connected with Woman.
Mr. Pell had never taken women seriously in his life. Up to the fatal moment when, stopping in his walk at the top of Hay Street Hill, women had always appeared to be something apart from his life. Other men had sweethearts and wives. Mr. Pell had sung about them at sundry "smokers" when he could induce the organiser to allow him to favour the company with a musical effort, but the thought of women in so intimate a relation to himself quite took away his breath.
Yet there was something in the idea that appealed to him. The successful business man—and Mr. Pell had come to the point when he classed himself as a successful business man—was set off, or it might be said illuminated by, a wife. It would be pleasant to be able to invite some business acquaintance he desired to impress, to dine and spend the evening with himself—and his wife.
The thought quite took away his breath. Once accustomed to the thought of a wife, and it did not take the agile brain of Mr. Pell long to arrive there, the question arose, "Who?" Certain ladies of his acquaintance were swiftly passed under review. Only one of them nearly filled the bill. Mr. Pell had almost decided on the lady—getting to the point of engagement rings, when Cupid revolted. Modern science has quite done away with the belief in the God of Love. Yet the scientists have still to explain why, when a man of a certain age, say 53, determines on love, and a certain lady, something inside of him kicks, and kicks hard. Why is it that big imposing men marry little insignificant women, and large fine women look around them for a man they could squash in a hat box. Yet such is the case. Love is not logical, in fact it is most illogical. Towns are full of love's mistakes, long men and short wives, elderly women and young husbands, and all the variations of the intermediates.
Certain scientists have endeavoured to explain Love as a microbe. Others by a cell that reaches maturity at a definite age and attracts like cells in the opposite sex. Facts are hard things, and while the scientists fool themselves that they have satisfactorily explained the myth of the ancients away, the majority of people are quite content to place all the blame for the misfits on Cupid—it saves blaming themselves.
So, when Mr. Pell had reached the stage when his mind wandered over the ladies of his acquaintance, in the search of a suitable mate, the little god gave a cough and squirm, and another misfit was quickly fitted into human society.
Mr. Pell had stopped in his measured walk. He had also stopped immediately outside an open gate. In his vision of the future Mrs. Pell, he had half turned and faced the roadway. This was the opportunity of the god of Love's misfits!
"Fido! Fido! Come here, you bad dog. Oh, he will be lost!" It was a feminine voice and not by any means an unmusical one. In a moment of sanity Mr. Pell would have flown to the rescue, for gallantry was not the least of his accomplishments. Now, however, he was wrapped in the visions of his brain. But Fido had received his instructions from other than a mortal being, and he proceeded with the utmost promptitude to carry them out. He dived through the gate and between Mr. Pell's legs. That gentleman sat down on the pavement, hardly and emphatically, narrowly missing the cause of his trouble.
Mr. Pell was shocked—in a physical sense. A gentleman of 'fine' figure cannot hastily assume a sitting position without some disturbance of his mental equilibrium also. When he began to realise what had happened to him he also became aware of a lady bending over him. It was a lesson in self-control that should have had a wider audience. Mr. Pell's impulse on reaching the pavement with a certain portion of his anatomy had been to swear—and Mr. Pell had a choice collection of remarks in stock, most of them very suitable for the occasion—but the face of his fair assister caused him to bite them back so quickly that he wondered if he had bitten his tongue by the shock of the descent, or by strength of will.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear! I am so sorry! it was my naughty Fido. I hope you are not seriously injured!"
Mr. Pell gravely assumed an upright position. Even he, with his strict deportment, would not have described his movements as graceful. Gentlemen with 'fine' figures cannot spring to their feet wish the agility of youth, and it is debatable if they can fall with any more grace.
"My dear madam, pray do not distress yourself. I assure you I am in no way discomposed. Your fine terrier—"
"It is a collie," corrected the lady mildly.
Mr. Pell thought that his definition of the—ahem!—dog that had caused his downfall much more appropriate. There is something alike in "terrier' and 'terror' that was almost soothing, but he was too polite to contradict.
"Ah, yes, collie," he replied gently. "I am sorry I did not get a closer inspection of your pet."
"How nice of you to put it like that," cooed the lady. "Some men would have been furious at the poor dear."
"Madam, they would not have deserved the name of 'gentlemen.'"
Peter was himself again. Certainly his fair assistant was all that the heart of a man could desire. But a few words, and Mr. Pell felt a distinct fluttering beneath his pocket book.
"You must come into my house and let me brush you down," insisted the lady with gentle authority.
Mr. Pell now took his first survey of the house. It was certainly a fine house and must have cost at least four figures to buy—Mr. Pell reduced most of the material things of this earth to figures. It was her house. Mr. Pell looked again at his hostess. She was certainly as fine a figure of a woman as he was of a man. They would make a fine couple. Again the fluttering at his heart.
The lady led the way into a handsomely furnished sitting room and relieved Mr. Pell of his hat and stick. The next operation was with a clothes brush, and here there was a small trial of politeness that ended in Mr. Pell brushing his own clothing. The lady had yielded, and he could not but admire the graceful way in which she had bowed to masculine control. A perfect woman—a perfect wife. Again the fluttering!
The operations with the clothes brush having concluded, the lady suggested a glass of wine as a soother and strengthener after the shock. Mr. Pell could certainly not drink unless the lady gave countenance and encouragement. The lady was willing. There ensued a duel of courtesy. The lady went to the sideboard—it certainly was a handsome well-made piece of furniture—and poured out the wine into two generous glasses.
Mr. Pell then escorted her to a chair and returning, served the lady from a silver salver. The salver weighed pleasantly in his hands. Replacing the salver, Mr. Pell bowed gravely to the lady, who rose and returned the salutation. They then seated themselves. It was like a figure of some stately old-fashioned minuet.
The lady looked at Mr. Pell and was immediately struck with his "fine" figure. She sighed. "I am so glad it was no worse."
"Madam, it is the hand of fate that led me to felicity."
Admirers of Mr. Pell must have noted that on no occasion had he been found lacking in speech. With so fair an incentive he considered—in examining the situation later—that he had excelled all former efforts. The lady was willing, and from the usual society small talk became almost confidential. She pleaded the drawbacks of a lonely life. Mr. Pell spoke of the hardships of the wealthy bachelor in lodgings, and the forwardness of landladies was delicately hinted at. The lady was sympathetic. Finally an invitation to call was given and accepted.
Considering the interview over his chop at the Savoy Grill Rooms, Mr. Pell noted the following points. First, the lady was a widow. Secondly, her name was Mrs. Pascoe. Thirdly, she was certainly well-off. Fourthly, she had an evident admiration for the stronger sex. Fifthly, she had most delicately, so very delicately, bewailed her hard fate in not having a masculine intelligence and arm to lean her burdens upon. At the thought of the masculine arm Mr. Pell's curved instinctively—and the waitress edged away quickly, and tried to look scandalised.
Men of commerce have many and devious paths to knowledge. Mr. Pell, as a shining light of commerce, soon attained a true knowledge of the circumstances in which the late Mr. Pascoe had left his widow. They were very satisfactory. Mrs. Pascoe lived in her own house. The furniture was her own. There were no Bills of Sale or other such uncomfortable legalities. And there were satisfactory and substantial gilt-edged securities to which the lady could lay undivided and unencumbered claim. Altogether Mr. Pell felt that Mrs. Pascoe was a lady that could be loved not only for herself, but for all she had. Again the fluttering behind his pocket book.
The first visit was followed by others. Gradually Mr. Pell lay siege to the fortress of the widow's heart. Carefully he encompassed her with the siege lines of his love. Valiantly he attacked the outworks, and one by one entered them and raised the standard of the Pells. Only the main bulwarks so far resisted. The lady was coy. She allowed her admirer certain small favours. The pressure of her hand at meeting and parting. The intimacy of the divided sofa. Once, joyful day, he was permitted to retain that small plump hand in his for five minutes, while the lady described with remarkable exactitude the last moments of the late lamented, never-to-be-replaced, Horace Pascoe. At the end of the pathetic recital he was privileged to offer his fine cambric handkerchief, with the neat, if somewhat prominent monogram, to catch the soft-shed tear.
That afternoon he walked home on air—at least he thought he did. Mr. Pell had well laid his campaign against the forlorn heart of the widow. But two months had gone and he had established his footing in the house of Pascoe. Already he looked upon a certain vacant peg on the hat stand as peculiarly his own.
It was while he was brushing his hair one morning, he determined that Mrs. Pascoe's coyness must be stormed. The lady liked him, nay, in the privacy of his bedchamber, Mrs. Pell dared to declare that she loved him. What were his feeling towards her? From the moment he had first seen her face bending over him with commiseration, and sympathy for his fall, he had considered himself a lost man—lost in the mazes of Love's wilderness. He could congratulate himself that he had in no way, in the siege of the widow, departed from the strict canons of courtship as be understood them. He must put his fate to the test.
A careless sweep of the brush, that revealed the fact that the bald spot he so carefully concealed from the public gaze was steadily enlarging, also reminded him that time stood still for no man. Could a bald man woo? Never! Then he must woo and marry before his baldness became too apparent.
Full of resolve, he waited until four o'clock that afternoon and then set out for the widow's residence. He knew he would be expected, for a decided hint had been given that all callers but himself would be denied that afternoon. As he entered the hall and gave his hat and stick to the comely maid in attendance, he eyed the hat-stand peg with a friendly eye. Perchance, when again he called, he would have a definite future right to, not only the peg, but the hat-stand as well. He did not intend to pander to widowly coyness once the fatal 'Yes' was spoken.
"So you have come—at last." The last two words fell very softly from the lady's lips.
"Dear lady!" Mr. Pell had once been a student of Charles Garvise. He raised the plump hand of the widow to his lips.
"I expected you." The lady was making the running with some vigour thought Mr. Pell, but one glance round the room stifled all doubts.
"I am in trouble and wanted so much the support of your business intellect. I wondered if you would call."
Mr. Pell led the lady to the accustomed sofa and bowed her to the seat. Then majestically he seated himself beside her.
"Would I allow the fairest lady in Perth to be troubled? Tell me what you desire and it shall be done." Mr. Pell had some idea this was a quotation, but it fitted very neatly.
"I have some money idle in the bank," continued Mrs. Pascoe with some hint of business ability, "and I thought of investing it in 'Great Fallgalls.'"
"No, no, certainly not." Mr. Pell's words came rushing out in a manner that quite startled the widow.
"Why, I thought the mine was quite safe. Do you know anything against it?"
By this time Mr. Pell had recovered his composure. The mention of the Great Fallgall G. M. had been something of a shock to him. It would never do for the future Mrs. Pell to have any shares in the mine he had once owned. There had gathered lately a suspicion in the back of Mr. Pell's mind that Joseph John Smith bad been a good deal less "flyish" than he had supposed.
"I think," said Mr. Pell, speaking with some weight, "I should advise something a little more gilt-edged."
"But they pay such little dividends." The widow pouted.
"But they are so safe, dear lady!"
"I like a little flutter," remonstrated the lady.
"And sometimes little flutters pay nothing, not even your capital." Mr. Pell spoke grimly. "I should not like you to fail in your investments."
"You are so careful of me," murmured the lady.
"Are you not made to be taken care of?" Mr. Pell was gradually screwing himself up to the proper pitch.
"Ah! dear!" It was but a sigh that issued from those fair lips. "Oh, my dear!" And the substantial arm of Mr. Pell fell from the back of the sofa and stopped at the ample waist, of the lady.
"What would you advise?" gently asked the widow not appearing to notice the encircling arm.
"A man!" Mr. Pell replied thoughtlessly.
The widow tried to look shocked.
"But I can't invest in a man!" she giggled.
"Why not?" Mr. Pell, like a famous French Emperor, was compelling victory out of almost disaster.
"How?" The widow was insistent.
"Men are made for husbands." Mr. Pell was stentorious.
"How nice!" Here the arm had tightened so that the widow could not but notice it.
"You mustn't do that!"
"Do what?" Mr. Pell happy in the knowledge that matters were going his way, grew quite playful.
"Put your arm around me, unless—"
The words of the widow were interrupted by the flinging open of the door, and the dancing entry of a little girl of about five years old.
"Please, I've come!" laughed the newcomer.
"Oh, you darling!" gushed the widow. "Come and give me a big, big kiss."
The baby danced across the room and stopped quickly before Mr. Pell and the lady. With a grave little curtsey she presented a bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Pascoe.
"Many, many, happy returns of the day, Granny," she said very properly, and then with a laugh and a blush flung herself into the outstretched arms of the widow.
"Granny!" Mr. Pell's air castles came tumbling about his ears. "Granny!"
How he got out of the house Mr. Pell could never afterwards explain to himself. That he escaped was all he knew. Granny! Surely never man was so hardly used in this world! And, as he wended his weary way to the lonely apartments he had that afternoon taken a mental farewell of, an absurd voice in his brain insisted that somewhere in the Prayer Book there was a clause that stated: "A man may not marry a Grandmother."
IT is a fallacy that work was made for man. Yet it is a common knowledge that the only man that can exist without work is the man in love. There is something in love, that permits the ordinary individual to neglect his work in the world, to neglect his food, his clothing, his very existence. The lover lives in a world of his own, peopled by one solitary individual of the feminine sex, with a chorus of white wings, golden harps and angelic halos.
Some people may quarrel with the confining of the attributes of the true lover to the masculine sex and the consequent elevation of the eternal feminine to the position of the worshipped. It is but stating a fact. Women are not good lovers. A woman will not neglect all the decencies and amenities of modern civilization for the privilege of pondering over the attributes of the adored—as seen through rose coloured spectacles.
Who has ever seen a woman among other women neglecting to scrutinise the dresses around her, bump into passers, neglect her hair and above all her meals? Yet this is the normal condition of the male lover. The female lover has a sharp eye for the set of the neck-tie, the collar must be well laundered, and she much prefers the taste of an ice-cream soda to that of the most profusely moustached lips that were ever pressed to hers.
Females take love in homeopathic doses, males by the bucketful. Thus, Mr. Pell, while in the thralls of the widow Pascoe, neglected his food and his dress. His landlady, Mrs. McPhee, stated to an intimate friend over the back garden wall, that for the whole of the two months he never ate more than would have sufficed for an average man. Mr. Pell's account book, and he was one of those methodical men who entered up every night the expenditure of the day, showed that during the period he had not purchased even one new fancy waistcoat. With a return to normal conditions Mr. Pell found himself suffering from lack of occupation.
Mrs. Pascoe had been occupation enough for him during her brief reign, but with her involuntary abdication, and elevation to the dignity of a grandmother, Mr. Pell felt again within his breast a desire to engage in the stress of the commercial fight. A man with a capital of four figures should have no difficulty in finding a suitable occupation. Yet Mr. Pell was definite that any occupation he entered into must comply with certain conditions.
First, it must not be strenuous or dirty work—speaking in the material sense of the word. Then it must not entail too close attention or too much office routine. Lastly it must mean quick money and plenty of it. The last, like the postscript of a lady's letter, contains the crux of the matter.
Mr. Pell had once in his life engaged in the occupation of Estate and Land Agent. There were reasons that he should not, at least for some time, engage in any of that business. Not that there was anything recorded against him derogatory to his fair name. On the contrary, considered impartially Mr. Pell had been considerably victimised. He had unwittingly possessed a valuable piece of property. Another man had basely deprived him of the fruits of his industry. Mr. Pell did not bear malice and would willingly have shaken Mr. John Joseph Smith warmly by the hand.
For the week succeeding the revelation of the perfidy of the widow, Mr. Pell was the most miserable man on earth—so he thought. He was no longer in love, and he had no occupation. A mind so great as his immediately sought the solution—work!
Mr. Pell was at breakfast. Under the kind administration of Mrs. McPhee he had arrived at the stage of bread and butter crowned with a thick, impenetrable layer of marmalade. Beside him lay the morning post. Mr. Pell never mixed business and pleasure, and the letters lay neglected until the pleasures of the table were exhausted.
At length Mrs. McPhee entered and removed the—er—slain. She smiled as she surveyed the field of battle—Mrs. McPhee was no ordinary landlady, and perhaps she was susceptible to the fine figure of her lodger. Mr. Pell carefully raised his slippered feet on to a chair and reached for his correspondence. The first letter he opened bore the heading of the Great Fallgall Gold Mining Company Ltd., and read as follows:
You have no doubt read of the great success of the mine this Company lately purchased from you. We believe that you have a sentimental interest in the success of the property and therefore request the favour of a call at the earliest possible moment,
The Great Fallgall G. M. Ltd.
Joseph John Smith
Mr. Pell read the letter carefully, twice, and then pondered. What had occurred that J.J. Smith should send for him. Had anything been discovered that might possibly occasion pain and trouble to the late owner, Mr. Peter Pell. He could not think of any point in the transaction he had left unguarded. Finally, neglecting his other correspondence and assuming his hat and boots, Mr. Pell made his way to Landgarten Chambers.
The offices of the Great Fallgall Gold Mine had been removed to a lower floor and accommodation greatly extended. There was every sign of prosperity. A small army of clerks appeared to be busy on the work of recording the amount of gold wrung from the earth. Mr. Pell marched to the shining mahogany counter and rapped impatiently for attention.
At the mention of his name doors flew open by magic and in the shortest possible space of time Mr. Pell found himself face to face with the Managing Director.
Mr. Joseph John Smith was just as gaunt and abrupt as ever. His clothes were perhaps a shade better than when Mr. Pell had first met him but his hands were just as calloused and moist. He greeted Mr. Pell brusquely and pointed to a seat.
"Sit down! Glad you've called. I wanted to see you! Wait until I've got this infernal letter off my mind! Smoke?"
Mr. Pell accepted a cigar and leant back in the client's chair. In days past Mr. Pell had considered himself amongst the elect in the noble art of "Fly-trapping," but now in J.J. Smith he recognised a master mind. Just the right stand off. The busy attitude that was the real thing. It impressed. In fact, it impressed Mr. Pell.
"There, that's done." J.J. Smith swung round to face his visitor. "You're looking all right. How's your health?"
Suitably responding, Mr. Pell made a gentle inquiry as to the meaning of the letter he had received that morning.
"That's all right. Wanted to see you. What are you doing now?"
"That's bad. Anything in view?"
"I am looking round for a suitable business to embark my capital in," Mr. Pell explained.
"Somewhere about £2,500," Mr. Pell replied. "Nothing great, to a financier like you."
"Pre-cise-l-y!" drawled J.J. Smith. He placed the tips of his fingers together and gazing into a dark corner of the ceiling. "Perhaps, I can help you." There was a long pause as Mr. Pell decided not to reply.
"Let's be candid," J.J. said suddenly. "You think you are aggrieved by the way we diddled you out of the mine?"
"Not at all," replied Mr. Pell, promptly. "I got my price."
"Rather more I think," exploded J.J. Smith. "I could have had that old hole off you for a damned sight less. I paid you for the booming you did for us."
"I'm satisfied," replied Mr. Pell, doggedly. It was not to his interest, until the other had opened out, to appear otherwise.
"You may be, I'm not," snarled J.J. Smith.
"I'm not going to return you one penny," replied Mr. Pell with heat.
"Who asked you? I didn't!"
J.J. Smith leant over and grasped Mr. Pell's well-turned leg. "There's those with us that think that we could have made use of you and that I was a fool to let you out." Then after a pause he continued. "I'm one of them."
Pell said nothing. For the moment he could not grasp the situation. He was a man offering something for nothing. Somewhere in this wood-pile hid a nigger. It was up to him to scoop out the intruder.
"If you're on for a good thing I have one to offer you. There's your desk—" pointing to a far corner, "—and there's a pile for you to make if you choose."
"And what do you and your friends want from me?" retorted Mr. Pell cautiously.
"We want you to join the Board!"
"That means qualifying," replied Mr. Pell. "I am afraid I can hardly do that!"
"Why not?" J.J. Smith had slipped down in his chair until his head was only a few inches above the backrail. "Why not?"
"I'm not putting any of my cash into gold mines." Mr. Pell winked a knowing eye at Joseph John Smith.
"Bosh," replied that individual impolitely. "Who asked you to do any such thing? That part's already arranged. Say you're on and the stock shall be handed over."
"And the conditions?"
"Lord, man, you're as shy as a two year old." J.J. Smith wriggled up in his chair. "Can't you understand plain Australian? You join the Board. We find the qualifications."
Mr. Pell rose from his chair and bent over J.J. Smith aggressively. "Look here! You may call me a two-year-old, or any other thing that takes your fancy, but I'm not buying a pig-in-the-poke from you or any other man. Where do you and your Board come in?"
"Top hole, sonny!" J.J. Smith wriggled himself to a seated position and laughed into Mr. Pell's face. "Lord, what a suspicious brute you are. Look here! You join the Board. We find the qualification shares. There's your desk. You come and help me work things. Are you on?"
For some moments Mr. Pell considered. As the proposition stood he could see no danger to his pocket. Yet he was to get a lot and the other party's share was in the mist. Was there anything wrong with the mine? Did they want to mix him up in the matter and make a scapegrace of him or was Smith simply out to raid his bank-roll? Either possibility held an attraction that appealed to the vanity of Mr. Pell. The man that could get him into a corner and skin him, monetarily or in reputation, did not in Mr. Pell's opinion live. There was a catch somewhere. Where was it? Mr. Pell determined to find out.
"I'm on!" he announced, briefly.
"Good!" J.J. Smith rose to his feet and extended a large hand for Mr. Pell's grip. "Meeting of the directors this afternoon. Three p.m. You'll be appointed and take your seat at next meeting. Start here tomorrow morning, and I'll make you sweat or my name's not J.J."
During the rest of the day Mr. Pell wandered from one acquaintance to another looking for the "nigger." In every quarter he found the Mine well spoken of. Shares were hard to get and there was every prospect of them being quoted at a premium when a quotation was obtained on the Stock Exchange.
From a friend Mr. Pell obtained a prospectus of the Company and found that the qualification of a Director was one thousand fully paid up pound shares. Why then did Mr. Smith and his fellows want to part with £1,000? There were good names on the list of directors, and Mr. Pell did not flatter himself that his name would lend any further lustre to the Mine. Many plausible suppositions occurred to Mr. Pell, but all were rejected. He was to get too much and give too little—now he was to give nothing.
Nine-thirty the next morning Mr. Pell entered the offices of the Great Fallgall G. M. Ltd., very curious to know what the future held. It was, thought Mr. Pell, something like the old conjuring trick where the operator takes an empty hat and produces from it many interesting things and finally a cannon ball. Mr. Pell shivered at the idea of the cannon ball. If there was a quid pro quo in the present arrangement, then it would most probably assume quite the weight of a cannon ball when it descended on his head. In fact, Mr. Pell took a surreptitious glance at the inside of his hat as he hung it on the peg.
The desk allotted to Mr. Pell was a handsome piece of furniture. Alone in the office he examined the drawers and found bundles of prospectuses, note heads, and envelopes. Nothing suspicious, nothing to give him a clue to what he had come to believe was a carefully baited trap.
Finally he resorted to the morning paper and waited. About ten o'clock J.J. Smith walked in and greeted Mr. Pell boisterously.
"Great man!" he chuckled. "Here as soon as his clerks. Just the man for the company."
Quickly opening the letters he passed a liberal half over to Mr. Pell. "These are yours. See! You're our publicity manager. Interview people, and especially press men. Take that work off me, I can't stand it. Just your line. I'm a mine man."
"I thought you were a sheep man." Mr. Pell could not resist the gibe.
"Good for you!" J.J. was not at all abashed. "I picked up a sheep once or twice and got a liberal portion of his fleece."
Once on the job Mr. Pell thoroughly enjoyed himself. J.J. Smith did not spare him either in the work or in the matter of publicity. He was introduced to the callers as the man who had given Western Australia the inestimable benefit of the Great Fallgall G. M. He was acclaimed as the discoverer. Before he closed his desk for the day he had interviewed half-a-dozen journalists on the finding of the mine and its entirely fictitious presentation to the State. The morning's newspapers promised to be interesting reading.
Mr. Pell waited anxiously for the Board meeting. It was tolerably certain at that table something would be said, or done, that would give him a clue to the peculiar position into which he had been forced by J Smith. But when the Board met, and passed, he was just as wise as ever. Two things he noted for future reference. First that the output of the mine was abnormal, and secondly that the Board bowed very gracefully to the opinions of Smith. The opening of the mine with its tremendous crop of gold bearing ore had constituted a great advertisement but in the newspaper world all events have their allotted span.
When Mr. Pell came back to the Company he found that other interests had taken the place of the 'richest mine in the State' and that the Company was expected to pay for its advertisements at the usual rates. Further that 'puff-pars' were at a discount. The position in which Smith had placed Mr. Pell altered this for some time. There was a new interest in the Mine through the advent of the 'discoverer' on the Board. But the sensation was only short lived and the 'puff-pars' again became hard to get.
"You've got to wake it up, Pell," remarked J.J. Smith one morning. "You've done well so far. Truly a remarkable imagination. You should have been a novelist. But it's dying out. One short paragraph in two days. Won't do, Pell! Won't do!"
"What do you want me to do?" Mr. Pell was annoyed. "I'm not mountebank for the Company. Do you want me to stand on my head?"
>Mr. Pell was annoyed. It was only rarely that he allowed himself to descend from the niceties of speech. In fact he had been heard to comment adversely on the new Australian language that is coming fast to the fore.
"That's your funeral, Pell, my boy," serenely observed J.J. Smith, ignoring the irritation of Mr. Pell.
"Four days and we get our quotation. Get a big sensation to boost the event."
Mr. Pell swung around to his desk and thought hard. Slowly an idea formed in his mind. It would be a big sensation not only to the public in general, but to Mr. J.J. Smith in particular. If he could only work it!
Just before four o'clock Mr. Pell closed his desk and took down his hat.
"Going early," remarked J.J. Smith. "Got that sensation?"
"I have an idea at the back of my mind," replied Mr. Pell quietly. "I think, I am sure, I can promise you a considerable sensation."
"Good man!" Mr. Smith resumed his usual genial manner. "Want any cash?"
"A cheque might be useful."
"A couple of hundred will do."
Mr. Smith scribbled a cheque and passed it over. "Am I to know the details," he enquired.
"Not at present," replied Mr. Pell gravely. "I should prefer it to come as a surprise to you."
"All serene!" Mr. Smith was not curious. "Account for the cash when you are ready."
Mr. Pell paused at the door.
"By-the-bye," he suggested, "what of those shares of mine. The Director's shares you know. I suppose they are my property?"
"Certs, old man. You've earned them. I'll have them sent along to your house." Mr. Pell had thought of dipping his hand into his pocket for the surprise packet and reimbursing himself from the Company's exchequer later. The offer of the cash and shares was too good to be refused. Mr. Pell never ignored the small details. Before returning home Mr. Pell sought out a friend, who had some knowledge of mining. They had a long conversation, at the end of which Mr. Pell felt relieved. His friend also looked happy.
For the next couple of days Mr. Pell avoided the streets and instructed his landlady to inform callers that he was away in the country. Daily he scanned the newspaper and noted the telegrams printed from the mine manager stating the progress made and the number of ounces to the ton the ore was giving.
On the morning of the fourth day he walked into the office of the Company and hung up his hat on the accustomed peg. J.J. Smith was at his desk.
"Back again Pell," he remarked carelessly. "How's the sensation?"
"Complete, Mr. Smith," replied Mr. Pell solemnly. "The mine will be sprung tomorrow." The two gentlemen enjoyed Mr. Pell's joke to the full. Both had a different, yet curiously similar, construction to the double innuendo.
At the luncheon interval Mr. Pell interviewed his broker and in consequence his bank balance suffered exceedingly. Later in the afternoon Mr. Smith announced that he was called out of town and would give full authority to Mr. Pell to act for the Company during his absence. The papers were duly completed and Mr. Smith took his leave, somewhat sardonically congratulating Mr. Pell on his elevation to the honours of Managing Director. He said something about dead men's shoes. Mr. Pell smiled. In due course a Stock Exchange quotation was obtained throughout the Commonwealth and reports began to flow in of the extraordinary popularity of the mine with the investing public. Before the close of the first day the shares were jumping to the skies. The second day fresh reports of enormous finds on the mine were received and published and the shares again responded.
The Advertiser the following morning, published the first news of the greatest swindle in Western Australia. It took the form of a telegram from an investor who was visiting the mine. It was a long telegram, but every word was thrust at the people who had had control of the Company. There was no gold. There never had been any. The experts had been grossly but cleverly deceived. The mine had been salted heavily. The progress telegrams, faked. The whole thing was a fraud from beginning to end.
Mr. Pell did not visit the offices of the Company that day. He remained in the most rigorous retirement. Deluded investors besieged the offices of the Company and the police had to be called to preserve order. Late that afternoon a boy left a letter for Mr. Pell. He stated that a gentleman who had left Fremantle by the Amoora had given it to him with half a sovereign and strict instructions to get it into Mr. Pell's hands that day. It read—
Dear and gullible friend—
I am off on a little jaunt to the Old World taking with me a rather large souvenir of my pleasant stay in Western Australia. Give my love to all at the office and tell them not to expect me back.
Joseph John Smith.
Mr. Pell sent the letter along to the Advertiser, greatly relieved. The tone of the letter was sufficient to fix the blame on the right shoulders.
The downfall of the Great Fallgall G. M. Ltd was great and complete. Many thousands of people lost their savings in the crash. The newspaper gave a well considered opinion of what should be done to Mr. Joseph John Smith, when he was caught. The directors of the company hastened to explain their connection with their late managing director, and the company, endeavouring, with some success, to make black almost like white. And then, like all sensations, the matter passed into oblivion.
A week later Mr. Pell sat in his cosy sitting room with his bank-book on the table before him. He was taking stock of his position.
"One thousand shares at one pound each fully paid up," he murmured, "that being my director's qualification. Brown and he bought two thousand and sold the lot at an average of £5 10s. Say £16,000 all told. Certainly I owe thanks to my sheep friend, Mr. Joseph John."
He lay back in his chair and watched the smoke of his cigar float to the ceiling. "Take from that £500 I gave 'Johnson' for the examination and telegraphing to the Advertiser and allow the £260 Smith gave me for the working of the sensation. Yes! I am quite satisfied."
And then his eyes descended to survey his beautiful new waistcoat, home that day from the tailors. In another part of the town a gentleman of the name of Johnson was boasting of the luck he had had lately. A short trip to the country, first class and all expenses, and a pile in hand on his return.
"Yes," murmured Mr. Pell as he climbed into bed that night. "I don't think I am quite the mug my dear friend Smith thinks," and he laughed, a comfortable self-satisfied laugh, as he arranged himself for the sleep he had so hardly earned.
MR. PETER PELL was not happy and some ill-natured person had suggested in a letter to the Advertiser that he, Mr. Peter Pell, was the criminal brain that had foisted on a too credulous public the Great Fallgall G. M. Limited. The following day the leader writer of the Advertiser took up the story and, without mentioning names, intimated to the Government it would have a short and stormy life if 'someone' was not immediately indicted by the grand Jury, placed in the dock and convicted and sentenced for life, at least. The writer was indefinite as to the charge—any old thing probably—what was wanted was the conviction. The Government, or rather the responsible Minister proved obdurate, perhaps due to the fact that no General Election loomed on the horizon.
On such small matters rest the life and liberty of a British subject. Mr. Pell recognised fully the seriousness of the accusation. His actions were always open and frank. At the outset of the trouble he had promptly handed Mr. Joseph John Smith's letter to the press. That his scathing comments had been ruthlessly edited was a distinct grievance but the future contained a more disastrous shock. His broker allowed himself to be interviewed and that interview was honoured with triple column-headlines. It was a fact that Mr. Pell did not intend to deny, and indeed it would have been difficult for him to deny, that he had made a few good thousand pounds out of the boom and smash of Great Fallgall. That was a private matter and had nothing to do with the newspaper reading public, and the fact that a reputable stockbroker could so far forget professional etiquette as to discuss a client's business, hurt and annoyed Mr. Pell. If a man could not trust his broker who, under the moon and stars, could he trust?
Pondering over the sins of his broker Mr. Pell grew indignant, and quite forgot his own. Secure in the apathy of the Government, for Governments in Western Australia are not to be bothered with such trivial things as gold mining swindles, Mr. Pell was only concerned by the slight annoyance of having to confine himself to the house for a period. At the first he had determined to brave public opinion and had boldly shown himself on the Terrace. From that meeting place of business men he had been abruptly frightened by a candid friend, who, first drawing his attention to the article in the Advertiser on the Great Fallgall Swindle, caustically enquired what Mr. Pell intended to do for the widows and fatherless who had invested their all in the Mine.
Mr. Pell had, it is sad to record, lost his temper and after consigning his interrogator to a climate that is still more sultry than the north-west in the summertime, turned on his heel and walked home. He had the largest sympathy for the unfortunate; his hand was always ready with a few shillings for a published subscription list; his ear was always open to an unfortunate friend who had anything to say worth hearing; but for the mendicant, amateur or professional, Mr. Pell had a most supreme contempt and as amateur mendicants of the worst type he classed the widow and the fatherless.
The widows and the fatherless had no business to invest their savings in gold mines. They should confine their investments to the safe Government and municipal gilt-edged stock. Gold mines were for the speculator. Mr. Pell did not explain how the speculator was to get on, and the gold mines also, in the event of the widows and fatherless following his dictum. The streets of the metropolis being made unbearable by the officiousness of busy-bodies Mr. Pell had to confine himself to the house.
He was not a reading man and the only book he took any serious interest in was his bank book. That, however satisfactory for occasional perusal, became monotonous when the only literature available. Newspapers were barred for, led by the bad example of the Advertiser, other papers had joined in a perfect screech for investigation.
There was only one consolation. Mrs. McPhee was a cook. Next to an efficient bank accountant Mr. Pell held in highest respect an expert cook. As it happened Mrs. McPhee filled the bill to a nicety. Her entrées were things of beauty, while her sweets were dreams of delight. For a week Mr. Pell worked steadily through Mrs. McPhee's repertoire, and then felt he needed exercise.
So far in this history of Mr. Peter Pell his landlady, Mrs. McPhee, has appeared only as a shadow, a mere background to the home life of the most remarkable man who ever appeared on the business horizon of Perth. Recognised as a cook, par excellence, by Mr. Pell it is but right she should evolve from the shadowy background and take her rightful place in the limelight. Mrs. McPhee was not tall, in fact, she was distinctly short. She did not possess a fine figure. On the contrary she and her corsetiere had considerable difficulty with a figure that distinctly inclined to grow out of hand. But above shortness and embonpoint showed a countenance ruddy and joyful. Her thick black hair, her smiling brown eyes, her cupid bow of a mouth all combined to establish a youthful and pleasing personality. Mrs. McPhee was not young. Youth had been left behind with care, and a past husband. Mrs. McPhee was "unattached." She had neither husband or child.
Mr. Pell had sat down to his midday meal with a frown on his brow. He had spent the interval since breakfast gazing out of his sitting room window with his thumbs twiddling behind his back. It is an amusement that is likely to pall on the more stolid individual. Mr. Pell had welcomed the arrival of Mrs. McPhee with the dishes. Here, at all events, was a business he understood. After a successful foray on the specimens of Mrs. McPhee's culinary skill submitted to him, Mr. Pell thought he might be able to glance through the morning paper. Lighting a fat cigar he drew an easy chair to the window and opened the newspaper. The first thing his eyes lit upon were the headlines:
GREAT FALLGALL SCANDAL.
SHOULD PELL BE PROSECUTED
"Where is Charity?" roared Mr. Pell, flinging the newspaper across the room.
"Law, Mr. Pell!" exclaimed Mrs. McPhee. "You put me all of a tremble.'
"Is there no Charity in this State?" continued Mr. Pell, rising to his feet and striding up and down the room.
"I'm sure there is, sir," replied the widow with a deep sigh. "But gentlemen won't look for it."
"Is there no Charity in Perth?" continued the frenzied man. "Am I to be hunted from pillar to post by a lot of benighted asses who don't know a cow from a crocodile?"
"Or a mine from a swindle," suggested the lady softly.
"What do you mean by that?" Mr. Pell swung round on his landlady with an awe-inspiring frown.
"Law, sir, don't take on so. I didn't mean anything. I was only thinking of the few shares I held."
"Shares in what?" There was anxiety in the manner in which Mr. Pell asked the question.
"The Great Fallgall, sir," the landlady faltered. "I bought a few shares."
"Good God!" Mr. Pell strode to the window. "Am I never to get away from that accursed mine?"
"I wouldn't have told you sir, but you asked." The widow was almost in tears. She had a great admiration for her lodger. "I'm sure I'm not complaining."
"What on earth induced you to buy those things?"
"I saw the prospectus thing on your table, and—and it looked—so nice." The lady was now in open tears.
Mr. Pell could bear no more. Rushing from the room he seized a hat and went out into the streets. Instinctively he turned in the direction of the city and then stopped. It would be extremely injudicious in the present state of public excitement to show himself there. Turning hastily his eyes fell on a poster.
GRAND CHARITY CONCERT
Charity! was there such a thing? It was all very well to get up concerts in the name of Charity. It was a good thing to subscribe to Charity lists that would eventually find their way into print. But was there such a thing? Was it Charity to hound a man in the manner in which he, Peter Pell, was being hounded? Was it Charity to organise something to show somebody how well a person could do something which someone else could not do? Was it Charity to drive a man away from his occupation—from his accustomed haunts? Charity! There was no such thing!
For some moments the idea possessed Mr. Pell to go the Advertiser Office and fling on the editorial desk a cheque for the total sum he had made by his deals in Great Fallgalls. It would be a sensation. The newspaper could not but publish the fact, and it would be surely credited to him for virtue. But—and Mr. Pell's capable business mind saw plainly the but—would it not be a confession of weakness? Would it not be a confession of culpability?
No! He could not do that. Besides, the money was rightfully his, the product of his business capabilities.
"If you please sir, will you buy a ticket for the concert?" It was a small piping voice that came from well below the region of the resplendent waistcoat. Mr. Pell looked down on a little girl in a very dirty frock, that wonderfully matched her face.
"It's for charity," continued the child. Flinging the first coin his fingers met to the child, Mr. Pell fled. Had the whole world combined to haunt him with the word 'Charity'? He had asked if there was such a thing, and at his feet had risen a dirty child with the word on her lips.
The fresh air and sunshine in time restored Mr. Pell to his accustomed geniality. He had a most enjoyable walk through the park and, incidentally, picked up a fine appetite. After all the world was not so bad a place. The Advertiser was certainly a bore, but Mr. Pell recognised that newspapers, like other people, had a living to get, and the newspaper's way, lamentably, was by the dissemination of sensation. Joseph John Smith was the real culprit. One day that fact would be patent to the world and he, Peter Pell, would stand out as the innocent victim he knew himself to be.
Walking home Mr. Pell ruminated on the possible menu for dinner. That Mrs. McPhee would excel her previous efforts he thought possible. At times in their intercourse there had been differences of opinion and Mr. Pell had realised that Mrs. McPhee usually composed something choice in the way of a meal as a sort of peace-offering.
"Piper! Evenin' piper! Hall abart the Great Fallgall Swindle! 'Ere yer are, sir. Piper!"
It was a shock-headed urchin that thrust the evening newspaper under his nose. Mechanically Mr. Pell bought one. It was but a repetition of the previous articles attacking the late management of the mine and demanding, with the utmost frenzy, the immediate hanging of all concerned, from the office-boy upwards. Mr. Pell heaved a sigh of relief. From the headlines he had expected something much worse.
As he had expected, Mrs. McPhee had composed something tasty for his dinner. It took the form of a new entrée. Something altogether different from what the lady had attempted in the past. It was a success and Mr. Pell's expressions of delight and approval were reflected in the beaming face of the lady. A good dinner leads to reflection. Mr. Pell had, during the repast, forgotten all about the Great Fallgall but, seated in an easy chair with one of his pet cigars between his lips, his thoughts wandered back to the mine and the annoyance it was causing him. Reflection bred a desire for sympathy, and the advent of Mrs. McPhee to clear away the dinner things gave the necessary sympathiser.
"I must look into that matter of your shares, Mrs. McPhee," commenced Mr. Pell in a patronising manner.
"Law, sir!" The lady was visibly affected. "I don't think there is much that even you could do, sir."
The 'even' appealed to Mr. Pell most forcibly. It was a great thing to be a hero to somebody, even if that somebody be but the landlady.
"I must look into the matter," repeated Mr. Pell. "Bring me the papers."
Obediently Mrs. McPhee left the room and returned with a long envelope bulging with script. Mr. Pell eyed it with some disfavour. The few shares appeared to have multiplied considerably.
"Humph!" murmured Mr. Pell, casting over the documents with a practised hand while Mrs. McPhee stood at one side gazing at the back of his head, admiringly.
"About £150 at par it appears to me."
"One hundred and seventy-nine pounds," corrected the widow gently. "I bought on the rise."
"Humph!" Mr. Pell tried not to look annoyed. What on earth did the silly woman want to buy shares above par for. "Of course you know what they are worth now?"
"The Advertiser says, nothing." The lady was visibly on the point of tears.
"Tut, tut!" Mr. Pell had recovered his composure. "The Advertiser does not know everything."
Now this was a distinct libel on a reputable newspaper. Mr. Pell knew that the script was not worth the paper it was written on, but he had a distinct object in view in encouraging Mrs. McPhee. It had come into his mind to perform a charitable action. Not that he looked at it in that light, for at that moment the mention of the word charity would have driven him into the use of strenuous and much-to-be-regretted language.
He intended to take over the shares himself. At par, certainly, for he did not believe in encouraging other people to buy shares at any inflated value. Besides, the speculation, if it may be so called, was likely to lead to immediate personal benefit. Mrs. McPhee believed that the shares were worthless, and the action of her star border in retrieving the better part of their value from the wreck would certainly lead to preferential treatment in the matter of dainty viands.
"Leave these with me, Mrs. McPhee," he exclaimed in his most impressive tones. "I will see what I can do."
His kindness so impressed the lady that she burst into tears.
"Oh sir!" she sobbed, with so distinct an inclination to rest her raven tresses on the radiant waistcoat of Mr. Pell, that that gentleman retreated hastily to the other side of the room. "Oh, sir, it was my all. If you can do anything it will be a real act of charity."
Mr. Pell jumped as if a cartridge had exploded at his feet. Charity! Again that abominable assertion. For the moment he was almost inclined to return the package of script to Mrs. McPhee. Instead he reasoned with her.
"Surely, ma'am you don't believe in any such thing." He tried to speak in a tone of withering scorn.
Now the man who attempts to reason with women is lost, wholly and utterly. It must have been a moment of mental aberration on the part of Mr. Pell that induced him to attempt a thing, that philosophers from the beginning of the world have claimed to be impossible. Even Adam refrained to reason with Eve—he ate the apple.
"I don't care what you call it," replied the lady vigorously, drying her tears with the end of her apron. "It's a true act of charity on your part, and—and—"
Here her emotion overcame her again.
Mr. Pell became dogmatic. "I tell you there is no such thing as charity."
"I'm sure, sir, I wouldn't like to believe that."
The lady was not going to directly oppose Mr. Pell. Women for some reason always prefer the oblique course in an argument with the "stronger" sex.
"There's something I call charity, if you don't. Why even I—"
But Mr. Pell interrupted. Had he heard the end of Mrs. McPhee's sentence he might have been convinced of the existence of charity in its most acute form—and this tale would never have been written.
"Charity! Charity!" Mr. Pell had forgotten his landlady and was lost in a reverie. His gigantic mind had fastened, not on the word, but on the thing that the word so much misrepresented.
"Is it charitable to give? Is it charitable to relieve? Yes, that is charity, but not the charity that the world knows. Charity is a godlike attribute. It is the highest form of self-sacrifice. It is that which would bind the whole world together in one great human brotherhood, if the people would only accept the true and inner meaning of charity. There would be no war, no more misery. There would be no more harping and carping in business. Every man would be honest and upright with his neighbours. There would be no more swindling—"
And there Mr. Pell stopped for he suddenly realised that his train of thought, if carried to logical conclusion, would mean there would be no more gold mines.
"Law, sir!" The widow was listening admiringly to her boarder "Law sir, you do talk fine. That's just what I think about it."
"Charity is the highest of the Graces." Mr. Pell was far away and did not realise the presence of the widow. He had once belonged to a debating Society and had at times flights of eloquence that look him far from all mundane affairs. "Charity! Ah, if I could only teach this world to see Charity as I see it, what a different place it would be. Gone would be kings and priests. Uplifted on the altars of the world would be Charity, the Queen. She would reign in all hearts as now she reigns in mine. Charity, true Charity! I dream of Charity, I adore her. What is the world, if but Charity be mine?"
From his reverie Mr. Pell was startled by a pair of firm plump arms creeping up around his neck.
Startled, he looked down and saw his landlady's head resting securely on his handsome waistcoat. Instinctively his arms closed—with the lady inside.
"Oh, how beautifully you talk. And it's all so true," a voice murmured softly. "Charity is yours, only yours."
"What on earth's the matter, ma'am?" Mr. Pell was shocked and distressed.
Mrs. McPhee looked up into his eyes, a carmine blush spread over her cheeks.
"My name's Charity," she said slowly and distinctly. Even then Mr. Pell did not realise to what he had committed himself, before the effect of her last word could penetrate the befogged brain.
"Mr. Pell—" the widow's face was again nestling against his waistcoat, and a soft whisper floated to his ears. "Oh Peter—dear!"
AN old adage formulates that marriage is a lottery. There should be a statement from some great authority that, however much of a lottery marriage may be, engagements for the matrimonial stakes are sheer gambles.
Marriage may assume, at some time or another, the form of a lottery but the engagement which precedes matrimony, and, presumably, is entered into for the purpose of allowing the parties to intimately understand each other, is nothing but a gigantic gamble that should be put down ruthlessly by the police. Such thoughts must have crossed the mind of Mr. Pell when, after an impressive monologue on the beauties of an abstract Charity, he found himself matrimonially engaged to a human "Charity," and it was not very long before Mr. Pell began to look on the interlude in the real light of a Charity. He was performing a charitable act and his landlady Mrs. Charity McPhee was the object.
Mr. Pell had no objection to matrimony in the abstract. More, he had seriously meditated the step in regard to a certain fascinating widow. Some casual people might say that matrimony is the fact and the life-partner but the incident. Mr. Pell thought not. He had fixed and firm beliefs, on the distinct equality in the matrimonial state. Both parties should start on a distinct equality in the stakes, financial and otherwise.
In this engagement to which he was committed, he was distinctly handicapped. Mr. Pell had the cash, several, thousands of it, and the lady had nothing. Had he been allowed time to think it is probable Mr. Pell would have removed himself, and his belongings from temptation. But the lady was wise and, having her bird in hand, proceeded to place him in the cage of publicity.
Within an hour Mr. Pell had received the congratulations of half a dozen neighbours. Not yet recovered from the surprise of the unexpected acceptance of his unguarded semi-proposal, Mr. Pell did not repudiate the suggestion. His fate was thus sealed. Mrs. McPhee and her friends settled down to a discussion of the bridal trousseau and the wedding, Mr. Pell was not consulted. His was to pay the piper, and the lady knew his means to the last penny.
Lengthy meditation caused Mr. Pell to accept the situation with equanimity. He realised he had been caught and, as a man, he must make the best of a bad case. With these thoughts in his mind he surveyed Mrs. McPhee not as a landlady to minister to his comforts, as she had in the past, but as the future Mrs. Pell, who would minister to his comforts, if it suited her purpose and her engagements permitted. Though not so fine a figure of a woman as Widow Pascoe Mr. Pell had to admit that the lady of his choice (?) might fill the bill.
After a plea for a quiet wedding, and a protest against the costly wedding premeditated by the bride and her friends, Mr. Pell turned his thoughts to business as a distraction. Here he was confronted by the lady with arbitrary restrictions.
After laying down the proposition that Mr. Pell's capital property invested, would bring in an income of nearly £1000 per annum the lady conceded that a man had to have an occupation. In the search for that occupation Mr. Pell was given a free hand, subject to the conditions:
(1) It should not be connected with gold mining, (2) that the speculative element should be non-existent, (3) that it must produce the greatest revenue possible; (4) that the capital required should be small.
None of these conditions met with Mr. Pell's approval. His adventures in the realms of commerce had been tinged with the spirit of adventure. He had the gamblers faith in his luck and in making a deal he liked to throw his all in the scale, win or lose. The lady was obdurate but after some argument a compromise was effected. Mr. Pell was to be allowed a last flutter to the limit of £1000.
The chains had begun to gall and Mr. Pell would no doubt have taken a long fond farewell of the lady and Western Australia, if a brilliant business coup had not occurred to him. Parrying a suggestion that his bank balance, with the exception of the £1000 should be transferred to Mrs. McPhee for safekeeping, and giving his solemn word for the due execution of the compact, Mr. Pell arrayed himself for a fresh appearance in the commercial centre of the State.
In the course of his wanderings, in his pre-financial days, Mr. Pell had discovered a tract of land on the South side of the River Swan, suitable in every respect for a residential suburb. Enterprising builders and land agents had somehow overlooked the possibilities of the spot and it remained, until Mr. Pell took his final flutter, a beautiful wilderness, awaiting but the hand of a speculative magician to become a new adornment of the City Beautiful—Perth.
Now, brought by matrimonial fate to his last flutter, Mr. Pell bethought him of this land of promise. Here was a chance to make or lose a fortune. Either way he profited. If his venture was a success he would not care whether he was married or not. He would have enough money, as more fortunate brethren, to ignore the matrimonial shackles and live a gay grass-bachelor existence. If the scheme was a failure, then it was more probable Mrs. McPhee would accord him his release from the entanglement—for Mr. Pell had no intention of limiting his speculation to a bare £1000. It was his last gamble and it should be memorable.
Mr. Pell was not cordially welcomed at the offices of Messrs Stack & Co., the noted land and estate agents. The memory of the Great Fallgall still hung over him, but money talks, and when Mr. Stack, to whom, after some waiting Mr. Pell found his way, realised that his visitor was inclined to burn money, his attitude changed abruptly, and a few cordial words of sympathy were uttered, that fell like balsam on the sensitive heart of Mr. Pell.
For a few hundreds, Mr. Pell obtained an option for three months over a thousand acres of what Mr. Stack described as first class agricultural land known as the Quicksands Bay Estate, with a frontage of nearly a mile and a half on the River Swan! Mr. Stack was quite content with his bargain, and wondered why a man of Mr. Pell's history should think stock raising could be profitably carried on there, for that was the excuse Mr. Pell gave for his desire to purchase the ground. Considering the matter later, he was distressed at the poorness of the excuse and the gullibility of Mr. Stack. Still the deal had been completed, and for three months Mr. Pell was the sole owner. Mentally, he registered a resolution to frame his excuses in better style in the future.
Leaving Mr. Stack's palatial offices Mr. Pell ran into the arms of a reporter of the Advertiser. For the moment he was inclined to ignore the man, but journalists are people with terrifically hard hides.
"Hullo, Pell! How goes it?"
"Sir!" Mr. Pell appeared to swell with indignation as he loomed over the journalist, who was a comparatively small man.
"Oh, chuck it, Pell. I'm Smithers of the Advertiser, you know. Not going to cut me?"
"If I do my duty I should do more than cut you," replied Mr. Pell majestically. "I know you, Mr. Smithers, quite well, and your paper too."
"Oh that's it, is it? Sore over the Great Fallgall. Come out of it, Pell. It was all business. You shouldn't bear malice. Come along and stand us a drink." It is a peculiarity of the journalistic profession that the members have a rooted dislike to standing drinks.
It was an axiom of Mr. Pell that the press can do no wrong. This in general. In the matter of the Great Fallgall Mr. Pell was convinced that the Advertiser had made a mistake, and that Mr. Smithers, now realising it, was making advances to a more friendly footing. Even the optimism of Mr. Pell did not go so far as to imagine that a newspaper could afford to acknowledge a mistake. Accepting the olive branch held out, Mr. Pell followed his friend to a select corner in the American Bar of the Palace Hotel, and nobly ordered two of the most expensive and bizarre drinks on the menu.
Accepting one of Mr. Pell's best cigars, Mr. Smithers opened the ball.
"What's the game now, Pell?"
"There is no game, Mr. Smithers. All my transactions are legitimate business."
Mr. Smithers closed one eye gently.
"Well what's the business?"
Mr. Pell's gigantic brain worked swiftly. As a flash of light he saw his way to some fine advertising. Dropping his air of reserve he leaned across the table and opened his heart to the journalist.
"It's the best speculation I have ever been connected with, my boy," he concluded. "I will make the finest Garden Suburb on the continent. A casino in the gardens on the river front with bands, afternoon and evening. Mixed bathing, too, and large roomy lots for building. The finest and most elegant residential area in the world."
Mr. Smithers took it all in with half closed eyes. When Mr. Pell had finished he looked up and said with childlike simplicity:
"Where's the swindle?"
Mr. Pell was disgusted. Human nature was framed on a peculiar plan, when a journalist of one of the leading newspapers in the Commonwealth could not distinguish between a first class business proposition and a swindle. Very carefully he went over all the points again. At the conclusion of the recital Mr. Smithers rose and shook hands cordially.
"You're a credit to the State, Pell," he said warmly. "That's if you succeed in keeping out of the House on the Hill at Fremantle."
The next morning Mr. Pell found the success of his endeavours in the Advertiser. The article was not complimentary—far from it. The word "swindle" was not mentioned. The facts of Mr. Pell's new speculation were set out with utmost fairness. The Great Fallgall was rather stressed, and Mr. Pell's connection with that unfortunate mine mentioned with more frequency than that gentleman thought decent. The whole article denounced the new suburb as a swindle, without saying so in definite terms, and inferred that the public would do well to stand out of the matter.
Mr. Pell was pleased. Had the Advertiser ignored the speculation or damned it with faint praise, he would have been seriously distressed. The public is a curious animal, and delights in something grossly irregular. The Advertiser had roused curiosity and Mr. Pell prepared to reap the harvest. For the next, two weeks he was one of the most occupied men in the city.
"The Quicksands Bay Garden Suburb, Ltd." occupied a suite of first class offices on the Terrace. The plate glass doors swung open to vast mahogany counters, where busy clerks met enquirers with smiling courtesy. Advertisements of "The Suburb," profusely illustrated, appeared in all the newspapers and journals, not excepting the Advertiser. Mr. Pell had offered that newspaper the pick of the advertising, and the advertising manager had accepted gladly.
Yet the attacks on Mr. Pell and the Suburb continued, although carefully disguised. The public, however, came with a rush.
"Gosh, Pell!" exclaimed Mr. Smithers one afternoon standing at the door of the manager's room of the Garden Suburb and watching the crowd at the counters. "I'm beginning to think this isn't so much of a swindle, after all."
Mr. Pell walked to a large map of the estate and placed his finger on one of the best building sites on the estate.
"Mr. Smithers!" he said solemnly, "If this is a swindle that building block is yours."
"What's the price, old man?" Mr. Smithers was not a suckling journalist.
"Not a penny," replied Mr. Pell. "I'll give orders for the transfer to you straight away, and if at the end of six months you have not proved the Garden Suburb a swindle, you retransfer to me or pay me the listed price for the ground."
The journalist walked out of the offices thinking hard. Either the gift of the land was an attempt to bribe him or his preconceived opinion of Mr. Pell's business rectitude radically wrong. Anyway he stood to lose nothing, and if he could prove his newspaper's theory he would be the better by a valuable piece of land.
Mr. Stack was another person who had his doubts of Mr. Pell. The consideration for the option offered to him had been tempting, but he considered he had been grossly deceived in the preliminaries of the negotiations. Mr. Pell had not distinctly stated, but he had fully inferred, that the object of the option was some fantastic theory of bringing cattle to the outskirts of the city and then fattening them.
Mr. Stack had thought the idea absurd, but that had not deterred him from accepting the sum offered for the option. Now that that the Quicksands Bay Garden Estate, Ltd., was a going concern and likely to make the promoter rich, Mr. Stack felt that he had been swindled. He looked at his option contract carefully to discover if he had any remedy, but there was none. Mr. Pell had been careful not to commit himself, and until the three months expired and Mr. Pell made default in the purchase, Mr. Stack could not interfere. Yet there might be other ways.
Toward the end of the second month, Mr. Pell considered the balance sheet with satisfaction. The sales were decidedly large, and if they continued to increase at the same rate at the expiration of his option, he would have considerably more than the purchase money, and the prospects of a fine estate to be sold later at greatly enhanced prices.
He was not worried about the option. That document had been of his own drafting and cast iron so far as his right to dispose of the land in sections. His bank balance showed the necessary money on deposit to cover the sales and the surveying of the estate and preliminary road work fully covered the necessary improvements he had undertaken to perform.
Yet at the back of Mr. Pell's brain there was some dissatisfaction. He liked quick money, and the Quicksands Bay Estate did not promise that. Certainly it was good money and sure, but when the purchase money had been paid, he would have little more than his original capital, plus of course, a great deal of fairly valuable land. It might be years before he could dispose of the surplus. Mr. Pell had no idea of waiting years for anything. It was necessary to stimulate sales. But how?
Quicksands Bay lay on the south side of the River Swan. There had been some talk in the past of a circular tram route from Perth through Fremantle, taking in both sides of the river. If this came about, the tramline must pass through Quicksands Bay Estate. That would serve to accelerate the sales, but that was not enough.
For some time Mr. Pell thought of applying to his friend Smithers of the Advertiser for assistance. That newspaper had been considerably less violent in its attitude to the Estate, and once or twice almost complimentary. Still it was suspicious and it would not do to rouse its latent antagonism. No! The Advertiser was outside the range of practical assistance.
When, where, and how the brilliant idea first occurred to Mr. Pell, it is difficult to say. Mr. Pell was always very reticent on the point. In fact he declaims any interest in the matter. To his friend Smithers of the Advertiser he stoutly declared he had nothing to do with it. That was a denial that did him credit but few people were convinced by his assurance. From all that appeared in the press, the sole rights to the idea were vested in the Hon. Marmaduke Ibbetson, M.L.C, and that gifted legislator had not yet issued his official denial.
Briefly, the Hon. gentleman, speaking in the House on a vote of censure on the then Government, stated that the pre-election promises of the Hon. the Minister for Home Affairs had not been fulfilled. That gentleman had promised much when seeking election on the south side of the Swan. He had promised bridges and ferries and they had not happened along. He had promised tramways, and even a railway, and, although he had been in office over six months, there was not even a survey peg driven, or even cut.
The Hon. Marmaduke Ibbetson was a large landowner on the south side of the river, and felt deeply for the electors. That feeling he impressively conveyed in his speech. He went further. He advised the electors to act for themselves, and he would block the Government in the prosecution of their "Traffic Monopoly Act."
Speeches made in the heated atmosphere of the House during a 'No Confidence' debate should not be taken too seriously. Houses of Parliament are not, nowadays, to be taken seriously. They are there to govern the whole country, not a part of it, and when the people of the Southern Swan electorate held an indignation meeting in support of their eminent fellow elector and representative they seriously embarrassed that gentleman.
"Holy Jehosaphat!" he exclaimed to a sympathetic fellow Honourable. "Did the idiots think I meant every word I said?"
The 'idiots' evidently did. Another indignation meeting was held and the various suburbs placarded with bills voicing the grievances of the Southern Swanites against the Government. The eminent legislator was invited to air his views on the indignation platform and did not see his way to refuse. A Company named "The Southern Railway, Tramway and Ferry Company, Limited," was formed and registered and the Hon. Legislator invited to take up shares and the Chairmanship of the Board.
Again he did not see his way to refuse. A deputation waited on him at Parliament House and requested him to join a syndicate for the establishment of gas and electric light works in the electorate and the consequent independence of the electorate of the City and Government supplies. A few more ardent spirits considered the formation of the total separation of the Southern Swan Electorate from rest of the State and its proclamation as a separate State of the Commonwealth, with a strong hint to the Commonwealth Authorities to mind their "p's and q's" or there might be a formal secession from the Commonwealth on the part of the electorate and the formation of a Republic with the Hon. Marmaduke Ibbetson as first and perpetual President. At the end of the week the Hon. Legislator took to his bed with a severe attack of something catching, and issued medical bulletins.
There are ill-natured people that affirm, in spite of repeated denials, that Mr. Pell found the money to finance the various Southern Swan movements. That Mr. Pell benefited considerably by the agitation is not to be denied. He does not deny it himself, but that he was interested other than in a purely commercial manner he insistently denies. He has emphatically declared that the sole cause of the agitation was the careless promises of the Member of the Constituency.
The member for Southern Swan introduced into the Assembly a Bill to provide for a tramline from Fremantle to South Perth Point. There was little opposition in the House. All the opposition came from the Electorate. The electors demanded a railway. Here Mr. Pell made his first mistake. He offered the S.S.R.T. and F.P.Co., Ltd the necessary ground through the Quicksands Bay Estate. Immediately there was a howl of indignation from the people on the Northern Bank of the Swan. They had a railway from Perth to Fremantle. It was at the service of the Southern Swan electors and others at the exact equality of fares and accommodation as provided for the Northern Swan inhabitants. All the Southern Swanites had to do was to cross the present Government Ferry, take a tram to the station and pay their fares. It was not more than double the distance as the crow flies and only took about three times as long as a railway from South Perth to Fremantle direct would take. What more could they want? Besides the Transcontinental Railway was under way and with the present labour conditions would probably be of use to the next or the following generation.
The Southern Swanites retaliated. They would have a railway of their own or die in the attempt. Capital was raised and a Bill promoted in Parliament. After some hesitation the Advertiser joined hands with the Southern Swanites. Immediately its circulation increased by leaps and bounds. An Advertiser Promotion Association was added to the many Societies and Associations in existence in Southern Swan, and the newsagents who sold other Perth dailies were strictly boycotted. A deputation waited on the management of the Advertiser to request that the offices and works of that journal were immediately removed to the southern side of the river.
Mr. Pell here made his second mistake. He offered the Advertiser the necessary land free of charge. In spite of the opposition of the Government the 'Southern Swan Railway Bill' passed its first and second readings in the Assembly. Supporters of the Bill declared the matter accomplished, and eagerly bought up all the land available on the line of the railway. Speculators were many and active.
Throughout the Southern Swan boom Mr. Stack had watched the progress of the Quicksand Bay Estate carefully and jealously. At times he had made tentative offers to Mr. Pell to sell out to him at a reasonable figure. Mr. Pell declined and raised the price of all land fifty percent, and declared he would only sell to selected buyers. He was endeavouring to found a select suburb, and he would keep the suburb select if he did not sell another lot.
It was toward the end of the third month that Mr. Stack decided to take action. Within a week Mr. Pell would have to pay him the agreed price of the estate, and Mr. Stack knew that not half of the lots were sold. Enquiries through his bank informed him that Mr. Pell had the money ready, but Mr. Stack wanted the land not the money. With a great show of carelessness he invaded Mr. Pell's offices. There was little show of business, and a great placard faced the public door:
All Applications for Land
Must be made in Writing.
Mr. Pell was seated in his office with his feet up on a chair. He welcomed Mr. Stack with a curt nod. Mr. Stack accepted a chair and a cigar, and cast about for a suitable opening. Mr. Pell, disdaining diplomacy, came to the point.
"Come for your money, Stack?"
"Well,—er—not exactly. It's not due until next week."
"It'll be paid." Mr. Pell was inclined to be short with his visitor.
"I know that." Mr. Stack found it more difficult than he imagine to frame what he wished to say.
"Want any land?" Mr. Pell knew what was on his visitor's mind and had no intention of blocking the matter.
"If you have any." Mr. Stack was eager now. "Look here, Pell, why not let me in this deal? You've made a pile and you can't get off the remainder. I can."
Mr. Pell surveyed the Land Agent with a smile.
"I want my prick for the remainder of the lots, Stack," he observed. "I'm prepared to hold until I get it."
"I'll give you ten thousand pounds for the remainder of the lots. Is it a deal?"
For some moments Pell remained silent. The offer would give him a satisfactory profit, but not what he wanted.
"Look here, Stack. I'm not dealing, that's plain. But for your offer I'll give you some information. The whole caboodle's gone."
"What do you mean?" Mr. Stack gaped his astonishment. "You've sold it?"
"Not exactly," Mr. Pell leaned forward and placed his large hand on the others knee. "Atkins, Mulberry and Co. have taken an option of the remaining lots and will open sale next week. That's why I can't deal with you."
"Oh!" Mr. Stack showed his disappointment plainly.
"They're selling cheap," Mr. Pell continued, "and any applicants from this office have first option. That's why I've closed down counter work. How many do you want? Up to a hundred on this form," and Mr. Pell placed an application form under his visitor's nose.
"What's the price?"
Mr. Pell whispered in the Agent's ear. Mr. Stack was astonished. Eagerly he seized a pen and filled in the form. Passing through the outer office Mr. Stack noticed a clerk who had once been in his employ. Drawing him to the end of the counter Mr. Stack engaged him in a short conversation. At the conclusion, the clerk handed Mr. Stack a bundle of papers and received certain papers in exchange.
The sale of the balance of the Quicksands Bay Estate by Messrs' Atkins, Mulberry & Co. opened on the following Monday, and within a few hours they were sold out.
On the following day Messrs Stack offered by auction a large number of lots acquired by the firm. Most of these were choice lots and bidding was brisk. Reckoning up the results Mr. Stack rubbed his hands gleefully. It was a stupendous profit. Arriving at the office the next morning Mr. Stack found awaiting him among his correspondence the following letter from Messrs Atkins, Mulberry & Co.
We have pleasure in advising you that on your application 1034, countersigned by Mr. Pell, we have allotted you the blocks applied for, and transfer will be made to you as soon as possible. There will be a slight delay owing to the great number of transfers to complete and we ask your kind indulgence.
In the matter of your other application, we regret to say that as these forms were not countersigned by Mr. Pell, we are unable to make any allotments, applications prior to yours having preference.
Atkins, Mulberry & Co.
Filled with righteous indignation Mr. Stack seized his hat and made for Mr. Pell's office. That gentleman welcomed him effusively.
"One of the best of deals, Stack!" he exclaimed, shaking hands vigorously, "We sold out within an hour and lots of applications in hand. You got your applications all right? Good! How did the sale go?"
"Good." Mr. Stack tried to smile cheerfully. "The fact is, Pell, I'm in a slight difficulty and I know you will help me out. Our auctioneer was—er—carried away by his success and oversold us. You can let me have a few to help me out."
Mr. Pell closed one eye slowly.
"Naughty?" he exclaimed, wagging a roguish finger at his friend. "I'm afraid you're nipped, Stack."
"Oh, but you'll help me out." There was bravery in the smile that met Mr. Pell's.
"Absolutely impossible, old man." Mr. Pell was definite. "I have only one block to my name, and that the wife and I intend to live on. Can you recommend me to a good architect?"
It is worthy of record that Mr. Stack's great abilities, pulled him through. It was a costly business and deep in his heart there was a suspicion that Mr. Pell knew more than he would say.
Some days later, at the Palace Hotel corner of the Terrace, Mr. Pell ran into his friend, Mr. Smithers, of the Advertiser.
"Say, Pell," exclaimed the journalist woefully. "About that block of land. Suppose I shall have to transfer to you now."
Mr. Pell took the journalist's arm gently and led him to the reviving department.
"Don't think of it, my boy," he whispered. "Keep the lot with my blessing."
"Then it was a swindle!"
There was hope in Smithers' voice.
"Not exactly," replied Pell hopefully, "But one man did get caught, and badly, too."
At home that evening Mr. Pell made some rapid calculations and then informed his bride-to-be of the result.
"Live on the interest of £50,000," exclaimed the lady, "Of course we can, and well, at that. Law, Peter, you are smart," and graciously she bestowed on her Pell the caress of reward.
WITH a modest fortune to his credit Mr. Pell retired from business and became a gentleman, in contradiction to the accepted dictum that three generations are necessary for the transformation. He married, and erected for himself, in a select position on the Quicksand's Bay Estate, a residence suitable for his new position. The late Mrs. McPhee, landlady without encumbrances, blossomed forth as Mrs. Peter Pell, wife of the eminent financier and founder of the Quicksands Bay Estate.
For occupation Mr. Pell threw all the energies that had raised him to his present eminent position, into local affairs. He became an active member of the progress Association and a presumptive member of the Quicksands Bay Municipal Council, when that body was formed. He was a keen supporter of local charities and was on the Committee of every charity and Association he could gather into the net. Yet he was not satisfied. Associations and charities are slow working bodies and to Mr. Pell's energetic and autocratic mind there was no wisdom in the multitude of councillors.
The outbreak of the Great European War came as a surprise to Mr. Pell. In common with many other Australians, he had concluded that a world wide war was without the scope of possibility. A small war, say between Austria and Serbia would be quickly localised by the other nations. Serbia was mad to challenge her big neighbour and would no doubt get a thorough thrashing. Yes, Serbia must have been mad to go to war and disturb commerce unnecessarily, but then, all foreigners were mad. The only sane people in the world were the British and Americans, with possibly the Australians the sanest portion of the British race.
Russia and France entering the war considerably opened the eyes of Mr. Pell and his friends. Yet they were continental military nations and possibly did not know better, but when England definitely declared to Germany, that she would view the occupation of Belgium as an act of war, Mr. Pell was astounded.
What! Fight Germany! Why Germany supplied the State with most of the cheapest and most useful articles of daily use. To fight Germany would dislocate trade to an alarming extent. It would bankrupt half the commercial men of the Commonwealth! It would lead to untold disasters and what could England do? She had only a little army; just about sufficient to keep her shores from invasion.
When Mr. Andrew Fisher, then Prime Minister of the Commonwealth made his famous speech, offering Britain Australia's last man and the last shilling, Mr. Pell began to look on matters from a different standpoint. He had a deep admiration for Mr. Fisher and was quite willing to follow his lead in so important a matter.
Then came the call for recruits. Thousands were needed and thousands enrolled, but still the cry was for more, and more. Mr. Pell's heart began to burn with martial fire. He, for one, would do his bit to help the Empire out of the hole. Having plenty of time he started to tour the town, button-holing all the young men of his acquaintance and requesting to know why they were not in khaki.
So enthusiastic did Mr. Pell become in his recruiting campaign that he began to make himself a nuisance to his friends. Business men congregate together for the purpose of business and only when that form of acquaintanceship merges into normal friendship does an introduction to 'the family' become possible. The average man in association with his fellows in business has somewhat of the attributes of the Turks to his womenfolk. He ignores them and expects others to follow his example.
In the past Mr. Pell had followed rigorously this unwritten law, but now when the country needed men, unwritten laws had to go by the board. Mr. Pell began to be openly curious as to the families of his business acquaintances. He wanted to know how many sons each had, and how many daughters; the respective ages, and their adaptability for national and military service.
This was straining a point and so Mr. Stack informed him, "Look 'ere, Pell. Leave my sons alone. If you want to know, they've all got good jobs and are going to keep them. They don't go to your piffling war with my consent, and that's straight."
"But it is the duty of every man to aid his country in her hour of need," Mr. Pell had heard the phrase somewhere and thought it sounded well.
"Then you get into khaki yourself and then we'll talk."
Mr. Stack turned a cold shoulder to Mr. Pell. There was still a suspicion in his mind that the finale of the Quicksands Bay Estate episode would be interesting to know.
Get into khaki himself! Mr. Pell had never thought of that. He looked down at his legs now encased in the most correct thing in trouserings, and fast disappearing from view except when he assumed a position that made him appear as if carrying a heavy load on his shoulders. He knew he possessed a handsome pair of legs and he could imagine how effective they would appear in putties. He would certainly make a great figure and an excellent example to the younger generation.
He would enlist! Age? Well he was not much past 50. He could easily pass for 40 or even 42. He had heard of men deceiving the medical examiners that way. As a recruit he would have a vast influence over the sons of his friends. He would be able to extend his operations and request strangers to "do their bit." In imagination he could see himself walking at the head of a large army of recruits all collected by his efforts. Surely the authorities would give, him a commission. Captain Pell! It would look fine. Perhaps after a little judicious wire pulling the title might be merged into Major Pell.
He walked home that night with his head in the air. Already he saw the Victoria Cross and the ribbon of the Legion of Honour on his breast. He would be a popular hero. In the days to come when the war was but a dream of the past he would be able to recount to a circle of admiring friends all he had done for the Empire. He explained this to Mrs. Pell in glowing terms. That lady was not impressed.
"They might send you to the front," was her opinion. Send him to the front! to fight! Why he might get shot! With a figure like his it would be almost impossible for the enemy to miss him. Besides he had heard that the men had to charge across waste land at full trot, and Mr. Pell would at any time let the ferry boat go rather than risk a run.
"They would feed you on bully beef and biscuits." This from the lady, who had a thorough knowledge of her lord and master.
Mr. Pell decided to say nothing more of the matter. The war fever grew, and Mr. Pell became again enthusiastic. After all they might find a job for him at home. He would, then, have all the glory of the uniform and none of the dangers. Almost he decided to enlist and chance it.
Fate brought in his way the son of a man he had a slight acquaintance with. The youngster was in khaki with the trappings of an officer! Mr. Pell did not recognise him at first, but once his memory was refreshed, he became effusive. If he could not afford to enlist he could certainly afford to give those who did a good time. Catching his prey by the arm Mr. Pell made for the most expensive restaurant.
A chance remark of his guest opened the way for honours without risk. Mr. Pell learned that the Military Authorities had decided to provide all rejected recruits with medals. With one of those on his coat Mr. Pell saw his way to being a hero at a small cost. A good bargain always appealed to him.
It was in this frame of mind that an hour later an enterprising recruiting sergeant met him in Hay Street. The usual enquiries were made and information given, and the sergeant took his way to Francis Street with the new recruits staggering along at his heels. Mr. Pell almost accomplished the humming of a martial air as he followed his captor.
Francis Street, one of the quiet backwaters of the city before the war, was now a scene of activity. Men in khaki were to be seen on all sides, whilst the shouts of the drill sergeants overtopped the high walls of the yard. Around the old artillery buildings, that had some resemblance to the keep of an ancient castle, had sprung up wood and iron erections to house the small army of administrators that were supposed, and often failed, to look after the comforts of the nation's soldiery. Over the top of all floated the Australian flag and the Union Jack, symbolical of the new united Empire born at the war cry of an arrogant tyrant.
How many of these ideas sprang into the mind of Mr. Peter Pell as he followed his conductor into the examining room, it is hard to say. Perhaps the only coherent thought was that he was now a hero—soon to be a rejected one.
A burly sergeant sitting at a desk in the middle of the room looked up as Mr. Pell and his conductor strode up to his desk. At the sight of Mr. Pell's magnificent frame he exclaimed. "Hullo, Barnum! Brought your menagerie?"
Mr. Pell's conductor turned and eyed him with an appraising glance. "You're optimistic, my son," the other returned, his eyes full on Mr. Pell. "What's he weigh? Eighteen if you ask me."
Mr. Pell felt himself growing warm. This was an indignity he had not expected. Why did these men look at him as if he was some unknown wild beast? It was insulting. For the moment he had the impulse to turn on his heel and walk out of the room after a scathing and dignified rebuke, but the thoughts of that rejected medal held him silent.
"Name?" The question came like a pistol shot from the man at the desk, and, as Mr. Pell hesitated, "Wake up, sonny. You can sleep when I've done with you."
"Pell," he mumbled confusedly. "Funny name," quoth the sergeant. "Got another?" Guessing the meaning of the enquiries, Mr. Pell muttered "Peter."
"Peter Pell!" The sergeant mouthed the name with relish. "Seems to me you've struck the limit this time," he continued addressing the recruiting sergeant who stood by Mr. Pell's side.
"He's all right," said that worthy; "Get some of the condition off him and he'll give the weight of some of the yearlings."
"Maybe," the man at the desk looked Mr. Pell over carefully. "But it'll be a dainty process and some of the 'structors up the 'ill will make your ears burn."
Then to Mr. Pell. "Get over there and show your hide." Interpreted by his conductor Mr. Pell crossed the hall to a far corner, where some twenty men were waiting clad only in their trousers.
There was some considerable time to wait and then Mr. Pell's name was bawled from the door of a room by an orderly. Propelled by the friendly arm of his conductor Mr. Pell made a somewhat undignified entrance before the doctor.
Mr. Pell never speaks of the half hour he spent with the military doctor. The indignity and inhumanity of that official burned deep into his soul. He had entered that room with some idea of the equality and brotherhood of mankind. He had, during his business career, imbibed some thoughts of the dignity and standing of the successful business man in the community, but when he left that room the sole remaining thought in his mind was that men were not brothers, that military despotism was the curse of the world, and that the rule of the German Emperor was that of a genial and benevolent tyrant besides that of an army doctor.
Never a pugilistic man, he had a fixed and firm belief that he would part with something handsome for the favour of five minutes in a forty foot ring with that doctor, no rules and bare knuckles. Thumped and bruised in body and dignity he huddled his clothes on and approached the man at the desk.
"When shall I call for the medal?" he asked in a very different tone from that of the Mr. Peter Pell of half an hour before.
"What medal?" barked the sergeant without looking up.
"The rejected medal."
The Sergeant looked up quickly. "What the 'ell?" Then be rummaged among a pile of papers that the orderly had just placed at his elbow. "Name Pell?"
Passed! For the minute the room whirled, the bulky Sergeant appeared to be dancing a fantastic jig in his high stool. Passed! And he knew that his eyes were bad and his teeth would not have made a mark on the softest bit of bread in the country. Passed! He would be drilled and trained. His well-developed body would be emaciated with hard living, hard work, hard words. He would be bullied by all who could claim the smallest authority over him. He would be pushed arid swindled by the men who would be called his comrades. Finally he would be confined in a dirty and crowded ship exposed in a wet and exposed trench, food for a Hunnish bullet. From his reverie he was awakened by the voice of the Sergeant.
"Now then, wake up. Have I got to ask you a dozen times if you've got any work to do?"
Not understanding the question Mr. Pell replied in the negative. "Then you can go up with this afternoon's draft. Go and sit over there and—" the Sergeant hesitated for a minute and then concluded "—look happy."
"I've got a wife," said Mr. Pell beginning to understand. The Sergeant leaned over his desk in an impressive manner.
"Then I envy you, sonny. I've to go home to mine every night an' she's always asking when I'm going to the front so as she'll get shot of me. Some of you newies 'ave all the luck."
Meekly Mr. Pell sat down on a bench where some other men were congregated. They looked at him vacantly and moved up nearer to each other. No one of them spoke to him. They were all engaged in a whispered conversation and did not want his company.
How long he sat there he could not remember. It seemed to him that he must have slipped a night. His back hurt from the hard wall against which he leaned. The board under him seemed full of growing knots that swelled and grew more rugged the longer he sat on them. Many men came in, some of them brought in as he had been by recruiting officers, others of their own free will. Each of them, in turn, departed into the doctor's room and, emerging, said a few words to the sergeant at the desk. Some of them walked out of the hall free men. Others, and they were very few, came over to the bench and took seats there.
Presently a non-commissioned officer entered the room and walked up to the bench. He looked them over, carefully, somewhat, thought Mr. Pell, in the manner he had seen butchers surveying stock at the sale yards.
Some of the men stood up. Others sat still and gazed at the officer vacantly.
"Stand up in a line," said the officer briefly. His tone was that of a schoolmaster addressing the detention class. The men stood up.
"Gawd!" said the officer under his breath. "'Ere, stand, as you was happy about it. Square your shoulders, straighten your legs, turn your toes out and hold up your heads."
Some of the men tried to obey.
The Sergeant at the desk rose and came over to watch proceedings.
"They look a 'appy lot, don't they," he observed briefly. "They'll look 'appier when I've done with them. Now, then men! You're goin' to march through the streets, so look as if you're enjoying it."
Mr. Pell thought it time to put in a word. "I have a wife—" he commenced when the officer interrupted him.
"Then you're one of the lucky ones. You're quit of her and her talk for a few months, perhaps, if you're lucky enough to stop a bullet, for ever. Attention! Right turn! March!"
Out in the yard there was another halt. A lieutenant reviewed the men and tried to infuse some martial spirit into them. He altered the formation of the ranks and Mr. Pell found himself in the leading file behind a very noisy band in which the drum played more than a prominent part.
Fearing to look to the right or left Mr. Pell led the band of "recruities" through the streets of Perth. Almost he prayed that the march might end and he could find himself in the train on the way to Blackboy. The desk sergeant had proved himself a friend in that he had undertaken to send a telegram to Mrs. Pell informing her of the military glory that had fallen on her lord.
But Mr. Pell felt defrauded. Where was the glory and the honour of a military life? Here was he with a smartly cut lounge coat and the latest thing in Tress's hat, marching side by side with a swagman. He had hoped to be rejected. The doctors, he bad heard, were very strict. The Advertiser had stated only a few weeks before that 60 per cent of the men offering for enlistment were rejected. What brain wave had happened to the doctor that he had accepted him? Surely if the majority of the recruits passed, were like himself, then the Empire must be in a poor way.
The blare of the band and the shouts of the crowd at length infused some spirit into Mr. Pell. If this were not a bad dream and he was really sworn in as a soldier of the king then he must make the best of it. After all it might not be so bad! Sergeants were notorious bullies. In every military tale he had read, the Sergeants bullied the privates. The thing to do was to keep out of their way as much as possible, obey orders promptly, and all that. Yes, he thought that military life might not be so bad, after all.
The next few days were times of torture. Almost before the sun had topped the trees the call to drill sounded. Right, left, right, left, right wheel, left wheel, form fours, right face. Hour after hour until the feet seemed almost to drop from his wearied limbs. They had dressed him in a loose blue suit and a khaki hat and brown boots that seemed to weigh about a ton each. Yet in spite of the dull weariness, Mr. Pell began to enjoy life. True the meals were primitive, consisting mainly of stew and tea, but hard work is a great appetiser and, after the first day or so, Mr. Pell quite looked forward to the 'cook-house' call.
There were some decent chaps in the camp and once the corners were rubbed off, Mr. Pell began to enjoy the society. He found that a bushman is still a man in spite of his calloused hands and unrefined speech. That the farm hand and the station rider could and would help a new chum in the camp life that their civil employment had made almost second nature to them. Then there were the concerts and entertainments that the men got up amongst themselves. It was great to lounge, every muscle relaxed, and join in the chorus of some popular song. After all, the untold ages had sung of the joys of a soldier's life.
Then came leave. The duty sergeant told him that he was on the roster for three days' leave. This, although Mr. Pell had quite forgotten to ask. The railway carriage was uncomfortably full and some of the men would insist on hanging half out of the window throughout the journey, making the air inside the carriage warmly close, but it was life, just life!
Mrs. Pell welcomed him home. She did not cry. But she walked round him, and he was not bad to look at in his new khaki uniform.
"You're getting thin, Peter," was all she said, but she made up for lack of sentiment by a supper that made his mouth water in after remembrance. The next two days were busy ones. Fortunately Mr. Pell had very little uninvested cash and all his investments were good and did not require much attention. A visit to his lawyer placed all financial concerns in the capable hands of Mrs. Pell. During his absence at the war she was to have the sole and undivided responsibility of the Pell fortune. The late McPhee had been a careful Scotsman and Mrs. McPhee (that was) had learned much from him.
It was at supper on the second day that Mr. Pell found the flavour of the entrée not what he imagined he thought it ought to be. His after meal cigar did not taste as it should, and the whisky was distinctly poor in quality, although the label marked a first class brand. Suddenly he realised the meaning of it ail. He was longing to get back to camp! He had grown used to a soldier's life. Through the pains and disappointments of training, he had grown to love a hard, disciplined life.
Marching up the hill to Blackboy Camp, he looked at the iron crowned huts and canvas tents with affection. He realised that soon he must leave them and depart over the seas to the great unknown adventure. He had never been out of Western Australia in his life and the little he knew of the outside world had been mostly culled from the columns of newspapers. Now he was to go outside.
In a few days he would see the lights of Fremantle fall in the wake of the ship. He would look over the stern, smoke his pipe, and watch the Rottnest Lighthouse gradually dip beneath the waves. Then he would turn his face to the bows and, over the waste of waters, see envisioned the fields of France and Belgium, shot strewn and shattered, he had come to cleanse of the invader and restore to their former industrial beauty. It was he and his comrades that would do the work, and when they had accomplished their task, perhaps they might be given a glance at the big cities of the world, the centres from which his, and their fathers had set out on the great adventure to the then wild and unknown Australia.
The next morning Mr. Pell was ordered to fall out for rifle drill. It was a new and decidedly more comfortable style of drilling. No more the weary tramp, tramp round the dusty square and the still more dusty roads. They sat in the shade with the sergeant in their midst, while he took to pieces the mechanism of a rifle and explained the parts. The long smooth barrel with the shining spiral-grooved centre, the jerky irresistible bolt, the neat scientific sights and the all-powerful trigger made Mr. Pell's fingers itch to hold. At last the rifle rested in his hands. He felt he must hug it to his breast. What could not a man accomplish with this weapon.
Then the silent marking, as the rifle rested on the sandbag on the tripod. Mr. Pell wanted to shout for joy when the Sergeant said 'Not bad' to his marking.
The day came when his class was detailed for the range. By this time he had been fitted with a rifle of his own. It was some weight but he did not mind that. It was the rifle that counted with its deadly power of barrel and bayonet. He felt it was a servant he could trust to stand between him and death, yet at the same time it was his master. As he handled it he could hear it murmur, "Thrust, Thrust," and then again as his fingers closed round the trigger, "Pull, Pull." Master and servant in one, but above all Friend.
"What's up, Pell, you've missed every shot!"
It was an officer that stood over him as he lay facing the butts. Pell jerked the bolt viciously without replying and took careful aim at the "bull."
"Missed again!" the officer exclaimed. Then he took the rifle from Mr. Pell and handed it to the sergeant in charge with a short order. The sergeant lay down beside Pell and, quickly sighting, scored a "bull."
"Report to doctor," ordered the officer as he moved down the line.
It was a very dejected Mr. Pell that left the doctor's tent the following morning and started to pack his kit.
"What's up sonny?" asked a tent mate.
"Got my 'rejected' medal. That's all!" replied Mr. Pell, and there was a hard lump in his throat difficult to swallow.
MRS. PETER PELL had ambitions. Possessed of a comfortable income, and a husband who had become amenable to domestic persuasion, she desired to become a leader of Society.
It is claimed that Australia is a democratic country. It is also claimed that all men are equal, and to give point to the claim it has become the habit of employees to address their employers as 'Tom' and "Dick." At the very frequent elections, candidates point to this fact as illustrating the democracy of Australia.
It is but an illusion. Behind the employer is an irresistible force—his wife. The democracy of Australia is not an immoveable body. Thus the growth of Society in Australia. The "Tom" and "Dick" are pleasant illusions, to destroy which might cause something near a revolution. The secret of an autocratic rule is to preserve illusions. The women of Australia are autocrats, as are their sisters of the old world.
It has to be allowed to Mr. Peter Pell, as a virtue, that he held to the great illusion of democracy for a considerable period, against the persuasions of Mrs. Pell. He had no social aspirations. He had no desire to see his name in print. In the past, and while he was battling for the comfortable income Mrs. Pell was now spending so wisely, he had shunned publicity. In this he had not always been successful. At times he had read his name on the headlines of the morning journals with feelings almost akin to rage. He had been held up to public contumely as a commercial pirate. Yet he had won through to the leisured ease he now enjoyed. Was he to jeopardise his ease and privacy for the doubtful honour of Society? Mrs. Pell said "Yes" very firmly, and finally carried the proposition without a dissenting voice.
A simple agreement had appeared to Mr. Pell the easiest way out of the domestic trouble caused by the "Society" question. There was the money, and there was Mrs. Pell. If the good lady desired to spend the money in a raid on the Society stronghouses of Perth Mr. Pell considered it her funeral. He would stand by and watch the fun. Something of this he mentioned to a friend on the Terrace one morning and was promptly disillusioned.
"If that's all you know about women, Pell," said the friend emphatically, "it's a pity you ever got married. If your wife wants Society you will have to want it too—and want it badly."
Mr. Pell recognised the force of the argument. Domestic bliss had already revealed to him that marriage is the blending of two personalities into one, and that one decidedly feminine.
"But what am I to do?" he queried. "What is this 'flaming' Society? Where does it hang out and who's the President or Chairman of the business?"
"That's just the trouble," replied the friend. "There isn't a head. It isn't a question of walking into an office and paying a subscription. The Governor of the State is supposed to be the head, but he really has but little to do with it."
"A kind of ex-officio member." suggested Mr. Pell.
"Not quite." The friend smiled quietly as one in the know. "I should describe his position as that of a heathen god. Something to be worshipped, while the priests don't pay much attention to his wishes."
"Mrs. Pell says we must go into Society," said Mr. Pell, in the tone of a schoolboy repeating a lesson.
"Well, I wish you luck." The friend shook hands and walked away mournfully, as one who went to order a floral token for a dear departed friend.
For several days Mr. Pell pursued his enquiries as to Society among his former business associates. From none did he get any definite satisfaction. One or two in fact suggested that his, Mr. Pell's, known business methods would be of distinct disadvantage to him in the matter.
Mrs. Pell brought the matter to a climax. One morning at breakfast she demanded an account of her husband's stewardship. Mr. Pell was forced to confess that he had made no progress. Mrs. Pell said little, but that little made it abundantly clear that her opinion of the human male was small.
"What you have to do," she declaimed; "is to force your way to their notice. Let me have the paper."
Taking the Advertiser she rapidly scanned the Society column. Finally she placed her finger on a paragraph. "Lady Smith-Jones is appealing for subscriptions for the Home for Aged Bank Clerks," she announced. "You must send her a subscription."
"Certainly, dear," replied Mr. Pell. If the sending of a few pounds would obtain the entry of his lady into Society he was more than willing. "I'll send her a 'fiver' this morning."
"A 'fiver'," echoed Mrs. Pell. "That won't do at all."
Mr. Pell doubled his stake.
"Nonsense." Mrs. Pell was indignant. "You always want to do thing on the cheap. Send her £500."
"Five hundred pounds!" Mr. Pell poured his cup of tea into his collar instead of his mouth, and did not notice what he had done. If he could only get into Society on those terms, bankruptcy stared him in the face. It was a long and wordy argument. Finally Mrs. Pell consented to a compromise of £250 and the cheque was duly despatched. It happened that more persons than Mrs. Pell were interested in the Home for Aged Bank Clerks. Mr. Smithers of the Advertiser took a particular interest in the matter on behalf of his paper, and at the time of the arrival of Mr. Pell's cheque, was interviewing Lady Smith-Jones. The munificent gift was immediately brought to his notice—and noted.
The following morning Mr. Pell was disagreeably surprised to see that the Advertiser featured his benevolence in large type. There was a little paragraph as to the virtue and necessity of the Home, another about Mr. Pell's cheque, and a lot about Mr. Pell, his business career and the probable reasons for the donation. Many of the paragraphs carried a sting, for the Advertiser had a long memory and Mr. Pell's name was prominent on the newspaper's black list.
A sedative to the newspaper notice was found in a little note from Lady Smith-Jones, thanking Mr. Pell for his munificent donation, and requesting him to call at his earliest convenience, "on business of the Home in which we are both interested." Mrs. Pell was jubilant. A breach had been made in the fortress. Another attack and the fortress would fall. Mr. Pell was despatched forthwith to the interview with abundant instructions for his guidance, and, incidentally, a hint, that if he failed, it would be better that the Quicksands Bay ferry boat was wrecked on the return journey.
Lady Smith-Jones lived in Mount Street. Society, as is understood in Perth, patronises Mount Street and the environments. Yet Mount Street is not a thoroughfare likely to recommend itself to the traditional alderman of Victorian literature. It branches from St. George's Terrace at the west end and deceitfully continues on the level for some hundred yards or so. Then it takes a turn upwards until the unwary traveller wonders if the journey's end is in the sky—it eventually turns out to be the Park.
As it is, "Society" folk now-a-day motor, and the burden of the ascent is borne by the mechanical steed and not by the well-shod possessions of wealthy and corpulent gentlemen. Lady Smith-Jones lived at the higher end. Mr. Pell walked from the Terrace. It was a very weary and hot gentleman that knocked at Lady Smith-Jones' door. Only the thought of the £250 he had invested in that Society dame spurred him on to a final endeavour. Sovereigns are not picked up in handfuls in Western Australia, in spite of the promises of the young men of the State's consulate in Westminster. Mr. Pell had invested—he had a doubt as to his wiseness—and he determined to show a clean return. The young lady maid, who opened the door, recognised the fine figure of the visitor, and made no demur to his demand for an interview.
"My dear Mr. Pell!" Lady Smith-Jones swam forward with a shimmer and rustle of silken skirts. Her face beamed with pleasure, yet she cast a backward glance at a lady seated near the tea-table. It is all very well to ask a satisfactory contributor to call, but sometimes that call is most inopportune. Nothing of this showed in the lady's manner. She was all graciousness.
Mr. Pell bowed in his most impressive manner. The lady was good to look upon. Her figure would have been called buxom a few years ago, and Mr. Pell was slightly old-fashioned in his ideas regarding women. The modern craze for slimness, that verged on thinness, found no favour with him. A fine woman should be substantial. Lady Smith-Jones was decidedly substantial.
A few words of introduction, and the flow of conversation, interrupted by the advent of Mr. Pell, recommenced. That gentleman found himself seated beside his hostess, with a thin angular maiden lady on his other side. Lady Smith-Jones occupied one hand with a cup of tea, the lady filled the other with cake. Mr. Pell wished to stir the tea and not to drop the cake. He did neither.
Lady Smith-Jones was the relict of a merchant of the city of Perth, who had acquired a considerable fortune by selling shoddy German goods to the colonists of Western Australia at prices far in advance of that of the best British goods. After he retired, he took his wife to the Old Country for a holiday. There happened to be a crisis with the political party then in power in Great Britain, and Cornelius Jones was rewarded with a knighthood, as a token of his services to British trade in the colony. Returning to Western Australia, Sir Cornelius Smith-Jones (he had assumed his wife's maiden surname with the title) departed for regions unknown, leaving his wife to blossom into a "Society" leader. This was not difficult, for a title opens every door in a democratic country.
All this, Mr. Pell was well acquainted with. The rise of Sir Cornelius had been a beacon star in his commercial horizon. Would he in his turn blossom into "Sir Peter Pell." If the fates were kind, then he determined he would not leave Lady Pell to "star" alone. He looked at his hostess with admiration, the cake in one hand and the cup in the other.
"Mr. Pell has been good enough to donate £250 to our Home for Aged Bank Clerks," announced Lady Smith-Jones impressively. The angular female on Mr. Pell's right looked at him.
"So good of him, Lady Smith-Jones. I have some Quicksand Bay Estate lots, Mr. Pell." Mr. Pell did not see the analogy.
"We shall be able to do so much with so munificent a donation," continued Lady Smith-Jones.
"Do you think there is any chance of selling Great Fallgall Gold Mine shares, Mr. Pell?" observed the angular lady.
Mr. Pell dropped quite a large piece of cake.
"I think it is a great shame that the banks, with so much money, do not make proper provision for their employees when too old to work." Lady Smith-Jones had mounted her latest hobby. "I know one case, such a sad one, of a bank clerk over fifty years of age who has to support a wife and two children on a paltry £200 a year retiring allowance. I consider it positively disgraceful. Don't you, Miss Mufkins?"
"Perhaps he speculated in land," sniffed the angular lady. "You are not thinking of establishing a home for Indigent Land Agents, Lady Smith-Jones?"
"Do you think there is a necessity, dear?" Lady Smith-Jones was interested.
"I don't know," replied the angular lady. "They appear to always do well out of it. Perhaps Mr. Pell can advise you."
Another piece of cake reached the carpet. Mr. Pell's fingers had closed too firmly on the fragile substance. Before he could think of a suitable retort the lady rose.
"Good-bye, my dear Lady Smith-Jones. I have so enjoyed my call. So glad to have met you, Mr. Pell. Be sure and let me know if you can sell my Quicksand Bay lots for me."
"Now we can have a nice chat," observed Lady Smith-Jones, as the door closed after the visitor. "It was so good of you to send me that cheque."
Mr. Pell slowly turned his eyes from the door. Miss Mufkins had taken away his breath. Was he always to be reminded of the past? For the moment he had dreamed of rushing after the lady and offering to purchase her interests at any premium she required. Lady Smith-Jones' smooth voice was an antidote.
"It was just the sum we required to make up the deposit on the new wing. What made you think of poor us?"
"It was my wife. She saw it in the paper." Mr. Pell had not yet recovered his equilibrium.
"So good of her," cooed Lady Smith-Jones.
Mr. Pell looked at the lady and the lady looked at him. Here was the chance to place a judicious word to forward his ulterior object. He opened his mouth to speak, but the lady was first.
"We might as well be candid, Mr. Pell." The lady's manner had changed suddenly. No longer did she coo, and her figure seemed to lose its buxomness. "You did not send that cheque for the fun of the thing."
"I am always willing to forward a deserving object," Mr. Pell spoke unctuously.
"So am I." Lady Smith-Jones laughed quietly. "I have heard of you Mr. Pell, and I wanted to meet you. Now you are here you might be candid. I am open to an offer."
"Then you do not consider the Home for Aged Bank Clerks a deserving charity?" queried Mr. Pell.
"I do not." The lady was emphatic. "Neither do you. If you want to know, the deserving charity is Lady Smith-Jones."
"But you are a rich woman."
"I try to appear so, Mr. Pell, but it is very hard work."
"Your husband left you a fortune." Mr. Pell was trying to collect his scattered wits. If Lady Smith-Jones was not a rich woman then she had successfully hoodwinked the public for a considerable time.
"My husband left me two thousand pounds." Lady Smith-Jones leaned forward across the table. "I am making no secret of the matter to you Mr. Pell, because you and I are in the same boat, we both live on the public. You by successful raids on the commercial world, and I by my social charities."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you have come here to buy something I have to sell, and—" the lady hesitated—'I—I do not want to lose your custom."
Mr. Pell considered the proposition. It was one thing for the opposition to place their cards on the table. It was quite a different thing for him to follow suit. In games of this kind Mr. Pell did not like to count card against card. He preferred to have a few in reserve.
"My dear lady!" Mr. Pell temporised. "Your conjecture may be quite accurate. I may have in mind a purchase. Why do you suggest you will be the seller?"
"For the reason that you have donated £250 to this charity."
Lady Smith-Jones was quite at ease. The trend of the conversation had shown her that Mr. Pell required a quid pro quo for his cheque.
"I may have certain ideas that—"
Mr. Pell was cautiously feeling his way. The lady however did not shirk the issue and swept away all obstacles with a careless hand.
"If you will not explain, then I will. You want to be recognised by the best people in what you call "Society." You come to me to help you—and you are afraid to make the proposition. Well, I am open to a deal. I will introduce you and your wife every where and you will pay me—how much?"
Mr. Pell made his offer, and it was accepted. He had learned much wisdom in the few minutes of his call on Lady Smith-Jones. Preliminaries were few and, laden with instructions, Mr. Pell returned to Quicksands Bay.
Very gradually the name of Pell began to appear in the doings of that inner circle of idlers known as Society. Mrs. Pell superintended a stall at some charity, and her dress and history—as edited by Lady Smith-Jones—duly appeared in the papers. Mr. Pell was allotted a seat on certain charity boards and his speeches found their way—also duly edited—into the press.
Gradually the question "Who are the Pells?" was answered. The Pells were accepted, and seen everywhere. The climax was reached when Mrs. Pell was invited to decorate winners at the Agricultural Show.
What it cost in hard cash Mr. Pell dared not think. Once or twice he ventured a remonstrance, but Mrs. Pell was enjoying herself and refused to consider ways and means. Briefly, and emphatically, she informed Mr. Pell that, if money was lacking, it was his business to correct the error.
Yet with this dictum the lady coupled a rider, that no more risky propositions in the way of land deals, or gold mines, were to be floated. He, the husband of Mrs. Pell, must support his position. There must be ample opportunity in legitimate trade. Look at Sir Cornelius Smith-Jones.
Mr. Pell had looked. He had received just the right information on the subject of the deceased merchant, and he was not inclined to follow in the footsteps of the dear departed. As to the proposition of "legitimate" trade, it was foreign to Mr. Pell's instincts and traditions. He was a commercial pirate. His instincts were to raid. He cared nothing for the stability of trade. At the head of an established business he knew he would be a failure, and with that knowledge he had no intention of trying.
Yet something had to be done. Three months of Society had cost Mr. Pell a year's income. He felt sore. Money was for the use of man, not to be squandered. Yet dare he hint of this to Mrs. Pell? The lady had strong and well defined ideas of her own. She had decided on obtaining a footing in Society, and Mr. Pell well understood the uselessness of trying to combat her determination. Mr. Pell thought deeply.
About this time, two incidents happened in quick succession. The first was that Messrs Stack & Co. acquired, at bargain prices, the balance of the Quicksands Bay Estate and made a nice little sum by the sale thereof. The second, the appearance in the columns of the Advertiser of a very ordinary advertisement:—
Society ladies are reminded that any temporary embarrassment can be alleviated by applying to The Albion Company, Victory House, William Street, Perth.
While quite an ordinary paragraph and regarded as the offspring of the brain of some financial agent, it was worded in a manner that attracted the attention of many. Even in so small a community as Western Australia, there are a number of people who aspire to be counted in with society. This ambition is expensive and many a comfortable income will not stand the strain.
Society is a microbe that has not yet been located by scientists. There are many microbes and germs that scientists tell us are so small that there is but little hope of locating them with the present instruments. Perhaps it is that the Society germ is one of these. Certain it is that, up to the present, our very conservative scientists have pooh-poohed the idea of a Society germ. Those who have been attacked by the disease know better.
Certainly the success of The Albion Company was phenomenal. Callers were interviewed by a clerk who appeared to have no knowledge of the State, or any relations on earth. He acknowledged to the inquisitive Mr. Smithers, of the Advertiser, that he had been imported from the East. When questioned as to his antecedents he cheerfully declared that his employer did not like him to have any such things about the place, As to his knowledge of his employer, it was most fragmentary. That gentleman's name was Mr. Duke, he paid a good salary, and was not to be seen by appointment, or otherwise. Temporarily embarrassed Society people were asked to write their requirements.
The mail of the Albion Company was large. The knowledge of the mythical Mr. Duke was still larger. He seemed to have an intimate acquaintance with the private history and banking account of everybody who was worth knowing. His knowledge as to the reimbursement he desired from the temporarily embarrassed, was the largest of all.
Prominent ladies of the State soon found that if they were modest in their demands, as to assistance and terms, they had but little difficulty in securing the assistance they required. They followed the rules laid down for them. They wrote their requirements, fully. A few days after, a carefully designed and un-business-like promissory note and a post-dated cheque came to hand. It was surely a most unbusinesslike proceeding. Yet one lady, who kept the cheque, and forgot to sign the elegant note wished afterwards that she had a better memory.
Mr. Smithers and the Advertiser were bitterly opposed to the Albion Company. In the first place, Mr. Smithers did not get anything out of the matter—not even news. One day he tackled Mr. Pell on the Terrace and accused him of being the man behind the scenes at the Albion Company. Mr. Pell was astonished. All his money was invested in good mortgages on house property. Besides, now his wife was a Society dame, business, especially of the "Albion" type, was low. Mr. Smithers professed to be satisfied, and wrote a slashing attack on the Albion Company and Mr. Pell, unwarrantedly connecting the two. Mr. Pell consulted his solicitors. The Advertiser apologised and reprimanded Mr. Smithers. Mr. Smithers felt very sore.
The gentleman who presides over the Local Court of Perth, finds that a considerable portion of his time is taken up in deciding between those who give assistance, and those who require it. In the preliminary stages of the business, there appears to be a willingness on both sides to come to a mutual arrangement. This is followed by a breach of understanding and finally, when matters reach the Local Court Magistrate, it is hard to understand how on earth the parties ever managed to agree in the first principles. Yet in the whole history of the Albion Company, there is no record of any instance when the legal luminaries were ever troubled with its or its client's affairs.
A glance at the carefully guarded books of the Albion Company would have revealed the name of Lady Smith-Jones as a prominent patron of the firm. In fact, Mr. Duke, who appears to know the inner history of most of his clients, professed ignorance of the manner in which this lady conducted her operations. At the first she had borrowed a small sum from the Company. It had been repaid promptly, and further sums borrowed in larger amounts. Several well-known names, all ladies, appeared on the backs of the dainty 'promises' and one day Mr. Duke found one endorsed "Charity Pell."
Now Mr. Duke did not run off to interview Mr. Peter Pell. It was not the policy of the Company to do anything so obvious, but the sleek and able clerk received instructions to discover the financial standing of Charity Pell's' husband, and also for what reason Charity Pell should accommodate Lady Smith-Jones. The report slip was pinned to the "promise" and read:
Bridge is a good game. Auction Bridge claims to be a better. Auction Bridge intermarried in the Nap Poker-Solo family and the offspring was named "Pirate." It is a name that has a certain amount of truth attached to it. It is a mechanical absorber.
Ladies who are fond of card playing have a peculiar code of honour. To their opponents they play the usual game, but in the privacy of the nuptial chamber they play with their husbands, as unwilling opponents, the old game of "Heads I win, tails you pay." Mrs. Pell had developed a genius in this game, until one day Mr. Pell definitely refused to play or pay. Mrs. Pell wept. Lady Smith-Jones talked. Mr. Duke wrote letters.
Financial experts tell us there is but a limited quantity of gold in circulation. In this time of war and stress, husbands have found that this limitation is more stringent than they supposed. They have passed on this knowledge to their families, and have been named for selfish savages. Certainly when Pirate Bridge lends a hand, in this time of stress, the financial limitation of gold is certain to become very acute. Other ladies than Mrs. Pell found that the matrimonial noose would not tighten sufficiently and Lady Smith-Jones found herself the sole possessor of a quantity of daintily perfumed, perfectly matured, promises on emaciated banking accounts. Mr. Duke was insistent.
One morning early, a closely veiled lady took the lift in Victory House to the second floor. Waiting until the lift had descended again she entered the office of the Albion Company and asked for Mr. Duke. The clerk returned the stereotyped answer: "Mr. Duke was not at the office." The Lady professed a willingness to wait, and was shown into the waiting room.
In the business of the Albion Company it had been found futile to discourage, by word of mouth, the decision of the callers to wait until Mr. Duke came in. It was a hobby. The Company did not discourage hobbies. For this hobby it set apart a handsome waiting room and made bets with itself on the individual patience of callers. No one, so far, had waited until Mr. Duke appeared.
There was no other waiter in the room, and the lady, with a sigh of relief, threw back the veil and revealed the countenance of Lady Smith-Jones.
It was a long wait. Luncheon hour passed and the lady longed greatly for a cup of tea. At five o'clock she was still there, grim and determined. The clerk ventured to suggest that Mr. Duke might not call that day, and he wished to lock up and go home. Lady Smith-Jones gave him permission to lock up. She would be locked up too. The clerk retired and held a conversation on the telephone.
Half an hour passed. Then the door opened quietly and a gentleman entered. Lady Smith-Jones caught for her veil but was not quick enough.
The lady recovered her self-possession.
"Then you are—"
"Mr. Duke." Mr. Pell finished the sentence with a bow. He appeared to be entirely at ease.
"Then I need not worry over my little notes."
Lady Smith-Jones tried to pass off the matter easily.
"I think, my dear lady, there is every reason why you should worry."
"Do you think so?" Lady Smith-Jones was beaming sweetly at Mr. Pell. "I am sure you and I will never quarrel."
"Never, dear lady," echoed Mr. Pell. "If you will give up your private Pirate Bridge parties."
"And it cost me so much time to learn the horrid game," sighed the lady.
"I find it so expensive," murmured Mr. Pell looking at the corner of the ceiling.
"Is your objection personal, Mr. Pell?" The lady was considering the pattern of the carpet.
"Purely personal," echoed Mr. Pell.
"I think that difficulty can be overcome."
"I trust so."
There was a pause and then two pairs of eyes found each other. "And you a Society gentleman. Oh fie, Mr. Pell."
"One must have some occupation."
"A profitable occupation. It is profitable, Mr. Pell?"
"Fairly well." Mr. Pell threw out his chest when he thought of the difference the Albion Company had made in his banking account. "Enough for two?"
"I said 'enough for two.'" The lady was bending forward across the table, smiling gently.
"I'm afraid not." Mr. Pell was very emphatic.
"I am so sorry." The voice of Lady Smith-Jones had fallen almost to a whisper. "It would be a terrible exposure. Quite a tit-bit for the Advertiser."
Mr. Pell looked for the door of the trap and found it had closed very suddenly. He looked at the lady. She was smiling confidently.
"I must look into the matter!"
"I am so glad you take it like that, my dear Mr. Pell." She rose from her seat and extended her hand. "Good-bye partner. I am sure we shall get along so comfortably together."
Limply Mr. Pell took her hand. She pressed it gently and moved towards the door. There she hesitated.
"And what are the office hours, partner?"
Then the door closed, leaving Mr. Pell alone in the waiting room.
"PETER!" Mrs. Pell's voice held a note of shocked warning. Mr. Pell looked up amazedly. "Mind the butter. Don't you know there is a shortage?"
Mr. Pell slowly replaced the large slice of butter on the dish. Then he reached for the sugar.
"There is no stock of sugar in the State," warned Mrs. Pell, ominously. The lid of the sugar-bowl became suddenly hot in Mr. Pell's fingers.
"Is it permitted a man may have breakfast in war time?" Mr. Pell strove to be sarcastic.
"You talk as if everything was my fault!" Mrs. Pell became tearful. "I'm sure I don't want to stint you, but when I am to get more supplies I don't know."
"If it's a question of money?" commenced Mr. Pell.
"Money!" the interruption was tinged with scorn. "That's all a man knows. Why, I paid the grocer nearly £50 for supplies yesterday and he would only let me have a quarter of a pound of butter, half a pound of sugar, and a pound of tea."
Mr. Pell grunted.
"And he told me to be careful as he could not promise when he could let me have any more."
"I shall have to talk to that man," remarked Mr. Pell majestically.
"What will be the good of that? He's not frightened of you. It's all because of those horrid strikes in the East. There's lots of sugar there—and butter too."
Mr. Pell considered the situation carefully.
"And it's all your fault, too." Womanlike she made the grand attack on the nearest male. "You think you rule the country, but you don't."
"My dear Charity—"
"Don't Charity me!" Mrs. Pell was now on safer ground, that of household supplies. "It's the fault of those men strikers. And they're all Germans, too."
"What have the Germans to do with it?"
"Of course they have all to do with it. If we women had been running the country when war started there would have been no strikes—no nothing!"
"I am afraid you have been misinformed," commenced Mr. Pell. He got no further; ladies have an unconquerable objection to a two-sided argument.
"I saw it in the newspaper so it must be so. The strikes are caused by German spies who are determined to starve us, and I won't starve."
Mr. Pell reached for his hat. The argument had reached the stage where tears are brought in to turn defeat into rout. It is unpleasant to go to town in a damp coat.
On the ferry Mr. Pell pondered the situation. He felt there must be some truth in the facts as stated by Mrs. Pell. There was certainly a shortage of useful commodities in the State. It was equally true that in the great centres of the Eastern States there were plenty of the commodities the West lacked, waiting to be shipped. Between famine and plenty there stood the strikers.
The daily press of the world had, for the past three years, been exposing the machinations of the brutal Hun. Leisured consideration—and there is plenty of time for leisured consideration on the State Ferry Service—convinced Mr. Pell that the shortage on his breakfast table had been directly due to His Majesty the Emperor of Germany. Something must be done.
During the day, Mr. Pell made many enquiries on the Terrace on the subject of the German spy system. Most Western Australians, when in doubt, go to the Terrace for information. No other country in the world possesses a Terrace of the same peculiar properties; and it is possible that in no other country would such a place be allowed. It is the Mecca of information. It contains, in its varied humanity, representatives of all the businesses of the State. On the Terrace are to be found farmers and stockmen who have never seen a farm or a head of live cattle in their lives. There you can buy anything you don't want and sell what you have not got. There you can obtain the latest news of the war and of the great centres of the world. There you will find the chief newspapers of the State, ready to contradict every rumour and set up no counter news in their place. It is chiefly populated by men who appear to have no business and to do well out of nothing.
Mr. Peter Pell was well known on the Terrace. He had at one time been one of the mysterious persons who reaped where they had not sown. Now, in the days of his prosperity, he returned to the fold at intervals to learn the wisdom of commerce, alas, purely as an outsider. Yet, as of the freemasonry, he was not denied the information he desired.
"My dear man," exclaimed Mr. Smithers, "did you not read my articles on the German Menace to Western Australia? You would have found there all the information you desired."
"Are they very long?" cautiously enquired Mr. Pell. He knew the Australian journalist by much suffering.
"About one hundred columns of our paper, dear boy. I'm thinking of publishing them in book form."
"I won't wait for that," said Mr. Pell hurriedly. "Can you give me the gist of them in tabloid form?"
Only the fear of the law compels men not to talk of their own works. In this case, Mr. Smithers had the audience he longed for. It was a chance to glorify Journalist Smithers with much liquid refreshment and perchance a loan. Carefully he piloted Mr. Pell to a secluded corner of the Palace bar and unfolded his tale.
In the course of half an hour Mr. Pell learned a lot about the doings of "Brother Hun" in Western Australia, and a little of the liquid absorbing powers of a journalist. It was cheap information for the pound note loan that was duly extracted.
Leaving Mr. Smithers in the bar, Mr. Pell sought out Mr. Stack. That gentleman, controlling the destinies of one of the biggest Land and Estate Agencies, was a mine of information. He welcomed Mr. Pell enthusiastically, for the accolade of Society erases many unwelcome memories.
"The German menace in Western Australia is very real, Mr. Pell," commenced Mr. Stack in his best oratorical manner. "I have given much thought to the matter. In my business I have many unique opportunities to examine the problem."
"Come to lunch and let's talk," said Mr. Pell.
Mr. Stack reached for his hat without a word. Mr. Pell was noted for his gastronomic entertainments.
After the first wants of nature had been satisfied Mr. Stack proceeded to supply Mr. Pell with facts and figures. For the first time Mr. Pell realised that he had been living on the hidden crater of a volcano; that the Germans owned Western Australia and a goodly part of the other States; that German money had throttled the trade of the Commonwealth; that German emissaries were in the Government service; that Germans owned the land, the trade, the people, and the Government. It was the cruel and bitter truth, bluntly told.
"You may not realise it, Mr. Pell," concluded Mr. Stack, "but what I have told you are simple facts. Even in this room," and he gazed cautiously around him, "we are probably surrounded by spies of the German Empire. Look across there," and he pointed to a far table. "You see that young man. He is a German spy. It was he who obtained the plans of the Applecross Wireless Station, the plans of the Mundaring Weir, and the plans of the Goldfields Water Supply System and sent them to Germany."
"Why don't they arrest him?" enquired Mr. Pell.
"Because, while he is of German extraction, he was born in Australia. It is our laws that are at fault. We don't say, as we should, "Once a German, always a German." No, we declare the son of a German born on Australian soil to be an Australian."
"What do the Germans say?" Mr. Pell thought this a good question.
"There you have hit the nail on the head, if I may be allowed to use so vulgar an expression," triumphantly exclaimed Mr. Stack. "The Germans say "Once a German, always a German," and they act up to it."
The young man across the room rose from the table and walked to the door. Mr. Pell felt the warm blood racing through his veins. Here was an enemy of his country. Here was one of the men who had shackled the Briton's breakfast table. Surely it was his duty to act.
"Why has he never been interned?" he whispered hurriedly to Mr. Stack.
"Because he is first of Australian birth, and secondly he has never been caught."
"Then I will catch him," exclaimed Mr. Pell fiercely. He grabbed his hat and, leaving Mr. Stack to settle for the lunch, followed his prey out of the restaurant.
The spy appeared to have little to do that day. Strolling along Hay Street he carefully examined the shop windows and after a time turned into the Palladium Picture Palace. There Mr. Pell followed him and found a seat where he could keep an eye on him and also enjoy the entertainment. After the pictures the spy walked quickly to Murray Street and ascended in the lift to Boan's Roof Garden for afternoon tea.
It was a prosaic afternoon and Mr. Pell began to wonder if his friend, Mr. Stack, had not been mistaken. It was also a warm afternoon and Mr. Pell thought regretfully of his club and the cool drinks to be obtained there. Tea was not a favourite drink with him and the young lady in the tea room had looked scandalised when he had suggested that if she looked far enough a more palatable drink than tea might be found. Yet still the fires of patriotism burned fierce. Whatever the discomfort this spy must be traced and denounced.
The early hours of the evening were passed in an idle inspection of the streets of Perth. The spy was an indefatigable walker, Mr. Pell was not. Another picture show gave the tracker a short interval for relaxation, and then matters began to improve. Leaving Perth the spy walked quickly westwards. At the top of Hay Street West hill, he turned into Thomas Street, walking towards the Park. It was fairly dark and Mr. Pell had some difficulty in preserving the average between seeing and secrecy. At the corner of King's Park and Thomas Street the spy stopped. A few moments and a powerful motor car came from Subiaco and stopped at the corner. The spy walked to the car and spoke to the driver. A few moments conversation and he entered the car, which drove, off leaving Mr. Pell stranded.
This part of Thomas Street is a lonely country lane. There are a few houses standing in ample gardens, but no shops and, at that time of the night, but little traffic. To hire a motor here was impossible. The main street was some quarter of a mile away, and it was improbable that a motor car would be procurable there. Still, Mr. Pell resolved to chance it. The ardour of the chase was in his blood. He was determined not to lose the spy until he had evidence of his guilt. Visions of a court martial, a firing squad, a dead German spy, and the thanks of the Government, flitted across his mind. Determination would bring success and success meant his elevation to the pedestal of a popular hero.
It has been said that Mr. Pell was not built for violent exercise. It is therefore to his credit that he travelled the intervening space, to the main road, in record time. There, he found his luck had not deserted him. A public car was loitering along the street. Hailing it, Mr. Pell sank wearily on the cushions.
It was a simple question, but it might have been the riddle of the Sphinx for all the answer Mr. Pell could supply. He had seen his prey drive off in a motor car, and the impulse had been to obtain, as quickly as possible, a similar vehicle. He had not heard the spy give any directions to the driver of the car. But was a patriot to be hampered by such trifles? The first thing was to get on the track again.
"Drive down Thomas Street to King's Park Road corner and pull up on the left hand near corner."
Simple as the answer was it showed the trained brain of the commercial magnate. He would not foul the trail by crossing it with his own. He would get on the very spot the other car had started from while the scent lay in its virgin purity. Then he would act.
The car pulled up with a jerk. Mr. Pell jumped out and told the driver to descend and follow him. He crossed the road to where the other car had halted and bent to examine the ground. There was the mark of the tyres of the spy's car.
"You see those marks," said Mr. Pell in a hoarse whisper. "What car made them?"
"Blimey," said the man, "you ain't askin' nothin'. If its the make of tyre yer want its a Firestone."
"Then follow it!"
"Hey? I aint no bloomin' Sherlock 'olmes. Say, wots the game, mister?"
"It's a German spy," explained Mr. Pell rapidly. "There are the tracks of his car. Follow them!"
"Well!" The man took off his cap and scratched his head. "I aint sayin' I've hany time for the blanky Germans, but business is business and if yer up to paying the piper, I'm on."
"Go ahead!" Mr. Pell felt he had gained a recruit in the great game.
Mr. Pell's knowledge of motor cars was not profound. It had been chiefly obtained by the hire of a car at infrequent intervals to impress some business acquaintance. Thus it was that when the driver frequently stopped and descended to examine the road, Mr. Pell felt matters were running smoothly and that soon he would again sight his quarry.
Passing swiftly through Rokeby Road, the car ran through some by-streets into the riverside road to Peppermint Grove. At the Grove the driver turned into Leake Street, and crossing the railway ran up to Cottesloe. At the Pier end there was no signs of the quarry and the driver pulled up and awaited orders.
"Are you certain he passed this way?" asked Mr. Pell.
"Certain? Sure." The man was emphatic.
"Then we've lost him." Mr. Pell felt his energy had been wasted. Had he bungled in any way. No, he felt he had conducted himself in the best private detective manner. It had been a piece of ill-luck. Would he have another chance?
"Yer ain't going to chuck it, mister?" enquired the driver, who felt he had a good thing on.
"What can I do?"
"We might have a run around and see if we can pick him up again."
Mr. Pell assented. There might yet be hope.
They made a futile search through Cottesloe Beach and North Fremantle. There was no car in that neighbourhood in any way resembling that at Thomas Street. Then with waning hope Mr. Pell directed the driver to turn and run towards North Beach.
"It strikes me I've' gone dotty," reproachfully confessed the driver. "If I'd given my thinkin' box a try I'd have known it was North Beach way he would have turned."
Mr. Pell did not like to say that if the apparatus named had been tried a few miles earlier, his goods might have been saved considerably.
Passing Osborne, the driver pulled up abruptly and descended. A short examination of the ground and he returned to the car and swung the headlights on to a certain part of the road. Descending again, this time accompanied by Mr. Pell, be made a further examination.
"Blow me tight, guv'nor. We've done the trick. This 'ere's the same identical car mark yer pointed out at Suby."
Mr. Pell grew excited.
"Drive on! Catch him and I'll give you ten pounds!"
Surmounting a dip in the cliff, the driver pointed out a small light in the distance. It looked like a powerful search light streaming out to sea, and it appeared to come from a small rise about a quarter of a mile ahead. Seeing it, the driver stopped his engine and put out his headlights.
"It's them, sure enough guv'nor. Look at the way it's dancing. Sure, yer ought to have the Victoria Cross!"
Cautiously he let in the engine and slowly they crawled on in the dark towards the slender beam of light. It was behaving in a most peculiar manner; First it appeared to flash on the clouds and then on the sea. Then it swung to right and left. At times it disappeared altogether.
"It's some code they're usin'," affirmed the driver. "Do yer understand the Morse code, mister? If so, you'll read it easy."
Mr. Pell confessed he did not know any signalling code.
"It's a pity," said the driver "I'd like to 'ave known what the blighters were a-sayin' of."
The spy's car was just over the crest of the hill. Out of sight Mr. Pell's driver stopped the car and Mr. Pell alighted. Using the most extreme caution Mr. Pell and the driver crept to the crest and looked over. A large car was drawn across the road with the headlights pointed out to sea. One had been cut out and the other, which appeared to be on a moveable bracket, was worked by a young man, who stood at the side of the car. The driver of the car was in his seat and the engines purred softly.
Mr. Pell pulled out his notebook and took down the signs, as well as he could in the dark. The performance continued for some ten minutes, and then from out of the darkness of the sea came an answering light. Thrice it shone, and then was extinguished.
"I'll be damned," observed the driver in a husky whisper in Mr. Pell's ear. "If 'e ain't got a German warship out there."
Mr. Pell silently confirmed the opinion. He could not find time to speak, for the man at the car had again started to signal.
"We'd better be goin', guv'nor," exclaimed the driver at last. "See, 'e's lit 'is other lamp and 'e'll 'ave to come this way. Let's 'ook it."
Quickly turning the car, Mr. Pell was rapidly taken towards Cottesloe. At the Ocean Beach Hotel the driver stopped.
"'E can take the lead," he explained to Mr. Pell. "Let's 'ave a drink, mister. This 'ere spy-catching is dusty work."
Mr. Pell sympathised. Warning the driver to be on the alert, he went into the hotel and returned with a large drink for the man. Just then the other car drove up and stopped. The young man descended and entered the hotel bar. Mr. Pell followed him, and the driver followed Mr. Pell.
The spy did not seem at all concerned. He spent a few minutes conversing with the barman, then finished his drink and left the bar, closely followed by Mr. Pell. Jumping into his car he drove off, again with Mr. Pell in close attendance.
The two cars made for the Perth-Fremantle Road. The spy was in a powerful car and rapidly left Mr. Pell in the rear. There seemed every prospect that he would escape, and Mr. Pell's driver heartily cursed his machine. At Karrakatta however, Mr. Pell again sighted his prey, who seemed to have developed engine troubles. At Subiaco station the two cars were less than a hundred yards apart, and the spy was apparently heading for Perth. Just before reaching the Children's Hospital, the spy turned to the left and threading some quiet streets, drew up at a house in Queen's Drive Road. Mr. Pell took careful note of the house, and then ordered his driver to take him to the Quicksands Ferry Stage.
It had been a hard night's work, yet one that Mr. Pell was quite satisfied with. He felt that even if he could not serve his country in the field he would, and could, do good work at home. The tracking of the German spy had not been an adventurous business. The man had at no time showed that he knew he was followed, and in the pocket book of Mr. Pell was information that would certainly bring him to a retributive Court martial. Mr. Pell felt vindictive. He thought he would like to see the end of the matter. Where would the execution be and was he, as chief witness, entitled to be present? Full of plans for the future, in which spies tracked down by his cunning were condemned to lingering deaths, and the rewards he would receive for his labours, Mr. Pell fell asleep.
Early next morning Mr. Pell sat down to an attempt to decipher the flash signs he had copied down the previous night. There were not many of them, and they read:—
LLRLL RLRLR LRLLL LRRLR LLLLL RLLLL RRLRR LLLLR LRRLR LRRRL RRLLL LLLLR RLRR RRLR.
It looked a hopeless jumble, but Mr. Pell did not despair. He tried the letters several ways, but somehow they did not seem to fit into any of the rules of ciphers he had read of. Counting the 'R's' and the 'L's' he found he had 37 'L's' and only 30 'R's'! He also discovered that any amount of 'L's' and 'R's' did not make any other letters of the alphabet, whatever the combination. One peculiar thing he noticed, and that was that most of the 'L's' were at the beginning of the line and the 'R's' held the majority at the end.
At lunch time he was no further forward towards the solution of the problem. During the afternoon he had another attempt, and finally decided he would have to let someone else share the honour of exposing the German spy methods in Western Australia.
Packing up his precious notebook and his attempts at deciphering, he determined to lay the results before the police. Leaving the ferry he ran into the arms of Mr. Smithers of the Advertiser.
"What's the game?" queried Mr. Smithers abruptly.
"What do you mean?" countered Mr. Pell feeling almost guilty.
"You've got something on that distorted conscience of yours, Pell," retorted Smithers. "I can see it. Now hand it out at once."
Mr. Pell reflected. After all, the police are a jealous body. They discourage all attempts of the public to help them, and if there was anything in the cipher it was more than likely they would keep it to themselves and deprive him of the glory. He decided to trust Smithers.
"Come out of the crowd," he whispered, "and I will tell you all about it."
"Thought I could read your rotten old head," quoth Smithers, following him on to the Esplanade. "What's the game?"
In a few hurried sentences, Mr. Pell laid the matter before Mr. Smithers.
"Glory! It's a scoop!" exclaimed the journalist. "Come on to the office."
At the Advertiser office the heads of the department were called into consultation. None of them could read the cipher, but all agreed it looked most suspicious. There was a dearth of news that night, and the proprietors, who had been hastily summoned by telephone, decided to make it a "star" feature for the next day's issue.
The next morning the Advertiser revealed the whole history of the German spy methods in Western Australia to the public. It was a great article. The information supplied was exact, and hardly creditable to the authorities, who, if they, had possessed eyes, should have seen a great deal more than they had, or had Mr. Pell. Mr. Smithers, reading his article with his morning cup of tea, decided to ask for a rise. It might not all be true but it read well, and who was to know where were the facts and where was the padding. Mr. Pell, reading the article to his lady, laid special emphasis on the concluding paragraph.
"The facts we have laid before our readers show the complete ramifications of the German Spy system in this State. Why have the authorities not taken action before this to nip this treason in the bud? Why has it been left to a citizen of this noble city to expose the machinations of our foes in this land of Freedom? Credit is due to one of the most notable men of the State, in tracking down the most prominent German spy in our midst, obtaining his cipher, and handing him over to the authorities. To-day our worthy citizen, Mr. Peter Pell, is the most popular hero in the Commonwealth. In the early days of the war he volunteered his services, but was rejected owing to physical disabilities. He has made ample amends for those disabilities by the tracking down of one of the most complete spy systems that ever existed in a free and democratic country. The public calls on the Government to mark its appreciation of Mr. Pell's self-sacrifice in some signal manner."
Mr. Pell spent the day in the city and thoroughly enjoyed himself. It is a good thing to be a popular here. His hand was sore with the handshaking he had to accomplish. His head whirled with the congratulations and questions poured on him from every quarter. There was to be a public dinner in his honour by the leading business men of the State, and towards the end of the day he learned, from an admiring friend, that the Governor had determined to recommend him to the King for a knighthood.
In the eyes of Mrs. Pell his status had changed. Gradually the calls of Society had compelled that lady to somewhat neglect the husband she had won. His opinions and beliefs, once so honoured and potent, had lately bean disregarded. Now all was changed. Mr. Pell was it in the State, and it at home.
Late in the day Mr. Pell received a latter from Messrs Stack & Co. He had not seen Mr. Stack that day and he opened the letter expecting some appreciation from his friend, who held such firm opinions on the German Spy question. The letter was short.
Below is a translation of the cipher you so gallantly discovered and published in this morning's Advertiser. You somehow started in the middle. Thanks for the advertisement,
uicksand's Bay Estate Now Buy Q.
What did it mean?
Slowly the truth filtered through the fog of words. "Buy Quicksand's Bay Estate Now!"
P.S.—The warship's searchlight was probably the light-house at Rottnest—S.
A DISTINCT coolness existed between Mr. Peter Pell and Mr. Smithers of the Advertiser.
"You sold us badly, Pell," said Mr. Smithers severely.
"You got your ad. and a lot of good may it do you." Mr. Pell tried to explain, but the journalist would not listen. It is one matter to serve the motherland in the detection and exposure of the German spy system, and it is quite another to assist in the free advertisement of a Land Agency. That the public in general was not taken into the confidence of the parties in this argument was entirely due to the native modesty of the Advertiser.
A newspaper has a great dislike to contradicting news it has published. Writers who have never had the privilege of working for a newspaper have wasted a considerable amount of paper and ink on tales of rival newspaper endeavouring to best each other. It is a fallacy. There are only a few competent journalists in each town, and it is not to their interests to antagonise any newspaper proprietor against them. They have a keen eye to the main chance, and any information that might seriously injure a rival newspaper is shelved. They might be on the staff of that paper one day.
Thus it was that Mr. Stack's brilliant scheme to cause the downfall of Mr. Pell and the glorification of the lots of the Quicksands Bay Estate he held, became a total failure. As far as word of mouth would carry, that gentleman told the tale against Mr. Pell. Some believed, and some did not.
Finally the affair faded into oblivion. Mr. Pell remained the popular hero, and Mr. Stack, as became the villain, tore his hair. He also, as became the same character, swore vengeance.
Throughout the tenor of this world-wide war it has been the fashion in Australia, at intervals, to declare the nation in dire peril. Then certain persons stand up and declare they are standing up to "win the war." They have not yet explained what the other chaps are doing. If they are out to assist, or to lose the war. They leave that for their opponents to decide. What they say is that the war must be won and they are the men to do it.
It has also become the practice of the unguileful electors to cheer the man who utters this illuminating phrase and to immediately demand that the polling booths be opened that they may give full vent to their feelings. The "Win the War" party are always ready to oblige. It is certainly easier to count favourable votes than to put theories into practice.
It was about three months after the episode of the German spy, and about the time that Mr. Pell was daily expecting to receive from someone in the Old Country a prepaid package enclosing a knighthood, or some such interesting memento, that the Prime Minister decided that his party must "Win the War" again.
It had been a long time since the slogan had resounded through the States. In the interim there had been a strike of some magnitude with the usual party recriminations of "bully" and "traitor," and, unfortunately, the other party had had the cry of "bully."
Australians, as a body, are rather easily led by a sounding party cry, and when that cry expresses the opinion of anything affecting democracy, as the Australians understand it, it is apt to grow in favour. Therefore the necessity of bringing forward the well worn "Win the War" shibboleth.
Mr. Pell had been the warm supporter of the Prime Minister in the "Win the War" policy. He ardently desired that the war should be won. The Prime Minister and his colleagues had decided to win the war. The other party had not. That was enough for Mr. Pell. He was willing to help the "Win the War" party.
The Prime Minister declared for a General Election. It is always better to meet a sympathising electorate than an unsympathising Parliament. With the "Win the War" cry well to the fore, there is every chance of getting rid of some of the recalcitrants while, if they still exist after the polling fray, well, there is not much harm done. A few thousands of pounds have been spent, but it is good for trade, and Australia is the richest country in the world—counting heads.
Mr. Pell decided to support the Prime Minister. He also decided to contest the South Perth electorate in the Federal House of Representatives. He expressed this determination to Mrs. Pell, but the lady was not sympathetic. He repeated his determination to Mr. Smithers, who spoke emphatically, and unkindly, on the subject of the purity of Parliament. Yet Mr. Pell held to his determination and announced his candidature to the admiring electors.
For some reason or other Mr. Pell's candidature was well received locally. Quicksands Bay was solidly in his favour. He had made that rising suburb from a wilderness of bush. Was it not likely that if he was returned to Parliament he would continue that work. Quicksands Bay desired a railway. It required a better ferry service. It required half a hundred things that no other suburb ever thought of possessing. Mr. Pell, in moments of confidence, promised everything.
At this time the Commonwealth Parliament and the State Parliament were at variance. The Commonwealth had built a railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. The State had promised that if that railway was built it would continue the line to the ocean at Fremantle. That promise the State now declined to perform, on the flimsy pretext that it had no funds. Thus it happened that that deluded passenger from Sydney to Fremantle had to change carriages a number of times. Some authorities said thrice, some more. Anyhow there were changes, whatever the number, and to be shunted out of a comfortable carriage at some unearthly hour, to find a problematical train to continue the journey in, is not interesting.
It had been the intention of the State, when the East to West railway existed only on paper, to continue the railway to Fremantle on the south side of the Swan. This would have created a new Perth on the south side of the river and, incidentally, hit many vested interests on the north side.
While the railway was building, the State talked about widening the existing Kalgoorlie line. This pleased the Perthites and roused the South Perthites to frenzy. Mr. Pell, contesting the South Perth seat, declared for the South Swan route to Fremantle. This brought adherents from the Canning and South Perth districts.
Before Mr. Pell held his first public meeting he was a strong favourite for the seat. Mrs. Pell decided she had some time to spare from her social engagements to conduct the proceedings of the Ladies' Committees. Mr. Stack, who had lately come to live at Quicksands Bay, openly stated that he preferred Mr. Pell, the "Win the War" candidate, to the opposition candidate, who declined to say more than if the war was to wait until the Prime Minister, assisted by Mr. Pell, won it, the end of the world might happen first.
The Advertiser was in a parlous position. As the leading "Win the War" newspaper of the State it had to uphold the candidature of Mr. Pell, but it did not like it. At first it held severely aloof. Then, when Mr. Pell, in one day, received the accolade of the "Win the War" party as their official candidate, and an autograph letter from the Prime Minister recommending him to the electors, they had to recognise an unpleasant fact. They accepted Mr. Pell.
Up to the date of the closing of nominations it looked as though there was to be a straight issue in the electorate between Mr. Pell as the "Win the War" candidate, and his official opponent. Then, at the last minute, appeared a dark horse. Mr. Bathers of the "Down with the Germans" party nominated. The newcomer was likely to cost Mr. Pell many votes. There is something very alluring in a new and unknown quality. Nobody knew much of the "Down with the Germans" party. It had a programme, but nobody, least of all Mr. Bathers, seemed to know much about it.
At his first political meeting he spoke of a great number of things: of the shortage of luxuries and the evil of protection and, most of all, of the drink question. In fact many unwary persons went from that meeting under the impression that Mr. Bathers and his party were going to "Down with the Germans" by prohibiting the sale of Australian lager beer throughout the Commonwealth. Yet Mr. Bathers won support, and as his star ascended, so did that of Mr. Pell descend.
Mr. Pell held a meeting of supporters. It was a gorgeous feed, and the liquor would have made Mr. Bathers' hair stand on end. Towards the close of the meeting many of Mr. Pell's supporters were not quite clear on the subject of the meeting. A few of the more advanced thought that it had been decided to drown Mr. Bathers in Mr. Pell's whisky, and were duly doubtful if the requisite quantity could be spared. Mr. Stack led the chorus in proclaiming that Mr. Pell was "a jolly good fellow" and Mr. Pell replied by returning thanks for his election from the front door step.
Meeting Mr. Pell on the ferry the next morning Mr. Stack hoped he had got home all right on the previous night, and then said "Quite well, thank you." It was a most successful meeting.
Mature reflection caused Messrs Pell and Stack to declare that something must be done immediately. Until they reached the Perth landing stage they left it at that. Neither felt in the mood to proceed further with the subject. On the stage they found Mr. Smithers waiting. He greeted the twain sourly.
"Something will have to be done, Pell," he declared bitterly. "That man, Bathers, is running away from you."
"Just what I said to Pell," declared Stack emphatically. "Didn't I, Pell."
"We'll have to put our heads together," said Pell. Mr. Stack dissented. He said his head was not in a condition to be placed in close proximity with anything that morning.
"The trouble is," said Mr. Smithers fiercely, "you chaps want a drink." Mr. Smithers had no hesitation in giving the prescription. As a working journalist of the leading newspaper of the State, he never bought drinks on principle.
"You're going to lose this election, Pell," pronounced Mr. Smithers, sampling the liquor before him.
"Just what I said this morning," agreed Mr. Stack.
"I'm afraid so," responded Mr. Pell, clearing a right-of-way with a lone whisky and soda. "Fill up these glasses again please, Miss."
Mr. Smithers looked from one to the other with envy. "You chaps must have had a giddy night out."
"I thought we should win last night," continued Mr. Pell.
"Just what I said last night," agreed Mr. Stack.
"We had better have a Committee meeting tonight at your house," suggested Mr. Smithers.
"No!" Mr. Pell was emphatic. "I don't believe in them two nights running. Besides Mrs. Pell objects to the noise."
"Then you'll have think of something, Pell," said Mr. Smithers. "The chief is hot on your winning now we have backed you. Do you hear? You've got to win."
"I told him that last night and again this morning," agreed Mr. Stack, weakly beckoning to the young lady on the other side of the counter. Mr. Smithers waited until the bottles had completed their work and had been replaced on the shelf.
"It comes to this, Pell," he remarked. "You're an old hand at the bluff game. I'm not going to deny it. You've taken us in and you've taken in Stack here. Now you've got to put up a joke that'll take in the electors."
"Just what I said this—"
"Oh, shut up, Stack, you're drunk," retorted Smithers rudely.
"Just what I said to Pell this morning," agreed Mr. Stack, looking at a row of decanters through the bottom of his glass.
Taking Mr. Pell by the arm Mr. Smithers steered him out into the street leaving Mr. Stack in the bar.
"You've got both the blanky papers in the town on your side in this election. That should count for something," Mr. Smithers explained. "But it won't count for much if you're going to get drunk every night of the campaign. Pull yourself together, Pell, and think—think—think!"
Mr. Pell thought. For some moments he thought. Then he wondered why the top of Viking House would insist on bowing to him. He took off his hat gravely and returned the salutation. The building bowed again and Mr. Pell again reciprocated.
"When you've done with that girl," observed Mr. Smithers bitterly, "we'll get back to business."
"It wasn't a girl," said Mr. Pell. "It was a house."
Mr. Smithers looked grave. "Here, come along to the chemist."
"No, wait!" commanded Mr. Pell. "I've thought of something."
Steering unsteadily into a quiet corner Mr. Pell whispered in Mr. Smithers' ear. That gentleman dissented vigorously, but Mr. Pell insisted.
"It might work," said Mr. Smithers at length, reluctantly. "But Lor', the risk."
"Just you go back and hang on to old Stack for the time," commanded Mr. Pell. "I'll go to the Club and sleep off some of this. Meet you in a couple of hours."
Steering carefully towards the third person singular whenever he met anyone, Mr. Pell proceeded down the Terrace towards his Club. Mr. Smithers looked after him jealously and then went back to Mr. Stack. He found that gentleman trying to sell to the bar belle a Quicksands Bay lot for love on the instalment plan.
Half an hour later Mr. Pell left the lavatory of the Club with the bald spot on the top of his head shining ruddily, and proceeded to the telephone. He had a short conversation with Lady Smith-Jones that appeared to result satisfactorily. Punctual to time Mr. Smithers entered the Club.
Contrasted with Mr. Pell's happy face, he did not appear to be in the best of spirits.
"Well?" said Mr. Pell.
"It isn't well," replied Mr. Smithers vigorously. "That fool Stack is still carrying on in the hotel. He told me to go to—eh—"
"Certainly," agreed Mr. Pell amiably. "I should have done the same myself a while ago."
"Then why did you send me back to him?" Mr. Smithers was perplexed.
"Perhaps it was to keep you out of mischief," replied Mr. Pell. "Do you know I have lost all faith in Election Committees."
"You didn't appear to think that last night."
"Quite so." Mr. Pell smiled reminiscently. "It was a great evening. Stack told me I returned thanks for my election from my front doorstep."
"You won't have a doorstep to return thanks from, if you don't win this election. What the Hades Hughes was thinking of to give you the official recognition is more than I can understand."
"Don't grouse, Smithers," Mr. Pell smiled genially, as he took the arm of the journalist and led him out to the Terrace.
"Where are we going to?"
"To see a few friends of Mr. Bathers."
It was a busy morning and Mr. Smithers felt be deserved the drink Mr. Pell finished the business with. He had not understood much of what he had heard. Most of the references had been complimentary in the extreme to Mr. Bathers, yet most of the interviews had been with persons unable to vote in the electorate. At intervals he had questioned his guide but had received only ambiguous replies.
Returning to the Club Mr. Pell wrote a few letters and then dictated a short statement to Mr. Smithers that left that gentleman in a greater maze than before. He expostulated but Mr. Pell would have none of it. In the plainest language he intimated to Mr. Smithers that it was his election and he would run it as he jolly well liked and that that eminent journalist was to do as he was told.
The Advertiser the following morning contained a paragraph to the effect that Mr. Pell had approached Mr. Bathers with the proposal that they should combine their forces for the overthrow of the Official Labor Candidate. In the electorate this news was received with the greatest enthusiasm, except among the supporters of the Labor man. Those gentlemen felt that the ground had been unfairly cut from under their feet. Before midday, large posters appeared on all the hoardings announcing that, on the following night, Messrs Pell and Bathers would hold their grand combined final rally in the Quicksands Bay Agricultural Hall, recently presented to the district by Mr. Pell. There the two speakers were to complete the undoing of the Labor Candidate.
Interest as to the result of the meeting was intense and the audience promised to be a record one for any political meeting in Australia. Mr. Stack was advertised to take the chair. There were some unkind persons in and out of the electorate who begged the question by asking what result the combined meeting was expected to attain. They drew attention to the fact that the electorate could only return one member and if Messers Pell and Bathers annihilated their Labor opponent they would then have not decided the issue between themselves. Some of these politicians were Pellites and some were Batherites.
Although the leaders had agreed to combine, it was most evident that their followers had agreed to continue to differ. It has been said that it is the habit of Australians to fight their political battles with their coats off. Even Americans, who are known the wide world over as a most politically enthusiastic race, cannot impart into the bloodless fray more vim than Australians. But with Australians it is not a question of vim. They have to take off their coats, as their leaders insist on the elections being held in the hot weather season. It makes electioneering so much more strenuous.
There can be no doubt but that Mr. Pell quite outshone his political opponent at the Grand Rally. In the first place he was a much more imposing platform figure. Mr. Bathers was quite a small man, and wore glasses of the famous literary type—big, round and peering. His shoulders were rounded and he had a high and squeaky voice.
In a comparison of speeches Mr. Pell had no advantage, while he spread himself over many phrases of Social life. He roused his audience to wrath and enthusiasm on the shortcomings of the Commonwealth Government and its neglect of Western Australian needs. He promised if he was elected he would see that the State Government toed the line in reference to the Ferry Service. He declared for a Southern Swan expansion of the Transcontinental Railway. If the State would not do its duty in this respect then he, the speaker, would see that the Commonwealth Government built the line.
Mr. Bathers confined his speech to one subject only. He was eloquent on the subject of drink. He would shut all the public houses. He would turn the breweries into homes for inebriates. The curse of drink must be banished from the State.
It cannot but be acknowledged that Mr. Bathers made the most popular speech. He was cheered to the echo when he sat down. The evils of the drink traffic is most popular with a West Australian audience. A speaker who can harrow the feelings of his audience by depicting the evils resulting from a too constant attention to the goods of "Mr. Host" is sure of a close attention and a most enthusiastic welcome. Yet in Western Australia there is little doubt that a vast majority of the inhabitants would vote vigorously against Prohibition. Some of Mr. Pell's supporters were displeased that he did not deal with the drink question. At some of the previous meetings, Mr. Bathers had made considerable capital by referring to Mr. Pell as a—well shall we say, non-teetotaller. Mr. Pell had refrained from retorting, and by his action in making the first advances for combined action, to a man who had so pilloried him, had secured him much sympathy.
It was late in the evening before the candidates had finished their speeches, but none of the audience moved. There had spread a rumour that something uncommon was to happen and rumour was agog. It had gone round that Mr. Pell had proposed a solution to the two candidates one seat puzzle. After the candidates had refreshed themselves from the water bottle on the chairman's table, Mr. Stack rose to close the meeting. He referred to both candidates impartially. He thanked them in the name of the audience for the intellectual treat they had given. He referred to the disability the electors laboured under, in not being able to return to the Federal parliament both candidates. It was invidious to have to choose between so much ability, but that soulless body, who framed the Australian constitution, had not allowed for such a position. One candidate would have to be chosen and the other rejected. In most scathing terms, Mr. Stack referred to the Labor candidate. He was not a "Win the War" man. He had no policy that an Australian and an upholder of the Empire could accept. He had dared to ask the suffrage of the electors of South Perth, and, to the shame of those electors, it appeared from the canvass made that he had a considerable following.
The two gentlemen who had addressed the electors that night had decided that there should be no preferential voting. It was to be a straight fight, win or lose between the Labor candidate and the "Win the War" candidate. He, Mr. Stack, was happy to say that Mr. Bathers had adopted the "Win the War" slogan as one of his battle cries. Mr. Pell had taken that inspiring phrase as his one and only platform.
Lowering his voice impressively, Mr. Stack informed the audience that they were to have the inestimable privilege of that night deciding who was to carry the "Win the War" banner to victory. By their vote they were to retire one of the candidates. They were to choose between Mr. Pell and Mr. Bathers. If their vote that evening was given to Mr. Pell, then Mr. Bathers had pledged himself to withdraw from the poll and loyally assist Mr. Pell in "Winning the War." If, on the other hand, they decided that Mr. Bathers was the better candidate—he could not be so invidious as to say "man"—then Mr. Pell had given a similar pledge.
At the conclusion of Mr. Stack's speech both candidates bowed their pledges to the audience. Three times Mr. Stack tried to get a decision by a show of hands and failed. Then the candidates decided on a poll. Scrutineers were appointed and every person in the room handed a voting paper, generously provided, in anticipation, by Mr. Pell.
It was close upon midnight before the scrutineers finished their work and Mr. Stack declared the result:
Mr. Bathers 248
Mr. Pell 240
Majority for Mr. Bathers 8
It was noticed on his return home Mr. Pell did not look unduly depressed at his failure. He received the condolences of his friends and supporters with becoming gravity, and after quieting the lamentations of Mr. Stack, retired to the privacy of his chamber and the admonitions of Mrs. Pell.
The Advertiser made a great splash with the news the following day. On the same day appeared an interview with Mr. Pell, in which that gentleman declared that he intended loyally to abide by the decision of the meeting. He would support Mr. Bathers. On the Terrace Mr. Pell had to run the gauntlet of many inquisitive persons who thought the latest method of choosing candidates somewhat informal. Mr. Stack appeared at his office with a gloomy air and answered enquiries shortly, and with little courtesy.
"You've cooked your goose, Pell, this time," said Mr. Smithers gloomily. He was enjoying the hospitality of Mr. Pell in his club. "What induced you to get up such a silly game? You told me you were sure to win."
"And I lost." Mr. Pell did not appear unduly downcast by his defeat.
"You lost, that's a cert." Mr. Smithers was emphatic. "You know I was never very sweet on you for South Swan, but you're certainly better than that ass, Bathers."
"Perhaps I'm better out of politics," said Mr. Pell reflectively. "I don't understand the game."
"Well, I only hope you don't go back into what you call business, Pell," observed Mr. Smithers rising to his toil. "We don't want you there."
Mr. Pell was not in a hurry to place his resignation in the hands of the returning officer. He cancelled the remainder of his meetings and spoke once or twice for Mr. Bathers, adopting that gentleman's platform with enthusiasm. So greatly did he succeed as a temperance speaker, that many of Mr. Bathers supporters began to consider him as one of the shining lights of the movement and spoke of him as the probable leader when Mr. Bathers retired to represent South Swan in Melbourne.
The night before the election, Mr. Bathers announced that he would hold his final meeting at the South Perth Town Hall. With a clear field he had made considerable progress with the electorate, and it was considered by experts that he would beat his Labour opponent by at least a thousand votes. To make a good show, and partly because he found his voice had not stood the strain any too well, he requested the help of Mr. Pell.
That Gentleman gladly undertook to relieve his late opponent of the greater part of the strain and to again urge his personal supporters to vote for Mr. Bathers. During the morning Mr. Pell was extremely busy. He had several long and confidential interviews with Lady Smith-Jones. At midday he returned home, as he said, to recuperate for his evening's exertions.
Scientists tell us that there are still many forces of nature of which we have but very indifferent knowledge. Perhaps one of these forces is that commonly known as "Dame Rumour." Certainly it is, that during the afternoon of that day, rumour was busy with the name of Mr. Bathers first, there was a hint of his political stability, but no one thought seriously of that. Political stability is at a discount throughout the Commonwealth, and even Prime Ministers are not immune. Than someone started the rumour that he had left the country. A few people who had seen the candidate that day wrote vigorous denials in the evening papers. Mr. Bathers' agent went so far as to offer a reward for information leading to the conviction of the instigator of these rumours. The only effect of all the talk was to draw a very large audience to the South Perth Town Hall. Mr. Stack was to take the chair.
Punctually at eight o'clock in the evening Mr. Stack, followed by the supporters of the candidate, mounted the platform and was greeted with cheers. Mr. Pell came in for a great ovation. There was no Mr. Bathers. Mr. Stack opened the proceedings with a somewhat lengthy speech made with one eye on the side door, through which he hoped to see Mr. Bathers appear any moment. Finally when the patience of the audience was nearly exhausted, Mr. Stack was not a good speaker, he apologised for the temporary absence of the candidate and called oh Mr. Pell.
By some of the audience at that meeting it has been said that Mr. Pell made the speech of his life. He started with an exposition of the political creed of Mr. Bathers, and then at the request of the audience he branched off to the needs of the district he had made peculiarly his own. He denounced the path of both Governments. He—then he stopped.
A messenger was pushing his way through the audience towards the platform. He held in his hand a large white letter. All eyes were turned in his direction. Slowly he forged forward and placed the letter in the hands of the chairman. Mr. Stack fitted his glasses to his nose and opened the letter. The audience held its breath and waited.
Mr. Stack arose to his feet. Mr. Pell sat down.
"Gentlemen and ladies," said Mr. Stack, "Mr. Bathers has written to me a letter that is—er—astounding. It is—er—remarkable in the annals of elections in this state. It is—"
"Read it! Read it!" the cries came from all parts of the hall.
Mr. Stack smoothed the letter carefully. "Er—er—As you request I will read what Mr. Bathers has to say.—Er—
Dear Mr. Stack—I find I cannot get to the meeting tonight as arranged. I am also afraid I shall have to resign my candidature for the South Swan seat in the Federal House of Representatives. The truth is that today a petition in bankruptcy was filed against me and I am much afraid I shall be unable to compromise the matter. I am therefore placing my resignation in your hands,—Yours faithfully—J Bathers."
For some minutes the audience sat in silent wonder. Then a member of the audience arose.
"Are we to understand that Mr. Bathers cannot contest the seat."
"I—er—am afraid that is so, sir," said Mr. Stark again examining the letter. "A bankrupt cannot be a member of Parliament."
"Then as Mr. Pell has withdrawn in favour of Mr. Bathers we, the electors here assembled, are without a candidate."
"That is so—er—I'm afraid."
"Mr. Pell leaned forward and whispered to the chairman but the questioner had hot finished.
"I move that a vote of censure be passed on Mr. Bathers," he said. Mr. Stack interposed hurriedly.
"I'm afraid that would have little effect in getting us out of the difficulty we are in. I have, however, just learned from Mr. Pell that while his resignation is written it has, by an oversight, not been sent. He is therefore eligible to be our candidate."
As one man the large audience arose. Cheer after cheer threatened to lift the roof from the walls.
"Pell! Pell! The 'Win the War' Candidate, Pell!"
And he was, by a nine hundred majority.
THERE may, one day, live an Australian who will declare that he has no ambitions in the world of politics; no ambition to become a member of one of the many Parliaments of Australia. That he has not sufficient ability to conduct the affairs of a nation; that he does not aspire to lead his party to victory at the poll and, on the Government side of the House, that he does not wish to be sent to Great Britain as Agent General for his State, or the Commonwealth; that he does not covet a seat in the British House of Parliament. Such a man may yet be born of some Australian mother. So far he has not yet been discovered, and it is probable that if he makes his supreme renunciation in Western Australia he will be gently but firmly escorted to the home for the mentally afflicted at Claremont. Australians are not willing to encourage a revolutionary spirit in their country.
Mrs. Pell had aspirations. At an early opportunity she informed her husband that a house in Melbourne was a pure necessity. Mr. Pell, in the freshness of his triumph, had passed the matter by without comment, but Mrs. Pell returned to the attack. Mr. Pell bought a house at once. Six months of political life convinced Mr. Pell that if he was to realise his Parliamentary aspirations he must considerably augment his resources. He was surrounded by men who had made large fortunes and had come to the Federal centre to enjoy a good time. Mr. Pell did not like to be out of the running, and a salary as a Member of the House of Representatives was totally inadequate to meet his larger expenditure.
At no time in his commercial career had Mr. Pell been at a loss to conceive a scheme for attracting other people's money into his pocket. With the fact of the necessity of a larger income came the natural thoughts of commercial aggression. Most of these schemes, good as they would have appeared to the Mr. Peter Pell in the past, were impossible when considered by Mr. Peter Pell M.H.R. With regret they were placed on one side, with the exception of one or two which were retained for further consideration.
Australia is the happy financial ground of the parliamentarian. Many a man in the history of the nation has thrown down the pick, or released the throttle of the engine, for political activity. At the time, he naturally supposes he is to live on the parliamentary allowance given him by an grateful country. Later he blossoms out as a squatter of the largest type and others wonder how it is done.
Casting about for some scheme to augment his income Mr. Pell came in touch with wealthy philanthropists who desired to benefit him. They also desired the good of the States and Commonwealth. They never mentioned their own affairs. If pressed on the subject they claimed to be amateur politicians, with some commercial intelligence, willing to place their business ability at the service of the nation. If the members of the House would vote as instructed the Commonwealth would benefit in wealth and importance, and some of that wealth would naturally find its way into the pockets of the members who had voted so logically.
Mr. Peter Pell tested several of these propositions and rejected them immediately. He was there to do his best for the Commonwealth and he would vote for any measure that would advance the Commonwealth. But, and there was a point where Mr. Pell saw a very forcible "but," most of these schemes would benefit other persons to a great extent than they would Mr. Pell or the Commonwealth. Mr. Pell liked chestnuts, but he had a serious distaste for the role of monkey.
It was one hot January day that Mr. Pell found the opportunity he sought. With Mrs. Pell he had returned to his native state for the Christmas holidays. When a Mr. Waterman was announced, Mr. Pell groaned thinking he was in for a political interview.
Mr. Waterman was a tall distinguished man of about forty years of age. He had somewhat the look of an eagle with his high forehead and hooked nose set between piercing blue eyes. His lips were straight and close set and barely concealed by an up-brushed moustache.
"Mr. Pell," he commenced after the usual greetings, "I have come to you on a serious proposition. Are you willing to consider a large and profitable commercial adventure?"
It was not an auspicious opening and Mr. Pell's thoughts went back to the many times he had been approached in almost similar words. Something of his thoughts must have shown for his visitor hastened to continue.
"Don't mistake me, Mr. Pell. I am putting no 'boomer' to you. It is one of the straightest and most profitable propositions in the State."
"Then why come to me?" Mr. Pell considered he had cornered the man.
"Because I have watched your commercial life with some interest and consider you are the man to take my proposition up and bring it to success."
"What is it?"
"Oil and Coal."
"I don't understand minerals," remarked Mr. Pell, oblivious of his past mining deals.
"I do," replied Mr. Waterman. "You can leave that side of the business to me. I want you to get the concessions from the State, and work up the political side of the question."
"I don't believe there is oil in the State," remarked Mr. Pell. "Coal there is, but you will have to show me that you have your prospect in a place where there are facilities for quick and cheap transit."
"I can do that," said Mr. Waterman quickly. "Are you on?"
"Where do I come in?" It was a question that Mr. Pell had been considering from the beginning of the interview.
"Halves," said Mr. Waterman.
They shook hands on the deal.
It was a time of great activity for Mr. Pell. Further interviews with Mr. Waterman convinced him that that gentleman had stumbled on a good thing. Questions of shale and bitumen were settled by an interview with Mr. Waterman at his hotel. From the samples shown him, Mr. Pell became enthusiastic in the matter. Coal there was in abundance from the indications. Oil there probably was, and Mr. Pell saw visions of a new Australian Oil Company with himself as Managing Director, and the money piling up hand over fist at the bank. Perhaps he was fated to be the Australian Rockefeller, controlling the oil supply of the Southern Hemisphere, and fighting the American monopoly in the name of humanity—and his own interests.
In the matter of the concessions Mr. Pell found some trouble. To Mr. Waterman he complained of the rapacity of the State Ministers. They stated they were out to do the best for the interests of the State. They spoke of the Mining Act and the limitations therein imposed on private ownership. Mr. Pell retaliated with a glowing account of what he was willing to do for the State in the matter of coal and oil, if he were allowed to gently evade the somewhat unwieldy Mining Act.
On that he was faced with the welfare of the Ministers. They could certainly not over-ride the Act. If they did they would have the public to fight. The public stood in the way. They would want to know. And the public, each and every one potential miners, would ask inquisitive and awkward questions.
Most of these points were discussed with the Attorney-General of the State. He made it very plain to Mr. Pell that he was in sympathy with that gentleman's aims. He desired to do all he could to forward his objects. But the Minister for Mines was holidaying in the East, and he, the Attorney-General, while having full power, did not see his way to over ride the Act and his colleagues.
Mr. Pell spoke of the good to the State.
The Minister replied with a dissertation on the industries of the South—West and the damage the oil industry would do to those industries.
Mr. Pell found himself up against a wall of talk, and having in the past himself erected like barricades could only grumble and admire.
"It comes to this, Mr. Pell," concluded the Minister of the Crown, "we are not in a position to give any extended powers to private individuals."
"A syndicate would stand on a different footing?" inquired Mr. Pell.
"That I cannot discuss," said the Minister with an air of finality. "It would depend on the constitution of the Syndicate. If it were a Syndicate of prominent men; men high in political and commercial circles—we should certainly give the matter very favourable consideration."
It was a hint and as such Mr. Pell retailed it to his partner Mr. Waterman. That gentleman was not enthusiastic. He considered that there was an attempt to shoulder him out of the reward of his work. On this Mr. Pell felt quite in sympathy with him. At the present time they each held a half share and if Mr. Waterman's conclusions were correct they stood to make immense fortunes. If a Syndicate had to be formed then their shares would be worth so much less. There could be no doubt but that the State Ministers were anxious to share in the "good thing."
Further interviews with the Attorney General confirmed this suspicion. Mr. Pell suggested a Syndicate to explore for oil and coal over a large expanse of the South—West of the State. The Mining Act was to be evaded and certain Ministers were to be allowed to subscribe to the Syndicate. To this proposition there was some demur, but finally the Syndicate was formed. Mr. Waterman said a lot. Mr. Pell said little but his thoughts were in full agreement with his partner.
After they had received and allotted the shares in the Syndicate they just managed between them to retain a controlling interest. It was when the matter of the banking of the Syndicate funds came under consideration that Mr. Waterman expressed his greatest disgust. Mr. Pell found the £1,000 capital of the Syndicate and placed it in the bank. The shareholders forgot to send in their cheques.
"They'll pay some day," said Mr. Pell hopefully.
"If they don't forget," retorted Mr. Waterman glumly. "They're the meanest lot of skunks I've ever seen."
"Till then I suppose I must consider the sums as loans," continued Mr. Pell, regretfully surveying the butt of his cheque.
"Then you'd better wipe them off the ledger as bad debts," sneered Mr. Waterman, "And they call themselves politicians."
"That's exactly it," replied Mr. Pell, somewhat comforted. It is a good thing to be a Minister of State. It is good for the nation and better for the individual. There are so many ways that a sincere and honest minister can help the State in spite of Acts of Parliament.
Many people imagine that members of Parliament are paid to frame Acts, for the public welfare. If that is so, then what need is there for large and expensive Law Courts? Why do men spend arduous years training as solicitors and barristers? Why do the Governments retain large and imposing Public Offices employing large staffs of officials? No, Parliament is the Puzzle Editor of the State. It sets the problems, others have to solve them. Parliament makes an Act, and the lawyers read into that Act exactly what Parliament did not intend. Parliament makes an Act and large staffs of officials collect from the general public monies, in a manner the sage and deliberate members of Parliament never imagined these sums could be collected. It is a large and interesting game of puzzle and solve, and the odds all the way through are on the solvers—the public pay the stakes.
After the formation of the syndicate some days later, the Attorney General sent for Mr. Pell and informed him that the Government would retain to the use of the Western Australian Oil and Coal Syndicate any area of land desired; a result not unexpected by Mr. Pell, and he promptly marked off on a map the area to come under the syndicate. It was only about 500,000 square miles. This land the Government proposed to reserve from prospecting under the Mining Act and then hand over to the Syndicate under a special license.
It was a legitimate procedure under the Act, but the Legislature had certainly never considered giving such wide powers to the Government.
So far matters had progressed to Mr. Pell's entire satisfaction. He had secured for his use a considerable portion of the State, and even if the search for oil and coal proved abortive, it was more than probable that other minerals would be discovered that would pay him most generously for the outlay he proposed to make. It was now up to Mr. Waterman to get to work and develop the find. But here Mr. Waterman raised objections. For some time he hesitated and evaded questioning.
Finally he spoke. "You've given away a lot of the prospect, Mr. Pell," he said, "I don't quite see where I am to come in on the balance."
"That's easy, Waterman," said Mr. Pell, lying back in his chair. "You come in with me. We have fifty £100 shares in the Syndicate of which you are the owner of twenty-five. The others have gone in the promotion of the Syndicate."
"And the money in the bank?" queried Mr. Waterman.
"That goes to the expenses of the prospecting."
"But I want some cash."
"Then you'll have to want, Waterman," said Mr. Pell emphatically. "I'm not spending any money at present."
"But I must have money to go on with," protested Mr. Waterman. "I cannot go down in the bush without my money."
"That's the Syndicate matter," said Mr. Pell. "You'll get your pay, £85 a week, and your keep. The rest will go for the expense of boring."
"That's no good to me. I want more."
"What do you want?"
"I want £500 down and £10 a week."
Mr. Pell sat up suddenly. "I say, Waterman," he expostulated. "That's a bit thick. Why you'll mop up all the money in the Syndicate."
"Then you had better lend the Syndicate some more, Pell."
"I'm damned if I do," exploded Pell. "I'll go on without you."
Mr. Waterman laughed. "Go on without me, man," he sneered. "You would do a lot over that area," and he swept his hand over the map before them.
Mr. Pell considered for some moments. He realised that for the first time in his commercial career that he had gone into a scheme trusting entirely to his partner. He had taken up a large expanse of the state without any definite knowledge of the particular spot where Waterman expected to locate coal or oil. In fact, looking back on the information he had received from that gentleman he could not state within many miles where the proposed oil fields lay. He was fairly caught.
With a sigh he realised he would have to pay, and pay dearly.
"Look here, Waterman," he said at length, "I'll not deny you've caught me and caught me good. You've got the goods still and I've planted down my money on a tale. If I play up and smile can you deliver the goods?"
"All right then," Mr. Pell sighed again as he drew his cheque book from his pocket. "I'll treat this as a loan to the Syndicate." He drew a cheque for £500 and handed it across the table to Waterman. Then they bent over the maps while Waterman indicated the location of his finds.
"It looks good," said Pell at length. "When will you start?"
"Tomorrow, what about the tools?"
"That's all right," said Pell, "the State are lending us all we want for nixes. Good old State."
A few days later Mr. Pell returned to Melbourne to his parliamentary duties and Mr. Watermen left for Albany. For some time Mr. Pell waited in patience for results that did not come. Waterman was prolific in reports but none of them were of a definite nature. To every report was attached a letter asking for a cheque. Mr. Pell sent the cheques, this time from the balance to the credit of the Syndicate.
Mr. Pell was not happy. Waterman was a most expensive servant and the funds of the Syndicate dwindled rapidly. On the other hand frequent letters came from the members of the Syndicate asking what progress had been made. At first these enquiries were couched in a friendly tone, but as time and time went on they became more threatening and the Minister Mr. Windlass had become almost acrimonious.
Copies of the reports of Mr. Waterman did not serve to pacify him and he insisted that Mr. Pell returned to Western Australia and looked into matters personally.
Mr. Windlass apparently considered he had been defrauded, and that in spite of the fact that Mr. Pell was still awaiting a cheque from him in payment of his shares in the Syndicate. The Session was long drawn out and weary. The 'Win the War' Party had a large majority in both Federal houses and in consequence debates were conducted with dreary seriousness. There were no No Confidence motions, no verbal fireworks to enliven the working days. Mr. Pell felt bored. And there were still the abortive reports of Mr. Waterman.
Even Parliamentary sessions come to an end, and Mr. Pell hurried back to his Western home. Hardly had he arrived than he was summoned to a conference with Mr. Windlass. His reception was distinctly cool.
"I don't like it, Mr. Pell," said the Minister, "it is not in our agreement. I don't like it at all."
Mr. Pell was understood to say that he was not specially enamoured of the situation.
"I understood that this man of yours could deliver the goods at once," continued Mr. Minister, "You distinctly led me to believe so."
"Waterman told me so," replied Mr. Pell.
"He had no business to have done so." Windlass struck his desk with his hand. "It has placed me in a most awkward situation. Most awkward I assure you."
"There is no trouble about the grant?" queried Mr. Pell anxiously.
"Not at present. Not at present," confirmed the Minister, "but my colleagues are asking questions." Mr. Pell thought of the shares that had been distributed among these colleagues.
"I am afraid it may become a public question," Mr. Windlass said impressively. "If so I should have to disavow you and Waterman."
"That will be difficult." Mr. Pell could not help the rejoinder. "The Syndicate shares, you know," he explained.
"The Syndicate shares?" queried the Minister with uplifted brows. "Oh, you mean the shares my brother holds in your Syndicate. They have nothing to do with me, Mr. Pell. My brother has no political standing, and the government is not concerned with his commercial ventures."
"Had you the impression I owned any shares in your Syndicate, Mr. Pell?" queried the Minister sweetly. "I assure you I have no interest in the matter except to oblige you."
Mr. Pell felt he had misunderstood Mr. Windlass. That gentleman was much more wary than he thought.
"What do you want me to do?" he queried. "I don't want you to do anything," replied Mr. Windlass. "I warn you, however, the Government will not be able to continue the prospecting licence much longer."
"That will be rather hard on the Syndicate."
"But unavoidable," said the Minister smoothly. "I in no way wish to inconvenience you and your friends, but some information had to become public, and certain persons are using it as a lever against the Government."
"In exactly what way?"
"There is a man in Perth," continued Mr. Windlass, "who considers he has a right under the Mining Act to prospect on part of the area we have granted you. He thinks he knows where there is coal and oil to be found. We have blocked his applications up to the present, but he is getting nasty. I'm afraid there is likely to be trouble with him, and in that case—?" he shrugged his shoulders.
"In that case you would cancel my permits," completed Mr. Pell.
"I'm afraid that is so, Mr. Pell. Think the matter over and see what you can do."
With that the Minister dismissed Mr. Pell.
That gentleman left the office in a very depressed frame of mind. Waterman was still as far off a find as ever, from the appearance of his reports—and if the Government cancelled the grants it would mean that the money Mr. Pell had advanced to the Syndicate, and Waterman, would be thrown away.
It was the first time Mr. Pell had been had on a business deal, and he did not like it. Something must be done, to get out of the matter without further loss, even if there was no chance of getting his own money back again. Mr. Pell spent the evening in serious thought.
Mr. Pell's sleep that night was haunted by visions of his lost five thousand pounds. Waking he determined to wire to Waterman to return to Perth and wind up the Syndicate. It would be a dead loss, but in his position as a member of the Federal House of Parliament he could not allow a scandal unless there was some compensating advantages. He realised that the State Ministers had fully protected themselves and, if there was any public exposure of the manner in which the grant of five hundred thousand square acres of land had been made, he would have to bear the brunt. Yet if he closed the venture at once there would be a dead loss.
Could he hold on, or could be foist his share of the venture on some other person? If the latter was possible then he might be able to get back at least part of what he had now to consider a dead loss. A loss! Could not he Pell, get out without a loss? He would take a little longer for reflection.
It was a mail day and at noon Mr. Pell looked anxiously for a report from Mr. Waterman. It did not come. During the evening Mr. Pell again thought deeply. The next day there was no report from Waterman. Mr. Pell gradually came to the conclusion that be had been considerably "done" by that gentleman. And there was that five thousand pounds.
Some days later Mr. Pell received from Albany a large crate containing several handsome specimens of coal and a large jar of oil. It had been consigned from Cheyne Beach via s.s. Eucla, and an accompanying report signed by Waterman stated it was the first fruits of the prospect. A scale map enclosed indicating the ground it was desirable to acquire as a mineral lease.
Mr. Pell placed the map and report in his pocket and proceeded to the office of the Attorney General.
That gentleman received him coldly but on the production of the report and map became much more cordial. A rapid conference resulted in the necessary papers being drawn up by Mr. Pell for the Syndicate in the Attorney-General's office and forwarded to the Mines Department with a requesting that further areas be marked out so as to confine to the Syndicate all suitable ground.
Secure in the success of his venture Mr. Pell did not waste time in giving the news to the public. Mr. Smithers of the Advertiser was an interested witness of the unpacking of the crate and inspected the labels and route marks carefully.
"One never can be too careful with you, Pell," he remarked candidly. "You're quite capable of pulling a bluff across us."
It was not a large case, but with careful dressing it filled a respectable shop window in Hay Street. Later the Government analyst's report was framed and hung in the window for the information of the public.
It was a sensation. Western Australia was proclaimed to be the future oil producing country of the world, and Mr. Pell was exalted as the discoverer of the oil.
The Advertiser had a lot to say on the subject and said it with the word 'if' very prominent. The newspaper was an old antagonist of Mr. Pell and declined to declare itself in favour of any proposition of his. There might be something in the find. There might not. For the present Mr. Pell was entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Later—
Mr. Pell was requested to let the public in on the good thing. He was earnestly implored not to seek for European capital. There was capital to be had for the asking in the State, and if it was necessary to go outside the State, then our brothers and sisters in the East had the first claim. But Western Australians should have the first call.
All this Mr. Pell listened to and finally announced that the Syndicate had decided to float the company in Perth, and Western Australians would have the first right to the shares.
The flotation of "The Western Australian Oil and Coal Company Limited" was a great success. The capital was marked at half a million of which the promoting Syndicate was to be bought out for four hundred thousand pounds. It was a large sum, but the advent of more coal and oil specimens at the critical moment floated the company successfully. The promoters took their interest in shares.
Mr. Pell was satisfied. The Syndicate had merged into the Company, and with the present excitement over the find he would have no trouble in disposing of his shares. The Board of Directors was a strong one, and Mr. Pell to the disappointment of many refused to allow his name to be included. Instead he quietly obliged many friends with parcels of shares.
It was just a week after the flotation of the Company that Mr. Pell received a letter from Waterman that caused him some perplexity.
Mr. Waterman wrote that he had succeeded in locating a large bed of coal within easy reach of Cheyne Beach, it was of good quality and close to the surface. In its caloric quality it compared very favourable with the Collie coal. Of oil, the sample bottle he had sent was probably from a small flow. There did not appear to be any further signs of oil.
Mr. Pell carefully deposited the letter in the grate and applied a match to it.
"I must wire to Waterman to return at once," he murmured. "If I had known of this a week ago I would not have parted with those shares."
The letter flared up in a long dancing flame and then flickered out.
"It's a fool job dickering with engineer's reports," Mr. Pell was addressing the ashes. "Anyhow, Waterman won't object when he sees the cash."
SUCCESS is the dream of every man—success before the age of fifty. After that age man's opinions change, especially if he has won the success be desired. Thus, Mr. Peter Pell, M.H.R. and financial magnate, began to desire other things of life.
His banking account was satisfactory and able to stand any strains his position might put upon it. His seat in Parliament was secure, as, at Quicksands Bay, he was unopposed lord of the land. He now desired peace.
Mrs. Pell had other ideas. In the dim past when Mr. Pell was her star boarder, she had been content if her rooms let well. The great ambition then had been to acquire Mr. Pell. But with success had come other desires. Financial success had opened the door of social success in Perth. Mr. Pell's election to a Federal Seat had brought further ambitions. Melbourne opened a wider vista. Now Mrs. Pell desired to shine in the capital of the Commonwealth.
Mr. Pell had won success. Why not now a title—say a knighthood to commence with. When Mrs. Pell mentioned the matter to Mr. Pell in the privacy of the connubial bedchamber, that gentleman scouted the idea. He had no illusions as to the manner in which the prefix was attained. To him it was a simple problem of pounds, shillings and pence.
Certainly he had the money, but he had not the desire to spend it in this direction. Titles were very well for these who desired those gew-gaws. He did not.
When Mrs. Pell set her mind on a matter it was not easy to shift her. She desired ardently to be known as "my lady."
Mr. Pell's indifference was a stumbling block in the way. Once his cooperation was secured Mrs. Pell felt assured the matter was practically accomplished. She had never known him defeated, and in so simple a matter as this she could see no difficulty.
On his part Mr. Pell did not desire social advancement. A title would be a bore. He would have to go eat and show it off. If it was only a question of Mrs. Pell's wishes, it is likely Mr. Pell, as a good and faithful husband would have immediately set about the acquisition of the prefix. With his knowledge that the matter would not rest there, he set his foot down firmly on the proposition, and refused to move it.
Mrs. Pell felt herself aggrieved. She let Mr. Pell know this. She accused him of meanness. It is true Mr. Pell controlled money matters closely, but no one should have accused him of meanness. He liked to live in a fine house. He liked, nay, he desired, that his table should be supplied with the best obtainable. He liked to see his wife clothed in fine raiment and make a show in local and Melbourne society. He considered it due to his position that these things should be. But, beyond all, he cared, for his own ease and comfort.
A title would not make for his comfort. It would, in the words of Mrs. Pell, be something to live up to. Mr. Pell did not desire to live up to anything. Mrs. Pell argued the subject hotly, Mr. Pell contented himself with a silent opposition. He could not do more. Mrs. Pell bad too much to say.
This state of things could not continue indefinitely. Unless Mr. Pell did something, it was probable his opposition would be overborne by mere verbiage, and the title secured at a large monetary cost. Yet what could he do? It was useless to argue with Mrs. Pell. Three years of married life had convinced Mr. Pell that to argue was to invite defeat. So far he had held his own by refusing discussion, at the cost of many sleepless nights.
In the bosom of her social circle Mrs. Pell had already proclaimed that Mr. Pell would shortly be translated. It was a statement born of a wish, but was received by her intimates, who already had a warm regard for her tactics and energy, as a prophesy. It was the cause of some jealousy and a great deal of talk. Neither worried Mrs. Pell. She had an object to gain and she felt her only weapons were those of womanhood. To this end she created all the talk on the subject possible.
As was to be expected most of these prophecies (to call them by no meaner name) came in due course to the masculine heads of households, and after deliberation was retailed in the various smoking rooms of the Federal capital. Thoroughly conned and commented on, it was not long before some brave spirits determined to test their authenticity by submitting them to Mr. Pell.
That gentleman was furious and went home and spoke his mind to Mrs. Pell, much to that good lady's disgust. But the rumour once started, soon overran its bounds. Mentioned first in a spirit of banter between the men of the 'Win-the-War Party' as a good joke against Mr. Pell, it came at length that certain elements considered the matter as practically settled.
A Society Journal always on the look out for tit-bits announced in a guarded paragraph, that an eminent financier of Western Australia would certainly be mentioned for Birthday honours. This resulted in an interview between the Prime Minister and Mr. Pell. The Minister spoke gravely and sorrowfully on the subject and pointed out to Mr. Pell that honours were not showered indiscriminately. They had to be won and deserved. He spoke with his tongue in his cheek and Mr. Pell replied with earnestness and vigour.
Later Mr. Pell spoke, again to Mrs. Pell and passed a new regulation for the guidance of that lady. Mrs. Pell defended her position vigorously, spoke disrespectfully of the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the King, besides certain new knights. The regulation was disregarded and passed into the lumber room of things matrimonial.
Mr. Pell felt he must take action. A married man may decide to take action, but the execution was a more difficult thing. Marriage in these modern days, and in spite of the words of the Prayer Book, is a democracy. There may have been a time, and the wording of the Service tends to this supposition, when, marriage was a monarchy, with a Salic law, but none of the present generation can speak authoritatively on the point. The modern male reads of the "Woman who obeyed," his lady prefers the story of the "Woman who did." They are two distinct points of view and the one practised in certainly the latter.
The trained intellect of the modern financial genius is supposed to be capable of solving any problem presented. The modern novel often deals with the financial genius who has trouble in his household and solves it by the rule of three that applies to everyday business. Mr. Pell had read these novels and sat himself down, secure in his ability, to solve his matrimonial difficulties in the manner he would have dealt with a land or mining deal.
First he considered his position. Mrs. Pell was the party he had to fight. She desired a title. He was 'bearing' titles. Surely it was a simple problem. If the title came he could decline it. In his heart he knew that impossible. Life would not be worth living thereafter. He could go to the Prime Minister and declare he would not accept a title if it were offered to him. No, he could hardly do that in the face of the Prime Minister's declaration that he was not to be offered one.
He had placed that aspect of the case before Mrs. Pell and the following morning had found his blotting pad scribbled over with the words "Lady Peter Pell." Mrs. Pell evidently had a poor opinion of the Prime Minister's foresight.
The problem finally came to the plain issue that Mrs. Pell was determined to win a title for her husband whether he wished it or not. His business was to convince Mrs. Pell that she did not want a title. From the point of view of Mr. Peter Pell the outlook seemed hopeless, and he sighed.
It occurred once to Mr. Pell that if he lost his money then Mrs. Pell would realise a title was hopeless. They would not be able to sustain the dignity of the position. Mr. Pell disliked this solution of the problem. It would mean the relinquishing of all the good things he valued. He would have to clothe himself as the common herd. He would have to feed at cheap restaurants and his home meals would have no distinction and favour. It meant the denial of all he had worked for. Even the title with its attendant garden parties, bazaars and other functions was preferable.
Then came the brilliant flash of thought. It was the solution of the problem. He would act in his political life in such a manner that it would be impossible for the Prime Minister to recommend him for honour. He would act so that Mrs. Pell would recognise his disabilities. Yet he most act so that he preserved peace, as far as possible, in his own household. His action must be the logical sequence of Mrs. Pell's pet theories put in practice ostensibly for her pleasure, or better still at her request. But how?
As befitting one of the social leaders of the Commonwealth Mrs. Pell was interested is Social Reform. What exactly the dear ladies who supported this phrase meant was not to be determined by the mere male. They spoke of overcrowding and poverty where the average wage was but little under £4 a week. They coupled with these facts a decided prohibition of the liquor question while having a standard order at their wine merchants for the best brand procurable. They shrieked of home industries while declaring their delicate skins could not be defiled with any clothing but that made in the slums of Paris and London. They preached a world-wide economy while gratifying their every wish at whatever expense to their husbands.
Mr. Pell felt that here was the weapon made for his hand. He would be a social reformer. He would graft Social Reform on his declared "Win-the-War" policy. It would be a double-edged weapon, for he had not forgiven the manner in which the Prime Minister had spoken on the subject of honours.
A few words spoken at random showed Mr. Pell that he was not alone in the desire to read his lady a lesson. Her interference with his comfort was paralleled by the experiences of other husbands who also suffered. This revelation placed the affair on a broader footing. He would not fight the battle alone. He would not have the whole of the ridicule to face. Carefully organised he would have a solid body of revolting husbands, ostensibly forwarding the good work their spouses had originated.
It was but the matter of a short time to gather a bodyguard of supporters. With a possibility of relief from the thraldom of the past, they were prepared to go any lengths in the matrimonial battle. In fact Mr. Pell found some trouble in keeping the movement within bounds. A programme was framed and a date fixed for the inaugural meeting, Mr. Pell took the chair and was supported by a fair number of his Parliamentary friends. Ladies were invited, and the meeting was preceded by a banquet. When the cloth was withdrawn Mr. Pell spoke of the purposes of the meeting, and outlined the objects of the proposed Society as Economy in War-time and after, the total prohibition of drink except through wine merchants of standing and reputation, support of Australian industries and world-wide free trade.
A committee of gentlemen was to be elected to draw up the constitution and rules of the Society, and the ladies were asked to elect a committee for propaganda work amongst the working classes.
The new Society did not meet with a very enthusiastic reception from the newspapers. The Tear pointed out that it was not encouraging war-time economy to launch a movement with a banquet of so lavish a nature, and the method of combating the drink problem as outlined by the Society would only affect the poorer classes.
Mrs. Pell also criticised the methods of the Society. She objected to the non-inclusion of ladies on the committee, and when Mr. Pell pointed out that the committee was reserved to Parliamentarians, stated that in her opinion the Society should include in its programme a plank claiming Parliamentary seats for ladies. The Society for Social Reform had been accepted with ridicule, not opposition. It was welcomed as likely to provide the comic relief of Parliamentary life, and the newspapers looked for the members of the committee to bring their theories to light in the chambers, and thus lighten the dullness of many speeches.
Mr. Pell decided that something must be done to turn this ridicule into opposition. The Government had before Parliament a measure dealing with the limitation of hours of the sale of all liquor. Mr. Pell promptly tabled an amendment that soldiers and sailors of the Commonwealth forces be not served while in uniform. With some difficulty he managed to get this amendment adopted by the Society.
It raised a storm of indignation. Mr. Pell on rising to move his amendment was greeted with hisses and hoots. He defended his amendment on the grounds that the Commonwealth had already gone a considerable distance along this road by closing the hotels and wine saloons on the arrival of transports from overseas. He claimed that if soldiers and sailors were not to be trusted with open bars on the day they arrived in a port of the Commonwealth, they were logically not to be trusted on future days.
The Prime Minister sent for Mr. Pell and expostulated. Mr. Pell stuck to his point and refused to withdraw his amendment. The amendment was, however, lost, but Mr. Pell felt that he had scored distinctly.
The Prime Minister met him in the lobby. Shortly after, the lumpers at the various ports of the Commonwealth struck work. They did not seem to know exactly why they struck. There was some question of a time card for workers, but none of them had ever seen them. It was, however, held by the leaders of the men that it was derogatory to the dignity of the Australian working man that the bosses should record the minutes worked between drinks. Consequently all time systems, bosses and work was declared 'black' and the men went on holiday. It had been along time since a general holiday had been declared other than by Act of Parliament, and the men revelled in their freedom.
Mr. Pell, deserting his party, who declared that stoppage of work was against "winning-the-war," upheld the cause of the men. He attempted to get the unions to declare that Parliamentary procedure and "Hansard" were "black."
This was going too far for the leaders of the Labor Party. Most of them aspired to a seat is some house of Legislature. Mr. Pell, however, received unexpected support from the Federal Ministry. The Queensland Parliament published in "Hansard" a full report of proceedings, in which the Prime Minister and his proposals were adversely criticised. The Prime Minister thereupon declared "Hansard" black.
Mr. Pell felt himself growing warm.
The Ladies' Committee of the Society of Social Reform had meanwhile put in a lot of work. Meeting almost daily they passed 'urgent' resolutions on all and sundry subjects and sent them to the General Committee. They followed them in the course of a day or so with an "urgent" message calling for immediate action. The Secretary of the Society complained to Mr. Pell. He could not get inside his office and had not seen his desk for months. Mr. Pell was sympathetic—and had an important appointment. Mrs. Pell was the great mainstay of the Ladies' Committee.
Privately Mr. Pell thought she rode her hobby to death. She had coupled the Society for Social Reform and her longing for a title, and lived in daily expectation of the former bringing her the latter. Also she talked about it to Mr. Pell in the small and early morning hours.
It was Mrs. Pell who discovered that soldiers' relations and wives were not being treated in a considerate manner by the Government. After consulting Mr. Pell, by way of a monologue, she sailed a meeting of the Ladies' Committee and laid the matter before them. They considered Mrs. Pell's remarks were novel and worthy of consideration. Briefly, Mrs. Pell considered that soldiers' wives were being defrauded by the Government. Their husbands were paid but a fraction of what their arduous and dangerous duties entitled them to. The pay of all soldiers must be immediately raised. Not only this but the Commonwealth Government with unparalleled audacity only paid to the wives and dependants a small proportion of the money due to the soldiers.
"This," said Mrs. Pell, at the meeting of the Ladies' Committee, speaking in her best oratorical manner, "is a gross violation of the rights of women. Does a woman marry a man for the purpose of receiving but one half or even less of his income. No! Every woman plainly understands that when she marries she has a right to the handling of all her husband's money. Does a woman in civil life remain content when her husband brings home to her but a fraction of his weekly earnings? No! Then the soldiers' wives of the Commonwealth should demand that the Government treat them as their husbands treated them in the pre-war days. The Government should pay to the soldiers' wives the whole of the money earned by their husbands fighting the battle of the Empire."
It was a rousing and inspiring speech, and Mr. Pell felt that at last Mrs. Pell had advanced his scheme a long way on the road to success. He was prepared to encourage her, but she and her colleagues did not require encouragement.
The resolution of the Ladies' Committee was, as usual, sent to the Parliamentary Committee, over which Mr. Pell presided. On the motion of that gentleman, the resolution was returned to the Ladies' Committee with expressed sympathy and full powers to act. The ladies recorded the sympathy of their minutes and accepted the powers—without thanks. A monster mass meeting of soldiers' female relations was called by Mrs. Pell. Most of the ladies of the committee made speeches and urged on the soldiers' wives to demand their rights. A deputation was elected to wait on the Prime Minister with the various resolutions that had been passed. A procession was formed, and headed by Mrs. Pell and her colleagues marched to Parliament House.
"Pell," said one of that gentleman's warmest admirers, as they stood in a window and watched the procession deploy before them, "You've done the trick this time. Billy will have to call out the military."
"Don't talk foolish," replied Mr. Pell amiably, "do you think the military will come out with their women here. Would you go and meet your wife with a bayonet?"
"By gum, my boy," was the retort, "and sure I wouldn't."
After disposing of the deputation with well expressed sympathy, the Prime Minister sent an urgent message to Mr. Pell.
"Look here, Pell," said the great man, "this has got to stop. You're ruining the Party."
Mr. Pell did not care about the Party and said so. More, he informed the Prime Minister that his wife bad taken the bit between her teeth and was out of control. He did not express his opinion in such plain terms, but the Great Man read between the lines.
"But it will never do, man," exclaimed the Prime Minister. "You may have to do something. What's this wretched Society of yours for?"
Mr. Pell carefully explained the aims and objects of the Society for Social Reform.
"Bosh!" exclaimed the Great Man, "I've heard all that before. What do you and your wife want out of it?"
"I can't answer for Mrs. Pell," said Mr. Pell amiably. "What I want is Peace."
"Good Lord," the Great Man looked at Mr. Pell in amazement. "And you're kicking up all this disturbance for the sake of your domestic peace."
Mr. Pell left it at that. The Great Man was badly riled and Mr. Pell was content. For the sake of Peace he was prepared to wage a long guerrilla war, by the aid of Mrs. Pell, with the Government. Mrs. Pell believed she was working in the direction of the title she coveted and Mr. Pell was certain he was out of favour with the Powers that Be. On a bet Mr. Pell was certain the odds to win were in his own favour. Mrs. Pell felt that with the present movement she was in a position to cause a lot of trouble.
The soldiers' wives were solidly behind her. Daily new recruits were brought to the Society, and to interview the many adherents she was making, large and handsomely furnished offices were taken in the heart of the city. Also subscriptions were pouring in. Every woman in the country felt a big movement was going forward and desired to be in it. There can be no doubt but that had the Society for Social Reform been left in the hands of Mrs. Pell and her supporters the movement, after some uncomfortable hours for the members of the Federal Ministry, would have died a natural death. Deputations are interesting, but wearying. To instruct a Prime Minister in his duty is interesting, for a few months, but when that gentleman declines, systematically, to follow the advice so generously offered, the game loses much of its piquancy.
The Prime Minister received Mrs. Pell and her colleagues whenever they called. He was so sympathetic. He was so receptive of ideas, but he did nothing. Always he placed his colleagues in the paths of progress. It was the War Minister who could not see his way. That the Treasurer would not ante up with the cash. Mrs. Pell became quite disheartened.
At this time a lady named Miss Emily Parkington arrived in Australia. She was a lady of firm disposition and had for many years interviewed the different members of Foreign Ministries on various subjects. They had not been sympathetic and Miss Parkington had had to resort to stern measures to attract their attention. A few glass merchants had profited and a number of police constables had suffered.
Then the lady was advised by her medical attendant that a voyage around the world would be for the benefit of her health. She came to Australia. West Australia was not sympathetic to Miss Parkington. She made a few speeches which were well received by the Labor leaders. They were willing to listen to her theories so long as they were not antagonistic to their professed programme. But when the lady tried to pass round the hat they distinctly gave her to understand that what loose cash was about was needed for home consumption.
Miss Parkington at this time heard of the Society of Social Reform, and packing up her boxes sailed for Melbourne. Mrs. Pell was immensely taken with Miss Parkington. The latter was rather a good looking girl, very far from the accepted type of agitator. Mrs. Pell thought she had made a find and after a little diplomacy worked the lady on to the Ladies' Committee of the Society. There, Miss Parkington took the bit between her teeth. The Society had gone far in the matter of progress. Miss Parkington opened a larger and wider vista of work.
The Capital City of the Commonwealth had become quite used to processions of the Society of Social Reform. It was a break in the weary monotony of business to stand for a while and watch the ladies on their route to interview some Minister at Parliament House. If a business man had an hour to spare he would follow and listen to some of the speeches. It was good fun and you had nothing to pay. Miss Parkington brusquely stated these processions were futile.
"What we want is a few windows broken," she declaimed to Mrs. Pell.
"What for?" asked that lady.
"Moral persuasion," answered Miss Parkington. "If we smash all the windows in Parliament House the Prime Minister will listen to us."
"He is more likely to send for the police," replied the rather conservative Mrs. Pell.
Among the ladies of the Society of Social Reform there were some who were getting tired of the monotony of the work. It was all very well to walk in procession, but it is not too exciting. If some windows were broken it might liven things up a bit. Of course they were not going to do the breaking. Nothing so unladylike; but if Miss Parkington was willing to do the breaking they might be prepared to extend a passive superintendence to the matter. The role of onlooker is exciting and not dangerous.
After discussion the next procession to interview the Prime Minister was organised on the lines laid down by Miss Parkington. It was a huge success. The news that there was to be some stirring doings brought a larger crowd than usual to the steps of Parliament House. Miss Parkington threw the first stone, and some of her warmest admirers followed her example. There was some broken glass, and then the police came. Many of the window-smashers faded into oblivion.
Miss Parkington stood her ground and in a passionate speech told the audience that the windows were smashed to earn bread for the starving women and children. She did not explain if the glass merchants were going to subscribe out of their surplus profits. She was content—there was the deed, and there were the police. With a good-looking, athletic constable she gave a short wrestling exhibition, and then walked to the Police Station, where she called loudly for bail. Mr. Pell, at the instance of his wife, found the desired security.
The matter of Miss Parkington and Mr. and Mrs. Pell was debated between the great ones of the Ministry the same evening at an informal gathering at the Prime Minister's house. It was decided unanimously that the present state of affairs could not be allowed to continue. Something had to be done. Comforted with the assurance that this was all that could be required of them the subordinate ministers went home and left the Prime Minister to find the means—and the way.
A Prime Minister could not attain to his exalted office unless he understood perfectly the art of evading the question. In the matter of Mrs. Pell the Minister understood that it was impossible to go straight to the point. He must isolate the danger; surround it with a series of platitudes; beat down the defences with a barrage of self interest.
As Prime Minister of a party that had hoisted a multi-coloured flag he knew, by instinct, what had to be done.
When the Pells returned to their native State the Society of Social Reform had attained many of its objects. Some of them were tempered more or less, but the promoters of the Society had just cause for self-congratulation. Mrs. Pell had ceased to worry Mr. Pell about the necessity for a title and, in consequence, that gentleman had eased off a little in his attacks on the "Win-the-War Party."
To his constituents at Quicksands Bay Mr. Pell explained he was not in any way antagonistic to the Prime Minister and the Party. All he had done had been to make his humble attempt to put some ginger in the Prime Minister's proposals. They must agree with him that, while the measures proposed by the Ministers of the Crown were very well in their way, they were framed in too conciliatory a spirit for Westralians. Westralians desired the war to be won without compromise. They would agree with him. Not quite understanding Mr. Pell the deputation intimated they were in full agreement with his policy—if it kept Mr. Pell and Quicksands Bay well to the fore. Now what about the South Perth Railway?
Mr. Pell spent the vacation very quietly and pleasantly. He had consolidated his position. He was sure of his seat in Parliament for many years to come. Mrs. Pell had learned sense through the medium of the Society and did not now openly express opinions contrary to Mr. Pell's. Certainly this was a good old world to live in if one had—plenty, of money—and Peace.
It was one morning at breakfast that Mr. Pell found by his plate a letter from the Prime Minister. Thinking it was to do with some formal party matter, and being due to meet some old friends at his club, he did not open it until he was on the ferry on his way to Perth. It was short, only a few lines, but Mr. Pell read it three times before he gathered the sense.
Dazed, he staggered off the boat and made for a seat on the Esplanade. There he again read the fateful letter:
I am commanded by the Prime Minister to inform you that His Majesty the King has conferred the Order of St. Canute and the Wave on you for your valuable services in the cause of Social Reform in Australia. The Prime Minister desires me to convey to you his congratulations on the well deserved honour.
Mr. Pell sat for some time with the letter in his hand. He had sought for wealth, and he had gathered. He had sought for honour, and had succeeded, he had sought for Peace, and had reaped—a knighthood. Was there to be peace for him? Sir Peter Pell! The husband of Lady Pell. Before him the daily grind of social activity.
With bowed head he rose and strolled towards the city. Presently he came to a halt. Before him was a thick clump of bushes. His mind passed back to a day in the past, when, without a sixpence in his pocket, he lay down there hungry and tired, to sleep. He had gone far since then. Was he happier?
"By Gad," he exclaimed with sudden fervour, "I believe a man's happiest when his sole aim is the pursuit of sixpence."
Project Gutenberg Australia