In the Shadow of the Bush
On the following afternoon, Westall, as directed by Wilmot, strolled out along the road indicated, which was that leading past Ashwin's. It would in the future, when formed and metalled all the way, be the direct road to the Melton district. Beyond a distance of a few miles from Bloomsbury it was, however, impassable, or next to impassable, for wheel traffic for most of the year, but was used, except in the dead of winter, a good deal by persons travelling on horseback, who took, it in preference to the other road between the two places, which, if in better repair, was circuitous, and longer by a good many miles.
Two or three weeks of dry weather and the increasing heat of the sun had now made the road, right through, comfortably passable, and fair riding for equestrians, except in a few places, which still remained soft and boggy.
Westall proceeded at a leisurely pace for some miles, but saw as yet no sign of the returning Wilmot. He passed Morton's place, where he saw Frank Ashwin talking with the owner, and evidently about to ride away. After he had gone a little farther Ashwin overtook him, recognised and spoke to him, and then rode on slowly ahead, stock-whip in hand, for he had been helping Morton to muster his cattle, some of which were rather wild.
When Ashwin had reached the gate leading to Elwood's house, Westall saw him hastily dismount and pass in, and shortly afterwards he heard loud and angry tones, and was page 128astonished to set Old Dan issue from the gateway, turn round on the road, and shake his stick defiantly at someone inside, who was screened from Westall's gaze by some young trees which had attained sufficient growth to hide any object of a man's height.
As Old Dan turned towards him, Westall could see the gleam of devilish exultation which overspread his features, mingled, however, with the darker hue of malignant hate against the person who had been for the moment the object of his threats.
"He would use his b——y stock-whip on me agin, would he?" almost shrieked Dan, hardly conscious as yet of Westall's presence. "He would lash me from here to Bloomsbury, would he, if I iver set fut inside the gate agin? Let the—— ——look to himself—or, mebbe, his horse '11 go home widout a rider some av these nights. The girl's fancy man, I'll go bail—he can make love now, if he likes, to the ould 'leg's' daughter, as I tould him. Ha, ha, ha! the vartuous ould gintleman was overcome entoirely at the sight av me. Well, people will be afther knowin' him in his true colours now. The ould convict won't be able to drive about an' look down on his betthers after this, I'll be bound now."
"It's really the man you thought it was, then?" asked Westall.
"To be sure it is," Dan answered. "The divil a fear av me mistakin' him. If he lived to the age av Methuselah I'd know the ould Pharisee's face agin. Och, it was great intoirely," and Dan laughed diabolically.
Westall, though weak, and in many respects culpable, enfeebled in mind and body by years of dissipation, and tainted and made callous morally by long association with much that was low and perhaps criminal in life, had yet some better feelings lying overweighted and dormant within him, and these awoke and struggled to assert themselves as he listened to Old Dan's malicious satisfaction at the injury and pain he had inflicted on an inoffensive old man.page 129
"Don't you think the old man has suffered enough already?" he said. "Couldn't you leave him to himself to live out the rest of his days in peace? He may have been innocent—he was innocent. You're a damned hardened old villain, that's what you are, at any rate; and if Ashwin has cut you across the thigh with his stock-whip, as I see he has—and pretty deep too, it only serves you right," and Westall turned hotly from him and walked away rapidly in the direction in which he had previously been going. When he had gained an ascent on the road where he could overlook Elwood's house, he stopped and turned towards it, and taking off his hat made a vow to himself that he would yet right wrong as far as lay in his power.
Meanwhile Old Dan, after cursing Westall, took the direction of the township, muttering to himself as he went—at one time breaking out into a satanic laugh, at another uttering direful maledictions or quivering with suppressed hate, as he looked on his injured leg or felt the pain of it.
He called at the Cosmopolitan and had a few whiskies there, and gave Brasch a version of his interview with Mr. Elwood, or "Cantin' Charley" as he called him. He then trudged off homewards, and, after arriving there, went on the "burst" for a week.